1:30pm on an early April afternoon in Cambridge, Massachusetts. About 20 of us gathered at Harvard Square for the student-led Hahvahd Tour. The tour is earmarked at $10, but that’s just the recommended price. You don’t pay until the end of the tour. Most, if not almost all, of the money goes to a much-deserving Harvard freshman who is trying to get some extra beer money on the side to pay for his extracurricular activities.
Our tour guide was a young freshman from San Diego, California. I think he had already done a tour or two that day because his voice was already starting to get hoarse. There was also this great greeter who was greeting everybody who was joining the tour. He really knows how to talk you up. He was a Boston native and also a Harvard freshman.
With twenty strong, we walked across Massachusetts Street to the main Harvard campus and into the Harvard Yard. The Yard is surrounded by student dorms. Some of them are very old dorms. A lot of them are freshman dorms. Our tour guide would point specific rooms and windows and note who once slept there.
It’s been a couple months since the tour, so I have since forgotten a lot of the specifics, but the guide would rattle off names like Natalie Portman, Matt Damon, Samuel Adams, and Mark Zuckerberg. No Harvard tour is complete without mention of the Facebook creator these days.
Massachusetts Hall, or Mass Hall as our tour guide referred to it, is one of the oldest student dorms in the Harvard Yard. It’s first couple of floors are actually administrative offices. The floors above are dormitory rooms. There is a careful screening process for potential residents of Mass Hall to ensure they are well-behaved and not likely to disturb those working on the main floor. Many of the founding fathers of America resided here such as John Hancock, John Adams, and Samuel Adams.
Then there is the statue of John Harvard, but it’s not really him. All images of John Harvard were destroyed in a fire. So this statute is actually an image of some art student posing as a model. Also, John Harvard did not truly found the university; he was simply a benefactor. Then, the statue says 1638, when in fact the college was founded in 1636. So there are the three lies of the John Harvard Statue. Also, our young guide highly advised not rubbing the toe of the statue in hopes of gaining good luck for entry into Harvard. Many a practical joke has been played on that toe, so rubber beware.
Amongst all the freshman dormitories surrounding Harvard Yard, there is also a small chapel nestled in between and behind the buildings. This is Holden Chapel which the third oldest building in the Yard and home to the Holden Choirs.
We exited Harvard Yard on the opposite side and encountered the most modern and possibly the ugliest building on campus. It’s the Science Center. It’s a huge departure from the Colonial brick and mortar buildings of the Harvard Yard. It was built in 1973 and looks totally out of place.
Harvard’s Memorial Hall looks like a church or some other important building; however, it is actually the freshman dining hall. Now that’s some piece of architecture for just a dining hall. The interior is said to be modeled after a dining hall at Oxford. That same dining hall in Oxford was also the inspiration for the dining hall featured in Hogwarth’s in the Harry Potter movies. I was hoping to go in and take a look, but that wasn’t a part of the tour.
The Widener Library is named after Harry Elkins Widener. He was a 1907 graduate of Harvard who perished on the Titanic. The guide said that he was returning from Europe where he had been collecting rare books. The rumour is that he was almost successfully evacuated when he realized he left a rare book in his cabin. So he went back to get it. And that was the end of Harry. The Library is a memorial to Harry from his mother. She made a $3.5 million donation to build this library. The other rumour is that Mrs. Widener stipulated that a secret room be reserved in the building with a reading desk and fresh flowers everyday for her son’s spirit. Who knows if it’s true or not, but it makes for great story.
Our tour then left the main campus and went south across Massachusetts Street to some other Harvard buildings outside of the traditional campus area. The most memorable of these places would be Kirkland House. We didn’t walk right past Kirkland House, but our guide pointed out the second floor window where Mark Zuckerberg once resided and created Facebook.
At the end of the tour, we went back out to JFK Street where there are shops and restaurants. He pointed out a famous pizza place, Pinocchio’s Pizza and Subs. It’s a small pizza place with seating for about a dozen people on a quiet side street, but it’s famous for some of its famous patrons. Mark Zuckerberg now figures big on celebrity lists and on the walls of Pinocchio’s. The other big name is native Bostonian, Ben Affleck, who frequents the joint for his pizza fix when he’s in Beantown.
So when the tour ended and I paid my $10 for the tour, I went back to Pinocchio’s for some food. After all that walking around, I worked up an appetite. A good helping of pizza sounded like it would do the trick. I couldn’t care less how greasy the pizza looked, it certainly hit the spot after an hour or so of walking around. It was a bonus that the owner was more than happy for me to take a photo of him getting my slice of pizza in the kitchen. Grazie!