Alma Mater (New York sculpture)

Alma Mater (New York sculpture)

thumb|right|Butler Library ] "Alma Mater" is the name given to a sculpture of the goddess Minerva by Daniel Chester French on the outdoor steps leading to Low Memorial Library on the campus of Columbia University in New York City. French also sculpted the statue of John Harvard that sits in Harvard Yard. Installed in 1904, "Alma Mater" has become a symbol of the university and a repository of its lore.

French was an avid taxidermist and apparently hid many owls among his works. There is indeed an owl hidden in the folds of "Alma Mater"'s cloak, and college superstition has it that the first member of the incoming class to find the owl will become class valedictorian. When Columbia was all-male, the legend used to go that any Columbia student who found the owl on his first try would marry a girl from Barnard.

In the 1960s and 70s, the radical leftist group the Weather Underground planned to blow up the statue, but these plans were shelved after the group managed to blow much of itself up inside a Greenwich Village rowhouse instead. Since then and a protest incident involving the splashing of red paint on the statue, unsubstantiated rumors persist that the university keeps three backup copies of the statue for emergency replacement.

Further reading

Durante, Dianne, "Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: A Historical Guide" (New York University Press, 2007): discussion of the statue and the 1960s attack on it.

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