Delivered: June 2, 1956
“In the hand of the common chronicler, history, like charity, covereth a multitude of sins.” Even the cloak of love could hardly hide the shortcomings of the class of 1906. From our very weaknesses have come our strengths! From contrasts our virtues shine. Fifty-four years ago — or was it yesterday? — we gathered first as an integral part of the College. Strong in numbers, strong in confidence, strong in purpose, we made the decision that we would stand for Plain Living and Quick Thinking. Plain Living was the only choice open to us. There was no easy living any place on the Hill. We had to use our wits to stay in college. We had to be sharp and to stay sharp.
We were lazy, we were indifferent, we were procrastinating. Let us not recount our failures, we were a power for good. “Hank” White felt our chastening hand. “Bib” learned how to give a stiff course. The faculty despised our learning. Prexy Stryker characterized us as the “leisure class.” He said we would have to be endowed if we were to exist in the cold, cold world.
In athletics and all that had to do with undergraduate activities we were out in front. Football, basketball, track, baseball, tennis, the musical clubs were all built around 1906 as a backbone and a mainstay. Remember that last game with Colgate on November 11, 1905? The scores leading up to that game were as follows:
Hamilton 0 — Cornell 5
Hamilton 12 — St. Lawrence 0
Hamilton 29 — Rochester 0
Hamilton 11 — St. Lawrence 11
Hamilton 21 — Trinity 17
Hamilton 17 — Union 0
Then came the game with Colgate on Whitnall Field. Colgate won the game 17-15, scoring the winning touchdown in the last twenty seconds of play. It was the last fame for the “Old Guard:” Bramly, Mann, Sicard, Nellis, Thompson, LeMunyan, Barrows, Bennett, Ferris, Bloyer.
Take the two college dormitories, Old South 1813, and North 1825, I roomed in Old South. North was not much better. There was no such thing as central heating. Every study had an old coal stove. You ordered coal by the quarter or half ton. If was delivered C.O.D. on the north side of Old South. You toted it to your room. You ended the fire as best you knew how. Peter Kelly, our janitor, carried away the coal ashes. For light, you bought kerosene at Madam Kelly’s. You filled your Rochester burner which gave you light and in severe weather served as auxiliary heat. When you went out for your evening meal you placed the lamp on the floor, turned down the wick to what you figured was a safe position. Only too often upon your return you found that the flame had crept up and everything was covered in soot.
There were no lights at the entrances or in the hallways. You made your way through the hallways and up the stairs by touch and sense of direction. The north and south hallways were connected on the third and forth floors by passageways about four feet high. When class rows developed and the scrap was carried indoors an able-bodied man could get set in one of the passageways and like unto Horatius at the bridge could keep a lot of men at bay until one f the for sneaked up the other stairway and got him from the rear.
There was running water in the lavatories on the first floor. For shaving and ordinary ablutions you carried water up to your room and hearted it on your stove. When you needed a shower you made your way to Soper Gymnasium.
“Monk” Stuart, ’03, managed the College Bookstore on the first floor. Monk cooked his own meals. The combination of the smell of the second hand books and the cooking produced an unforgettable odor.
A room on the second floor south entrance was the scene of the hazing of Ezra Pound, ’05. Mind you, he was an upperclassman when this hazing took place. Ezra was made to sit down on a washbowl, toothpicks were placed in either hand, and he was made to sing “Pull for the shore sailor, pull for the shore.”
1906 organized two chapters of the Royal Gaboons. Alpha chapter had its headquarters in North, while Beta chapter held forth in South. When the cry “Royal Gaboon” was raised by day or by night it meant that there was something doing. Initiation into the “Royal Gaboon” was like this: The neophyte had to worship the goddess, a large Hart, Schaffner and Marx cut out. He must go all-out in his expressions of adoration and devotion. In many cases he was given a shampoo, a vile smelling concoction made up in the chemical laboratory. He might or he might not be shampooed but one thing was sure he would be taken in hand by the Wielder of the Bastinado, one Howard Craig Bramley. The Bastinado was a piece of two-by-four!
“Kink” Mann was determined that he would not be initiated. He insisted that the whole business would be an insult to his personality. It took watchful waiting to get him. Finally, late one afternoon, he was set upon near the Root Hall of Science. The cry “Royal Gaboon” was raised. The gang rushed to the locker room in the old gym to see the great man brought low.
Following the Spanish-American War the Honorable Elihu Root presented two Spanish cannon to the College. They were placed, supposedly, for keeps on either side of the flag pole. One night sophomores and freshman dragged one of the cannon down the hill—incidentally, the cannon weighed a couple of tons – across the bridge over the Oriskany, to a house occupied by Professor Ibbotson and his family. The cannon was moved right up to the front door. The doorbell was rung. “Dib” came to the door, saw the muzzle of the cannon pointing straight at him, threw up his hands and cried, “My God, gentlemen.”
There are those here present who will recall the Halloween when pigs were put in the Root Hall of Science! A cow was pushed up the stairs to the second floor of the Hall of Philosophy, and some chickens were put behind the pipes of the Chapel organ. At morning Chapel following these exploits, Prexy Stryker delivered a blistering, scathing, Phillipic against any and all who had been part of the activities of the preceding night. He finished with the words, “That in your teeth, scoundrels.”
One spring day a new cry was raised: “Atta Pie.” Two members of our class approached an unsuspecting student and suggested that the three match coins. The odd man would be the loser and buy pie for the three at Madame Kelly’s. The charter members proved that the hand is quicker than the eye. They always won. As soon as they had “taken” a new victim they raised the cry “Atta Pie” and all who had been stuck came running to Madame Kelly’s. By noon all the pies had been eaten. It was reported that Merwyn Humphrey Nellis got away with fifteen cuts of pie.
There were three terms in the college year: fall, winter, spring. Term exams came before Christmas, before Easter, and in June. If you flunked a course, you came back on “dink day.” If you failed on “dink day” you had no cuts during the next term. That was tough.
I liked the members of the faculty. They were dedicated men. They were sincere. They were eminently fair. They tried to teach us.
Think of that course on the Epistle of James taught the freshman by Prexy Stryker. The final exam was an oral one. Perry Miller was standing before Prexy. He was so scared he could not answer the question. Prexy remarked: “Yours in distress, P.A. Miller. Sit down.”
There was a course on the journeys of St. Paul which was taught by the College Librarian, Martin Mercillian Post. In the final examination you could be sure that one question would be: Draw an outline of one of the journeys of St. Paul. I am sorry to state that some of the boys went to the examination with maps prepared. In fact, one of our classmates drew the several journeys in color, and filed the journey asked for as a work of art!
“Hank” White had charge of the courses in public speaking. Can’t you hear him remark on rare occasions: “That was right good speaking.” At Wednesday chapel the sophomores kept us on our toes. We did the same by them. Do you recall the day when Allan Hallock in a declamation which had to do with the Emperor Titus, asked the rhetorical question: “Shall a son of mine sit on the throne?” Like a shot 1905 roared back: “No!”
I have never forgotten the day when Louis J. Ehret, Class of 1904, gave a declamation in which he rang all the changes in the alphabet – tragic, sentimental and comic.
At one recitation period “Bill” Shep in desperation asked if anyone would or could translate into French, the sentence, “See a pin, pick it up.” Walter Brokaw took a try at it, and began, “Voyez vous un epingle…” The professor was so pleased with this evidence of learning that he never let him finish the sentence.
How can anyone forget the Dutch sentences which had to be memorized in “Schnitz” Brandt’s course or the dissertations on cogito, ergo sum by Bill Squires, translated “I think, therefore I ain’t.”
Can’t you hear “Pills” Saunders say “I will now shoot the ball;” and “Bib” pointing out one of the greatest lines in English poetry from John Milton’s Samson Agonistes, “Eyeless in Gaza at the mill with slaves.”
Search your own memories for recollections of “Little Greek.” “Stink” Saunders, “Square Root”, Nichols, “Bugs” Morrill, Woodie, Robinson, Ward, and Davenport who wore neckties that were reputed to cost $3.50 each.
So we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of our graduation well satisfied, not that we are the best there is, not that we have fulfilled our possibilities, but that we have grown mightily. After all, that is what we are here for. We have fought the good fight for the College; we have put ourselves all in. We have retained our savor and the earth shall be salted. Time waits for none. Today we are it, tomorrow we are not. Vive la Hamilton!
Alexander Thompson was born in Thompson Ridge, N.Y. At Hamilton, he was a member of the Emerson Literary Society and Pentagon. After graduation, he entered Princeton Theological Seminary, where he received his bachelor of divinity degree. Hamilton also gave him an honorary degree of doctor of divinity in 1941. Rev. Thompson’s first pastorate was at the Little Britain Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania, where he served until 1915. During the First World War, he served overseas with the personnel division of the War Department in Washington, and later was associated with Herbert Hoover in food administration work. Following the war, he served as pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Westfield, N.Y., until 1921, and then at the North Presbyterian Church in Geneva, N.Y., where he served for 32 years. In 1945, he was elected moderator of the Synod of New York. Following his retirement in 1953, he worked in fundraising with Marts and Lundy, helping with campaigns for several churches.