Blowing Up Baxter Hall

by Hugh Germanetti ’54

Fireworks over Baxter Hall

In 2004, when the class of 1954 was planning its 50th reunion, we learned that Baxter Hall, then known as the Student Union, was scheduled to be demolished to make way for the new Paresky Center. Demolition was to begin immediately after Reunion Weekend. 

Baxter had been planned when we were students, and construction had commenced soon after we completed our sophomore year. It opened for business in the last semester of our senior year. Thus, both it and our class were unleashed upon the world almost together. 

Building Baxter was an important step in the college’s growth. It provided the physical facility for Williams to start weaning itself off its dependency on its 15 fraternities to provide half of its student housing and 90% of its food service. (That is a separate fascinating story about how Williams leaders redirected our school toward the top liberal arts college it is today.)

The coincidence of both Baxter and our class celebrating 50 years concurrently was just too tempting for our reunion committee. We had to try to work this into our reunion plans. We did realize that Baxter was to be closed during reunion and that gutting the building was to start during the week before.

However, the 50th reunion planning team somehow finagled permission to have the class’s Saturday night dinner in Baxter’s large second-floor dining hall. As-during the final term of our senior year-this space had been reserved for the freshman class, this would be the first meal most 54’s would have in the building. And, of course, as it would also be the last meal ever in the building, we began to refer to it as our “last supper.” 

Our corniness persisted during our planning when we considered how we might move Baxter along on its demolition path by “blowing it up “after dinner.  

To our immense satisfaction, we figured out a way. We found an anonymous class donor to fund the operation and, amazingly, received approval from both the Williams College president and the Williamstown fire marshal. 

We wanted our program to be a surprise, so this part of our reunion plan was kept secret from everyone else in our class. 

On the evening of June 12, 2004, we met for our “last supper.”  

The dinner, as well as the entire weekend, had proceeded nicely as planned. The 115 members of the class of 1954, plus an equal number of family members, were gathered in Baxter’s second floor dining room. 

We had enjoyed wonderful food, wines specially created just for our reunion by our two classmates who owned California wineries and four hours of delightful nostalgic conversations. We were in the midst of the awards ceremonies, and the various presenters were living up to their reputations for cleverness and humor.   

That is when the Williamstown fire marshal arrived, pulled me out of the dining room and emphatically said, “It is 10:00 p.m., so I’m canceling my permission for you to pull off your surprise unless you do it right now!”  

We had to interrupt our awards ceremony and, amidst a cacophony of groans, explain to all that we had been told we must vacate the building immediately. We made up some excuse about having just been advised that the building was unsafe due to the previous week’s demolition. Of course, nobody bought that, but they did, reluctantly, begin to mosey outside. 

As soon as the building was empty, we signaled our hired expert, who was waiting on the roof. He then set off the best, and only, half-hour grand fireworks show from Baxter’s roof. And that is how we succeeded, at least figuratively, in “blowing up” Baxter Hall.  

2 comments on Blowing Up Baxter Hall

  1. I remember this! It would have been my 15th reunion and we were headquartered in Greylock. I remember when the fireworks started and word got out that it was a part of the 50th reunion class’s celebration. Such a spectacular moment! Thank you for this story and for the fun evening back in 2004!

  2. I loved Baxter–I remember an occassional “competition” during our first year to “win dinner” at Baxter. Dining staff probably hated the students who would lurk a tthe table drinking tea and I can’t imagine how we had time to hang out after dinner when the library was really where we should have been but those were nice days of building relationships.

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