Harvard Bridge
Measuring Harvard Bridge

Measuring the Harvard Bridge
in "Smoots"

left to right: Oliver Smoot, Peter S. Miller, Gordon Mann, Nathan Hopton, William Edmiston

The official length of the Harvard Bridge is 364.4 Smoots plus on ear, as measured by the MIT fraternity Lambda Chi Alpha using pledge Oliver Smoot, class of 1962. According to Smoot,

As all who walked the bridge in those days will remember, it was difficult, especially in the rain, sleet, snow, and fog of which Boston gets its share, to know how much further you had to go to get to the Institute. So in October 1958, [Tom] O'Connor [Lambda Chi pledgemaster] ... devised the idea of marking off the bridge in pledge lengths. Scanning the assembled pledge class, he determined that I had the short end of the stick.

As with many pledge tasks, there was an easy way out if a little ingenuity was exercised -- namely use a string. In any case, Pete, Gordon, Nate and Bill agreed to help us and we set off with the paint, chalk, etc. Unfortunately, a brother in the class of '61 thought this task was so hilarious that he accompanied us. With him there, we had no choice but to do the actual measurements. I can tell you that even then I could not do the equivalent of 365 push-ups, so much of the way I was carried or dragged.

Luckily for the five of us, we were cold sober; in any case, when an MDC [Metropolitan District Commission] black [police] van appeared at about the 300 mark, we cut for the dark recesses of the Great Court and waited for them to leave.

from The Journal of the Institute for Hacks,
Tomfoolery & Pranks at MIT

Distances on the bridge are indicated with a colored paint mark every Smoot and a number every ten Smoots. Biannually, the pledge class of Lambda Chi Alpha repaints the markings with a new color. The police have come to accept the Smoot marks. In fact, they use the markers to indicate locations when filing accident reports. After the bridge was rebuilt in the late 1980s, the Smoot markings reappeared and the tradition continued. For the record, one Smoot is 5' 7" long.

Measuring Harvard Bridge

left to right: Peter S. Miller, Oliver Smoot, Gordon Mann

MIT Trivia