I don’t know how many times I’ve walked over the top of Strom Thurmond Institute. Technically, I knew it was there, because I’d seen the outdoor amphitheater that leads to one of the entrances. But even when I was 18 and suffering through a semester or two of college, I knew it was there. I’m pretty sure I ran by it, in a rain storm, on the way back from my dad’s office. If you cut behind the library to go from the Brooks Center to the engineering buildings, you go right by it.
But for once, I decided to stop and take a good look. And you know what? For the last fifteen years, I had no idea there was a “back side” to the Institute. When I wandered out on the walkway that doubles as Strom Thurmond’s roof (remember, I’m referring to the Institute, not the Senator himself), I had no idea what I was in for.
To my left was the Cooper library, and to my right… there seemed to be open air, though they have some fancy fencing to keep you from falling over the side. They don’t even trust you not to put your limbs through the fencing, judging by the extra layer of wire, on the other side. Could a child even get their head through some of those? I don’t think a college student would try it, even when drunk. They’d just climb over. Or flop over, I suppose.
And then I looked out over the fencing. I have NEVER looked out over this side, so I had no idea any of it was there. And since I’m not architecturally minded, I have no idea why those white beams are there, except they look like they should be wound with vines, like in an arbor. Or maybe they’re to catch the drunk college students, when they climb over the fence. You never know.
Looking down the stairs, that solitary tree reminded me of the White Tree of Gondor (except for the fact that it wasn’t white), in its solitariness. I don’t know what kind of tree it is, the plaque doesn’t say, but since I know that the Institute was built back in the 1980’s, the plaque must refer to the tree, not the building. Logic, people.
The two wings of the building remind me of a coliseum, with walkways on the second and third level, and a few extra entrances into the Institute. Its official name, by the way, is the Strom Thurmond Institute of Government and Public Affairs.
For any non-Americans or non-South Carolinians, Strom Thurmond was once the governor of South Carolina, served in the United States Senate for 47.5 years, and was the oldest Senator ever (retiring at age 100). His alma mater was Clemson University, so that’s where he wanted the Institute to be located.
As I went back up the steps, and worked all those stair-stepper muscles, I really liked how the hand rails on the inner side of the stairs reflected the design of the rails on the upper levels. It’s a nice design, when you aren’t distracted by the extra layer of wire fence. And when you reach the top of the steps, the Cooper Library is framed in your view.
Then, across the flagway I went, and noticed the funny “bump” under the fencing. Time to go see what that was, though I was sure that I knew. I’d finally arrived at the Strom Thurmond Institute entrance that I’m used to seeing.
Very stately looking, with its nice little amphitheater for… political gatherings? Would anyone dare to have an outdoor concert in such a hallowed location? I think they’d stick to the other outdoor amphitheater, the one in front of the library. You know, where they filmed the Clemson Harlem Shake. Yeah, I don’t get that, either.
I read that there’s a museum inside the Institute, possibly even an art gallery, along with all of Thurmond’s amassed writings (in 100 years, he had plenty of time to write). Maybe I’ll have to go in there, one day.