If you are laboring under the misapprehension that what makes Harvard sospecial is a combination of acedemic excellence, noted faculty, high caliber students and great libraries you are sooo wrong. You are paying $7500 to go to this glorified landgrant college because it is the oldest college in the country; you are paying for, in the words of Tevye, the Milkman, TRADITION!
Ah, tradition, 342 years of it, give or take a few. Harvard's traditions grow like the ivy on its buildings -- somethimes so thick that they obscure what's underneath. When you get here you will no doubt be curious to wade about in some of this tradition that you are paying for, perhaps even make a little of your own, but where to go to find out what it's all shout?
You could go on a regular Crimson Key Tour. These are very nice, very traditional (your uncle who went here probably led them when he was an undergrad), but after all, sort of bland. The Crimson Key Society, which runs these officially-approved tours, makes the University attractive and awe-inspiring. But after that, if you have any more curiosity than a hermit crab, you'll want to find out what the place is really like.
With this goal in mind, let us be your Virgil and take you through Harvard and a few of its underground traditions.
As you enter Johnston Gate from Mass. Ave. you will be facing scenic, park-like Harvard Yard. Well, not so scenic this year, because they will be digging up the water pipes underneath it. But don't despair, even here the shadow of the New England past can be seen, because the pipe-diggers have uncovered a load of Indian artifacts in their trenches. As the archaelogists sift through the dirt you might contemplate the ironies of the Indians' situation relative to Harvard. The tradition here is very much the white man's layered over everything that had the impunity to come before.
Holworthy and the McCoys
But rather than soliloquize over the former Indian campground, let us move on into the Yard and see what it has to offer. Here walk the ghosts of Emerson and Thoreau, Kittredge and lots of Lowells; many of the great intellects of American history actually slept in these dorms. But that won't mean beans to you during Freshman Week, you just for here, no ghosts yet. Freshman Week is traditionally the time when Yardlings engage in a sort of mass baptismal rite, tearing around the Yard with anything that will hold liquid and dousing everything that moves. Traditionally, at least one major administrator or religious leader is blessed by the exuberant water-wielders each year causing the Dean of Freshman to decree some kind of foolish injunction against further water-fighting. Pay it no mind, your duty is to tradition and Harvard Freshman Week without water would be such a bore.
Moving through the Yard toward the north one encounters two red brick, ivy-covered dormitories at right angles to each other. These seem to be quiet, unassuming places and little would you know that between these two buildings, Holworthy, the smaller one facing across the Yard, and Thayer, the larger one facing north-south, exists one of the most bitter rivalries since the Hatfields and McCoys.
Apparently, many years ago, Thayer was built on what had been Holworthy's soccer field. This angered Holworthy's men, who in retaliation set about the systematic defamation of Thayer. Thayer of course responded in kind and the feud was on.
Now each year, despite all efforts to keep this tradition a secret from freshmen in the two dorms, voices pierce the still autumn night crying, "HOLWORTHY SUCKS!" "THAYER EATS MOOSE!" After a few rounds of this violence usually breaks out, mainly because Holworthy is still an all-male dorn (most yard dorms went co-ed in 1973) and thus the inhabitants feel insecure and are compelled to prove that they are, well, men.
The Giant Camera Leaving the brawling partisans of the North Yard to their senseless excesses we come upon the cool, technological splendor of the Science Center. Look at it for a minute, and then say the first thing that comes into your mind. But it was Polaroid Land camera, because if you'll notice the Science Center looks just like the Polaroid that ate Manhattan. Why? Because Edwin H. Land '30, president of Polaroid, gave most of the money for its construction, and Harvard is traditionally grateful to its benefactors.
But you've had enough of staring at a hyperthyroidal camera, you can turn to aq truly tradition-steeped structure, Memorial hall.
The Crimson Key tour will have informed you that Mem Hall used to have a steeple, (which got burned to a crisp in 1957) and that it used to be a church, and that all those off men who peer gargoyle-like from the eaves of Sanders Theater had some significance to someone at sometime, but that's all Fine Arts and you want tradition.
The traditions of Mem Hall have grown out of the countless exams that have been administered there. Some Harvard exam stories are true classics. One such involves a guy who was taking an exam in Mem Hall (and cheating on it), who walked up to turn in his blue book only to be told by the proctor that the gig was up, for he had been nailed committing his heinous crime.
"Do you know who I am?" the student asked pointedly.