God and Government: The Aesthetics of Princeton Part XXIII

In the final weeks of the school year, the University opened the Faculty Room in Nassau Hall to seniors as part of the “Last Lecture” series. I wasn’t a senior, but I went in anyways. Usually, the doors to this pristine room are closed during the entire year.

Nassau Hall may encompass the soul of Princeton, but the Faculty Room is its heart. As I walked in, I immediately noticed the portraits that lined the walls. Each University president has a portrait hanging on the northern, eastern, or western wall. Paintings of important colonial figures — like King George II and George Washington — are on the southern wall. A large wooden table sits in the middle of the room with equally long elevated benches on both sides. It is modeled after the British House of Commons. In the back, a large chair — the president’s throne — is seated behind a scepter. A golden chandelier illuminates the brilliant white ceiling and majestic mahogany-colored wooden walls.

The Faculty Room was part of the original building of Nassau Hall, though it was only one third of its present size. During the American Revolution, it was hit by a cannon ball that came from a company under the command of Alexander Hamilton while the British were taking refuge within the building in January 1777. Hamilton had been rejected from Princeton and later went to King’s College, which eventually became Columbia University.

Princeton became the capital of the country in 1783 when a mutiny by the Continental Army forced the country’s congress to leave Philadelphia. The congress met in the Faculty Room. A century later, the room had been expanded, so the geosciences department created a natural history museum in it. Today, the Faculty Room is used for meetings of the Board of Trustees and other special events.

Several days later, an article in the Princeton Alumni Weekly prompted me to go on a scavenger hunt for the “Dante Room” in East Pyne.

After walking in on three different study groups, I finally found the East Pyne 111 empty on a late Wednesday night. A plaque tells how Professor Robert Hollander taught Dante’s works in the room for 35 years.

Beautiful rectangular dark wood panels adorn the entire room. A dim light gives the polishing the illusion of glowing. Two metal-framed windows serve as tiny dungeon windows to the outside world. It is easy to see how someone can go mad while thinking about the inferno in this room.

There are still a number of interesting spaces like these — each with their own histories — that dot Princeton’s campus.

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