I'm Gonna Git YOU Sukka: Classic Stories of Revenge at Harvard

In the fine tradition of Lewis, Lamar, Wormser and Booger, nerds have always been the best at getting revenge. Now, while Harvard has the Harvard Computer Society in lieu of the Adams College chapter of Lamda Lamda Lamda and the A.D. in place of the Alpha Betas, history shows that even without a special potion to ward off Takashi's inebriation, Harvard students can definitely get the job done when it comes to getting `em back.

For years, Harvard's publications have taken pride from their lengthy rivalries. Stealing symbols of the organizations or starting offshoots, the papers and magazines have fought more battles than anyone else on campus. The most storied rivalry, in place for over a hundred years, has been between The Crimson and the Lampoon, a semi-secret Sorrento Square organization that used to occasionally publish a so-called humor magazine.

Back in the day, weaned on watching the colonists soundly whip the British, Revolutionary War babies/Harvard students wanted to teach the administration a lesson when it introduced a new regulation in 1790 calling for an annual public examination of the students. Students, who were decidedly ticked off by the situation, planned a way to get back at the people behind the exam and prevent it from happening.

On the morning of the first day of the exam, April 12, 1790, a group of students dropped 600 grains of tartar emetic into the cooking boilers in the kitchen. When the 150-plus crowd of students and officers showed up for breakfast, their coffee included water with that special twist. With the exception of four or five people, everyone turned ill, including the students behind the plot, who had drunk extra coffee in order to avoid getting caught. Unfortunately for them, they had taken pains, literally, for no reason. They were caught and suspended for their actions.

But this group poisoning is mere child's play compared to what professors have done to each other. One of the best-documented and goriest examples of vengeance occurred in 1849 when two members of the Harvard Medical School (HMS) faculty had a falling out that climaxed in a grisly murder. Former Harvard Magazine editor John T. Bethell, who recently wrote Harvard Observed: An Illustrated History of the University of the University in the Twentieth Century, says the homicide is among the most scandalous incidents in Harvard history.

The drama began when Dr. John White Webster borrowed some money from Dr. George Parkman, both HMS professors. Webster offered Parkman a mortgage on his personal property, which included a precious mineral collection, as collateral for the loan, but conveniently did not tell Parkman that he was using the collection to back another debt. When Parkman learned of the situation, he decided he had to hit up Webster for a payback. But soon after he began his pursuit, Parkman disappeared.

When Parkman had been MIA for a week, a janitor broke into a brick vault under Webster's lab on a hunch and discovered what had become of Webster's former colleague.

"If you can call this revenge, he had cut him up into little pieces and burned him in his lab furnace," Bethell says. After Parkman's remains had been found scattered about the laboratory, Webster gave himself up to authorities, confessed and appealed for clemency. But his pleas did not save him from the ultimate revenge. He was hanged Aug. 30, 1850.

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