Days in the Northeast: The Yale Campus

Look, I know the value of guided tours. I’ve been a part of many in my life, and I’ve found them to be fantastic in enriching my understanding of the history of a particular site. So if you want to experience the Yale campus through one of the tours that leaves the Yale University Visitor Centre twice a day on weekdays and once a day on weekends, I’ll understand. But there’s also a lot to be said for a self-guided experience through the campus. I can’t guarantee that you’ll absorb as much of the history, but you’ll certainly encounter some interesting nooks and crannies of campus.

If you choose to take this route, you’ll definitely encounter some issues. Most university campuses are less accessible during the summer, and Yale is no exception. Now, initially, my brother and I thought that we would have an edge, as he has a Yale badge that he thought enabled him to access all buildings. As we were to discover, he was duped. Or maybe he tuned out the details of the facilities that the badge gives him access to when he got it during his orientation at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Probably.

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The statue that marks the path to Science Hill from Sachem Drive.

We start out at Science Hill, not having any particular goal in mind. Well, the idea of discovering and exploring Yale’s purported underground steam tunnel system is tempting. But there is that little issue of us having no idea where to begin finding any of that. And  that thing about increased security protecting the tunnel system. And also something about being arrested for trespassing.

We have no luck at the famed Sterling Chemistry Laboratory, named after one of Yale’s generous benefactors, nor at the Kline Biology Tower. There are security access monitors placed beside all doors that require a Yale badge to be opened. They flash green when he holds out his Yale card, but the doors don’t open.

No success at Sterling Lab.

No success at Sterling Lab.

Authorized Yale personnel and their guests only, signs everywhere read.

“But you are Yale personnel, aren’t you?” I say, exasperated.

“I don’t know. Guess not,” He replies, confounded. He stares at the badge, which he holds between the tips of his fingers, and then sighs and tucks it back into the plastic holder hanging from the lanyard at his neck.

It is with some disappointment that we walk to the other end of the square, in the direction of an unassuming, brown brick building. We pass by a door leading inside, with the typical security monitor attached to the wall beside it.

“Wanna give it a try?” I say hesitantly. He walks up to the door. He holds out the card, and it flashes green. Shrugging, he turns around and drags his hand across the blue handicap button as he’s walking back toward me. There’s a click. We pause.

The door opens. We stare, astonished, at the cream linoleum floors and walls of the interior, and then at each other. And then we dart inside. I hesitate inside the doorway, wondering if my presence will get us into trouble.

“Can you try to look natural? We’ll get kicked out,” He whispers, beckoning me.

“It’s okay. See, you’re Yale personnel,” I tell him. He rolls his eyes.

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The interior of the Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Centre for Molecular and Structural Biology.

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Views from the third floor.

With the age, rich history, and magnificent architecture of Yale, I feel like we’re exploring Hogwarts. Even though this is a Molecular and Structural Biology Laboratory, and it’s a tad dingy inside, and it has the same sterile feel as the laboratories of my home institution, McMaster University. A woman wearing a blue shirt and beige dress pants passes us by, holding some sort of beaker in her hand. She gives us a courteous smile and walks into one of the rooms. We look inconspicuous, I guess. That’s good. Just two people walking up and down lab corridors with no particular sense of purpose. In the summer. No big deal.


We’re pleasantly surprised to learn that the iconic Woolsey Hall, home to the internationally renowned Newberry Memorial Organ, is open to the public. No sneaking around or finicky badge business required, for once. I push open the wooden doors and they open with an ominous creak.

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The lobby of Woolsey Hall.

Going up!

One of the many staircases we climbed that day…

The interior of the building is ornate, with gold-and-white patterned tiling and elegant vaulted ceilings. Along the walls are rows upon rows of descriptions of names, dates, places. Large wooden doors, which are firmly locked, lead into the auditorium, from which organ music can be heard.We approach and peer through the cracks.

“Some guy is playing the organ,” My brother whispers to me, “He’s all alone in there.”

Doors open from somewhere behind us. Loud chatter comes in with the breeze. We look around. Several people have walked inside. At first, I think it’s a family. Boy, am I mistaken.

“No wonder he’s shut himself in there,” I say, as people keep pouring in. A man with a lanyard and ID card around his neck is at their forefront. A tour guide. We struggle through the door that one of the tour group members is holding open, dodging in between people. We stumble out and walk briskly away. Going around the outside of Woolsey Hall, we end up in the Hewitt Quadrangle.



A large pole rises far above us, the American flag waving gently in the breeze. There are names emblazoned on the frieze of the tall white building beyond the flag. Vimy…Ypres. Marne…and more. There’s a sign, too.

W. Memorial

And sombre. Rest in peace.

It’s a memorial. We stand in silence, paying our respects.


Stairs. Rickety, sometimes non-functioning elevators. And more stairs. Endless flights of stairs. Narrow corridors and strange, gloomy cellar-type rooms. I think my lungs have become a dust repository.

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Seriously. Endless.

“This one’s probably gonna be locked too,” I gasp out as we near the top of a spiralling set of stairs, leading…well, I’m not entirely sure where. We want to get to the top of one of the many towers that elegantly reaffirm Yale’s presence around New Haven, and this certainly isn’t our first attempt. It’s damn hard. There are doors leading out onto the rooftops, but they’re firmly locked. Padlocked. He pushes at the door leading up. It doesn’t move.

Ah well. The view from the window isn’t too bad.

Locked out of the rooftop, but this isn't too bad.

“Well, that was certainly good exercise,” I laugh as my brother and I walk down the street towards our car.

“Anything else you want to see?” He asks.

“Nah, I’m good. For now,” I say, smiling. He revs the ignition and we take off. I glance back. A mysterious fog hangs over the tower we were trying to climb.

~ A

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