“I suppressed that memory. I really buried it deep. That was traumatizing.”
Samuel C. Becker ‘17 sighs heavily and shakes his head.
The particularly gruesome incident Becker is recalling took place on a routine dorm crew clean-up operation in Adams House a few summers ago. He and a team of other students entered a room to clean it, and were greeted by the soulless, unblinking stares of three disembodied mannequin busts. Originally part of an art piece, the heads had been left behind by a Harvard student at the end of the school year. The unsuspecting dorm crew members were massively creeped out.
Harvard Dorm Crew is a division of Facilities Maintenance Operations and employs scores of students to perform custodial jobs for on-campus housing.
The students running this massive operation are no strangers to surprise. The cleaning teams have tackled everything from giant messes to bizarre left-behind possessions. After the mass exodus of students at the start of summer, dorm crew employees remain at Harvard to clean out the newly vacated rooms. It’s a chance to see the school in a whole new light, and catch glimpses of student lives from Mather to the Quad.
It’s also a chance to find some crazy stuff.
For example: a full-sized stand-up tanning bed left behind by a student in Canaday. Samuel Becker remembers laughing in disbelief and thinking, “Well…What do we even do with this?”
Many dorm crew workers have similar stories to share—stories that simply defy reasonable explanation. Paul Stainier ‘18, a cleaning captain, says, “Without a doubt the craziest thing I have found was a bathroom with 10 empty bottles of baby lotion, 15 razor heads, and coca cola stains all over the bath tub.”
Occasionally, dorm crew discoveries make history. During the summer of 1979 cleanup, students in Winthrop House discovered several personal letters written by Robert F. Kennedy ‘48 to his mother. The letters had been stashed away for almost 40 years. The Winthrop House Master at the time, James A. Davis, claimed not to know the contents of the letters, saying that “they were kind of personal.”
Becker describes finding “stashes of love letters” — which he admits to reading out of curiosity before disposing of them. “Those things shouldn’t be left floating around!”
People also go outside the box with their room’s decor. There was a room in Adams House festooned with Mexican decorations — a piñata hanging from the ceiling and Mexican beers chilling in the fridge, all true to theme. Or the Walter White-esque chemistry lab setup, complete with beakers, test tubes, and a Bunsen burner.
But at the end of the day, dorm crew has learned to take these curveballs in stride. “Really, it’s not so bad,” Becker claims.
Even the forgotten beef stew, left behind and congealing on a hot plate in a dorm room?
“Okay, that was pretty bad. Yeah. Really bad."