College: Nothing To Fear But The Toilet Itself

As Harvard freshmen, Stephen Stromberg, Mike Donahue and Matt Ferrante lived in a typical cinder-block dorm. Now sophomores, they're bunking in a room with a notable history, its status denoted by a wall plaque: Franklin Delano Roosevelt lived in this room, 1900-1904. The Adams House suite, traditionally a professor's office, is housing students for the first time in decades. Above the original fireplace is a framed, handwritten letter from FDR to his parents; in the bathroom the sophomores use the original claw-foot tub and antique pull-chain toilet, which flushes with Niagara-like fury. "It's sort of a bizarre feeling to bathe where FDR bathed," says Stephen, a political junkie. Regarding the toilet, Matt says, "Knowing that we sit where he sat is, uh, interesting." They're growing accustomed to the apparently ghost-free room, for which they pay Harvard's standard rooming fee. They're also evaluating the efficacy of "Would you like to see FDR's room?" as a pickup line. The history bubbles up constantly, as when Stephen was watching FDR videos in the room while studying for a cold-war mid-term. "FDR studied for his midterms here, and now you're studying for your midterms here about FDR," says Matt. To keep that history in mind, they've decorated the room with FDR photos and electoral maps of the '36 and '44 elections. Later this winter, if they can scrounge some wood, they hope to light some logs to host a fireside chat where they'll read aloud some of FDR's radio addresses. Sadly, their brush with history may be short-lived; they suspect that next year Harvard will convert the space into a suite for distinguished visitors, just as it did JFK's old dorm room. Future classes, however, will be left with a different dream: students recently identified Al Gore and Tommy Lee Jones's old room.