Penn’s campus is full of surprises. This sculpture on a wall of the Quad—it’s near the archway to the left of the Provost’s Tower entrance at 36th and Spruce—depicts former President Woodrow Wilson strangling Victoriano Huerta, the former president of Mexico. We learned about it by way of a scholar in Mexico, writing a book on Huerta, who had contacted the University’s Architectural Archives with a query related to an item from the August 22, 1921 edition of The Washington Post:

Former President Shown Choking Huerta on College Building

Philadelphia, Aug. 21—Woodrow Wilson was discovered today allegorically choking former president Huerta of Mexico. The discovery was made at the University of Pennsylvania, where a gargoyle depicting a begoggled figure representing President Wilson with his hands clenched around the throat of the former Mexican executive was found on the north wall of a dormitory erected at the time relations between the United States and Mexico were strained.

“It was a little joke, such as is often made in architecture,” said George B. Page, the architect who designed the building. “The building was erected at the time when Wilson and Huerta were having their political struggles and we incorporated the idea into the carving on the wall of the dormitory.”

Apparently, Wilson disapproved of Huerta, who had taken power in a 1913 coup, and called for him to step down and hold elections. He later sent troops to occupy Veracruz after some US sailors were seized by Mexican soldiers in what became known as the Tampico Affair. Huerta, who was also engaged in battles with internal rivals, including Emiliano Zapata and “Pancho” Villa, resigned and went into exile in July 1914, dying the following year.

Wilson would go on to larger struggles in World War I, at Versailles, and over the League of Nations, none commemorated in stone—at least not around here. —J.P. 

Photo by Laura Francis C’13

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