MIT celebrates its historic move to Cambridge

'Moving Day' will feature a parade, a pageant, and pyrotechnics.

MIT will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its move to Cambridge Saturday.
MIT will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its move to Cambridge Saturday. –Globe File

Everything was set for MIT’s move from Boston to Cambridge in June 1916—the naval regatta, the airplanes, and even the enormous handmade, papier-mâché beaver (you know, because it’s the school’s mascot).

Then it poured. And thundered. And lightninged.

Still, The Boston Daily Globe reported that “keeping a squirrel on the ground [was] sheer tiddley-winks compared with depressing the spirits of Technology graduates on reunion.”

It isn’t surprising that the folks at MIT, innovators that they are, found a way to pull off the celebration of the century. Now, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the university’s historic move, MIT will host its own “Moving Day” celebration this Saturday.

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The day-long event will feature both a parade and a pageant, as the celebration did back in the day, though organizers said this year’s events will be more reflective of the inventive nature of the school.

“It’s going to be something really quirky,” said John Ochsendorf, a professor of architecture and engineering at MIT, who helped organized the event. “People are going to think, ‘that’s uniquely MIT.’ There will be robots, floating objects, and student-built contraptions. For spectators that’s really quite exciting.”

It’s also been quite exciting for the MIT community, who has been planning the event for two years. Ochsendorf said it’s important to commemorate the university’s move to Cambridge because it launched the school into a new realm of possibilities. At the time, Harvard had already established its worldwide prominence. MIT had unsuccessfully tried to merge with the Ivy League school in the early 1900s, but Ochsendorf said the move to Cambridge allowed the university to grow, not only in space, but in prominence.

“MIT was at the heart of the action in Boston in Copley Square, but the space was highly constrained,” he said. “If MIT had stayed there, it would’ve been hard to grow to the position it has today and its worldwide impact.”

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The actual move happened over the course of three days in June. Back in 1916, The Boston Daily Globe report said “it would require a column of type to tell all the details,” but the highlight was the pageant.

“Much had been expected of the spectacle,” the report said. “But no imagination succeeded in picturing what was to be seen.”

Just before it began, the charter and seal of the university were brought across the river while music played and fireworks sparkled in the background. Then, hundreds of alumni from as far away as India and Australia gathered for the pageant, which featured interpretive dances to show how man interacts with the six elements, as well as time, will and wisdom.

The university’s motto—”Mens et manus,” which is Latin for “Mind and hand,”—will be the theme of the free pageant this Saturday evening. But instead of just dances and pyrotechnic displays, this year’s program is also filled with multimedia soundscapes.

It doesn’t end there. The community is invited to watch the “Crossing of the Charles” at 2 p.m., which Ochsendorf described as a quirky parade and competition that pays homage to the spirit of the 1916 ceremonial crossing from Boston to Cambridge.

The procession will travel over land and water and will feature more than 30 teams competing for points based on creativity, speed and how well they convey a sense of “only at MIT!” Entries could include artistic performances, mobile sculptures, floats, boats, underwater vehicles, or so-called “amphibious things,” according to the competition’s website.

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Oliver Smoot, a university celebrity whose body was used to measure the length of the Mass. Ave. bridge as part of a fraternity prank in 1958, will return to campus to serve as the parade’s grand marshal. He’ll be joined by fellow MIT alum Ray Magliozzi, cohost of NPR’s popular show, “Car Talk.”

There’s also a chance history could repeat itself, in ways both good and bad. It might rain on Saturday.

“We’re praying to the weather gods and obviously hoping for a beautiful spring day,” Ochsendorf said. “Regardless, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to celebrate MIT and bring it to the larger community.”

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