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The Houses of Williamstown: Zeta Psi … ( A Re-issue)

(This is the 15th in a series of 16 posts) This series ran in 2009 … click Comment for complete text.
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The Houses of Williamstown: Baxter Hall … (Reissue)

(This is the last post in a series of 16) This was originally posted 26 Nov, 2009. Sharp eyes may have noticed the disconnect between 14 and 16: namely Zeta Psi. The Zetes reissue was posted on May 20, 2017.


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Bending Straws


In the 1980s, during my initial stint as an impressionable student in the academy, I spent my Sundays toiling as a manager down at the club. The edifice was on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge. The club was housed in a single story elongated rectangular brown painted cinderblock building. The locality had a sleek and swanky fashion, which was in vogue during the height of the Nixonian modern urban renewal architectural period.

We habitually hung a sign that advertised for a porter at the entrance of the club, as good help in those days was hard to find. The economy in Boston during the ‘Massachusetts miracle’ had made the help terribly fickle, due to an over-abundance of well-paying jobs. We paid the minimum of course, with the offer of a free jigger of spirits if the good lad who held the door happened to get his nose broken while attempting to break up an altercation. Hiring help that had learned how to look the other way was of great importance to the elite clientele.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology was one block down the avenue from the establishment, and the gents from the fraternities frequented the place. They were certainly not the men of Harvard, but still worth a listen. For some quirky reason math and science was of more importance than finance to those young men? I must confess that in actuality, we cared very little for where a young gentleman went to college. It was the family accent that truly enlightened us. “But yes of course, of course you go to Harvard,” we would say, “but where did you prep, where did you prep, my good man? Choate, Exeter, Groton?”

The lounge in the club was of the highest order. We had five tiers of the finest victuals. From the tap we served the latest fashionable beer. The floors were a greying black, as the wood was well worn and sticky from years of grand tradition. Neon Budweiser signs, and posters advertising various other upscale varieties, adorned the walls. We had several dart boards so that the lads could relax and play whilst enjoying a Pabst after a hard day at the academy.

It was on early Sunday afternoons, whilst I was cutting my teeth with this first internship in management, that three men from Zeta Psi would come to play a bit of “Pitch”. Pitch was a fantastic game, although I have heard from those still laboring at the club that it has since fallen out of favor.

The ladies from the Boston Women’s Rugby league would also show up for some pints after their Sunday scrums. They were always so lovely. Stout and severe, broad and menacing, as all proper women should be. Sauntering into the club in their attirement of proper shorts, knee high socks, and cleats; striped rugby shirts of red and white, draping their sweat laden bodies with a sophisticated mud covered embroidery. Oh, the traditional songs which they would sing! In unison they would chorus the moral fiber of femininity. Old whimsical choruses, such as “Barnacle Bill the Sailor” and “Bestiality’s Best” were my favorites. I still fondly remember the ensembles.

It is a pity that the singing of such songs of tradition has fallen out of favor. One never hears such songs the way we used to in public anymore. Sadly, what once identified the beauty of societal order in the hallowed halls of our elite institutions now runs against the grain. Perhaps it is this blasted cell phone culture that has turned everyone into a philistine moralist of some kind? Moments can be captured out of context by the simplest of passersby, and posted for commoners’ consumption on the YouTube. It is a shame that such happenings can no longer be kept within the higher circles of moral clarity.

It was during such moral conventions that the men of the Institute of Technologies’ Zeta Psi would sit at my bar and play Pitch. They would listen to the sweet choruses of the rugby ladies, as they drank the odd mixes of spirits associated with the game. The three Pitch players were Andrew, Duncan, and Remy. All three were from the finest lineage, but for whatever reason, had found a love of science over money? The particular mixology of the game clearly excited their participation in the sport of it. This ritual of Pitch was indeed a fashionable Sunday science project, as much as it was a game, or a sport.


       But it was a game of the highest order, and one needed to know the exact regulations!


First, it was only to be played on the holiest of days. On Sunday afternoons, that was when the three young men would stop by our posh establishment for a fine game of Pitch. They would come to me as they would a doctor, suffering greatly from the burden of too much blood in their alcohol systems. With the Saturday evening fraternity foray not far behind them, they were itching for a game of remedy!

Second, and of high importance, was the bending of straws. Sitting at the lounge countertop they would make a circle out of the drinking straws. It is easily done. You fold the end of one straw over itself, insert that into the hole of another straw, and then repeat that process until you join both ends to connect the straws together. Then you would enjoin the straws together to form a circle. In doing this, you can customize the diameter. As their mixologist and referee I would measure the circular straw throwing devices. The regulation size was six connected red cocktail straws.

Third, and of utmost importance to the common busboy, was the positioning of wastebaskets. You needed two, placed in between the three players. Player – wastebasket – player – wastebasket – player: in that exact order. The wastebaskets had to be of the common plastic variety, certainly not wood, and god forbid, never wicker. The liners were to be left out, as the ability for the busboy to rinse the receptacles cleanly with a hose outside near the street water drain was paramount.

Fourth, the playing field was the bar. Players were seated at the bar, with a normal positioning: facing the liquor shelves that were about eight feet behind the bar countertop. The seating arrangement was important, as the loser from last week’s game always pitched first. He would be placed seated at the far right of the bartender (me), or the left hand side of the other two players, from the perspective of a customer.

The rules of the gameplay were fairly simple. Once the game was set up, with the three players seated, trashcans properly placed and the straws bent into regulation size circles; myself as mixologist and referee, would call the time. Each player had two minutes to pitch. The pitch of the circle of straws took place from a seated position. Standing for an advantage was forbidden. The straw circle was pitched at the liquor bottles on the shelves behind the bar. A player would throw the red straw circle at the bottles of victuals that were shelved in tiers against the wall behind the bar. Underhand was the technique, as if softly throwing a horseshoe. Again, this was about an eight-foot shot.

It was a well-stocked club, with five tiers of finest varieties, elongated on each shelf. Irish, scotch, Canadian, bourbon, blends, schnapps of all flavors, creams such as Baily’s, liquors such as Kahlua, spiced rums; etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. All of it was in play. The mixologist (me), would blend the liquor that the thrown bar straw circle enveloped.

The circumference of the straw circle had the ability to encapsulate up to four bottles on the shelf, but normally only two or three. For example; a pitch could encircle Peachtree schnapps, Drambuie scotch, and Tanqueray gin. I would gather these three bottles, and pour the mix into a single shot glass. One player would pitch, and the player next in the order, the “receiver”, would drink the mix. After each pitch the drinking player had one minute to drink the mix. Two minutes to throw, one minute to drink.

This continued until someone lost the test of endurance. At some juncture a red faced player would be exhausted, and unable to contain himself- you lost when your fluids flew, even if you could still stomach a drink afterwards. The loser paid in bodily fluid as well as coin, as per regulation because the loser purchased the bar tab for the event. The duration and outcome of the game had a great deal to do with skill and conditioning, the normal characteristics of any athletic endeavor.

On most occasions, the rugby women would be singing, and stopping to watch and cheer the action. This added greatly to the ambiance the game. There was one stout but shorter African American female rugby player who had an intense Mohawk. She always took great interest in the game. She watched with glee and fascination while jutting about the Pitch competitors- but paying respect to never interrupt the field of paly. This always got the other mud-clad ladies to add tidbits and jeers as the men struggled to keep their composure.

The sport often became very intense towards the end, and one Sunday was no exception. This time, when Remy, who had lost last week, starting to become ill from exhaustion, found his seating and stayed in the game for the love of the contest! It was a noble sight indeed. The players were covering mouths with hands, and dry heaving whilst caught in the clutches of the exhilarating competition. All the while the ladies were singing gleefully and hoisting spirits. But the agony of defeat came suddenly, as it often did, when Duncan lost control of his oral function, hurling wild amounts of noxiously blended booze into one of the well placed plastic cans.

The thrill of victory for the Remy and Andrew, hands held high, was first rate. They even gave each other the plebian recognition of the high five, as they found their sea legs with the exhilaration of the victory. It was a testament to their endurance that they were not so badly staggered by the liquid-curdling war of attrition. The sportsmanship on display that Sunday would have made any college sports commentator proud. Players gave hard encouraging slaps on the back to each other as the intensity of the play heightened! The crescendo of the competition came when Duncan finally succumbed and placed his face in one of the cans, whilst his competitors heartily encouraged him with rubs of the hair and slaps on the back. Howard Cosell would have been proud.


Having come from such a place: from within the hallowed halls of such academic diversity and inclusion, is it any wonder that I now spend my days in elite college towns, polishing my social graces with the younger lads? Of course, the ladies and gentlemen these days are in search of the same things we craved when we were but mere babe socialites at the club playing Pitch.


Upon picking up The Record several months ago I was shocked to see that all of the finer parts of etiquette are now to be legally missing. How will our youngsters grow without the facility to have a good stab at diversity, just as we did? After all, the contemporary truth is the same as it was back in our time as young ladies and gentlemen down at the club, is it not? Hard liquor is essential to enhance the finer points of decorum. We are asking the lads to give up a very important part of their propriety. It is the blending of spirits at elite clubs and in fraternity basements that fosters the greatest moments of clarity! As explained, it was while bending straws down at the club when I learned about the hegemony of a diverse synergy within the fusion of the paradigm.

Whilst first reading the news of the ban on hard liquor at Williams I burst out of my chair and exclaimed, “Good God Adam no, let it not be so!”


More EphWarts

Although EphBlog does not intend to spend an absurb amount of time on the Houses of Hogwarts and their relationship to the new Neighborhoods of Williams, we do want to give the topic a definitive treatment. Alas, this looks like it will require a lot more work than we have already put in. EphBlog accepts the challenge! This also provides an excuse to revisit two books that every Eph should have close to hand: Mark Hopkins and the Log by former Professor of History Fred Rudolph ’42 and Reflections on the Architecture of Williams College by Professor of Art Whitney Stoddard ’35.

To review, let us start with the attributes of the houses as listed by Wikipedia and some of the key structures/histories of the Williams neighborhoods to which these attributes might imply.

Hufflepuff is the most inclusive among the four houses, valuing hard work and patience, loyalty and friendship, and justice and fair play rather than a particular aptitude in its members.

Gryffindor values courage, chivalry and boldness.

Slytherin values ambition and cunning.

Ravenclaw values intelligence, knowledge, and wit.

Currier (i.e., the Berkshire Quad) is simply the only choice for Hufflepuff. For the last 20 years at least, it has been known as the Odd Quad, easily the most inclusive collection of residences at Williams, filled with Ephs willing and able to accept each other as they are. This tradition of inclusiveness goes back more than 75 years, to the era of the Garfield Club — the eating facility for the men refused admittance to the fraternity system or unwilling to enter it.

But the other three houses are much trickier, despite my excessively facile answers of yesterday. Perhaps we need is some help from Guy Creese ’75, whose thesis on the concept of the gentleman at Williams must be relevant to this discussion. In any event, here are some of the most important aspects of the three remaining neighborhoods.

1) Dodd. Although the history of Dodd House does not suggest anything sinister, I am still leaning toward Slytherin, if only because it seems like Gryffindor and Ravenclaw belong elsewhere. In addition to our prior claims about Dodd being the “prep” area 20 years ago, note that the Sytherin Quidditch Team is all male. Historians of Williams housing history will recall that perhaps the original “breakdown” — depending on your point of view — of free agency was when Tyler Annex became almost completely male helmet-sport athletes. (We still need to identify the Eph who came up with the idea of using the option of “squatting” to create a virtual fraternity. History needs to know his name!) If the Dodd Neighborhood is Slytherin than Tyler Annex is its Quidditch team.

2) The Spencer Neighborhood includes Mark Hopkins and Bryant (from the Greylock Quad), Morgan, West, Spencer (Chi Psi) and Brooks (Delta Kappa Epsilon).

Spencer is probably the best bet for Ravenclaw, although the evidence is not as strong as for Dodd, much less Currier. For example, it is beyond dispute that “courage, chivalry and boldness” were more important in the DKE House of yore than “intelligence, knowledge and wit.” (Sorry, Dad!) But, since the DKE House burned down in 1959, we can safely ignore this contra-indication.

More important to our efforts is the role of the Adelphic Union and its two sub-parts (the Philologian and Philotechnian Societies) to the initial history of Williams.

The Adelphic Union split into the Philologian and Philotechnian Societies when it outgrew its quarters in West College in 1795/6. The Philologian and Philotechnian were created due to the Union’s increased size, not because the two societies subscribed to different ideals. According to the 1883 revised edition of the Philologian constitution: “The object of this society shall be the literary improvement of its members.” The object of the Philotechnian Society, as stated in the 1873 version of its constitution, was: “…the intellectual culture of its members.”

Given that West is now a part of the Spencer Neighborhood, one might make a strong case for Spencer as Ravenclaw, with its emphasis on “intelligence, knowledge, and wit.” This is further emphasized by the vision of Mark Hopkins on one end of the log as well as by the inclusion of the poet (William Cullen) Bryant as one of the houses.

The most subtle bit of history concerns the Sigma Phi fraternity that used to be located where Morgan is today. See also the controversy over the construction of Sawyer Library. I am not sure if this tale is of use in our classificantion efforts.

3) The Wood Neighborhood includes Perry (Alpha Delta Phi), Wood (Zeta Psi), Garfield (Delta Upsilon) and Agard (Delta Phi) along with Carter and Gladden from the Greylock Quad. Having established the identity of the other three neighborhoods, all that is left for Wood is Gryffindor. Given that it is clearly the most fraternity-heavy of the four neighborhoods, this is not an unreasonable classification. Whatever else may be said about the fraternities, they did not put an emphasis on inclusion (as with Hufflepuff) or on intelligence (as with Ravenclaw). Viewed charitably, they certainly valued “courage, chivalry and boldness.”

And so we are done. In summary and in order of surety:

Currier == Hufflepuff
Spencer == Ravenclaw
Dodd == Slytherin
Wood == Gryffindor

Upon reflection, it would seem that the evidence for Spencer as Ravenclaw is better than that for Dodd as Slytherin.

Reader comments?



Although the WSO Discussion feature has not, so far, thrived, a critical question has been raised.

With the recent move by CUL to a four cluster plan, I feel that one question looms large in the minds of all Williams College students:

Of the four clusters, which corresponds to which Hogwarts house and why?

I feel that the answers to this question will be vital to the success of the neighborhood system, and so it should be discussed in such an open forum before the cluster draws occur. So which cluster (Dodd, Currier, Spencer, Wood) is which house from Harry Potter (Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Slytherin, Ravenclaw)? You decide!

How can we possibly answer this question until we know the faculty associates for each house?

AB ’07 goes with:

Spencer, Wood – Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw

Dodd, Currier – Gryffindor, Slytherin

No. I would add my thoughts to the discussion, but it does not seem that alumni are allowed to participate. I do not see Currier as Slytherin since such an assignment does not connect to the history of the Odd Quad. Neither, obviously, would Gryffindor. I think that Hufflepuff is the best match.

Hufflepuff is the most inclusive among the four houses, valuing hard work and patience, loyalty and friendship, and justice and fair play rather than a particular aptitude in its members. . . . Perhaps as a consequence of the broad principles of acceptance upon which it is founded, Hufflepuff has been stereotyped as the house of the unexceptional (or, more unkindly, as “a lot o’ duffers”).

The reputation of Dodd, at least in the 1980’s, was as the “prep” house. So, if any cluster is to be Slytherin, I am afraid it must be Dodd, assuming that “pureblood” == “prep”. The notions of aristocracy are certainly similar. Tyler could certainly provide a nice Slytherin Common Room, with its distance from campus serving as a metaphorical basement.

But what of Griffindor and Ravenclaw? Good question! Since Carter House is in the Wood neighborhood and I lived in Carter and I am the Mad-Eye Moody of Williams alums, the key question is which house Moody lived in. Alas, even Wikipedia does not provide the answer. If it was Gryffindor, then Spencer == Ravenclaw.

But what do our readers think? Surely there are some fraternity references that should apply. Note that Ravenclaw :

values intelligence, knowledge, and wit. Its emblematic animal is the eagle, and its colours are blue and bronze (silver in the films).

So, which fraternity was the “smart” one?

(Yes, I have read all 6 books to my daughters. They are much better than you might expect.)

UPDATE: This is really a critical question and we need help from our readers who know the history of houses and fraternities. To be specific, the Wood neighborhood includes — other than the Gladden and Carter — Perry (Alpha Delta Phi), Wood (Zeta Psi) and Garfield (Delta Upsilon). What were the reputations of these fraternities back in the day? The Spencer neighborhood includes Hopkins, Bryant and Morgan along with West, Spencer (Chi Psi) and Brooks (Delta Kappa Epsilon). Only the last two are former fraternities. Would West’s status as the oldest dormitory be useful here? Note that these fraternity linkages are only guesses on my part using this college source. DKE burned down before 1960 and so was never literally in Brooks (built in 1961) but was replaced by Brooks.

I guess that we could also look to the history of the men associated with the names of various houses. See here for some background on the Presidents of Williams. Nothing jumps out as useful. So, I think that our best bet is to figure out which fraternity was the smart one; whichever neighborhood has it because Ravenclaw. The other is Gryffindor. Right now, my guess is that Chi Psi (Spencer) had the reputation as the scholarly fraternity, so the Spencer neighborhood should be Ravenclaw.

This might also be consistent with the Spencer neighborhood as having only one real fraternity. Since Gryffindor “values courage, chivalry and boldness,” it would seem natural to assign it to the neighborhood with the most former fraternities, which would be Wood.

I will not rest easy until this is settled. Help us Frank!


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