By John Shaw '47
This is a love story that might never have been written but for a photograph and [DEMO]n in the Oberlin Alumni Magazine of Winter 1993. The photograph of the atrium of Peters Hall accompanied history professor Geoffrey Blodgett's article, "Peters at Risk." The caption read, in part, "The stone fountain, however, barely visible through the banisters of the main stairway in this photograph, has been removed."
Has been removed: that simple phrase inspires the telling of this story. And the story is rather sentimental, I admit, but it's beautiful to us.
Years ago, in July 1946, I was back after the war, attending Oberlin's summer session, taking a couple of English courses. One day, while I was studying in the library's reserve reading room, I happened to look up, and there walking quickly over to the desk was a very pretty girl, "buxom, blithe and debonair." In her blue dress, a blond with a deep tan and very large blue eyes, she abso-lutely whammied me. I soon found out her name and watched for my first opportunity to ask her out.
Soon the right moment came. We were in Peters Hall. She had just gone up to the large stone fountain to take a drink, and as she raised her head from the spigot she found a red-faced young man--me-- blocking her way. Standing at the drinking fountain, I told her my name; we chatted, and I asked her for a date that weekend. We met Saturday at the Varse, and then went on to a show at the Apollo.¼ It wasn't long before we were blissfully wandering around the campus hand in hand, going about the business of falling in love. We graduated in 1947 and married in 1948. In 1972 our son, Frank, entered Oberlin as a freshman. Our parting words to him were to keep an eye on "our fountain in Peters." He did. On each vacation he would tell us that all was well with our fountain. It was still providing drinks for thirsty students.
But then one day in 1974 or 1975 we were dismayed to hear from Frank that the fountain had disappeared from Peters' atrium. We asked him to find out what had happened to it, and he soon learned. Our beautiful stone fountain, a gift from the Class of 1903, had been replaced by a more up-to-date refrigerated drinking fountain. The old one, in all its dignity, was resting quietly but discarded in a shed behind the new Mudd Learning Center. We got in touch with Johnny Purves, a classmate from the 1940s who was then in the Alumni Association office. "What will they be doing with the fountain that was in Peters Hall?" we asked. He told us the College had no plans for it. "It must be pure marble, or solid polished granite," he said, "because it's really heavy. My guess is that Buildings and Grounds will probably just leave it where it is." We asked if we could have it. "Sure," he said, "if you can get it out of the shed, it's yours."
So Frank rented a U-Haul trailer, and the two of us lugged it out to the road, wrestled it onto the trailer bed and drove it home. It stood in our back yard for a while until a man working next door with a tractor agreed to tow it around to the front of our house. I poured a concrete foundation for it, and we set it up in the center of the yard, exactly in line with the front door, as "the central cedar pole" of our home, as Robert Frost puts it in his sonnet,"The Silken Tent." The fountain where we met and first spoke to each other. The fountain from Oberlin, our beloved college--the fountain from Peters Hall, where we both had classes with Arch Jelliff and Warren Taylor and where we often laughed and gossiped and made our plans. What could be more fitting as a kind of stone prop for our home and life together!
When, however, the alumni magazine reported in the spring of 1993 that "we will select and use fixtures of the period" in the project, we knew we should return the venerable fountain to its proper spot. Doing so would help to make the historic preservation of Peters more complete, for the fountain had stood in the atrium for over 70 years. It might even turn out to provide an inspiring moment for other Oberlin students to meet and fall in love.
¼The Varse--the Varsity Restaurant--where John and Julia went on their first date was located in the West College Street storefront between Gibson's Bakery and what is now the Co-op Bookstore. The Apollo Theater remains where it has always been.