“Of Cages and Lions”: A New Exhibit in the Class of 1945 Library

photo credit: John Blackwell

A new exhibit on the ground floor of the library coincides with the grand opening of the new field house on Saturday, January 27. The exhibit looks back on Exeter’s history of developing athletic and fitness facilities, beginning with the very modest (and barely adequate) rooms rented in the 1870s in downtown Exeter. That situation was greatly improved by the construction of the Academy’s first gym, built around 1884. However, the growing importance of interscholastic athletics in the life of the Academy led to a need for better facilities. This need was met by the construction of the Thompson Gymnasium (1918) and Thompson Cage (1929).

The 1884 Gymnasium as viewed from Tan Lane, with Soule, Abbot, and the third Academy Building in the background.

The exhibit looks at the benefactor of those buildings, the colorful Colonel William Boyce Thompson (PEA 1890). He was a rough kid from Montana with an amateur zeal for sports and a respect for the ways physical exertion can mold young people’s character. The exhibit focuses chiefly on the Cage, which served Exeter from 1929 to 2016, since it was a beloved campus icon and it had to be torn down to make way for our new state-of-the-art facility. The Cage’s dirt floor, its creaky mezzanine-level wooden running track, atmospheric lighting, cathedral-like heights and seasonal netting implanted indelible memories in generations of Exonians.

“Of Cages and Lions” will be on view through March.