Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Statue of John Harvard

John Harvard Statue
Harvard Yard
Cambridge, Mass.

In any guided tour of historic Harvard Yard in Cambridge, Massachusetts one of the obligatory stops is the statue of John Harvard. This life-size bronze statue portrays a seated man dressed in a Puritan style of the early 17th century. Inscribed on the large pedestal supporting the statue is "John Harvard - Founder - 1638." The inscription is barely legible - perhaps purposely not repaired.

The tour guide will most assuredly point out - usually with glee - that this statue is commonly referred to as the "statue of the three lies". The first lie is John Harvard wasn't the founder of Harvard College. The college was already in existence when he died in Charlestown, Mass. in 1638, leaving the college his library and a sum of money. The second lie is the incorrect founding date - Harvard College was founded by the Massachusetts Great and General Court in 1636. The final lie is not so obvious. As no likeness of John Harvard existed the sculptor, Daniel Chester French, simply used a Harvard student as his model. The statue bears no resemblance to the real John Harvard.

One other thing of note about John Harvard's statue. It is considered good luck to touch his left foot, so over the years that foot has assumed a shine that the rest of the statue lacks. You can draw your own conclusions about what this might say about Harvard - but it does lead me to one definite conclusion. When researching history you can't always believe what you read, even in Harvard Yard.

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