Exeter Deconstructed: the Amen cupola

The school we love in detail. 

Ben Harriton
January 23, 2024

Perched high above campus, on the roof of a dormitory named after one of Exeter’s esteemed graduates and principals, Harlan P. Amen (class of 1875), sits a cupola. Constructed alongside Wentworth and Cilley halls in 1925, Amen Hall was part of a transformative era for Exeter that increased residential capacity by 193 students. 

In October 1929, the dorm’s vacant cupola became the center of an ambitious wireless communication project led by licensed student operators Fred H. Gilbert ’30, Robert Langmuir ’31 and Malcolm G. Moses ’32. With support from Exeter resident Henry S. Shaw, equipment for a shortwave wireless station operating under Gilbert’s call number was placed in the Amen cupola. A month later, the station received its own call letters, WICOW. It relayed radiograms — free to Exeter students and teachers — on Wednesdays and Saturdays with a nearly 60% success rate. The station connected Exonians with others across the U.S. and in countries like Sweden, England and Belgium. One reached as far as Navy Admiral Richard E. Byrd in the Antarctic.

As technology advanced, the cupola’s role evolved. The radio station eventually fell silent, and the cupola, once a bustling communication center, became a quiet observer of the changing campus land-scape. Though no longer sending or receiv-ing radio signals, its presence remains a tangible link to the past — a reminder of an era when airwaves were the gateway to the world, connecting people in ways previously unimaginable.  

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the Winter 2024 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.