In 1969 Cornell's Black United Students seized Willard Straight Hall and armed themselves to protest institutional racism. When I arrived at Ithaca College in 1964, I had never even heard the word racism.
(Work in progress.)
"I never called her 'Dorothy' or him 'Howard' to their faces, although all of Ithaca knew them as an almost hyphenated phrase ---- 'Howard-and-Dorothy' --- a kind of fairy godfather and godmother to the town, sprinkling architectural and artistic magic over hundreds of acres on South Hill at a time."
|McGraw Tower (with carillon) at Cornell. Cayuga in the background.|
(Note: Some images enlarge twice with a left click of the mouse, enabling you to read text; or simply hold (Ctrl)) down and hit (+) as many times as you wish the blog to enlarge.)
|Good sports in an April Fool's Day article for the student paper, The Ithacan: Dr. Dillingham at 65 and Mrs. Dillingham at 60|
D. Hoyt at 87, with canvas (Montana).
|Ithaca College's fourteen-story Twin Towers. (They are impishly turned into a giant New Year greeting annually.)|
|Two views of the "new" campus in my era, 1964-69. Cayuga is poking its head in, left upper corner.|
"Let me ask Dorothy."
It was a sculptor's chisel and an artist's brush which made me choose Ithaca as my college home in 1964.
The sculptor? Mother Nature.
Her work? The spectacularly beautiful Cayuga, as seen from South Hill where a new College campus of 30 buildings was rising from the spring mud, with a lake view as breathtaking as Lugano in Switzerland.
The artist? Dorothy Dillingham, aka "D. Hoyt," the Adirondack artist who had married the College's daring president, Howard Dillingham, when he was 60 and she was 55, second marriages for them both.
Her canvas? The entire 30 buildings of the new campus which "Dr. Dillingham" had impulsively decided to build for little Ithaca College on the rival hill opposite Cornell, build without a penny of endowment and only the money of a few donors and faculty behind him.
He and Mrs. Dillingham rode their horses up to South Hill one autumn day and he decided, on a Archimedean impulse, "We'll build our College here," as he cantered across what would become the College's thousands of acres, enjoying the spectacular view of Cayuga below.
With that impulse, and his artist bride, he indeed would move the world.
At least he would move the financial world, which loaned the College hundreds of millions of dollars, all on the promise of a visionary to build what was by 1970 a spectacular, modern campus, designed by a single architect around a central theme: Cayuga, the lake.
|CAYUGA FROM LADOGA LANDING|
Dorothy Hoyt Dillingham
Photo courtesy of Pelah Hoyt
At age 19 I visited the new campus when only one of its ten dormitories was completed (all modern green-pagoda-roofed structures) and neither of the two fourteen-story tower dorms had risen above floor four. A Student Union, Health Service and a Lecture Hall were the only other buildings in sight. The dorms didn't even have names; dorms 1-10 they were called the first years I was there.
Visitors were sent to the one dorm that was complete (Dorm Six, as I recall, an "exhibition dorm") to view the entry lounge which had been decorated by the College president's wife (as would the entire thirty buildings be so decorated over the next five years by "Dorothy's artistic hand) who had a penchant for one color in particular: Bright orange.
All I knew was that the dorm lounge was modern and gorgeous, a spectacle of primary colors: Orange carpet, yellow swivel chairs shaped like bananas, red swivel chairs shaped like hollowed out grapes and two more swivel chairs shaped like Mickey Mouse's ears, bright blue, with a green love seat and modern black leather sofa. You had to see it in person to realize such an explosion of color could thrill the onlooker.
The walls had what seemed like Jackson Pollack paintings on them. They were actually "D. Hoyts" not Jackson Pollacks ( her abstract period ), along with South American tapestries and witch doctor masks.
I fell in love with the place.
Aesthetics, (Mother Nature's exteriors and D. Hoyt's interiors) not academics, convinced me: Ithaca College was for me.
The drama of this beauty is what I wanted in my life.
Little did I know that before my four years was up, I would become D. Hoyt's student assistant and friend, and live in the servant's quarters behind the president's mansion, 2 Fountain Place.
"I like some beards . . ."
Fast-forward two years, the end of my Sophomore year at Ithaca College. I've been on Dean's List every semester and am head of the Egbert Student Union's Speakers' Bureau. I work in the campus bookstore and the campus pub to pay tuition. I help faculty folks with yard work in exchange for a room, but that arrangement has come to an end.
I'm broke and can't afford to rent a place to live. I will have to drop out of school if I can't solve this problem.
|The beard of a 66-year-old. Note the photo on the wall of the beard's former incarnation on a 20-year-old Ithaca Sophomore.|
As a last hope, I walk up to the top floor of Job Hall, the Administration Building, and ask to speak to President Dillingham.
I'm not sure how --or if -- he'll receive me, since I am one of only TWO students on campus who has a beard, a tonsorial decoration associated with anti-war protesters at the time.
I had even asked Dr. Dillingham in front of an audience at a public student forum what he thought of students having beards. (That was back in the patriarchal sixties, recall, when one still sought "approval" of or "permission" from the father-figures in society.)
His answer (in that Jimmy Durante gravelly voice of his) : "I like some beards. I like yours for instance." But he didn't know me by name on this campus of 2,500 students, and I was walking in to his office cold.
It had snowed and Dr. Dillingham was sitting behind his desk which faced a glass wall looking out on Cayuga, wearing green wool hunting pants, red suspenders and a brown plaid shirt. He was famous for speaking with a gravelly voice (a paralyzed vocal chord from his youth) which could be intimidating, but the costume put me at ease.
"I 'm a Sophomore here, Dr. Dillingham, who's been on Dean's List every marking period. I was wondering if you had any situations where I could earn free rent in exchange for services to the College. I understand the College Warehouse has such a situation and I wonder if there are any others?"
Ithaca College's "oldest living undergraduate," 44-year-old Doug Waite, was the watchman at the College Warehouse, nights; and "jack-of-all trades" for the College, days.
( Jack-of-all trades included everything from chauffeuring in the College station wagon conductor Leopold Stokowski from Manhattan to Ithaca because of the maestro's aversion to air travel; to running up and down 14-stories of each of the Twin Tower dorms on New Year's Eve to turn on the specific room lights required to transform the dorms into 14-story lighted billboards sporting the digits of the new year.)
He thought a moment, then said, "Come back and see me this afternoon, Paul." in his permanent growl with what I hoped was a smile, as he ushered me out of his orange office, almost a glass promontory overlooking the Lake.
(Actually the whole campus is just such an architectural promontory; that's the visual genius of the place.)
"Well." I thought, "At least he called me by name."
Thus began a 30-year association which I dare to call friendship. Certainly he and Mrs. Dillingham were good friends to me. And I hope I was to them.
I never called her 'Dorothy' or him 'Howard' to their faces, although all of Ithaca knew them as an almost hyphenated phrase ---- "Howard-and-Dorothy" --- a kind of fairy godfather and godmother to the town, sprinkling architectural and artistic magic over hundreds of acres on South Hill at a time.
|A classic Henry Hobson Richardson style mansion, 2 Fountain Place is the president's house at Ithaca College. |
( D. Hoyt's art studio occupied one entire side of the enormous garret: approximately 40'x 20' . )
"Howdja like to live at Fountain Place?"
When I went back to his office that afternoon he growled music to my ears: "Howdja like to live at Fountain Place?"
Fountain Place is an impressive edifice from the outside, more impressive than the president's home at Cornell or Dartmouth, Yale or Princeton. It is a handsome example of Richardson architecture complete with massive round arch, tower and turret, and gables. Despite its massive size (approximately 60' x 80'), it has surprisingly few rooms.
The entry hall bisects the house and is two stories high with a stunning chandelier of Venetian class (designed especially for Mrs. Dillingham, "Dorothy") as its centerpiece.
Five or six enormous bedrooms all emerge onto a balcony which overlooks, on all four sides. the central hallway and grand staircase.
On the first floor a large living room and dining room for entertainment fan off from the central hall to the left. On the right a music room, solarium, and library, exist mostly for family activity.
One small room at the end of the central hallway was the 'primate's room': Dorothy kept a pet monkey in the president's house which sometimes ate at the dinner table with guests. By the time I came to live there it had joined its friends in "the primate lab" of the science building on the new campus.
|Bird with a Broken Wing by D. Hoyt.|
Behind the dining room, attached to the main granite structure, was a two story clapboard building: The first floor was a chef's kitchen; the second story was a small living room and bedroom and half bath----the servant's quarters.
That's where I lived my Senior year at Ithaca College.
I had access to the shower one story above my rooms, in Dorothy's studio (the enormous garret). One of her paintings, Bird with a Broken Wing, hung over the mantle in the servant's quarters. It now hangs in my home in Vermont, in 2011, but that is another story. The late John Ogden, a friend, faculty member, and contemporary of the Dillinghams, once told me, "It looks more like Bird with a Broken Neck!"
While the architecture was pure Richardson, the interior decorating was pure D. Hoyt: Witch doctor masks, South American tapestries, huge canvasses from her Dakar series and her Adirondack period---and everywhere the flair for primary colors, especially orange. The joke at Ithaca College was that if it was orange, Dorothy had been the decorator.
Every dorm and public building had splashes of orange, accents of orange, and the new library had a veritable ocean of orange.
One complete floor of the library (which was designed with no interior walls so all the stacks were accessible to the eye at once): one whole floor was carpeted entirely in bright orange.
Step off the elevator at one end of the building and you looked out at about half a football-field- expanse of nothing but orange carpet, study carrels, bookcases and modern overstuffed chairs and couches for relaxed reading.
Even the Board of Trustees' swivel chairs arranged around a great oval table off the president's office in Job Hall, were upholstered in orange.
(Ten years after the Dillinghams' retirement, a vice president of the College bragged to me that those chairs were the only remnant left of Dorothy's orange days, and that they were on their way out too: The campus had been purged of her artistic touch.
I learned a lot during my Senior year at Fountain Place.
Dr. Dillingham (Howard) taught me how to bartend: "Always double the amount of alcohol in the first drink to get the party off the ground." "Keep the vermouth for martinis in the refigerator in an atomizer, and spray it across the top of the vodka in the martini glass just before you hand it to the guest."
Mrs. Dillingham (Dorothy) taught me how to stretch canvas for every conceivable size painting in her third floor studio, where she would listen to Bob Dylan or Grand Opera as she painted. (Opera star Roberta Peters was on the College's Board of Trustees in those days.)
She also sent me on errands all over Ithaca in "Super Sport" as she called it, the bright green Chevy Impala convertible which Howard had bought her. Of course I was allowed to put the top down. Errands in Super-Sport were fun, not chores.
I was having a ball.
She also taught me about the poise required for entertaining, a lesson I have never adequately learned.
Since Mrs. Dillingham had grown up a faculty-brat at Cornell, she was hardly intimidated by that institution or anything or anyone else associated with it: from the likes of Vladimir Nabokov on down.
During my five years at the College she entertained in Fountain Place Leopold Stokowski, Lord C.P. Snow, Elza Sachs (founder of Sachs, Fifth Avenue) Margaret Webster, the Shakespearean actress, and many more personages.
Since I was the student director of the Egbert Union's Speakers' Bureau, one of my jobs was to host famous speakers around campus: Irving Howe, Paul Goodman, John Ciardi, Max Lerner, to name a few.
These speakers stayed at Fountain Place and one night, the year I lived there, I was to bring the great scholar and translator of Dante's tripartite Pardiso, Purgatorio and Inferno, John Ciardi , back to Fountain Place after his speech.
The Dillingham's had another commitment and Dorothy told me to bring him into the library, fix him a drink and entertain him until they arrived home, a bit later.
I did so, and was feeling rather proud of my skills, when Dorothy swept into the room with Howard in tow, hand extended saying "John, I'm sorry we were late, I hope you are comfortable."
I was amazed that she called him "John" without having been introduced, since I knew very well she had never met him. I assumed this was either "Dorothy's style" or the way people on such levels of society operated with each other.
Actually, it was something else. Dorothy was a natural born Hostess, a dying breed in our world today.
I doubt though, that she called the 88-year-old conductor, Leopold Stokowski "Stokey," as he was known to friends, or even "Leopold".
But knowing Dorothy, as I was coming to do, you never knew: "Stokey" it may indeed have been.
(No. Knowing Dorothy's flair for the dramatic, it was probably, "Maestro.")
|Maestro Leopold Stokowski was a guest at Fountain Place. When he rehearsed the Ithaca College Choir for a performance at Carnegie Hall he shared his wisdom thusly: "You must learn to concentrate. It is the secret to EVERYTHING."|
A colleague and friend of hers once remarked, "Dorothy can be so imperious."
I never saw that side of her and I lived in her home for over a year.
Yes. She wanted her way.
But she had an insoucient, girlishness about her (even in her sixties and eighties) that made her lobbying for her way almost charming.
The first summer I was at Fountain Place, Dorothy and Howard were getting ready to move out to Tollers, the summer house on Lake Cayuga Dorothy had inherited from her father. She wanted some items to be packed in boxes and she didn't want to do it herself.
Howard didn't want to do it either. I can still hear her almost sing-song voice as she stared at Howard, moon-eyed (another charming attribute of hers) saying, " But HOWard. YOU're the best PACKer"
|Howard's Crisscraft (if it had a name I've forgotten it) was even more elegant than this one.|
Howard folded: He packed the boxes.
(BTW, They left me at Fountain Place alone for the entire summer. I promptly contracted German Measles and was quarantined in the president's mansion for two weeks!)
Later that summer, I was invited for picnics at Tollers, and Howard would take us in his beautiful hand-made wooden Crisscraft at sunset and let-er-rip at full throttle on Cayuga for miles at a time. He kept that beauty -- the Crisscraft -- until Dorothy sold it out from under him when he was 90 (a "touchy subject" as she warned me on my last visit to them).
At cocktail parties Dorothy's girlishness worked wonders. She'd stand in front of a guest with a drink in her hand (or clutched by both hands) held in front of her bosom. As she looked up into the guest's eyes ( even if she was taller than the guest she managed somehow to make it appear she was looking UP into his/her eyes) she would sway gently from side to side as if responding to a breeze like the hemlocks she painted in her Adirondack period; and if she spoke, her voice was a soft affirmative croon, a song welcoming you into her presence.
Perhaps Vladimir Nabokov's wife up at Cornell was imperious, but Howard Dillingham's wife down at Fountain Place was not.
Eccentric, however, she was.
Many have folded in the face of Dorothy's eccentric charm, but Howard was the "best' and most predictable folder:
If Dorothy wanted a monkey as a pet in Fountain Place, Dorothy got a monkey as a pet; if she wanted an artist's studio, she got an artists's studio; if she wanted to decorate a hundred lounges in the College's dorms, she did decorate a hundred lounges; if she wanted a College Museum for her Souith American artifacts, she got a College Museum. (BTW: She was never paid a salary or a commission for the thousands of hours of work she donated to the College. She did it for the joy of aesthetic achievement.)
She even went to the New York World's Fair auction and bought the Vatican Exhibit's wrought iron twenty-foot gates, for the new performing arts center being built at the College, later to be named the Dillingham Center. She put a bid in on the World Fair's Mono-Rail which she was going to use as a substitute for the College buses to ferry students up and down South Hill, but she lost to a higher bidder.
One beautiful summer night when her son, who was my age, was visiting Fountain Place, Dorothy said to Howard and the two of us, "After supper, let's go up to the COLLege and feed the PRImates."
"Oh HOWard," she later mooned and crooned, "Don't forget, we're going to go up and feed the PRImates."
Out came Super-Sport with top down, we all piled in, and Howard drove us up to the Science Building which was dark as could be.
He unlocked the doors, then unlocked the lab with his Master Key. Dorothy had brought a picnic basket full of fruit and she gave us each several pieces as we sat around the lab feeding a dozen different kinds of monkeys for over an hour, Dorothy crooning at them, and at us, the whole time.
Was ever a spontaneous evening so eccentrically spent by a college president and his wife in Ithaca before?
At the end of my Senior year, I moved out of Fountain Place to a furnished room on Hudson Street.
Little did I know then that Ithaca was about to explode.
The Chairman (not chairperson) of the English Department asked me to teach two English Composition courses and an Expository Writing course that year (even though I had no graduate degree) and that gave me enough money to move from a furnished room to a dilapidated apartment on Hudson Street and buy a dilapidated car. The beat-up V.W. I had owned when I lived a Fountain Place had finally gone the way of all metal. (It is worth noting that when I apologized to Dr. Dillingham for blemishing the Fountain Place driveway --and his Lincoln Continental -- by parking my junkheap in juxtaposition to Fountain Place's elegance, he said, "Nonsense. Do you think we have false pride?")
The job also came with a fabulous title "Lecturer in English," which sounded as if I really knew something and had something to say. Another perk: I shared an office with a young, very helpful, friend who was a Cornell Ph.D, Charles Grace, a "real" professor, in the brand new faculty building, which, like every other building on campus, had that spectacular view: Cayuga.
I began in September of my graduation year, 1968.
By May, 1969 something frightening was happening high above Cayuga's waters.
"Why do they want to spoil something so good?"
Flashback to 1968 a moment: I had never heard of the word "racism" until the spring of my Senior year, 1968, when Cornell suspended classes and conducted a week-long Teach-In on Racism in its Gym, attended by thousands, including me.
It had been provoked by accusations of Black United Students that certain professors and courses at Cornell were "racist". I didn't even know what the word meant. But I found out that week, and became a convert.
I asked our Provost if I could organize a Teach-In on Racism at the College. He agreed, reluctantly, but only on the proviso that students attend voluntarily and that classes NOT BE SUSPENDED. Students must use one of the of the three "cuts" they were allowed each marking period for courses if they were going to attend the Teach-in at Ithaca College. No free lunch.
I arranged for several Cornell professors to address Ithaca's first Teach-in on Racism, most notably Professor (Andrew?) Hacker.
The Provost introduced the three-hour event which took place on an afternoon during classes. Over 800 students (nearly a third of the student body) attended. The Provost was flabbergasted at the size of the turn-out and said so publicly, pronouncing it a worthwhile activity.
I guess that made me Ithaca College's "approved" bearded activist.
By May of 1969 Ithaca and racism were nationally synonymous--on the front page of the New York Times and every other world paper. Black United Students had armed themselves with rifles and occupied the student union, Willard Straight Hall, after a burning cross had been ignited on the porch of a Black female student.
At the height of the "Cornell crisis", the Sheriff's Department occupied College Town and shut it down to traffic. The University was in danger of losing control of its campus to outside authorities.
For some reason, even though I was living on my own, I stopped by Fountain Place on the night the crisis was at its most intense. Dr. Dillingham was of course off somewhere huddled with administrators and trustees trying to gauge what the College should do.
I found Dorothy, also huddled, in a chair in the music room, watching television news bulletins, wrapped in a South American peasant blanket.
The entire mansion was dark except for the light of that screen.
Dorothy looked every bit like a female version of Gibson's portrait of the contemplative Scrooge in his long-coat, alone in his mansion, about to hear the chains of Jacob Marley drag across his consciousness.
(Don't get me wrong about this allusion to Scrooge: there was not a stingy bone in Dorothy Dillingham's body. It is only the "introspective, contemplative solitude" of the portrait which reminds me of that lonely evening at Fountain Place when the generational tectonic plates were shifting.)
She looked up at me and said with as close a tone of anger as I ever heard in her voice (and it was more like exasperation), "Why do they want to spoil something so good?"
I knew then that no explanation was possible: The dream which she and Howard had actualized of a new College with an endless future of happy students, could be ruined if Ithaca turned violent.
(It would be ruined for another school in the midwest, a year later.)
I uttered some platitudes and left.
Somehow the crisis was resolved when students were allowed to leave the building still brandishing their weapons for reporters to photograph.
Before I knew it, August was here and I was off to graduate school.
Dorothy invited me to stop by on a particular evening for drinks before I left. She wanted me to meet someone whose brother taught at the graduate school I was about to attend.
I have only been late for two appointments in my entire life, and this was one of them. And it was intentional too, by a good half hour.
I suppose a psychoanlayst would say I was having 'separation anxiety' and felt ambivalent about leaving my charmed life in Ithaca.
When I rang the bell of the front door of Fountain Place (probably the first time I had entered through the front way) Dorothy answered.
She was not pleased.
"Why are you late Paul? This party was for YOU," she said.
I made my apologies and the event, a small group of seven, including myself, in the intimacy of the Fountain Place library, proceeded smoothly.
And then I was out the front door of Fountain Place and off to graduate school, a little known Ohio megaversity of 28,000 students called ---------- Kent State.
Charles Dana Gibson's portrait of Scrooge about to be visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley.
Black United Students' protest at Cornell, 1969.
Graduate school at Kent State, which was about to become the most infamous university in the world on May 4, 1970, took me on a 15-year detour from Ithaca, a detour of activism in Ohio (link) and then of contemplation at Yale (link),a detour which I confess, I did not not think my mentors, the Dillinghams, would approve of.
But I was wrong.
Fifteen years later when I began visiting a professor friend of mine, newly a widower, in Ithaca who was himself in the Dillinghams' social circle, the Dillinghams invited us both to dinner. Thereafter, for the next ten years, we saw each other at parties hosted by mutual friends. We were in each other's orbits again.
Dorothy painted over my 15-year excursion (or lapse?) into activism this way, "You were off doing GOOD. " The (by then) culturally taboo words "Kent State" were never mentioned between us.
" But you're half an hour EARLY . . ."
When Dorothy was 85 and Howard was 90, Dorothy made a sudden decision, based on reality. Howard was having memory trouble and wasn't getting any younger. She would sell all her paintings (and his Crisscraft !) and move out of the town they had scultped so dramatically, to be near her son in Montana.
Part of her collection went to the Johnson Gallery at Cornell (link) which also held a D. Hoyt exhibition in honor of its acquisition---or its loan, I can't recall.
The rest was sold at half-price. When my friend told me about the sale, I called Dorothy and asked her if she still had Bird with a Broken Wing. She had told me when I left Ithaca in 1969 that she would "save it" for me. It was $550 then, way beyond my means. I assumed it cost thousands now.
No, the price was the same, and cut by half for the sale: $275 . I grabbed it!
She told me it would take a day to locate it in her storage gallery, but to come around the next day, Saturday, at 5:30 and she'd have it. I could bring it back to Vermont when I returned on Sunday.
Accompanied by my friends Pat Levy and Professor John Ogden, we arrived at the Dillingham's promptly at 5:30 as instructed. Dorothy answered the door with a croon, "But you're half an hour EARLY; I said 6:00."
The debt was now paid a quarter century later: Half an hour late in 1969; half an hour early in 1994.
Dorothy died at 87 in 1996. Howard at 95 in 1998.
I like to remember them on their ski-mobile in their sixties cruising across South Hill. And I like to recall Dorothy in the most daring dress I ever saw, which she wore to the opening of the Ithaca College Twin Towers cafeteria: a bright green mini-skirt with a bright blue square shape over the, shall we say, "reproductive area" of her body, a square the size of a computer screen.
No one could take their eyes off that dress. (Exactly the effect D. Hoyt had in mind.)
Only in recent years has Dorothy's annoyed phrase "This party was for YOU" sunk in. That was Dorothy's greatest art: She was a Hostess, with a capital "H".
She painted parties: And people were the colors on her palette.
She even did this painting as a guest too.
When Ithaca's "oldest living undergraduate" Doug Waite, threw a costume 'madhatter party' for a hundred people in the Ithaca College Warehouse, where he served as watchman, Dorothy and Howard were effervescent attendants, mingling with everyone amongst the storage crates and lawnmowers and forklifts in the huge, airplane-hanger-sized structure, which Doug had turned into a maze for the party with cardboard hallways leading nowhere made out of huge packing boxes ultimately destined for the dumpster.
Doug even had a crystal chandelier in his little loft living area , from which one of the guests swung, a bit too celebratory with champaign.
And decades later it finally, sunk in: how GENEROUS a gift to me that bon voyage party was, unrecognized as such in the self-centeredness of my youth.
Like many egocentric young people, I didn't see that it was a gift at all, a work of her own special art, a party painted especially for me, until many orange moons had passed over Ithaca in the intervening years.
I just thought it was a cocktail party.
In a curious twist of intersecting orbits, D. Hoyt had taught art before I was born at Hamden (Connecticut) High School, the same high school I would graduate from in 1963.
That was the year before she seduced me with her artist's palette ------ into my odyssey of activism, on oceans of orange, at Ithaca.
|Dr. and Mrs. Dillingham ski-mobiling on South Hill.|
Dorothy Dillingham in the Fountain Place library (decorated with South American artifacts by D. Hoyt ), where we 'jointly' entertained John Ciardi, translator of Dante's Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso.
Hamden High School in Hamden, Connecticut: D. Hoyt taught Art there in the 1940's. I graduated from the same school in 1963. Neither of us knew the connection until we met in Ithaca in 1966.