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Have You Heard the One About the Squirrels?

Andrea Paz Frost, ’98, can speak to at least one Stanford myth from personal experience. She and her husband, “Voice of Stanford Stadium” Steve Frost, ’96, were married in MemChu on a coveted June day, and they had to reserve the date 14 months—not five years—in advance.

As director of Visitor Information Services, Paz Frost shepherds the 60-plus students who field questions from the more than 100,000 annual campus visitors. Shortly after taking the job in 2001, she started jotting down recurring legends she was hearing from the guides. Paz Frost consulted with University archivist Maggie Kimball, ’80, about the facts and enshrined the worst offenders on a “Wall of Myth” in her office. Stanford evaluates the credibility of several on a scale of 1 (yeah, right) to 5 (could be):

WeddingMYTH: Memorial Church has a (3, 4, 5)-year waiting list for people who want to get married there.
BELIEVABILITY FACTOR: ••••
FACT: Desirable summer slots require reservations about one year in advance; the wait for nonpeak times is shorter. Memorial Church requires three months to coordinate a ceremony; the Roman Catholic Church requires six months.

Harvard VeritasMYTH: Leland and Jane Stanford originally wanted to donate money to Harvard as a memorial to their son, but were rebuffed because of their clothing and tattered appearance.
BELIEVABILITY FACTOR: ••
FACT: “This story is totally untrue,” trumpets the Wall of Myth.

MargueriteMYTH: The Marguerite shuttle is named for a horse that belonged to the Stanfords (variously described as Jane’s favorite mare, the elder Leland’s first horse and little Leland’s preferred pony).
BELIEVABILITY FACTOR: ••••
FACT: The free shuttle service is named after a horse that belonged to one of the livery services that ferried people from Palo Alto to campus in the University’s early years.

Gates buildingMYTH: Bill Gates donated the computer science building so that the professor who failed him at Harvard would have to teach in a building bearing his name.
BELIEVABILITY FACTOR: •
FACT: “There is no truth to this,” proclaims the Wall, “and it should never be said.”

timecapsuleMYTH: When returning to campus for their 50th reunion, the members of each class can vote to open their time capsule.
BELIEVABILITY FACTOR: •••••
FACT: The only time capsule openings have been inadvertent due to large construction projects such as the Wallenberg Hall renovation. There are no plans to open the time capsules in the Inner Quad.

TreeMYTH: The tree athletic mascot was randomly picked out of a hat.
BELIEVABILITY FACTOR: •
FACT: The Tree is derived from a real evergreen named El Palo Alto, “though how directly is debatable,” as the Wall of Myth puts it. Part of El Palo Alto—which Leland Stanford selected as the name of his farm—still stands near the Palo Alto-Menlo Park border.

MemChuMYTH: Bay Area earthquakes have never caused a Stanford fatality.
BELIEVABILITY FACTOR: •••
FACT: “Unfortunately,” says the Wall, “this is not true.” In 1906, student Junius Hanna and staff member Otto Gerdes were killed, both by collapsing chimneys.

red roofsMYTH: The Stanfords chose red tile roofs so that Leland Jr. could spot the campus from heaven.
BELIEVABILITY FACTOR: ••••
FACT: “Absolutely not true,” says the Wall. “Think of all the other red-tile buildings in California!”

Adam and EveMYTH: Because of her commitment to a coeducational instutution, Jane Stanford insisted that the facade of Memorial Church depict an equal number of men and women.
BELIEVABILITY FACTOR: •••
FACT: Jane Stanford did insist that women be represented in the church iconography. But more men than women appear on the facade, which depicts Christ blessing the people. “The 50/50 ratio,” the Wall explains, “is apparent in the male/female pairs of figures in the East and West transept (Old Testament) and in the stained glass windows located high in the nave (New Testament).”

Mr. SquirrelMYTH: The black squirrels on campus are the result of: (a) a science experiment gone wrong; (b) two European squirrels brought by Leland Jr.; (c) “I don’t know, but aren’t they freaky?”
BELIEVABILITY FACTOR:
 ••
FACT: Black squirrels happen. “It’s simple biology,” declares the Wall.

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