Cap and Gown during World War II

Princetonian_1943-01-30_v68_n007_0001-1 by C.S. “Butsy” Lovelace ’44

Gradually after Pearl Harbor, Prospect Street went dark, as one club after another closed up for the duration. Cap’s Graduate Board of Directors decided to cease all normal operations, for very few undergraduate members were still on the campus, and they were learning to subsist at the Balt and the Tavern.

Cap’s Board let all the staff go except the Manager, who visited the Club occasionally to check on things. For maintenance reasons, they kept the electricity and water on, and just enough heat to be safe. Tiger Inn across the street, and a few others did the same partial shut-down.

Jack Clemmit, from Roanoke, Va. was our student manager; so he had a permanent bedroom in the Club, on the third floor. A fellow graduate of Baltimore’s Gilman School, he persuaded me to take a room up there, too. Why not? Then Jim McCaffrey, undergraduate president of the Club, joined us. He was particularly welcome because, due to an unfortunate incapacity, he was not only 4-F, but was permitted by the University to have a car. So now we not only have a Club, but also a Club Car.

Then Chuck Callery joined us. He wasn’t a member of any club because, when he transferred from the University of Virginia, it was after the last Bicker. But we took him in, another fellow Baltimore Gilman guy. Chuck didn’t want to live at the Club, and so now we had a day-timer, and more followed, all regular members.

For instance, Jim Fentress, from Chicago, was great fun — and brilliant. He had taught himself Russian so he could read Tolstoy’s War and Peace in the original, but he was too brilliant to be drafted into the armed forces. Instead, he left us when he was ordered to work on the atomic bomb project. As an atomic physicist, he was assigned to the Hanford, Washington project, and years later died from the atomic exposure there.

Most of us were still at college because of agreements with the various services. I had signed up with the Navy’s V-7 program, by which I agreed to go to midshipman’s school if they would allow me to graduate from college first. That was the deal, but I had to agree to accelerate and graduate in September 1943 instead of June 1944, a whole year earlier. So most of us at Cap those years had to study overtime and all was not fun
and games.

Breakfast was the only meal we normally took at the Club. Since the milkman still delivered in those days, and the Club’s big refrigerator was kept running, dry cereals were practical and could be had at any time— and so could beer and ice for later on. It would have been great if pizzas had been invented by then.

So we were forced to go up on the campus for not only our courses, but also for lunch and/or dinner. Was Commons open? It must have been — but do you know? — I can’t remember eating there in those war years.

What I do remember are the night-time parties we held in front of the big fireplace in the living room. There was a large pile of firewood on the grounds, so when we had some of the local young ladies in for the evening, it could get quite toasty.

There was little else in the way of entertainment. No television then. So pool and billiards were the great indoor sports, and we developed a proficiency that would last a lifetime.

Of this I can assure you: Cap and Gown has never been enjoyed and loved so much as it was in that uncertain war-torn era. Tangible memories exist there in the form of dedicated footpath stones and an elm tree on the front lawn dedicated to those members of my class lost in WWII.