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Students Kissed Her Feet for Good Luck. Now She’s Missing Her Head.

Students Kissed Her Feet for Good Luck. Now She’s Missing Her Head.


A marble statue of the Roman goddess of knowledge that presided over Wells College for 156 years, surviving each a devastating hearth in 1888 and an tried kidnapping in 1975, was embraced by college students as a logo of resilience for generations.

Until Minerva was decapitated by a backhoe.

The statue was unintentionally broken throughout a hasty transfer this month after the school, nestled towards one of many Finger Lakes in central New York, mentioned monetary challenges would make the spring semester its final.

At a school the place college students have lengthy kissed Minerva’s toes for good luck and referred to “her” as a fellow pupil, the beheading is an unavoidable metaphor for the angst surrounding the establishment’s sudden closure.

Wells was a girls’s school for the majority of its historical past, and lots of alumni cherish how the godly consultant of knowledge and battle, embodied in a girl, appeared over the campus on Cayuga Lake for generations.

“I misplaced my mom a pair years in the past,” mentioned Caolan MacMahon, who graduated from Wells in 1985. “This is nearly more durable.”

Workers shifting the statue on June 12 strapped Minerva to a furnishings dolly earlier than hanging the statue horizontally from a backhoe’s bucket with shifting straps. Too heavy for the helps, her head snapped off.

It hit the bottom with a loud thump, mentioned Linda Schwab, the historian for the encircling village of Aurora. She mentioned the backhoe operator had put his palms over his face and yelled an expletive.

Schwab, who graduated from Wells in 1973 and taught chemistry there, mentioned the accident felt like a ultimate blow.

“It’s form of unfolding out earlier than you, simply how terrible that is, on high of the whole lot else,” she mentioned.

Wells introduced on April 29 that it might shut as a result of it did “not have satisfactory monetary sources to proceed.” It cited broad challenges to small schools nationwide, together with the coronavirus pandemic, inflation and a shrinking pool of scholars. (Enrollment knowledge exhibits that 353 college students had been enrolled at Wells within the fall 2023 time period. The school started accepting male college students in 2005.)

Jonathan Gibralter, who served as the school’s president for 9 years, mentioned in an interview that plans to professionally transfer Minerva to guard it from vandalism and theft had nonetheless been taking form when a bunch of Wells staff selected to behave by itself.

“Several members of the workers, of their sort and beneficiant effort to save lots of the school cash beneath the circumstances, determined to attempt to transfer it themselves,” Gibralter mentioned in an interview final week. “They are horrified.”

On Thursday, the school’s board of trustees introduced that it had “parted methods” with Gibralter and was “working to call the following chief of Wells College.” Gibralter mentioned the choice was unrelated to the statue’s destiny; the school, which hopes to disperse its property by the tip of the yr, didn’t reply to a request for remark.

The statue was a present for the school’s 1868 founding from a son of Henry Wells, a businessman who began the establishment and was instrumental within the founding of American Express and what would develop into Wells Fargo.

Schwab mentioned the statue was believed to be an 1860s copy of the Athena Giustiniani, itself a Roman reproduction of a Greek bronze sculpture. The Roman statue, which is within the Vatican Museums, is known as for the Italian artwork collector who owned it after its discovery within the 1600s.

Some alumni are utilizing Minerva’s decapitation as a rallying cry.

The Cleveland Commission, a small group of graduates making an attempt to cease the school’s closure through authorized injunction, skilled a one-day bounce in donations of $9,500 after the beheading. The group is known as after Frances Cleveland, who graduated from Wells earlier than changing into the primary girl of the United States.

When Kristy Lee Parkin heard that the statue’s head had damaged off, she stood up from her desk and screamed.

Parkin, who graduated from Wells in 2005 and taught her now-teenage daughter to kiss the statue’s toes for good luck when she was 2 years outdated, mentioned Minerva symbolized what it meant to be a “Wells girl.”

“She teaches us to be robust within the face of adversity, she teaches us to look and to analysis and study the whole lot that we will,” mentioned Parkin, one of many founders of the Cleveland Commission. “The mission of the school, which we nonetheless repeat to today, is to suppose critically, motive correctly and act humanely.”

After a category reunion in May that was attended by many graduates as a send-off for his or her alma mater, the Roman goddess was coated in roses. Now her marble head and physique are in an undisclosed location on campus, Gibralter mentioned, resting inside a steel-lined vault.

Wells mentioned it was consulting with outdoors specialists and would professionally restore the harm as quickly as attainable. But that has not reassured alumni who’re upset by the accident and disgruntled by the school’s closure.

“It’s an embodiment of how they’ve been dealing with this complete scenario,” Parkin mentioned. “What are they going to do? Gorilla Glue on her head?”

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