Had it not been for an encounter between a friend of Robert Todd Lincoln and a young woman chaperoned by Julia Ward Howe’s daughter, the Boston College eagle might still be in Japan.
The gilded bronze eagle (an osprey, really) spreads its wings high atop a 30-foot marble pillar in front of Gasson Hall at the end of Linden Lane. It is a favorite backdrop for proud parents to be photographed with their newly admitted — or recently graduated — sons and daughters.
The eagle wasn’t always the anthropomorphic symbol of Boston College. In 1920, a newspaper cartoon about a Boston College track victory depicted the school as a cat. The Rev. Edward McLaughlin was so disturbed by the image he wrote to the college newspaper:
It is important that we adopt a mascot to preside at our pow-wows and triumphant feats…. And why not the Eagle, symbolic of majesty, power, and freedom? Its natural habitat is the high places. Surely the Heights is made to order for such a selection. Proud would the B.C. man feel to see the B.C. Eagle snatching the trophy of victory from old opponents, their tattered banner clutched in his talons as he flies aloft.
The eagle stuck, but it wasn’t until 1954 that the bronze statue nicknamed ‘Baldwin’ arrived at Boston College.
It had belonged to the estate of Mr. and Mrs. Larz Anderson of Brookline, Mass. Their lives are a story in themselves.
Mrs. Anderson was born Isabel Weld Perkins on March 3, 1876 in Boston, the only daughter of a wealthy Brahmin family that dated to the Mayflower. Her ancestors on both sides had ties to shipping, the Far East, Harvard and great wealth. Her father, Commodore George Perkins, was a Civil War naval hero; her mother, socialite Anna Minot Weld, belonged to the Weld family, of which former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld is the best known.
When she was five years old, Isabel Weld Perkins inherited $17 million from her grandfather, William Fletcher Weld, making her one of the wealthiest women in the country. At 20, her parents asked Maud Howe Elliott to chaperone Isabel on a yearlong grand tour of Europe. Elliott was the daughter of Julia Ward Howe, author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. She wasn’t sure it was a good idea and asked her sister Laura what to do. Laura told her to ‘accept, by all means.’
This would be good honest work…it may very likely be the saving of a really fine child, whom her fool parents are doing their best to spoil…Consider the position of this lamb, I pray you. Natural (I fancy), bright, and all her days hitherto spent with absolutely unintellectual people: fortune-hunters swarming around her like bees; no wise person to guide or guard her.
In October 1896, Maud and Isabel set off for Europe. Isabel would become like a daughter to Maud, and Maud would introduce Isabel to her future husband at her apartment in Rome.
Larz Anderson III was the scion of a wealthy Cincinnati family. At Harvard he befriended Robert Todd Lincoln, who helped him get a diplomatic post in London. By 1896, Larz Anderson was in Rome as first secretary to the American embassy, and head over heels in love with Isabel Weld Perkins.
They were married a year later and lived a life of travel, adventure, public service and luxury. A Boston Globe writer described them thus:
…these Andersons? They were idle rich, born to money and accustomed to privilege — but they were interesting people who left us something…
Larz Anderson served from 1912 to 1913 as U.S. ambassador to Japan. It was there that they acquired the gilt bronze osprey that now spreads its wings above the Boston College Campus.
Larz Anderson died on April 13, 1937, and Isabel donated their Washington, D.C., mansion to the Society of Cincinnati. She donated her bonsai collection to the Arnold Arboretum. Her money had also helped pay for the Anderson Memorial Bridge connecting Brighton to Cambridge and named after Anderson’s father.
When Isabel died on November 3, 1948, she bequeathed their 64-acre estate to the Town of Brookline, where it is now Larz Anderson Park. The grounds had been elaborately landscaped and included Japenese gardens, which the gilded bronze osprey adorned. Their auto collection, the oldest in the world, is also on display at the park.
The Andersons’ possessions were given to people who had worked for them. Augustus (Gus) M. Anderson (no relation), who worked as a private secretary for Isabel Anderson for over 40 years, received the eagle. He had displayed it outside his home, but grew concerned about weather damage. Gus Anderson was a big Boston College football fan, so in 1954 he donated the eagle to the school.
Gus Anderson’s concerns about the weather proved correct. Boston College had the eagle repaired and copied. It is an exact replica of the original eagle that now overlooks the Boston College campus.
With thanks to Carrying the Torch: Maud Howe Elliott and the American Renaissance by Nancy Whipple Grinnell.