Looking Back 35 Years: The 'Possum Caused a Riot

Police Arrest 28 Students During Square Pogo Rally

Five of the 28 Harvard students towed away by the police were Crimson editors. Meanwhile, Kelly arrived to deliver his speech, which was interrupted several times by spontaneous pogo stick races down the aisles of the auditorium.

The instigator of the mayhem, students who were here at the time say, was Crimson Managing Editor Laurence D. Savadove '53, whom two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning writer J. Anthony Lukas '55 describes as "a shrewd cookie." When Lukas, who later roomed with Savadove in Winthrop, speaks of him, he recalls the New Jersey native's silk chartreuse socks and his success with members of the opposite sex.

But Lukas also characterizes Savadove as brilliant: "a con-man of the first degree." So, Lukas says, when Savadove told him that he intentionally delayed Kelly's arrival in the Square, he believed him.


"Larry masterminded the Pogo Riot," Lukas says. Savadove, it turns out, picked Kelly up at the airport, but took him for a pit stop at at a bar before driving on to Cambridge.

"Savadove deliberately delayed the route so that the crowd would be large and restless," says David Halberstam '55. "Something was likely to happen," Lukas remembers.


Something did.

Others who were editors of The Crimson at the time say they are not sure Savadove planned to be late, but all agree such a stunt fell well within his bag of tricks. "I wouldn't put it past him," says then-Crimson President Philip M., Cronin '53.

A Bloody Town-Gown

The Pogo incident was but another instance of strained relations between Harvard and Cambridge. The student arrests prompted cries of police brutality from The Crimson, the Student Council, and the house committees.

After the paddy wagon pulled into the police station, Rugo was the last to be booked. He says he remembers hearing someone ask him if he were injured. "I thought, at last a civilized person," he says. He turned, and the man clubbed him on the head. Another policeman held off the assailant, as Rugo staggered in the stairwell.

"Cambridge City police were out looking for trouble that night," says Norman Weil '54, a Crimson photographer. Weil was not on duty the night of the rally, but was walking past the disturbance with a date and asked police why they were hassling a fellow photographer. The police then threw him in a paddy wagon, he says.

"The townies were spoiling for a fight," he says. He remembers bailing himself out that night with his $25 weekly allowance, and says the one effect the Pogo Riot has had on his life is that his arrest record delayed his being drafted into the Korean War.

"What the [riot] revealed," says Ellsberg, "was the rage, envy and fury on the part of the police, a hatred for Harvard boys, a chance to beat the shit out of them."

Lukas, who was editing at The Crimson the night of the riot, says he remembers Halberstam and his late brother Michael '53 coming back from the Square covered in blood. But 35 years later Halberstam downplays his injuries. "I had a little tussle with the cops," the author of The Best and the Brightest says.

Not everyone approved of The Crimson's role in the riot. Sidney Verba '53, now the Pforzheimer University Professor and director of the University library, wrote a scathing letter to the newspaper supporting the actions of the police and criticizing the student paper's reporting as biased.