In ancient Rome Alma Mater was the title of various mother goddesses like Ceres or Cybele. The statue on the steps of Columbia University’s Low Library was originally covered in gold leaf, but during the anti-Vietnam War protests of 1968 a bomb damaged the finish and in repairs the shining leaf was not restored. The scepter in Alma Mater’s right hand is composed of four sprays of wheat, terminating with a crown of King’s College, which refers to Columbia’s origin as a Royalist institution in 1754. The scroll-like arms of the throne end in lamps, representing sapientia and doctrina, wisdom and learning.
A security guard ambled by and in a friendly tone he said, “Can you see the owl in the statue?”
He explained that an old legend has it that the first student in the freshman class to find the hidden owl on the statue will be valedictorian, and that any subsequent Columbia male who finds it will marry a Barnard student.
I looked carefully at Alma Mater, up and down, and left and right, but I could not see an owl. Finally the guard pointed to a spot in the folds.
Ah. How could I have missed it?