September 04, 2019

A Lesson in Grace

Amidst a flurry of mid-60s campus pranks, the level-headed Reverend A. Graham Baldwin knew exactly how to respond.
by Richard B. Weinberg ’67

The Cochran Chapel is an iconic presence on the Great Lawn. Built in 1932, it has since been the venue of religious services and major campus events. During my time at Andover, it was also where we had short, but compulsory, morning chapel services.

Students were assigned alphabetical seating in the pews and attendance was taken. Twice a week the chapel bell would begin to peal slowly at 7:45 am, five minutes before services began. If you stood on the steps, you would see throngs of boys converging across the lawn from every corner of campus, many tying their neckties as they ran. With one minute to go, the ringing pace accelerated, and then culminated in a frantic paroxysm. This was the signal for the senior deacons to close and lock the chapel doors; anyone not already inside would be marked absent.

Three absences in a term would result in one being “posted”, a two-week period of sharply limited privileges. Presiding over these services was Reverend A. Graham Baldwin. School minister for over 30 years, he was a gray-haired, avuncular man whose sermons emphasized kindness, fellowship, and God’s love.

Students leaving Cochran Chapel. 1965 Potpourri

Early one spring, the campus began to witness a rash of audacious pranks. Detergent was poured into a fountain, covering the lawn with foam; a large picture of Mickey Mouse was inserted into the Armillary Sphere; toilet paper decorated the trees along the Elm Arch. At our Wednesday morning assemblies in George Washington Hall Dean G. Grenville Benedict issued dire warnings that the perpetrators would face severe consequences if the pranks continued.

Headmaster John Kemper admonished us that we were honor bound to report the identity of the culprits. But these threats only served to spur the mischief makers on to ever more outrageous antics. The cables in the Bell Tower carillon were switched around, causing a very bizarre bell-ringing recital. A faculty member’s prized Mustang was stolen and parked in the Copley wing of the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library. An even larger picture of Mickey was placed over the face of the clock on Samuel Phillips Hall, turning it into a huge Mickey Mouse watch.

It seemed as if the culprits were deliberately mocking the administration by targeting Andover’s most iconic symbols. What would they do next, we wondered with anticipation?

The Copley Wing, added in 1959 and removed in 1989, was used as a spot for student pranks.

On the last day of classes before Spring Break we found out. We entered Cochran Chapel for morning services to find that someone had let loose hundreds of helium-filled balloons that now blanketed the ceiling in a multi-colored mass. We laughed and chattered with glee as we took our seats, but as the organ processional ended, a nervous silence descended, because we now feared that retribution would surely be coming for this latest outrage – possibly to us all.

Reverend Baldwin rose and slowly walked to the pulpit carrying a small book. He set it on the lectern and stood there, looking out over us for what seemed like an eternity. Was he about to bring down upon us the wrath of the administration for this irreverent desecration of a holy space? Would he announce Draconian punishments? All eyes rested on him.

Then, at last, without any introduction or commentary, he began to recite e.e. cummings’s poem "in Just –":

"in Just– spring when the world is mud– luscious the little lame balloonman whistles far and wee”

It is a poem that expresses the untrammeled joy of winter’s end and the arrival of spring; of the happiness of children at play; of wonders that even a lame balloon man shares as he whistles abroad to announce the arrival of the season. In less than a minute he reached the last verse:

“it’s spring and the

goat-footed balloonMan whistles far and wee”

Then he gently closed the book and, bearing himself with quiet dignity, returned to his seat.

Reverend Baldwin

We didn’t talk about it much afterwards. When we returned from Spring Break the balloons were gone, shot down by a groundsman with a BB gun. The pranks abruptly ceased. They never caught the perpetrators, but it did not matter. Reverend Baldwin had accomplished with wisdom and humor what the administration could not with anger and threats.

Andover taught me many things, but more than 50 years later—particularly in the springtime—I still vividly remember this amazing lesson in forgiveness and grace.

Categories: Alumni, Magazine

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