Sifting Freshmen

The Faculty Sifting Freshmen. (Click anywhere on the photo to enlarge.)

As we again welcome freshmen this week for the 376th time, I thought you might enjoy two views of the process from a 1900 Harvard Lampoon in our collections. The first is entitled “Faculty Sifting Freshmen” showing the the College administation as a grizzled old gardener sifting potting soil.

The second is a little ditty entitled The Freshman’s Meditation. I may be wrong, but this ancient verse makes a neat little modern rap:

Click anywhere on the image to enlarge

Incoming freshmen take note: the chorus girls have entirely disappeared, and you shan’t have till next October “to make it up” should you decide to partake of the fizz.

Oh, those were the days…

I know you’ll all join me in welcoming the Class of 2016 to Cambridge, and the class of 2015 to Adams House.

Six Buildings

Ladies and Gentlemen:

As you know, we have been working madly away on a joint project with the HAA, Six Buildings That Shaped Harvard History.

Well, our work is finally done, after eight months trial and travail. The film will preview to the HAA Board tomorrow, and then be promoted worldwide to our alumni beginning in May, as the last official part of the 375th celebrations. With luck it will increase not only awareness of the FDR Suite & our mission, but also how fascinating an historical resource we have in the College that surrounds us.

Thus, may I present to you, our supporters, a special pre-premiere premiere of Six Buildings:

 

Six Buildings That Shaped Harvard History from Michael Weishan on Vimeo.

Note: the entire video is 36 minutes long, and may take some time to load on slower connections. For those of you wishing to skip about, click on the video, press play, then pause, allowing the film to fully load on your PC (the status bar will progressively go gray.) You may then skip about at will. In later editions, the film will be divided into six segments for quicker viewing. You may also unclick the “HD” button on the lower right for considerably faster, lower definition viewing.

Some People Read History. Others Make It.
Come make a little history: support the FDR Suite Foundation!

Harvard at 375… Make That 300

"At 7:45, nature took a turn for the worse. Just as students from Adams House — the only undergraduate House that had chosen a formal dress code for the occasion — prepared to march before the president, a downpour began. The torrent elicited a collective shriek and a sudden bloom of umbrellas," related the Harvard University Gazette. Photo courtesy the University Gazette.

Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but those of you not at Harvard this past Friday for the opening ceremonies of the 375th may have been in a happy majority. The weather, as we say in New England, was fouler than foul. A muggy 70º rain descended in the early afternoon, and turned into a steady wind-driven downpour by early evening. The large crowd of spirited alumni and students, packed into the Yard and Tercentenary Theater, soon turned the place into an unholy mess.  On today’s Six Buildings Tour, as we passed in front of Widener and witnessed the cleanup from the the previous night’s proceedings, one of our alums exclaimed: “I was at Woodstock. I was here last night. This was almost as bad.” Having missed both events, I can’t compare. I can only report I have never seen such destruction to the grounds. The grass in the entire Tercentenary Theater and large part of the Yard has disappeared into churned mud several inches deep.

As if to presage the dampened mood, this past Friday the Crimson issued a special edition: Harvard at 375: The Unclear Future. Less where-to-go than where we’ve been, the issue openly wondered: what next Harvard?

Despite the ankle deep mud in the Yard & the current national sturm und drang, I think we should take heart. This has, in fact, all happened before. The 300th Celebration, presided over by FDR in 1936, was so rain-sodden that top-hatted guests sloshed across planks hastily cast over flooded pathways, equally burdened by soon-soaked woolens as by a lingering Depression and the looming war in Europe.

FDR himself lightheartedly noted the troubled mood, both national and Harvardian as he began his address:

The roots of Harvard are deep in the past. It is pleasant to remember today that this meeting is being held in pursuance of an adjournment expressly taken one hundred years ago on motion of Josiah Quincy. At that time many of the alumni of Harvard were sorely troubled concerning the state of the Nation. Andrew Jackson was President. On the two hundred fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Harvard College, alumni again were sorely troubled. Grover Cleveland was President. Now, on the three hundredth anniversary, I am President.”

To go back a little further, in the words of Euripides:

“There be many shapes of mystery. And many things God makes to be, Past hope or fear. And the end men looked for cometh not, And a path is there where no man sought. So hath it fallen here.”

In spite of fears, Harvard and the Nation of which it is a part have marched steadily to new and successful achievements, changing their formations and their strategy to meet new conditions, but marching always under the old banner of freedom.

In the olden days of New England, it was Increase Mather who told the students of Harvard that they were “pledged to the word of no particular master,” that they should “above all find a friend in truth.”

That became the creed of Harvard. Behind the tumult and the shouting, it is still the creed of Harvard.

In this day of modern witch-burning, when freedom of thought has been exiled from many lands which were once its home, it is the part of Harvard and America to stand for the freedom of the human mind and to carry the torch of truth.

For centuries, the grand old saying, “The truth is great and will prevail,” has been a rock of support for persecuted men.

But it depends on men’s tolerance, self-restraint, and devotion to freedom, not only for themselves but also for others, whether the truth will prevail through free research, free discussion and the free intercourse of civilized men, or will prevail only after suppression and suffering—when none cares whether it prevails or not.

Love of liberty and of freedom of thought is a most admirable attribute of Harvard. But it is not an exclusive possession of Harvard or of any other university in America or anywhere else. Love of liberty and freedom of thought is as profound in the homes, on the farms and in the factories of this country as in any university. Liberty is the air Americans breathe. Our Government is based on the belief that a people can be both strong and free, that civilized men need no restraint but that imposed by themselves against abuse of freedom. Nevertheless, it is the peculiar task of Harvard and of every other university and college in this country to foster and maintain not only freedom within its own walls, but also tolerance, self-restraint, fair dealing and devotion to the truth throughout America.

A rain-soaked FDR on stage, speaking to Grenville Clark, '03, at Harvard's 300th in 1936. FDR would go on to say: " I am not, you will observe, conceiving of the University as a mere spectator of the great national and international drama in which all of us, despite ourselves, are involved. Here are to be trained not lawyers and doctors merely, not teachers and business men and scientists merely; here is to be trained in the fullest sense—man." Photo courtesy FDR Presidential Library and Museum

Many students who have come to Harvard in the past have left it with inquiring and open minds, ready to render service to the Nation. They have been given much and from them much has been expected. They have rendered great service.

It is, I am confident, of the inner essence of Harvard that its sons have fully participated in each great drama of our Nation’s history. They have met the challenge of the event; they have seen in the challenge opportunity to fulfill the end the University exists to serve.

As the Chief Executive of the Nation I bring to you the solicitation of our people. In the name of the American Nation I venture to ask you to cherish its traditions and to fulfill its highest opportunities.

We need in the days to come as we needed in the past from Harvard men like Charles William Eliot, William James, and Justice Holmes, who made their minds swords in the service of American freedom.

They served America with courage, wisdom and human understanding. They were without hatred, malice or selfishness. They were civilized gentlemen.

The past of Harvard has been deeply distinguished. This University will never fail to produce its due proportion of those judged successful by the common standard of success. Of such the world has need. But to produce that type is not the ultimate justification that you would make for Harvard. Rather do we here search for the atmosphere in which men are produced who have either the rare quality of vision or the ability to appreciate the significance of vision when it appears. Where there is vision, there is tolerance; and where there is tolerance, there is peace. And I beg you to think of tolerance and peace not as indifferent and neutral virtues, but as active and positive principles.

I am not, you will observe, conceiving of the University as a mere spectator of the great national and international drama in which all of us, despite ourselves, are involved. Here are to be trained not lawyers and doctors merely, not teachers and business men and scientists merely; here is to be trained in the fullest sense—man.

Harvard should train men to be citizens in that high Athenian sense which compels a man to live his life unceasingly aware that its civic significance is its most abiding, and that the rich individual diversity of the truly civilized State is born only of the wisdom to choose ways to achieve which do not hurt one’s neighbors.

I am asking the sons of Harvard to dedicate themselves not only to the perpetuation, but also to the enlargement of that spirit. To pay ardent reverence to the past, but to recognize no less the direction of the future, to understand philosophies we do not accept and hopes we find it difficult to share, to account the service of mankind the highest ambition a man can follow, and to know that there is no calling so humble that it cannot be instinct with that ambition; never to be indifferent to what may affect our neighbors; always, as Coleridge said, to put truth in the first place and not in the second; these I would affirm are the qualities by which the “real” is distinguished from the “nominal” scholar.

It is only when we have attained this philosophy that we can “above all find a friend in truth.” When America is dedicated to that end by the common will of all her citizens, then America can accomplish her highest ideals. To the measure that Harvard participates in that dedication, Harvard will be justified by her effort, her purpose, and her success in the fourth century of her life.

Such wise words, and much to take heart from.

The 400th Anniversary Celebrations are scheduled for June 2036. God willing, I will take part. I wonder who will speak, and if he, or she, is even born yet…

For now, there is no way to know. But still, would it be too much to ask for dry weather?

The Harvard TR Knew

As part of my  Six Buildings That Shaped Harvard History tour for the HAA coming up on the 15th and again on the 26th, I’ve been doing quite a bit of research on the development of Harvard’s architecture over the years. As part of this review I came across a remarkable photo, which  I wanted to share with you. It’s a view of Harvard looking south from the newly built tower of Memorial Hall, taken in 1874.

(Click on the photo to expand, then use your browser controls to zoom in even more. The photo is incredibly crisp and detailed – you can even see the masts of the cargo vessels on the Charles peeking (or peaking!) out over the rooftops. Even laundry drying in the backyard! NB: The names in parentheses indicate “future site of”.)

It takes a few minutes to get your bearings, as the landscape has so changed so dramatically, but this is almost exactly the Harvard that TR would come to know two years later. (The tree-lined street to the left is Quincy Street; the horizontal cross is Mass Ave.) What’s remarkable is how small the College remained up until that time – not terrifically different from the Colonial college of a hundred years earlier. A quaint Professors’ Row, a small Gothic Library, the odd hall and dormitory – just like many  private colleges scattered across the country even today. Interesting too is the welter of tiny frame dwellings that cluster the semi-industrial riverfront. These parcels would have to be acquired one at a time over the next forty years in order to build the Georgian River Houses we all know so well. (Not so surprisingly, it was a private Foundation of far-sighted alumni, concerned that the College would have no room to grow, who started buying up the riverfront property a decade before the Administration came to the same conclusion. The parcels were later transferred to the College at cost.) Of dear Adams, only Apthorp House suggests the structures to come. (TR’s own lodgings, in a simple white frame structure long demolished to build the I.A.B (Malkin), is one of the jumble of  frame buildings visible beneath the word “Eliot.”

What’s fascinating about all this, and what forms the basis of my tour, is how much Harvard’s architecture charts the College’s growth from tiny divinity school in the wilderness to worldwide center of learning, and how, given slightly different circumstances and the odd historical twist, Harvard might have turned out VERY differently from the one we know today.

While the tour on the 15th is sold out, the one on the 26th still has some spots, so do join us if you are in Cambridge.

Some People Read History. Others Make It.
Come make a little history: support the FDR Suite Foundation!

The Ad World

It’s been said you can tell an age by its advertising, and to the extent we possess the records, the adage seems to be true: ancient graffiti on the walls in Pompeii bring 2000-year-old elections alive like no tract from Cicero ever could;  miniature manikins – dressed in the latest crinoline and lace and sent from Paris to the Colonies as ads for the newest fashions – reveal more about 18th century costume than a whole page of pallid text.

Fortunately for us, the world of FDR’s Harvard is ripe with similar examples that give tone and timbre to the age – if you know where to look. To that end, we’ve been acquiring actual periodicals from January to June 1904 for the Suite (including, too, a spectacular bound copy of the Crimson for 1900-1901) so that a visitor might casually pick up Harpers Magazine or Colliers, and flick through the pages just as if they had popped in for a few hours in May of 04.

I wanted to show you a few of my favorites pieces from this collection, which to my mind at least, make you realize how much the world has truly changed.

This first one is a classic.

What else can I say? Papa told me so!

We tend to forget too that personal hygiene has been revolutionized in the last century. Imagine a time with no deodorants?

And, as we are blistering through another baking summer, how about a world of binding clothes and no air conditioning?

And here’s something that totally fascinated me. Throughout the Crimson pages, I found example after example of this ad:

Beyond the name, which I thought totally cool for a cigarette (Egyptian Deities was the model for an upstart American knock-off, Camels) there was the fact that many of these ads simply proclaimed “Egyptian Deities” without a single word of explanatory byline –  the brand was so famous at Harvard to need no further introduction.

(Just like another ad I found again and again in the Crimson: Harvard University Training Tables: 15 Bow Street. YOU ALL KNOW YOUNG! “No I don’t know Young,” I’m grumbling to myself, frustrated, “tell me who he is!”).

In this case however, a thought occurred:  Lapes and Frank both smoked. Surely there would have been cigarettes in the Suite. Could some of these Deities cigarettes have possibly survived from that time? If so, what a coup to track some down!

Well, a quasi-coup, as it turned out…

Sans cigarettes, but an actual 1900 Deities tin nonetheless, procured on EBay for $15, now destined for the Suite!

How’s that for divine intervention?

Or perhaps, more aptly, ad inspiration?

All brought about by folks like you.

Some People Read History. Others Make It.
Come make a little history: support the FDR Suite Foundation!





Extra, Extra! John the Orangeman, Revealed!

John the Orangeman, Harvard's Mascot, as he appeared in FDR's day. This is the picture we have in the Suite. If you look carefully in the lower left-hand corner (this image, as all the others in the piece, can be expanded by double clicking the picture) you will see another source of John's financial success: by 1900 or so, he had moved into selling copyrighted souvenir photos.

Without fail, whenever I give a tour of the FDR Suite, someone asks me who’s that bearded man with dancing eyes, merrily peering out from the frame on the mantle piece. There’s  something about the sparkle of his expression that simply captivates visitors. My inevitable reply: “That’s John the Orangeman, Harvard’s mascot. He sold fruit to the students at a time when citrus was a rarity, and become hugely popular with the undergraduates. He and his cart, pulled by a donkey named Radcliffe, were a feature of the College for over five decades.”

A thorough answer, but not a very satisfactory one. Who was this man, really, and how did he become so popular with the students? I decided to do a bit of digging in the Harvard Archives to try and find out.

Well, let me tell you: In the spirit of the soon to be demised News of the World, there seems to be more to this story than first meets the eye!

To begin with, it’s important for you to understand that John was not just popular, he was hugely popular.  The archives have more than six folders of Orangeman pictures dating back to the 1870s, many of them official photos, and a whole other file of clippings, memorabilia – even two short published biographies written by former students.  Here’s one of my favorite photos from the Archives collection, showing a parade passing through Harvard Square. (The view is looking east down Mass Ave. The low building right of middle is where Holyoke Center now stands. The tall building at center is extant and holds Leavitt and Peirce.)

This is a truly spectacular photo for many reasons. For one, the level of historical detail is amazing; notice, for example, the maze of telegraph and telephone wires almost clouding the sky. We forget that not everything in the "good old days" was quite so pretty. The picture is not captioned or dated, but judging from the bunting, the summer dress of the paraders, and the two top-hatted men marching behind the wagon each with a "9" on the front, I would guess this to be the late 1890s. (Again, click to expand; see reader's comment below for exact dating.) Courtesy, this and following photos: Harvard University Archives.

At first glance, this picture doesn’t seem to have much bearing on our story. But look again at the lower right side: just passing out of view, there are John and Radcliffe, cart and all, being hauled down the street on some sort of large wagon, the Victorian equivalent of a parade float.

So, famous indeed. Here’s the official bio:

John and his first cart, about 1881

Born John Lovett in Kenmere, County Kerry, into a farming family about 1833, John left Ireland during the famine, first for Boston, then later to Cambridge, where he took odd work. Then one day, finding himself with nothing to do, he went to “over an the Carmon to wartch the byes play barl.” (The transliteration of the brogue is from one of his student biographers.) Seeing that the players were thirsty after the game, he offered to fetch them a jug of water from his nearby flat (laced with “lemon” and “molasses”, as he put it)  for which the students were quite graceful, requesting another. He complied, and the students, wishing to thank him, passed around a hat, collecting  about two dollars, along with a suggestion that bringing fruit to their rooms later might prompt similar reward. Thus, a career was born. John began selling various small items to the students, mostly bananas and oranges. Each day he made his way into Boston to buy at the wharves. By mid-morning, basket in hand, he would be in the college yard, “depending on stray customers between the recitations and lectures; in the afternoon, if the weather was warm, he visited the ball fields; while in the evening he made his tours through the dormitories.” So grateful were the students that Class of 1881 gave him a handcart: “They warnted to give me a darnkey too but I be afraid the Farculty mek a row about havin’ ‘im in the Yard.”  At first an overzealous Yard Manager prohibited the cart from entering, but petitioned by the students, the Faculty allowed finally allow John and his cart admittance – the only person ever permitted, before or since, to sell goods in the Yard. As age advanced, so did rheumatism, and seeing John in distress, the class of 1891 bought him a donkey and cart. In winter, Radcliffe the donkey pulled a small sleigh. Soon John, with or without Radcliffe, was not only selling goods but making the round of the various football games, brought by the team to locations as far away as New York, where he cheered tirelessly for his school. (On state occasions like the Harvard-Yale game, Radcliffe was decked out with special crimson bloomers.) Fame and increasing fortune brought John a wife, plus a three-story two-family in Cambridge, which amazed student visitors with its size and comforts, given his humble occupation.  Stories about John abound, but an oft-quoted one was this:

John and Radcliffe in winter garb in front of Massachusetts Hall.

One day a visitor accosted John  in front of Hastings Hall, and wishing to draw him into conversation, pointed to the College seal on the iron gate and asked him what Veritas meant. John bowed respectfully and replied: “I’m not sure fr’ind, but I guess it means ‘to hell with Yale.’”

John Lovett died in 1906 at the ripe old age of 81.

That’s the official story… Neat, pat and tidy.

But why was he so popular? There were a host of other notable characters at FDR’s Harvard, but none quite so beloved. What was John’s secret? His biographers often cite to his jovial personality:

“You all know him, Old John, who is the first to welcome the Freshmen in the autumn, and the last to shake hands with the Seniors on Commencement and perhaps drink him God-speed from a flowing bowl of punch. He well remembers the time your father was in College; will tell you where he roomed, how he lived, who his friends were; perhaps he will even whisper in your ear of a narrow escape he had, in the early part of his Freshman years, from being asked to resign. Is there one who has not tasted and orange or banana from the little white handcart?”

John and his cart under the Washington Elm which once stood on Mass. Ave across from the Common.

Also to his integrity: “For those who know him well he is rather an interesting study, though his brogue is a trifle hard to comprehend at times. One of the best traits of his character is that he can never be induced to speak ill of anyone. Mingling as he does with the men of various sets and cliques, he necessarily hears more or less slander, but if asked his opinion about a man, his only comment is ‘Aw, he’s a good fellah, frind.'”

And on and on…

But then I came across one very curious sentence: “Who has not been comforted, when sorely pressed by creditors, by John’s ready willingness to trust him for any amount?”

Ah ha… The plot thickens. Perhaps it was more than just a juicy orange that gave John his appeal. Still, a bit of money-lending on the side couldn’t account for such lasting hail-and-well-met. I was about to give up, thwarted by the silence of the past, when just before the closing hour,  I came across this picture stuck to the back of one of the folders. Unlike other pictures of John, many of which were “official” shots reproduced again and again, this was distinctly different, and one I had never seen before:

Again, there is no caption, other than to note that the photo came as part of the estate of a member of the class of ’01. The scene’s obviously been professionally staged in some photographer’s studio, for reasons now forgotten – perhaps as a private memento (or perhaps, even more rare, as a publicity photo for Brown of Harvard, which premiered in Boston in 1906, and in which John played a bit roll as himself, just a few months before his death.)  But however clouded the origins of the picture, its subject is certainly straight-forward enough, and meant to evoke a familiar scene – at least for those in the know: a grinning student, having polished off the bottle on the table, holding a cigar large enough to choke a horse, looks gratefully at a still imbibing John the Orangeman, empty liquor bottles littering the floor and more poking from of his basket – the very one supposedly full of fruit!

Hail and well met, indeed!

So if I remind you, dear reader, that Cambridge was dry in those years, and that the only alcohol to be had was by going to Boston, does not the reason for John’s immense and continued popularity across five decades of thirsty students suddenly become crystal clear?

I’m thinking John bought more than oranges on those daily trips to the wharves, and sold more than fruit on his nightly rounds.

20-years gone but not the least forgotten: the Class of 1881 chose to feature John on its 20th Reunion Medal. Acquired just last week, the medal will hang on John's picture in the Suite.

And remember that admiring bit about John never betraying a confidence? Neither it seems, did his “byes.” In fact, the whole thing is one long inside-joke, known by all, and advertised by none, across 50 classes of Harvard men – the don’t-ask-don’t-tell of its age. If it hadn’t been for this one surviving photo, John’s open secret might be a secret still.

Of course, I can’t prove any of this.

But it fits, doesn’t it?

Can’t you just feel it?

It’s important to note that this potential revelation doesn’t at all reflect badly on John. (He wasn’t selling booze to minors. There was no drinking age in those days, and the only law he was skirting was the selling of liquor in the town of Cambridge.) Nor does this diminish in any way the genuine regard generations for Harvard men had for this beloved character. On the contrary.  In the end what we get is the image of a cunning Irish Robin Hood fighting to outwit the dastardly Sherwellian forces of the Cambridge establishment for the benefit of the (not so) poor inhabitants, and I’ll admit, if true, this vision brings me a quiet satisfaction. Often the view of our Harvard past becomes too perfect, too polished, too mannered. The memories are all noble, the deeds all gallant, the people, upright & upstanding. This little bit of Irish roguery, abetted and encouraged by grateful generations of scheming undergraduates, is just the kind of thing to add a welcome bit of humanity to the tale.

So, here’s raising a glass to you, John.

Some People Read History. Others Make It.
Come make a little history: support the FDR Suite Foundation!