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A piece of the True Fence?

George H. W. Bush ’48 sat on it. So did Walter Camp, Class of 1882, and Albie Booth ’32. From 1875 to 1952, all of Yale's athletic team captains were photographed sitting on a piece of the historic Yale Fence that was kept in a New Haven photography studio. Now, reports the Hartford Courant's Jeff Jacobs, an unnamed person claims to have the section of fence in question and plans to auction it off next year.

Jacobs says the irregularities in the rails of the fence in question match those in the historic photographs. Author and Yale sports historian Rich Marazzi told Jacobs that that particular fence was used for captain's portraits through 1952; since then, captains have had their iconic portraits taken in front of a different piece of fence at the athletics department's Ray Tompkins House.

Before it became a totem of athletic captainhood, the Fence was a center of undergraduate life, where Yale men spent their leisure smoking pipes and shooting the breeze. A whole set of rules and customs grew up around the Fence, with the best locations reserved for upperclassmen; freshmen were prohibited to sit on the Fence until their ritual "fence rush" in the spring, where they took possession en masse while sophomores tried to forcibly remove them. It was gradually removed after the Civil War, as the Old Campus was enclosed with buildings, with the last pieces disappearing in 1888.

But the Fence lived on as the name of a popular fraternity, the Fence Club, and in the annual athletic photographs. (Our magazine's letters column was for years called The Graduate Fence.) And pieces of the fence, esteemed like relics of the True Cross, are to be found in memorabilia collections. (We have a 26-inch piece of fence rail in our office—see the picture above.)

Marazzi has traced the old fence section used in athletic photos from its home at the Pach Brothers photography studio through several other homes, but Jacobs says the Fence's ownership "has grown hazy" in recent years. If and when Jacobs's anonymous seller comes forward and puts the section up for auction, we'll see who's buying—and how much it's worth.

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