The Thief, the Pocket Watch, and the Dry Goods Merchant


Dr. Melvyn Koby returns the watch he pilfered 50 years ago.


Fifty years ago Vanderbilt senior Melvyn Koby made off with a little piece of Vanderbilt history: a pocket watch from the statue of Francis Furman that stands on the landing inside Furman Hall.

“It was loose, and I just lifted it off and left,” Koby laughs. “I guess I just wanted a souvenir of all the hard work I’d done in the chemistry building. I passed the statue every day.”

Koby returned the watch to Furman during a visit to campus for his first Quinq Reunion in October. His accomplice in the theft, fellow chemistry alumnus and Zeta Beta Tau fraternity brother Art Diamond, was not able to join him—Diamond had passed away just a few weeks earlier. Koby is an ophthalmologist in Louisville, Ky., and Diamond was a retired radiologist.

Francis Furman, the owner of Furman & Co. Wholesale Dry Goods and Notions on Nashville’s Public Square from about 1870 until around 1890, had no connection to Vanderbilt. His wife, Mary, survived his 1899 death only by a few months and, in her will, left $100,000 for Vanderbilt to construct a building named for her husband.

When Furman Hall opened in 1907, it was touted as the most modern chemistry and pharmacy building in the country. A 1967 renovation turned it into a building that housed the humanities—as it still does today.

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