The Hahvahd Tour
“You can always tell a Harvard man, but you can’t tell him much.” So goes the old saw. This Harvard woman, who thought she knew virtually everything about her alma mater, recently discovered a whole lot more she didn’t know.
The source of my enlightenment? The Hahvahd Tour, celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2016. The 70-minute walking tour is a thoroughly entertaining romp through the heart of America’s most famous university, nestled in the leafy precincts of Cambridge, Massachusetts, just across the Charles River from Boston.
Pronounced with the Boston accent’s broad “a,” The Hahvahd Tour is the brainchild of Daniel Andrew, who launched his business in 2006, the summer after his junior year. Today, it’s one of many walks offered by Andrew’s Trademark Tours, still based near Harvard Square.
In fall 2016, Andrew introduced his new History of Harvard Athletics Tour, focusing on storied sites like the Harvard football stadium. A few months earlier, in summer 2016, Andrew launched the first public tours of MIT—the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology—including campus highlights like the Green Building (designed by MIT grad I.M. Pei) the Great Dome, and Lobby 7 and the 775-foot-long Infinite Corridor. Visit high-tech MIT or ivy-covered Harvard, or buy the company’s money-saving Combo Ticket, and see two of America’s most famous universities.
Trademark Tours also has several private Boston tours, including the Freedom Trail Tour, visiting landmarks like the Old State House, the Old South Meeting House and Faneuil Hall. The Full-Day Boston Tour can be customized to include popular attractions like the Boston Duck Tour, the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum, and/or the JFK Presidential Library and Museum. Trademark Tours also can arrange complete dining-and-lodging packages.
In addition, Trademark Tours’ offers City Wine Tours. Boston tours take in chic wine bars, hotels and restaurants in iconic neighborhoods like the South End, Back Bay and North End. In New York, there’s the SoHo Wine Tour and West Village Wine Tour. Private wine events include Bachelorette Parties, Corporate Wine Tours and Birthday Party Wine Tours.
But back to The Hahvahd Tour….
The first thing you’ll notice is how easy it is to sign up for The Hahvahd Tour, given March-December on the half-hour or hour from mid-morning through late-afternoon. Book your ticket online on the company website (www.trademarktours.com), then show up for any tour that day. Groups meet in Cambridge, in the center of Harvard Square, between the iconic Out Of Town News kiosk and the Harvard Red Line station of the T, Boston’s easily navigable, color-coded subway system.
I joined The Hahvahd Tour on a lovely fall day, when Harvard Square was teeming with its usual eclectic assortment of students, tweedy professorial types, Cambridge residents, street musicians and left-over hippies from the ’60s. Two young managers, Chris Wright and Sarah Riordan, hailing from nearby Boston College and Emmanuel College, checked me in and gave me a colorful brochure, complete with a fold-out map and discount coupons for Harvard Square restaurants and shops.
At 11 a.m., our group of about 22, including a youngster of about 6 or 7, clustered around tour guide Vanessa Elena Lopez, wearing the company’s trademark wide-brimmed straw hat with crimson band. One of more than 50 Harvard students employed part-time by Trademark Tours, Vanessa, a lively sophomore from Brownsville, Texas, is concentrating in Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology, and plans a career in stem-cell research. For now, she divides her time between classes, writing for the online magazine, Her Campus Harvard, and leading The Hahvahd Tour.
Within five minutes of meeting Vanessa, we got our first lesson in Harvard lore. Pointing to nearby Wadsworth House, a yellow wood-frame Colonial house, just visible above the red-brick walls of Harvard Yard, Vanessa told us that General George Washington, later America’s first president, set up headquarters there during the Revolutionary War.
Passing under the wrought-iron curlicues of Johnston Gate, one of 25 surrounding Harvard Yard, Vanessa noted that the Georgian-Revival design was by famed 19th-century architects McKim, Mead & White, who also designed the Renaissance-style Boston Public Library. She then drew our attention to a little gray guardhouse used by campus security. Perhaps the most expensive guardhouse on any college campus, the tiny building, about as big as an outhouse, cost $57,000 and was built only after architect Graham Gund, a graduate of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, submitted more than 80 blueprints to the Cambridge Historical Commission.
Strolling through 22-acre Harvard Yard, with its tall, leafy trees and red-brick buildings, we passed the college’s oldest surviving building, Massachusetts Hall, where at least three Founding Fathers—John Adams, Sam Adams and John Hancock—lived while attending Harvard. Today, the building, which dates from 1718, houses the first-floor offices of Harvard’s first female president, Drew Gilpin Faust, as well as an upper-floor dormitory whose students, rumor has it, are carefully chosen for their studious demeanor.
Across the Yard, we clustered around the bronze statue of college founder John Harvard. Or at least that’s what most visitors think. Vanessa quickly set us straight, calling it “The Statue of Three Lies.” For one, the statue’s stone base says that the college was founded in 1638, whereas Harvard was actually founded in 1636. For another, 16 years after the Puritans landed at Plymouth Rock, the Massachusetts Bay Colony—not donor John Harvard—founded the college. Finally, the model for that handsome Puritan hunk wasn’t the sickly John Harvard, who died of tuberculosis at about age 30. It was Sherman Hoar, a Harvard student from nearby Concord who became a U.S. congressman in 1891.
What is true about the John Harvard statue is that it’s the work of noted American sculptor Daniel Chester French and is the third most photographed statue in America—after the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor and French’s statue of Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C.’s Lincoln Memorial. What also might be true, judging from the shiny tips of the statue’s shoes, is that rubbing them brings good luck to test-taking students and visitors alike.
Continuing our walk through Harvard Yard, we paused to look at the 1970s-era Science Center (built with donations from Edwin Land, inventor of the Polaroid camera, and supposedly designed to look a Polaroid camera from the air), grand Memorial Hall (a National Historic Monument designed in the Victorian-Gothic style, with stained-glass windows and colorfully tiled roofs, to honor Harvardians killed during the Civil War) and Sever Hall (another National Historic Landmark designed by 19th-century architect Henry Hobson Richardson, who studied at Harvard and later designed landmark Trinity Church in Boston’s Copley Square).
About halfway through the tour, we stopped to relax on the steps of Memorial Church and peer across the Tercentenary Theatre, the wide, tree-shaded lawn where Harvard’s commencement exercises are held each May. Before us rose the grand staircase of columned Widener Library, or, more precisely, The Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library, built in 1915 by the grieving mother of young Harry, Class of 1907, who, along with his father and other Gilded Age notables, went down when the Titanic struck an iceberg in 1912. After the tour, stop in the library’s Memorial Rooms, where an exact model of Harry Widener’s wood-paneled study features his portrait, the 3,300 books he collected and newer additions like a rare Gutenberg Bible.
Continuing through the Yard, we passed several freshman dormitories. There was Weld Hall, where two U.S. presidents—Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy—lived. There was Grays Hall, opened in 1863 and the first campus building to have running water. Known as the “Harvard Hilton” for its relatively luxurious freshman accommodations, it was home to Academy Award-winner Natalie Portman, Class of 2003. Here, too, was Wigglesworth Hall, where Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, one of Harvard’s most famous dropouts—and one of my classmates—once lived.
Walking toward the Charles River, we found ourselves outside Lowell House, one of the “River Houses” and former home of another famous Harvard dropout, actor Matt Damon, who co-wrote and starred in the 1997 Academy Award-winning movie, “Good Will Hunting.” Steps away was Winthrop House, where both JFK and Hahvahd Tour founder Daniel Andrew lived. At nearby Kirkland House, Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook in his dorm room in 2004.
Eventually, and all too soon, The Hahvahd Tour ended. But that really was just the start of a very pleasant afternoon in the heart of Cambridge. After browsing through The Harvard Shop’s choice collection of souvenirs, ranging from Harvard T-shirts to twee bow ties embroidered with the Harvard crest, those who had signed up for the Combo Tour & Lunch headed to popular John Harvard’s Brewery & Ale House. Others went to venerable Harvard Square eateries like Grendel’s Den and Hong Kong restaurant, which I and fellow undergraduates once frequented, or newer places like the Russell House Tavern and Salt & Olive. A friend and I hunkered down in the cozy basement eatery of Nine Tastes, an award-winning Thai restaurant.
After lunch, there was plenty to look forward to in what is one of America’s most exciting college towns. There were the famous glass flowers at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. The anthropological exhibits at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. The changing exhibits at The Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African and African American Art. And the hundreds of masterpieces in the recently re-opened Harvard Art Museums, uniting the Fogg, Busch-Reisinger and Arthur M. Sackler museums under one roof designed by celebrity architect Renzo Piano.
We could continue our shopping at The Coop, the well-known department store run by the Harvard Cooperative Society. Or at gift shops like Follow the Honey, selling premium honeys and beauty products from around the world, or Curious George, the world’s only store devoted to toys and other merchandise about the mischievous storybook monkey. We might browse books at the Harvard Book Store, the Grolier Poetry Book Shop, or Schoenhof’s Foreign Books, where you’ll find North America’s largest selection of foreign books and where, decades ago, I bought many a volume for my French-literature and Italian-language classes.
Many of us would simply stroll through Harvard Square, passing the ivy-covered halls of Harvard University, soaking up the square’s lively atmosphere and thinking what Oprah Winfrey famously declared during her speech at Harvard’s 362nd Commencement on May 30, 2013: “Oh my goodness! I’m at Hahvahd!”
IF YOU GO
The Hahvahd Tour is given daily, March-December, from about 10:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Trademark Tours also offers The History of Harvard Athletics Tour and The MIT Tour as well as the Full-Day Boston Tour, the Freedom Trail Tour, and City Wine Tours of Boston and New York. Private wine events, including Bachelorette Parties, Corporate Wine Tours and Birthday Party Wine Tours, are also available. For more information, call toll-free 855-455-8747, ext. 2, or 617-275-2320, or visit www.citywinetours.com and www.trademarktours.com.