Duke University is the biggest thing in Durham, North Carolina these days. In the past, textile and electrical power industries were big, and the tobacco industry was huge here. Black entrepreneurs established corporations in banking and insurance. Today though, Duke University, and the Duke University Health System are far and away the city’s most dominant employers and the center of the Durham economy. Duke University Health System is why we were here in the first place. Pedro is a data scientist in the health industry and the conference topic was AI/machine learning in medicine.
After touring public art and murals in the morning, and Bennet Place in the afternoon, I was running out of daytime. I had my Uber driver drop me off at the University and I had plans to walk through the campus on my way back to the hotel room to meet Pedro as he left the conference.
I was on the West Campus, designed by architect Julian Abele. Gothic architecture rose up around me as I walked the paths to reach the front of the magnificent cathedral, which is humbly called “the Chapel.”
I made my way toward a covered walkway and was stopped dead in my tracks by bells. Just as I passed beneath the 210-foot bell tower, a waterfall of peals spilled over me. I was in awe. I stood there gaping, and someone who exited the very doors I had just photographed above, smiled at me and said as he walked past, “He works with 50 bells, the largest of which is over 11,000 pounds.” I gaped anew, “There is a person up there right now, making this music?” “Yes, a real person. It’s not a recording.” The music was entrancing, and lasted possibly ten minutes, with a break in there at some point to toll the hour. I took so many photos, but it wasn’t until the final 30 seconds that I thought to make a video to capture the bell sounds. Sadly, what I captured is the sign-off, and not as remarkable as the rest.
Once released from my trance, I walked through the arches and into the courtyard in front of the Chapel.
The magnificent building completed in 1932 was requested by founder James B. Duke and intended to be an anchor for the campus. It is affiliated with the Methodist Church but supports and advocates for all recognized religious groups on campus, including Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, and Protestant organizations and groups.
The cool and quiet of the Chapel had refreshed me, and I was ready to forge ahead into the brutal heat and humidity of August in North Carolina. At the entrance of the Chapel were some free maps of the West Campus. I grabbed one and plotted my route, marveling at the architecture around me as I walked.
There was much more to see but time was short and I needed to pick up the pace and get heading toward the hotel once more. It would have been quickest to walk right out on Chapel Drive, but I saw that the road paralleled the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, which was one of the main places I wanted to see while here. So I made the detour.
The gardens are 55 acres (22 ha) of landscaped beauty, open to all and visited by 300,000 people a year. I hope they got to see more of it than I did, because what I saw was wonderful. I walked through quickly, but of course I was forced to stop for a few photos.
I emerged from the campus on a road that led me directly to the hotel. It was a three-mile walk from the Chapel, through the gardens, and then into downtown. I was so hot and tired when I arrived! Pedro was waiting for me, but took the opportunity to study for his final project while he waited. Then we cooled down, changed into fresh clothes, and went off to eat tapas.