INTRODUCTION: THE NOT-SO-ADMIRABLE ELMER HOLMES BOBST
Like most NYU students these days, you probably spent a good part of your weekend inside Bobst, which according to Pier, is really just a “giant stupid library.” The derision may well in part be inspired by the library’s benefactor: former pharmaceutical executive Elmer Holmes Bobst. While the inscription engraved in white marble in the library lobby lauds Bobst as an admirable leader, a quick look at his bio paints a different picture (spoiler: it is not a pretty picture, and looks like the LL-1 woman’s bathroom at 9 p.m on a Sunday night).
Elmer Holmes Bobst was born in Maryland and worked his way through the Hoffman-LaRoche (later Roche-Nutley) pharmaceutical company, becoming one of the best paid executives in the country when he retired in 1944. He was a longtime NYU trustee and gifted six million dollars to the University to build a new library. Documents in the Bobst special collections (ironic much?) prove that while his money may not have been dirty, his past certainly was.
According to the records, our dear Elmer was best friends with both Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower. As the Times made clear this weekend, Nixon was a pretty notorious anti-semite, a sentiment apparently shared by his buddy Elmer. In a 1972 letter, Bobst writes,
Bobst was also an alleged pedophile. Two of his relatives came forward after his death in 1978 (five years after the library opened) alleging that he had sexually abused them. A suit brought by his granddaughter, Anne Bobst Highly, against Bobst’s estate in 1991 was tossed out because of a 1978 settlement that she accepted from Elmer’s widow, Mamdouha. A previous suit, filed by Bobst’s great grand daughter Sharon Haymes, was also rejected. The library now houses a collection of Bobst’s papers, the summary of which describes Elmer as “a man of strong principles.” Psyche?
Okay, not really, but for the NYU community, Bobst is a symbol of dread and frustration, as well as a 12-story reminder of the never-ending stress of higher education. But at the risk of sounding like a tinfoil hat-wearing, ghost hunting, crystal healing enthusiast with a voodoo doll collection, perhaps Bobst’s bad vibes are inevitable—do I smell a curse?–given the history of its founding.
Our library’s namesake—the self-made pharmaceutical tycoon Elmer Holmes Bobst—turns out to have been so lacking in moral character that he’d give Anthony Weiner a run for his money. Yes, yes, he did become incredibly successful despite his humble beginnings and received no formal education—he taught himself the ways of pharmacology and never received one of them fancy college degrees—but, was a documented anti-semite, an alleged perpetrator of both incest and pedophilia, and really just a guy you wouldn’t want to invite to Thanksgiving dinner.
Bobst, a close friend of Richard Nixon (really, this should have been a red flag to everyone) wrote about his distaste for Jews in a letter to the disgraced president, saying:
The Jews have troubled the world from the very beginning.
The Jews are tolerated but, as a whole, are not liked by other American nationalities.
As we’ve previously reported, Bobst’s family life was similarly shitty. After his death, both his granddaughter and great-granddaughter filed suits alleging pedophiliac sexual assault at the hands of Bobst, both of which were denied. Furthermore, his wife, Mamdouha–the Lucille Bluth doppleganger whose portrait’s eyes seem to follow you from its position in the library’s portrait gallery—was a Lebanese diplomat who fervently supported the idea that women worldwide should stay at home and tend to their husbands…which seems a bit ironic, given that NYU is one of the country’s most liberal universities.
Not only did our library’s namesake have some issues, but its lead architect, Harvard alumnusPhilip Johnson, was an open Nazi sympathizer and fascist activist during the Hitler’s reign of terror. In fact, his political leanings were so well known that he was accused by the Office of Naval Intelligence of being a spy. However, later in life, he admitted that his aforementioned political beliefs were a result of “unbelievable stupidity” that can be summed up in his hilariously understated remarks on the matter:
My worst mistake was going to Germany and liking Hitler too much.
Given that Washington Square Park–the locus of NYU’s campus–is built atop a sturdy foundation of 20,000, 200-year-old corpses, this all seems enough to persuade not just the superstitious–even people who are only a little-stitious–that the Curse O’ Bobst does, in fact exist; the daunting interior of our library seems to support that your heebie-jeebies aren’t unfounded.
But the last nail in the coffin? The pattern of Bobst’s atrium’s hypnotizing marble flooring. As explored in depth in the documentary The NYU Suicides, Johnson intended for the floor to be an optical illusion…for suicide-deterring purposes:
…it was purposely designed to reduce suicide jumpers. If you look at the tops of the metal gates on each floor, they are designed to look like crosses while the floor was designed to look like spikes that are far away. It was, of course, inspired by MC Escher’s drawing “Depth.”
This is particularly haunting given the string of on-campus suicides within the last decade that began with a student’s dive from Bobst’s 10th floor.
My conclusion? If you’re meant to head off to the library, but you really don’t wanna go, perhaps your unwillingness is based on more than just your laziness.
... I searched online for any information I could uncover about the “Eucleian Society.” A Wikipedia page drew on sources from NYU’s Bobst Library and Digital Archives, as well as academic books that covered the broader topic of “secret societies in America.” The society was founded the same year instruction began at NYU, first operating out of the Main University Building, where it held oratory debates and readings. Topics under discussion spanned philosophy (“Whether humanity is naturally depraved,” Decision: Affirmative) to legal theory (“Should the capital of large moneyed corporations be limited by statute?” Decision: Negative) to romantic truths (“Resolved that adultery is the only true way to cohabit”). The names of Eucleian alumni would later grace major buildings around campus (Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, Jerome S. Coles Sports & Recreation Center) and university curricula (Gallatin School of Individualized Study). ...
I browsed the webpages, many of which contained abridged histories of the society, largely regurgitated from Wikipedia. One recurring storyline was the society’s relationship with Edgar Allan Poe, a frequent guest lecturer during its early era. After Poe’s death, the group adopted the raven (from his popular poem) as its unofficial mascot. Meme-ified photos captured various society shenanigans around Washington Square Park—a raven perched atop theGiuseppe Garibaldi statue; a faint trail of raven footprints around the fountain. Other blog posts included opinion pieces extolling Society philosophy (“Social Capital as Exclusive and Intergenerational”) and shared YouTube excerpts of films—like a scene from the 1990 comedy-drama Metropolitan about essential Manhattan evening wear—as though it were educational material.
After his presidential defeat in 1960 and California defeat by Gov. Pat Brown in 1962, Nixon needed a lucrative job as an attorney that would afford him time for politics. Pepsi’s Don Kendall offered to let him handle the Pepsi account. Another friend, Warner-Lambert Pharmaceutical Corp. President Elmer Bobst, arranged a deal with his own law firm, Mudge, Stern, Baldwin and Todd, to hire Nixon as a full partner at $250,000 a year, with time off for politicking.
Later, in 1972, after Nixon had become president, PepsiCo wrangled an exclusive franchise to sell Pepsi to 200 million Russians. Additionally, Warner-Lambert’s application for a merger with Parke-Davis, originally turned down by the Justice Dept.’s antitrust division, was approved by former Nixon law partner Attorney General John Mitchell.
The gallery in the lobby of Bobst just doesn’t seem that interesting to the average Violet. There are too few outlets and some strangely placed busts too close to the floor. But if you look beyond the portraits of old dead white men (former NYU presidents), there’s some pretty interesting stuff laying around. There’s a really old copy of The Canterbury Tales that we think Chaucer gave to John Sexton as a birthday present, but that can’t be verified at all, really.
There’s also an article framed in the northern-most glass display case in which Elmer Holmes Bobst’s second wife, Mamdouha As-Sayyid, is quoted as saying,
The article we’re talking about was clipped from the now-defunct newspaper The New York Mirror, and was written by Hettie Cattell on November 24th, 1960. The headline of the article is “The Lady Is A Diplomat.” The sub-headline on the story reads, “Miss As-Sayyid of Lebanon Invites U.S. Women to Become Cognizant of A Few Facts on Feminine Protocol.”
What, exactly, was this feminine protocol? We’ll get to that in a minute. But first, let’s note that she was indeed a diplomat. The woman who later became Mrs. Bobst was the first woman, as well as the youngest person, to be appointed as a U.N. delegate from her home country of Lebanon. She received a masters degree in public health from U.C. Berkley. This lady was, in short, damn impressive. When Elmer Holmes Bobst married her in 1961, he was 77 years old, and As-Sayyid was in her mid-thirties. The Mirror article says that she went by the nickname of “Do-Do” (really charming).
The article came out before they were married, but As-Sayyid already knew exactly how the whole act of being a wife was to be done. Her “protocol” was a basic recipe for subservience, complete with a gender dynamic that would have mostly anyone strolling through the Bobst lobby today pulling his hair out. She was a delegate in the 1960s, and yet it seems the feminist wave never quite hit her. Some more choice quotes from this article:
"I’d rather be considered as a woman first – as a diplomat second."
"I feel the women are making a mistake in their attitude of competing with men. It isn’t good for either. It means frustration on both sides … the most successful women are those who retain their femininity, who remember that they are still women, whatever their accomplishments have been…"
"The attitude of women towards a man — the we-are-as-smart-as you-are pose — isn’t good for either man or woman…however I think the fault isn’t only women’s. American men give women too much leeway…it would be a good idea if the men would get a little rougher with the women." And she smiled, "I think the women would love it."
She thinks Lebanese women are right about their role. "They want to stay women," she said. "And rely on the men…and we get more out of the men too."...
We realize times were totally different back then, but is this the kind of stuff we want framed in our lobby?
Beloved Bobst, home to some, prison to others, received a facelift over the summer. My personal opinion is that the library was scary before (Elmer Holmes Bobst was a Nazi!) and it’s scary now. Only now there are crazy gold things hanging everywhere that are supposed to look like pixels. Maybe this will make us all better at Mario Kart.
According to the New York Times, the renovation, done by architect Joel Sanders, is intended to keep students safe following the three sobering suicides of the past decade. Metal screens, presumably painted gold (NYU doesn’t havethat much money) completely enclose each balcony. The effect, at least from afar, is that of some crazy golden waterfall. The panels resemble both golden lace, which is a kind of lovely image, and pixels, which they were intended to do (and is a less lovely image).
Gawker (with an entirely accurate yet probably upsetting headline) pointed out the different reactions on Twitter, which at least now seem mostly positive. Most tweets make mention of the new Bobst’s “beautiful suicide prevention screen” which just might be the creepiest architectural phrase ever.
The “beautiful suicide prevention screen” does have several thoughtful details, such as having its largest openings on the north side of Bobst’s atrium, where the most light can come in. The panels are light, allow ventilation, and are “in emergencies, smoke-purging.” Good thing that those smoke-purging atriums aren’t outside amongst those students lighting up outside. Yet.
Andrew T. Repoli, a director of construction management at NYU, told the Times that they wanted come up with something sympathetic to the original design but which also represented today’s aesthetic. If that aesthetic is pixels, then we are in for a sad, sad looking world. If that’s the thinking behind the project, then the whole thing kind of feels like a Project Runway challenge where the designers fail at interpreting everything.
... In the United States, SS Baron von Bolschwing moved in close personal ties with Elmer Bobst, president of Warner Lambert Pharmaceutical Co. becoming the assistant to the director of international marketing at Warner Lambert Pharmaceuticals Co. Bobstwas initiated into the BLOOD OATH SECRECY of Knighthood of the Knights of Malta, the Knights Hospitaller, also known as the Hospitallers, Order of Hospitallers, Knights of Saint John and Order of Saint John, were among the most famous of the Western Christian military orders during Crusades of the Middle Ages.