front of university hall at Harvard University stands a bronze statue
of John Harvard. Danial Chester French sculpted the statue in 1884.
The statue of Lincoln in
the Lincoln Memorial is one of Mr. French’s better-recognized works.
It had been originally placed on a granite pedestal to the west of
Memorial Hall but was moved to its present location forty years later.
It had been unveiled for the University's 250th birthday in 1885.
There is an inscription on the statue that reads, “John Harvard,
Founder, 1638.” Though it may come as a surprise, none of it
is true. All across
campus the students refer to this monument to a great man as “the
statue of three lies”.
When the statue was created, there were no pictures of John Harvard
known to exist. A
student named Sherman Hoar was chosen randomly by French and dressed
in the style of the seventeenth century so he could model for the
statue. So, this is not a statue of the late John Harvard; secondly,
John Harvard was not the founder of the college. The
Massachusetts Bay Colony had established the college. It was
only later named after John Harvard, who had been an early financial
contributor to the college.. The 3rd lie is that the
college was actually founded in 1636 not 1638 as the inscription
There a few other odd things about this strange bronze figure.
On the left of the granite pedestal is the former seal of the college.
Harvard’s current seal has the motto, Veritas, written on
three open books. On the statue there is a single book inscribed
"TAS" and it is cast page-side down. Some claim that
this symbolizes that not all knowledge was accessible through the
printed word. However, a more reasonable explanation is that
metal casting at the time was
not advanced enough produce the image of an "A" over the
crack of the open book. To resolve this problem, the book was
turned over so that the "A" could be cast. As for the
seal on the right side of the granite block, that is the seal of
Emmanuel College in Cambridge, England. John Harvard had
graduated from Emmanuel College before immigrating to America.
if you visit the statue you'll notice that the brass of the left shoe
appears polished clean. It doesn't bear the dark brown
color caused by oxidation as the rest of the statue. This is due
to the fact that students have been
carrying on the tradition of rubbing John Harvard's shoe. It is
believed to bring good luck. Since I don't live near the
college, I prefer to visit another institution that bears his name,
"John Harvard's Brew House." It may not bring me much
luck but it always seems to brighten up my night! So I raise my
tankard in the air and say cheers to the man who's name will be
forever connect with higher education and beer. Two things that
go so well together!