You’ve heard of bridges in various parts of the world that have become dangerous because lovers attach locks to the scaffolding to cement their love. The historic Pont des Arts bridge in Paris recently had to be “de-locked” to prevent further damage. But there are many bridges in the world, and many superstitions and traditions about them. Some expect a greeting, others expect you to kiss someone. The Harvard Bridge has a particularly great story behind a rather strange tradition.
Oliver Smoot enjoys the unusual honor of having his own body used as a unit of measurement. In October 1958, members of MIT's Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity devised a pledge prank in which they used Smoot to measure the length of the Harvard Bridge. (Smoot was supposedly chosen because he was the shortest pledge, and his last name sounded kind of scientific.) The obliging Smoot lay down and got back up repeatedly across the bridge while his pledge brothers painted marks every ten "Smoots" (one Smoot is about 5 foot 7 inches). According to their final calculations, which were painted onto the pavement, the bridge was 364.4 Smoots, "plus or minus an ear." The ear was intended to provide a margin of error, since the fraternity brothers knew their methods weren't precise. The Smoot marks have survived, and are re-painted by incoming members of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity each year. They've been preserved through renovations on the bridge, and were celebrated during a Smoot Day bash on October 4, 2008, the 50th anniversary of the original measurement. Incidentally, Oliver Smoot went on to have a career in measurement, eventually becoming chair of the American National Standards Institute and serving as president of the International Organization for Standardization.
That’s just one of ten stories about bridges and the traditions that have grown up around them that you can read about at mental_floss.
(Image credit: Denimadept)