Throughout the past 20 years, it is impossible to deny that Saybrook College has had a string of unfortunate events. These events are what lead most to believe that Saybrook has been cursed.
“I believe what people refer to as the Curse is people looking for an explanation for some events and fitting others into it,” said Stuart Teal ’14.
The wave of bad luck began in 1998. That year the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided the Head of College House and arrested Head Antonio Lasaga for sexual assault and possession and creation of child pornography. He was the only professor in Yale’s over 300-year history to have his tenure terminated. He was released from prison earlier this year.
That same year, Dean of Saybrook College James Van de Velde ’82, was the only suspect in the gruesome murder of Suzanne Jovin ’99. The victim was a senior at Yale College and was found stabbed 17 times in the back of the neck and head near East Rock. Van de Velde had been her advisor. He was never charged. After Van de Velde was named a suspect, Yale chose not to renew his contract. The murder case has never been solved.
Urban legend has it that the Saybrook 12-Pack was once the 13-Pack. It is said that one year a student took his own life in the thirteenth room, a single. The next year the same thing happened. The year after that, it was decided that the suite wouldn’t be inhabited. That didn’t prevent someone from dying there that year as well. This suite is now known as the Suicide Suite. It was not renovated during the 2001 Saybrook renovations. It is now locked and unused. Inside is nothing but a single chair, an empty bottle, and a light that does not work. Legend has it that there is a note written on the wall. There is no official word on the deaths.
Leonardo Sanchez-Noya ’18 lived in the 12-Pack last year. He recalls one night when he and his suitemates snuck into the Suicide Suite.
“When you stand and look down the hallway, if you’re looking in your periphery, the shape of a girl appears,” he said.
Sanchez-Noya claims to have seen her and that she was the last to die in the room. Students say she continues to haunt it.
In October of 2013, the “Poopetrator” struck for the first time. For those who have not heard the story, the “Poopetrator” was an individual, presumably a Saybrook student, who defecated in the dryers of the Saybrook laundry room. Teal was working in the College office when the first victim reported the incident. Administrators did not believe her. They had to go down into the laundry room and see for themselves.
Soon after the event occurred, rumors about the “Poopetrator” began swirling around campus. Now it is hard to distinguish fact from fiction in the numerous iterations of the story, but a few common threads emerged: The attacks were targeted against specific individuals, and the “Poopetrator” was never found.
In 2015, a pipe right above a painting of Elihu Yale froze and burst, flooding the Saybrook dining hall and common room. While repairing the water damage, asbestos was discovered under the floorboards. Even though it was later found in other colleges, Saybrook quickly became associated with asbestos because it was the first. Saybrook students made light of the issue. There was talk of making shirts that said “Saybrook puts the best in asbestos.”
Shortly after asbestos was discovered, two dead bats were found in the Saybrook library, commonly referred to as the “Saybrary.”
After multiple years marked by so many unfortunate circumstances, it was suggested that Saybrook get t-shirts that said “Saystrong.”
Even Curse-deniers find it hard to claim that the repeated blows Saybrook has experienced are merely a coincidence.
“I think there definitely was a Curse. Anyone who says there wasn’t has an agenda,” says Michael Herbert ’16.
It is unknown exactly how and when the idea of the Saybrook Curse formed.
Aaron Berman ’16, believes its spread was in large part a result of the Facebook page Overheard at Yale. The page originated in January 2013, before the “Poopetrator” first struck and the Saybrook dining hall flooded. Although there was some talk of a Curse before this, Overheard facilitated the spread of discussion about these incidents and led to the popularization of the Curse.
“I think that each time something like this happens, there is an expectation bias,” said Berman. “When things like this happen in other colleges, they don’t make news.”
Berman described that once people have the idea of the Curse in their mind, anytime something bad happens in Saybrook, it fulfills their expectation for disaster.
Even considering the bias, there is an objective trend of bad in Saybrook. “Maybe people remember [a strange event] better if it’s in Saybrook, but if you look in the archives there’s data behind this,” said Herbert.
Part of the issue, it can be argued, is the age of Saybrook. Many of the incidents attributed to the Curse are a result of Saybrook’s age. It is one the oldest colleges. Saybrook (along with Branford) was initially part of Yale’s Memorial Quadrangle, which housed students. Construction began in 1917 and wasn’t finished until 1922.
During its most recent renovations in 2001, the contractor in charge of the project, who had renovated Berkeley and Branford before moving on to Saybrook, was fired. The hiring of a new contractor in the middle of renovations may be another reason why Saybrook has faced the structural problems that have plagued it in recent years.
Although this is a fair argument, it cannot explain why in the last few years entryway E of Vanderbilt Hall, where Saybrook freshmen are housed, has severely flooded twice. The most recent flooding was Sept. 30, just one week ago. The Branford side of Vanderbilt Hall has not experienced the same problems.
“These are things you would expect from older buildings,” said Berman. “It just so happens that they happened on this side, not the Branford side.”
Despite the recent incident in Vandy, there has been chatter in Saybrook of the Curse ending. No major setbacks occurred in Saybrook last year. It is unclear whether it was just a slow year or if the Curse is actually over.
There were claims that a new Head of College, Professor Thomas Near, would turn the bad streak around.
Stuart Teal, Saybrook fellow, and expert in all things Saybrook, also has a theory. He believes that Micah Luce DIV ’07 and ’08, who joined the Saybrook staff in October of 2015 as Operations Manager, used his Divinity School education to “bless the Curse away.”
At Saybrook College Council meetings in the fall of 2015, students joked about getting a witch doctor to cleanse Saybrook of its Curse.
“It was a joke but also us acknowledging the fact that we did have a terrible year,” recalls Sanchez-Noya. “It was also us asking ‘What can we do to turn things around?’” Perhaps it worked.
Last spring, Herbert claimed that he had finally ended the Curse by sprinkling special edition Saint Patrick’s Day Lucky Charms on the Stone Courtyard and having Danielle Melgar ’16, who he claims is a leprechaun, dance over them. Students believe that a curse as persistent as Saybrook’s requires a great deal of luck to reverse.
When asked how Herbert knows that Melgar is a leprechaun, he replied, “It’s like how you know your dog is a dog or your horse is a horse. You just look at it and you know. That’s the same way I know she’s a leprechaun. Also she’s told me.”
Dean Christine Muller and Head of College Thomas Near declined to comment on the subject.