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Posing as Reporter for Crimson, MIT Junior Recovers Beaver Paw

By Dan Cho


The paw of Tim the Beaver, stolen in Harvard on March 17, was brought back to MIT last Thursday by John A. Fries ’03, a student in Course XVIII (Mathematics).

Posing as a reporter for The Harvard Crimson, Fries tricked the thieves into handing him the paw, at which point he fled. He took the paw back to his brother’s apartment in Central Square.

Fries decided to reclaim the mascot’s foot after reading about a failed mission to storm a Harvard student’s dormitory room and retrieve the paw, led by Rhett Creighton ’02.

“It really seemed that Rhett had made some strategic errors,” Fries said. “You don’t raise an army to go over there and attack these guys. Clearly a little more finesse was in order.”

After learning about Creighton’s expedition, Fries phoned Harvard student Paul Gilligan on Wednesday afternoon, telling the freshman that he was a reporter from the Crimson. Fries said Gilligan and his roommates were enticed by Fries’ promises of campus-wide fame and agreed to an interview with him.

“They basically went wild about that,” Fries said. “They loved it.”

With a notebook and disposable camera, Fries traveled Thursday to Holworthy Hall, the dormitory where the paw was being kept. Fries also purchased a Harvard t-shirt to further corroborate his false identity.

Outnumbered Fries bides time

Fries said approximately 12 Harvard students were waiting for him in the Holworthy Hall room, including Gilligan and the student who allegedly took the paw. Fries had initially planned to grab the paw and run from the building as soon as he saw it, but he was unprepared for the number of students who showed up to take part in the interview.

Fries began taking photos and chatting with the students to stall for time and wait for an opportunity to snatch the paw.

“Every now and again a couple people would leave, so I realized the longer I kept things going, the better off I was,” Fries said.

Thieves lured outside

Fries said he eventually convinced the some of the Harvard students to venture into the chilly, rainy evening with the paw to pose for photos in front of the statue of John Harvard. Fries was surprised that the students agreed to do so.

“It seemed to me that no one in their right mind would not suspect a trap under those circumstances,” Fries said.

The Harvard students eventually allowed Fries to hold the paw while he pretended to arrange a special camera shot. At that point, said Fries, he ran off with the paw.

Duped freshmen give chase

Fries said the freshmen pursued him around Harvard Square. Unfamiliar with the area, Fries did his best to elude the angry Harvard students. At one point, he found himself stuck in a cul-de-sac, hidden but unable to flee further from his chasers who were gradually closing in.

“When I was in that cul-de-sac, I realized that I might get the crap kicked out of me,” Fries said. “I’m thinking to myself, ‘Wow, I have the paw in my hand and I’m about to lose it.’ It was such as bitter moment.”

The Harvard students did not, however, check the street in which Fries was hiding. After waiting 20 minutes, Fries left Harvard and made his way to his brother’s apartment in Central Square.

None of the Harvard students involved could be reached for comment.

Moral victory overdue

The paw was stolen on March 17 after Class of 2004 Ring Committee member Amal K. Dorai ’04 wore the beaver suit to Harvard Square, where an unknown male ran off with it after Dorai had removed it to climb the statue of John Harvard.

Several weeks later, Creighton led a raid on the thieves’ dormitory room, which was aborted when one of the room’s inhabitants returned.

“It was just going pathetically poorly for us before,” Fries said. “I couldn’t stand for that.”

Dorai was glad that somebody was able to retrieve the paw that he had lost. “He saved a lot of lost dignity,” Dorai said.

Creighton was also pleased with Fries’ successful recovery of the paw. Creighton said that Fries’ success vindicated his own prior attempt.

“We helped get [Gilligan’s] name out there. I was hoping that someone else from MIT would be able to get it back,” Creighton said. “I'm glad it happened. I felt like at least me and the other people weren’t complete failures.”

Paw’s fate uncertain

Fries said he does not intend to keep the paw, but was unsure to whom he should give it. The Class of 2004 Ring Committee has already paid the Campus Activities Complex $650 for a set of replacement paws. Dorai was able to raise $140 of that sum himself.

Both Creighton and Dorai suggested placing the paw in some sort of display case. Dorai added that it would make a good addition to the MIT Museum.