For over a century and a half, Davidson students have ogled the crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling of Philanthropic Hall, watching it play dazzling host to gatherings for debate, literary or academic honor societies. The glass fixture greedily draws eyes from all other ornamental features in the hall, and for good reason: It’s the twin sister of the chandelier under which Napoleon III was married to Eugénie de Montigi in 1853. Crafted in France, the Philanthropic chandelier was exhibited in London’s Crystal Palace before being sent to New York, where, according to college records, it was purchased on behalf of Davidson by a Mr. H. P. Helper.
Elm or Oak?
Mirroring the historic debate halls of Phi and Eu on Davidson’s Old Quad are the two elongated, brick cottages, Elm Row and Oak Row. Built in 1836 as dormitories for 16 students each, the two identical Rows perhaps provided the first test of memory on campus as students struggled to distinguish one building from the other. Even the buildings’ titles, derived from trees of similar size and name, encourage misidentification. Perhaps one student finally had enough of the confusion and painted the letters ELM ROW into one of the bricks of the appropriate building. The marking isn’t exactly easy to spot. It has faded into near obscurity over the years, however, and has since been forgotten by most students. On your next walk through campus, see if you can spot the ghostly letters, that is, once you determine which building is which.
Vellum leaves from a liturgical book of the Western Christian Church are some of the most beautiful artifacts preserved in the E.H. Little Library’s Smith Rare Book Room. These pages, hand illuminated by Spanish monks in the 16th century, retain their vibrant detail and color. Recently, the Smith Rare Book Room allowed the pages to be scanned to a digital archive in an attempt to create a complete copy of the original book, though the book’s many physical pieces remain scattered in archives and libraries across the world.
Trivia question: What prehistoric relics on Davidson’s campus are constantly trampled by strolling professors and busy students heading to class? Answer: The intricate fossils that decorate the floor of the Katherine and Tom Belk Visual Arts Center. The creamy gray Bavarian limestone that lines the interior of the VAC is riddled with million-year-old fossils of prehistoric organisms, which create beautiful spirals and lacy patterns visible throughout the building. Graham Gund, the VAC’s architect, loves the stone so much that he employs it in every building he designs. Art Department lore also asserts that the VAC’s limestone originates from the same quarry that yielded stones used by the college’s lithograph shop.