Whispering Pines: Every Picture Tells a Story

In his monthly “Whispering Pines” essay, John R. Cross ’76 takes readers on a vintage virtual tour of the College.

Spring break brings prospective students and their families to Bowdoin for a look at the campus, which may be a virtual tour online or a walking tour with an Admissions Office guide. I recently took the early 20th-century equivalent of a campus tour: twelve black-and-white postcards of the Bowdoin campus, each postmarked in Brunswick on December 18, 1906, with a dark green 1-cent Benjamin Franklin stamp, written in the same hand, signed by “G.F” (a student), and addressed to “Miss Flora Murch” in South Paris, Maine.

My search for the identity of “G.F.” was straightforward –it consisted of looking through the listings for the Classes of 1906 to 1910 for someone with those initials. The writer turned out to be Guy Wilbur Farrar of the Class of 1910, a South Paris native who attended Bowdoin from 1906-1908. Towards the end of his first semester he purchased the postcards from the F.W. Chandler & Son College Bookstore at the corner of Maine and Pleasant Streets, annotated each card in the small white space next to the picture (the only place where messages were allowed by pre-1907 postal regulations), and sent all twelve cards to Flora on the same day. Guy attached the stamps upside down on five of the postcards, which in the “hidden language” of stamps may have been a declaration of affection.

The first postcard in the series—of the Walker Art Building—introduces the tour: “Dear Flora: You may have forgotten that some time ago you suggested an exchange of postals. I should be very glad to exchange with you. This is the Art Building, containing statuary, paintings, Egyptian pillars with hieroglyphics, etc. G.F.”

Miss Murch’s “insider’s tour” included the following glimpses of Guy’s life as a freshman:

On the Walker Art Building façade: “A nearer view of the art building. Freshmen frequently ride the lions attired in bath robe and towel. The lions are somewhat cold under such circumstances.”

Adams Hall/Medical School of Maine: “Here is where they keep the “stiffs” in pickle. The only Freshman recitation here is Hygiene.”

Chapel: “In front of the chapel occur the Fresh-Soph chapel rushes – and the bonfires when we have celebrations over football games, etc.”

Chapel interior: “This is not a very good picture of the chapel interior. The walls are decorated with paintings of bible scenes. The Freshman forms [bench seats], which are those in the foreground, are often sometimes further decorated with a thick coat of molasses.”

The other views include Hubbard Hall, Searles Science Building, Massachusetts Hall, Memorial Hall, the Hubbard Grandstand at Whittier Field (minus the wooden bleachers),and Farrar’s fraternity house, the Delta Upsilon (later Delta Sigma) House. Only a year earlier, in 1905, the fraternity had purchased the Benjamin Greene house in downtown Brunswick and had it moved across the railroad tracks and up the hill to a lot on the south edge of the campus.

The “tour-by-postals” left me with many questions – about why Guy had left Bowdoin, about his later life (and Flora’s) – questions that could not be answered by the contents of a slim alumni folder. I wanted (and needed) to know more of the story. Through online genealogical resources I found that Guy Farrar had been a teacher in Morovis, Puerto Rico, in 1909-1910, and then had worked in the Bureau of Internal Revenue in the Treasury Department of Puerto Rico for at least seven years. His name appeared on steamship passenger lists from San Juan to New York City in 1912 and 1916. During World War I he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was promoted to captain in 1918. Eleven days after his discharge from the army in January of 1919 he arrived in New York City on the Brazos. According to the 1920 census he was married (but not to Flora), and was living in a boarding house in Brooklyn. The 1930 census placed him in Buckhead, Georgia; when World War II broke out he was working for the printing equipment firm of A.B. Dick in Philadelphia. He died in Miami, Florida, in 1967 at the age of 79.

Flora Murch stayed in South Paris and worked as a clerk. She married Lloyd J. Webster in 1926, and remained active in her church and her community. She died in 1984 at the age of 97 in her hometown. The postcards sent to Flora show toning at the corners from having been stored in an album for many years, a place where the images of the tour and the spirited words of a tour guide and friend could be revisited through the years. From such small events are lasting memories made.

With best wishes,

John R. Cross ’76
Secretary of Development and College Relations


  1. Eric Weis '73 says:

    John, that was TRULY a gem. The Bowdoin Daily Sun may have technology going for it, but the Whispering Pines has the content of ages. It is wonderful to read your words. Please send my regards to Peter.

  2. John E. Simonds says:

    John Cross: Very intresting historic research adventure on the GF postcards. Thanks for sharing. Your “Whispering Pines” and predecessor green ink reflections have added much to the alumni experience, especially from the sunset side of the nation in another ocean… Thanks also for the photo tour of the buildings—old, new and augmented— and congratulations to all involved for the Bowdoin Daily Sun web-site upgrade. HI hopes for a better year everywhere, Aloha, John Simonds ’57.

  3. Charles Ranlett says:

    John: It is great to read your words on a frequent basis. Your Whispering Pines and the other mix of articles appearing in the Daily Sun are welcome additions to my inflow of Email. Best regards.
    Charlie Ranlett ’54

  4. Clark Irwin says:

    Neat feature, John. The photo of Adams Hall reminded me of taking Military Science (Army ROTC) courses from sharp young officers like Major Ed Langbein, Bowdoin ‘__. Hope you uncover more such opportunities. If I recall correctly, the library has a catalog ca. 1877 billing alma mater rather grandly as “Bowdoin University,” comprising the undergraduate college, the engineering program, and the medical school. Might be worth a look. Regards, Clark Irwin ’70

  5. Peter Cross says:

    To my dear brother John – That was a very touching story -good research, and, as always, well-written. I read it aloud to Candy and she echoes my sentiments. Also, I was astonished to see my name in Eric Weis’ response. Hey, Eric, thanks for remembering me! Peter Cross ’72

  6. Louis Bruno Briasco '69 says:

    Well done and unique, as has been always the work of the Cross family!

  7. P F Healey '73 says:

    This is a story that would never have been told. Thanks for telling it. I still have the last issue of the old format Whispering Pines. It’s under lock and key.
    PFH ‘ 73

  8. Al DeMoya 1972 says:

    Hey, John,
    Your essay on the postcards was fascinating – great detective work, and amazingly detailed.

    Give my regards to your brother Peter, whose reply I was pleasantly surprised to see. Also a pleasant surprise was seeing Eric Weis’s name among the repliers. I haven’t seen or heard from him since my junior year.

  9. Nancy Bellhouse May says:

    Once again, The Whispering Times has taken me back to Bowdoin. I look forward to each installment in this grand series about our shared ties to the College’s past.

Leave a Comment