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  • Writer's pictureThe Blue and White Magazine

Blue Notes, Orientation 2018

Updated: Sep 3, 2021

During daylight hours, I don’t look at the statues around campus much. Warmer bodies rush past me, off to class, to meetings, to whatever must be done today to graduate later, reminding me of my own duty to be scholarly.

Only when night falls do I truly stare. Each statue then seems to embody a temporal moment, a snapshot, of the form infinitely suspended in an act between movements. I have all the time in the world to parse the depths of their expressions. I t takes darkness to appreciate the quietness of these things.


On the grassy area outside of Philosophy Hall, the figure leans forward, elbow on opposite knee, hand supporting chin. The face reflects neither happiness nor sadness, but is clearly contemplating something, and is perhaps tired.

Casts of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker are scattered throughout the sculptor’s native France and the rest of the world. The original model appeared in Rodin’s Gates of Hell, a set of doors covered in dozens of miniature, painstakingly rendered figures, each frozen in some grotesque display of suffering. Presiding over the scene, which is culled from The Divine Comedy, is Dante, known in this piece as “The Poet”. Rodin’s poet is not in Hell, but he is looking down into it and sits just above its uppermost reaches.

After being exhibited as a separate piece from the Gates, a much larger casting of The Thinker debuted in 1904. Enlarged a few times over, he makes a powerfully built figure. Without the chaos of Inferno below him though, The Thinker almost looks more vulnerable, as if the hell he is mulling over in his mind is a more pressing reality than the physical place with the fire and the demons.


On a block outside the entrance to Seeley Mudd Hall stands another bronze cast of a man, gleaming from a recent restoration job. A hip is cocked to the side and one hand rests on the hip, the other holds a pair of pincers. He dons a heavy apron, spats and thick boots. A shield to protect the face rests on top of the head.

Illustration by Julia Flasphaler

A creation of Belgian sculptor Constantin Meunier, Le Marteleur (“hammer man”) was first exhibited at a Parisian salon in 1886, in plaster form. A bronze cast arrived at Columbia in 1914 as a gift from an earlier class of School of Mines graduates.

The heaviness of the clothing and the pincers suggest the metal worker’s industrial habitat—molten alloys, overpowering fumes, profound heat—conditions likely observed by the sculptor during his visit to a steel foundry. Meunier would have also have known of the 1886 strikes led by Walloons (an ethnic minority in Belgium) and the brutal response they received.

Maybe the statues compliment each other in a way. Or not. But the force of their dignity strikes me during my midnight strolls around campus, while rain slicks the pavement, cheap beer sours my breath, and loneliness nibbles at my heart.

— Virginia Ambeliotis

Steps away from landmarks like Grant’s Tomb, Riverside Park, The Manhattan School of Music, The Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University’s campus, the guestrooms at Union Theological Seminary at 120th and Broadway are year-round the perfect place for a visiting family member of a CU student to stay a night or two.

Union Theological Seminary’s Landmark Guest Rooms began as a convenience for visiting professors, lecturers and theologians around 25 years ago—a modest setup of a warm bed and clean bath for those that needed it. Five years later, during a time when Columbia had its own guest house, Union opened to the public. Complete with the necessities—a private bath, irons and hair-dryers, housekeeping, mini-fridges, cable and wifi— Landmark prides itself on straightforward quality service. Guests can retreat into a courtyard reminiscent of a cloister, so removed from New York that it could even be the subject of a 19th century British watercolour. At $135 to $165 per night, the Landmark Guest Rooms provide a beyond-quiet and pleasantly simple environment that their director Steve Bie can only describe as “a secure and pleasant environment.”

The Guest Rooms are fully incorporated into UTS’s National Register of Historic Places listed 1910 gothic revival style quad. The centerpiece of Union’s campus, nestled between Claremont Avenue and Broadway, spans the distance of two city blocks. In a legendarily sleepless NYC where streets are busy space is scarce, Union has managed to create an idyll of lawn space carved out of almost no space at all. The campus’ current façade of dense scaffolding only further conceals its bigger-on-the-inside magic that encompasses regally titled academic halls: The Burke Library, James Memorial Chapel and Morningside Castle.

In a place like Morningside Heights, simultaneously neighborhood-like and bustling, there is another even more anomalous place hidden in its unassuming grandeur.

— Ottilie Lighte

The Neo- Renaissance palazzo that lines Amsterdam Avenue greets students as they pass over Amsterdam Avenue towards East Campus has a murky history— one that goes beyond its role as Casa Italiana, the home of the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies. Though known to some for its appearance on the FX series The Americans (styled as the Soviet Embassy) and to others as a site of student protests, Casa Italiana’s real claim to fame is much more ominous: that the funding for its construction was allegedly sourced in part from Italian fascists, including Benito Mussolini himself.

A New York Times article reported that Columbia University President Nicholas Butler received a telegram from Mussolini the night before the opening of the building in 1927. The message offered the “auspicious and grateful greetings of the Government of Italy.” Mussolini continued, “The Casa Italiana of Columbia University means to be and will be a new and stronger tie of mutual comprehension and friendship between the people of Italy.” Prominent fascist Guglielmo Marconi gave the opening address the following day.

Illustration by Yotam Deree

The faculty of the Casa has continuously addressed the debate over fascist ties, with early directors declaring the institution to be politically neutral and subsequent directors continuing to do so. A current exhibition in the Casa Italiana outlines the history of the building and its funding. The exhibition outright addresses the controversy, stating, “Once the project was launched, there was interest from the Italian government. For example, the Casa’s architects wrote in 1926 that some furniture was ‘to be obtained in Italy through the help of Mussolini.’ Mussolini’s donation never materialized, however, and the furnishings and artwork came instead from domestic patrons.”

— Claire Wootton


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