Flanking the lawn before Baker Library is a large, one-room building of two-story proportions. It’s called the 1902 room and it’s always open. It contains about ten long, broad wooden tables, each paired with a portrait of an important figure from the college’s history. Their expressions range from stern and stoic to friendly and bemused. They’re all men. One of them is named Craven Laycock.
When, just before 2AM hits, Baker’s PA system plays its startling announcement that the facilities proper are about to close, a moribund train of book-weary students begins to shuffle into the 1902 room and set up shop for the rest of the night. While some prefer Novack cafe, also a 24-hour space, and others retire to dormitory study rooms, the atmosphere of the 1902 room sustains a ghostly appeal to others. Just why is an engima. I don’t know whether the 1902 room has anything like a self-aware culture surrounding it, though some of us talk about it like it does. But the mere mention of a night spent laboring in the 1902 room evokes near-universal recognition of what is considered a thoroughly punishing experience. There is no bathroom, and only one door leading to the outside. When that door opens, especially during the winter, a gale of freezing air enters the room, causing students to grimace and pull their pants further down over their ankles. The 1902 room is quiet, but not silent, so while conversation is instantly met with a host of hostile turned-around stares, the littlest cough or spurt of flatulence is audible to all. There is a ceaseless chorus of chair-creaking and inadvertent sighing. The lights, which never turn off, are so bright that in the brain of the sleepless they emit an oppressive noise of their own.
Last winter I took Intensive Ancient Greek, a choice which, while intellectually rewarding, turned out to be titanically masochistic. In order to succeed on the final exam, I spent the last weeks of the term camped out in the 1902 room surrounded by a books. 20 half-empty coffee-cups and unwashed clothing. I only left to go to class and eat once a day. I slept in sporadic cat-naps on a couch near the front of the room beside a defunct fireplace. Over the course of that period, I developed a supernatural, delirious attachment to the 1902 room which, though it was forged in agony, gave rise to great feelings of nostalgia the following term when I was abroad.
Finals period looms like a mouthful of fangs and once again I find myself serving out huge terms in the 1902 room. This space represents one component of my Dartmouth experience that, compared to the first five I’d name off the top of my head when asked, is relatively minor. Nevertheless, it is one I’ll never forget, and one which, as I reflect on it, has a unique sheen to it. As a budding freshman, I would have never anticipated forming this kind of queer relationship with an otherwise uninteresting room. And that raises a question which we should all be asking ourselves as we undertake and begin to exit the turbulent, four-year project of college: what familiar things have become strange, and what strange things familiar?