Theodore J. Kaczynski ’62 entered Harvard in the fall of 1958 at the age of 16 as a shy, Chicago-raised mathematics prodigy. Twenty years after he took his first class in the Yard, he would mail his first home-made pipe bomb.
Kaczynski, known in the media by his FBI code name “Unabomber,” has been described by the students who remembered him at the College as “shy” and “quiet.”
“He was a loner—he didn’t talk to anyone,” said Patrick S. McIntosh ’62, one of Kaczynski’s Eliot House suitemates. “He seemed to be okay to talk to at first, but then after a while he wouldn’t connect to anyone else.”
But the uncovering of his connection with a string of bombings that would kill three and injure 23 over 17 years, cementing his status among Harvard’s most infamous alumni, only complicated the memories of Ted Kaczynski for those who knew him in college. For the students he interacted with while at Harvard, Kaczynski had seemed a socially reserved genius, but showed no inclination to violent or revolutionary action.
“It’s just an opinion—but Ted was brilliant,” said Wayne B. Persons ’62, another Eliot suitemate. “I think it was a huge tragedy. He could have become one of the greatest mathematicians in the country. He wasn’t a domestic terrorist when I knew him.”
A RESERVED GENIUS
Kaczynski began his college years in the relative isolation of 8 Prescott Street, currently the Harvard College Writing Program building. Dean of Freshmen F. Skiddy von Stade Jr. ’38 initially began the Prescott housing to accommodate some of the most promising, precocious freshmen in a smaller, more intimate living space, according to an article published in the L.A. Times shortly after Kaczynski’s arrest in April 1996.
But the reality of Prescott as a low-rent housing option led to both a physical and social separation of Kaczynski from the Yard and its more well-to-do students. This isolation seemed to only reinforce Kaczynski’s asocial, serious nature—something that carried over to his move to Eliot N-43 the next year.
Kaczynski’s Eliot suite had formerly served as maids’ quarters before being converted into a room with one of the cheapest rates on campus, Persons explained.
“I didn’t have much money, and at that time, Harvard had different room rates for dormitories,” Persons said. “I went for the absolute bottom.”
Persons and other suitemates recalled Kaczynski holing up in his single, avoiding contact with the other six who shared N-43.
“He would just rush through the suite, go into his room, and slam the door,” McIntosh recalled. “And when we would go into his room there would be piles of books and uneaten sandwiches that would make the place smell.”
Both McIntosh and Persons remembered one of Kaczynski’s distinct rooming tics—playing his trombone late at night.
“And he liked bumping his chair on the wall of my room [while playing],” McIntosh said. “I think he was pretty good at it, just at times he had to tone it down.”
McIntosh recalled that Kaczynski would often eat in the corner of the dining hall, not talking to anyone.