Lost And Found
Alden Harwood expected to find junk in the dark corners of the old barn. Instead he found a long-lost Middlebury treasure.
It was July 4, 1900—the College’s centennial celebration and the dawn of a new century. For months, Middlebury students had been preparing a production for the evening: the Roman drama Temporibus Hominis Arpinatis, created by Latin professor Myron Sanford. The audience, numbering more than a thousand, came from miles away. Men and women, dressed in fine evening attire, descended from carriages and headed into Centennial Building, specially built for the celebration, in the vicinity of McCullough today.
By all accounts, the event was spectacular: Magnificent sets and costumes recreated the classical world. The performers delivered the two-hour drama entirely in Latin. Although Latin was a required course of study then, this feat was still considered remarkable. The drama was widely acclaimed and written about, and even reproduced a decade later.
A photograph from the production shows 15 men and 17 women in flowing garments, posed in profile—like an ancient frieze. The eight-foot-long image was pieced together in sections from several glass negatives, mounted, and framed sturdily. Sometime thereafter, the picture went missing—and disappeared from Middlebury’s collective consciousness.
Then last fall, Alden Harwood, a Facilities manager, creaked open the doors of a barn used for storage, on Route 125, south of campus. He was looking for a place to keep Adirondack chairs for the winter. In a dim corner, he noticed three tall items that he assumed were overhead doors. But when he investigated with a flashlight, he found artwork. “I knew these might be important,” he said, “They were huge; they were in heavy hardwood frames, and they looked very old.”
When Danielle Rougeau, assistant curator of Special Collections, heard about the discovery she rushed right over. She knew instantly what she was looking at: the Roman drama image and two even older prints by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778). “They were fabulous” she remarked. “There was some water damage to the photo, but basically it was in good shape.”
Andy Wentink, the College archivist, says the Piranesi prints were displayed in Munroe Hall before they disappeared; though, he does not know when or why they were removed from Munroe. And no one knows where the Roman drama photo was before it vanished.
The Roman drama photo will undergo restoration and be displayed in Special Collections. The Piranesi prints are at the College museum, where steps to conserve them are being taken. Coincidentally the museum’s current Greece vs. Rome exhibit has on display an identical print to one of the Piranesi found in the barn.
We may never know how these pieces of art came to be placed in a barn far away from campus. But, their return is cause for joy, because, as Wentink explains, we are reunited with our past. “This picture of the Roman play represents a great moment in Middlebury history,” he says, “when the entire campus came together in unity.”