$3.00 well spent

I’m a Pitt grad, and a former employee of the University, so I have a special affinity for the Cathedral of Learning. Is there a more magnificent building on any campus anywhere? If so, I’d love to know about it. If you don’t know anything about the Cathedral, Wikipedia has a good rundown. My favorite part of the story is how schoolchildren helped raise money for building it in the 1920s — a dime at a time.

I’m kicking myself that I didn’t take my camera yesterday. My sister and nephew are in town, and we planned a little outing to visit the Nationality Rooms at the Cathedral and then have lunch. I rarely get to Oakland these days, and going back it amazes me that I spent so much time there. One of my student jobs involved hand-delivering documents all over campus, so I got to know the buildings and shortcuts and miles and miles of pavement pretty well. I must have ridden the Cathedral elevators hundreds of times — trust me…there is no stomach flop like a Cathedral elevator stomach flop every time it stops at a floor. I studied in the magnificent Commons Room or ate my bag lunch tucked away in a window nook on the 2nd or 3rd floor. I took French in the French Room — one of the 27 country-themed classrooms on the first and third floors. And I visited random other of the Nationality Rooms over the years. But I never made it a point to tour every room — until today.

It was not the best choice for a day with temps in the mid-90s. It was hot. Africa hot. (name that movie — one of my faves..Biloxi Blues) Downright stifling in many of the rooms.  But still, all I can say is…do it. If you live in Pittsburgh and haven’t been there…do it. If you’ve been there once, but years ago…do it again. If you come for a visit…do it while you’re in Oakland visiting Phipps or Carnegie Museum. The craftsmanship of these little gems, tucked in a building that itself is a wonderful gem, is stunning. Even if you went to Penn State, or CMU, or the Sorbonne…do it. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

The newer, third floor rooms have built-in narrated tours, simply by flipping a switch when you enter. The first floor rooms have a taped tour, which is humorously low-tech.  (You give them $3.00 at the information desk and leave your license with them; they hand you a cassette player with a key attached and send you on your way.) The neat thing is, these rooms aren’t just roped off displays (except for a a few that are observation only) — they are used as actual classrooms. And I can tell you, it was special taking a class in one (much better than what were very average classrooms in other parts of the building — BAD memories of my worst class ever — Cost Accounting — in one of those rooms).

It’s hard to pick a favorite: maybe the India room (neat layout)…maybe the Ukrainian room (beautiful tiled stove)…maybe the German room (wonderful stained glass windows depicting children’s fairy tales). You can see pictures of the rooms on another Wikipedia page here. But if you’re interested in architecture and objets and history, go see them in person, if you have the chance.

We didn’t finish off our tour with lunch (cheese fries) at The O, but I wanted to (I was vetoed). Both sisters I was with had worked at the University as well, so it was a trip down memory lane for all of us. When my old roomie comes for a visit next month, I wish we had time to spend a few hours on campus, seeing our old haunts, reminiscing, and yes, eating O fries again.

In the meantime, this brief visit was enough for me to recapture some of that old school spirit…Hail to Pitt!

Alma Mater wise and glorious
Child of light and bride of truth
Over fate and foe victorious
Dowered with eternal youth
Crowned with love of son and daughter
Thou shalt conquer as of yore
Dear Old Pittsburgh!
Alma Mater
God preserve thee evermore
~ Pitt’s Alma Mater…set to the tune
of the German national anthem…
and yes, I know it by heart

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