Harvard is currently filling in the "Muddy Pond"-a marshy waterhole in the Jamaica Plain in which two small children drowned last month.
Harvard officials announced yesterday that workmen had begun Thursday to fill in the pond, located on the fringe of Harvard's Arnold Arboretum, with granite blocks from an adjacent lot. The blocks will reduce the pond's depth from five or six feet to a maximum of 18 inches, Daniel Steiner, General Counsel to the University, said yesterday.
City workmen will clear debris out of the pond's outlet, which flows through an adjacent, city-owned, lot. The University's statement said that the clearing of the channel would "increase the flew of water from the pond to the catch basin located on City land and thereby maintain the low water-level."
Steiner said yesterday that Harvard had decided not to fill in the pond completely and drain the surrounding marsh because "it didn't seem necessary and it was terribly expensive. I think from a safety point of view this takes care of the hazard."
He said the filling currently under way is expected to cost between $10,000 and $15,000. "To get rid of the whole marshy area-assuming it was necessary for safety and none of us think it's necessary-would have cost between $80,000 and $100,000," he stated.
Steiner said that Harvard had begun negotiating with the City in the week of May 17, just after two small children had drowned in the pond. "The city has been very cooperative," he said.
The two children-Margaret and Olyde Johnson, aged eight and nine- drowned on May 15 when their make shift raft capsized in the pond. A third Johnson child, Leslie, was rescued by a Boston patrolman who struggled to resuscitate him for more than 30 minutes.
The Johnson children-whose parents are black welfare recipients from the predominantly low-income neighborhood surrounding the Arboretum-were the second and third children to drown in the pond-known locally variously as "Muddy Pond," the Muddies," and "that smelly mudhole"-in 18 years. When a nine-year-old boy drowned in the pond in 1953, the local residents circulated a petition asking Harvard to fill in the pond. Over 300 signatures were collected on the petition before it was turned over to Harvard, but no action was ever taken.
Local residents reported last month that there had been numerous near-drownings in the intervening years.
Legal experts reported after the latest drownings that Harvard's liability in the event of a suit was slight, and, at first, the University did not seem eager to respond to the latest drownings. Henry H. Cutler, Harvard Real Estate Manager, told reporters on the Monday following the drownings that filling in the pond-or putting a fence around the lot-would be "pretty stupid."
"After all," he said, "does the MDC have to fill in the Charles River just because people drown there? Water is water-we need all the water we can get, and we can't just go around filling up every piece of water. Should we fill up the oceans because people drown there?"
Steiner said yesterday. however, that Harvard representatives had begun considering some action to reduce the danger of drowning in the pond on Monday following the drownings.
SDS had conducted a small campaign during the last two weeks of school to force Harvard to fill in the muddy pond. At one SDS demonstration
at Holyoke Center, demonstrators encountered Sargent Kennedy 28, secretary to the Corporation and the Board of Overseers, coming out of the Cambridge Trust Co. A group of demonstrators followed Kennedy from the bank to the Faculty Club, repeatedly asking him why Harvard had not filled in the Pond.
Kennedy later filed a complaint with the Committee on Rights and Responsibilities (CRR) against one of the demonstrators, Joseph Rothchild 74. Rothchild-who was subsequently placed on "suspended suspension" after the CRR found him guilty of disrupting the "Counter Teach-in"-denied that he had harassed Kennedy, but said that he supported the action.
SDS has subsequently published leaf-lets bearing pictures of Kennedy with the caption "Wanted for Murder" for allegedly refusing to fill in the Pond-even though Kennedy's position has little relation to Harvard's real estate dealings.