On a typical summer day in Cambridge, a steady stream of guided tour groups will pass by Harvard’s architecturally unusual Science Center building.
The stories these tourists are told are not always the same. Some guides say the structure is modeled after a Polaroid camera, while others insist that the architecture represents a stairway to heaven.
From the Admissions Office to commercial companies to local residents eager to discuss Harvard’s relationship with Cambridge, the proprietors of Harvard’s many tour options represent the University in subtly different ways.
Often equipped with backpacks, straw hats, or Victorian costumes, these guides direct thousands of tourists in and out of the gates of Harvard Yard every year—visitors who flock to Cambridge from almost every continent to experience the history of America’s oldest university.
Still, nearly every tourist on a tour will bump into a student, stop to pose and caress the foot of the John Harvard statue in an effort to gain some ancient luck or wisdom, and take a photo in front of Widener. Even as visitors learn different facts and stories about Harvard, shared experiences like these epitomize each tour’s common goal of sharing Harvard’s history as a cultural and academic landmark.
BECOMING THE HISTORY
In 2011, Daniel Berger-Jones co-founded Cambridge Historical Tours to immerse tourists in the Harvard of a former century. Dressed in period garb from the 1800s—including a top hat, three-piece suit, and suspenders—Berger-Jones assumes an accent usually missing from Harvard’s classrooms today as he strolls, cane in hand, through the streets. He wants to bring alive a long-gone Harvard.
“Our tour group is for folks who are trying to figure out why this place is so famous, the people, the stories, the legends,” Berger-Jones says.
Dressed in full Victorian attire and playing the role of individuals affiliated with Harvard during the 40-year term of University President Charles W. Eliot, Class of 1853, leaders for Jones’s company offer a 70-minute tour full of grand tales, personal narratives, and accounts of little-known facts about Harvard’s history.
“We stand outside the buildings and tell the stories,” says Max J. Pacheco, a Cambridge Historical Tours guide perhaps better known as his alter ego Irving Kolpeck, a sharp Harvard student and paperboy from the early 20th century.
Berger-Jones says that his tours are “98 to 99 percent accurate,” and added that the group looks at old articles, newspapers, and archives of Harvard correspondence to find its information.
THE OFFICIAL RECORD
When asked about the relationship between the University and private tour groups, University spokesperson Tania M. deLuzuriaga wrote in an email that Harvard “has no editorial control over the content of tours that are run by private entities.”
For its part, the University offers a number of official tours, including the Harvard Information Center’s Guided Historical Tour. More than 45,000 visitors have taken that tour since the beginning of 2013, according to deLuzuriaga.
H Luke M. Anderson ’14, a tour guide at the Information Center, says that he tries to disseminate information about Harvard and its history—without any fluff.