20081123

70 New Haven: Yale


[Yale Dorm]

Unfortunately, I was unable to interview Joe or anyone else in front of Yale's Hoppers because the museum was closed for renovation. But he did give me a tour of campus, which looked like a British city from centuries gone by: red brick walls, white mullions, dark shutters, slate roofs and tall elms (New Haven's nickname is "the elm city"). Yale was named for its founder, wealthy merchant Elihu Yale--descendent of one of the 500 Puritans who founded the New Haven Colony in 1638 in hopes of establishing a church-run state. Alumni include five U.S. presidents: Taft and every U.S. president between 1986 and 2008: Ford, Bush, Clinton, and Bush II. All governed the first country to require in its constitution a separation of church and state.

Yale's campus, with its castle-like buildings, was at its most atmospheric that November day. The slightly chill air that smelled of soap and hung heavy with gray cotton-ball clouds lent a gloom that felt at home at such Gothic colleges.
Joe took me into the main library, normally open only to Yalies. Dimly lit, with cold stone walls, it felt like a distillation of the campus as a whole: medieval, secretive, privileged, erudite, and slightly menacing.

Next, Joe took me to his residential college, an institution Joe explained was unique to Yale. Students lived in residential colleges with a master who meted out privileges and punishments, and each college sponsored events like lectures and concerts. Joe's college was Jonathan Edwards, named for an early Eli (that's what Yale students call themselves). Edwards wrote an essay in the 1800s titled "The Glory of God" that was about spiders, so residents in this college are called "Spiders." Spiders adorn all the college's objects, including the dining plates and utensils.

Over the back wall, Joe pointed out the art museum. "I told you that I lived back-to-back with it." On the other side, he pointed out Skull and Bones, a secret society made famous by George Bush the elder. Members have to leave a room whenever the society's name is uttered. One journalist with a sense of humor asked a question with the name in it during a presidential press conference. Sure enough, George left. With no windows on its soot-darkened graystone fa├žade, and its windowless front door padlocked shut, it looked worthy of the campus nickname for such a society: a "tomb." It was as eerie as Hopper's huge, outdated, unpeopled mansions.

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