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18 December 2011

Vassar and Vampires

There have been a lot of books with a glancing reference to Vassar. Vassar has a name -- a reputation -- that conjures up many conflicting images: the over-indulged snobby rich girl, the sophisticated lady, the frigid virgin, the butch lesbian, the slut, the eccentric but resourceful aunt, the hippie activist, the super-smart intellectual, the clueless blonde debutante, ...; the list goes on. Vassar's campus, too, is a showcase. It is an arboretum, literally. Each graduating class has either planted or chosen a tree as its class tree and today, there are about 230 different species of trees at Vassar. It has also been in the vanguard of architectural diversity. Many people deplore the Emma Hartman Noyes House, one of the ten residential halls at Vassar (not counting the Terrace Apartments and Town Houses and South Commons (which did not exist as student housing when I was enrolled)).

Designed by Eero Saarinen and built in 1958, it is actually our newest dormitory building, an airy steel, glass and concrete structure amongst rather traditional European brick housing, and it had been much maligned in my time.  Some students thought it ugly.  Some called it "Annoys."  The interior was more the butt of disparagement than the outside, not least was the colors (or lack thereof) and specially designed furniture.  Inside, the walls separating rooms were thin and the floors were pre-fabricated poured concrete.  As one can imagine, the hallways curved.  Even though there was carpeting in parts of the building, like the hallways, sound bounced around a lot.  (Thus, some called it "Noyes-y.")  It was actually a pretty interesting building, inside and out, although I am not an architectural critic.

The entire Vassar campus had undergone major beautification and general updating of the facilities.  When I visited in 2004, it was gorgeous, probably what it had looked like nearly forty years previously.  But, I don't recall anyone saying there's now a fountain nor do I believe there was a statue of Emma Hartman Noyes (Vassar Class of 1880) for whom the building was named.  Yet, here is Jennifer Rardin, a native of Illinois and graduate of Eastern Illinois University, whose relationship to Vassar I have yet to discover, in the first book of her Jaz Parks paranormal series, describing a fight between two vampires among the water lilies in the fountain pool in the "court" of Vassar's Noyes House in such details that I almost thought I had missed hearing about the communal lounge area being made into a courtyard and the "pit" (the sunken seating area in the middle of the communal area) had been converted and filled with water.  Rardin must have suffered from or capitalized on the same rarefied ideas that many have about Vassar.  I guess the Vassar legends live on, but I hope no starry-eyed high school senior will be visiting Vassar expecting a fountain in the middle of his dormitory (but then, again, we hope there aren't vampires milling about looking for one, either).

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