Tuesday, March 29, 2011


By Archie Mazmanian

One day on a Charles River walk with my children, when we came to the Harvard Bridge (which I had known as – and still call - the Mass. Avenue Bridge) we decided to cross it. I had been over that bridge many times before on public transit and by automobile, but this was my first time on foot.

Fairly quickly when we got to the western sidewalk, we noted what seemed to be strange markings on the sidewalk, arousing our curiosity. As we tried to understand these markings, a gentleman passing by told us that they were the result of a prank of MIT students some years earlier who used a classmate as a measure for the span of the bridge. This student, Oliver Smoot, would lie down at the beginning on one side of the bridge and his classmates would mark his length on the sidewalk. Smoot and his classmates continued this process to the other side of the bridge. My children were excited as they heard this story and took turns lying down to see how they measured up to a Smoot. In the course of this, I recalled the incident had been reported in local newspapers. Over the years, MIT students were “guilty” of many public – and private – pranks that were quite imaginative. The Smoot as a measure for these to-be-scientists/engineers contrasted with the metric system integral to science/engineering, but perhaps was related to old English measures like the “foot.” [Note: Those interested in the Smoot incident will find details via Internet searches, including a reenactment in recent years. Such searches should be extended to other MIT student-pranks that involved scientific/engineering skills.]

But on this first trip on foot across the Mass. Avenue Bridge, our focus on the Smoot markings kept us from examining and enjoying the views of the Charles upstream and down; on later trips we were thrilled with such expansive views from this bridge as well as other bridges that cross the Charles. The answer to the old riddle “Why did the chicken cross the road?” does not adequately address why we cross bridges; yes, we want to get to the other side, but take the time to examine the wonderful vistas of the Charles and the Boston and Cambridge sides at the same time.

After getting to the Cambridge side, we headed westerly towards the BU Bridge. While the banks were not as readily convenient as on the Boston side, the views of Boston were from a difference perspective than we had been accustomed. I also noted a building on Memorial Drive that looked familiar. It was the Sancta Maria Hospital building where in the summer of 1945 just prior to my 15th birthday I had been a patient for a hernia repair. Back then my thoughts were not of the Charles River. But I most likely got there by taxi from our apartment in Roxbury over the Mass. Avenue Bridge.

When we got to the area of the Hyatt Hotel, we noticed the white geese along the river’s shore (which was then unimpeded by vegetation subsequently planted to thwart the white geese’s access). A lot of people including children were seated along the bank watching the geese and their goslings. So we joined them. This was my first contact with the Charles River White Geese. There were quite a few geese, which was in contrast to the small number of ducks (usually in pairs followed by ducklings) we had observed on the Boston side of the river. When a young child out of curiosity would venture too close to the geese, the geese would honk and if the child continued to approach, the geese would advance to protect their goslings, just as we parents protect our children. What a joy this was for my children, to be so close to the geese in a natural environment. Back then I didn’t think to question what the geese were doing there. It just seemed so natural. This was in the days before Canada Geese had invaded the area for other than fly-overs. It wasn’t until years later, via the Charles River White Geese Blog, that I learned of their history in the area of the BU Bridge and the plight they were facing as a result of actions of State and Cambridge governmental agencies. [Note: Perhaps our Editor can provide a link to that history for visitors unfamiliar with it.]

My children enjoyed the geese on our Charles River trips for several years thereafter until their activities and interests changed as they got older. Now, the very existence of the Charles River White Geese is under challenge. Over recent years, some of my contributions to this Blog have focused upon their plight. I commend our Editor and his associates for their efforts in bringing this to our attention. Hopefully this Blog is reaching quite a few persons who have an interest in the Charles River ready to take up the cause of the Charles River White Geese. We have to shame the responsible (actually irresponsible) public officials for their actions and inactions. In protecting the Charles River, our jewel, it is important to protect its weakest, right now the Charles River White Geese who are fighting for survival. Our children and grandchildren should be able to enjoy these geese in such a natural habitat. What message are these irresponsible public officials sending to our children and grandchildren with their tactics?

[Note: This does not conclude this series despite the “sermon” in the last paragraph. Part VI will explore trips to the Esplanade as my children got older.]

Prior reports:

Part IV, 3/7/11: http://charlesriverwhitegeeseblog.blogspot.com/2011/03/charles-river-memories-part-iv.html.

Part III, 2/19/11: http://charlesriverwhitegeeseblog.blogspot.com/2011/02/charles-river-memories-part-iii.html

Part II, 2/5/11: http://charlesriverwhitegeeseblog.blogspot.com/2011_02_05_archive.html

Part I, 1/29/11: http://charlesriverwhitegeeseblog.blogspot.com/2011_01_29_archive.html