The Harvard Club Christmas Smoker
by Daniel J. Hoffheimer '73, Archivist and Past President '86-7
How many of our Cincinnati Harvard Clubbers remember when we had “The Christmas Smoker”? As time goes by, to quote that memorable song, fewer and fewer of us remain with such memories. “The Christmas Smoker,” or just The Smoker, was what we now more inclusively and equitably call our “Holiday Party”. The name has changed from time to time. I seem to recall “Winter Holiday,” “Winter Gathering,” and perhaps others. In the good old days, which were not always so good, The Smoker was always held in the lower level (basement) of The Queen City Club. That is the one on the SouthWEST corner of Fourth and Broadway, not the SouthEAST corner where The University Club stands. In recent years, we have often had our holiday party, whatever we have called it, upstairs at The U Club. When began the tradition of our Club staking out the basement of The QCC? Well, I remember being taken there in the mid-1960s as the guest of my father, Harvard Class of 1934, and he remembered The Smoker nowhere else. And, yes, people smoked, mostly cigars and pipes.
The records of our Club show that The Club held a dinner for all the Associated Harvard Clubs—at The QCC on December 13, 1902. Now, that would have been at the previous location of The QCC on Seventh Street, maybe in the basement, for today’s QCC building dates back to the 1920s. But if I had to guess, at that Harvard gathering in December 1902 there was the passing of cigars and much smoke was inhaled—by men only. The archives show that at that 1902 meeting of our Club “the singing was constant and generally on key.” We—that is, our Club--presented the Associated Harvard Clubs with “a very beautiful loving cup,” which was passed all around and admired by the group assembled. I wonder where that loving cup resides today? Each delegate was given an ash tray of the Rookwood Pottery. On it is inscribed the word “Veritas.” My grandfather must have been there, and I possess that ashtray. Again in 1910, the Christmas Smoker was hosted at The QCC, and this time the guests honored were the Law School’s football team, captained by Hamilton Fish ’10.
The oldest president of The Club whom I remember was Murray Seasongood, Class of Aughty-Augt. That’s 1900, not 2000. I remember Mr. Seasongood, Club president in 1917-18, telling me a story at The Smoker about my grandfather, Judge Harry Hoffheimer Sr., Harvard class of 1899. Mind you, my grandfather died in 1926 when my father was only 14. The list of past presidents reads like a who’s-who of Cincinnati literati. I also remember Neil H. McElroy (Secretary of Commerce in Eisenhower’s cabinet and CEO of P&G), William S. Rowe (CEO of Fifth Third Bank), James M.E. Mixter (Senior VP of Baldwin Piano), W. Rowell Chase, Thomas A. Bittenbender, Joseph S. Stern (CEO of U.S. Shoe), Donald I. Lowry, J. Rawson Collins, Lucian Wulsin, Jr.—names that mean a great deal to us older-timers. More recently, but still denizens of the basement of The QCC for The Smoker, were Judge Gilbert Bettman, Samuel M. Allen (Schools Committee Chair when I applied to Harvard and still on the job when I came home to work with him on the committee), Lawrence W. Ward (architect of our Scholarship Fund), E. Pope Coleman, Harris Weston, and many more. I believe every Club member today should know something about each of these men, and others. Not all of them smoked, but I would say that our Club still held The Smoker at The QCC until about the presidency of yours truly, Class of 1973, in 1986-87. I don’t remember when or why we left, but at some point, The QCC renovated its basement to its glamorous, and surely expensive, new fashion.
What about Radcliffe and the women?! Well, there were a few women in attendance at The Smoker, but before 1973, or thereabouts, Radcliffe had its own club, and that glorious history is beyond my present scope. The first woman president of the combined ranks was not until 1994-95, Sarah Raup Johnson MBA ’79, and by then, The Smoker had become the Holiday Party and we had probably left The QCC.
In those good old days, which were not always so good, our Club held its regular, and irregular, events at many places. They include, in addition to The QCC, The University Club, The Cincinnati Country Club, The Bankers Club, The Cincinnati Club, The Phoenix Club, The Faculty Club of the University of Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Gym Grounds (wherever they were), the Cincinnati Zoo, the Hyde Park Country Club, the Camargo Country Club, Losantiville Country Club, the Gibson House, and many others. For us older-timers who knew the old-timers, our memories are laced with visions of the basement of The QCC at “The Christmas Smoker.”