The New Haven Nine
The Untold Story of...
"...Offenses against law and order, or failure to behave with the maturity and responsibility expected of Harvard and Radcliffe students will be dealt with as the Faculty and the Administrative Board shall determine." Handbook for Students. Harvard College
It takes three hours to drive from Cambridge to New Haven--if you drive fast and you have enough gas and you know where you're going.
That night it took four and a half hours. There were nine of us, all freshmen. The next morning, when we sped back to Cambridge in two hours and twenty minutes, there were only six of us. Three members of the New Haven Nine were in jail.
We had left them all the money in our pockets--about $19--and a note saying that we had to get back to Cambridge. Mark had an Ec 10 hourly.
No one talked in the car on the way back. Matthew and Dan were sleeping in the back. Everyone else just sat I watched the countryside and I wondered what was going to happen to us. I tried to decide what I would do if they kicked us out of school.
H H H
They served turkey for dinner in the Union on Thursday before the Yale game. Somebody had organized a pep rally--the only one I have ever seen at Harvard. The stuffing was bland; the music was loud. Spirit was high.
"We've got to do something to Yale," someone said.
"We should. I'm up for it," I said. "What can we do?"
All too quickly, before any of the people at that table had a chance to think about what we were doing, the decision was made. We agreed to meet at 11:00 outside Canaday Hall for a trip to New Haven.
"This is great," someone said. "This will be the greatest thing we ever do."
H H H
It is very quiet in New Haven, Connecticut in late November at four o'clock in the morning--so quiet you can hear the traffic signals turn, so quiet you can hear the street lights buzz. And if you listen very carefully, you can feel the vibrations of the Yale University Police force's patrol car, as it inches down Elm Street.
We weren't listening very carefully.
The nine of us drove into town in my brother's bright yellow station wagon with Bruce Springsteen blaring on the tapedeck and eight cans of red spray paint in the back.
We had stopped twice on the way once to look at the map when we realized we were headed for New Hampshire, once to urinate in a snowdrift. But now we were there.
The plan was to paint giant H's all over campus. That was the extent of it. There was no contingency plan.
We would divide into three groups and meet back at the car an hour later. If we detected any police cars, we would call it all off. That would be okay, we decided.
H H H
If you are a freshman at Harvard University and the Yale game hasn't happened yet, then you have been to New Haven. Conn only once in your life. We looked for the only place all of us had visited before: The Yale University office of undergraduate admissions. We parked near there in a vacant lot around the block.
Jamie turned off the tape deck and the engine, and everyone stopped talking and we were in New Haven. Conn., at four o'clock in the morning with eight cans of spray paint and a few beers and my brother's car. And it was time.
We made sure we were wearing dark clothes. We put our bursar's cards in the glove compartment, we divided into three groups, and we started looking for Yale.
Everyone knew the name of one building, maybe two--the Cross Campus Library or Saybrook College or the Durfee Sweet Shop. But New Haven, we found, all looks about the same. Our biggest problem was that we couldn't tell the difference between New Haven and Yale. So we walked for a while. I was with Beth and Mark. I kept hoping to see a police car so we could abort the whole thing. But we kept walking.
H H H
That was the thing that really got me. They told us all kinds of things at those meetings during Freshman Week. I forgot it all.
But I remember our proctor read through a list of regulations about plagiarism and the Core requirements and what to do if there was a fire in your room. And one more thing: Anyone caught with a firearm in a dorm room would be suspended. Everyone laughed.
I laughed for long enough to miss the next couple of things he read.
H H H
By 4:30 there was a glow to the cast. We saw it--Mark and Both and I--from inside the station wagon in that parking lot. We had painted exactly two rod H's--small ones, at that--on a door to a big building that looked like it must have been Yale's. When we drove past it a few hours later in the daylight, it looked more like a church. Those two H's were enough to scare us into rushing back to the car to wait for the others.
The glow was getting lighter, and you could barely see the outline of Harkness Tower, but it was still very dark and it was still very, very quiet in New Haven, and it seemed we had been sitting there for an hour when the white car pulled into the parking lot, and our friend Amy got out, and after her, a police officer.
I have never been pushed off a tall building. But if I ever do. I'm sure I will feel a lot like I did at that moment. Amy had come to get the bursar's cards from the glove compartment.
She looked calm. She told us our six friends had been caught by the New Haven and Yale Police and were on their way to the police station. Amy told us not to worry. The police officer looked down at us through the window.
"Whome car?" he said.
"My father's." I said. He smiled. He told us to stay in the car.
"Can we come with you?"
"Just stay here. Don't get anywhere"
H H H
You don't realize what you miss when you spend all your time in school going to classes and studying and then spending vacations with your family. There's are a lot that goes on in the world at night. There are a lot of people who are up all night, and if they are not working at gas stations or all night groceries, they're probably in jail.
Jamie and John spent that morning in adjoining cells in the New Haven jail. They could not see each other, but they could talk to each other. From other parts of the jail, they could hear people screaming and banging against the walls. Each of their cells had metal walls and metal beds and John's had a toilet that flushed every five minutes:
Sarah did not get a private cell. Hers was in the women's section. She shared it with a prostitute. They had a long talk.
The jail was dark, and the sun rose slowly. John told me later it was the worst night of his life. Sarah later wrote a paper for Professor Robert Coles's class about her talk with the prostitute.
H H H
At 7:00, after we had left the note and the money, and just before we left New Haven, I called my friend Sam at Yale, who I was to see that night in Cambridge. I asked him to give my three friends a ride up. Sam told me I was crazy.
As we barreled north on the Connecticut Turnpike, the suspects were driven in a black police van to the New Haven courthouse. John was handcuffed to a heroin addict.
The clerk at the New Haven Superior Court now says there is no record of any such trial--which is a good thing, because the judge, in the end, said that after 13 months' probation, the record would be expunged. Apparently, it was. Jamie, John, and Sarah were lucky.
Their court-appointed attorney, a Harvard Law graduate, told them the regular judge was a Yale Law School graduate, who might not have been so kind.
The man sitting in that Friday, though, was a Harvard Law man. And so was the prosecuting attorney.
At about the same time that Scott was finishing off the last page of his hourly exam. Jamie, John, and Sarah were released.
The next time I saw them, we were all drunk, at a party in Straus Hall late that night. None of us were really sure what was going to happen to us--and whether Harvard knew. John looked at me for a second. "That was a great idea," he said.
H H H
The last time the nine of us were all in the same room was in the office of Burris Young. Associate Dean of Freshmen that November. Before that there had been a lot of talks with proctors and senior advisors.
He had called us all together to read us a letter he had received from some administrative vice president of Yale informing him of the cost of our adventure. He read us a list of charges for things like sandblasting and grafitti removal. It totaled up to about $39 each. We paid.
Young read us the letter. It said something about the costs of vandalism, and all the problems included in it. And there was a list of the grafitti. "12 Red H's, a couple of Veritas's, and only one 'Yale Sucks,'" it said. "For Harvard students, they certainly lacked creativity."
H H H
The statute of limitations has run out on The New Haven Nine, all members of the Class of 1984. Their names have been changed in this account. Their story is true.