fb-pixel Skip to main content

CAMBRIDGE -- Crowds scrambled for photos and selfies Saturday afternoon, cheering “Smooooot!” as Oliver Smoot slowly made his way over the Harvard Bridge in a red 1941 Buick convertible, followed by a group of students bearing a “Smoot Brigade” banner.

“The man, the legend, the unit of measurement!” said Katy Kem, an MIT senior who was waiting on the Harvard Bridge with her friends for the procession to go past.

Smoot -- a 75-year-old alumnus of MIT’s class of 1962 and the namesake of the “smoot marks” on the bridge, where his friends used his 5-foot-7 inch frame as a unit of measurement in a fraternity prank -- was the grand marshal of the “Crossing the Charles” event. He re-created the night in 1958 immortalized in MIT lore by lying next to the smoot marks for the amusement of the many spectators. All members of the “Smoot Brigade” that followed him across the bridge were 5 foot 7 inches tall.

From rafts and fantastical wheeled contraptions to salsa dancers and puppets, a colorful array of MIT creations crossed the Charles River -- by land and by water.


The event was part of a celebration of the 100th anniversary of MIT’s move from Boston to Cambridge. In 1916, the university’s charter was taken across the river in a ceremonial journey by barge, according to the university.

The designs were created by teams of MIT faculty, students, staff, and alumni.

Smoot said he had attended a ceremony on the bridge in the fall of 2008 with the mayor of Cambridge for the installation of a plaque to commemorate the smoots, but the crowd had been barely a tenth of the size of Saturday’s.

“It was a great hook, because everything is synergistic here,” said Smoot. “The centennial move — it all fit together.”


The Bucentaur, a Venetian-style barge created in homage to the original vessel that carried the charter across the river, sailed its maiden voyage on the Charles River early Saturday afternoon, its gold paint still wet, before competing in the celebration.

“Kids have been working on these things all semester, some of them all year,” said Sam Fomon, a graduating senior at MIT who was eager to see the end results of her classmates’ creations.

Fomon was one of five students who helped two MIT staff members design and build the Bucentaur, but with the goal to not repeat the same crossing but to create a new event with “the flair and twist that is us,” she said.

The group, led by boat captain and manager of student arts programs Sam Magee, spent the hours before the competition putting the finishing touches on their masterpiece.

Details included a gold Athena figurehead, a small gold beaver figurine at the tip of the prow, and a string of gold-colored paper medallions with wishes for the next hundred years written on them by members of the public.

“It’s pretty impressive that people still find time to do fun things while they’re here, that are not related to their schoolwork at all,” said Rachel Osmundsen, a junior student at MIT who also worked on the Bucentaur.

Under gray skies occasionally spitting rain, the procession across the river began on the Boston side at 2 p.m. and took more than an hour.

Concepts were graded by a team of six MIT staff members. Points were awarded based on attributes including creativity; humor, school spirit, and/or a sense of “only at MIT”; elegant engineering design; aesthetic beauty; and speed.


Winners of the competition in four categories were announced Saturday afternoon: the Beaver Spirit won for school spirit; the Tech Pioneer won for most innovative; the Bosworth won for beauty and elegance; and the da Vinci won for best creativity and wonder.

The four winners were to be honored at the “Mind and Hand” pageant celebrating MIT’s history Saturday evening. A campus-wide dance party, featuring music and culture from the 1930s to the present, was planned to be held 9:30 p.m. to midnight.

The university termed the event “Moving Day,” posing the question “How would you move?” said architecture professor John Ochsendorf, who conceived of the event with mechanical engineering professor Peko Hosoi.

“We had no idea what to expect, but we can also say that this is not an atypical response,” said Hosoi. “You put out this kind of challenge, and people rise to the challenge.

“There were a lot of nice moments,” so Ochsendorf.

MIT celebrated the 100th anniversary of “Moving Day.”
MIT celebrated the 100th anniversary of “Moving Day.”Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Nicole Fleming can be reached at nicole.fleming@globe.com.