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This Week in Princeton History for September 16-22

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a longstanding but dangerous tradition comes to an end, a sophomore writes to his mother about attending Aaron Burr’s funeral, and more.

September 19, 1990—Students nab the Nassau Hall clapper for the last time.

It’s unclear exactly when the tradition of stealing the clapper began, but documentation indicates it was sometime in the 1860s. More than merely a nuisance to staff who had to keep replacing the clapper, scaling the bell tower was a dangerous feat that occasionally resulted in injuries when students fell from the tower and then off the roof onto the ground. In 1991, administrators decided to remove the clapper indefinitely. Today, Nassau Hall’s bell rings only on special occasions, such as Commencement, after which the clapper is again removed. The students pictured above were members of the Class of 1952 who stole the clapper in 1948. Historical Photograph Collection (AC112), Box MP199, Image No. 5278.

September 20, 1942—Undergraduate Council president John W. Douglas ’43 unfurls the Princeton University service flag over the main entrance to Nassau Hall.

During World War II, the United States Service Flag flew over nearly all homes and organizations to indicate the number of members of the family or organization were serving in the armed forces. The larger, blue star, reading 2936 in the above image (click to enlarge), represented the number of Princeton alumni and students in active service. The smaller, gold star, reading 16, represented the number of alumni and students who had died in the war at that point. Princeton’s flag was updated throughout the war. By 1946, 329 Princetonians had died in World War II, a higher number than all other previous wars combined, including the American Revolution, Civil War, Spanish-American War, and World War I. The above leaflet was sent to alumni and students in active service in 1942 and shows the flag being hoisted above Nassau Hall on September 20, 1942. Office of the Vice President and Secretary Records (AC190), Box 72, Folder 4.

September 21, 1836—James W. Abert, Class of 1838, writes to his mother, Ellen M. Abert, about recent events on campus: “Last week we were called to attend the funeral of a fellow Cliosophian and one of the greatest benefactors to the society, Aaron Burr.”

James W. Abert’s letter to Ellen M. Abert, September 21, 1836 reads as follows (click to enlarge): Dear Mother, I received father’s letter today. I am very glad to hear that you all are well and hope that you will remain so. Last week we were called to attend the funeral of a fellow Cliosophian and one of the greatest Benefactors to the Society, Aaron Burr. If you look in the National Intelligencer you will see the resolutions Published by the Society. His body arrived here on Friday [the] 19th near one o’clock. The Chapel was crowded, we first had a prayer from the Rev. Mr. Van Pelt who was present at his death, [and] we then had a sermon from Dr. Carnahan[;] the text was (the fashion of this world passeth away). He made a very beautiful discourse. The principal part was about Duelling [sic]. We then had the final prayer from Dr. Rice. I have not time to give you an account of the Funeral for in a few minutes the Mail will start. I expect to be home next week. Give my love to all. Your most affectionate son, James W. Abert. Undergraduate Alumni Files 1748-1920 (AC104), Box 88.
September 22, 1886—The Princetonian observes that of the incoming Class of 1890, at least 8 came from west of the Rocky Mountains. “We have reason to congratulate ourselves that from the present outlook everything is in a fair way to make our college a university.”

For the previous installment in this series, click here.

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