Rambles in Old College Towns (1917)

We were to have the rare distinction of eating at Mory’s, that haunt dear to generations of underclassmen; not, to be sure, in one of the general rooms on the ground floor, but upstairs, in the Governor’s Room, unseen if not unseeing. Before that hour we had time on our hands that should allow an opportunity to get some idea of the various campuses and the buildings that enclosed them or fronted on them.

“Let’s go through that splendid arch under Phelps Tower,” Sister demanded. “It is something like Princeton’s Tiger Gate, through Blair, except of course that it is so very different.”

The description seemed to me entirely logical at the time, though perhaps it may puzzle those who have never walked through either. […]

“At Mory’s you’ll hear about some of the undergrad clubs,” he told us. “The Hogans, extinct for the moment, but unforgotten and probably to be revived, the Whiffenpoofs, the Pundits. And then there’s the literary side, the men who edit the Lit., the Courant and the Record, not to speak of the Yale Daily. They are a big influence in the college life.”

We felt that, aside from information, it was distinctly time for Mory’s. Sightseeing in cloistered campuses and wind-fresh Bowls had had its effect. We were, in short, ravenous. And there, awaiting us, stood our host, before the quaint little wooden building that shelters the famous restaurant.

A narrow, boxed-in stairway led us to the second floor and the Governors’ Room, with its great round table and Windsor chairs, its Hogarth prints on the wainscoted walls, its cheerful little windows with the small panes of an older day. Here on the oaken board the covers were set, and here, smiling with entire good nature at this invasion of his castle by the forbidden sex, was Billy, the steward, making us feel at home and welcome on the spot.

The menu at Mory’s resembles those in English chophouses. It is simple, excellently cooked and abundant in its portions. Sister and I found them too big for us, and we are quite capable of holding our own after a morning’s exercise such as lay behind us. The specialty that morning was scrambled eggs with bacon, and it was real bacon, savoury of the smoke house, no flaccid imitation treated with what is imaginatively described as “liquid smoke.” Toast, too, and tea, and wonderful pie with cheese. Students who have haunted Mory’s will later on in life bitterly complain to distracted wives, wondering why they cannot have meals “like Mory’s used to make.” Perhaps this is the reason why women are not allowed in the delectable place. At any rate, no mother sending her son to Yale need worry for fear he won’t get meals as good as those he gets at home. So long as Mory’s endures, homecooking has a goal set for it.

Over our luncheon we heard talk of the famous undergraduate clubs that have met at Mory’s these many long years, and have made the name dear to Yale men the round world over. How dear was made evident not so many years ago when Mory’s, having had two bad years, and finding the neighbourhood where it had been since 1871 to be no longer satisfactory, almost decided to quit. An item to this effect was printed in a New York paper and ran broadcast over the country, reaching even into distant ports in China, India, Southern islands below the far horizon’s edge—and back, post haste, came letters of desperate appeal from Yale men. What? Close Mory’s? It was unthinkable.

Luckily Mory’s didn’t have to close. It found new quarters within easy range of the University, and moved up, body and soul. For not only was the spirit of the old place completely transferred to the new home, but the very window frames, the furniture, the bar, the ancient black door with its bright brass trimming that admits you from the street, all these came too. Wainscoting replaced paper, the trophies of fifty years took their accustomed places over the identical chimney pieces, and Yale settled back, content.

It was Louis Linder who made Mory’s what it is, taking it from Mrs. Moriarty as a popular place where town men came more often than college members, a place known for good food and good drink, but lacking the distinction he gave it. Louis Linder loved the undergraduates, and they loved him. He made the place their place. Gradually it became completely identified with them, and with the graduates who had known it in their own student days. Now it is only members, and there are fifteen thousand of them, 95 per cent identified with Yale, and their guests, who have the entree. Before Linder died he had formed plans to make an association that should take the management of Mory’s, but death came before the arrangements were completed. His idea has been carried out, however, and the place is run by a board of governors whose services are entirely voluntary.

But the business side of Mory’s, though immensely important, is not the side that fascinated either Sister or me. It was the human side, and what a human place it is!

The most famous of the clubs that make their headquarters at Mory’s are the Hogans, at present suppressed, but due some happy day to revive again. The Pundits, whose huge old brass flagon stands nobly on its shelf till it is filled with cider for their feasts. Cider is their drink, and scrambled eggs, sausage, hashed brown potatoes, apple pie and cheese their food. The Cup Men, limited to six, one being a Bones, three Keys and two St. Anthony men, who own the great pewter loving cup with its six handles, carved over with the names of the various members, among which are such as W. H. Vanderbilt, Harry Payne Whitney, Jim Gamble Rogers, all Cup Men in their day. A particular cup is served, made from a recipe brought from England by Truman Newberry, later Secretary of the Navy, which is called for under the name of “Velvet.” The sessions of the Cup Men are lively, and prolonged, it is whispered, beyond the midnight hour at which Mory’s is suppose to close—“But,” as Billy told us, with his tolerant smile, “you can’t get them out.”

Then there are the Whiffenpoofs, also at present under temporary eclipse, for the college authorities have a way of sudden suppression when wild spirits grow too wild. The Whiffenpoofs have somewhat evaded extinction by holding a series of burial parties in which they take a fond and formal farewell to life, only to repeat the performance next year. They come in costume and they sing—besides other things of a joyous nature, as well as a noisy one.

Perhaps they, more than any other of the clubs, led to Mory’s being given the nickname of The Quiet House. It is not much used nowadays, but once it was more common than its real name.

Billy went on a scouting tour as we sadly refrained from eating more pie, and returned to report that the last student had gone, and we might go down and “see the rest.”

So down the crooked stairs we went and into the first of the several small square or oblong rooms into which Mory’s divides. In the Seniors’ room was the round table known as the Seniors’ Table, at which no man not a Senior, or guest of a Senior, may sit. Round about the room are the usual oblong tables for other classmen.

The round table is beautifully carved with the initials of those who sit at it, year following year, till it is so completely covered that there is room for no more. In the centre of each table is the circle of the Cup Men, with their initials, or their names, and dates of their classes, and among the other signatures are those of distinguished guests—we made out, among the many, a W. B. Y., cut by Yeats when he was a guest there. When each of these round tables is quite full, it is taken off and hung against the wall in one of the rooms, and a splendid decoration these tables make, the dark wood gleaming richly under the carving that has been beautifully done.

There is a lot of practicing at the other tables before the actual work on the sacred circle itself.

And as we went from one room to another, more items kept coming from Billy—how the Brown Game was the great day of the Whiffenpoofs, and that their parties had a distinctly Johnsonian flavour. Mention too of the wonderful Green Cup, whose ingredients are a secret, handed down from steward to steward, that costs six dollars a quart and is as delectable as it is potent. How the Hogans each had a name, such as the Kid, naturally the biggest and the huskiest of the lot, the Plain Hogan, the Pop, the Burglar, Birdie and so on. When a Kid Hogan has a son who is his first born, that kid is to be an honourary member; but so far the eldest have been girls. In the meanwhile presents are accumulating for the youngster. We saw them hanging on the wall, tiny boxing gloves, a small pair of Chinese clogs, sent by a Hogan from that distant place, a wonderful striped shirt and attractively smart little knickers, with other tokens of yearning affection. But so far the cradle is empty.

The Hogans were specially favoured at Mory’s, and they were dearly loved. Five or six only, they were the choicest spirits in the college. Food and drink was always free to them, and is to this day. Once a Hogan always a Hogan. They used to do clerical work for the restaurant in return for the “welcome home” they got there. The parties they gave are unforgotten, and they are spoken of in the places that knew them with reminiscent smiles.

We were shown a number of the champagne bottles emptied at the dinners of the different Hogan groups, each bottle signed with all the names, and the date. They stand on one of the chimneypiece shelves, a sturdy group, but Billy confessed that one of them, now and again, mysteriously vanished.

“They’re considerable of a souvenir,” he said.

On one wall, high against the ceiling, hung a scull. It was the stroke oar of those that won the great boat race of June 19, 1914, where only the fraction of a minute intervened between the Manners and losers.

“The Cup,” we were told, as we looked on its pewter splendour and noble proportions, “is never taken down unless one of the Cup Men is present. And when it is passed round the table, it must never be set down till empty.”

Among the prints and photographs on the wall we noted one of a stern-faced woman, in a circle of wild youths—youths who seemed to have looked on the cup longer than was good for them.

“That,” said Billy, “is Carrie Nation. You know she visited Yale, and the boys had great times with her. She was too busy looking at the camera to see what they were doing—and maybe they doctored the negative a bit.”

So there she stands, grim and stout, while behind her bottles and glasses are flourished, and at her feet the heads of the seated men droop in attitudes that suggest a vast lapse from sobriety.

We were even allowed to go into the bar, a small and cosy place, exquisitely fitted up with numerous shining instruments and glittering glasses, fountains for soft drinks, and bottles that held sterner stuff. “Everything’s close at hand,” as Billy expressed it.

All this is only a part of Mory’s and its many relations with the undergraduate body. But there was more of Yale for us to see, and we departed—reluctantly, as is probably the habit of those who go there.

—Hildegarde Hawthorne, Rambles in Old College Towns (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1917), pp. 130, 137-145.

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