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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Pre-Revolutionary Fire Was College's Last Major Blaze

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

The worst fire in Harvard history inspired these lines by an unknown author, as he described a blaze that burned old Harvard Hall to the ground on the night of January 24, 1764:

"The roofs, the walls, and in one ruinous heap,

The ancient dome, and all its treasures lie!"

Among the treasures that perished in the fire were the skull of a famous indian warrior, a piece of tanned negro's hide, and the biggest library in the colonies. Only one book from John Harvard's famous bequest survived.

Since that time no major fire has disturbed the tranquility of the Yard. The University has grown so that now only about 13 percent of undergraduate residents live in the original cow-yard, for the 'twenties and 'thirties witnessed the building of the Houses, all modern and fire-resistant.

This leaves the greatest concern for fire procautions still centered about the seven historic dormitories that make up the "Old Yard." These buildings are occupied by 670 students and have all been equipped with brick fire-stops to prevent any fires that might develop from burning through the floors.

Husk and Fraser

Concern for these and all other buildings and humanity that make up the University rests largely upon the shoulders of two men-Al Fraser and Bon Husk-who make up the University's Safety Patrol. These men supervised the recent rope-and-tackle practice which got nation-wide attention as the last word in liberal education.

Dangling freshmen on the end of a rope is all part of a day's work for Fraser and Husk. They have a job that never ends. One of their chief duties is to check the 1700 fire extinguishers that are placed strategically about the University.

After one Yale game they had to refill 47 fire extinguishers that had been emptied in the heat of a victory celebration. "You could tell who one from the number of empty extinguishers on the morning after," they said.

The policies and practices of the Safety Patrol are calculated to confine any fire within the room in which it starts. The Patrol realizes that an occasional small blaze is inevitable.

Husk and Fraser are not fire-fighters in the usual sense of the word. Only once have they actually been on hand to quench a fire; they happened to be checking protective equipment in the hall where it broke out.

Museum Often Checked

The University Museum, one of 48 sprinkler-equipped buildings, is checked four times weekly by the Patrol. The extra attention, Husk and Fraser explain, is because the building is not fireproof Fogg Museum, housing many valuable objets d'art that would suffer almost as much from water as from fire, is protected by carbon dioxide.

The University owns many extinguishers that are not of the conventional soda and acid variety. They are of the dry powder, carbon tetrachloride, and chemical foam types.

Husk and Fraser are not dazzled by the millions of dollars of property they protect. They always remember that "the kids come first." Indeed, it is often the kids who turn in timely alarms. The University switchboard hooks up directly with the Cambridge fire station across the street. University engineers, janitors, maids, and proctors turn in their share of the 10 to 12 alarms that the Cambridge firemen receive from the University in an average year.

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