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Passing through Kettering
Written September 24, 2018


When I enrolled at Oberlin College in 1965, intending to major in physics, I found myself in a “Men's Quad” — a six-acre lawn bounded by science labs and dormitories for freshmen.

(Yes, freshmen.  Scientists are supposed to be men, right?  And Barrows and Burton were both men's dorms.  However, nowadays we use gender-neutral terminology:  a freshman is a “first-year student,” not all dormitories are for one sex only, and the Men's Quad is now “North Bowl.”)

Chemistry and biology were both housed in the four-year-old Kettering Hall of Science, the building that fills the upper right of the above photo from the 1964 Hi-O-Hi.  Its western half has since been incorporated into the newer and even larger Science Center, but Kettering's eastern half is now gone.

Just inside the east door used to be the auditorium for chemistry lectures, with an aluminum statue of Charles Martin Hall (Class of 1885) beside the entrance.

A year after graduating, Hall discovered an economical way to refine aluminum ore.  In 1888 he co-founded the company that became Alcoa, opening its first plant three years later in New Kensington, PA.  Like me, Hall never married or had children, so he was able to amass a fortune to bequeath to charity.  His gifts to the college inspired this work of art, which I like to call A Studious Hall Contemplating a Hunk of Bauxite.

I lived on the third floor of Burton.  Through the screen on my dorm window, I took a Polaroid of Kettering.  It was a massive roadblock, nearly the size of a football field, between the Quad and the rest of the campus farther to the south.  Some called it the “Great Wall of Science.”  Realizing this, the architect provided a ground-level shortcut through it, a passageway between the two halves of the building.

Before dawn on many a winter morning, on my way to breakfast at Dascomb and my 8:00 German class at King, I'd descend the Burton stairs, leave my dorm, and head down that walk.  After trudging past Barrows I'd enter Kettering for a brief respite from the cold winds before continuing on my way.

Within the passageway I smelled the odors of unidentified chemicals.  There was also a display case on my right where the chemistry department had proudly laid out some of the many products that could now be made from Charles Martin Hall's miracle metal.

Above photo (flipped) from 1964 Hi-O-Hi

The contents of the case looked something like this.  And yes, I distinctly remember that among the industrial castings there was an aluminum can for Donald Duck orange juice.



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