The real story of the Ulysses bathroom


This photo of [from left] Robbi Vander Hyden '79, Dara Altman '80 and Kate Herrod '79 appeared in the 1979 Olio, but by 1995 the identities of these "mystery writers" were forgotten.

In its Spring 1995 issue, Amherst magazine published photos and an article about the Johnson Chapel Ulysses restroom, asking for the “mystery writer(s) [to] please come forward.” After deliberating for a decade and a half, they have decided to do so.

On a fall Saturday in 1978, four Amherst students climbed Mount Tom to enjoy a picnic of wine and cheese and to admire the view of the Connecticut River Oxbow swathed in autumn color. The conversation turned to classes, as it often did, and in particular to the high regard held by the English faculty of James Joyce’s Modernist masterwork, Ulysses.

After too much wine had been consumed, a plot was hatched to enter Johnson Chapel late that night to turn the faculty restroom (as it was then designated) into an homage to the novel. Armed with jumbo magic markers and a copy of Ulysses, the back wall was filled with a quote from the opening page and a side wall with the ending page and the other side wall decorated with the novel’s title. The work was signed P.E.P. III, each letter standing for a Latin word, long since forgotten, with the Roman numeral designating the three perpetrators. (The fourth student at the picnic planning session was otherwise engaged that evening.)

Another quotation, from Joyce’s Giacomo Joyce, on the sloped ceiling of the restroom was added by an unknown person at a later date, and the choice of words hints that the scribbler may have known the identity of one or more of the original three, for the added quote references a pale-faced young woman in furs. All of the three—Dara Altman ’80, Kate Herrod ’79 and Robbi Vander Hyden ’79, as well as the fourth, Kathy Gardner ’79e—were pale-faced young women, some of whom were known to have worn fur.

Will the Giacomo Joyce graffiti artist reveal him- or herself?

Robbi Vander Hyden Battey ’79
Mendham, N.J.

Why the law says you sing

I was very pleased to learn that interest and enthusiasm about classic Amherst songs has revived (“The law says you sing,” College Row, Winter 2010). We aren’t known as “The Singing College” for nothing! I fondly remember how, during the divisive late ’60s, we enjoyed coming together for college songs. It was an enjoyable way to set aside the political and other controversies then prevalent on campus.

Kirk Duffy ’71
Savannah, Ga.

Better than the big league

I don’t follow the sport closely any more, but I was delighted to see the snappy photos of Amherst softball players so neatly attired (Winter 2010, “Great Expectations”), in contrast to the sloppy ankle-length pants of today’s so-called “big leaguers” in baseball.

Marsh Niner ’57
Hilton Head Island, S.C.

How to stop a terrorist

Having been a bit of a terrorist during my college days, with pranks and insanity, I read with interest the lead article, “Risky Business,” by Roger Williams (Winter 2010). We all are victims of the horrible daily news of terrorist bombings and we all must ask ourselves, What’s the Best Way to Stop a Terrorist? Darius Lakdawalla ’95 may have something, asserting rationality to the bomber handlers, though there is an uncomfortable statement/question at the end of the article, describing the ubiquitous airport scene of big lines of people at the security checkpoints with a single policeman: “That cop is all that’s standing between us and a terrorist attack.” May I suggest that the rationality for all of us (including terrorists) is crystal clear: we don’t need more terrorist events, in America or elsewhere, that could set the stage for an unprecedented anti-Islamicism and anti-Westernism and a concomitant spiraling crazy violence that no one wants. Better idea is to listen and respect all our neighbors. By the way (see page 14), didn’t Islam start in the seventh century A.D., not the first?

Emmanuel “Seth” Aronie ’68
Westford, Mass.

A correction

I am probably not the only one to nitpick the relatively un­­important historical error contained in Roger Williams’ biographical information about Darius Lakdawalla in his excellent article “Risky Business.”

Mr. Williams describes him as by “heritage ... an ethnic Parsee, descended from a group” (this group comprised
Zoroastrians who represented the main religion in Persia at the time) “that in the first century A.D. fled Muslim persecution.” Mohammed was born c. 600 A.D., so Islam could not have reached Persia until some time in the seventh century A.D., after which, due to Muslim persecution, the Parsees fled to India.

As an aside, there is still a remnant of Parsees in Mumbai, where they have their own settlement (complete with Zoroastrian temple and customs). They are prominent in the dairy business there. I will never forget the impression I had when passing perhaps the main settlement in Mumbai: an enclave of white buildings with the temple entrance in the background where a huge portrait of Zoroaster was visible (similar to Western representations of Jesus). There was a woman in a white sari walking a small white fluffy dog on a white sidewalk in the square covered with very green grass. A beautiful and peaceful memory.

Virginia Mason
(widow of George G. Mason ’37)
Walnut Creek, Calif.

Mr. Aronie and Mrs. Mason are correct. Islam of course began in the seventh century. The Parsees immigrated to India, fleeing Muslim persecution, after that. We regret the error. —Editor

Redemption may be at hand

What a pleasant surprise! I had begun to doubt if Amherst football would ever again beat Williams, but you did it, team of 2009, and it speaks volumes about your character and dedication.

In his lengthy and positive article (“The Perfect Season,” Winter 2010), Justin Long intimates this victory brought
redemption “for other football alumni.” Perhaps, but I see it as more about redemption for the college and the perceived status of Amherst football.

The time I played football at Amherst is long ago and far away. Football was viewed with great favor, Coach Ostendarp and his staff were superb, recruitment was informal, most of us played both ways in more than one position, academic requirements ruled, strict rules of behavior on and off the field were in place, freshmen did not participate, and we were expected to win. Our response to these conditions and expectations was to lose one game in 1962 (Trinity), one in 1963 (Coast Guard) and to be undefeated in 1964 but not without some last-minute heroics of our own, including a victory at Bowdoin with 16 seconds remaining. We defeated Williams all three years.

When my son, Robert ’99, attended Amherst, football had apparently been reduced to a second-class sport. Any season with a winning record seemed to be a “good” season. Never mind the misery of having to deal with a loss to Williams—again. I sat in the stands for the 1997 game. The game summary: Williams played to win and Amherst played as if losing was okay.

Redemption of Amherst football may be at hand now. Let’s hope for that. Not so it can supplant the other sports, which are vital and important, but rather so it can help enhance that ideal of superlative accomplishment for which Amherst is so well regarded. What’s the point of doing something if it’s not done in the best way possible?

Rob Longsworth ’65

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