A video of Fred Fox ’39 lifts the spirits

Gregg Lange ’70 is a member of the Princetoniana Committee and the Alumni Council Committee on Reunions, an Alumni Schools Committee volunteer, and a trustee of WPRB radio.
Gregg Lange ’70 is a member of the Princetoniana Committee and the Alumni Council Committee on Reunions, an Alumni Schools Committee volunteer, and a trustee of WPRB radio.
Illustration by Steven Veach

This is the column wherein I annually have difficulties, simply because almost nobody among alumni, no matter how madly loyal (you know who you are), associates Princeton with the holiday season. So choosing a Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa//Solstice/New Year’s gift for you has peculiar challenges and necessarily involves some flights of fancy, while trying to pay passing homage to my charter to address our institutional history. (Helloooooo, History!)

Well, this year at least, I ’umbly report that I’ve hit the jackpot, thanks as is very common to the great folks over at the archives at Mudd Library, the very Home of History. (Helloooooo, Muddies!)

One of the recent breakouts of the University Library into our cozy virtual habitat here in Wikiworld is the intriguing Reel Mudd blog of historical Princeton videos. A sort of Short- Attention-Span-Theater for those of us whose lips move while we read the main Mudd blog, Reel Mudd (hey, I didn’t name it; these people are librarians – give ’em a break, already) throws a delightfully random spotlight on past happenings around the campus and gives us a three-dimensional introduction to many traditions of the past and their exponents. Thence your season’s greetings: a tour (literally) de force with the one and only Fred Fox ’39.

For newly minted alums or those who have been sleepwalking the last 75 years, the late Rev. Fox was the first and last Keeper of Princetoniana, the core spirit of the University during its great changeover in the mid-20th century and arguably the most beloved Princetonian since the death of Isabella McCosh.   President Bill Bowen *58’s eulogy of Fred in 1981 captures his huge presence to the degree words are capable, but your holiday present goes him one better: I can give you Freddy himself.

Intriguingly anointed with a title of minimal expectations – “At Princeton: A Walk in the Springtime” – the 1974 film’s original intention of calming panicky alumni today is overwhelmed by the personalities of its participants, mainly Fred, abetted by his class-partner-in-rhyme Sandy Maxwell ’39 and class offspring Buz Schmidt ’74.   (As a bonus for your Yulish pleasure, the springtime setting lends some salve to any lingering grim winter recollection of the windiest campus in New Jersey.) Fred’s ebullience in simply being alive and walking the campus is a nice leveler for today’s holiday season of slowly receding recession, and the various points of interest are as arresting now as the day the film was shot. Some samples to consider as you view (in order visited in the film):

  • The Nassau Hall tigers (1911): This is the only time I’ve heard they were male and female. The ones between Whig and Clio (from 1969) definitely are, but their, uh, stances are different.

The portrait of Fred Fox ’39 that hangs in Frist Campus Center.
The portrait of Fred Fox ’39 that hangs in Frist Campus Center.
Princeton University

  • Fred’s bicycle: Many 1974 Princetonians wouldn’t have known it was him without it. It also appears in his oil portrait in Frist Campus Center.
  • The Nassoons sing “Orange Moon,” then later “Come Ye Men of Princeton,” two great songs from the latest Carmina Princetonia(1968), seen on Karl Langlotz’s piano in Prospect. “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” is also there, thanks to Sandy and Fred, who were two of the songbook’s editors.
  • Jacques Lipchitz’s sculpture Song of the Vowels had been on Firestone Plaza only five years at the time.  
  • The pointed mention of Buz’s thesis is a direct tie to all Princetonians, past and present.  
  • If you think Fred’s mention of “fresh young people” is a slam at spoiled old people, you’re right.
  • Prospect had been open to the public as a faculty club for only ... five years.
  • Note the mention of undergrad women (on campus for … five years) jumping into the a capella singing group tradition.
  • The new Professors’ Lounge atop the new Fine Hall – still one of the best-kept secrets on campus, by the way – was only … five years old.
  • The recollection of byzantine football-ticket-allocation formulae is one of the most jarring anachronisms in the entire piece; then-new (that’s right … five years old) Jadwin Gym had eliminated most of the hassle for basketball tickets that buried Dillon as a varsity site.
  • The snide comment on the non-Gothic boxiness of Wilson College’s 1939 Hall (14 years old at that point) is truly hilarious, coming from two rabid ’39ers.
  • The 1912 Pavilion and Poe Field remain today; everything around them on the south end of campus today is unrecognizable from 1974.
  • While panning out to Route 1, Fred’s cheery remark on the outside world: “Princeton’s part of it!” may seem playful. It’s not.  

Especially in a holiday present to you, it’s always tempting to take on the aura of Santa and paint pretty pictures. It’s intriguing in this case to see that done so beautifully by someone who not only peerlessly embodied the joyous traditions of Princeton, but also relentlessly drove it toward happy relevance in the world of tomorrow, as President Bowen so poignantly pointed out. Hellooooooo, Freddy! And ho-ho-ho – and God bless us, everyone.