The approach of midterms week means Dante’s Inferno is to be found in the sweaty hands of freshmen this week. Urban Spelunker Gavin McGown was not content to simply flip pages: he was jonesing to explore! Mudd’s basement is a dark and terrifying world Dante surely would have assigned to heathens and traitors.
Huddled as it is against the northeast corner of campus, the unapologetic Seeley W. Mudd Hall extends itself many stories aboveground, a bulwark against ignorance, home to generations of Columbian engineers. Its characteristic miner of shrewd and pinched face embodies the literal and figurative steel of the structure, casting a disapproving sneer at those filing in and out of the building at whose entrance he stands attendant, as if he sensed in them intellectual pursuits directing them towards weak disciplines (gender studies, pure mathematics, political “science”).
Finding myself, however, at that unaesthetic edge of the campus, I ignored the statue’s contemptuous glare that seemed to counsel me to abandon all hope, and marched brazenly on through the doors that opened, supermarket-like, at my advance. No Limbo eased the passage between light and darkness: I crossed, so to speak, the river Acheron (descending a staircase infected with the sound of an unceasing and ominous mechanical whirring), and found myself immediately confronted by a dusty and dreary vision as the first of many basements, bathed in a sallow light, extended on before my eyes.
Like most buildings pressed against the northern end of campus, Mudd contains within itself multiple subterranean floors not graced by the footfalls of eager undergraduates—falling, as it seems, far outside the quotidian paths of almost every Columbian. The basement was unlit save for the lugubrious mercy of fluorescent tubes and untouched by sound other than my own bold step striking the linoleum whose only companions are the silence and the dust. I strode past doors behind whose frosted glass one might expect to hear the screams of a recreant engineer tortured by some one of the Malebranche, but instead I saw signs decrying the danger of entering and presence of hazardous materials, or, alternatively, pointing out to curious passers-by that “Nano Tubes ‘R’ Us.”
Finding myself beset by thirst from breathing the air of that place—stripped of any scent that would suggest life and urgency, stagnant and slothful, unventilated and unmoved—I looked around for any water-fountain to relieve me in my moment of need, but found only one that had gone uncleaned, it seemed, for decades, graced by two plastic cups in which rotted away the remains of some engineer’s indulgence. Not all hope quite yet abandoned, I found at last the elevator and, starved for clear air, emerged from the labyrinth, at last, to see the stars.