Tag Archives: Bad Behavior

The Confessions of Harlan Mendenhall

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
The Rev. Dr. Harlan G. Mendenhall (Click images to enlarge)

In the fall of 1931 the Reverend Dr. Harlan G. Mendenhall, Williston Seminary class of 1870 (Classical), visited the campus.  Aged 80, Mendenhall was considered the “grand old man” of American Presbyterianism, having served in parishes all over the U.S., risen to the highest levels of the New York Presbytery, and was, in 1931, still not retired.    Dr. Mendenhall brought with him a variety of documents from his student days, including a copy of the 1869 Salmagundi, Williston’s first senior yearbook, which he had co-edited, and a scrapbook of his student writings as a member of Adelphi, the school’s literary and debating society.  He also sat down with The Willistonian for an extended interview, reproduced at length in the issue of October 21.  Conversation focused on how the school had changed in more than five decades – and took a surprising turn.

North and Middle Halls in the 1930s. When Mendenhall was a student, North Hall was new.

“Williston in my day was a great deal different than your Williston of today.  North Hall was but a few years old and was all partitioned off into three sections by thick fire walls.  There were no bathrooms nor any central heating system, and in the winter we all had to buy our own coal for our stoves.  We had no school dining room either and had to eat either at fraternity eating places or at the old “Hash Factory” which stood at the corner of Union and High Streets.  It was possible to eat for two dollars a week then.”

“Students were then a great deal older than the fellows at Williston are now.  There was one fellow named Redington who had already graduated from Yale and had come to Williston to study English.   As the boys were older, they were more independent and often used to have revolutions and uprisings of all sorts.”

Lyman W. Redington, class of 1866 and again, 1869. We have found no evidence of anyone else ever completing both the Classical and Scientific curricula, with a year of college separating them.

[Lyman William Redington of Waddington, N.Y. graduated Williston’s Classical Department in 1866.  He completed a year at Yale, left because of eye problems, but returned to Williston and enrolled in the Scientific, a.k.a. English Department, graduating in 1869.  He and Harlan Mendenhall were the founding co-editors of the yearbook Salmagundi in 1869.  He became a newspaper editor in Rutland, Vt., ran unsuccessfully for Governor, took up law, and ultimately became Asst. Corporate Counsel for the City of New York, and a Tammany Hall member of the State Assembly.]

“There was a fellow in school then who had received a check for one hundred dollars from home, and instead of depositing it in the bank, he took it across to Putnam’s Book Store and established a checking account.”

“There came a time when Ballance, that was the boy, [William Henry Ballance, class of 1870] said that he had ten more dollars coming, and Old Put claimed that he had drawn his entire account.  Then Ballance started an association of most of the boys in school swearing not to trade with Put until the ten dollars should be paid.  They formed a big parade and marched down in front of Put’s store and read the constitution and by-laws of the association to him.  Some of the boys carried big banners inscribed ‘No More Trade for Old Put’ and ‘False Weights Against True Ballance.’  The parade then marched over to the gym steps and had its picture taken.” Continue reading

The Second-Best Ford Hall Practical Joke Ever

Names have been changed to protect the reputations of the guilty.

Once upon a midnight dreary not too many years ago, a Ford Hall dorm master – specifically, the occupant of an apartment overlooking the Pond and Victory Bell – was contemplating bedtime.  The dorm was quiet, the inmates apparently enjoying their guileless dreams, when all at once . . .

912_1513-lrCLANG!  CLANG!  CLANG!  The teacher – we’ll call him Mr. Ford – sprang from his bed and looked out the window, where he could see a shadowy figure ringing the Victory Bell.  Mr. Ford threw open the window.  “Now cut that out,” he shouted – or words to that effect.

CLANG!  CLANG!  The ringing continued.  So Mr. Ford threw on his bathrobe, descended several flights of stairs, and emerged to confront the misguided Quasimodo.  “Please stop,” called Mr. Ford – or words to that effect.

CLANG! Mr. Ford had had enough.  “What the heck is wrong with you” (or words, etc.), he shouted, as he grabbed the bellringer’s arm and spun him around.

The arm came off.  “Aaughh!” screamed Mr. Ford, as gales of laughter descended from the upper stories.  The villains had constructed a straw effigy, tied its arm to the ringer, and operated the bell by means of a length of nylon fishline strung from a window.

And what was the very best Ford Hall Prank Ever?  We’re going to save that for another day.  Subscribe to From the Archives and you’ll never miss a post!

Photo by Ken Edwards '70
Photo by Ken Edwards ’70

So Help Me, Alan Quatermain

by Richard Teller '70, Archivist
A formal meeting of Sigma 'Eta Delta. The reverse of the photograph is dated 1890. (Click images to enlarge.)
A formal meeting of Sigma ‘Eta Delta. The reverse of the photograph is dated 1890. (Click images to enlarge.)

The 1870s and ’80s saw the rise of several secret societies or fraternities at Williston Seminary.  Initially there were four: Iota Zeta, L.L.D., Pi Beta Pi, and F.C.  A fifth, Phi Rho Alpha, appeared somewhat later, although its existence was sometimes not acknowledged by the four “legitimate” societies.  History knows relatively little about them; as secret organizations, they kept their petty confidences, and worse, to themselves.  So we have no idea what the initials stood for, not even for the two societies that didn’t affect Greek names.  We do know that their membership was selective; that at least some of their alumni remained loyal to the clubs, often at the expense of loyalty to the school, and that they posed as “service” organizations: in 1916, for example, their leaders formed the first Student Council.

None of the preceding can be said of a sixth fraternity, Sigma Eta Delta.

In fact, the Greek letters ΣΗΔ were a rendering of the society’s real name, the South Hall Devils.  (Since classical Greek doesn’t accommodate the “H” sound, it was the preference of the membership to spell “Eta” with an apostrophe: Sigma ‘Eta Delta.)  The group was formed in the winter of 1889, mostly to poke fun at the elite, thus much-resented, fraternities.  Membership was open to any resident of South Hall, the dormitory with the least desirable and least expensive rooms — thus a dorm shunned by any self-respecting (and they were nothing if not that) frat boy.

South Hall, ca. 1890.
South Hall, ca. 1890.

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Thou shalt not . . .

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

A new school year is upon us, with all the annual rituals that accompany it: friends to be made, rooms decorated, class schedules to figure out.  An essential opening-of-school tradition is our attempt to instill into all our students’ consciousnesses the concept of “A Certain Minimally Consistent Standard of Behavior,” also known as “The Rules.”  Yes, friends, this is when Alma Mater actually asserts her rights in loco parentis.

When I began to compile this essay, it occurred to me that it was a great topic for alumni input.  A brief and wildly unscientific sampling of Facebook friends elicited many responses, some of which are reproduced here.  But Amy Goodwillie Lipkin ’77 noted, “what I thought was ridiculous in my mind as a 16-year-old, I may not see as ridiculous now as an adult.”  It’s a good point, one with which most parents or deans, if not every teenager, might concur.  On the other hand, alumni recollections suggest that sometimes, even after many years, passions, or at least the memories of outrage, run high.  It is also a reminder of the essential conflict between common sense and regulatory detail.  Even today, the idea of having, say, a simple conceptual dress code of “neat, clean, and appropriate” is utterly impractical in a community of approximately 700 students and adults, who will voice as many opinions over exactly what that means.

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