03 February 2007

Pulling the Woolsey Over Visitors' Eyes at Yale

On 24 January, the Boston Globe ran a story titled "Learning the lay of the land at Yale," which guilelessly reported: “On the way out of Old Campus, everyone rubbed the foot on the statue of Theodore D. Woolsey, president of the university from 1846-71, for good luck, a campus tradition.”

That’s pure, unadulterated bulldog. I spent four years at Yale, snatching all the luck I could get and doing plenty of stupid things, but I never adhered to this “campus tradition.” I never even heard of it. As the Yale Alumni Magazine reported in 1998:

One of the most striking testaments to the mythmaking powers of tour guides is Theodore Dwight Woolsey's toe. Some time in the last ten years, someone invented a "tradition" of rubbing the toe of the Woolsey statue on the Old Campus for luck, explaining that students employ this practice before exams. Similar traditions exist at many other institutions [i.e., Harvard, but we don't mention them], but it's difficult to find an alumnus over the age of 30 who has ever heard about President Woolsey's toe. Nevertheless, tour guides spread the story diligently, inviting visitors to give it a try themselves. As a result, the statue, the rest of which is a dull gray-green, has a left toe that has been rubbed shiny, and the story seems for all practical purposes as old as the statue itself.
Let me also point out the clunky “from 1846-71” in the Globe story. If one writes out the “from,” simple fairness (i.e., parallel structure) says one should write out the “to” as well. If “from 1846 to 1871” is too long, then go with “1846-71.” Moomph moomph moomph.

No comments: