The Gloomy Tale Of a Harvard Man's Icy Demise
Five-Week Search Turns Up a Tragedy
The winter of 1947 was visited by a gloomy disappearance that left an anguished family and a confused campus. Without warning, varsity athlete and Boston native Sylvester Gardiner '46 vanished.
What began as an innocent evening at home on Jan. 23 turned sour when, after visiting his parent's residence on Beacon Street in Boston, Gardiner--son of William T. Gardiner '14, an ex-governor of Maine--failed to return to his room.
Fearing Gardiner had decided to head out to the Charles for a moonlight skate after leaving home at 10 p.m., Gardiner's family alerted the Boston missing persons bureau. The Gardiner mystery had begun.
On Feb. 11, Lowell House senior Lionel F. Jaffe '48 furnished additional evidence that Gardiner had in fact been skating the night of his disappearance. Jaffe said that he had seen Gardiner in silhouette with skates slung across his neck, walking at the edge of the river. Although Jaffe was admittedly fatigued, relaxing near the river after a rigorous Chemistry 5 exam and a few beers at Cronins, he insisted that his chronological diary set the time of his sighting at 11:50 p.m.
The day after Jaffe came forward with his story, Boston Police began dredging the river for signs of Gardiner. Cambridge police focused on clues such as a Meredith, N.H. roadhouse janitor's alleged sighting of a young man who fit Gardiner's description in the janitor's place of employment in the week following his disappearance.
Meanwhile, Gardiner's family began chasing separate leads. Gardiner's brother Tudor told The Crimson Feb. 12 that he had come across a note among his brother's possessions that implied a secret visit to a friend in Colorado.
The next day, Gardiner's father expressed fears that his son may have suffered an attack of amnesia brought on by fears related to early graduation truncating his tenure as stroke oar on the varsity crew team. Sylvester Gardiner was scheduled to graduate early due to G.I. credits.
By Feb. 14, Cambridge detectives had coraled witnesses from the New Hampshire roadhouse and obtained several positive identifications of Gardiner from employees there.
Alfred Bouley, who worked at the roadhouse counter, and waitress Rintha Piper both told Cambridge Police Lt. John f. Lockwood that they had seen Gardiner in the diner on the week following his disappearance.
By Feb. 18, however, police seemed to have lost Gardiner's family was faring no better, as an anonymous tipster--who had approached the family at home claiming to have seen Gardiner at the St. Nicholas Arena in New York City on the night of his disappearance--appeared to be an obvious and obnoxious fraud.
Finally, on March 4, Gardiner's body was discovered in a lagoon in the Boston basin of the Charles by two children. Medical examiners reported that ice skates were strapped firmly to Gardiner's feet when he was found.
From evidence found at the scene, medical experts surmised Gardiner stumbled through a hole in the ice hidden by the shadow of a bridge he was approaching during his late-night skate.
At long last, the search for Sylvester Gardiner came to an abrupt and somber close. As the Gardiner family began to mourn, the high-profile tragedy cast its pall across campus.
Sylvester Gardiner '46 a varsity athlete, was last seen with skates on the Charles.