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John Harvard's Journal

Character Count

May-June 2020

Architectural plan for Widener Library

Click on arrow at right to see full image
Photograph by Stephanie Mitchell/HPAC


Click on arrow at right to see full image
Photograph by Stephanie Mitchell/HPAC

It is widely known that Harry Widener (Vita, May-June 2019, page 44) had a memorably unsuccessful experience boating—on the Titanic. Barely known is the role that African-American architect Julian Abele had in creating the eponymous library, in his capacity as chief designer in the Office of Horace Trumbauer, the name architect for the project.

Abele is now getting some overdue credit, thanks to a gemlike display in the dome of the library, assembled by Kate Donovan, associate librarian for public services in Houghton Library and curator of the Widener Memorial Collection. (Kudos to the news office’s senior writer, Colleen Walsh, and photographer, Stephanie B. Mitchell, for bringing the exhibition to the community’s attention.) Beyond rectifying the unjust neglect of Abele’s work, the drawings themselves and their setting (when accessible again) may cause visitors to reinterpret the building itself. Its mass, hunkered down in Harvard Yard, is its overwhelming feature—but inside and out, it is finely and delicately decorated in many pleasing ways.

The front elevation of December 23, 1912, shown here, is not definitively from Abele’s hand. Nonetheless, the detail atop the columns merits amused attention: “INSCRIPTION HERE NOT TO EXCEED FIFTY LETTERS A.D. MCMXII.” As contemporary observers can attest, the stonecutters in the end had to chisel only 44—something anyone passing by can see even while the libraries are closed.

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Illustration showing groups on both sides of the Charles River pushing two halves of a brick bridge together to span the river

Illustration by Mark Steele

Headlines from Harvard’s history

Image of sign on Adams House faculty dean residence

Photograph by Harvard Magazine/JSR

The College Pump

Alumnus Paul Lee ’46 carries the (replica) Little Red Flag at the 2012 Harvard-Yale game. Steve Goodhue ’51 is beside him; Spencer Ervin ’54 and Jeff Lee ’74 stand behind.

At his seventieth Harvard-Yale game, in 2012, Paul Lee ’46 proudly carried the replica Little Red Flag. Steve Goodhue ’51 is beside him; Spencer Ervin ’54 and Jeff Lee ’74 stand behind.

Photograph courtesy of Judy Goodhue

Who next will carry the (replica) Little Red Flag?