Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

Hidden Spaces: Tower classrooms

2 min read

Hidden Spaces is part of a series about lesser-known spaces at Harvard.

In the fall of 1902, hatchet-wielding prohibitionist Carrie Nation brought her ire against tobacco and alcohol to Harvard’s Memorial Hall, where many undergraduates took their meals. The ham there was sometimes served with Champagne sauce, she had heard, and the jelly could be wine jelly. Nation shouted from the balcony, “Boys! Don’t eat that infernal stuff. It’s poison.” Afterwards, a 1932 Crimson story recounted, “She ran about slapping faces, seizing cigars and pipes, and crying that everyone at Harvard was a hellion. The students enjoyed every bit of it. …”

Memorial Hall began more quietly. It was dedicated in 1874 to commemorate Harvard men who died for the Union in the Civil War. Its designers, New York architects William Robert Ware, Class of 1852, and Henry Van Brunt, Class of 1854, said they were inspired by the look of European cathedrals. But in the 19th century, Memorial Hall Commons — despite its trussed ceilings, walnut paneling, and stained glass — was the scene of rowdy parties, dice games, and even boxing matches.

There is no ruckus today, especially in the hall’s four classrooms. They are some of the quietest, most reflective spaces on campus, and they overlook the grandly restored dining space of Annenberg Hall. On most days, all you can hear is the distant clatter of silverware. When the sun sets, light strikes the stained glass and colored squares dance across classroom tables and walls. Raymond C. Traietti, assistant director of Harvard’s Memorial Hall and Lowell Hall Complex, reflected on the beauty of the rooms and the old hall itself. He said, “It’s a way of living in art.”