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Tarnmoor’s ABCs: Dartmouth College

Dartmouth Hall

Dartmouth Hall

It was a beautiful place to spend four years, even if I had never really been more than a few miles away from home by myself before then. I went from being a valedictorian who had won all the non-sports-related honors at Chanel High School to one of hundreds of similar people from all around the country, including those famous prep schools that have sprouted up over all of New England.

At that time, Dartmouth College was isolated by the fact that the Interstate Highway system had not yet made its way into New Hampshire and Vermont. Today, Hanover, New Hampshire, is less than two hours from Boston via I-89. During the months of January and February, we were at times cut off from all supplies until the snow plows could cut a channel for cars and trucks. All four years, I stayed in Middle Wigwam Hall, which was later renamed to McLane Hall. My dorm stood a mile from the center of campus. To get to class, I had to trudge past the eerie old Hanover cemetery, with its tombs dating back to the Eighteenth Century, often on a sidewalk that had obligingly turned into a sheet of ice.

During those years, I suffered frequently from severe frontal headaches, which were the result of a pituitary tumor (chromophobe adenoma) pressing on my optic nerve. The attacks occurred on 50% of all days, with the “penumbra” of the headache beginning around 11 am and reaching a crescendo around midnight. That’s why I did most of my homework before midnight and 3 am. It was not until after I graduated that I was properly diagnosed: Until then, doctors did not know what to think—especially since MRIs and CT Scans had not yet been invented.

Pain and all, I loved Dartmouth. The quality of the instructors was, for the most part, incredibly high. Particularly in the English department, I had a succession of professors I will never forget: men like Chauncey Loomis, Peter Bien, and Thomas Vance.

At first, I hoped to become an English professor, until the movies turned by head. The Dartmouth Film Society screened great films, including a huge year-round Alfred Hitchcock festival. Plus I made the acquaintance of Arthur L. Mayer, the former “Merchant of Menace” from New York’s Rialto Theater and the author of Merely Colossal (1953). It was while at Dartmouth that I decided to go to graduate school in film history and criticism at UCLA—and that’s how I wound up in La La Land.

Dartmouth College had been founded as a missionary school for Indians in 1769 under the patronage of the Earl of Dartmouth. In 1819, the school made legal history when Daniel Webster argued before the Supreme Court in Trustees of Dartmouth College vs. Woodward, better known as the Dartmouth College Case. President Franklin “Handsome Frank” Pierce graduated from there and went on to become one of the most mediocre presidents in U.S. history.

I will leave you with the official seal of Dartmouth:

“A Voice Crying in the Desert”

“A Voice Crying in the Desert”

The motto was most appropriate considering the school’s winter isolation.