In honor of the archives issue, we dedicated this week’s Blinks to answering the question: What’s the most interesting story you’ve found in the Spectator archives?
Synecdoche, as I learned in my high school English class, is a figure of speech in which part of something stands for the whole. So if a writer, say, is talking about the knees of a character in a way that clearly refers to the character as a whole, that’s synecdoche: “Tired knees found their way to bed.”
I’ve always loved this idea. That a little fragment of a thing can capture, allude to, or otherwise echo the whole. Tired knees don’t just refer to tired knees—they draw our attention to a worn-out body, forcing us to consider the character’s physicality.
A tiny stub in the May 31, 1966 issue of the Columbia Daily Spectator informs us of a rubbish fire—set by students—on the third floor of Carman Hall. It caused, it seems, little damage and no injuries.
Flaming trash. In Carman Hall. And the part echoes the whole.
If you were a Columbia first-year in the early ’70s, Schuyler Hall must have seemed cool but a little out of the ordinary. Located at 415 West 120th St., its ads in Spectator mysteriously described it as “a private residence hall for men who want something special.” The first-year information packet would have included Schuyler Hall but likely been a little bit vague. You might not have caught that the residence hall was run by the conservative Catholic organization Opus Dei.
In 1972, Schuyler Hall was launched into a campus-wide controversy of cultism, conspiracy, and Catholic mortification that titillated readers of Spectator for a year. At first, one resident, then many others, came forward with stories of being pressured to follow Opus Dei practices, which require “vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty.” To foster a “family spirit,” house rules were supposedly strict, with formal attire at dinner required, a ban on women imposed, and the ideas of Nietzsche and Freud tabooed.
Some residents even claimed that they were required to check in and out every time they entered or left the building, and that they were not allowed to see their families for more than four straight days at a time. Vague rumors of ankle chains and whips, which are used in Catholic mortification, added to the image of cultism.
The director of the residence hall and loyal residents were quick to counter that the beliefs of Opus Dei were not forced upon anyone, that the rules mentioned were either voluntary or made up, and that the place fostered “a spirit of nobility and friendship, a tone of excellence and refinement, [and] the company of persons more willing to give than to receive.”
But in April 1973, it was reported that several residents who had spoken to Spectator were harassed, beaten up, and threatened with eviction. The University was clearly embarrassed by the controversy and pulled the residence hall from its first-year packets.
The following summer, Schuyler Hall was sold off and eventually became a dorm of the Jewish Theological Seminary (which has a spooky story of its own). Go there today in search of what was really going on there in the ’70s and you will be disappointed. The building has been torn down by a new developer, and the tantalizing truth probably went down with it. However, new truths are emerging in the changing Morningside Heights—as you will understand from the lead in this issue of The Eye.
It was Monday, and the year was 1933. And on that year’s Nov. 27, over eight decades ago, Columbia’s protest culture peaked with a single article. “Not a Twist” was dedicated to a most noble cause: lamenting the dearth of pretzels at the on-campus bar.
It’s short and succinct—more of a snippet than a full piece, really, easy to miss as you glance over the paper—but filled with remarkable resentment. Pretzels were an indispensable accompaniment, it claims, to students looking to “gurgle our beer in the Grill,” to make the libations just “a little tastier.” It disgruntledly proclaims that despite previous recommendations to the powers that be, “so far no one has found a single twist of a pretzel in the Grill.” (I wonder, idly, what those same students would have to say about the current state of our John Jay grill omelets.)
It’s almost comforting to think that way back in 1933, when Columbia undergrads still had the high privilege of downing beer in what is now JJ’s Place, drunchies were most definitely still a thing. Meanwhile, the Great Depression dragged on. The Nazis rose to power in Germany. The pretzel continued to elude Morningside Heights.
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