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Secrets of the Herman B Wells statue



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The Herman B Wells statue can be found by Owen Hall. Many students sit next to Wells and shake his hand as a tradition. IDS File Photo Buy Photos

The likeness of Herman B Wells sits cheerily on a bench near the former IU President’s original office, hand outstretched and palm down — the way Wells would have held it.

Harold “Tuck” Langland, a former IU-South Bend professor and the sculptor, said the statue was revealed to an emotional audience in October 2000.

“They knew him,” he said. “He had died not long before, and all of a sudden there he was in their midst.”

Langland shared a few secrets of the Wells statue with the Indiana Daily Student.

1. Wells is larger than life

The statue is about 110 percent times the real-life size of Wells, Langland said.

“If you make it exactly life-sized and cast it in bronze, and put it in public, it looks too small,” he said. “It needs to be a little bit bigger.”

Langland compared the necessity of increasing the size of statues to the way actors raise their voices on stage.

"If you’re acting in a play, you can’t talk the way you would talk in a room with somebody,” he said. “They’ll never hear you.”

2. It had to be a windy day

Langland wanted Wells to be wearing his characteristic Homburg-style hat, but he didn't want the brim to shade the statue’s face.

“I had him take the hat off and hold it on the bench because it’s a windy day,” he said. “How do you know it’s a windy day? His tie is flipping over.”

3. There was never a cane

Some IU tour guides tell prospective students Wells’ hand is cupped the way it is because there used to be a cane in it. Langland said that is not correct.

Wells just had a distinctive way of shaking hands.

“Herman Wells would put his hand flat. He’d roll it slightly to the left so that his thumb would be pointing left,” he said. “That’s just how he did it.”

4. The IU logo was initially backwards

Langland said he went to see the benches when they were being cast in bronze and found the IU logo on the end of each bench was welded on backwards.

The “I” must be behind the “U” for the logo to be correct, he said. A woman working at the facility where the sculpture was being cast removed the incorrect logos, spun them around and welded them back on in what Langland called an astonishingly short amount of time.

5. The hand could be replaced someday

Wells’ outstretched hand has been polished to a bright gold by those who shake it for the good luck it supposedly brings. 

Langland said he has a mold of the hand and plans to donate it to Bloomington at some point.

“If it gets too bad they can cast a new one and weld it on,” he said.

6. There are 12 miniatures — somewhere

Langland had 12 miniature statues of Wells cast. Each is one third the size of the original.

He said one is in IU President McRobbie’s office and one is in Harlos House, but he doesn’t know where the rest went. He doesn’t have one.

7. There’s an homage to Minnesota on the brim of Wells’ hat

The bottom of Well’s hat is engraved with “IU vs Minnesota Oct 21 2000.”

Langland went to the University of Minnesota and said he wouldn’t have put that on the hat if the unveiling of the statue wasn’t on the day of the homecoming game between IU and his alma mater. 

Minnesota lost that game 51-43.

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