It was built in 1914 with a $2.5 million donation from Eleanor Elkins Widener as a memorial to her son, Harry, Class of 1907, a bibliophile who perished aboard the Titanic. She insisted on three stipulations: 1) No altering the face of the building (it has expanded to five stories underground, with more than 50 miles of shelves, holding more than 3 million books); 2) fresh flowers be placed daily in Harry’s reading room (in which no one else may go except the flower deliverer) and 3) Harvard students must pass a 50-yard swim test to graduate because Mrs. Widener thought if Harry had known how to swim, he wouldn’t have gone down with the Titantic. (The swimming requirement was eliminated in the 1970s, and some sources dispute that Mrs. Widener was responsible for implementation of the requirement.)
After tales of pranks and lies, and hours in Harvard Square browsing the Harvard Book Store (family-owned since 1932) and the world’s only Curious George Store, I needed a little respite. I found it a mere mile and a half from Harvard.
Serene, verdant and blissful only begin to describe Mount Auburn Cemetery, designed in 1831 as America’s first garden cemetery. In this 175-acre arboretum, there are more than 9,400 trees (600 different types), more than 40,000 monuments (and more than 97,000 resting bodies) and Halcyon Lake (which lives up to its name).
You can do a walking tour or drive around. (There are 10 miles of roads and paths, and maps available.) Even though this is Cambridge, search for the graves of Boston’s best and brightest, including activist nurse Dorothea Dix, Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy, futurist Buckminster Fuller, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, sportscaster Curt Gowdy, artist Winslow Homer, politician Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and psychologist B.F. Skinner.
The cemetery has all kinds of events, including concerts, wine tastings and bird-watching. And, of course, funerals and weddings (there are two chapels).
I climbed the Washington Tower, built in 1854, and got a stunning view of Boston across the Charles River, and, of course, Cambridge.
Boston is hip, trendy and fast-paced. Cambridge is more diverse, alternative and neighborhood-oriented. The fifth-largest city in Massachusetts, it is sometimes called “the city of squares” because the commercial centers of its various neighborhoods are all squares — Harvard, Porter, Davis, Central, Kendall, Lechmere and Inman.
Near Kendall Square sits the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — two miles or two subway stops from Harvard.
While Harvard is rich with history and old buildings, MIT is distinguished by modern art and architecture. There are sculptures by Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder, Louise Nevelson and Henry Moore, among others. Perhaps the most iconic or photographed is “The Alchemist,” Jaume Plensa’s modern bust of a man literally made out of various numbers.
The dense campus is dotted with striking buildings by such famous architects as Eero Saarinen (Kresge Auditorium) and I.M. Pei (the Green Building). But the pièce de résistance is the Stata Center by Frank Gehry, architect of the Weisman Museum at the University of Minnesota.
Yes, the Stata Center is eccentric, even weird. On the outside and the inside. The exterior looks like it was designed by a kid who got carried away adding towers to his Lego structure — except these towers are clad in brick and shiny metal and look like they are about to topple over.
Inside, the hallways, stairways and rooms seem jury-rigged by some diabolical architecture student trying to exact revenge against a school from which he flunked out (which isn’t really the case here). You can’t find your way without a map or a stop at the giant “?,” which is an information booth.
Ishaan Chugh, a computer science major from New Delhi, said it took him a week to figure out how to navigate the Stata Center.