Happy Hunting

Happy Hunting

New Haven is full of Easter eggs, and not just on Easter Sunday.

Usually either hard-boiled and dyed or plastic and stuffed with candy, standard Easter eggs are left by a certain imaginary member of the leporidae family. We’re thinking, instead, of what Wikipedia defines as “an intentional inside joke, hidden message or image, or secret feature of a work.” The term was first coined in relation to computer programs and video games, extended to movies and TV and is now used even more widely.

Time to grab our baskets and see what’s been hidden in the Elm City!

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Many of the images carved in stone on the facades of Yale’s buildings are Easter eggs. Some honor historical moments, Classical figures, even donors. Others take themselves less seriously. Stop at the corner of Grove Street and High Street and look up at the gables of the prestigious School of Law to find humorous figures of a wolf, a parrot and a bulldog posing as lawyers, their clients a goat with money bags and a donkey. They’re among dozens of carvings on Yale buildings designed by James Gamble Rogers, who “wanted to illustrate that Yale didn’t take itself too seriously,” writes Michael Stern in Yale’s Hidden Treasures (2012), which documents the carvings.

Edwin Howland Blashfield’s ceiling mural Triumph of the Dance (circa 1894) offers a much subtler Easter egg in the American Decorative Arts section of Yale University Art Gallery. Blashfield was working on the commission for the New York City mansion of Collis and Arabella Huntington when author Mark Twain came to call. “Upon seeing this painting in Blashfield’s studio, … Twain remarked, ‘Well, I don’t know who they are, but I wish I was up there with them, and dressed the same,’” as the gallery’s website tells the story. Blashfield may have granted his wish, painting a head in the clouds that looks suspiciously like Twain’s, peering into the armpit of a reclining nymph.

Go up the hill to Albertus Magnus College to find what is perhaps the most complicated Easter egg in town. On the floor of the atrium in Tagliatela Academic Center, 12 mysterious mosaic tiles seem randomly placed. But on one day of every month at approximately 1 p.m., the sun shines through a gnomon—a small, stained glass seal of the college—high on the atrium’s large south-facing window, projecting its ruby glow directly onto one of the tiles. Each tile depicts a symbol representing an event important in the life of the college or of Catholicism. On April 29 at 1 p.m., for example, the shadow of the gnomon will illuminate a mosaic tile of a simple white ring representing “the bride of Christ” and commemorating the feast day of St. Catherine of Siena.

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Downtown on Chapel Street, you can hardly miss another visual surprise that requires proper alignment. Stop on the sidewalk marker across from the Green and look down the alley between Ann Taylor and Zinc. A series of apparently random red-orange designs painted on the sides of the buildings and the Crown Street Garage at the far end of the alley seem to magically align to form artist Felice Varini’s Square with Four Circles, commissioned in 2010 by Site Projects, a New Haven nonprofit promoting public art.

Aside from James Gamble Rogers, the city’s most prolific Easter egg planter may be the secretive street artist known as BiP (“Believe in People”). In 2014, after years of painting images into the city’s nooks and crannies, he mounted a satirical National Register of Historic Places plaque on the York Street facade of the Yale University Art Gallery, which read in part: “This plaque marks the site on which Sam Dilvan used a felt marker to scrawl the minimalist yet emotionally complex tag, ‘BOOBZ.’” The plaque was removed and temporarily displayed by the gallery. BiP, who left his marks on a Yale classroom, sidewalks around campus and numerous other New Haven locations, has since left the city, and his identity remains unknown (though Sam Dilvan, as keen minds discovered once they’d rearranged the letters, is known to be an alter ego of Vandalism).

Inside jokes, another type of Easter egg, dot the city as well. The sign on Grand Auto Center on Grand Avenue borrows the exact typeface of the video game series Grand Theft Auto, a reference non-gamers will surely miss. And at Grove Street Cemetery, two Yale professors continue to compare CVs even after death. The first, John Gamble Kirkwood, died in 1959 and has “some twenty lines describing his many accomplishments and achievements” listed on his tombstone, says retired Yale professor and Grove Street docent W. Jack Cunningham in the script for a cemetery tour. Upon the death of Kirkwood’s colleague Lars Onsager in 1976, Onsager’s stone was placed just next to Kirkwood’s, listing him simply as “Gibbs Professor, Nobel Laureate.” As Cunningham notes, the punchline is “an asterisk following the Nobel listing,” which “refers to a footnote at the bottom of the stone with the mere notation: Etc.”

Love hunting for hidden treasures and need more? There’s always Geocaching, offering a veritable egg hunt any day of the year. Download the app on your phone and launch your search. As for literal Easter eggs, it’s not too late to hop on over to local hunts tomorrow on the North Haven Green from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. or in East Haven at 11 at the tennis courts on Hudson Street.

You can also search this story, which has an Easter egg of its own. Happy hunting!

Photo Key:

1. One of 12 mosaic tiles lit by sunlight passing through a red Albertus Magnus seal.
2. Portal to the room containing Triumph of the Dance at the Yale University Art Gallery.
3. Mark Twain’s head?
4. The red Albertus Magnus seal.
5. Font selection at Grand Auto Center.

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 1 provided courtesy of Albertus Magnus College. Image 2 provided courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery. Image 3 photographed by Dan Mims. Images 4-5 photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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