Henry David Thoreau’s Room at Harvard

I knew a guy who who was a highly placed person at Harvard College, and had gone to the College for his undergraduate education. I’ll call him “Dean.” Prior to his attending Harvard, he had already become a major fan of Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau, of course, went to Harvard. So when Dean was accepted to Harvard, being a major Thoreau fan, he endeavored to find out what room in the Freshmen Halls (at Harvard, “Hall” = “Dorm” for Freshmen, “House” = “Dorm” for Sophomores and beyond), was Thoreau’s. I am not sure what records or resources he used to try to figure this out, but he managed to do so. And it turned out this was to be the easy part.


After Dean found out what Hall and room Thoreau lived in during his Freshman year, he endeavored to get that room and that Hall. That presumably took some pulling of strings, but he managed to get part way through that process when he discovered to his great horror that the Hall in which Thoreau lived had been totally redone on the interior. None of the rooms were original, and even the hallways had been moved around.

So, Dean found plans for the old building, and he obtained current plans for the new building. He took measurements and compared the plans and figured out which room of all those in the building was most overlapping with Thoreau’s original room.

Once he did this he returned to the task of getting that particular room in that particular Hall. He succeeded.

So in the fall of his first year as a student at Harvard, Dean moved into his “Thoreau’s room.” It turned out that he had a roommate. After moving in, and the usual greetings, and getting something to eat, and putting a couple of things on the walls, and so on and so forth, Dean talked to his new roommate and admitted to him what he had done. He told him he was a Thoreau fan, that he wanted to be in Thoreau’s room, that this room no longer existed, that he figured out which room most overlapped with the original room, and all about his efforts to get to live in this room in this Hall.

When he was done explaining it all, his new roommate beamed at him and said. “Me too.”

(“Dean” is a pseudonym. The original Dean died about five years ago, and a portrait of him hangs today in one of the Yard’s buildings.)

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10 thoughts on “Henry David Thoreau’s Room at Harvard

  1. What a great story, and just the kind of activity that Thoreau would have admired. It’s been my goal to visit Walden Pond at some point in my life and read Walden in its entirety (for the fourth time) while sitting on the bank. I know it’s changed beyond recognition from the natural landscape that existed for the years he was there, but it’s one of those serious promises you make to yourself in your youth that you’re bound to keep.

  2. I’d like that too! What a wonderful story, it brought tears to my eyes. I hope he went to Walden’s Pond after graduation.
    I would also like to get there some day, but I’m afraid it may have been changed over time beyond recognition.

  3. I thought a harvard kid would’ve been smart enough to use the correct grammar and say “Me too”. As a result, I don’t believe the story.

  4. Walden pond was a big disappointment for me, although I must confess I only went because I had a friend visiting who was a huge Thoreau fan (it’s just a few miles from my house). It seems that in their effort to conserve it, they’ve almost ruined it. First, there’s a concrete beach near the entrance where you can actually approach the water. It’s a bit ugly, but passable. The bigger problem is that they’ve built a low wire fence that runs around the entirety of the pond to keep people from approaching. The fence itself isn’t too visually obtrusive, but it’s made the actual shoreline have an unnatural feeling. It almost looks like an artificial retention pond. Time and circumstance have also put the pond right by the intersection of two major roads, so it’ not isolated. So as long as you’re just going for the â??I can’t believe I’m actually hereâ? feeling, you’ll be happy. But if you’re going for a more authentic woodsy, ambiance, you might be disappointed.

    -This comment is part six in my review of famous ponds.

  5. The wire fence is to prevent the unceasing footfall of traffic to contribute further to the erosion problem the pond is experiencing.

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