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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 an emblem of resilience for generations.

Until Minerva was decapitated by a backhoe.

The statue was by accident broken throughout a hasty transfer this month after the faculty, nestled in opposition to one of many Finger Lakes in central New York, stated 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 scholar, the beheading is an unavoidable metaphor for the angst surrounding the establishment’s sudden closure.

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

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

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

It hit the bottom with a loud thump, stated Linda Schwab, the historian for the encompassing village of Aurora. She stated 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, stated the accident felt like a remaining blow.

“It’s type of unfolding out earlier than you, simply how terrible that is, on high of all the pieces else,” she stated.

Wells introduced on April 29 that it might shut as a result of it did “not have sufficient monetary assets to proceed.” It cited broad challenges to small schools nationwide, together with the coronavirus pandemic, inflation and a shrinking pool of scholars. (Enrollment knowledge reveals 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 faculty’s president for 9 years, stated 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 avoid wasting the faculty cash below the circumstances, determined to attempt to transfer it themselves,” Gibralter stated in an interview final week. “They are horrified.”

On Thursday, the faculty’s board of trustees introduced that it had “parted methods” with Gibralter and was “working to call the subsequent chief of Wells College.” Gibralter stated the choice was unrelated to the statue’s destiny; the faculty, which hopes to disperse its belongings by the top of the 12 months, didn’t reply to a request for remark.

The statue was a present for the faculty’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 turn out to be Wells Fargo.

Schwab stated the statue was believed to be an 1860s copy of the Athena Giustiniani, itself a Roman duplicate of a Greek bronze sculpture. The Roman statue, which is within the Vatican Museums, is called 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 attempting to cease the faculty’s closure by way of authorized injunction, skilled a one-day leap in donations of $9,500 after the beheading. The group is called after Frances Cleveland, who graduated from Wells earlier than turning into the primary woman 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 previous, stated Minerva symbolized what it meant to be a “Wells girl.”

“She teaches us to be sturdy within the face of adversity, she teaches us to look and to analysis and be taught all the pieces that we will,” stated Parkin, one of many founders of the Cleveland Commission. “The mission of the faculty, which we nonetheless repeat to this present day, is to assume critically, cause 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 lined in roses. Now her marble head and physique are in an undisclosed location on campus, Gibralter stated, resting inside a steel-lined vault.

Wells stated it was consulting with exterior specialists and would professionally restore the harm as quickly as potential. But that has not reassured alumni who’re upset by the accident and disgruntled by the faculty’s closure.

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

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