As the summer of 1953 was ending, the United States was extricating itself from the Korean War. An armistice agreement had been signed at Panmumjom on July 27, ending active hostilities on the Peninsula but doing nothing to abate the Cold War nor to dampen anti-communist fervor at home. Indeed, what is now remembered as the Second Red Scare (1947-1954) continued to dominate the political news. But in quiet little Easthampton it was, perhaps, relatively easy to ignore the issue as a phenomenon centered in Washington, Hollywood, and New York. Then, just as school was about to begin, Headmaster Phillips Stevens received the following letter:
A post-seasonal editorial.
[The opinions expressed here are the author’s own. Special thanks to Charles D. Cohen and Patrick Brough for their contributions to this post.]
The story has been around for years. Supposedly the Town (now City) of Easthampton and Mount Tom were Dr. Seuss’s inspiration for Whoville and Mt. Crumpit in the classic children’s book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Back in 2009, a surge in the currency of this suburban legend prompted me to ask a friend, Charles D. Cohen, whether there was any legitimacy to the story. It was not an idle question; Dr. Cohen is Theodor Geisel’s biographer (The Seuss, the Whole Seuss, and Nothing But the Seuss: A Visual Biography of Theodor Seuss Geisel, Random House, 2004) and possibly the leading authority on All Things Seuss. Dr. Cohen responded,
The first thing I should point out is that whether you have the Grinch atop Mt. Crumpit, or King Derwin on his mountain looking down into the valley where Bartholomew Cubbins lived, or Yertle sitting on top of a skyscraper of turtles, there are plenty of similar images in Ted Geisel’s work. However, I’m not familiar with the notion that the Grinch story was based on something involving Mt. Tom specifically.
Recently Williston Northampton announced an evolution in institutional iconography, with the introduction of a new “shield” logo and a redesign – not an abandonment – of the extant and, as shall be seen, hardly ancient “tree and mountain” seal. Predictably, the school received many reactions, that ranged from enthusiasm to apoplexy. It may be instructive to look at school branding – for that it what we are talking about, a brand, a recognizable visual and textual representation of something far larger and more complex – through 171 years of history.
In the beginning . . .
. . . Samuel created the Seminary. And he looked upon the Seminary, and saw that it was good. So Samuel caused an image of the campus to be imprinted upon the stationery . . . and gave the matter no further thought.
When I drive to work, I usually come down Brewster Avenue. As I turn onto Park Street, I see the iconic Class Fence, stretching out of sight in both directions, each section with the date of a graduating class. 170 of them, so far, going back to 1842.
It’s a powerful metaphor. Every class is represented, plus one enigmatic “L.L.D.” Last night, at the annual Senior Dinner, the Class of 2012 received their number plaque. There will be many more. Williston Northampton has a lot of fence left. For our seniors, the placing of the plaque is the first traditional milestone in joining the rest of us alumni represented by that fence. (But of course, it isn’t really the first milestone. Enrolling is.)
The fence dates from 1916, when Headmaster Joseph Sawyer (served 1896-1919), as part of a campaign to celebrate the school’s 75th anniversary, challenged every class to meet certain fundraising targets. Upon achieving them, the class could put its number on the fence. That’s why the dates are not in order; classes met their goals at different times. The campaign was 100% successful. Even those classes which had no surviving members were “adopted” by other alumni groups. At some point mid-century the tradition changed and classes were awarded plaques at the time they graduated. From this point the numbers are consecutive.
And the mysterious “L.L.D.”? They were one of Williston Seminary’s fraternities. We don’t know much about them; they were a secret society that kept secrets well. The frats were wisely abolished in 1926-28, but not before the L.L.D. alumni achieved a kind of immortality by pledging and contributing to the fund.
A number of years ago, a student wandered into the Archives. He had no particular agenda; he’d simply noticed that my door was open, and he’d never been in. I showed him a couple of things that I thought might be of interest, and let him poke around for a while. Finally he said, “This might sound strange, but just knowing that this stuff is here makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger than just my couple of years at Williston.”
It might have been the best thing any student ever said to me. And no, it didn’t sound strange at all.
Your comments and questions are encouraged! Please use the space below.