While Holden Chapel was undergoing renovation in 1999, a mini-bulldozer rammed into the basement wall, revealing a pile of unidentified human remains. Preliminary examination suggested the bones had been mutilated posthumously.
Why were bones buried beneath the building with a blue door? Why were they later mutilated? The rumor mill provided one explanation: ghosts! But is it true? Is Holden Chapel really haunted?
Archeology concentrator Rachel Sexton ’00 was practicing excavation for her thesis when the mysterious bones were discovered in 1999. The bones seemed to have been sawed apart after death, so Sexton called in Lecturer on Anthropology Carole Mandryk to conduct further investigation. Together, the women found remains of arsenic, mercury, and lead in the soil around the bones.
A chemical triumvirate of death and destruction? Not quite, according to Mandryk, who said the bones belonged not to victims but rather to cadavers used by medical students, who used to practice surgery in the chapel 40 years after it was built in 1744. The arsenic, she said, was probably used to prepare the cadavers “for teaching purposes.”
That knowledge didn’t stop Thomas E. Crooks ’49, a former FAS administrator, from telling The Crimson in 1986 that ghosts haunt Holden Chapel—part of his larger theory that all of Harvard is haunted. “One time I found a pizza on John Harvard’s lap,” said Crooks, who died in 1998. “Who on earth would want to feed him?”
The Cliffe Notes and Glee Club Lite practice at Holden late at night but have sighted neither pizza nor phantoms, members said.