Alumni Stories: Night Milk and Dying the Death
By Ellery Schiller ‘21
Before I begin, I would like to give future reference to a few of my lovely critics. Dear alumni, please be specific when you threaten legal action. Your actions reduce libelous to no more than a buzzword and if that is how you use it, that is how I will treat it. I am a blunt individual. I do not write subtext, and that is on you if you read into it. Try and refrain next time from sending your emails at midnight when I just want to watch Netflix’s The Confession Tapes in peace.
But I am taking a break this issue from talking directly to any alumni and instead digging into the archives. Let’s talk 1940’s baby!
I start here because my roommate has a 1942 memo taped to her wall and it stands out due to the general lack of decoration is our room, so I find myself reading it often. The memo is old, typewritten, and starts - To: Mr. Jones, Re: Delivery of Night Milk to Student Houses. Every time I read the subject line I think back to the milkmen of cartoons. Who can forget the joyous, clean-shaven milkmen with their baby blue uniforms, white hats and white vans, dropping off a cool glass bottle of milk on every doorstep? We were all certain they didn’t exist outside of the TV. After all, why would milk receive such preferential treatment over all other foods one could get at the grocery store? It just wouldn’t make sense. But, there’s evidence of the milkman’s existence now, or at least his existence at Bennington, which we also know exists just a bit outside the rest of the world. So, for a brief time the milkman did exist at Bennington and one student seemed pretty pissed he wasn’t going to be on campus anymore. The student was going to miss those nightly deliveries and pickups. The pickups, however, were more often of full bottles than of empty ones, and so, as the memo says, is was all just a big waste. In addition, Bennington fired all their dairy cows, starting the decline of the Bennington farm into more of a Bennington garden.
Another humorous memo, from one year prior to Night Milk, again in response to Mr. Jones, Re: Glassware in Kitchen and Dining Room. “Eyes cannot be replaced,” the memo’s author eerily wrote. He clearly had a flair for dramatics, but who at Bennington doesn’t?. The fall term of 1943 featured an epidemic of exploding glassware. Professors and students alike lived in fear of the cup or soup bowl in their hands exploding at any time, sending glass shards up to their faces, piercing the eyes. The memo dates to the end of October, meaning for two months at the least the college had done nothing about the exploding glassware beyond telling a janitor to pick up the pieces. After the memo, however, it seems the glassware was replaced quietly. What caused the change of heart? Maybe the thought that the college could be sued for negligence (or libel, seems anything these days can get one threatened with libel). If a glass shard did hit an eye, the memo author speculated, “insurance companies would be very irate.” Apparently, one can get a “considerable sum” from the college if one’s eye is punctured. I’d say some fresh crisp bills might be worth the eye.
Briefly, I want to mention the minutes of a 1949 literature faculty meeting for one line and one line only. “Point two of last week’s discussion died the death. (By April 4 rumor had it that a resurrection was taking place.)” Honestly? So relatable.
Side note, I found a 1947 memorandum regarding new courses for the fall term and one caught my eye. Philosophy of Religious Experience is a class in which one studies “the religious as an autonomous sphere of human existence, sharply differentiated from the aesthetic, the ethical, and the philosophical.” Readings are Kierkegaard, Pascal, Luther, Blake, St. John of the Cross, Hopkins, Dostoievsky, Milton, Shakespeare’s Tempest, Plato’s dialogues, Donne’s Sermons, St. Augustine's Confessions, and many others. Really, I include this simply to ask if there’s a professor who wants to teach this sometime in the next four years.