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A letter from alumni about Joel Achenbach ’82's Perspective on returning to Princeton to teach

November 22, 2002

I enjoyed Joel Achenbach ’82’s reflections on the Princeton of his day and today (Perspective, November 20). He recalls snoozing in red gothic armchairs in "a small room on B level" of Firestone Library whose name he can’t recall but that was "devoted to sporting books," and where smoking was permitted. The name of this cozy, albeit smoke-filled, retreat was the Rockey Room, named for Kenneth H. Rockey ’16. The room housed his collection of angling books as well as other volumes dealing with hunting, horsemanship, and other field sports. The Rockey Room and adjacent Kienbusch Room (housing the fishing books of Carl Otto von Kienbusch ’06) vanished in a fit of library reorganization in 1990 or thereabouts and their contents removed to Rare Books and the general stacks.

Achenbach’s recollection omits one detail relevant to the only room in Firestone, as I recall, that allowed smoking. The Rockey Room reeked of stale tobacco and lay thick in a carcinogenic haze. Lining its walls were cabinets filled with life and — mostly — death masks of historic people. These artifacts were part of the Laurence Hutton Life and Death Mask Collection, memorably described by Wes Tooke ’98 in "Immortality in Plaster," the PAW cover story of December 16, 1998.

J.I. Merritt ’66
Pennington, N.J.

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November 21, 2002

Joel Achenbach ’82’s story of repatriation upon campus as a visiting professor was a brief, bright, and brilliant gem of humor (Perspective, November 20).

Mr. Achenbach mentioned the peculiar and particular small Firestone Library room (obliterated by recent renovations and so nonexistent), once devoted exclusively to sporting books. I recall a sign in the stairwell leading to the same curiously cozy room that announced its location on B Floor (where someone had reflectively scrawled the appropriate adjunct, "and Aftler".)

My reflection upon the demise of that splendid little refuge of specialized books leads me to conclude the wisdom of the sage Buddha who taught through his "Three Marks of Existence" of the impermanence of all things. And this reflection in turn leads to my realization that my Princeton is really no longer there, instead it resides in the "...photo album I keep in my head of my four years at Princeton...", as so refreshingly cited by Charles Collin ’88, in his letter-to-the-editor found in the same issue.

So, Princeton belongs not so much to me or any of my fellow alumnae/i, as it does to the four classes matriculating there now, each at their various stages of completion (and a big locomotive to them from the heart of this well-wishing alumnus).

Oh yeah, and that small room on B Level the name of which Joel Achenbach ’82 could not recall: It was named the Rockey Angling Collection; for some reason I have always managed to remember that.

Rocky Semmes ’79
Alexandria, VA

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