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The LeBaron Russell Briggs Sails Its Last

How a Dead Radcliffe President Got Messed Up With Poison Gas

By David N. Hollander

An obsolete Liberty Ship loaded with nerve gas will sink to the bottom of the ocean off the Bahamas today. And one of the many monuments to former Radcliffe President LeBaron Russell Briggs will disappear forever.

The ancient ship which is to be scuttled was named after Briggs-who, if the clippings in the Harvard Archives can be believed, was beloved by students and fellow administrators alike.

Among his other offices, Briggs was dean of the College, dean of the Faculty, president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and an overseer of the University.

His monuments include Briggs Cage, Briggs Hall, an endowed chair, an oil painting in the Freshman Union, and a marble bust in the Faculty Room of University Hall (a bronze copy is enshrined at Agassiz).

And the Liberty Ship.

The U. S. S. LeBaron Russell Briggs is scheduled to be scuttled today in 16,000 feet of water. She is loaded with 418 concrete faults containing more than 12,500 nerve gas rockets.

The concrete cargo ship was one of many built during World War II to save steel. The Liberty Ships had a disturbing habit of breaking in two during heavy seas, so they were mothballed after the war.

Most were disposed of ignominiously, or still sit helplessly in storage. But for the Briggs, fame awaited.

The Army's plan to dump the gas into the sea created a minor storm of protest from people who feared that the gas would destroy the ecology of a large chunk of the Atlantic and might endanger shore life nearby.

The gas was carried by rail to Sunny Point, N. C. last week, and loaded aboard the Briggs. Last-minute appeals to courts to stop the Army failed.

So the Briggs sailed, towed by a tug and escorted by another tug, a destroyer, and a Coast Guard cutter.

Today, at a point 282 miles east of Cape Kennedy, a team of specialists will remove from the ship rabbits (especially sensitive to the gas) and equipment before sending her to the bottom. The Navy expects the ship to sink in about five hours.

The Army has warned that water pressure might crack the seals of steel jackets which enclose the concrete vaults soon after the valves are opened to let sea water flood the Briggs. Some gas might leak then, the Army said.

LeBaron Russell Briggs was born Dec. 11, 1855. in Salem. He graduated from the College in 1875, and was appointed dean in 1891.

Eleven years later he was named dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The next year he became president of Radcliffe, an office he held for 20 years.

Briggs died at age 79 in Milwaukee while on vacation. He was still teaching. The New York Times commented editorially:

"His long labor to make intercollegiate athletics clean, fair, sportsmanlike, civilized, devoid of the excess, ferocity, and muckerism that so long held sway, was slow in bringing fruit; but he lived to see the restoration of sanity and good manners in college contests."

Lovable Physiognomy

A Briggs centenary article in the December 1955 Alumni Bulletin said, "No one who ever saw him can forget the heart-warming physical appearance of the Dean."

Members of the classes of '11 to '15 gave money for the portrait of Briggs done by Edmund C. Tarbell that hangs in the Union.

Someone persuaded the Navy to name a Liberty Ship after him. A Navy spokesman said yesterday that he did not want to discuss the matter.

The Bulletin said in 1955, "Dean Briggs had an overwhelming reverence for life. He valued life as it was revealed in his faithful dogs and horses, letting them come to their natural end after years of companionship."

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