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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

The College Pump

Errant Oars

July-August 2005

"Your wooden arm you hold outstretched to shake with passers-by."

The secretary of the class of 1947 has asked for the help of Harvard Magazine, with its mighty circulation, in his effort to recover the missing oars of Lucius N. Littauer. Charles D. “Chuck” Thompson described the loss in a recent issue of the newsletter he puts together for his class.

“In 1975 I suggested to my friend Harry Starr ’21, LL.B. ’24, president of the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation, that Mr. Littauer’s rowing oars be given to Harvard University. Mr. Littauer, and the foundation after his death, carefully stored the oars for nearly 100 years. Harvard’s [then] director of athletics, Bob Watson, enthusiastically welcomed the foundation’s gift. Upon their receipt Mr. Watson installed the oars in the Newell Boat House tank room along with a bronze plaque.” It reads:

Lucius N. Littauer AB ’ 1878
1859 - 1944
Harvard Crew 1874-1878
Harvard Football 1874-1877
First Harvard Football Coach 1881
Harvard Scholar and Athlete.
Industrialist, Member of Congress,
Philanthropist, and Benefactor to Harvard.
These oars used by Mr. Littauer in 1875 and 1877

Littauer (1859-1944) manufactured gloves in Gloversville, New York. He was a five-term Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives and a friend and adviser to Theodore Roosevelt ’80, LL.D. ’02. He coached the varsity football squad for some games in 1881, before which there had been no coaching by anyone but the captains.

Harry Parker, men’s varsity crew coach, gave a talk at a class luncheon in October 2004, Thompson wrote in his newsletter. “Coach Parker told me privately afterward that the oars are no longer in the Newell Boat House tank room.…[T]he Kennedy School of Government ‘borrowed’ the Littauer oars for display at a special convocation honoring Mr. Littauer and his generous gift to Harvard.” The oars never returned.

Parker tells Primus today that the function was to be held in the elegant hall of the former Busch-Reisinger Museum, he recalls, “some time ago, well before 2003.”

By letter Thompson queried David T. Ellwood, once Littauer professor of political economy and now dean of the Kennedy School, about the missing oars. No one has heard of them, replied a dean’s-office staffer. Primus gave that line of inquiry another try and also asked former deans Joseph S. Nye and Graham T. Allison Jr. about knowledge of oars, as well as the building manager of the once Busch-Reisinger (now the Center for European Studies), the person in charge of renting museum facilities for celebrations, and—a long shot—the building manager of Littauer Center. (That edifice, near the Law School, now houses the government and economics departments of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, but it was built in the 1930s with some of the $2 million or so given by Littauer to establish the Graduate School of Public Administration. In 1966 the school changed its name to the Kennedy School of Government—reportedly to the deep dismay of the Littauer Foundation and Starr, Littauer’s former secretary and longtime friend—and in 1978 moved to the banks of the Charles River. The school named a large wing of the new building the Lucius N. Littauer Center for Public Administration.) All of these people disclaimed any knowledge of Littauer’s oars. “I can only assume,” wrote Thompson, “the oars are still at the Kennedy School.”

Now come on, folks. Oars are awkward items, not easily overlooked. Return them to Newell Boat House. No questions asked.

Strange ones. David S. Whitcomb ’72, a neurologist in Marietta, Georgia, reports that while doing some improving summer reading he came across this passage in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers, first published in 1940: “Biff went to the end of the counter and returned with two glasses of draught beer. The drunk picked up his glass so clumsily that beer slopped down on his hands and messed the counter. Biff sipped his portion with careful relish. He regarded Blount steadily with half-closed eyes. Blount was not a freak, although when you first saw him he gave you that impression. It was like something was deformed about him—but when you looked at him closely each part of him was normal and as it ought to be. Therefore if this difference was not in the body it was probably in the mind. He was like a man who had served a term in prison or had been to Harvard College or had lived for a long time with foreigners in South America. He was like a person who had been somewhere that other people are not likely to go or had done something that others are not apt to do.

“Biff cocked his head to one side and said, ‘Where are you from?’

“‘Nowhere.’” 

~Primus V