Section: Features

Shedding light on an old Kenyon

Shedding light on an old Kenyon

“Hello and welcome to The Pinnacle, a podcast about the history of Kenyon College made for the Kenyon community.”

So begins the first episode of Kenyon’s newest podcast. The project is the brainchild of Herbie Dittersdorf ’19, a prospective American studies major, who was inspired by playwright August Wilson’s series of 10 plays, The Pittsburgh Cycle. The plays examine the African-American experience in the Pittsburgh neighborhood where Wilson grew up.

“I was inspired by his project of documenting a place, a very specific, small chunk of America specifically, and then using that as a vehicle to study and describe historical trends throughout the whole country,” Dittersdorf said.

The first episode’s subject matter — the graveyard tucked behind Rosse Hall — was familiar to Dittersdorf: He spent a great deal of time strolling between the headstones when he was a first year and can tell you the story behind numerous graves. In his podcast, he mentions several historical figures buried in the graveyard, including past Kenyon presidents William Caples and Theodore Sterling, Stephen Shepard (a victim of the Old Kenyon fire of 1949) and eminent literary critic and founder of The Kenyon Review, John Crowe Ransom.

“I like the gothic mixture between slightly unkempt, weedy-looking bushes and things,”  Dittersdorf said. “It gives this impression of the supernatural.”

Dittersdorf drew inspiration for the podcast’s name from the tower atop Old Kenyon Residence Hall. The podcast’s logo, which features the tower, was designed by Dittersdorf’s sister Lila, who is attending Parsons School of Design in New York.

Dittersdorf collects much of his information from College Historian and Keeper of Kenyoniana Tom Stamp ’73 and from files in the Greenslade Special Collection and Archives.

“This is Herbie’s project,” Stamp said. “I’m there to help in whatever way I can, and I’m thrilled that he’s doing this.”

Dittersdorf is unsure how many people have listened to the podcast (available on its own website) thus far but said that its Facebook page has garnered 44 likes.

Sarah Lehr ’15, former editor-in-chief of the Collegian, is one of the podcast’s listeners. Lehr said she listens to a lot of podcasts and felt the episode was very well done. “I believe he just kind of did it in his free time, which is great that he’s so passionate about Kenyon history,” she said.

Though he plans to narrate most of the podcast’s episodes, Dittersdorf said he wants to use less of his voice in the next episode, which will be about Ransom and his life. He explained that since this is an American studies-related project, “it is a lot about perspective and I don’t want to monopolize it.” He also hopes to host a series soon on the increasing diversification, both in terms of race and the College becoming coeducational, at Kenyon in the second half of the 20th century.

“I do think it’s a great way for me … to meet people in the school who’re involved in admissions, or people who live in the Village, or other students who I’ve never talked to,” Dittersdorf said. “That’s really my primary purpose with it is to get the historical conversation going, because people do seem to enjoy it.”

The Pinnacle, too, brings alive the lyrics of the College’s alma mater:

It unifies, it never dies, the love of Kenyon, our mother.

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