Status: Update about a classic college prank NPR reports
that Oliver Smoot has retired from the board of the American National Standards Institute. Fans of classic college pranks will recognize Smoot as the official unit of length of the Harvard Bridge. Here's what Neil Steinberg writes (in If At All Possible, Involve A Cow: The Book of College Pranks
) about how the Smoot came into being:
In the fall of 1958, the pledge masters at MIT's Lambda Chi Alpha house, dreading the approaching freeze, charged their pledges with remedying the bridge situation. They gave them the task of marking off the bridge so that a person crossing could know how far it was to the other side without looking up. The unit of measurement selected by the frat elders was the body length of one of the pledges. That role, and immortality of a sort, fell to the shortest member of the pledge class, Oliver Reed Smoot, Jr. One October night, Smoot, several fellow pledges and an upperclass overseer, armed themselves with white paint and headed for the bridge. There they laid Smoot end over end, painting a Smoot mark at every 5'7 interval delineated by Smoot's body. The Harvard Bridge is long, and by the end they were picking up Smoot and moving him along. The bridge measured precisely 364.4 Smoots, plus one ear.
Ever since 1958 the Smoot marks have been diligently repainted and have become a Boston landmark, their preservation embraced and encouraged by the Boston government itself. It seems kind of ironic that Smoot himself, the man who embodied a unit of length, ended up on the board of the American National Standards Institute.
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