Story posted March 22, 2010
Author: John Cross '76, Secretary of Development and College Relations
Spring break brings prospective students and their families to Bowdoin for a look at the campus, which may be a virtual tour online or a walking tour with an Admissions Office guide. I recently took the early 20th-century equivalent of a campus tour: twelve black-and-white postcards of the Bowdoin campus, each postmarked in Brunswick on December 18, 1906, with a dark green 1-cent Benjamin Franklin stamp, written in the same hand, signed by “G.F” (a student), and addressed to “Miss Flora Murch” in South Paris, Maine.
My search for the identity of “G.F.” was straightforward –it consisted of looking through the listings for the Classes of 1906 to 1910 for someone with those initials. The writer turned out to be Guy Wilbur Farrar of the Class of 1910, a South Paris native who attended Bowdoin from 1906-1908. Towards the end of his first semester he purchased the postcards from the F.W. Chandler & Son College Bookstore at the corner of Maine and Pleasant Streets, annotated each card in the small white space next to the picture (the only place where messages were allowed by pre-1907 postal regulations), and sent all twelve cards to Flora on the same day. Guy attached the stamps upside down on five of the postcards, which in the “hidden language” of stamps may have been a declaration of affection.
The first postcard in the series—of the Walker Art Building—introduces the tour: “Dear Flora: You may have forgotten that some time ago you suggested an exchange of postals. I should be very glad to exchange with you. This is the Art Building, containing statuary, paintings, Egyptian pillars with hieroglyphics, etc. G.F.”
Miss Murch’s “insider’s tour” included the following glimpses of Guy’s life as a freshman:
On the Walker Art Building façade: “A nearer view of the art building. Freshmen frequently ride the lions attired in bath robe and towel. The lions are somewhat cold under such circumstances.”
Adams Hall/Medical School of Maine: “Here is where they keep the “stiffs” in pickle. The only Freshman recitation here is Hygiene.”
Chapel: “In front of the chapel occur the Fresh-Soph chapel rushes – and the bonfires when we have celebrations over football games, etc.”
Chapel interior: “This is not a very good picture of the chapel interior. The walls are decorated with paintings of bible scenes. The Freshman forms [bench seats], which are those in the foreground, are often sometimes further decorated with a thick coat of molasses.”
The other views include Hubbard Hall, Searles Science Building, Massachusetts Hall, Memorial Hall, the Hubbard Grandstand at Whittier Field (minus the wooden bleachers),and Farrar’s fraternity house, the Delta Upsilon (later Delta Sigma) House. Only a year earlier, in 1905, the fraternity had purchased the Benjamin Greene house in downtown Brunswick and had it moved across the railroad tracks and up the hill to a lot on the south edge of the campus.
The “tour-by-postals” left me with many questions – about why Guy had left Bowdoin, about his later life (and Flora’s) – questions that could not be answered by the contents of a slim alumni folder. I wanted (and needed) to know more of the story. Through online genealogical resources I found that Guy Farrar had been a teacher in Morovis, Puerto Rico, in 1909-1910, and then had worked in the Bureau of Internal Revenue in the Treasury Department of Puerto Rico for at least seven years. His name appeared on steamship passenger lists from San Juan to New York City in 1912 and 1916. During World War I he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was promoted to captain in 1918. Eleven days after his discharge from the army in January of 1919 he arrived in New York City on the Brazos. According to the 1920 census he was married (but not to Flora), and was living in a boarding house in Brooklyn. The 1930 census placed him in Buckhead, Georgia; when World War II broke out he was working for the printing equipment firm of A.B. Dick in Philadelphia. He died in Miami, Florida, in 1967 at the age of 79.
Flora Murch stayed in South Paris and worked as a clerk. She married Lloyd J. Webster in 1926, and remained active in her church and her community. She died in 1984 at the age of 97 in her hometown. The postcards sent to Flora show toning at the corners from having been stored in an album for many years, a place where the images of the tour and the spirited words of a tour guide and friend could be revisited through the years. From such small events are lasting memories made.
“Dear Flora: You may have forgotten that some time ago you suggested an exchange of postals. I should be very glad to exchange with you. This is the Art Building, containing statuary, paintings, Egyptian pillars with hieroglyphics, etc. G.F.”