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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

The College Pump

Astor von Leisbusch und Sohn

November-December 2003

"Your wooden arm you hold outstretched to shake with passers-by."
Phantom may have had the president's ear (see "Phantom Lowell"). Just across Quincy Street from the president's house, however, the "Most Responsible Position of any Canine in Country," according to a 1928 Boston newspaper headline, was held by the new Fogg Art Museum's new watchdog, German shepherd Astor von Leibusch.

"All night long he runs silently through the building, just as his forefathers stalked their prey in the forest," read the newspaper report. "Astor sleeps peacefully all day, and bothers no one who comes into his room, but at night when the building is locked, and he and the watchman are left alone, he seems to be transformed suddenly into a ferocious beast."

Astor
Harvard University Art Museums Archives, dog scrapbook.
Daybreak brought metamorphosis. "When the janitor is cleaning the building and has no assistant with him, he takes Astor along for his helper. No matter what part of the building they are in if he tells the dog to bring him a broom or a pail or almost anything that the latter can carry, the faithful dog will trot obediently down to the basement and get it."

When Fogg director Edward W. Forbes began his search for a watchdog, the archives reveal, he paid for an ad in a kennel trade journal specifying that the dog must be "absolutely firm in character, but not oversharp." By March of 1927, the museum had a shepherd named Zilbert, but Forbes judged him "too savage" and sold him to the Harvard Athletic Association, whose graduate treasurer wrote Forbes, "I believe he will be just what we need to keep the roughs out of the field nights." (In fact, Zilbert proved impossible to control.) By May Forbes had Astor and could write, "We like our new dog very much."

Astor was born on January 1, 1925, in Germany, emigrated, and came to Forbes from Gainwell Kennels in Brighton, Massachusetts. He served Harvard until his death on December 11, 1936. In 1933 he served Hera of Gainwell, the Fogg realizing a $25 stud fee, and begat Rex of Gainwell. Rex succeeded Astor in January 1937.

"All day long Rex plays in the acre of Museum land which forms his private yard," read a report in the April 12, 1941, issue of this magazine, "or dozes in the sun on the porch of his fancy two-room dog house near Prescott St....His only bite on record was committed on one of the high-ranking Fogg officials who was fondest of him. But that was a mistake; it was dark, and Rex startled." The bitten one is said to have been curator of drawings, later director, Agnes Mongan.

Both Rex and Astor were polite to visitors when properly introduced, but Rex had "an ugly attitude towards the outside world, which is as it should be." The newspaperman who met Astor noted that he possessed "a huge set of teeth" and opined: "If the Harvard football authorities are looking for a mascot next fall, and they want a real 'he-man' dog, one who could chase the Army mule all the way back to West Point, they have to look no farther than their own new Fogg Museum."

 

Baker Library, Harvard Business School

In other football news: At a time predating modern football and construction of both the Harvard Stadium and the Yale Bowl, the 1895 Montgomery Ward catalog number 57 offered a board game called "The Yale-Harvard Game." Billed as "A High Class Game for Thoughtful Players," it was "A new game of skill of rare merit for two players. The basis of the game is foot-ball, the idea of each side being to carry the ball into the opposite goal. The pieces used are numbered, and can be moved as many spaces as their numbers indicate.... Price $0.85."

 

 

 

A moment of disillusionment. Mrs. Betty-Lee Campbell '42 of Whittier, California, reminds us of a youthful misapprehension that she confessed to Primus III and that he told about in the April 20, 1957, issue. It's worth repeating in this year of the Stadium's centennial. Mrs. Campbell was born Betty-Lee Shay in Cambridge in 1920, and until her sophomore year all the football games she attended were at the Stadium. All the games she paid attention to in the newsreels were Harvard games. "It is perhaps no wonder then," she recalled, "that I was surprised upon learning, the first time I attended a game in another city, that the goal post constructed in the form of an 'H' did not represent 'H' for Harvard. Much to my astonishment I learned that all goal posts are in the shape of an 'H'!"

~Primus V