Whispering galleries and benches are well-documented phenomena (science!), but it’s something that still gets even jaded New Yorkers excited. The Whispering Gallery at Grand Central Terminal is probably the most famous (and over run) and the one in Shakespeare’s Garden in Central Park, the Charles C. Stover Bench the more recent cool kid in the bunch. But there’s another bona fide whispering bench we just tested, located at Columbia University between Low Library and St. Paul’s Chapel.
This particular bench was donated from the class of 1886 on its 25th reunion As Untapped Cities editor Samantha Sokol describes, “It’s amazing when you’re sitting in it, the acoustics are totally different. It sounds like you’re in a tunnel, or your ears are clogged. My friend and I had a quiet conversation on opposite sides of the bench. Once I stood up, I couldn’t hear a thing she was saying.”
Frances Halsband, a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) notes, “They took this very hard, tough piece of stone and turned it into this very soft, round space. It’s just an amazing place to be.” The text carved into the bench reads, “TO FELLOWSHIP AND LOVE OF ALMA MATER. Class of 1886 Arts, Mines, Political Science; 25th Anniversary.”
Wy mines? The School of Mines was the original name of what is now the Fu Foundation of School of Engineering and Applied Science when it was founded in 1863. The original Columbia College charter gave the school instruction to teach “the arts of Number and Measuring, of Surveying and Navigation…the knowledge of…various kinds of Meteors, Stones, Mines and Minerals, Plants and Animals, and everything useful for the Comfort, the Convenience and Elegance of Life.” There’s a very famous school L’Ecole des Mines (School of the Mines) in Paris that sends their students into the catacombs as part of initiation. This bench thus appears to be a gift of several schools at Columbia University at the time, including the Arts and Political Science schools.
If you’re looking for this bench, head up the steps of Low Library (avoid the crowds trying to take a picture with Alma Mater – or look for the hidden owls) and go to the right. En route to Avery Hall, where the architecture students are, you’ll find this bench on the left side of the walkway across from St. Paul’s Chapel, with its stunning interior and Guastavino-tiled vaulting.