was unique in that way. Someone was always creating something.” Notable among the creations was a found-sculpture grandfather clock, crafted of an old gym locker as the case, an oil drum lid for the face painted with numbers and a big smiling sun, its midsection stuffed with a chaos of springs and gears. “This is where the big sign was,” said Gail McMurray Gibson ’70, A,M. ’72, who during a quiet winter break revisited Epworth, as she stepped up to the door. “With a sun on it.” Then, walking through the door, “And here’s where the famous clock was.” The smallness of the dorm compelled her then and it does still—it looks like a house, and so for its residents it feels like a home. “It was like a rooming house, a home,” she says. “Because it was small, it had such a sense of freedom and possibility.” Gibson was part of the opening crew in 1967-68, the first year it opened as the Contemporary Art House; she invited Weddington to join. She pointed out her old room and a public area that had been a formal parlor, with elegant Victorian furniture. Whether a long, odd wooden bench that lines one side of the entry hall was there at the time she cannot recall, though it’s hard to make a good case that it would fit anywhere else. They staged “happenings,” involving the porches as performance spaces: “On a Sunday afternoon, anyone in the dorm who wanted to perform” did what they felt, says Gibson. They hung paintings on lines strung between the trees surrounding. “It was such a different time.” Epworth has never left her life—Epworth friends had a wedding shower for her in the nearby gazebo, and when she married and moved off campus, she heard about a sale of Epworth furniture and bought one of the two-person desks that once populated the dorm rooms. She still owns it. EPWORTH REMAINED AN ARTS-THEMED DORM through the 1970s, but it didn’t get what you might call its biggest break until 1983-84, when the SHARE living group moved there from Alspaugh, where it had spent a purgatorial year between its first home (it was founded in Wilson in 1970) and its ultimate expression in Epworth. The academic and residential experimentation of SHARE’s acronym included coed living and house courses. But it had from the start a happy reputation as a home for the “rabidly radical, a flophouse full of drug-crazed ne’er-do-wells who somehow managed to keep their GPAs high enough to remain at Duke,” according to Roger Corless, then professor of religion, who was invited to be faculty-in-residence several times over the group’s existence. “In short,” he continued in a piece he wrote in the Duke Faculty Newsletter in 1996, “it was more like the real Duke University Archives
world than the nervous, conservative kitsch that Duke so often presents as its public image.” Which is exactly what the people who lived in Epworth as part of SHARE in those days sought. “Here’s the thing about Epworth/SHARE,” says Robert Clough ’98, the group’s historian. (Clough matriculated in 1987 and left school in 1990, returning to finish his degree in the late 1990s, itself an Epworthian journey.) “There’s a synergy to the two, but they’re two different things.” Started as a more academic experiment, SHARE “became a place where its original roots changed very quickly. Some of the academic stuff fell by the wayside, and the residential stuff got played up as a place where everybody could be freaky in their own individual way.” In a Duke then perceived, Clough says, as “a very J. Crew kind of place that was dominated by fraternity culture,” SHARE offered more as a character refuge than a place of academic experimentation. It lost members (a struggle that dogged the group for its entire existence) and thus had to leave its home in Wilson, ending up in Epworth. “To me it was the perfect blend,” he says, “because the building itself is so strange and beautiful in its own way.” Its history of scattershot renovation left “this odd stub of a building, where you can enter the side way; the front porch looks a particular way; there’s a phone booth that became a study room; these huge, huge ceilings; these large expansive stairs; and the upstairs common room, which we called the Purple Parlor.” Oh yes, the Purple Parlor. A tradition from its early days in Wilson, SHARE had a large room painted purple for its group meetings. At Epworth, that translated into the second-floor common area, where the two hallways connected. The Parlor may have been the heart of Epworth, though the connection directly below it, called “the Crossroads,” in some ways competed. If within Epworth there were divisions, overall it DUKE MAGAZINE
DORM LIFE: Elizabeth Hatcher ’39 lived in Epworth 201 in 1935.
Published on Nov 29, 2017