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Why was there a jar of urine in Harvard's Lamont Library?

Posted by Rob Anderson  December 14, 2010 03:37 PM

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lamont.JPGThe Mysterious Case of the Urine in Harvard’s Library sounds a little like an old Encyclopedia Brown story. But it’s a real-life whodunit that started last weekend, when the Harvard Crimson reported that university police were investigating urine damage on 36 books about gay, lesbian, and transgender issues in the stacks of Lamont Library. At the time, police said this could be a hate crime, and Harvard’s dean of students chimed in with a statement denouncing bigotry. But on Monday, Harvard officials announced that the case was closed, and the spill had been an accident. A library worker, brushing through the stacks, had accidentally knocked over a bottle of pee, spilling it on the books.

Well, that clears things up. It's little surprise that conspiracy theorists have been buzzing about a coverup, since the real explanation sounds so perfectly bizarre — and weeks had passed between the Nov. 24 spill and the investigation itself. In fact, there’s a decent explanation for the delay. According to Harvard spokesman Jeff Neal, library workers cleaned up the spill right after it happened, and considered the matter closed. Later, they realized they had to make an insurance claim for the damaged books, so they filed a police report as part of the routine paperwork.

Still, the question remains: Would anyone really leave a jar of pee on the library stacks? At Harvard, sure. Here are a few theories.

1) Final Club punch prank. You saw “The Social Network.” You know the crazy things kids will do to get into the Porcellian. And come on...if a bunch of bluebloods told you to pee in a jar and put it in the library, would you really be able to resist?

2) Chemistry experiment. This is an institution of learning, a hotbed of experimentation, and who’s to say some enterprising student wasn’t using the stacks of Lamont to test some theories? About what? Hmm...the changing pH of urine in an open jar? The rate of evaporation in stale library air? Maybe it was one of those physics-for-poets Core science classes.

3) Hate misdemeanor. Urinating on a book about a minority group would be a crime. But leaving a jar of urine near said book...just in case someone happened to knock it over? That would be a passive-aggressive crime-ette, worthy of a brilliant and devious mind. Actually, it would make a great episode of “CSI.”

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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