Harvard Yard

Harvard Yard cambridge

Harvard Yard

About Harvard Yard

Harvard YardHarvard Yard, a grassy stretch of lawn located directly next to Harvard Square, simultaneously represents American historical lore and the vibrancy of modern American undergraduate life.

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Located just outside of Boston, Massachusetts, the yard is oldest part of the oldest institution of higher learning in the country.

Harvard Yard also boasts the distinction of containing thirteen of the seventeen freshmen dormitories for the Harvard campus.

Harvard freshmen reside in dorms that just happen to also be important historical landmarks.

At Hollis Hall, for example, first year Harvard students live directly above rooms that once housed George Washington’s troops during the Revolution.

Harvard Yard is also located close to the famous natural history museum, one of the biggest attractions to the area.

Take a video tour of Harvard Yard!

John Harvard Statue

John harvard university statue harvard yard

John Harvard Statue, located in Harvard Yard

The most famous thing about Harvard Yard, however, is not the buildings but the notable Harvard statue of John Harvard, sculpted in 1884 by Daniel Chester French.

This statue has been dubbed by Harvard tour guides as “the statue of three lies” because each of the three facts on its inscription (“John Harvard, Founder, 1638”) are incorrect.

History of Harvard University

The University was founded in 1636, not 1638 and it was founded by the Massachusetts Bay Company, not John Harvard.

More interestingly, the Harvard statue is not actually even of John Harvard.

Because no representations of his likeness existed in 1884, the statue is believed to have been modeled after Sherman Hoar, nephew of former Harvard President Leonard Hoar.

The legend goes that because the University was unable to name a house after Leonard – say it aloud: Hoar House – the University used his descendent as the model for the Harvard statue as an alternate form of remembrance.

John Harvard's Famous Foot Photo Tim Sackton

John Harvard’s Famous Foot. Photo by Tim Sackton

Harvard Yard Tradition

A longstanding tradition has evolved around the statue.

Visit the Harvard Yard and you will inevitably find tourists rubbing John Harvard’s left shoe for good luck (the popularity of this superstition is evidenced by the shiny, polished quality of the foot in question).

Here again, tradition commingles with freshmen.

Apparently, an equally longstanding student pastime is to urinate (and, one must assume, unleash other bodily fluids) on the foot.

The Harvard Yard is a marriage between one of the nation’s most photographed historical sites and an active university student quad.

You’ll see this tension in action as Harvard students attempt to navigate their way through dense pockets of tourists (in response, tourists often whip out their cameras – Look – actual Harvard students!)

Harvard Yard Cambridge

Photo by Heuristics

Ultimately, what makes Harvard Yard such a great place to visit is that it attracts all types of people.

It attracts students, tourists, history geeks, couples in search of a place to nap, families looking for a green place to picnic.

It’s an eclectic mix, and unlike Harvard University itself (which this year let in a miserly 6.2% of its applicants) everyone is welcome.

For more Harvard information, read about the Fogg Museum, The Harvard Museum of Natural History, and The Harvard Semitic Museum.