Tour guide truths and myths increase College’s mystique

We all remember our first tour of the College – reading the inappropriate quotes plastered on the quote boards in an entry, admiring the atrium of Schow and wishing we could be as cool as our tour guide. But do you remember the stories the tour guides told us? Here’s a look at some of the more memorable anecdotes that prospective students hear during their first hour on campus.

In 1791, Colonel Ephraim Williams left $10,000 in his will to found a college, but he left three stipulations: 1. The location of the school must fall within Massachusetts and not in New York; 2. The name of the township in which the college was located be changed to Williamstown; 3. The college must be named after him.

“I have even heard a rumor that the borders of the state of Massachusetts had to be expanded slightly to accommodate for the Colonel’s wish to have the campus lie entirely in the state, but this could definitely be a myth,” said Emily Ury ’13, head tour guide.

A few years later, another Massachusetts college filed a lawsuit against the College, worried that Williams would draw its students away. Williams College won the lawsuit and was officially established in 1793, and last time we checked, Harvard was doing just fine.

The former Lasell Gymnasium wasn’t always as conducive to sports play as it is now. Back before the gym as we know it was built, the engineering was so unsound that to support the ceiling, the architect had no choice but to build pillars standing in the middle of the Ephs’ basketball court. Though we may scoff now, the pillars proved especially useful during home games when opposing teams would crash into the columns and the home team would dribble the ball down court for an easy point.

Amherst students say the tombstone in Thompson Memorial Chapel contains Ephraim Williams’ body, headless and swordless because Lord Jeffrey Amherst, the founder of Amherst, stole Williams’ head and sword from the grave. As much as the Jeffs would like to think so, this isn’t true. Our namesake is buried in Warren County, N.Y. – head still intact.

Though it’s very clear to Ephs who’s on top in the Williams-Amherst rivalry, sometimes the Jeffs need a little reminder. “Here’s a great story of a prank war as told to me by [Director of Admissions Dick] Nesbitt [’74],” Ury said. One night before a Williams-Amherst football game at Williams, the Jeffs snuck unto Weston Field and singed a giant ‘A’ for Amherst onto the grass. How did the Ephs respond? Prior to the following football game, hosted by Amherst, the Williams football team burned a ‘B+’ into their football field.

Next time you complain about how small the campus is, remind yourself that the entire College – its classrooms, chapel, dining hall, infirmary and dormitories – used to be housed in one building: West College. A path for carriages and passerby used to cut through the building, oftentimes disrupting ongoing classes. One day, while the president of the College was giving a lecture, an especially rowdy young student rode through West on his horse. It was then, legend has it, that he decided that the building was too chaotic for an entire college. Even the tour guides aren’t sure about the veracity of this one: “I am not sure that this story is true either, but allegedly, this was the moment when the president decided it was time to expand,” Ury said.

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