Arts & Culture

An Observer Tail

This is a story for my mother—Julie Salamon—a woman who likes history and radishes and all other things that come full circle.

Two years ago my dad’s birthday fell at the most hellish time of my final exam period. Amidst the chaos of endless papers, presentations and double shot cappuccinos I had only enough time to send him a quick birthday email and sing a very speedy “Happy Birthday to You” into his voicemail.

When I emerged from my exam period stupor I realized that my half-assed birthday wishes just wouldn’t cut it. I come from a family that gives handcrafted birthday adventures in place of hallmark cards. The summer before, my dad and I had guided my mom on a Walt Whitman tour of New York City for her birthday. We rode our bikes across the Brooklyn Bridge and listened to Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” on my portable iPod speakers as we gazed out at Manhattan north and west).

Clearly, I needed a gift that would live up to the Salamon-Abrams standard. I decided to reach into my parents’ past for inspiration. I dragged my friend Ali out of the springtime glory that comes just as the school year draws to a close, and into the depths of Tisch library. Together we ventured into the basement of Tisch, otherwise known as “Level G,” to see what clues I could uncover from my parents’ past at Tufts University. I had visited the famous spot in the lobby of Miller Hall where they met in 1971. I had seen my dad’s yellow house on Dearborn Road and my mom’s second floor apartment on Curtis Ave. I was now ready to explore the nucleus of their Tufts experience, the foundation upon which all of their memories and experiences at Tufts were built: The Tufts Observer.

Level G is a place that not many students at Tufts have or will ever step foot in (although I highly recommend a visit before you graduate); it houses many of Tufts’ archives and special collections. Among its collections are bound editions of nearly every publication ever produced at Tufts—original prints of every issue of The Observer dating back to its start as the Tufts Weekly in 1895. In the archives I found the makings of a birthday present for my dad—I pieced together articles he had written and edited between 1971 and 1975 (in the pre-Daily days) and glue-sticked them with photos of my college-age parents into the 2009 literary issue of The Observer to create a personalized “Bill Abrams” Observer issue.

But, my time spent in the archives led me to find more than just a schmaltzy birthday present. I found a living history of Tufts and a new connection to my school. The archivist, who took remarkable pride in her work in the depths of Level G (not the basement, as she corrected me), gave Ali and me a brief, but memorable tour of the treasures of Tisch’s hidden trove. She handed us a box. Inside, beneath a thin layer of tissue paper, lay a taxidermy tail. “That,” she exclaimed, “is all that is left of the original Jumbo!”—the very same Jumbo that was burned in a fire in 1975, the Jumbo that my mom, Julie Salamon, had written an obituary for in The Tufts Observer.

As I stood with Jumbo’s tail in my hand, I knew that one day someone would ask me to write this whole journey down. The time had come for me to join my parents in the bound periodicals of Level G.

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