I got a special behind-the-scenes tour of the Rotunda on Saturday. The Rotunda, Jefferson’s library and the centerpiece of his Academical Village, just got done with a roof replacement and now enters the second, more extensive phase of its renovations as they redo the mechanical systems and get ready to return it to a building more integrated with student life. The guide said that they were inspired by the way students took to the McGregor Room in Alderman when it was turned into study space after Special Collections moved into its new dedicated building, and hope to recreate that effect in the oval room across from the Board of Visitors meeting room on the second floor. I can’t think of anything better.
The tour itself was fascinating. We stood in the lower oval rooms on the ground floor and learned what they’ve reconstructed about the larger role of the chemistry labs in the earliest days of the university, when the Rotunda was not just library but also science classroom. We marveled at the graffiti left by builders in the portland cement lining the cistern buried in the east courtyard, long hidden under a fountain. And we got to ascend both tiers of balcony above the Dome Room floor, which have long been off limits to regular tours.
The last part was the most special. Behind an opened panel on the north wall was a small chamber housing the machinery for the north clock. There was a 1970s era unfinished wood structure around the clock mechanism. And the wood structure was covered by signatures of probationary classes of the University Guide Service. The Guides’ secret hideaway had long been a legend, and seeing it in broad daylight was surprising at first. But as I wrote to a friend, I felt that the Guides found a way to become part of the historic fabric of the building in an intimately familiar and ultimately respectful way, just like the builders who left their names in the cement of the cistern. Seeing the signatures meant that my friends had found a way to become a deep part of the history of the University.
My 20th reunion has been a great time to connect with friends, gawk at the architecture (again), and disappear into the library. —Wait, what?
I got into Charlottesville on Thursday for reunions weekend, and headed straight to the library. I was on the trail of the mysterious Glee Club concert program. I found the mention of William Wood Glass‘s correspondence with Ada Bantz Beardsworth in January of this year, and one sentence in the finding aid was electrifying: “He also included programs for the University of Virginia Glee Club.”
In the end, the discovery was simple. I went to Special Collections, requested the box of correspondence, opened it, and there it was: a program for the February 12, 1894 Glee Club concert. Featuring E.A. Craighill, author of the Good Old Song, and the same concert program that the Club took on that 1893–1894 tour, the program formed the second earliest record we have of an actual Glee Club performance. It also had a human dimension: Glass wrote a letter to Ada on the front and back, describing the concert and its aftermath. He notes, “We had a fine time, but not as large a house as we anticipated. I made a great mash on one of Miss Baldwin’s girls.”
I’m getting the program scanned properly. It should be part of our permanent record of Club’s history.
I returned to Alderman on Friday to dig through other holdings. I finally laid eyes on the January 1871 copy of the Virginia University Magazine, which fixes our earliest date for the Glee Club, and made my way through much of the collection of Corks and Curls. I’ll post about some of those findings another time.
I’ve been out of circulation a bit over the last day or two at an offsite, so haven’t had a chance to post much about the week I’ve got ahead of me. I’m heading back to UVA for my 15th reunion starting tomorrow, and really looking forward to it.
Logistically, it won’t be simple–we have to take the whole family, including the dogs, down to New Jersey and then Lisa and I will head on solo the following day to Charlottesville. Two days of driving each way, for only two days in Charlottesville. Sigh.
This will be a good reunion for me, I think. Last time around we caught up with a lot of folks but were a little distracted by other business (we were in the middle of selling our house in Kirkland and moving back to the east coast). This time, not only will I hopefully find time to get some better photos of Grounds in full sunlight, but I’ll be fully plugged in to my surroundings in a way I haven’t been before. Doing all the research on the Glee Club has made me much more conscious of the history of the University, and in some ways I feel closer to the place as a result.
A physical reunion in the age of Facebook feels a little like an anachronism, but I feel like, having reconnected with so many folks virtually, I’m ready to seriously hang out and have a lot of fun with everyone without having to do all the small talk.
Ever have one of those vacations where it seems like you spent most of the time in the car? It took us forever to get to New Jersey and Lisa’s folks on Friday night, thanks in part to a two hour backup on the Tappan Zee Bridge. I think every now and then about that Paul Simon song that goes, “I believe in the future I may live in my car.” Thank goodness for rising gas prices; they’re the only thing standing in the way of that particular future.
We spent time on Saturday at the Jersey Shore (at Island Beach State Park) and I was reminded of why I really like the beach. I love Crane Beach but for various logistical reasons I’ve been less than thrilled the last few times I’ve gone. Plus, the gentle surf, pristine sand, and clear waters are all nice, but they don’t spell beach to me. I grew up near Virginia Beach and that, jellyfish and all, is the beach I enjoy. Island Beach had a lot of that–the rough surf, the cool but not frigid water, the feeling of being buffeted about by something larger than you. All aces in my book.
Sunday was a marathon trip over to Lancaster County, where we arrived at Leacock Presbyterian Church with ten minutes for me to go over the music for the service. We’ve had a tradition for the last few years (spearheaded by my cousin Don Brackbill) that the men of the Brackbill clan get a men’s chorus going on the Sunday of the Brackbill picnic, and we had a pretty good turnout this year although a few voices were missed.
The picnic itself, over at the Brackbill farm, was gorgeous–not too humid but warm, and the usual crowd of aunts and uncles, cousins, second cousins, first cousins once removed, and dogs. I missed my grandfather and my uncle Harold, and my aunt Marie. But my cousin Catherine was there with her family, and it was nice to see them–they haven’t been to a reunion for a while. I’ll post pictures when I get them off my computer and phone; in the meantime, I have a few from 2003, 2005 and 2006 online (though not 2007, when it rained like crazy).