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A Roomful of Hovings and Other Profiles

A Roomful of Hovings and Other Profiles

by John McPhee
A Roomful of Hovings and Other Profiles

A Roomful of Hovings and Other Profiles

by John McPhee


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In this unique book, John McPhee takes us into the world of several fascinating people. His inimitable style reveals the intricate details of his characters' lives.

1. Thomas P. F. Hoving
2. Euell Gibbons
3. M.I.T. Fellows in Africa
4. Robert Twynam, of Wimbledon
5. Temple Fielding

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374515010
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 05/01/1979
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.39(h) x 0.68(d)

About the Author

John McPhee was born in Princeton, New Jersey, and was educated at Princeton University and Cambridge University. His writing career began at Time magazine and led to his long association with The New Yorker, where he has been a staff writer since 1965. Also in 1965, he published his first book, A Sense of Where You Are, with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and in the years since, he has written nearly 30 books, including Oranges (1967), Coming into the Country (1977), The Control of Nature (1989), The Founding Fish (2002), Uncommon Carriers (2007), and Silk Parachute (2011). Encounters with the Archdruid (1972) and The Curve of Binding Energy (1974) were nominated for National Book Awards in the category of science. McPhee received the Award in Literature from the Academy of Arts and Letters in 1977. In 1999, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Annals of the Former World. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.


Princeton, New Jersey

Date of Birth:

March 8, 1931

Place of Birth:

Princeton, New Jersey


A.B., Princeton University, 1953; graduate study at Cambridge University, 1953-54

Read an Excerpt

Roomful of Hovings and Other Profiles, A


A Roomful of Hovings



Each day, nearly all day, Thomas P. F. Hoving stood somewhere near the Short Portly rack in the John David clothing store at 608 Fifth Avenue. He wore a double-breasted sharkskin suit, with a fresh flower in his lapel. On his face was a prepared smile. He was a floorwalker. This was the summer of 1950, and he was nineteen years old.

"May I help you, sir?" Hoving would say to almost anyone who came through the door.

"I'd like to see Mr. Card."

"Card! See-You!" Hoving called out, and Mr. Card, a master salesman, sprang forward.

See-Yous were people who asked for specific clerks. Otherwise, customers were taken in rotation. It was not unknown in that era for clothing salesmen to slip substantial honoraria tofloorwalkers to get them in the habit of turning non-See-Yous into See Yous. But Hoving was unbribable. He had learned that every salesman recurrently dreams of a rich Brazilian who—when it happens to be the dreamer's turn to wait on him—wilt walk into the store and order fifty-five suits. Hoving would do nothing that might spoil this dream. The door opens again, and a tall, slim, wilted-looking man enters the store and dispiritedly examines a display of ties; then he crosses to the rack of 42 Regulars and begins to finger the sleeves of the suits. This man is a Cooler. His constitution has just been defeated by the incredible heat outside, and he has come into the store to recover. Hoving is merciless. He says, "May I help you, sir?"

"Just looking," the Cooler says.

"Sir, you don't belong in this section," Hoving says. "You are a 39 Extra-Long."

To show Coolers what they were up against, Hoving would lead them directly to the area of the Hickey-Freeman suits—the best in the store, one hundred and twenty-five dollars and up. Hoving's idea of a summer place was Edgartown, on Martha's Vineyard. He hated this job—or, more precisely, he hated the idea of it—but it was apparently designed by his father as a part of a program of training, for his father, Walter Hoving, who was then president of Bonwit Teller and is now chairman of Tiffany & Co., happened to own, as well, the John David chain of stores. Young Hoving learned a lot there. He could fold a suit and wrap it in ten seconds; he also noticed that prostitutes who came into the store generally hunted for contacts along the suit racks, while homosexuals used the shoe department. Every lunchtime, all summer long, he went to the Forty-second Street Horn & Hardart and ate the same meal—hamburger, mashed potatoes, and a ball of chocolate ice cream.

When Hoving, after a brilliant year as City Parks Commissioner, had just become (at the age of thirty-six) Director of theMetropolitan Museum of Art, he reflected, one day, on the John David summer. "Mr. Card and Mr. Mintz were important influences on my life as a floorwalker," he said. "They told me, 'Don't buckle in. Do it honest. Only schnookers will ask to be brought out of rotation. The rich Brazilian will come to every man in his lifetime.'" Hoving said that he had not believed in the rich Brazilian until a day when one came in. "He bought twenty Hickey-Freeman suits," Hoving recalled. "The young salesman who had him was going bo-bo. Around the first of August, that summer, I began to get the ague from standing on my feet all the time. The man we all worked for was called Colonel Ladue. He had owned the chain before my father did, and had been retained to run it. You had to call him 'Colonel' or he'd get disturbed. You know what kind of a guy that is. He had an adder's glance—without a nod, without a smile, without a crinkle of the eye. That summer killed me on the mercantile business."


Hoving in Edgartown, in the summers of his adolescence, was a part of what he describes as "a wild bicycle set, semirichies, cultured Hell's Angels of that period." They had names like Grant McCargo, Dikey Duncan, and David Erdman, and they numbered up to fifteen or twenty, with girls included. Hoving was not the leader; he could apparently take or leave everybody. Nonetheless, he was thought of by some of his friends' mothers, though they seldom had anything really gross or specific to cite, as the sort of boy who was probably a corrupting influence on their children. He went out with a scalloper's daughter. His family didn't give him much money—never more than two dollars a week—so he washedcars, worked in a bicycle-repair shop, painted sailboats, caddied for golfers, and set pins in a bowling alley. Sailing races were the main preoccupation of the pack, and Hoving was always a crewman, never a skipper—in part, he says, because he never had a skipper's feel for the wind and the sea, and in part because he never owned a boat. All the boys wore blue or white button-down shirts. Hoving had both kinds, too, but he also appeared in patterned sports shirts, which were an emblem of immeasurable outness. He didn't care. Everybody wore a stopwatch around his neck, for the racing. One day, when the boys were fifteen, they discovered another use for the stopwatches. Grant McCargo bought a case of ale—"local poison, eighteen cents a can"—and, as Hoving continues it, "we all went into the graveyard and sat on friendly stones; we had shot glasses, and every thirty seconds everybody drank a shot of the ale until we were completely zonked." He played tennis barefoot, and his idea of real action was a long, cool ride in the breakers. "Great! Great!" he would say when he felt an impulse for the surf. "Let's go out to Barnhouse Beach and get boiled in the rollers." When he went to the beach, he took books along, in his bicycle basket, and he read them while he was lying in the sun recovering from the rollers. Robert Goldman, who later roomed with Hoving at Princeton and is now a writer of musical plays, was an occasional visitor to Edgartown in the years when Hoving was there. "He had a precocity typical of New York kids," Goldman remembers. "You know, you leap right from childhood into being twenty-one. Tommy was always hip, always absorbed with upper bohemia. He made newspapery references. He was the first person I ever heard use the word 'great' in that special sense. Everything was 'great.' I went to Edgartown uninvited once, and I was pretty much on the outside of things, and a situation came up one day when Hoving said, about me, 'Hey, let him play.' I've never forgotten it. He was an unaffectedcity kid, with spirit to him. He never made me feel like an intruder. Some of the others did." Hoving clowned and joked a lot, and he haunted an empty house once with Dikey Duncan (using sheets, chains, and foghorns) until the police put a stop to it, but he was actually quite shy, and he felt sure that he was not at all popular. One index of popularity in Edgartown, however, was the number of bicycles that could be found stacked outside one's house, and wherever Hoving was living was where the biggest stack of bicycles was. To be sure, this was in part because of the warm personality, unfailing generosity, and utter permissiveness of his mother, who was apparently neither as staid nor as consciously social as most of the other parents in Edgartown, and whose house (always a rented one) was a sanctuary for young people from discipline of any kind. She had been divorced from Tom's father when Tom was five years old. Her name was—she died in 1954—Mary Osgood Field Hoving, her nickname was Peter, and she was a descendant of Samuel Osgood, the first Postmaster General of the United States. Her father, Tom's grandfather, was such a fastidious man that he kept a diary of the clothes he wore. His wife left him, and from the age of two Tom's mother was brought up by an aunt. She married Walter Hoving when she was a debutante, pretty and blond, a cutout exemplar of the girl of the nineteen-twenties. Although she never married again, men were always attracted to her in clusters, and—according to Nancy Hoving, Tom Hoving's wife—"old half successes with moon in their eyes still ask about her." Some of her friends would act, on occasion, as surrogate fathers to Tom and his older sister Petrea, or Petie, turning up at child functions where parents are supposed to appear. Both Tom and his mother had strong tempers, and the two of them would sometimes have conflagrationary fights. Friends once came upon them sitting in a doorway in Edgartown together, weeping. Tomeventually learned not to participate—to act, when something unpleasant came up, as if it weren't there. (This is a faculty he is said to have kept.) His mother's emotions sometimes overflowed in the opposite direction as well, and the more demonstrative she was toward him, apparently, the more he pulled away, developing a general aloofness that characterized him for some years—until he was ready to take part in things on his own terms. Remembering himself at Edgartown, he once said, "I'm sure the other mothers thought, Poor Peter, with a son like that! I was pretty scrawny, uncoördinated, and slovenly." He fought constantly with his sister (he once pushed her out on a roof and locked the window), but he was unusually close to her—they were two years apart in age—and he has named his only daughter Petrea for her. His particular friend was Dikey Duncan, whose family held the Lea & Perrin's Worcestershire Sauce franchise in the United States. Hoving and Duncan had the same attitude, according to Hoving's description: "Cool. We cooled it, you know. The same thoughts came to us. Dikey was bland, thin, and wiry, and he had a delightful irresponsible touch. We all used to go out to South Beach and play capture-the-flag, then sit around a great fire and get zonked. Dikey, who liked whiskey, would suck away at this bottle of Black Death. Everybody else drank Seabreezes. There were periods of forty days when we were never not drunk in the evening. One night, Dikey shambled down to the yacht club and insulted many parents, and our introduction to booze came to a grinding halt." Grant McCargo had a car (something Hoving never had), and the others would monitor McCargo's speed with their stopwatches, having determined beforehand the distances between various landmarks on the island. McCargo, as Hoving remembers him, was a silent young man who was very much worth listening to when he spoke, and his favorite object was aWright & Ditson tennis-ball can, from which he drank his Seabreezes. ("He was always getting fuzz in his mouth, and the drinks tasted of rubber.") With the tennis-ball can in one hand and the steering wheel in the other, McCargo used to drive all the way across Martha's Vineyard at night with the headlights turned off, while Hoving, Duncan, and additional passengers assessed his progress with their stopwatches. Hoving's Edgartown era came to an end after a beach party. The pack turned over a large sand-moving machine and set its fuel tank ablaze. Hoving caught the next ferry for the mainland, and he has never been back to Edgartown. With a mixture of shame and dramaturgy, he has always claimed that he can never go back, because the rap for the sand-moving machine is on him still. He is a lover of intrigue, secrecy, and mystery, and he sometimes finds shadows more interesting than the objects that cast them. He could, of course, go back to Edgartown, but not as a boy, and that is probably what he actually means. David Erdman, the skipper whom Hoving served as crewman summer after summer, cannot remember that Hoving in Edgartown gave even the faintest of hints of the future that awaited him. "He showed no artistic inclinations at all," Erdman said recently. "If I had been told that he would eventually be the Director of the Metropolitan Museum, I would have laughed and laughed and said, 'You've got to be kidding.'"


In the spring of 1959, when Hoving was a graduate student in art history at Princeton, he gave a lecture at an annual symposium at the Frick Collection, in New York, on certain antique sources of the Annibale Carracci frescoes in the Farnese Gallery, in Rome. The symposium was known among graduatestudents as "the meat market"—a place where the young are examined by experienced eyes from museums, galleries, and universities, and where futures can be made or ruined. Hoving's palms had been damp for weeks. He feared, among other things, the presence of Erica Tietze-Conrat, an art scholar who attended the symposium unfailingly and had been known to stand up in the middle of a young man's reading and shout, in a martial Wagnerian accent, "Youl Are! Wrong!" Hoving, acting on a reasonable guess, had found unmistakable similarities between ancient sculptures in the National Museum in Naples and figures in the Carracci frescoes in the Farnese. He had learned that the sculptures now in Naples were actually housed in the Farnese Palace when Carracci was doing his work there, and this was the gist of what he presented at the symposium, in a twenty-minute talk illustrated with slides. Erica Tietze-Conrat did not interrupt him, and when he had finished she applauded strongly. "A few moments later," as Hoving continues, "a man, 39 Short Portly, whom I didn't know, came up to me and asked if, in my work on the Farnese Gallery, I had encountered records of a large sixteenth-century marble table inlaid with semiprecious stones that had once been in the center of the gallery. I said I did not remember seeing anything about such a table, and he asked if I had time to have a look at it, since he happened to have it. I said sure. I had no idea who the man was, and I guess he assumed that I knew. He had deep, deep, penetrating, steady brown eyes that didn't blink. He led me out onto Fifth Avenue and a number of blocks north, up to the Metropolitan Museum. We went in at the Eighty-first Street entrance and up the stairs to the office of the Director, and by then I had figured out that he must be the Director, but, to tell you the truth, I had no idea who the Director of the Metropolitan Museum was. So I kept sidling around his desk while he talked—trying to get a look into his 'in' box, you know—and finally I saw his name, James J. Rorimer."

After they had looked over the marble table, which is now in the center of a room full of Italian Renaissance paintings, Rorimer asked Hoving what he was going to do when he left graduate school. Hoving said that he thought he might work in a gallery and that he had already been interviewed by George Wildenstein and a man at Knoedler's. "Really?" Rorimer said. "I'm surprised. Go to a dealer and you'll never work at any museum in the United States. Go to a museum and you can later work, if you like, at any dealer's shop in the world."

Rorimer invited Hoving to come into the city and have lunch with him each Wednesday for a while, and Hoving did. Later that year, Hoving went to work for the Museum, at an annual salary of five thousand and five dollars. He soon became a curatorial assistant in the Museum's Medieval Department and at The Cloisters, and one of his first assignments was to write a letter of declination to a New York dealer who had offered for sale, in a letter with a photograph, a twenty-four-by-twenty-six-inch marble Romanesque relief that was then somewhere in Italy. In a margin of the dealer's letter Rorimer had written, "Not for us." The photograph looked so interesting to Hoving that he asked his superiors in the Medieval Department if he could study the relief for a while before writing to the dealer. He was told, with fatherly understanding, to go ahead and do that, and for a week he went through book after book and hundreds of pictures, but he found nothing that could help him to trace the source of the relief and discover whether there was any substance to his feeling that it was of uncommon interest. So he wrote the letter ("We regret to say that we do not feel that this piece will fit into our collection ...") and sent it off, but the matter continued to preoccupy him and he kept looking. Two days later, in a book on twelfth-century Tuscan sculptures, he found a picture of a Romanesque marble pulpit that had once stood in the Basilica of San Piero Scheraggio, in Florence—a church that became completely entombed inCosimo de' Medici's administrative offices, the Uffizi, when they were constructed in the sixteenth century. Hoving eventually learned that Dante had spoken from this pulpit, and so had St. Antoninus and Savonarola. In 1782, the pulpit had been dismantled and moved just across the Arno from Florence to a church in Arcetri, where it is today—three-sided, and standing against a wall. The pulpit is decorated with six reliefs, carved in fine yellow-white Maremma marble, which have been called the masterwork of Florentine Romanesque sculpture. As Hoving studied photographs of these scenes, all from the story of Christ, he was struck by the thought that the piece he had turned down in his letter to the dealer belonged among them, but he couldn't see how it would fit in. He sought out publications about the pulpit, one of which had appeared as recently as 1947 and one as early as 1755. A Florentine scholar named Giuseppe Carraresi had written in 1897 that he believed the pulpit had once been a freestanding structure (not set against a wall, as it is today) and had originally been decorated with seven reliefs, the eighth space being left open as an entryway. The trail was getting extremely warm. The scene in the photograph submitted by the dealer was of the Annunciation. There was no Annunciation scene among the reliefs still on the pulpit, although an Annunciation would logically belong among them. Finally, Hoving noticed something odd about an inscription that ran along a marble slab under one of the reliefs. The inscription said, "Angeli pendentem deponunt cuncta regentem" —"The angels let down the hanging King of Kings." But angels were not lowering Christ from the Cross in the scene above; He was being let down by Joseph and Nicodemus. Between the word "Angeli" and the word "pendentem" was a vertical break in the marble, directly below the left-hand edge of the Deposition relief. The "i" in "Angeli" was slightly curved and was formed in a different way from any other "i" in thepulpit inscriptions. The "i" was, in fact, demonstrably a fragment of a "u," the rest having been broken away, and the original word could not have been the plural "angeli" but must have been the singular "angelus," just right for the beginning of an inscription under a relief—the missing seventh relief—showing Mary being visited by an angel of the Lord. Rorimer, with surprise and considerable pleasure, told Hoving to write a second letter to the dealer, putting the Annunciation relief on reserve for the Metropolitan Museum.

Earlier, when Rorimer assigned Hoving to The Cloisters, he told him that in certain ways he envied him. Rorimer, himself a medievalist, had worked for the Museum since his graduation from Harvard, and he had developed The Cloisters, in its present location, from the beginning, after a Rockefeller gift in 1934 established the site and the building. As curator of The Cloisters, Rorimer liked to spend many hours carefully going over medieval sculptures with ultraviolet light. He loved the disciplines of scholarship and the pleasures of exploratory trips to Europe. And, as Director of the Museum—which he became in 1955—he missed these things. Hoving had been at The Cloisters only a few months when Rorimer took him on a long trip, mainly through France, Spain, and Italy—wives and, in Rorimer's case, children included: eighty-five hundred miles in a green 1953 Chevrolet station wagon with license plates from Ohio, where Rorimer had a farm. He wanted to show Hoving all his sources—dealers, private collections, friends, university people. The trip was the most important single influence on Hoving's development in the Museum. He got the feel of Europe as Rorimer knew it, saw the architecture through Rorimer's eyes, and, along the way, formed a deep friendship with Rorimer himself.

In the Loire Valley, Rorimer climbed out through a window of a château in order to escape from a boring guided tour, withall the other Rorimers and the Hovings following. Everywhere they went—in every church, museum, or other monument—Rorimer said, "Pick out the three best things. What would you like to have? Why?" Then he would incite what Hoving describes as "great fierce mock arguments." One of these concerned the portal carving at the Cathedral of Angers and whether or not it had been restored. The Hovings and the Rorimers stayed overnight in Angers, and in the morning Hoving got up at six o'clock and went to have another look at the portal. As he rounded a corner of the cathedral, he met Rorimer, coming the other way. On the third day of the trip—after a lazy, wine lunch—Rorimer went to sleep at the wheel. Hoving did almost all the driving for the rest of the trip. Rorimer always had a pocketful of cigars, and he filled the car with smoke and laughter. When guidebooks were available, he and Hoving looked at them only after they had visited the places and objects described, the better to practice their eyes. On an altar in the old cathedral in Salamanca, they saw a seated copper-gilt, Limoges-enamel Madonna that was, as Hoving remembers it, "resplendent, with almond, stunning eyes." The piece was so resplendent, in fact, that they began to argue over whether it had more likely been made in the twelfth century or in, say, 1959. Rorimer posted his children in key places to look out for guards; then he and Hoving took off their shoes, climbed the altar, and studied the enamel surface through a pocket glass. "It's glorious," Rorimer said as he peered through the glass. "This proves to both of us that you've got to get right to a thing. You can't do it from a distance. You've got to touch it." Rorimer had a passion for professional anonymity and secrecy. Ordinarily, he had about him an air of cloaked movements and quiet transactions, of undisclosable sources and whispered information—a necessity, surely, in the museum world, and something that Rorimer had refined beyond the dreams of espionage. Accordingly, when he and Hoving turnedup, by arrangement, at a certain garage in Genoa, Rorimer carried a French newspaper and instructed Hoving to speak only in French while they went inside and viewed, for the first time, the Annunciation relief from the pulpit in Arcetri. Afterward, Rorimer coolly covered his tracks by leaving the French newspaper in the garage. Then they drove to Arcetri, to look at the pulpit itself. Leading away from the front of the church in which the pulpit stands is an extremely narrow street called Costa di San Giorgio, and many museum people from various countries have houses and apartments there—for example, John Pope-Hennessy, who is, inevitably, known as John the Pope and is now Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London. Rorimer, of course, wanted to visit the church without attracting any attention at all, but the green Chevrolet station wagon became wedged between facing buildings on the Costa di San Giorgio, and Italians poured out of doorways and surrounded the car. Soon museum types were swarming all over Rorimer: "How long have you been here?" "Where are you staying?" "Why didn't you let us know you were coming?"

Some months after Rorimer and Hoving returned to New York, Erich Steingräber, Director General of the Germanic National Museum, in Nuremberg, came to the Metropolitan, at Rorimer's invitation, and spent more than half a year studying the collection. Hoving attached himself to Steingräber, and for days and days they went around the Museum, opening cases, handling things, and talking about them. Hoving says, "He taught me everything in the book—how to look at a work of art, how to judge its style, the tricks of forgers. There was a difference between Rorimer and Steingräber as connoisseurs. Jim liked big things—masses, big spaces, façades, tapestries. He was not interested in iconography; he was interested in the large scale. Steingräber loved enamels, carvings, reliquary caskets, small sculpture, jewelry. I like them all, but I don't have Jim's gift for the massive things."

In November, 1965, when the Mayor-elect offered Hoving the job of Commissioner of Parks for the city, Hoving went into Rorimer's office and said, "Jim, he's offered me the big marbles. What shall I do?"

Rorimer said, "No matter what I told you, you'd resent it."

"I'm going to think about it tonight," Hoving said.

Rorimer slapped his desk, and Hoving thought he could see in Rorimer's face both anger and disappointment. Rorimer said, "All I can say is, I know what I would do if I were your age." Hoving has never been completely sure that he understood what Rorimer meant.

"I hope that someday I will be allowed to come back," Hoving said a week later.

"You will," Rorimer said. "Absolutely."

Hoving went to the May, 1966, board meeting at the Museum as a trustee ex officio, a position he held automatically as Parks Commissioner. Rorimer also had him sit in that day on an impromptu meeting of the purchasing committee, which considers works of art, looks at slides, and makes decisions. Hoving remarked of one piece that the Museum ought to pass it up, because it was very similar to something they already had. Rorimer said, "Just because you're our landlord, you don't have to tell us what to do." Hoving remembers that Rorimer was in great form that day, full of vivacity and jokes, sitting on the edge of his desk and swinging his legs. He died that night, while he slept.


Hoving sometimes refers to private schools as zoos. He went to four. The first one, Buckley, phased him out, as Hoving puts it, in the fourth grade. The school's explanation was smoothwith use. Perhaps Tommy needed more individual attention, a smaller school? Eaglebrook, a pre-prep school in western Massachusetts, was chosen. He was there for five years, and they were the best years of his youth. Items from the school's records show that although Hoving came from "an unstable background," he eventually made an "excellent social adjustment" and was a "friendly, outgoing, engaging, fun-loving, irrepressible, happy-go-lucky, impulsive, irresponsible, but industrious" boy, who got into "a good healthy amount of trouble." He was extremely thin, but he played football, baseball, and hockey, and he became (and still is) an expert skier. He played the piccolo and the flute. He spent a great amount of time reading. The I.Q. that had been reported from Buckley was not particularly high, but he earned excellent grades. C. Thurston Chase, the retired headmaster of Eaglebrook, remembers him as "a likable scamp, a good guy, not a future Met director," and Chase goes on to say, "He had a very dominating father—handsome, driving, cocky, and lonely—whose charm wore thin when he visited Eaglebrook. He wanted the boy to be vigorous, hard-studying, and successful. Tom was easygoing, and not overly ambitious. He was interested in creative and artistic things, but not overly energetic about it. He reacted unfavorably to his dad's pushing. His mother was quite different. She was loving, soft, and lonely." In 1942 and 1943, when Hoving was eleven and twelve, he spent the summer at Eaglebrook. A work camp had been established there, so that students from various schools could help relieve the wartime labor shortage on local farms. Today, when he reflects upon his childhood, it is this experience on the farms of the Pioneer Valley that seems to come most readily and fondly to mind. "I liked hoeing best," he says. "Walking. Moving. Competing with the guy in the next furrow. We hoed corn, hoed potatoes, hoed tobacco. It was hot and humid under the gauze of the tobacco tents. We clippedonions and thinned out apple blossoms, and we grew our own food in gardens around Eaglebrook. There were three hundred of us altogether. We'd go out early in the morning and start in on a mile of corn. We drank too much water at first, and fainted. Then we learned the rhythm of that kind of work from Polish farm ladies. We made twenty-five cents an hour. At noon, we ate sandwiches and field tomatoes, and drank iced tea; then we slept off lunch in the cool earth of the corn furrows. The corn had a kind of mystery. You were out there and it was very high, all around you. I learned to chew tobacco. When you were working, chewing gave you something to do and kept you from getting thirsty. After a while, I became a foreman—thirty cents an hour, wow!—and I blew a whistle to get people back into the furrows. At night, we had dinner out on the grass around the school. We talked, and sang. Someone had a guitar. And we had interminable puppy-love affairs. On Saturday nights, we would go off in a truck to Greenfield or some other hot frontier town and buy bubble gum and cinnamon rings, go to two movies, and drink incredible amounts of Moxie." During the school year, Hoving frequently took his turn as a dish rinser in the school kitchen ("It was thrilling to work in the deep sink; it isolated you into manhood"), and one of his early heroes was Dick Davis, the school cook, who remembers him as a fairly tall and very neat boy who always had his hair combed and who "had a little chip on his shoulder about his father but still was proud of his father." Eaglebrook considered Hoving so outstanding that his name was carved in six-inch block letters in a traditional place of honor above a fireplace, where it appears today. He moved on, in 1946, to Exeter, where he lasted six months. He was thrown out for general insubordination. In the moment that precipitated his dismissal, he slugged a six-foot-five-inch Latin teacher, who had given him an A-2, signifying that his work was excellent but his attitude poor. "The placewas too big for me," Hoving says now. "It was a junior college. There was no discipline there. I drove people out of their skulls. Getting tossed out changed me. It took my confidence down. My father was furious and wouldn't speak to me for a while. Exeter said I was immature, sloppy, and slovenly, and had bad attitudes. This got to me." Curiously, he established a remarkable number of enduring friendships in his short time there, and although he finished prep school at Hotchkiss, it was with Exeter friends that he roomed at college. At Exeter, he was given the nickname Loper—for his long, loping gait on the athletic fields—and his Exeter friends call him Loper today. As a goalie in intramural hockey, he mimicked the gestures and language of the pros. "He was like a George Plimpton fantast," one of his teammates remembers. "He was always hitting the sides of the cage with his stick—you know, playing a role, in the best sense—and shouting, 'On the right! On the right!' He was about twenty per cent too much. He knew all the words. I wouldn't exactly say he knew the music. Oh, and he had this squint, like a large, lean Chinese who has tasted something bad, ducking that almond of a head into his shoulders." When Hoving arrived at Hotchkiss, he had already entered what some of his friends and relatives have described as the introverted era of his life. He frequently got up at five-thirty in the morning and went to the library, alone. He paid a cleaning woman for the use of a key to a large closet, so that he could go in there and read after 10 P.M., when the lights went out. He made high grades, but he apparently passed through the school like a shadow. His favorite teacher, confronted recently with Hoving's name, thought a moment and then said, "He did not blaze a trail across my memory." Another teacher remembered Hoving as "an aloof and standoffish boy, colorless, reticent, self-contained, quite beyond criticism, but not caught up in a warm way with the class," and added, "Altogether, one would nothave a feeling that he would become the public figure he is." Hoving was known among his Hotchkiss classmates as Schmo. "Most of them thought I was a real jerk," he said recently. "I was very, very withdrawn and introspective. They were a pretty sophisticated bunch of cats, and pretty dull. The student council tried to stop me from smoking. I don't buy when my contemporaries tell me they don't like my attitude. I didn't go to the football or basketball games. I was a loner. I was on the outs. I was totally uninterested in school spirit. I had gone to boarding school since the fourth grade, and I had seen enough rah-rah. I lived for vacations. The thought of being locked up there for weeks and weeks—I used to sweat with the horror of it. If you see your life in terms of weather, Hotchkiss was overcast and threatening. Trees were green there in my last year, because it was my last year." That year, 1949, he was elected to the Cum Laude Society, the preparatory-school equivalent of Phi Beta Kappa. On January 30, 1967, he received a telegram from the Hotchkiss student council: "IN RECOGNITION OF YOUR SUCCESS, A HOLIDAY HAS BEEN GIVEN IN YOUR HONOR."


When Hoving was twenty, he had a summer job with a large interior-decorating company that had been hired by Walter Hoving to beautify a branch store in Ohio. His own account of this job is as follows: "So there I was, with the boys clawing and scratching. The firm needed someone who was straight—a 'noncreative type,' as they put it—to catalogue the materials they were going to use and to see to it that the stuff got to Ohio." Paintings were among the materials that the decorator was using, and one of Hoving's responsibilities was to collect certain works—"turgid nineteenth-century landscapes, third-rate BarbizonSchool"—at a restorer's shop in the East Fifties. While he was there one day, he noticed a couple of Utrillos in a bin, and a Boudin, and a Renoir. Then he saw a half-finished Utrillo and, in a bin next to it, an Utrillo that had only just been begun and was little more than a sketch on canvas. Noting Hoving's absorption, the owner of the shop offhandedly informed him that a good Utrillo took about thirty minutes to do, that a Boudin came out best if it was done almost all at once, but that a Renoir took at least a day. Since then, Hoving has never looked at a Boudin or an Utrillo without deep suspicion. He believes that he can tell Renoirs. The owner of the shop also said to him, "Who the hell knows the difference?"—a question that would, of course, become a major one in Hoving's life. At the time of the Hungarian uprising, when he was twenty-five and had completed one year of his course of graduate study, he went into a dealer's shop in Vienna, where he saw a painting that he recognized as Goya's "Man at the Grindstone." His first thought was "It's a fake." But he knew that this particular Goya belonged in the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts, and it was rumored that any number of Hungarian art treasures were being taken out of Hungary. He left the shop and returned with books on Goya. He studied the painting, and when other people came into the shop the dealer deftly made sure that the Goya was hidden. The dealer managed to suggest that the canvas was too hot to bring much of a price. Hoving finally bought it for two hundred dollars. He paid and he learned. "Trust your first impression," he says. "Always trust your immediate kinetic reaction. Don't think of how it could be possible. That guy did a great con job on me. During the Hungarian revolution, every forger in Vienna was busy forging private and public Hungarian treasures." In 1964, as an assistant curator at the Metropolitan, aged thirty-three, he was considering for purchase a bronze-and-enamel pax, a votive object meantto be kissed. Something about it bothered him. He used a microscope and saw clearly that it could not have been kissed over a long period of time. Real paxes show unbelievably soft wear. Under the microscope, this pax showed minute scratches. It had been kissed artificially. "When you consider a work of art, what do you do?" Hoving asks. "The process is basically intuitive, but it is good to have a guideline. Write down that absolutely immediate first impression, that split second. Write anything. 'Warm.' 'Cool.' 'Scared.' 'Strong.' In six years of studying hundreds of items for the Museum, I never ended up feeling warm about something I had written 'Cool' about, or the reverse. Then ask yourself: Does it have a use? A purpose? If it's a late-fourteenth-century casket, say, has it been used? Look where it has been worn. Is the wear haphazard? Forgers cannot possibly reproduce that. Many forgeries fall down because things have not been used. In the Middle Ages, nothing was made just to be observed. Everything had a purpose, either as an icon or as something else. Once, with Erich Steingräber, I studied a finger reliquary that was in a storeroom at The Cloisters. The piece had a ring on it that could not be removed. Rings were usually later gifts, placed on finger reliquaries as a kind of homage. Steingräber was very suspicious. On the ring was a fine emerald. Gems on reliquaries were usually not of top quality. The reliquary was riveted together, and there was no way to get into it. Reliquaries were not tombs. There were times when their liturgical use required that the actual relic inside be handled directly. All these items built up, and the thing began to disintegrate. We removed the rivets and found that the interior could not have held a finger. We eventually discovered that the thing had been made in a workshop in Paris for a man with a gem collection who loved reliquaries. You peel a work of art like an onion. Shred every layer from it. Is it in the style of the time? How many styles exist within it? Study theiconography and the manner in which it is handled. What does it intend to say? Parallels, parallels, always seek parallels. Use scientific means—ultraviolet light, X-rays, and so forth—but always in context with your eye. Scientific analyses can be used for or against a work, like statistics. Your eye is king. Get in touch with other scholars—everybody you think is expert. The idea that there is fierce competition among museums in this respect is laughable. Everyone helps everyone. Learn the history of the piece—where it is from, what collections it has belonged to, all the information surrounding its discovery. Then get the work of art with you and live with it as long as you possibly can. You have to watch it. Watch it. Come across it by accident. I used to have the staff at The Cloisters put things where I would come across them by accident. A work of art will grow the more it is with you. It will grow in stature, and fascinate you more and more. If it is a fake, it will eventually fall apart before your eyes, like a piece of plaster ... . Max Friedländer, the great art historian, once said, 'It may be an error to buy a work of art and discover that it is a fake, but it is a sin to call a fake something that is genuine.' Nothing in art history is more glorious than bringing something back from the shadow of being thought fake. The only way to know art history is to be saturated. If you are going to buy early-Christian glass, you know all the known early-Christian glass. You know what forgers do. They put on a piece something that will draw most of your attention, such as a simulated-antique repair. They usually do it so the repair looks kind of rinky-dink. We once discovered that we had a forgery in which the forger had taken old wood and old canvas, painted it, rolled it, created beautiful craquelure, damaged the whole thing, and restored it in three different styles. It was beautiful, and well it might have been. The forger was the father of one of the greatest painters of the twentieth century. Steingräber taught me that wormholes made by real worms are L-shaped.The test is, you pluck out a hair and push it into a wormhole and see if it bends. Punched holes don't bend. However, I once came upon a piece that was supposed to be fifteenth-century German wood sculpture, and I learned that the maker had used actual worms to eat the thing. A wise forger will make an error—an explainable error—because he knows that inconsistency can be a mark of genuineness, if the matrix of the inconsistency is right. We have two beautiful fifteenth-century silver censers. One is authentic, and the other is an unbelievably beautiful copy. The forger put his toolmarks on the old piece. I love forgeries! I love the forger's mentality! Once, with two carvers and two other art historians, I tried to make an ivory forgery myself, so I would have the experience. Why ivory? For one thing, no scientific test will show you a damn thing about ivory. We picked an epoch from which there are two known dated pieces, vastly different from each other. One is classical, one is hieratic, and they were both made in Rome around A.D. 400. We decided to do a classical one. Old senatorial families in Rome in that era ordered classical ivories, because they were trying to look ancient—like members of the Racquet Club trying to recapture imperial days. There are ways to age modern ivory. You put it on a roof for a while and let the elements do it, or you bake it in a tin box with pine needles, or you skin a rabbit and bury the ivory in the skin. We did it with the pine needles. To get a smooth patina, I rubbed the ivory on the inside of my thigh for hours and hours. We removed dust from the interstices of an old ivory and applied it to the new one. Then we showed it to five experts. Four thought it was real. Later, we destroyed it ... . There is a standing dictum about forgery: It will never last beyond one generation. The style of the maker is permeated by his generation. No matter how he tries, his own time will eventually show in what he does. There is a lot of forged Coptic on the market today. Coptic is strong,overstyled, overstated. Our day is like this. Primitive art is collected for its strength and its brutality. Our age appreciates this and seeks it out. Therefore, Coptic art is being forged today. We are too close to it to see the forger's style. People a generation hence may howl with laughter and wonder how we could have been fooled. In 1880, in the time of the salons and so forth, Viollet-le-Duc did some restorations in Notre-Dame de Paris, Amiens, and other cathedrals. He tried to bring back the High Gothic of the fourteenth century, but it isn't honest Gothic in our eyes; it's too smooth and elegant and 1880 ... . What limits a forger is that he has to be cautious. He can't be free in his creation. The simplest kind of forgery is the direct copy. You walk into a shop and see something, and you know the original is in the Vatican, and that's that. Another kind is the pastiche—something copied from parts of many things and put together in a way that repeats nothing over all. Then, there is the thing that is not a copy and not a pastiche but totally inventive and completely within the feeling of a time. This is the toughest, the one that gets you. The Etruscan Warriors that were once here in the Museum were not copies, and they were of the time. The forger, Alfredo Fioravanti, had sat down and thought it through. Han van Meegeren studied Vermeer and decided that he must have had an earlier style that was different. Then van Meegeren forged an early phase of Vermeer. The wildest forgery that I have ever dealt with personally was an over-life-size Virgin and Child in limestone that was offered for sale to the Museum. The dealer claimed that it was 1380 to 1400—the very beginning of the super-elegant and aristocratic International Style. Call it German—I can't tell you where it actually was. The photographs he sent were stunning. Rorimer and I went to see it. The guy had put it on a pedestal in one of the most beautiful churches in Europe. His cousin was the sacristan. Rorimer thought it wasFrench and didn't belong there. We were cautious, but we almost bought it. Then word came from a colleague in New York that he had found it in an old sale catalogue, and had learned that a gallery had sold it for fifteen hundred dollars to the dealer who was now trying to sell it to us for three hundred and fifty thousand. He was selling a real piece forged to look older than it was. The piece was early sixteenth century, and he had substituted on forged stone the graceful trumpet folds of the International Style for the hard zigzag of the later period. This dealer and I are the same age, and he is a friend of mine and a hunting companion. I confronted him with the entire story, supported by photographs, but he has never admitted what he did. Last week, he sent me pictures of another object that he wants to sell, and it appears to have been worked on by the same 'restorer.' This dealer is an imp of a man with a constant smile, and he always says to me, 'Tomás, do not worry. I would never do anything to you.'"


It is said on Fifth Avenue that the fashion image of Bonwit Teller is the image of Walter Hoving, and that while he was its president there was not a store on the Avenue that was not terrified of Bonwit's. Walter Hoving, a truly visionary merchant, believes that the customer is not always right, and the twin plinths of his philosophy are good taste and quality merchandise. Before going to Bonwit Teller, he built the modern Lord & Taylor, giving the store the stylish veneer it enjoys today. He began as a recruit in the training squad at Macy's, and—something unheard of in the department-store milieu—he skipped the buying phase completely and straightaway became a merchandise manager. Moving on to Montgomery Ward, in Chicago, he completely did over the mail-ordercatalogue to give it a contemporary feeling. The rising curve of his later experience on Fifth Avenue made a curious loop in 1959, when maneuvers that he himself had initiated backfired and he was pushed out of Bonwit Teller. Tiffany & Co. was his consolation prize. Very much a man of the city as well as of the Avenue, Walter Hoving was once elected mayor in the Daily News straw vote. Several times, he was actually asked to run for mayor, but he always declined, explaining privately that he was not interested because he had been born in Sweden and could never be President. He said also that he thought it an impossibility to be mayor and not to be corrupt. In the great sales-tax fight of 1943, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia called Hoving "that floorwalker." Hoving said, "Yes, and he is the little flower in my buttonhole." Hoving started the U.S.O., and he was assistant manager of Thomas E. Dewey's first Presidential campaign. (Curiously, a speech writer and key figure in the same campaign was Elliott Bell, the editor of Business Week, who is now Tcm Hoving's father-in-law.) Walter Hoving has been known among his employees as a man of little or no humor but of considerable warmth, energetic leadership, and generosity in his attention to the ideas of others, always giving full credit where due. Except in the first respect—for humor pours out of Tom Hoving like wine out of a bottle—the description is one that also has been made by colleagues of Walter Hoving's son. Johannes Hoving, the father and grandfather of the two more recent Hovings, was a Swedish heart surgeon who emigrated to avoid political heat in Stockholm. His wife, Helga Theodora Petrea, was a Danish opera star and had once been a favorite of the King of Denmark. They lived on 114th Street, in what is now Spanish Harlem. At the age of forty, Johannes Hoving retired and returned to Sweden, where he spent most of the rest of his life writing a five-volume history of the Hoving family, a project that was underwritten by generous support from his two sons in America, Walter andWalter's brother Hannes, who is now a dentist in Ossining. Thomas Pearsall Field Hoving was born in New York, on January 15, 1931. His early childhood was spent in Lake Forest, Illinois. He was a fat, blond little boy. He remembers his father's dressing up as a spook, in a flowing sheet, and calling himself Diplodocus. He remembers real candles on a Christmas tree and putting them out with pieces of wet cotton on the tips of long bamboo rods. He remembers a ferocious police dog his father had, named Pansy. And he remembers living with his sister and a nannie in a place called the Deerpath Inn while his mother and father were getting their divorce. One frightening night, the inn burned down. From the age of five, Tom lived in New York apartments with his mother and sister, and as the years passed he emptied countless water-filled wastebaskets out of apartment windows. He decorated a long hallway in one apartment as an Egyptian tomb, the result of a temporary fascination with Egyptology that he had developed at the Metropolitan Museum. "I'd just go right in—ssah!—right into the Egyptian wing," he says of his boyhood visits to the Museum. "The Egyptian wing—none of the other trash. I remember the shawabti figures very well. I didn't care much for the mummies. I examined the reliefs and the cartouches, and I looked deeply into the lips of King Akhenaten—because all we have is the lips." An even greater influence on Hoving's young mind was Loew's Seventy-second Street Theatre, which was, in a sense, his fifth prep school, and the colorful and colloquial language he uses today often seems to be coming from a sound track. On Friday evenings, Petie and Tom would go over to the River House to have dinner with Walter Hoving and their stepmother, Pauline van der Voort Steese Dresser Rogers Hoving, who had been the widow of Colonel Henry H. Rogers, the son of one of the founders of the Standard Oil Company. When Tom, aged eight, met her for the first time, he had crawled under a desk and stayed there. Later, he took one ofher rings and buried it in the Park. For some time, Petie and Tom visited their father and stepmother every Friday night. On these occasions, Walter Hoving had them bow and curtsy to empty chairs; he took assessments of their fingernails; and he taught them table manners, which they lacked. Sometimes the children visited their father and stepmother on a three-thousand-acre estate in Southampton that had once belonged to Colonel Rogers. The children were left pretty much alone to wander among its terraces, gardens, and colonnades. The great house was more or less in the neo-baronial style of William Randolph Hearst—a kind of San Simeon East—and across a large pond was a smaller house, built in the form of the stern of a Spanish galleon. Colonel Rogers had used a sixty-five-foot boat to ferry guests across the pond. There was a sheep meadow that could be used to park eight hundred automobiles. Under the main house, an elaborate system of tunnels led to a steam bath, a wine cellar, a ship-model museum. Tom and Petie spelunked among these tunnels and roamed the vast property outside. When he was ten and she was twelve, they were given a pickup truck to go around in. They took Errol Flynn out for a drive once and didn't know who he was. There was an apple tree that overlooked the pond, and Tom used to sit in its branches for hours. "I would just sit there and look at the pond and think," he remembers. "When they saw me in my tree, they left me alone."

In 1949, Walter Hoving, who was then a trustee of Brown University, said to his son, "You can go to any college in the country, but I'll only pay your way to Princeton." Tom now conjectures that his father may have been mindful that a number of Tom's Edgartown friends were going to Brown. On the day of Tom's graduation from Princeton, his father gave him a thousand dollars and said, perhaps to spur him on, "There. That's all you'll ever get from me." Tom's wife, Nancy, says that by the time they were married, later that year, theyhad nothing in the bank. In 1955, just after Tom was discharged from the Marine Corps, he called his father from California to say that he had given a great deal of thought to what he wanted to do, and had decided to go to graduate school. To Tom's considerable surprise, his father seemed quite pleased. "In my time, graduate school wasn't really necessary, but now I believe it is," Walter Hoving said on the phone. "I think you're doing the right thing." Unfortunately, he had misunderstood. He thought that Tom was referring to the Harvard Business School, when in fact Tom's intention was to take a Ph.D. program in art history at Princeton. When this bubble reached the surface and popped, Walter Hoving said "Art history?" and went on to make it clear that he considered the subject nonsense and would not underwrite such a plan. Tom applied for and got a scholarship at Princeton for graduate study.

During Tom's undergraduate years, Walter Hoving had signed up both of his children for a series of Johnson O'Connor career-aptitude tests, to help gauge their futures. Petie, who, like Nancy, went to Vassar, remembers that "Tommy was brilliant in damned near everything, so Daddy decided that the Johnson O'Connor tests were no good." Petie's own career, unlike Tom's, followed their father's. She has worked for Lord & Taylor for the past four years, and before that she was at Bonwit Teller for fourteen years. She is married to a real-estate man and has three sons, but in the office she is Miss Hoving, buyer for the department that handles misses' dresses in the thirty-to-a-hundred-and-twenty-five-dollar range. She says that some of the older employees at Lord & Taylor occasionally shake her hand and say glowing things about her father, who is still a kind of presence there, and is regarded as the great figure in the store's history. "People really worship him there, and at Bonwit's, too," Petie says. "Yet I don't think he has a personalfriend in the world. There are many parallels between Daddy and Tom. Both are outgoing, warm, full of action, and adored by the people who work for them. Both are strong in their opinions. But their opinions differ, of course. Tom is very liberal, very up to date, angry, and wanting to do things about it. Daddy is for Barry Goldwater, and so on. The opinions Daddy has were not wrong twenty years ago."

Twenty years ago, when Walter Hoving was still being mentioned as a candidate for mayor, Tom was at Hotchkiss. Now Tom is the Hoving in town. He is sensitive to the implications of this, and seems at times—with never a word spoken—to be attempting to protect his father, and he goes out of his way to suggest that his rapport with his father is close. When Tom was sworn in as Commissioner of Parks, on December 1, 1965, in the Central Park boathouse, a reporter looked blankly at Walter Hoving, who was standing with other members of the family, and said, "Hey, are you Mr. Hoving's father?" A few weeks later, several hundred engraved invitations went into the mails. "I'd like you to meet my son Tom, the new Parks Commissioner," the invitations said. "So come if you can and have a drink with us at the Racquet Club on Wednesday, January 5th, between 5 and 7—Walter Hoving." Petie has kept a large scrapbook on her brother and his time in office. She pasted her father's invitation into it and wrote across a corner of the card, "Tom's Bar mizvah!! 1966."


One winter evening, Mayor Lindsay sat down in his living room and, for an hour, considered the loss of his Parks Commissioner. "I caught hell for appointing him," he said first. "People said to me, 'Who's he? A minor curator from The Cloisters.' But Tomhas a natural, unstudied political talent. There's nothing he can't do ... . He is a thoroughly civilized man. He understands the dynamics of institutional life. In the Museum, he'll make the mummies dance. I knew that if the trustees came to him, I would lose him. He said to me, 'It's impossible not to accept,' and, of course, that's true. It's like a call to a judgeship. It's impossible not to accept." After a pause, apparently for reflection on what he had just said, the Mayor continued, "It's like cutting off my arms and legs to see Tom leave. He's going into an important city institution, bear that in mind. He's been the best company in the administration. In this business, you have so little time to yourself that when you do have it you get choosy about your company. If I went to the movies or the opera, Tom is one of the few people I would always want to have come along. I think he has a complicated future. There's a limit to how long a young man can run a great institution. This is the sadness, sometimes, of university presidents who are there too young. Incidentally, and in passing, he would be a great candidate for mayor."

Lindsay first met Hoving in a hallway of an apartment building in 1960. They were both passing out pamphlets having to do with Lindsay's 1960 congressional campaign. "God damn it, how did we get two people working the same building?" Hoving said. Then he saw who the other man was. In 1965, Hoving wrote a white paper for Lindsay's mayoral campaign, detailing what was improvable about the city parks system, and the white paper reflected the principles on which Hoving acted throughout his tenure as commissioner. In graduate school, he had studied the planning of ancient cities, and as an undergraduate he had developed an enduring admiration for the man who created the great parks of New York, Frederick Law Olmsted. Hoving approached his job with a historical and conceptual bias in relation to the nature of open areas in an urbanmilieu. He thought that they should be something more than a scattering of topographical interruptions in the infrastructure of the city, and should be designed and used so that they would have the same effect as works of art—"to teach, to enrich, to relax, and to inspire." When Hoving actually began his work as commissioner, he proved, to the astonishment of almost everyone who had ever known him, that he could generate more froth per day than all the breakers on the beaches of Queens. His assistants filled fifty-two scrapbooks with newspaper clippings having to do with the city's parks during his first year in office. His so-called Happenings drew thousands of people into the parks to, say, fly kites (five thousand kites), paint masterpieces on a hundred and five yards of canvas (three thousand painters), build castles of plastic foam, or see meteor showers (clouded out). People began to gather around him in multitudes at these affairs. Girls ran up and threw their arms around him. He was Hans Christian Hoving. When the Goldman Band opened its summer season in Central Park in 1965, five hundred people were there. In 1966, Hoving arranged a Gay Nineties party for the band's opening and thirty-five thousand were there. They gave him a twenty-minute standing ovation. But Happenings happen and are over. Basic principles, and construction, linger. Hoving's work had a great deal of depth as well as reach and verve. When he took over, he said he wanted to change the Parks Department's basic approach to design. Highway engineers had been creating structures and parkscapes for the city, working with maps and charts, away from the sites. No one in the rest of the world would ever have thought of asking New York for help in the planning of parks. Hoving said, "I want to make the Parks Department's work the absolute highest quality in the United States." And he did. He brought a full-time architect into the department for the first time ever, and he himself raised the money privately for thearchitect's salary, to get around the drag of Civil Service. As consultants, he tried to get some of the best-known architects in the world. They were cool until he had been in office about three months, and then they began to respond—Philip Johnson, Marcel Breuer, Edward Larrabee Barnes, John Carl Warnecke, and Kenzo Tange, who did the National Gymnasium for the Olympics in Tokyo. Some of these consultants have taken on work for the department. Tange and Breuer (with the landscape architect Lawrence Halprin) are designing a sports park that will occupy the World's Fair Grounds and will include facilities for almost every sport that can be played in a city—football, badminton, drag racing, archery, basketball, swimming, tennis, baseball, softball. Breuer, Johnson, and Barnes developed competing designs for the new three-hundred-stall public and police stables that will be built beside the Eighty-sixth Street Transverse in Central Park. They all lost to the firm of Kelly & Gruzen, who shrewdly put the stables underground, preserving the Park above. Hoving said early in 1966 that he wanted to open up a bicycle and walking trail on the old Croton right-of-way in the Bronx. Felix Candela, the Mexican architect who is celebrated for thin-shell concrete construction, is expected to design a bridge that will eliminate the one major break left in the trail. Any kind of bridge would have done the job functionally, but Hoving reached out for one of the greatest structural engineers in the world. Confronted with the need to choose a designer for a new community swimming pool in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, Hoving and the Director of Park Design, Arthur Rosenblatt, decided that to choose a great architect would not be good enough. They chose, with inspiration, Morris Lapidus, out of whose pen ran the Fontainebleau, the Eden Roc, and half the other hotels in Miami Beach, and the Summit and the Americana in New York. A twenty-nine-year-old architect designed a Central Parkplayground just north of the Tavern on the Green. A center for old people will be going up in Tomkins Park, in Brooklyn. A recreation center for young people, with a swimming pool, club-rooms, and jukeboxes, will be built on West Twenty-fifth Street, in Manhattan, and will have an illuminated theatre marquee with blinking lights telling what is going on inside. Among the hundreds of ideas that Hoving has left behind, one is that park facilities should be thought of as if they were profit-making ventures, because the purpose is to bring people into them.

Hoving said at the outset that he wanted to create vest-pocket parks in small spaces throughout the city and portable parks (that is, parks with equipment that could be taken up and used again) in lots that were temporarily empty. He established a dozen vest pockets, and the portables, it was hoped, would follow. He said that he wanted to close the roads of Central Park to motor vehicles on Sundays, in favor of bicyclists, and he said that he wanted to establish parks on piers, to bring the people closer to the city's beautiful harbor. He made the first moves toward opening the piers and succeeded in opening the roads. After one year, he left more than events behind, and, long before his time ended, other cities here and in Europe were asking for his advice—San Francisco, London, the District of Columbia, Boston, Cleveland, Akron, Yonkers. "The most significant thing we accomplished is the entire change of direction in design," Hoving says. "We are now the innovators in the country."

That winter evening, soon after Hoving had resigned as Parks Commissioner, the Mayor said, "Running a huge department is a big political office. Tom rose to it like a bird. He stumbled occasionally, and he walked in with his jaw now and then, but each time he got stronger and better. His antenna is good. There's no disguising anything with Tom. If I ran again forthis office—or, indeed, for any other office, which is most unlikely; in fact, zero chance—I would turn again to Tom." Even before Hoving went into the Parks Department in 1965, he had decided to leave the Metropolitan Museum. He was going to accept the directorship of the Wadsworth Atheneum, in Hartford. He made this decision because he felt that the general experience of the Hartford position—running a large museum and collecting in all fields of art history ("You know, Chinese porcelain, Renaissance bronzes")—would improve his chances of one day becoming the Director of the Metropolitan Museum, which was his ambition, he has disclosed, almost from the moment he started to work there. Rorimer had been curator of The Cloisters before becoming Director of the Metropolitan, and Hoving feared that the trustees would want to vary the pattern. He says that he is sure he would never have been chosen had it not been for his time in government, and that the commissionership prepared him for the job in the Museum as the Wadsworth Atheneum never could have.


In the Fuentidueña Chapel at The Cloisters, there is a Romanesque doorway from the Church of San Leonardo al Frigido, in Massa-Carrara, Tuscany. It is a beautiful thing, carved in Carrara marble, and its architrave depicts, in some twenty figures, the entry of Christ into Jerusalem. Close inspection shows that the head of an apostle in the center of the architrave has a yellowish color, quite different in tone from the rest of the apostle's body and from all the other figures. In 1893, a Countess Benkendorff-Schouvaloff wrote from Nice to Italian archivists in Milan to tell them that the doorway, which hadbeen taken from the Massa-Carrara church when it fell into ruin some years earlier, was installed in her villa in Nice. Hoving learned all this in 1960, as an ancillary result of his research on the Annunciation relief from the Romanesque pulpit in Arcetri. He wrote to a friend in Nice asking him to go see the present Count Benkendorff-Schouvaloff and have a look at the doorway. The friend wrote back and said, as Hoving paraphrases the letter, that "the Count had split long ago" and there was now a high-rise housing project where the Benkendorff-Schouvaloff villa had once stood. Hoving reasoned that Romanesque doorways don't just disappear. This one had to be somewhere. He wrote and asked his friend to keep looking. Soon the friend wrote and said that the doorway was lying in pieces behind the housing project. A local dealer in Nice was sent to have a look and he cabled, "CONDITION TERRIBLE, NOT MARBLE." A year later, happening to be in Nice, Hoving went to the housing project and searched around in the weeds out back, just for his curiosity's sake. In high grass among old apple trees he found the blocks of stone. They were marble, all right, and they were in excellent condition. "It was easy to get the doorway out of France," he says. "The French couldn't have cared less, because it was an Italian doorway. When the Benkendorff-Schouvaloffs moved it to Nice, Nice was a part of Italy. So the doorway never left Italy. Italy left it." The heads of two apostles were missing from the architrave. One is still missing, but Hoving found the other—the piece with the yellowish cast—in a beauty parlor in the center of Nice.

Much as the pulpit relief led Hoving to the San Leonardo doorway, the doorway led him to a holy-water font, also from Tuscany, that had been carved at about the same time. Hoving found the font at 125 East Fifty-seventh Street, in the shop of the dealer Leopold Blumka. He just happened to see it therewhile he was out for a Saturday-morning walk, and he was struck by the close stylistic similarity between the figures on the font and the figures on the Massa-Carrara doorway. (In another shop on East Fifty-seventh Street, he later found, and bought for the Museum, a pendant that proved to be one of two known reliquaries of St. Thomas à Becket.) The holy-water font now stands beside the doorway in the Fuentidueña Chapel at The Cloisters. In the St. Guilhem Cloister, which is adjacent to the Fuentidueña Chapel, is the Annunciation relief from Arcetri. As Hoving moves from room to room in The Cloisters and looks at one object after another, including his own acquisitions, he says, "Ooh!" and "Ahl" and "Great!" and "Unbelievable!" In the Treasury, he stops before a wood carving of Sts. Christopher, Eustace, and Erasmus that was done by Tilmann Riemenschneider, of Würzburg, in 1494. "Look how that crackles with energy," he says. "It's linden wood, but see how dark it is. It was probably stained in the nineteenth century. The thing is incredible, isn't it? Look at those faces. I bought it here, in New York. It cost like hell, but nobody remembers how much now—and who cares? We have it." He moves on to a reliquary shrine that once belonged to Queen Elizabeth of Hungary (acquired by him in 1962), a reliquary bust of St. Juliana (1961), and a Rhenish Crucifixion carved by an unknown master (1961), of which he says, "This is one of the most beautiful Calvaries ever made. It was in an auction and sold for a sum so low that I could have bought it out of my paycheck."

As a curator, Hoving went to Europe six or seven times a year on acquisitional ventures, staying in cheap hotels in Paris near the Boul' Mich ("Ratty hotels, always ratty—I like to be anonyme"), stuffing himself on Bélon oysters ("Hepatitis? Who cares? You might as well go big"), and trying to get to bed by 1:30 A.M. in order to be in reasonable shape to seedealers the next day ("whose names, of course, I cannot divulge"). He ranged from London to Istanbul, but the most important acquisition of his career he made in Zurich. He had heard, from a friend in a museum in Boston, that a man named Ante Topic-Mimara—a Yugoslav by birth, an Austrian by citizenship, and a resident of Tangier—possessed an ivory cross of uncertain origin, which he kept in a bank vault in Zurich. The general suspicion, Hoving learned, was that Topic-Mimara's cross was a fake—in part because of inconsistencies in its iconography and in its inscriptions. For example, where ordinary liturgical phraseology would read "Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudeorum," an inscription on Topic-Mimara's cross read "Iesus Nazarenus Rex Confessorum." Hoving had written his doctoral dissertation on medieval ivories. He wrote to Topic-Mimara asking for photographs of the cross. Topic-Mimara replied that he was making no photographs available but that if Hoving would meet him in Zurich he would show him the cross itself, and that Hoving would find it "something unique in the world." All this had such a melodramatic resonance that it did seem to add up to forgery, but Hoving still had not had that "first impression," that "immediate kinetic reaction," and he went to Zurich to have it. He found Topic-Mimara to be "heavyset, 46 Short Portly, with a stubble, slightly hunched shoulders, a rapid walk, slightly turned-in feet, darkish hair, and a face like a crowd." Topic-Mimara spoke Serbo-Croatian, German, and Italian. In Italian, he said to Hoving, "I am a simple, humble man. A humble artist. I live in Tangier." The bank vault was subterranean, and there Topic-Mimara had cabinets full of objects-goblets, ancient glass, stained glass, pieces of tapestry. Withholding the cross, he showed the other things to Hoving, piece by piece. In time, Hoving learned that Topic-Mimara had acquired most of these things just after the Second World War, when he moved from city to city and country tocountry buying art treasures that were available and relatively cheap because of the disasters of war. With the complicity of an American colonel, he had filled two boxcars in Berlin with uncounted treasures and removed them to Tangier. Now, in 1961, in Zurich, after running through his current repertory, he finally brought out the cross, wrapped in a large black cloth. When Topic-Mimara removed the cloth, Hoving looked at the cross for a moment, and then wrote, on a piece of paper in his hand, "No doubt." Re-creating the moment, he said recently, "It was staggering. A truly great, great thing. Just exactly where it fitted into history I didn't know, and at that point I didn't give a damn. It didn't seem to have the nervous, fluttering quality of the eleventh century, so I guessed the twelfth." Hoving asked for photographs to take back to New York, but Topic-Mimara still refused. Each day, for three days, Hoving went to the vault and spent eight hours looking at the cross. Topic-Mimara sat near him and read newspapers. At noon, they ate sandwiches. Each day, as they entered the room, Hoving set his Rolleiflex on a table in front of Topic-Mimara and again appealed for pictures. He was always turned down. Topic-Mimara left him alone in the vault only once, and as he went out he picked up the Rolleiflex and slung its strap over his shoulder. "I'll be back in ten minutes. Take all the pictures you care to," he said. "I will," Hoving said. As the door closed behind Topic-Mimara, Hoving reached into his shirt, where he had a Minox. Quickly adjusting the tiny camera, he took eight pictures of the cross. Then he continued his study. Carved in walrus ivory, the two-foot cross had sixty-three cryptically abbreviated inscriptions in Greek and Latin and a hundred and eight carved figures, which were sharply detailed and extraordinarily alive in their gestures and expressions—in Hoving's words, "a great crowd of deeply undercut figures, distributed over the surface in a lacy network, carved with breathtakingskill." He decided that, among other qualities leading him to the same conclusion, the cross had so many irregularities that no forger could possibly have made it. He also decided that given the long, beautifully postured figures, the damp-fold elegance of the draperies, and the complicated carving, it had to be English. Topic-Mimara, for his part, never said where or how he had obtained it. Hoving took the Minox film to Munich and had it developed with supreme care in the Minox laboratories there. He then went to Erich Steingräber and showed him the pictures. Steingräber said that the cross could not be other than authentic. When Hoving returned to the United States, the pictures of course sparked the interest of Rorimer, and, in turn, of Kurt Weitzmann, a professor of art and archeology at Princeton and the foremost voice in the world on Carolingian and Romanesque ivories. When Weitzmann saw the pictures of the cross, he said, "I must go to see it." On separate occasions during the year that followed, Rorimer and Weitzmann both visited the vault in Zurich, and came away with positive reports. Weitzmann said that the cross was unparalleled. Meanwhile, word reached Rorimer that Rupert L. S. Bruce-Mitford, of the British Museum, was coming to conclusions about the cross himself. "There is a sense of timing in this sort of thing," Hoving says. "A museum man has to sense when to wait things out, when to bluff, and when to move fast. The trustees did not want to meet Topic-Mimara's full price, and we were trying to wait him out. Then, one day, Rorimer's sources told him that the British Museum was really on the move, and Rorimer said to me, 'You go tomorrow.'" Hoving, following a plan that he and Rorimer worked out, went to Zurich with ski boots under his arm, so that he would appear to be just passing through on his way to the snowfields. He ran into Topic-Mimara in a hotel lobby, and Topic-Mimara, who was wearing a fez, said to him, "You shouldn't have come. TheEnglish are coming tomorrow. I have given them a complete option."

Bruce-Mitford soon arrived with Peter Lasko, a colleague. "Ah, here is Hoving, just passing through on a ski trip," Lasko said.

Bruce-Mitford said, "Well, Mr. Hoving, I imagine you feel something like Paul Revere."

Hoving felt more like a skier who had just fallen into a ravine. In the end, however, Topic-Mimara limited the option to three weeks, and Bruce-Mitford was unable to meet the deadline—apparently because the Exchequer would not approve of a sterling drain as heavy as Topic-Mimara's price, which was well over two hundred thousand pounds. In the morning of the twenty-second day, Hoving and Topic-Mimara went back to the vault. "You are also buying the rest of my collection, of course," Topic-Mimara said. Hoving said no, he was not. Then, in Hoving's words, "Topic-Mimara handed me the cross and I handed him the money, and a bank vice-president was standing there watching this, losing his mind." Hoving wrapped up the cross and sent it home air freight. Then he went to Paris for a few days to relax. The piece he had just acquired has been said to be more valuable than the entire Guelph Treasure.

Continuing his research, Hoving attempted to find where and when the cross was made. It had no recorded history. Nothing whatever was known about it except that it had been in the collection of Ante Topic-Mimara. In New York and in Princeton, Hoving went through hundreds of photographs of Romanesque English art, looking at every kind of work—stone carvings, illustrated manuscripts, metalwork, cathedral façades, ivory. When he had looked at everything, he found that he had set aside seven photographs in which were figures that had struck him as having stylistic similarities to the figures on the cross.Two of the photographs were of objects of unestablished origin. The five others were all of things that had been made in or near the Suffolk village of Bury St. Edmunds. Hoving deciphered the sixty-three Greek and Latin inscriptions on the cross. Sixty-three seemed to him to be an inordinate number for anyone to put on a two-foot piece—a very literary and English thing to do. Although the inscriptions were arranged in flowingly graceful patterns, written communication was obviously an even more important element in the intent of the maker. So Hoving put all the inscriptions together and read them as a literary whole. The message that emerged was powerfully anti-Semitic, condemning the Jews for killing the Saviour whose existence their own prophets had foreseen and proclaimed. Hoving then searched through the Patrologia Latina—which includes two hundred and eighty-two volumes—for anti-Jewish writings and disputations, particularly in medieval England. In a typical disputation, a Christian would speak and then a Jew would answer. "I found that these disputations were learned and friendly until the middle of the twelfth century, but after that the Christian had all the lines," Hoving says. "The Jew would answer back with stupidities. This was fraudulence, McCarthyism, on the part of the writers. A wave of anti-Semitism had obviously arisen at that time. Of the inscriptions on the cross, with all their linguistic irregularities, I found twenty-two in the Patrologia Latina." Hoving then went to England and worked in the Courtauld Institute of the University of London. The evidence he assembled, both stylistic and historical, continued to point to Bury St. Edmunds. He learned that on June 10, 1181, a young boy of Bury St. Edmunds was murdered, supposedly by crucifixion, and that the death was blamed on Jews. He learned that a monk named Samson was elected abbot of the Benedictine monastery ofBury St. Edmunds in 1182, that Samson was a particularly vehement leader of anti-Semitic campaigns, and that fifty-seven Jews were killed in a riot, of unexplained origin, in 1190, in Bury St. Edmunds. Hoving went to Bury St. Edmunds, where almost nothing is left of the abbey, and stood on Samson's grave. At Cambridge University, nearby, he went to Pembroke College, whose library houses many volumes of twelfth-century Bury St. Edmunds manuscripts, bound in deerskin. At random, he removed a volume marked M-72 from its shelf. It was the Gospel of St. Mark, and it had been copied in the decade 1140-50. At some later date, another hand had written an annotation below the words "Rex Iudeorum." "Rex Confessorum," the annotation said, with a further note that this change in language was occasioned by "the perfidiousness of the Jews." Reflecting on that moment, Hoving says, "I had a long way to go, but the matter was essentially solved with this discovery." From then on, evidence accrued more rapidly, and in the Bury Bible, made in Bury St. Edmunds in the twelfth century, he found populated initials whose figures looked almost exactly like those on the cross—the same sharp outlines, precise gestures, pointed beards, and damp-fold garments. He was able to date the cross (1181—90) and to conclude that it had been made for, and under the direction of, Abbot Samson. "The cross is a virtual seminar in the style of the late twelfth century," he wrote in a paper that he plans soon to expand to book length. "In the figures, one can detect the inexorable and fascinating change from a Romanesque to a decidedly early-Gothic point of view implicit in the development of increasing attenuation and a dramatic movement away from the confining surface. The literary content voiced in the proliferating scrolls or cut into the flesh of the ivory is, like the figural carvings, the Passion and Resurrection. But it goes a step further, for it also rails against those who did not believe in Christ as Saviour andMessiah—namely, the Jews. It is against this poor, alien people and their synagogue, harried and persecuted throughout centuries, that the text of the cross directs itself with wrath. The cross may not be the only medieval monument that carries on a polemic against the Jews, but it is not matched in vehemence. The passage of time makes the contents of these writings no less harsh. But it must be remembered that this is the accepted attitude of the church militant of the late twelfth century. Today there may appear to be an incongruity between such superb artistic form and the vehemence of a number of the inscriptions, but in Romanesque times religious tolerance did not exist. The cross is intellectual, yet pedantic; clever, yet forced. It is English, above all—imaginative, dramatic, literary, independent of rules, far too rich, yet poetic and adventurous in its attempt to be encyclopedic. It even reaches beyond its insular character and expresses what was in the wind throughout the entire Christian world during the late twelfth century, for the cross is symbolic of the crusading spirit, both good and evil. It is one of those rarest of works of art that are both the strength and weakness of its era—the mark and the explanation of an entire epoch." It stands in an illuminated glass enclosure on a pedestal in the center of the Fuentidueña Chapel at The Cloisters, where people can see it from a distance of inches and can walk around it and examine all of its sides. "Look at it," Hoving says, standing before it. "Isn't it beautiful? Look at the work that went into it. Can you imagine someone thinking that was a fake?" The 1966 Annual Report of the Metropolitan Museum, which was published some months before Hoving was appointed director, listed four great acquisitions that marked the eleven years of the directorship of the late James Rorimer: Rembrandt's "Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer"; the Merode Altarpiece, which is Robert Campin's Flemish triptych showing the Annunciation; the AntiochChalice, once thought by scholars to be the Holy Grail; and—as the fourth of these treasures has come to be called—the Cross of Bury St. Edmunds.


On Friday, January 12, 1951, Hoving and his Princeton roommates decided that the time had come to pull themselves together, that their general and flagrant neglect of the university curriculum was approaching a critical intensity, and that the weekend then beginning should be spent in solid intellectual endeavor by all, since the term's final examinations would begin on Monday. The principal architect of this plan was Thomas S. Godolphin, a brilliant young man who, like Hoving's other roommates, had known Hoving at Exeter. Godolphin further reasoned that what the group needed most was a long and untroubled night's sleep, and that they should all go to a movie that night, turn in early, and address themselves to their work first thing in the morning. Between the movie house, in Palmer Square, and their room, in Holder Hall, was a delicatessen. Walking back toward the campus after the film, the roommates passed the delicatessen, and one of them suggested that they assure themselves of a perfect night's sleep by having a glass or two of milk punch before sacking out. So they bought a gallon of milk. Milk punch had become a favorite among them, and they had a large assortment of sweets and spices that they liked to put in it to complement the basics—milk and whiskey. Their favorite drink the year before, when they were freshmen, had been Seabreezes. The freshman year had not been an inspired one for this group. "We were just doing prep school all over again," Hoving says now. "And that carried us through. I had an appalling cut record. I went to classes in the first week of each term and didn't go again until finals. I went alot to New York, and haunted the Orpheum Dance Palace, in Times Square. An extremely temporary charge account was established for me at a night club called La Rue, in order to get me out of the Orph and also out of the Automat Bar on Eighty-sixth Street, a favorite place of mine, where you put a quarter in a slot and got a Martini—you know, pretty pestiferous. Dikey Duncan, who was at Brown, came down frequently to the city, and we once ran up a five-hundred-dollar bill at the night club, setting up everybody in sight. Dikey tried to pass himself off as the youngest-ever president of Lea & Perrins. We wore white ties and tails every night. We'd hit a few debbie parties and sink back into the Rue." In Princeton, meanwhile, Hoving watched his classmates from an aloof perspective, made sarcastic, cynical, and funny remarks about everything he noticed, and showed no interest at all in extracurricular activities, with one brief exception. He tried hard to get into the Press Club, a semi-professional organization through which undergraduates serve as paid stringers for newspapers and the wire services. He had worked during the summer of 1949 as a copyboy at the Daily Mirror, where—as he describes it—his job was to "fold carbon sandwiches, go out for heroes, and place bets." He continues, "The Mirror was a bookie joint, as far as I could see. The teletype room was enclosed in glass, and every time the race results came in from some track the crush of people almost broke the glass. The writer I liked best had a drawerful of comic books. I myself wrote letters-to-the-editor. Two kinds—singers and howlers. We used to write howlers by pounding our fists on a table for a while to warm up." In the university Press Club competition, he extended himself to interview a man who was pushing a wheelbarrow all the way across the American continent and happened to be passing near Princeton, but, even with that scoop to his credit, he lost out to Tom Godolphin. Godolphin was a superior poker player, and he and Hoving used to play regularly in the afternoons. Robert Goldman, theplaywright, who was another of the roommates, recalls these games vividly. "Afternoon cards in college is serious cards," he says. "I remember Loper with the green eyeshade doing the Cincinnati Kid. If anybody had had the sleeve guards, he would have put them on." Things continued in this pattern through the autumn and early winter of the sophomore year, and on the Friday night in 1951 before the first-term examinations the roommates drank their milk punch and then collected supplies for another batch. There was a fireplace in their room, and they built a memorable fire. They started up a player piano they had, and when they ran out of liquor they borrowed more from neighboring rooms and invited the occupants to join them. At about 2 A.M., they drew their curtains and established a proctor watch, and when university proctors entered the Holder courtyard the milk-punch party observed a period of silence. Soon they began to feed the fire with T-shirts, shoes, phonograph records, and minor pieces of furniture. In the early morning, they got a ten-gallon can of milk from the Walker-Gordon dairy, which is two miles from Princeton, and by late afternoon they were putting Drambuie, vodka, curaçao, creme de menthe, gin—everything they could find—into the punch. The party went on through Saturday evening, and in the early hours of Sunday morning the fireplace fire was still going. They had put chairs and pillows into it, and several worsted suits. They had, in fact, burned up almost everything in the room except the player piano. Someone went out and came back with an axe. The piano played on while it was being hacked to pieces, and all the pieces were given in tandem to the flames. Princeton's grading system goes from a high of 1 to a low of 7, and at the end of the senior year a student's final departmental grade must be better than a 4 or he gets no degree. Hoving's average at the end of that first term in his sophomore year was 4.46. "I have been to several serious, artistic Happenings where, in a highly creativeand avant-garde way, pianos have been smashed," he said recently. "I watch this with a ghostly smile."

In the second term of his sophomore year, Hoving went to a preceptorial in Art 301, a course he had signed up for that dealt with sculpture from the Renaissance to the present. Princeton students, in most courses in the humanities, go to two lectures and one preceptorial each week. In preceptorials—or precepts, as they are called—five or six students sit around a table with a professor and exchange ideas on the assigned reading and related material. This system was initiated by Woodrow Wilson when he was president of Princeton, and since Wilson's time a student's performance in precepts has always been an important part of his final grade. This particular art precept was attended by two seniors, three juniors, two graduate students (sitting in), and one sophomore, Hoving. The professor, Frederick Stohlman, set on the table a graceful piece of metalwork that had several flaring curves and was mounted on a base of polished hardwood. Stohlman asked each student, in turn, to say whatever came into his head about the object. Hoving heard the others using terms like "crosscurrents of influence," "definitions of space," "abstract approaches to form," "latent vitality," and "mellifluous harmonies." He felt unconvinced, unimpressed, unprepared, utterly nervous, and unsure in the presence of older and more knowledgeable students. A warm flush came over the back of his neck—something that still happens when he finds himself in an uncomfortable position. Finally, Stohlman and the others looked at him, and waited for his contribution. "I don't think it is sculpture," he blurted out. "It's beautifully tooled, but it's not sculpture. It's too mechanical and functional." Stohlman, an authority on Limoges enamels, was an inspiring teacher, and it was he who, some weeks later, first put into Hoving's hands a work of art of importance—a piece of Roman glass. Now, in the precept, he looked at the otherstudents and warned them of the dangers of getting caught in their own lecture notes, and went on to say that anything should be looked at first as an object in itself, and not in the light of secondary reading or artistic theory. Finally, he pointed out that the sophomore was right—that the thing on the table was an obstetrical speculum. "From that moment on, I had fantastic confidence," Hoving says. "I was never again afraid to say, 'I don't believe that.' Three weeks later, if that hadn't happened, I might have been talking about elegant sfumato and sweeping diagonals, but, fortunately, I have never looked at a work of art through a cloud of catchwords. In the technical language of the history of art, you can draw a cocoon around anything, whether it is a Campbell Soup can or an obstetrical speculum. That's what those cats in the precept did. A work of art should be looked at as a humanistic experience, an object on its own. It betrays what it is immediately." Hoving got a 1 in that course. He decided to major in art and archeology, and for the next two years he made regular trips to New York for drawing courses at the Art Students League. In Princeton, he retreated from nearly all non-academic activity of any kind, roomed alone during his last two years, and was seldom seen even by his friends. He audited undergraduate art courses that he was not enrolled in, and he sat in on graduate seminars. He wrote his senior thesis on "The Origin and Development of the Early Christian Basilica." His final departmental grade was a straight i, and he was graduated from the university with highest honors.


On a bamboo easel in one corner of the living room of Hoving's apartment, at 150 East Seventy-third Street, stands a work by Dan Basen in which a hundred and eight finishing nails havebeen inserted in canvas like pins in cloth, all in regimented patterns of "X"s and palisades; the whole of it, nails and canvas, is painted white. The room itself appears to have been last painted in the early nineteen-thirties, and, its contents aside, suggests a room in an old hotel in, say, Scranton, Pennsylvania. On one wall is a Ruth Abrams abstract called "Woman Sleeping," and across the room is another Abrams—this one representational, of a woman brooding. Five hooks-and-eyes of graduated sizes, mounted on a plaque, are labelled "Sex," sculptor anonymous. Framed and under glass is a large sketched composition by Knud Nielsen that consists of fragments of Hoving: several aspects of his head, and a study of his hands—tapered, talon fingers holding the head of a griffin. On a freestanding set of shelves is a Basen head of Hoving, made from blocks and chips of wood that Basen nailed together, partly wrapped in strips of canvas, and daubed with paint. The likeness is remarkable. Across the room is a Basen fetish—two mobile boxes within a third box, which has been screwed to the wall; on top of the exterior box is a full-size model, made of wood with photographs glued to it, of the Cross of Bury St. Edmunds. On a two-foot-long table near the door is a sixteenth-century French marble sculpture of the Virgin and nursing Child. In a glass-front cabinet are a fourteenth-century French ivory (half of a diptych); a fifth-century Syrian drinking glass that was found with the Antioch Chalice and was eventually given by the King of Sweden to Hoving's grandfather; an Etruscan terra-cotta head; a Günther Uecker icon, consisting of a board with a nail in it; and a fifteenth-century Russian icon given to Hoving by Ante Topic-Mimara. By the cabinet is a cloud box by Adrian Guillery and Dick Hogle, who also did a six-foot cylindrical "Column of Light" that stands in another corner of the room, and, elsewhere in the apartment, a four-foot mechanical man whose head lights up in various colors when it watches a television set. The mechanical man, according toHoving, "mixes his own bulbs." Resting on another living-room table one evening not long ago were an original sketch by Charles Dana Gibson, several sketches by Mario Avati, and a sketch of a woman with open skirts by Egon Schiele. On the floor behind a chair was a small, portable hi-fi, and in it a Judy Collins record was turning. She was singing Bob Dylan's "Just like Tom Thumb's Blues":

"Don't put on any airs When you're down on Rue Morgue Avenue They got some hungry women there And they'll really make a mess outta you."

Hoving said, "I think it's the saddest song I've ever heard, and I'm not even sure I know what it's about. I'm hung up on Judy Collins." The hour was six-thirty. He had a pitcher of Martinis in one hand, and he sat down in a chair and began to open the day's mail. "Swinel" he cried out, and tossed a letter aside. He glanced at another letter and wrote "Hire him" across the top of it. A third letter invited Hoving to join a club. "I hate memberships," he said. "I once had a summer membership in the Racquet Club and I couldn't stand it—the snobs running and screaming." The phone rang. "No, it's O.K., it's all right," he said. "I think we ought to go for that; the ring is beautiful. The whole Schmier ... See if you can haggle them down. We'll try to use curator's funds. The time has to be critical, and it's getting very hairy." He snapped his fingers. His life, after a year in the Parks Department, seemed to have become a series of snaps—snap decisions, snapped fingers. Moreover, he was then working at two jobs. He was still Commissioner of Parks and, de facto, he was Director of the Museum. "I've been too damned busy to be thoughtful," he said. "But I was taking stock of myself last night, and I'mterribly dissatisfied. At times like that, I see myself as a failure—going into things, having all the fun, and getting out without taking care of the details." His daughter, Trea—a pretty, blond nine-year-old who goes to the Spence School—was sitting beside him, trying to learn how to play a recorder. Hoving wondered aloud if she couldn't learn somewhere else. She stayed where she was. He looked cross-eyed and shrugged. His wife, Nancy, arrived home from work and made herself a drink. She works downtown, in the office of the city's Coordinator of Addiction Programs. Both she and Hoving have their own Hondas. After a while, that evening, they got into an argument. It was political, not personal, having something to do with Bed-Sty, which is how both Hovings refer to the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. Mrs. Hoving is at least as fast on her feet as Hoving. When, during their Bed-Sty argument, he responded to a question with a circumlocution, she said, "Don't give me a public answer." Hoving clapped his lips up and down, like hands. Hoving is not only a verbal wit but a facial comedian as well. His face moves all the time while he talks. He winces, wags his eyebrows, and smiles the smile of a cozy wolverine. A few minutes later, he was describing, in words and sounds, a sailboat luffing and flapping through a narrow inlet. The talk had changed to his summer plans—five short cruises, spaced out from June to September, as a member of the foredeck gang of a friend's fifty-foot racing sloop called Blixtar. He has raced to Bermuda five times on Blixtar. Three years ago, Blixtar was nearly run down by a freighter in a black fog. "You felt this clammy, crawling fear," Hoving said. He whistled, wailed, and made foghorn sounds. He went on, "Then we heard the slap of the screws—thwa thwa thwa—and the thing went by us a hundred feet away." The talk centered for a while on dangerous situations, and soon Hoving was demonstrating how Sicilians, as they leave their houses in the morning, automaticallyswivel their heads to check on the mood of Mount Etna. While Hoving was a graduate student, he lived in Italy for a year, studying in Italian museums and working for several months at an archeological dig in Sicily. During that year, he also painted, sketched, wrote short stories, and began to keep a personal journal that, within two years, exceeded two hundred thousand words. It contains compact but incredibly thorough descriptions of every building and every object of artistic interest he visited, and it also includes essays on subjects as disparate as cybernetics and Italian rock 'n' roll, and an eloquent chronicle of the infancy of his daughter. Most notably, though, it is a record of the self-questioning of a man in his middle twenties who seemed to want more than anything else to know the extent of his potentialities as a painter and a fiction writer, and who wondered if, alternatively, he would ever be able to find himself in the scholarly discipline of art history. All that, however, was now on the shelves of cabinets in the living room, and he was describing what it felt like to lie down on the black earth in the crater of Etna. "You could hear the lava bubbling—blump blump blump—and all these zonked bees walked all over you," he said. "Millions of bees are attracted to the sulphur, which does something to them. They're all up there taking trips. Every step you take, you crunch generations of bees. Fowl Shall we go?" He meant to dinner. During his time as Parks Commissioner, a secretary typed out a schedule for him every day, and he sometimes made as many as three speeches in eight hours, and seldom spent an evening at home. That night, he and his wife had accepted an invitation to The Four Seasons.

An enormous Picasso hangs there, eighteen feet high. Hoving said, looking up at the painting, "I would pay seventy-five thousand dollars for that. It's just beautiful."

His wife said, "Do you know how much the restaurant paid?"

"A hundred thousand," Hoving said, and his eyebrows bounced up and down.


Hoving, wearing a turtleneck jersey and a sports coat, stood just inside the main entrance of the Metropolitan Museum. "Come in. Come in. Don't touch! Don't touch!" he said, and he turned and walked through the Great Hall, with his hands clasped behind his back. This was a Sunday morning in March, and the place was empty. His eyes swept the high, vaulted, train-station ceiling and ran down the grimy walls. He said, "Note the great space, the classical reminiscences, in 1911 style. We're going to sandblast. Shall we go to the Gyppies?" As he would have done twenty-five years ago, he went first to the halls of Egyptian art. His eye was caught by a stone relief of sailors in action. "People say that Egyptian art is pattern-repetitive," he said. "It isn't. Look at that rope disappear and reappear beyond the sail. This was utter realism to them ... . Look here ... ." The god Amun, from the Temple of Amun, at Karnak—pure gold, seven inches high."That's one of the best pieces in the joint. How would you like to own him?" Hoving walked on through a roomful of Egyptian gold until a jewel casket that belonged, in 1900 B.C., to the Princess Sit Hat-Hor Yunet arrested his attention. He said,"Talk about Art Nouveau, Mies van der Rohe, or anything at all, this is just as beautiful as any piece of furniture made throughout history." In the Chapel of Ra-em-Kui, he stopped before a wall decorated with beasts."Look at those horn shapes," he said."That couldn't have been done by a people who had any written language but thehieroglyphic. If any other museum in this country had this chapel alone, it would consider itself to have an Egyptian collection." The government of the United Arab Republic has given the United States a temple from Dendur, below the Aswan Dam, in gratitude for the American money that helped save Abu Simbel. American museums were competing for the temple at that time, and Hoving wanted it very much. The stone of the temple is porous, and vulnerable to erosion in a humid climate. Hoving had had a new two-million-dollar wing designed (and approved by the Museum's trustees) just to hold the temple. As conceived by Hoving, the walls of the new wing would be sheer glass, so that the temple would be visible—most dramatically when illuminated at night—from Fifth Avenue and from the surrounding acreage of Central Park. Meanwhile, the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, his chief competitor, wanted to put the temple outdoors, on the bank of the Potomac."They think they're going to dip it in something," Hoving said."In our vast, glass case, it would glow like a work of art, which it is. That temple makes me so nervous I can't sleep." (It has since been awarded to the Metropolitan Museum. )

Hoving wandered on through the Museum without pattern or plan, and kept quoting Rorimer: "What are the three things you like best? Pick three." Picking his own in the Ancient Near Eastern collection, he stopped by a sculpture in heavy black diorite. It had been carved from a cube, and very little of the cube had been removed in order to reproduce the likeness of Gudea, ruler of Lagash. "Look at that little black atom bomb," Hoving said. "That is one of the few pieces here I would take off and go lumping down the track with. This entire Ancient Near Eastern collection has been built up since the mid-nineteen-fifties. Look at that Syrian bull. How would you like to have that and touch it every day? When you consider that theseSassanian pieces weren't here ten years ago, you can see the sort of thing that can be done. People think this Museum is loaded, but I don't think we have enough. We should develop the pre-Columbian collection. Do you know how many great Nabataean bronzes we have? None. There may be stuff we have no idea of the existence of. The notion that we're supposed to collect only masterpieces is a little bit false. Concepts of masterpieces change. We're collecting for five hundred years from now. We're after the top quality, but since the Museum is a great encyclopedia of man's achievement, we also collect backup material—footnotes and appendices to great chapters in art history. Every great treasure needs a supporting cast. Come on upstairs. I'll show you what I mean." A minute later, Hoving stood in a roomful of Rembrandts. The Museum has so many Rembrandts that they go around a corner and out into an antechamber as well. Hoving's attention settled on "Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer," which Rorimer bought for two million three hundred thousand dollars, and in which Aristotle wears over his shoulder a blue-gold and almost iridescent chain of honor, presumably given to him by Alexander the Great. "We have thirty-two Rembrandts," Hoving said. "The collection was outstanding before the 'Aristotle' arrived. But reaching out for it was important, because the 'Aristotle' became the preeminent Rembrandt in the collection. Look at that chain. That alone is worth two million three. We hate to put that figure down anywhere, but all you can say is—it was worth it. Look at the thought, the loneliness, in that human, moving face. When I learned the other day that the National Gallery had bought that Leonardo—the 'Ginevra de' Benci'—for six million dollars, I couldn't sleep all night. We should have reached for it. The reputation of the Metropolitan has always been based on its power to acquire things without reserve. A museum can lose that sort of knife-edge. It's a matterof attitude. If you lose that one day of going for the great thing, you can lose a decade. Any trustee should be able to write a check for at least three million dollars and not even feel it. We are a collecting institution, and mobility is the only thing that wins in this game of collecting—making a decision and moving out. If I live to the year 2000, before I die there will be a painting sold for twenty-five million—well, a work of art, not necessarily a painting." He stopped for a moment before two other Rembrandts—"Man with a Magnifying Class" and "Lady with a Pink"—and said that in his opinion they were "on a level" with the "Aristotle." Close by was a painting called "Old Woman Cutting Her Nails." "That's not a Rembrandt," Hoving said. "It's probably Nicolaes Maes. The label says, 'Signed and dated Rembrandt, 1648.' There are subtleties in the museum business, let me tell you. Do you want to know what quality is? Come look at this." He took off as if he were a floorwalker on his way to the Hickey-Freeman suits. Finally, he stopped before a van Eyck, showing, in two panels, the Last Judgment and the Crucifixion, with green country, behind the cross, reaching away to snow-covered mountains. "In my opinion, this is A No, i in the Flemish collection," he said. "Why? Just look at it. The color. The drama. Possibly it is not van Eyck. The Alps bother me. Whatever it is, it is a great painting. Do you want to see my favorite picture in the Museum? This way. You know, people say art is long and life is fleeting. In my opinion, it is the other way around. Mummius bought all the great treasures of Lysippus and Praxiteles. Nothing remains. We don't have a single thing from the workshop, of Praxiteles. Nothing is preserved from the vaunted collections of Rome. Private collections disappear quickest of all. You have to band together to last, and this is one of the arguments for a big museum. There it is—the Havemeyer Degas. Isn't that something?" He was standing in a roomful of French Impressionists,and his gaze was fixed on Degas's "Woman with Chrysanthemums," his own subjective choice as the treasure of treasures in the Museum. "There is something about it—I can't explain it, I don't know how to describe it," he said. "Keep looking at it. You have to stand here and hang into it. Absorb its nature. Forget the label. Ask yourself questions. Look at the thought in the woman's face. What is she thinking? What is she about to say? Everything clicks in this painting. It has classical assurance. Just as a flower piece, it is staggering. It's, for me, got everything." He then walked away quickly, and, on his way out of the room, paused a moment in front of the full-lipped woman in Renoir's "By the Seashore" He said, "Look at the difference between this Renoir and that turgid portrait over there—when he began to sell out." He waved a thumb at Renoir's "Mme. Tilla Durieux." Then he went around a couple of corners and stopped at Cézanne's "Man with a Straw Hat" and, near it, Monet's "La Grenouillère" and "The Green Wave." All three were identified as having come from the Havemeyer Collection. "What an eye Mrs. Havemeyer had!" Hoving said. "She picked the best of the best. Wow! What an eye! All the ones that make you thump forward. Come look at this Goya." He moved like a ray through several walls until he stood before "A City on a Rock," in which a city stands on a butte above a battle scene of terrible bloodshed and burning flesh. "That's a stunning picture," Hoving said. "I don't know what it's all about. It made a great impression on me when I was fifteen years old. Some people think that it isn't a Goya, that it's too loose, but since it's a Havemeyer, I'd give it the benefit of the doubt. How many incorrectly attributed pieces there are in the Museum depends on who you talk to. With a million and a half things in the house, there have to be some errors. Look at these drawings." He was now walking through a temporary show of Goya drawings. "Our collection of Goya drawings is just sickeninglygreat," he went on. "About ninety per cent of all our prints and drawings are kept in storage, but don't let that mislead you. One of the great myths about the Museum is that lurking below the main floor are fabulous treasures. You bring most of them up and show them and—ickkk" He doubled back on himself and was soon standing before three enormous battle scenes—each on about a hundred and seventy-five square feet of canvas—by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. He said that he had bought them for the Museum in 1965, he was not sure where. His eyebrows moved up and down like brushes, somehow carry ing the implication that he had walked out of Italy on stilts, with these great canvases rolled around his legs. "The Museum has never done anything slightly illegal," he said."And you had better believe that. We are no more illegal in anything we have done than Napoleon was when he brought all the treasures to the Louvre. Our scope is excellent, but if I were to tell you what we want most, prices would go up—keep that in mind. Our collecting is done in secrecy. In the world of art, drop a spoon in Cleveland and ten seconds later they hear about it in Munich. Are you beginning to feel why I like coming back to the Museum? In The Cloisters, I was surrounded by objects—things, rather than people. I needed to get away from it for a while. After Jim Rorimer died, the six youngest trustees of the museum became a committee to choose a new director. As a trustee ex officio, I advised them not to get someone young, because a young man probably couldn't stay with it for thirty years. They brought this up again when they hired me, and all I could say to them was that it is one of the onuses of the board of trustees to decide when to get rid of a director. I don't really know what I'm going to do. Flamboyant promises come out during political campaigns, but, hell, the Museum has a fine structure and its intentions have been clear since it was chartered in 1870. We collect, preserve, exhibit, and educate. Myjob is to make the Museum sensitive to its time and to people living in that time. When I see an area where I want to collect—maybe because I see a gap, maybe because a great piece has come on the market—my only standard will have to be over-all quality. I'll have to think very deeply about what the work of art does, not only in its aesthetic nature but in its historical and humanistic nature—how it sums up its time, how it expresses its creator. You build with an eye to having as few gaps as possible, and you try to fill some of your own gaps as well. God knows, I have plenty of them—prints, Oriental art, American painting, American sculpture. My expertise is medieval, but I hope that I know quality. Jim Rorimer was a medievalist, but that didn't stop him. From collecting Rembrandts, for example. There's another kind of gap I'd like to bridge, too—the one that exists between museums and universities. The relationship is now one of some suspicion on both sides. Museum people think of professors as too theoretical, dull, chained to an iconographical point of view, immersed in photographs, lacking in connoisseurship. University people think of museum people as dilettantes, not well trained and bent toward social activity. In Europe, the museum man is more on the level of the professor. We have good people and we need more. We should have endowed chairs here, and a scholarly journal. We need a firmer foundation of scholarship. The Museum has a great scholarly contribution to make. On the popular side, we have to find a better way to educate the people who come in here—thirty-six thousand on a Sunday afternoon alone. We need some kind of storefront, a place near the door where they can go and, through modern media, be prepared for the task of looking, and for the scope of what we have. In the age of television, the contemplative attitude that people once took before paintings has left us. You don't have to be Marshall McLuhan to figure that out. The way to get people to see the paintings now is totell them what they're looking at. I'm not a great fan of our tape-recorded guides. They don't go far enough. I'd like to put in a system of jacks under each painting, each work of art, of major importance. There could be a jack for religious symbolism, a jack for quick biography of the artist, a jack for general history, another for technique. You plug yourself into the jacks and learn as much as you want to. To set up something like that throughout the Museum might cost several hundred thousand dollars, but that's nothing. In the decorative arts, the hyper-ideal is to show things to people as if they had them in their hands. That's all I can say. Now I have to go do it. Gene Moore, who does windows at Tiffany, is coming here to do a display of Greek gold, silver, and jewels. I'd like to do that sort of thing throughout the place—use industrial designers, interior decorators. As a general thing, we should be unobtrusive, but in the past we have been so unobtrusive that objects have suffered for it. Also, we've been criticized for not having enough shows, and that's right. We're about to do one called 'In the Presence of Kings: We have twenty-two hundred objects, from all over the Met, that are known to have been intimately associated with rulers. About six hundred of them will be in the exhibition. We have Marie Antoinette's dog kennel. I'm going to do the tape for the 'King' show myself. I'll improvise it." He stopped and looked up at Salvador Dali's "Crucifixion," and an expression of distaste came over his face. "A remarkable example of modern Spanish painting," he said, blinking three times, rapidly.

The empty rooms were suddenly filled with the sound of footsteps, and a group of men and women walked past with an assistant to Hoving whose name is Harry Parker. "Actors," Hoving explained. "They're rehearsing fragments of plays that they will do in front of paintings: Pirandello in front of Pollock, 'Phèdre' among the Greek amphorae—that sort of thing. Peoplewill just come upon them unexpectedly; nothing will be scheduled. It's Harry's idea. I don't know the point of it, but I know it will work. Come look at this Bingham ..." The canvas, by George Caleb Bingham (1811-79), shows two men in a canoe on a smooth river, with a dark lupine animal in the bow, and is called"Fur Traders Descending the Missouri." "This will stack up to any painting done in Europe in that period," Hoving continued. "People have been over-Europeanized. The expatriate influence is still on us. Americans, dissatisfied with American life, went to Europe, and praised what they saw. They had no eye for what had gone on here. Two hundred years from now, people will look all this over and reëvaluate it for what it is. It will all reshuffle itself." He drifted on into the first of several rooms full of modern American paintings, stopped to adjust a cushion on a Mies van der Rohe chair, and looked for a moment out of a window that faced Central Park. Two bicyclists, riding side by side, moved north up the Park drive. "What three things do you like best?" he said, and he turned to face Larry Poons' "Tristan da Cunha," a particularly effective piece of optical art—many pink eggs on a bright-orange field—which cannot be closely observed without a certain optical pain. "Most Op Art is mechanical and not subtle," Hoving said. "This one captures you and draws you within it. Take any still-life painter from the Dutch to Cézanne. They're just putting things onto canvas. There's no reason it can't be done this way." He crossed the room to Jackson Pollock's "Autumn Rhythm," which to an unsympathetic eye could appear to be a drop cloth over which a ceiling was painted black, brown, and gold by a man with a shaking hand. "This is a great painting," Hoving said. "It takes a long time to figure out why. You know, the Japanese once did ceramics that they deliberately broke. They would make a crack in a perfect pot. It fascinated them—one haphazard imperfection in something otherwise perfectlyformed. This Pollock has some of that element. It seems haphazard, but the forms are there. Look at that series of ellipses hunched in the center. When I look at it, I don't think. I just look at all the shapes. It's big. Limitless." Then he walked on, past twenty or thirty canvases, and stopped before Charles Demuth's "I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold," which possibly contains as much action as any work that could be done on canvas. The figure 5, repeated twice, emerges out of what appears to be a pattern of architectural fragments, an urban vortex, centered on a bright-red metallic engine that is hurtling who knows where. "In collecting modern paintings, we try to decide what are the best pieces that a man has done," Hoving said."Then we try to get the absolute best one—the best, without any question, that he has ever done. That's what it's all about: ' He went over to another window and stood there looking out for a moment before continuing. "I once had a secret wish to become director of the Museum of Modern Art, but I really couldn't be happy in any museum but this one," he said. "I couldn't stand being categorized into one era."

Copyright © 1966, 1967, 1968 by John McPhee

Table of Contents

1. Thomas P. F. Hoving
2. Euell Gibbons
3. M.I.T. Fellows in Africa
4. Robert Twynam, of Wimbledon
5. Temple Fielding

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