The world’s a stage

A staircase in a Vanderbilt entrywayIt started when I joined the donutmen freshman year. After selling donuts I would improvise, a little faux Shakespearean tale for those gathered in the Vanderbilt entryway up the staircase. And by our departure, it had moved to the Silliman courtyard, where on one extraordinary spring day in ‘70 Craig Slutzker and I, and the first flash mob in recorded history, presented a fractured Bard history of dramatic comedy, swords in the hands of Clowns. There was great merriment. Those were the days.

Rich Levin

Silliman Cupola

The Silliman cupolaMy home senior year was in the mansard of the Hillhouse Avenue gateway, looking up Hillhouse toward science hill. Inside the room, in a long skinny closet, a steel ladder rose to drum of the cupola topping the Hillhouse arch tower. Another ladder ascended up the side of the drum into the tall space of the cupola. I installed cross beams and a floor right below the windows. I had a new retreat, one with a vista to the compass points.

 The view to the west was the Silliman dining hall, and the dome of Commons/Woolsey. In the distance was East Rock and its monument. When I was very young my grandfather Thomas would take me on hikes from his Livingston Avenue house, crossing the river, and climbing up a steep trail which, at one point on the cliff face, crossed a vertiginous gap opening into the cliff with a tiny metal bridge. My life-long mountain hiking habit began there.

Looking north was the view up Hillhouse with its elegant houses ending in the tubular bricks of the Kline Bio Tower. To its right was the Peabody, another landmark of my youth: the place where I first met dinosaurs, bought bronze dinosaurs, and marveled at Rudolph F. Zallinger’s mural, The Age of Reptiles.

Looking east my view was dominated by the United Illuminating Company’s plant across the river. It became the subject of various pieces of art I created that year. To the south was the view of the Silliman Courtyard, our grand little spot of urban quiet. The grey Silliman buildings along the Wall Street include another gate tower, where I had lived the previous two years.

I watched many sunsets. As the earth turned away from the sun the clear light of day disassembled into brief and moody color, hastening reflection on my feelings and intimations of the divine.

John Boak

The Bench

Bench in Silliman CourtyardLike many Yale students in Silliman, I retain considerable nostalgia for The Bench. I do not remember who articulated the suggestion that most any question was OK and a decline to discuss should be limited to a gentle: “No thanks.”

Like many of my era (and my father’s era at that other school), I learned as much from the interactive discovery with classmates as I did from formal education. This center of learning was chaotic, weather dependent, inefficient.

I believe there was some facilitation of the bench (like a talking stick a generation later) which gave us permission to talk with relative strangers, about more ideas than we would raise in the dining hall. It is probably not an accident that Silliman graduates disproportionately populated the Y70 blog a decade ago, and that more than a few of us have teak benches in our yards.

Bruce Parker

The Bench

The bench in Silliman courtyardThe Bench, like its occupants, was transient and moved all over the courtyard for no obvious reason, I recall only one of them there … placed in the middle of the courtyard next to a walk. There was a moment when one of us placed a piece of used carpet under The Bench and mounted a small window on stilts above it, turning Bench City into a basement apartment.

Howard Evert

Silliman attic

My favorite space was the Silliman attic – a place that no longer exists. When I was at Yale, it was used as a small theater, and I watched, acted in, or designed sets and lighting for more than half-a-dozen shows. The shape and shadows of steeply pitched roof rafters, massive brick chimneys and cavernous recesses above the eaves, taught me much about designing in three-dimensions.

Ben Slotznick

Silliman dining hall

Silliman dining hallAnother favorite was the Silliman dining hall. It was the largest of any residential college, which guaranteed lively conversations at all hours. The food was surprisingly good and the desserts were outstanding (the rumor was that the chef had served on Gen. MacArthur’s staff). I always felt that the dining hall was the “sixth classroom”, and that time spent there was equal to any spent at the library. It was a place that nourished both body and soul.

Scott Simpson

Silliman Courtyard, Bench Nation

Bench in Silliman CourtyardComing from a vanilla midwestern suburb, Yale and New Haven was a wonder. Fond memories of so many places and spaces: college roof tops, gargoyles, and cupolas, intensely quiet library reading rooms, Long Island shoreline ecology, darkened squash courts, and my runner up— the Silliman Commons. The worn, but vibrant Persian carpets, deep leather chairs, and high ceilings struck a deep resonance in me and anyone who has visited my home has seen how that still resonates. Nevertheless, it is the English teak benches in the Silliman courtyard where the Silliman Bench Nation of poets, writers, artists, mathematicians, physicists, psychologists, and other ne’er-do-wells met nightly in this outdoor salon to share and debate the great, the mundane, and the whimsical issues of that time in the fall and spring of our senior year that will always be a part of me and binds us still.

Bill Rossbach


The bench in Silliman courtyard

Bench in Silliman CourtyardI entered as a junior in the class of ’71 but within a few weeks was hanging out with what was mostly the class of ’70, better known as Bench City. Those folks made me feel like I “belonged” more than any time before – most were a reflection of Inky Clark’s priorities for admission – need blind, many from public schools from all over the country (including myself from Texas). There I learned more physics than in the classroom (never took it, though I was premed), philosophy (and how physics is very much like it), art, politics, music, sex and pot. And those folks have stayed close, which is why I’m officially affiliated with this class. Ask anyone what they were doing during the solar eclipse and most Bench City folks will tell you they were listening to the Beatles “Here Comes the Sun” blasting from the cupola at Silliman. Quite a number of us have identical benches in our own back yards.

– Miriam Mills

The Silliman Bench

Bench in Silliman Courtyard1963 – 1970

On a cold evening in January 1969 I arrived back at Yale, sweaty and edgy from dexadrine and the drive from Oklahoma City where I was discharged from the Army. Offices were closed. My best bet was to ring the doorbell at the Silliman Master’s House. Annie Clark opened the door. She and Master Elias Clark had been memorably kind to me during my two and a half years at Yale 1963 to 1966. She remembered me! “I have no idea what room you will have, Dennis, so would you like to stay in the visitors’ guest suite tonight?” She handed me the keys.

In the morning I discovered that the bench had been liberated. No longer chained to a thick vine near Entry I, it was in the sunshine in the middle of the courtyard. I sat on it for the first time in three years, looked around and felt safe, and began to hope it wouldn’t be as bad as I expected.

I didn’t want to come back to Yale, but I had to. It was the only college I could get into.

Until two months earlier I was going to marry a long-term sweetheart, move to New Orleans, and attend LSU-NO. The Army was letting me out two months early to catch the Spring semester. She suddenly broke the engagement. I was devastated enough without the insult of being in New Orleans without her, or worse, staying in the Army until March. I scrambled to get into a college I liked better, but it was too late to get into University of Colorado, or Illinois (my home state), or the Chicago Circle Campus. It was too late everywhere except Yale where it took only one phone call to Dean Palmer. He remembered that I had “withdrawn in good standing” in spite of my academic troubles, and all I needed to come back was evidence of productive occupation while away. He was an old Navy man, and he proudly accepted my service in Viet Nam. “Can you be here by January 20th?” “Yes Sir.”

In 1963 Silliman freshmen lived in Durfee and ate in Commons, but we were allowed limited meals in the college dining room. I went to Silliman a lot and usually spent time on the bench. It was an escape from freshman life and a place to think about a future life, elsewhere. I sat there with the books I wasn’t reading. In cold months when the sun was shining I sat there instead of going to class. Nobody else ever sat on the bench.

It was great in 1969 that so many people stopped and chatted, curious to check out the new guy. I didn’t know they had been warned that I was from Army Intelligence and was probably a narc. I didn’t know I was confirming their suspicions when I kept asking where I could buy some marijuana. Eventually I scored, no one got busted, and I was accepted.

By Spring 1970 the bench was the center of life for friends in the class of 1970, and I loved having so many sit with me. They didn’t know it was my bench.

– Dennis McClure


Silliman College Dining Hall

Silliman Dining HallA significant part of my learning took place in the Silliman Dining Hall. Ensconced at a long table or a large round one, I often spent more than a couple of hours at a single meal. Friends came and went. I stayed. The discussions were lively, and ranged from the subject matter of courses I would never have time to take to politics, philosophy, sports, theater, music, and social life. Thirty years later, while taking my daughter on the college tour, at the entrance to the Dining Hall, I had the pleasure of pointing out the spot where I met her mother.

Marvin Krakow