Lions and Tigers In Princeton, New Jersey by Ron Kapon

Let’s start with the fact that I went to Columbia College and the Columbia Graduate School of Business. Our mascot is the Lion. Princeton’s mascot is the Tiger. On an early fall Sunday I arrived in Princeton for a two day visit. A few weeks earlier the Columbia football team, not known as a powerhouse, destroyed Princeton 38-0. This was Columbia’s first road shutout since 1961. Trivia alert- the 1869 game between Rutgers and Princeton is notable because it was the first documented game of any sport called “football” between two American colleges.

Princeton, New Jersey, is located in Mercer County with the university founded in 1746 and moved to Princeton in 1756. New Jersey’s capital is the city of Trenton, but the governor’s official residence has been in Princeton since 1945. Although Princeton is a “college town,” (the area gets almost 1 1/2 million visitors a year) there are other important institutions in the area, including Rider University, the Institute for Advanced Study, Educational Testing Service (ETS), Siemens Corporate Research, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Tyco International, Verizon, Bristol Myers Squibb, Berlitz International, and Dow Jones & Company. The town is roughly equidistant between New York and Philadelphia. Princeton has been home to New York commuters since the end of World War II. It took me less than two hours to arrive at The Nassau Inn in the center of town. The original building (on Nassau Street) was also built in 1756 (they moved to their present location in 1937) and their 203 guestrooms have been updated with all modern conveniences. I stopped for a bagel in the Yankee Doodle Tap Room & Restaurant to admire their 13-foot wide Norman Rockwell mural, valued at over 1 1/2 million dollars. All the other 47 name brand hotels are located outside of the downtown area, mainly along Route 1.

Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the United States Federal Reserve is a Princeton University professor. So are writers Joyce Carol Oates and Toni Morrison as well as John Forbes Nash, Jr., mathematician, subject of A Beautiful Mind. Notable visiting writers have included: Saul Bellows, Philip Roth and Gertrude Stein. Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th President of the United States retired to, died in, and is buried in Princeton. Albert Einstein, physicist, was a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study. Christopher Reeve, actor, grew up in Princeton, attended Princeton Day School. Paul Robeson, singer, actor, athlete, civil rights activist, also born and raised in Princeton. Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States, 13th president of Princeton University and Governor of New Jersey also went here. First Lady Michelle Obama graduated from Princeton, as did Brooke Shields and David Duchovny. Former US Senator Bill Bradley and Princeton basketball All-American is also a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. One comical note- Brooke Shields dated Dean Cain who would play Superman. Christopher Reeve was also Superman and he grew up in Princeton.

Mimi Omiecinski, owner and operator of the Princeton Tour Company, greeted me in the lobby of the Nassau Inn. The first hour was a walking tour of the university. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League. Princeton University has traditionally focused on undergraduate education (4,900), although it has almost 2,500 graduate students. I was surprised to learn that Princeton does not have a law, medical or business school, but it does offer professional master’s degrees (through the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs) and doctoral programs in the sciences, humanities, and social sciences, as well as engineering. Nassau Hall, the oldest building on campus was named for the Dutch William III of England of the House of Orange-Nassau. The college also adopted orange as its school color from William III. Originally, the sculptures in front of the building were lions (Go Columbia!). These were later replaced with tigers in 1911. A variety of sculptures adorn the campus. They include pieces by Henry Moore, Clement Meadmore, and Alexander Calder. In 1969, Princeton University first admitted women as undergraduates (Columbia did the same in 1983). During the American Revolution, British and American forces occupied Princeton on different occasions.
The Battle of Princeton, fought in a nearby field in January of 1777, proved to be a decisive victory for General George Washington and his troops. Two of Princeton’s leading citizens signed the United States Declaration of Independence: Richard Stockton and Clergyman John Witherspoon, who was later president of the college (whose great, great, great granddaughter is the actress Reese Witherspoon).

The Princeton Triangle Club, a student performance group, built the Tony-award-winning McCarter Theatre. Today, the Triangle Club performs its annual freshmen revue and fall musicals in McCarter. McCarter is also recognized as one of the leading regional theaters in the United States. The Princeton University Art Museum has nearly 60,000 objects. The collections range from ancient to contemporary art and concentrate geographically on the Mediterranean regions, Western Europe, China, the United States, and Latin America. There is a collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, including ceramics, marble, bronzes, and Roman mosaics.
The collection of Western European paintings includes examples from the early Renaissance through the nineteenth century and features a collection of twentieth-century and contemporary art. One of the best features of the museums is its collection of Chinese art including bronzes, tomb figurines, painting, and calligraphy. The museum has collections of old master prints and drawings and a comprehensive collection of original photographs. African and Indian art are also represented. Princeton University Chapel is the third-largest college chapel in the world, behind those of Valparaiso University and King’s College, Cambridge, England. Known for its gothic architecture, the chapel houses one of the largest and most precious stained glass collections in the country.
For the next hour Mimi drove me around the Princeton area and a visit first to The Institute for Advanced Study,a center for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry. The Institute is perhaps best known as the academic home of Albert Einstein, after his immigration to the United States. The Institute has no formal links to Princeton University or other educational institutions. Princeton is also the home of Drumthwacket, the official residence of the Governor of New Jersey, although nearby Trenton is the state capitol. I had a brief visit to Princeton Battlefield State Park, the 100-acre state park that preserves the site of the Battle of Princeton (January 3, 1777); we didn’t have time to enter the Princeton Cemetery where Aaron Burr, Grover Cleveland and George Gallup, among others, are buried as I had a half-hour drive to my next appointment.
The Grounds for Sculpture is a 35-acre sculpture park with two museum buildings on the site of the former NJ State Fairgrounds in Trenton. My only problem was having enough time to see the 250 sculptures, most in their natural settings. They were kind enough to provide a golf cart and docent to speed me through. I have to return and spend an afternoon there. Founded in 1992 by John Seward Johnson II (of Johnson & Johnson fame) the venue was intended to be dedicated to promoting an understanding of and appreciation for contemporary sculpture, including many by Johnson. Richard Moscovitz, the manager of Rat’s Restaurant, gave me a tour. Why the name Rat’s? In Kenneth Grahame’s classic, “The Wind in the Willows”, one of Seward Johnson’s favorite books, the character Ratty represented everything a host should be. As founder of Rat’s and Grounds For Sculpture, Johnson likens himself to Ratty who threw the best parties with the best wine. It is designed to make visitors feel they have stepped into a village reminiscent of French impressionist Claude Monet’s beloved town of Giverny. The restaurant overlooks Johnson’s sculptures inspired by Impressionists paintings, as well as the lily pond and bridge inspired by the works of Monet. After a meal one is invited to enter the Grounds for Sculpture at no charge. I can’t wait to go back for Sunday brunch and a few more hours touring the grounds.

My dinner that night was at Mediterra, only a block from the Nassau Inn. It features cuisine from the 21 countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Chef Luis Bollo prepared two dishes from scratch based on my allergy to all nuts. A great meal. My other meal was lunch at Witherspoon Grill also only 1 block from my hotel. I met Adam Perle, Vice President of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce who arranged all my visits, at this classic steakhouse. After lunch we walked to The Princeton Corkscrew Wine Shop, considered the premier wine shop in town. We also stopped by the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, again only a few blocks from the wine shop.

Moving backwards to earlier that morning I was given a tour of the Nassau Inn by General Manager Lori Rabon and then a private tour of the Princeton Art Museum (see the description earlier in this story) by associate director Becky Sender. The museum is closed on Mondays so we had it all to ourselves. I did learn that admission to the museum is free. The kind folks at the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce gave me a gift certificate for the Princeton Record Exchange, again only a few blocks from the Nassau Inn. It is one of the largest independent music stores in the US and I found a prefect CD set of the US Presidents. It was time to return to NYC with a desire to return very soon.
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