Operation Magenta

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It’s the weekend before The Game. Patrick Clark and Daniel Murphy, two “students” in the Harvard class of 2015, are preparing a petition. Their mission: to bring back Harvard Magenta, a hue that once colored the scarves of Cantab dandies and the jerseys of Cambridge athletes. Unbeknown to the students around them, Clark and Murphy are in fact undercover WEEKEND agents.

Daniel Sisgoreo and Tapley Stephenson report on Harvard’s licentious history of color seduction and Yale’s enduring love for its one true hue: Yale Blue.

22:43, 11/10/11, outside Harvard Yard

Two Securitas guards stand watching the gates of Harvard Yard, refusing to let anyone in without an ID due to a large number of dissenters trying to “occupy Harvard.”

School spirit heyyyy.
David Yu
School spirit heyyyy.

Two WEEKEND agents — the brave and dashing Murphy and Clark — stand 20 yards away, preparing to infiltrate. Their mission: to return magenta — the old Cantab flame — as an official color of Harvard University. If they succeed, the 375-year-old institution towering before them will see her identity signed away by her own students.

Armed with nothing more than photoshopped images of Harvard IDs printed on adhesive labels, the two agents approach the Securitas guards.

“Can we see your IDs?” one guard asks.

They flash their doctored Costco cards, emblazoned with the names “Patrick Clark” and “Daniel Murphy,” nestled within a pocket of their wallets.

He shines a flashlight onto the IDs and quietly waves the agents past. The crimson “HARVARD UNIVERSITY” on the makeshift identification cards has served its purpose.

They are in.

THE EARLY YEARS

In the beginning, Yale and Harvard shared the same color. Following the medieval traditions of European universities, diploma recipients at both universities donned the color blue, a symbol of intelligence.

Harvard diplomas were always tied with a blue ribbon in the school’s early years, Samuel Eliot Morison wrote in “Three Centuries of Harvard,” published in 1936. Even in 1836, the Harvard bicentennial celebration was a gala of blue and white.

According to Yale’s Chief Research Archivist Judith Schiff, Yale, too, followed this tradition, wrapping each diploma in blue in the University’s earliest years.

One should note that there is a foul, audacious rumor that Yale’s color was once green. This rumor stems back to a book called “Memories of Eminent Yale Men” by Anson Phelps Stokes 1896. In a footnote, Stokes noted that Yale Blue did not come into general use outside graduation until the 1860s. However, in that footnote, he also cited a speech from the 100th anniversary of the Linonian Society, proclaiming, “Old Yale forever! Ever green may she be!”

As Schiff remarked in an interview, the Linonian centennial speech likely alludes to youth, rather than the actual University color. But, she explained, Stokes’ citation has been taken as fact ever since.

23:01, 11/10/11, Harvard Yard

The WEEKEND agents enter the Yard. The harsh autumn wind is difficult to bear — but Agent Clark is prepared, dressed for the occasion in a magenta Harvard sweatshirt.

They spy in the distance a group of Cantabs huddled before a hamlet of primitive dwellings.

“Should we approach them?” Agent Murphy asks.

Agent Clark moves forward, carefully approaching the creatures.

“Hey there, we’re a group of students working on a project,” Agent Clark begins. “We’re trying to bring back magenta as an official Harvard color.”

The Cantabs, who insist that they are “occupying” Harvard Yard, boisterously applaud the idea.

“That’s awesome!” one occupier interjects, startling Agent Murphy, who was sure that the band of Cantabs would immediately uncover the Yalies standing before them.

The Cantab continues, urging the WEEKEND agents to approach the Harvard Crimson, which, in rosier days, was known as the Harvard Magenta.

“Maybe the Crimson could change their name for a day and do a throwback edition,” the Cantab exclaims excitedly. “They probably would. I mean, they’re desperate for content — that’s why half their stories are from the AP.”

The agents, heartened by this outburst, present the gentle occupiers with a petition:

From 1860 to 1875, magenta was Harvard’s official color. Given the popularity of “throwback jerseys” in professional and college athletics, this petition calls for Harvard Athletics to recognize magenta as an official school color, and to provide Harvard’s teams with alternate magenta jerseys. [Disclaimer: in fact, magenta was Harvard’s color from 1866 to 1875.]

With one signature from each of the six occupiers, Operation Magenta is underway.

AN UNFAITHFUL LOVER

While Yale has remained loyal to herself and her colors, Harvard has been seduced by many a different hue: three, to be precise. The first — noble old blue — frequently served Harvard from its infant days through 1858.

That year, oarsman and future Harvard president Charles W. Eliot provided the Harvard crew team with red Chinese silk scarves to keep the sweat out of his team’s eyes. But sweaty, silky Crimson soon became old for “fair” Harvard and she found a new, more exciting love: magenta.

In the 1860s, each Harvard crew team began choosing a color for its year, although the University remained crimson. The crew of 1866 chose magenta and white. Following a very successful season, local stores began selling only magenta scarves, abandoning crimson. Over time, Harvard athletic fans started wearing more and more magenta, eventually making it the school’s de facto color.

According to a later history by the Harvard Advocate, a literary publication, Cantab fans who sought the traditional red scarves were obliged to take magenta or nothing.

But after years of confusion, on May 6, 1875, Harvard students realized their mistake and voted to change the university’s color back to crimson.

One newspaper, the Harvard Magenta, which began publication in 1873, realized that it too would have to change its name. By the very next issue, released May 21, 1875, the Harvard Magenta was the Harvard Crimson.

In its June 26, 1875 analysis, the Advocate celebrated the return to crimson.

“Magenta is (like all the aniline colors) a loose color,” the Advocate astutely noted in the piece. “It is one of those sickly shades that is almost impossible to harmonize with any other color. Intrinsically, it had nothing to recommend it.”

23:48, 11/10/11, Thayer Hall

After infiltrating two freshman dorms and collecting 32 signatures, the two agents enter Thayer Hall, on the northern side of Harvard Yard. The quest is proving far too easy: signature #14, after initially expressing resistance and declaring, “No way! I bleed crimson,” proceeds to sign the petition after minimal convincing. The agents begin wondering whether their success thus far is a result of their having encountered only the most naïve generation of Cantabs: the freshmen.

Ascending the stairwell of the Thayer Hall dormitory, the agents stop before a door on the second floor and knock calmly. Ready to pounce on his 33rd victory, Agent Clark launches into his persuasive rhetoric as the door opens.

“You guys know I’m a proctor, right?” signature #48 standing before him says flatly.

Proctors, in Cambridge lore, are old Harvard creatures — graduate students or faculty — who reside in each first-year dorm, slowly introducing the younger generation to the university’s hostility.

As a baby wails in the background of her home, the agents reassure the proctor that she can still sign the petition despite her old age.

She adds her name to the list. As she closes the door, a dangerous thought strikes her mind:

“Wait,” she pronounces, as she stops the agents from leaving. “You aren’t Yale students, are you?”

“Of course not,” Agents Clark and Murphy say, laughing confidently.

She eyes them suspiciously.

“We’re freshmen in Weld,” they assert.

“Who’s your proctor?” signature #48 asks, attempting to foil their plans.

“Iris Vuong,” Agent Clark immediately replies, recalling his former freshman counselor from his days as a young Eli.

“Oh, that’s strange, I don’t know her,” the proctor says confusedly. “But I only really know one proctor in Weld.”

“Oh weird, she’s on the third floor,” Clark says.

Satisfied with this answer, the proctor begins a lengthy speech concerning a prank pulled on her brethren in 2004. A band of Yale warriors convinced Harvard fans to denounce their own football team before Yale, holding up red and white banners that combined to form one resounding and unambiguous “WE SUCK.”

“Typical Yale,” they agree, before departing.

TRUE TO BLUE

Yale first met Blue at the University’s diploma ceremonies in the early 1700s. They tied the knot again and again, with the wrapping of each diploma. In 1853, Yale and Blue took the next step when Yale’s crew team, called the Yale Navy at the time, began flying a blue flag from the front of its bow.

“A commodore’s flag, a blue silk burgee, heavily fringed with white silk, with a white star in the center, surrounded by six smaller ones, was bought by Commodore [Richard] Waite [1853] with navy funds,” according to Charles A. Peverelly’s the “Book of American Pastimes.”

From then on, Yale and blue remained inseparable. Yale crews continued to wear blue and newer teams, such as the baseball team, wore the color since their inception. At the first Yale-Harvard football game on Nov. 13, 1875, the Yale men wore dark trousers, blue shirts and yellow caps at the first Yale-Harvard football game on Nov. 13, 1875, as reported in the Harvard Crimson. Harvard boys wore the usual crimson shirts and stockings with knee britches.

After nearly two centuries of de facto recognition, the Yale Corporation officially recognized the color blue on Nov. 13, 1894:

“Mr. Winthrop presented, on behalf of the Rev. Arthur W.H. Eaton, a shield representing the coat-of-arms of the University, and upon his motion it was voted, that the shade of blue known as the color of the University of Oxford be officially adopted as the color of Yale University.”

The two have remained together ever since.

01:00, 11/11/11, Harvard Yard

Leaving Thayer, the agents look out on a deserted Harvard Yard. Since it’s a Friday night and there’s nobody to be seen, they grow fearful that the Yard has been put on lockdown and their cover blown. They begin walking quickly towards the gate when they are stopped by two Harvard students, the future signatures #68 and #69, returning from a party.

“Hey guys, we’re working on a petition to add magenta to Harvard’s colors — do you want to sign?” Agent Murphy asks.

“Magenta? That’s kind of gay,” #68 notes, but both sign anyway.

They soon leave and Agents Clark and Murphy wave goodbye to the first and only drunk Harvard students they’ve seen all Friday night.

09:51, 11/11/11, outside Harvard Stadium

As morning dawns on Cambridge, the agents return to Harvard from their hideout in Wenham, Mass. This time, they venture towards the Harvard-Penn tailgate.

The agents know from their time at Yale that tailgates are unpredictable events. Patrons are often strangely dressed, if at all, and unusual behavior is the only norm.

Upon setting foot at the Harvard tailgate, however, the agents behold a tranquil scene. Before them stands a small assembly of Cantabs, calmly drinking what can only be nonalcoholic beverages.

The agents approach the herd of grazing Cantabs, soliciting interest in magenta.

The results are immediate.

“Magenta? That’s awesome!” bursts signature #93, who explains that he’s on the rugby team.

Clearly the alpha male of the herd, he ushers the others toward the agents, whose petition triples in signatures within an hour.

Among the signees: most of the Harvard cheer squad (“Oh my God! We would totally wear magenta uniforms! … If they gave us any money”), several members of the basketball team (“Yeah, that sound sick.” “I would rock that shit!”), among others.

HOW BLUE?

As the years went on, Yale realized that it would have to distinguish its blue. Was it an Oxford Blue? How much purple was too much? Could there be any grey?

In the 1930s, the Yale faculty began to ask these questions, leading University Secretary Carl Lohmann 1910 to define the color. Lohmann decided that a single piece of silk, allegedly from an academic robe, would be considered Yale Blue from then on.

Yale made several attempts to study the color of the silk, even sending it to MIT to be analyzed in a lab. Lohmann also tried painting the shade of silk in order to preserve the color in the event that the silk faded.

Today, both Lohmann’s painting and the scrap of silk are at the Yale Licensing Office. Ironically, the painting faded quicker than the silk did.

12:00, 11/11/11, inside Harvard Stadium

The agents, encouraged by the herd of Cantabs to gather more signatures at the football game, venture into the stadium.

At the game, a peculiar assembly of Cantabs stands on the Harvard side of the stadium, dressed entirely in crimson suits. Their uniforms read “Harvard University Band.”

Holding a variety of instruments, they produce music that elicits cheers from their compatriots nearby.

Between songs, the agents approach the uniformed Harvard affiliates, requesting their support for the petition.

Of all the Cantabs encountered that weekend, only the instrument-donning members of the “University Band” are able to stand their ground before the agents. Despite persistent requests to sign the petition and embrace magenta as a school color, the uniformed Cantabs refuse.

For them — and them alone — crimson is Harvard’s true and only color.

TECHNICALLY BLUE

In 2005, University Printer John Gambell ART ’81 was assigned the task of finally defining the one Yale Blue.

“I pictured a dark blue that you wouldn’t mistake for black, that was neither green nor purple, but sometimes it could be a little bit grey,” Gambell said. “It ceases to be Yale-ish for me when it goes purple.”

It should be noted that Merriam-Webster’s English Dictionary defines crimson as “any of several deep purplish reds.”

Gambell said that the environment in which the color is viewed, including elements such as lighting and canvas medium, could have huge effects on its appearance. To choose Yale Blue, Gambell used pieces of masonite viewed under 5000 degree Kelvin printer’s lights, eventually choosing the color defined by the hex triplet #0F4D92 or the RBG code (15, 77, 146).

The week before The Game, Gambell was asked if he could ever envision a second official Yale color.

“I can’t imagine it,” he replied.

14:07, 11/11/11, Starbucks, Harvard Square

Leaving the football stadium, the agents return to campus and successfully gather a further two dozen signatures in Harvard Square.

Shocked by the ease with which they convince the Harvard students to embrace magenta, the agents wonder whether the student newspaper might be as easily fooled.

The idea of changing the name of the Harvard Crimson back to the Harvard Magenta — as the “occupying” Cantab had suggested — grows more and more enticing. The agents start developing a plan.

ADORED BY ALL

It should come as no surprise that other universities have adopted Yale Blue as their own.

One of the first was the University of California, Berkeley. Many of the school’s founders have Yale connections, such as Henry Durant 1827, Berkeley’s first president, and the school shares the namesake of a Yale residential college: George Berkeley, one of Yale’e earliest benefactors. (Berkeley’s other official color is “California Gold,” in honor of its home state.)

Down south, both the University of Mississippi, “Ole Miss,” and Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Tex.. claim their colors to be “Harvard Crimson and Yale Blue.” SMU’s website claims that the school chose the colors “to symbolize SMU’s high standards.” The website did not explain why crimson was included.

Other schools have noted their colors’ connection to Harvard and Yale but do not claim to wear “Harvard Crimson and Yale Blue.” In 1890, University of Kansas students wanted to adopt Harvard Crimson but wise Yale alumni on the faculty demanded that Yale Blue also be included. Today Kansas’ colors are simply crimson and blue.

Other schools have adopted Yale Blue, only to reject the color later on. One such unfaithful school is Duke University, which adopted the color in the 1880s, when it was known as Trinity College. To honor its incoming president, John Franklin Crowell 1883, the college selected Yale Blue as its official color. The Blue Devils took the field wearing Yale Blue for 82 years before it switched to Prussian Blue.

14:41, 11/11/11, 14 Plympton St., Cambridge, Mass. (Offices of the Harvard Crimson)

Alas, the agents, emboldened by hoards of supportive Cantabs, fly too close to the sun.

Entering the offices of the student newspaper, the agents speak with a student staffer sitting at an old PC. She provides them with the names of two reporters who will write about the agents’ initiative.

The agents intend to contact the reporters using fake Harvard email addresses, a technique they had used to contact Crimson editors earlier that day. Their plan was foolproof — almost.

After the emails were sent by the support team at headquarters in New Haven, the agents notice that the messages had been sent from incorrect email addresses — while their fake names had been used, the email addresses appeared to come from the Yale domain.

Though the Crimson reporters pretend not to notice the slip-up, they forward the email to members of the football team, sounding a cyber alarm on the infiltration, and the plan unravels.

But in a conversation with the agents, one of the reporters admits that his newspaper took the magenta petition seriously and had intended to report on it.

If only.


The brave agents, venturing deep into enemy territory, hoped to get Cantabs to stray once more from their school color. Though the plan eventually fell through, the petition currently holds almost 150 signatures: Cantabs — including freshmen, upperclassmen, alumni and athletes — from all 12 houses at Harvard.

We would like to thank the following Harvard teams for their support of our petition: men’s basketball, football, women’s squash, men’s crew, women’s crew, sailing and baseball. We wish you all the best of luck in getting magenta uniforms.

Unfortunately, it seems that Harvard will remain Harvard Crimson, just as Yale has always remained blue. And we can be sure that Yale won’t be switching hues anytime soon.

When asked if he would ever considering adding another Yale color, University President Richard Levin showed little hesitation.

“Not on my watch,” he said.

Comments

  • dalet5770

    I wonder if the, “Colour Test” is required reading at the, “Crimson.” I also wonder how many of the, “Crimson,” live in Armonk, NY? Perhaps the census will tell us?

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