Dickinson College Homepage Dickinson Magazine This issue of the Dickinson Magazine was mailed on Monday, October 1, 2007
From This Issue
Volume 85 • Number 2
Fall 2007

My Favorite Places
Reflections on some formative Dickinson locales and experiences
By Theodore Stellwag '63

Conway Hall is gone now, pummeled into a pile of dust in 1966 to make way for the Spahr Library. It remains only in faded postcards and shades-of-gray memories.

Oh, the stories it could tell.

It was named for Moncure Daniel Conway, class of 1849. He was a friend of industrialist Andrew Carnegie who paid $63,480 to honor him with a building. I lived there in its final years when Conway had the charm of a penal colony. Roaches were larger than some pets, and its electrical system was strained by dozens of forbidden hot plates warming Dinty Moore beef stew. And, for one glorious night, it had a Volkswagen beetle parked in the first-floor hallway. The engineering details of that feat are shrouded by the years.

Our memories of buildings inevitably are shaped by people and events. I walked around campus one morning not long ago and recalled my first visit. It was lunchtime and the admissions office in Old West was empty. The red-haired gentleman I met in the hall invited me into his office for a chat. He was the legendary Gilbert Malcolm, class of 1915, soon to become the 23rd president. An hour later I was irretrievably hooked on Dickinson.

In September 1959, my parents delivered me to Morgan Hall, then a freshman dorm. Late that Sunday afternoon I sat alone in my third-floor room and realized that life had changed. I was suddenly, absolutely on my own. That epiphany moment is my memory of Morgan Hall.

Denny Hall will forever resonate with the orations of John Christian Pflaum, gone now for 32 years but living still in memories of his Civil War class. J.C. Pflaum played all the parts in the Battle of Bull Run. Given the detail of his first-person accounts, he could have witnessed Jeb Stuart and the Confederate cavalry shell Carlisle in 1863. Denny is different today, more sedate and much quieter.

Althouse Hall is Professor Schiffman, in my mind. He taught American literature with a gift of rapture for his subject. Schiffman was an authority on Melville and called everyone “mate.” He massaged a bust of Franklin during his soliloquy on the autobiography. Reciting Robert Frost’s “Birches,” he would peer out the window with an expression of palpable sadness. Through all these years, I was certain Joe Schiffman was looking at birch trees. I went to find them on that morning walk. There was no trace of a birch, past or present. Maybe he faked it.

Much else is gone. My private study nook, tucked into the mezzanine of Bosler Memorial Library, became an elevator shaft. The Sigma Alpha Epsilon house was leveled, along with our three-hole barbeque pit. It’s a parking lot for Penn State Dickinson School of Law. The town library occupies the site of the former Corner Caf, an alternative to the barely edible offerings of the Slater food-service system. Mabel Morgan worked the Caf’s counter, serving pot pie and good advice in equal measure. The Carlisle Diner offered 35-cent Black Labels and lively talk. It’s now Alibis, and the beers are pricier.

But the Mermaid remains, the enduring icon in her perch atop Old West. It matters not that architect Benjamin Latrobe meant for it to be a sea triton or that the more matronly original is under glass away from temptation. In 1915, energetic underclassmen tied a chaplain’s bicycle to the Mermaid. Our class waged the more traditional assault, carefully escorting her down the fire escape. We were a well-behaved bunch of Mermaid snatchers. 

My favorite spot on campus is the class of 1900 gate. In May 1962 I walked through it with my future wife, Ann, on the night we met. After our first date, I confided to a classmate that I would marry that girl. On a picture-postcard morning 45 years later we walked through it again, a bit slower, much wiser, but still hand in hand.

Theodore Stellwag ’63 is executive director emeritus of the Pennsylvania Bar Association and, in retirement, a freelance writer living in New Cumberland, Pa. It’s full circle for a career that began in newspapering. He expresses gratitude to Jim Gerencser ’93, archivist, for his assistance with historical background.

 


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