Sabrina, the missing goddess of Amherst College, lives on
By Lauren Schmale, Staff Writer
Women may only have been admitted to Amherst College starting in the fall of 1975, but they were not completely unrepresented in the century before this. A goddess named Sabrina graced the campus with her presence beginning the mid-19th century.

Formerly a goddess of the Britons, Sabrina turned her protection to Amherst College when Governor Joel Hayden of Massachusetts donated a sum of money to the College to erect a bronze statue of Sabrina, a copy of the original statue in England. The nymph was described by John Genung, a 19th-century professor of rhetoric at the College, as "a divinity, fair and gracious, a gentle protectress who herself deigns to be protected; her throne a rallying-point for class loyalty and fellowship and enthusiasm."

At a height of 4.5 feet and a weight of 350 pounds, the statue was placed in the center of a flower bed between the Octagon and North Dormitory. It remained there in peace for only a few years, then quickly became an object of pranks and rivalry for over a century.

The Sabrina Wars

The games began around 1860 when one student organized a "panty raid" of a nearby girls' school. The loot was used to dress the previously unclad Sabrina. The student was punished, which outraged his fellow conspirators into whitewashing the statue. One especially upset student even went as far as to take an axe to her cheek like a mallet to a gong, denting the metal. This was the beginning of the Sabrina wars.

In the years following this attack, the statue took on every shade of the rainbow. Some students painted clothes on her. One student was even expelled on account of these games. When tar walks were being laid in town, she was taken from her pedestal and thrown into the soft tar. One year, the class of 1877 courted Sabrina, stealing her for almost a week.

One morning in 1878, she appeared on top of the Octagon holding a rag labeled "'81" after being placed there by the class of 1880. And thus, the class adventures of Sabrina began. She was taken by the class of 1882 as the guest of honor at their Class Supper. The class of 1883 threw her into the College well after a significant baseball victory against Williams and abandoned her there for days.

Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy Charles Garman was asked to take care of things in general and to make sure that the students did not do anything too destructive to Sabrina. Eventually, however, President Emeritus Julius Seelye told Garman to smash the statue. Instead, Garman hid Sabrina in his barn, where she remained in safety for two years.

On June 19, 1887, a group of men from the class of 1890 set out on a mission to find Sabrina. Once they found her, the men wheeled her back to campus in a wheelbarrow for a big celebration. The 1890 class pennant was nailed to the flag pole on Chapel Tower and the stairway was effectually barricaded. The class of 1889, however, had caught wind of the plan, and the celebration turned into a free-for-all fight for Sabrina. The top stairway was destroyed, and one student even broke his leg when he jumped out of a window after learning that the faculty were on their way. Sabrina was removed from campus and was once again hidden until the class of 1890 retrieved her and dubbed her their own.

In 1889, the class of 1891 stole Sabrina back. Within months, a committee was formed by the class of 1894 to rescue the maiden. With a fake telegram, a big lie and a lot of luck, Ben Hyde, class of 1894, was able to secure Sabrina with the help of fellow members of the class of 1894. As a result of his tricks, the American Express Company issued a warrant for his arrest and he was forced to escape to Europe for three months.

Goddess of the Evens

Thus, Sabrina became "The Goddess of the Even Classes." The even-year classes stealthily moved her from place to place, hiding her from the odd-years. She was passed along, from one even class to the next at their class banquets where she received a kiss and fond caress from each class member who pledged their eternal allegiance. For 15 years, Sabrina traveled around New England without returning home to Amherst.

It was not until 1908, when she was turned over to her new guardian, Max Shoop '10, that a plan for Sabrina's homecoming to the College was contrived. Shoop decided that the best way to stir up excitement would be by showing Sabrina to the public during the Amherst-Williams 1910 Junior Prom baseball game in May 1909.

The men planned for every possible contingency. They developed a plan for six men to drive Sabrina across the field in a Royal Tourist automobile while two students followed in motorcycles. Two others disabled odd-classmen's motorcycles so that they could not pursue the statue and everyone else was told to tackle the students who might attempt to follow the car. Preparations for a road block on Northampton Road were prepared, and new locks and chains were purchased to fasten the gates to Pratt Field as soon as the Tourist escaped with Sabrina.

At exactly 4:05 p.m., with Amherst in the field in the middle of the fifth inning, the men sped down the second base line, Sabrina still covered, in front of an astonished crowd. As soon as the car hit first base, the goddess was revealed as the men quickly lifted the statue high above their heads. For a few seconds, the motor of the Royal Tourist was all that could be heard. Before long, however, a wild cheer broke out as some of the odd classmen tried to follow in their disabled motorcycles. The gates were soon shut and locked, and Sabrina remained safe with the class of 1910.

Over the years, Sabrina spent nights, weeks, even whole summers under lock and key in some of the most diverse places: the Connecticut River, a sausage factory in Boston, a Vermont granary and an apartment on 5th Avenue in New York City. The odd classes tried to recapture Sabrina, but it was all to no avail. Students hired private detectives and guards, broke into freight trains and private homes and rented cars, trucks and freight train carriages. Fights broke out, and people were shot at, bound and held captive. Sabrina's protectors would do anything for her, and her admirers would do anything to obtain her. One class who possessed Sabrina even taunted the Sabrina-less classes by locking them in the chapel and disabling all the cars outside so that no one could pursue her possessors.

In 1920, the even classes decided to reveal their goddess to all at a banquet at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston. The odds, who had learned of the supposedly secret plan, hired henchmen, some of whom were disguised as police officers, to wait outside the hotel. Once the statue was revealed, the evens tried to carry her outside to return her to her hiding place, but their car was run into a snowdrift. Celebration broke out as bonfires were lit and a banner reading "Sabrina Day-No Classes" was hung as Sabrina changed hands from the evens to the odds for the first time in 29 years.

The triumphant return

The class of 1935 finally returned the statue to the College in 1934, and the administration resolved to stop the violence that ensued as a result of Sabrina, fearful that future student injury-or worse-was inevitable. Sabrina was secured in the Memorabilia Room of Morgan Hall, fastened to a platform. Rumors spread that her hollow body had been filled with concrete so that no one could lift her. There she rested in peace and solitude until John McGrath, class of 1951, and his classmates came up with what McGrath referred to as, "a last gesture before we graduated." They wanted to free Sabrina.

The men borrowed the Morgan librarian's keys and copied them. Knowing they had to cut through a metal pedestal, they rented acetylene torches from a company in Springfield, Mass. who even gave them a few welding lessons. Back at Amherst, they spent several nights learning the night watchman's routes. Then, before the sun rose the morning of Commencement, the group moved in for the kill. First, they drilled a hole through the statue, only to find it was not filled with concrete but with packing peanuts. Once they realized that they could lift it, the graduates then went to work on the base. After spending considerable time trying to break the straps holding Sabrina to her base, McGrath panicked and decided that if they could not get all of it, they might as well get half. When he proceeded to drill through Sabrina's stomach, the straps were finally broken and Sabrina was once again free, and still in one piece. A year later, Sabrina made Life magazine headlines when McGrath and his crew chartered an airplane and flew the goddess over the Amherst-Holy Cross baseball game, hanging her out of the door.

In 1955, McGrath returned the statue to Amherst. However, Sabrina's whereabouts were unknown to most until she was discovered in the attic of Keefe Health Center in 1976, heavily corroded, wrapped in chains and still bearing a large hole in her stomach.

In December of 1976, the class of 1952's 25th Reunion Gift Fund Committee proposed that they would "ransom" the statue for a record-breaking $200,000 in alumni donations, provided that the class of 1952 was declared "the Sabrina class." After being cleaned and repaired, Sabrina once again became the goddess of the even classes of Amherst College in 1977, when the class of 1952 raised $300,508 from about 260 class members. Instead of being the motive behind class pranks, violence and campus disruptions, Sabrina became an incentive of betterment for the College. As of 1994, the Sabrina class was the class of 1942, who raised over three million dollars to earn this distinction.

The missing Sabrina

Since her return to Amherst in 1955, one last generation of Sabrina pranksters entered the stage. Bruce Becker '80, Brad Campbell '83 and Rosanne Haggerty '82 played a five-year long game with Amherst Security. Finally, in 1984, the group received a tip and Becker and Haggerty went in search of the treasure. For 11 years, Haggerty stashed the goddess at home in the laundry room, leaving her mother with strict instructions of what to do if anyone showed up in the future.

In 1990, Sabrina performed her final stunt to date. Becker and Haggerty tied a tope to her, and dangled her from a helicopter cargo net flying over the Amherst-Williams Homecoming game.

Since then, Sabrina has not been seen on campus and her whereabouts remain undisclosed. She has not been forgotten, however, as the memory of her unique customs, the deeper meaning behind the College pranks, subtly lingers around Amherst's grounds. "Sabrina is a live deity," wrote Shoop, "with the alumni long after they have left these classic halls of old Amherst [she] has a live influence among those who have left the undergraduate days and gone out into the world."

Hundreds of the College's finest have passed beyond Amherst, each taking with them a piece of Sabrina as a part of Amherst College's rich history. And as they do so, their hearts sing heartily to their goddess, "Sabrina, fair, Sabrina, dear, We raise to thee our hearty cheer, Come fellows, all, and give a toast, To her we love, and love the most!"

Data used in this article was provided by Amherst College Archives & Special Collections.

Issue 22, Submitted 2004-04-08 12:08:20