1967: Williston Academy’s Literary Society had, for many years, published an oh-so-serious magazine called The Scribe. Imagine, then, the excitement when the Society announced that they would depart from venerable tradition and attempt a humor magazine. The first, and only issue of The Jester appeared in the winter of 1967. Almost immediately, certain elements in the administrative hierarchy objected to the cover on grounds of taste, until it was pointed out that the navel in question, which belonged to our champion diver, was on display in the pool every afternoon.
51 years later, this seems relatively innocuous. Tasteless, yes, but hardly provocative. But our plan to republish substantial excerpts here was somewhat modified when we realized that by 2018 standards, the magazine was so replete with trademark violations, potential libel suits, and what are now called “trigger warnings,” that we had to be very selective. Plus: some of it was too insider-obscure to resonate today, or just wasn’t very funny.
But much of it was funny, or clever, and still is. Perhaps against our better judgment, here are excerpts, beginning with a parody of that prep-school classic, The Catcher in the Rye.
Williston Seminary’s first Principal, Luther Wright (served 1841-1849), was reputedly a great believer in the order of things. Early on, he had printed placards, posted in every student room, which quickly became known as the “23 commandments.” This set of regulations was considered so comprehensive, of such educational and moral impact, that they remained on the walls, contents unaltered, five Principals and four decades later. Professor Henry Alford, who had strong opinions about most things, had cause to comment in the 1880s.
In his History of Williston Seminary (1917) Principal Joseph Henry Sawyer (taught from 1866; Principal, 1896-1919) commented that “they are rules which all schools must have,” but even Sawyer, a master of tact, marveled at the level of what adolescent boys must have considered petty detail. One of Wright’s placards survives to this day:Here are the two sides, in more readable detail. (Click on images to enlarge.)One can imagine the students’ attitude toward the prohibition of gathering in groups on Saturday night, or might wonder whether most sixteen-year-olds could sit without tipping their chairs.It should be no surprise, then, that by 1846 Mr. Wright’s “young gentlemen” had produced a wickedly funny parody of the school catalogue. (This, incidentally, gives us a “no later than” date for the Regulations placard.) Not only did the parody capture and inflate the moralizing and rather effusive marketingese of its model, but the typography and layout were such that the fake could easily have been mistaken for the real thing.Wright’s 23 commandments had expanded to 25. Together, they suggest aspects of day-to-day Williston that he probably preferred had gone unrecorded.For further exploration of administrative attempts to regulate student lives, please see “Thou shalt not . . .” (Because, boys and girls, it’s good for you, and you’ll thank us later.)
It was a sunny Saturday, June 20, 1863. The term was almost over; students and teachers were about to disperse. With the papers full of news of Civil War hostilities, alumni and family members gone South to fight, there was an overtone of uncertainty about the future. But for at least a day’s respite, twenty Williston students — ten young men and ten young ladies — went on a plant collecting expedition — “botanizing,” as they called it — to Southwick, about ten miles from Easthampton. How much of this was serious scientific pursuit and how much an excuse for a picnic, we will never know. Even at still-coeducational Williston Seminary (the Ladies’ Department would be closed in 1864), opportunities for mixed social activity were few.
The organizer and chaperone was William Austin Richards, Williston 1855, Amherst ’61, who upon his graduation had returned to Williston as a teacher of Latin and Greek. Richards planned to teach for a few years to gain a little experience and cash, before studying for the ministry. None of his Williston responsibilities included anything scientific; natural history must have been merely an avocation. And although a document refers to the “botany class,” there was no formal course in the Williston catalogue. Nonetheless, at least some of the students took the scientific side of the day very seriously.
One of these was Mary Lydia Nelson — “Mollie” — a senior from West Suffield, CT. Mollie went home and meticulously pressed the day’s collection of plants. Almost unbelievably, 154 years later, her specimens remain in nearly pristine condition. Mollie did everything right. There are 57 folders, each a sheet of paper 23 x 18 inches (11.5 x 18″ folded.) Mollie chose a very high quality heavyweight rag paper with almost no acid content, so there has been practically no chemical reaction between plants and paper. She secured each plant to the paper with nearly invisible white cotton thread. Almost every specimen was carefully labeled with phylum, genus, and species.
Mollie retained her plant collection as a cherished keepsake. It stayed in her family and against all odds, was always well stored, away from extremes of temperature and humidity. In 1983 Mrs. J. R. Nelson, widow of one of Mollie’s descendants, presented the collection to Williston Northampton. Continue reading →
Andy Lapidus – Andrew Stone Lapidus – wasn’t at Williston Academy for very long. Having spent three years at Avon Old Farms, he was tempted north to Williston’s greener French Department and pastures in 1964. Away from the classroom and the soccer field, he was rarely without a camera, and at a time when Williston didn’t offer a photography class, organized a camera club.
He left Williston in 1966 for the Cate School in Carpinteria, California, met his future bride Roxanne, and eventually shifted his professional attentions from French to counseling and advocacy for youth. They raised three sons, Peter, Alex, and Paul. Sadly, he left us, aged 72, in 2010. A few months ago Roxanne sent the Archives a cache of photographs he’d taken at Williston. We exchanged a couple of letters – she was initially surprised that anyone remembered him. Roxie visited the campus at Reunion last May and met others who had fond recollections as well.
But of course I remembered him. Andy was unforgettable. Perhaps I should qualify that memory. In 1964 I was 12, a somewhat nerdish, classically-trained Williston faculty brat. Brats of my ilk found Andy fascinating. Here was an adult who didn’t take adult-ness too seriously, who would break off a grownup conversation to deliver a wicked aside meant only for juvenile ears, or deliver a straight-faced pun so horrible that even Horace Thorner would shudder. He was subversively funny. I think we understood that deep down, he was one of us.
And his camera was an essential accessory. Some of Andy’s native whimsy comes through in his photographs, especially in certain portraits, which often capture something unspoken about their subjects.
Here is a sampling. Where images are uncaptioned, it is because we don’t know who the people are. Readers are invited to help us with that; please email firstname.lastname@example.org; if you can fill in a blank, or if anyone is mis-identified, we’d like to know!