Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
At the highest point of the highest tower,
There lies a dome of mysterious power.
For years it has stood, shrouded in mystery,
But now let us tell you its mythical history.
In the days of yore, Parrish Dome held a math library. When Parrish housed the entire college, every space was used to its fullest capacity, including the rickety room above the 37-step staircase.
But even after the math library was relocated, the dome became a space that students would sneak into through the interstitial spaces near the air ducts. The evidence remains: years of graffiti, beer bottles, and general college student debris litter the area. Legend has it that there was once a clothesline that extended from here to Clothier, nicknamed the “underwear line.”
After the great Parrish fire, a phoenix-feather weathervane was placed on the dome to signify the building’s rebirth. The iconic weathervane was due to be scrapped in the 1930’s before Edward Roberts ’36 rescued it from the trash heap. Upon his death, Edward’s son Stephen offered it to the college.
The phoenix feather is now on display on the landing of the main staircase in Parrish. Instead of a weathervane, the American flag now flies atop the dome. You can read a comprehensive account of the history of flying the flag above Parrish here.
Nowadays, the space within the dome of Parrish is a mechanical room, filled with beeping electronics, flickering dials, whirring fans, and a cavernous air conditioning unit. The entrance to the space is locked, alarmed, and guarded with motion. A tall ladder at the center of the room disappears into a dark opening in the ceiling. Through that opening is a small, circular room, the little-known sixth floor of Parrish. It is completely empty now, though telltale signs of past activity are etched into the walls and, in some cases, lying scattered across the floor. Another smaller ladder at the far end of the room leads to the final barrier between the dusty attic darkness and the bright warm light outside.
When you open the old metal hatch, light floods into the attic, illuminating old bottles and cobwebs. Out in the crow’s next, the white iron gate surrounds you and above you, the iconic flag sways gracefully in the afternoon breeze.
From this peak, you can see out past the train station and into the Ville. If you look past McCabe, you can just glimpse the outline of the Philadelphia skyline, and beyond Clothier tower you can see over the Delaware River to the New Jersey shore. After a few quick photos and a deep breath of fresh Swarthmore air, we head back down the hatch and bid Parrish dome farewell.
“The dome is a beacon that casts its beam on an important community with significant shared values.”
— Jerome Kohlberg ’46, upon Parrish’s 2004 renovation
We’re exploring Swarthmore’s hidden places this semester, and we hope you will join us on our journey. So in conclusion: happy marauding! And remember, before you use this information, put your hand over your heart and whisper to yourself, “I solemnly swear I am a worthwhile person.”
Padfoot and Prongs