Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

John Harvard's Journal

More Magical Moments in Store

January-February 2005

"The single most beautiful and pristine moment of my three years at Harvard Law School (or possibly my entire life) occurred on that frozen plaza," Irwin H. Moss, LL.B. '56, of Los Angeles, told this magazine last winter in response to a news item with a photograph of a man skating in the courtyard next to Harkness Commons ("An Icy Amenity," March-April, page 70). Dean Elena Kagan had had the field flooded, aware from archival photographs that it was used for skating in the 1950s.

"It was the winter of 1953-54," Moss recalled. "I was in Langdell one evening when the word seemed to flash around the great hall. We grabbed scarves, gloves, or jackets and joined in the race down the stairs to that plaza. There stood a lone woman on ice skates preparing for her routine, while we formed a silent human ring around the ice. It was utterly silent as Tenley Albright began her skating. It is beyond my abilities to describe her movements, grace, elegance, and sheer beauty of person and place in total harmony. If she danced to music, I don't remember it. I remember only silence broken delicately by the sound of her skates on the ice. It was a singular moment in time, dare I say otherworldly? And then she was finished. She had stopped, curtsied, and smiled at us, still in silence, until a roar of cheering erupted from our throats. We became part of her moment, which became our moment. That time and place are forever etched in my memory."

Tenley Albright '55, M.D. '61, just months before Moss saw her, had become the first American woman to win the world figure-skating championship. She followed that with Olympic gold in 1956. Today she is a surgeon in Boston, a lecturer on medical education at the medical school, and chair of its Alumni Fund.

Will Dean Kagan flood the plaza this winter? "We'll definitely do it again," she says. "We'll even see if we can rent skates this time, but no promises."

Harkness Commons and the courtyard in question underwent major renovation last summer. John Arciprete, who oversaw the project, reports that changes to grade will better accommodate the skating rink and that other changes will facilitate its flooding and maintenance. "We have a much-improved sound system," he adds. Mother Nature will continue to provide the chill factor.