Each day, Harvard students must make the treacherous trek through the Yard. The journey is full of many obstacles: ropes, squirrels, occasional piles of canine dung, but most of all the ubiquitous hoards of tourists.
The tourists come in many sorts, both the young and old (especially on Thursdays, which seem to be when the "blue-hair special" tour package is offered), foreign and domestic, all with the intention of getting a grasp of what they see as the pageantry of Harvard life.
The tour is a quest for knowledge, a quest most often led by the infamous Crimson Key Society. The Key tour guide becomes a symbol of all that is Harvard to these picture-snapping pilgrims. Lisa Powers, of Durham, N.C., claims that her tour guide was "one of the brightest and most enthusiastic young ladies I have ever met."
Despite such glowing praise, however, one questions what is learned on tours. Thomas J. Livelli '99, a Crimson Key guide, asserts that "The facts that you are supposed to deliver aren't fictional. How many facts do I make fictional might be another issue." What difference, though, does it really make? How much of the information makes an impression on the tourist's mind?
The easiest of all facts must be what the three lies of the John Harvard Statue are. Talking with a group of visiting students from George Washington University, though, yields intriguing results. Sandra G., a first-year, was quick to point them out after going on her tour, but Jacob M., a junior, was not nearly as certain. He suggested that "John Harvard was really just the first president of the University, and that the statue was of his son."
All right, an honest mistake, but surely an experienced tourist like Beverly Sojehn of New York City would have paid more attention to her Key tour guide, "The three lies are that it is not really John Harvard, he wasn't the founder and it was actually founded in 1763," Sojehn said when asked.
Well, two out of three isn't bad.
Perhaps the imposing stature of Widener library would foster more vivid memories of a just-completed tour. According to Ms. Sojehn, "Mr. Widener was a swimmer for Harvard and was killed on the Titanic." This of course made her wonder about the strength of the swimming program here at Harvard.
The shape of the Science Center seems like it would be an attention-getter; most of the tourists were able to easily remember its alleged tell-tale camera shape. An even greater number believed that the shape seemed to be a stretch of the imagination. Eight-year-old Sarah Stevens of Boston said that, camera or not, it was "real ugly." Well said.
Some Crimson Key guides get more in-depth with Harvard facts than others.
John Stevens--Sarah's father--learned from his tour guide the names of the presidents of both Harvard and Radcliffe, a fact that proved beyond Livelli's grasp.
When asked who the president of Radcliffe is, Livelli asserted that it is definitely "Linda somebody." Livelli was able to name the president of Harvard, however, but when asked about President Rudenstine, Livelli pondered, "Does Neil exist? I saw him once, but I thought that it might have been a cardboard cutout."
As they pass the John Harvard statue each day, the question foremost in each student's mind must be: "Do the tourists realize just what has been on that foot?"
Becky Brown, a GWU freshman, was optimistic that "rubbing John Harvard's foot would bring me luck this term." One's heart just sinks at such a response.
Livelli has "expressed" himself upon the John Harvard statue, but finds comfort in the belief that, "I think that there is probably less urine on the foot of John Harvard than there is on beer nuts in a bar because people drink a lot of beer and go to the bathroom all the time, and they don't wash their hands, leaving a very high urine content on nuts at bars. So don't be touching other people's nuts!" Best and brightest indeed.
So the tourists come and go each day, carrying back with them a little piece of Harvard history. Sure, sometimes they are annoying. They get in the way and take pictures of hapless students when they are not looking, but deep down every Harvard student likes to have tourists on campus. It is a good feeling to know that this school attracts students and others from all over the world to gaze at our ivory tower and that we are able to share its glory.
What is less encouraging is the motivation of those that function as the intermediates between Harvard and its stream of tourists. Why would one want to be a member of the Crimson Key? Livelli answers, "A good reason would be to demonstrate your love to the university and develop your sense of history, etc. A real reason would be because there tends to be a good number of good-looking girls in the Key compared; oh no, I can't say that. I am going to make a lot of enemies with this interview."
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