Interview with Dean Ernest Gordon and tour of University Chapel, 1977

Today’s post is written by Rev. Frederick Borsch ’57, former Dean of Religious Life and the Chapel 1981-1988.

“A sermon in stone” is a familiar description of the Princeton University Chapel, and it is used to introduce this 1977 film tour of the Chapel’s architecture and windows through an interview with its then Dean Ernest Gordon. Although an effort was made to give the program a semblance of informality, it comes across now as rather rehearsed. First telecast (Nov. 27, 1977) as a 10 minute segment in a Sunday morning NBC-TV series, “The First Estate: Religion in Review,” the film is also, however, not without attractive and educational features. Since the Chapel remains essentially the same, the information is not dated, and there is much to appreciate in watching it. For considerable further information about the Chapel, one can go to the University’s Office of Religious Life’s site about the History of the Chapel to find links to a self-guided tour and an extensive audio-tour. There is also Richard Stilwell’s splendid The Chapel of Princeton University (Princeton University Press, 1971). Next one could go to the Chapel.
“Bring binoculars,” was the advice I was given, as that is the only way to take in much of the detail. The film seems to have been made in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the 1928 dedication of the Chapel. I first entered the building as a freshman in 1953 when it was 25 years old. We undergrads, of course, had other names for the building–not least because attendance at religious services was then required of freshmen and sophomores on every other weekend. One of my roommates, though not himself Jewish, usually went to their Friday evening services in order to get his chit signed and have the rest of the week-end free. Other of my friends might go to a denominational service, but often enough on Sunday mornings we went to the ecumenical (though rather Presbyterian) “God Box” or “Firestone South,” so labeled because the Chapel was neighbor to our more frequent destination–the Firestone Library just across the plaza.

Or, since lore had it that alumnus and plutocrat Harvey Firestone had donated a goodly part of the over two million dollars for building the Chapel, it was also “Firestone’s Folly.” We heard that this sobriquet had been given by earlier critics who would have preferred that the money be used for laboratories, libraries and faculty salaries. At the time, however, President Hibben had acclaimed the Chapel as Princeton’s two million dollar witness against materialism!

Yet it was hard not to stand–literally stand–in awe of the building and all it represented. I stood there. I worshipped in the Ralph Adams Cram Anglo-collegiate Gothic tribute to the unity of faith and knowledge. The visage of the philosopher-skeptic David Hume could even be glimpsed in one of the windows. I listened to the Aeolian-Skinner organ while admiring what has been called the “finest assemblage of stained glass in all the western hemisphere.” (Recently the windows were completely refurbished and restored to the tune of something like ten million dollars. The building and its fabric have over the years been very well endowed!) As an English major, I liked to sense the whole building as a paean to Christian humanism and to pick out Chaucer, Shakespeare, George Herbert, Donne, Milton, Blake, Emily Dickinson and T.S. Eliot. In the only apparent attempt at humor in the 1977 film (other than a reference of Donne’s “unholy” sonnets), Dean Gordon notes the tiger on which William Blake seems to sit. “Tiger, tiger, burning bring / In the forests of the night,” runs through one’s mind, followed by “tiger, tiger, tiger; sis, sis, sis; boom, boom, boom; ah.”

Ernest Gordon became the Chapel’s Dean in 1955. He was “earnest” all right (a little joke of ours), but what a change he brought to the worship with his Scot’s burr, his energetic faith and dramatic story of conversion to Christianity during his four years in a miserable Japanese concentration camp. A handsome man with a certain winsomeness about him (still seen in the film), he invited Billy Graham to campus for what was in affect a mission to undergraduates.

Later Gordon would twice invite (over a number of protests) Martin Luther King, Jr. to the Chapel’s pulpit and preside over the Chapel during the civil rights movement, then a memorial service for Dr. King, turmoil and protests over the Vietnam War–some of these gatherings taking place in the Chapel. As part of all that, a measure of interest in religion grew, but not necessarily in formal church-going. By 1964 all Chapel requirements had finally been dropped as the University became still more secular in outlook and at the same time more diverse in terms of religions. I had to wonder if Dean Gordon did not wince to himself when, at the end of the film, he commented on how important the Chapel was for undergraduates although far fewer were coming to his Sunday morning services than in earlier years.

Truth in blogging: in 1981 I succeeded Ernest Gordon as Dean, and one can read something more about his ministry, the Chapel and the times in my forthcoming Keeping Faith at Princeton: A Brief History of Religious Pluralism at Princeton and Other Universities (Princeton University Press, 2011).

–Frederick Borsch ‘57

This 16mm film is part of the University Archives’ Historical Audiovisual Collection (item no. 1974)

“The Year of the Tiger:” the 1964-1965 Basketball Season at Princeton

The 1964-1965 basketball season was an unprecedented season of success for the Princeton men’s team as it played some of the finest basketball in the country, led by All-American and captain Bill Bradley ’65. During that magical season, the Tigers won the Ivy League title and earned a trip to the NCAA tournament. By season’s end they had bested teams from Navy, Syracuse, Rutgers, Cornell, and Providence. Bradley, arguably one of the best athletes ever to play at Princeton, led a talented group of juniors and up-and-coming sophomores as they demonstrated that an Ivy League team, devoid of scholarship players, could hold their own, and indeed, compete with basketball powerhouses such as Michigan and North Carolina State.

Princeton’s season opened on December 2nd with an 83-74 victory over Lafayette College. Crowds filled Dillon Gymnasium to watch the team, and as the end of December approached, Princeton was 6-2. Then at New York City’s Madison Square Garden (2:34), where the annual Holiday Festival tournament was played, Princeton opened with a victory over Syracuse. But the match-up everyone was anxious to watch pitted Princeton against the University of Michigan — then the number one ranked team in the country. Michigan’s star player was Cazzie Russell, a versatile 6’ 6” all court player.

The first half was a fairly evenly matched contest, with Princeton securing a 39-37 half time edge. During the second half, Princeton opened up a significant lead. With four and a half minutes to go, the Tigers lead by 12 (4:52). But, the game quickly turned when Bradley was called for his fifth and final personal foul — a costly error that sent him to the bench for the remainder of the game. Without their floor general, Princeton struggled to find its rhythm, but managed to keep things close. With less than a minute to play, they still led by two points. In the waning seconds (6:08), Michigan put the ball in Russell’s hands, and he did not disappoint, nailing the winning shot which gave Michigan an 80-78 victory. It was not the last time that these two teams would meet during the season. Nor would it be the last time that Bradley and Russell would compete together. Both played on New York Knicks teams in the late 1960s. (The Daily Princetonian, January 5, 1965)

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Princeton’s Polo Team and ROTC Field Artillery Brigade in Action! (circa 1928)

The film featured here, shot around 1928, contains three distinct sections. The first contains images of the Princeton Polo Team playing on W. B. Devereux Jr. ’04 Field (0:00-5:52). The second section opens with a woman and a small boy after the polo tournament (5:53-5:58), followed by scenes of Prospect Avenue and the various eating clubs located on this street (5:59-6:45). The third section documents the annual inspection of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) Field Artillery Unit, performed by representatives of the United States War Department. The origins of the film, which does not appear on the list of films that were kept by the Graduate Council in 1931, are unclear.

Polo at Princeton

Although polo has been around for millennia, the first documented games on Princeton’s campus occurred in 1902, when Walter Bourchier Devereux Jr. ’04 and a few classmates organized a group of polo matches. The popularity of the sport grew quickly among the students, and by the spring of 1903, Princeton was the first college to officially adopt polo as a collegiate sport. Harvard and Yale soon followed suit. As rapidly as the sport emerged on campus, it soon diminished, due to a number of factors including the cost to secure and maintain horses and lack of interest from later classes.

It was not until 1919, with the creation of the ROTC Field Artillery Battalion, that polo would once again be played at Princeton under the leadership of Major J. E. McMahon, 1st Commandant of the Princeton Unit. He introduced the sport to the unit in order for its members to develop fundamental combat skills. Most of the polo players were members of the ROTC unit and were provided auxiliary horses and equipment by the Unites States War Department; those players, however, who were not members of the unit had to provide their own horses.

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Carl A. Fields papers now available for research

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Paul C. Williams, Dr. Carl A. Fields, and A. Deane Buchanan at the first dinner banquet of Princeton’s Association of Black Collegians (May 22, 1968)

The papers of educator and advocate of minority education Dr. Carl A. Fields are now available for research at Princeton University’s Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. Carl Fields became the first African American to hold a high-ranking position at an Ivy League school when he was appointed the Assistant Director of Student Aid and then later the Assistant Dean of the College at Princeton University. Throughout his tenure Fields began and directed several innovative programs aimed at the retention of African American and other students of color, including the Family Sponsors program that introduced students to an African American family within the Princeton community. In 1967 Fields helped coordinate the first Negro Undergraduate Conference with the new Association of Black Collegians organization on campus, which brought together black students from forty-one predominately-white universities. Fields also established the Frederick Douglass Award after attending the 1968 Princeton commencement exercises, which had the largest number of black students receiving a diploma in the history of the University.

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McGovern Processing Project Completed

The Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library has recently completed an 18-month project to process the papers of former Senator George S. McGovern. The collection is especially noteworthy for its comprehensive documentation of George McGovern’s lifelong work on food and nutrition issues.
Bumper Sticker Bumper Sticker from George
McGovern’s 1974 re-election
campaign to the U.S. Senate.

McGovern served as the United States Representative for the First District of South Dakota from 1956-1960 and was a member of the House Committee on Agriculture, where he advocated strongly for issues that would characterize his entire political career, including rural development, food stamp legislation, and foreign food aid.

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Exhibition reveals the Tiger inside John F. Kennedy

Memorabilia from John F. Kennedy’s brief stint as a Princeton student and items from his political career- including a 1935 Christmas card depicting Kennedy with his Princeton roommates dressed in top hats and suits in homage to Fred Astaire from the motion picture Top Hat (which opened earlier that year), and photographs and documents from the Warren Commission’s investigation into the circumstances surrounding Kennedy’s assassination- are part of a new exhibition in the Wiess Lounge at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. Running through September 2, 2011, John F. Kennedy: From Old Nassau to the New Frontier commemorates the 50th anniversary of the election of our 35th President and his Princeton connections.

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This exhibition showcases the rarely-seen Princetonian side of Kennedy, who attended the University late in the fall semester of 1935 despite his father’s desire that he attend Harvard University. Unaware of his future in politics, Kennedy had declared his intended profession to be "banking" on his application and stated that the campus environment of Old Nassau was "second to none." Kennedy was admitted to the entering freshmen class in 1935 and shared a dormitory with his former Choate high school classmates Kirk LeMoyne Billings and Ralph Horton, Jr. in #9 Reunion Hall South. However, after a brief few weeks as a member of the Class of 1939 he left Princeton due to health reasons and later graduated from Harvard with the Class of 1940. The other presidents to have attended Princeton were James Madison and Woodrow Wilson.

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Mudd in the News

Since the start of the year, the Mudd Manuscript Library has been featured in a number of campus news stories, and here is a listing, link, and description for each of them:

Mudd Manuscript Library Online Exhibits

(Link to Mudd’s Online Exhibitions)

There Are Roses Too

(Daily Princetonian column advises readers of what makes Princeton unique)

Robert F. Goheen, 16th President Of Princeton, Dies At Age 88; Service Set For April 27

(Mentions interviews with President Goheen held at Mudd)

U. Releases Obama ’85’s Senior Thesis

(Notes that Mudd is the repository for all theses submitted by seniors graduating from Princeton University.)

Archives Exhibition Documents Princeton’s Transformation

(Details Mudd’s current Reunions-themed exhibit: “The Times They Are a Changin'”. The exhibit captures the changes Princeton underwent from 1958-1983.)

Princeton’s Changing Times

(More about Mudd’s current exhibit: “The Times They Are a Changin'”)

Illuminating Lives: Berg Researches Wilson Biography While Teaching ‘Life Writing’

(Feature about Pulitzer Prize winning biographer A. Scott Berg ‘1971, who conducted research at Mudd for his upcoming biography on Woodrow Wilson)

By The Numbers

(Information about Mudd’s completed Economics Papers processing project.)

CIA Releases Classified Files Of Former Director

(Notes that 8,000 pages of documents relating to Allen Dulles, Class of 1914, are now available on the Mudd web site.)

Princeton Life Lists

(Scott Berg emphasizes the value of holding an original manuscript like those at Mudd)

Compiled by John DeLooper

May 2008

Kennan and Forrestal papers processing funded

The Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library is pleased to announce that the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) has awarded the library funding to process the George F. Kennan Papers and the James V. Forrestal Papers according to the best modern standards, making these important materials more accessible to researchers. This year the NHPRC awarded only four grants for detailed processing projects such as this one. Work on this project will commence in July, with completion set for June 30, 2009. Adriane Hanson, who last October completed processing of Mudd’s economics collections, will manage the project.

kennanBoth Kennan and Forrestal were important figures in shaping United States policy at the inception of the Cold War. Kennan, a diplomat and historian (pictured at left), is best known for his authoring of the “Long Telegram” and the subsequent “X” article in Foreign Affairs in which he advocated for a new course in U.S.-Soviet relations that became known as “containment.” Kennan was involved in diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union throughout most of his distinguished career in the U.S. Foreign Service and as a historian analyzed the Soviet Union’s history and politics. Forrestal was the first Secretary of Defense for the United States, overseeing the merger of the War Department with the Navy Department in 1947. Forrestal worked to re-structure America’s defenses to confront the threat he perceived from the Soviet Union and through these efforts promoted the career of George Kennan.

Researchers should note that only a small part of the George F. Kennan Papers are currently open. However, all of his papers will open on March 17, 2009. The James V. Forrestal Papers are open for research use now, though the collection’s disorder hinders efficient access. During the course of the project, researchers should inquire about either collection’s availability before traveling to the Mudd Library.