After climbing the small staircase up to the attic and opening the door, which any casual passerby would assume was locked, Russell Eida ’05 finally made his way to the rooftop oasis known as the Silliman Beach. Over the course of a year living in the tower just below the large rooftop, Eida had become familiar with the four towers at the corners of the roof as well as the elaborate stone gargoyles. This time, though, Eida was surprised to see that his usual hang-out spot looked a little different. Later, he speculated that the cans of Mike’s Hard Lemonade strewn about the rooftop — not to mention the masked man who greeted him with a rope — were part of an initiation ritual that had invaded the normally quiet Beach.
Yale features a number of locales similar to the Silliman Beach: small spaces that many students have heard of, but few have ventured to. While Harkness Tower is the usual “secret” destination on campus, a number of lesser-known rooftops are accessible to students who are looking for a change of scenery, but who are not lucky enough to know a carillonneur. But for those who live near them, these rooftops aren’t just a fun adventure, but more like private backyards — places to relax alone or to occasionally entertain friends.
Last year, Amanda Chavez ’05 lived adjacent to the Saybrook Beach, a medium-sized unenclosed rooftop in entryway O. She and her suitemates accessed the Beach by climbing through windows in their suite.
“I’d go out to do reading or prayer,” Chavez said. “Sometimes we’d spread out towels and lie out. At one point, we even put a green turf out on it. There are two chimneys so we could swing a hammock as well.”
Chavez and her suitemates rarely used the Beach for partying, as guests would all have to manage their way through the small windows in order to get outside. Also, since the next entryway over is only two stories high and there are no barriers of any kind around the rooftop, the Beach is not exactly the ideal party environment.
Chavez did mention one additional perk of lounging on the Beach especially applicable to gossip-mongers.
“Just from sitting on the roof, you can hear everything in the courtyard or conversations from people’s rooms,” Chavez said.
Chavez claimed she, however, did not listen to any of the juicy rumors floating up from the courtyard.
Both the Silliman and Saybrook Beaches are also noteworthy for the incredible views they provide for “beachgoers.” Eida, who lived in the tower just below the large Silliman College rooftop last year, would journey up to the Beach a few times a week, from which he said he got a 360 degree view that included East Rock, Timothy Dwight College, Silliman, Beinecke Plaza and Harkness Tower.
The roof of Bingham Hall on Old Campus is also a popular spot for freshmen from Calhoun and Trumbull colleges to check out.
Erin Johnson ’08 noted that when she made it up to the Bingham roof earlier this year, the door leading to the roof was unlocked. Johnson said that during the summer, she received a letter — she could not remember if it was from her big sib or her freshman counselor — praising the roof as a great place to “take a date and look at the stars.”
However, a few weeks into the school year, the door leading to the roof was securely locked. Johnson said all Calhoun and Trumbull freshmen received an e-mail from their masters outlining the dangers of the roof and explaining that it had to be closed for safety reasons.
But the masters’ warnings — and the legitimate safety concerns — did not deter some intrepid explorers. Johnson said the boys who lived downstairs from her ordered a lock-picking kit following the masters’ decree.
Though he acknowledged that the roof is “inspirational” and unique, Calhoun College Master William Sledge said it does not seem likely the roof will ever be safe enough for Yale students to experience.
“It’s a stunning view of Yale [from the roof],” Sledge said. “It’s understandable why people would want to be up there.”
Sledge said two major problems precipitated the closing of the roof. First, it is extremely easy for someone — especially after drinking — to lose his footing and fall from the roof, which is not enclosed. Also, when people walk on the roof, the weight breaks the waterproof membrane underneath, causing leakage.
Sledge said students were never supposed to be out on the roof.
The doors leading to the Silliman and Saybrook Beaches have been locked for similar reasons.
But those of you who are bored of the Berkeley College tunnels or are sick of locked doors shouldn’t fret.
The Yale Society for the Exploration of Campus Secrets is dedicated to investigating interesting campus locales. As of this fall, another organization that calls itself WTF (though only people in the group are allowed to know what the acronym stands for, it is supposedly not what one might guess) has sprung up. YSECS’s renegade doppelganger, WTF was formed from dissatisfied YSECS taps under the leadership of a TD junior who goes by the alias Ahmed Kazikian.
“We may be called urban spelunkers, loosely. In truth, we are explorers, architects, hackers, social engineers, stuntmen and cunning spies. We own New Haven,” Kazikian said.
About once a week, the members of WTF choose a site of interest — sometimes on campus, sometimes miles away — and explore it. Kazikian said the group has explored various tunnels beneath the campus, Chapel Square Mall and even abandoned manufacturing plants, among other locations.
Kazikian summed up WTF’s mission: “Find a building you’re not supposed to be in, something with history. Take photos, say you’ve been there, have fun.”
The group draws the line at breaking and entering and absolutely avoids vandalizing sites in any way, Kazikian said.
“Examine, look, be thrilled, be awed, but don’t ruin it for anyone else,” Kazikian said. “The idea is respect. If you take away the respect, then what we’re doing is being a bunch of criminals.”
Criminals or not, the WTF has had some close calls with the local law enforcement. Kazikian said the group always has a plausible explanation for their presence at any given site: sometimes they simply claim to be lost; once Kazikian even posed as an architect.
The group is currently open to new members. There is no tap process; anyone who goes with the group on one expedition is automatically a member of the group. But WTF is not for the faint of heart.
“These have to be individuals who really love to explore, really are fearless,” said Kazikian, who also stressed the importance of absolute trust among members. “It’s in your veins.”
But not every Yalie has quite reached Kazikian’s enthusiasm or knowledge of the intricacies of the Yale campus.
When asked if he knew where the Silliman and Saybrook beaches were, Andrew Gomez ’08, a freshman in TD, took a long pause before answering.
“There are beaches at Silliman?” he asked.
— Staff reporter Jen Harris contributed to this report.
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