Thursday, June 10, 2010

* Fat Cat at Yale

 The Seat at Woolsey Hall: The Table at the Faculty Club

It is not politically correct these days to use the word "fat" when referring to a person. President William Howard Taft, however, was certainly that---although we can use the word corpulent, rotund, or enormous, if you prefer.

My childhood in New Haven included attending social training events prior to ballroom dancing class (I was a scholarship participant due to financial need)  at what was then the Yale Faculty Club, aka The Pierpont House (see *below).

One of the charming curiosities of that place was a large faculty dining table which has a semi-circle cut out of one of the sides of the flat serving surface itself. It was described to me at the time as an accommodation to former Professor of Law, William Howard Taft, so that he could fit his rotundity comfortably at the table, "belly-up" to the table might be a more blunt way of describing it. (I believe I saw this with my own child eyes half a century ago, but five decades does play tricks on the memory.)

Another such accommodation was a seat in the audience of Woolsey Hall, a seat  which had one arm removed (between it and the seat immediate adjacent to it): again, so that Professor Taft could sit comfortably at University convocations. ( I did not actually see this seat, but I heard about it: it may be apocryphal.)

With all due respect to political correctness, I hope that the faculty dining table and double-seat at Woolsey Hall (if it existed) have not been lost to careless, fashionable posterity.

Political correctness is nice: Historical charm is nicer.

Nota Bene:
   It is fashionable to believe that corpulence contributes to ill health ( viz. Dr. Oz's "truth tube"). Taft weighed 380 lbs. [340] and had high stress jobs: President of the U.S.; Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  He died (still working as Chief Justice) at age 73: The Bible's promise of three score and ten.[He hd dropped to 244 lbs at the time of his death.]

Psalms 90:
The days of our years are threescore years and ten;
and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years,
yet is their strength labor and sorrow;
for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

Seems like a healthy life to me.

   The CBS program Biography has a fascinating/horrifying newsreel clip of Taft at 73 stepping out of a limousine on his way to the Supreme Court (limousines were tall and square in 1930 and you could emerge almost standing up) and being stricken by a heart attack at the same time. Two aides grab him under the arms and drag him still almost standing (like an unrolled carpet) into the building, feet scraping the sidewalk all the way.


 *(Mead Visitor Center resides in the historic Pierpont House, which is the oldest private residence in New Haven. It was erected in 1767 by John Pierpont, grandson of one of Yale’s founders. The original wood frame structure was occupied by descendants of Pierpont until the beginning of the 20th century. During the brief British occupation of New Haven, the Pierpont home was used by the British as their headquarters and hospital. In 1900 the home was purchased by the Reverend Anson Phelps Stokes, Secretary of Yale University. Upon his resignation in 1921, it was deeded to the University and converted into a faculty club. It remained the Yale Faculty Club for more than 50 years and in 1977 was converted to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. It became the Visitor Center in 1995.

The Pierpont house has recently undergone an extensive renovation thanks to the support of The Mead Witter Foundation and George Mead ’50. The home has been restored and furnished consistent with the period in which it was built. Some of the hand-hewn chestnut used in the original structure remains intact as well as some of the original floorboards. The home is complete with replica 12 over 12 sash windows made with wood pegs and glass similar to the original panes. The wood shingled roof replicates the early roof, and shutters complete with handcrafted wrought iron hardware replace those original to the house.

The Visitor Center has recently added two exhibits about Yale's history and its famous alumni.)

Yale Alumni who held the office of  U.S. President:

George H. W. Bush (B.A. 1948), President of the United States (1989-1993), Vice President of the United States (1981-1989), member of Congress (R-Texas) (1967-1971)
George W. Bush (B.A. 1968), President of the United States (2001-present), Governor of Texas (1995-2000)
William Jefferson Clinton (J.D.), President of the United States (1993-2001), Governor of Arkansas (1983-1992)
Gerald Ford (J.D.), President of the United States (1974-1977), Vice President of the United States (1973-1974), member of the House of Representatives
William Howard Taft (1878), President of the United States (1909-1913), Chief Justice of the United States (1921-1930)

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