Sabrina statue

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The Sabrina statue

Sabrina (/səˈbrnə/ sə-BRY-nə) is a 300-pound bronze statue owned by Amherst College. Since it was donated to the College in 1857, the statue has been the subject of numerous pranks and has changed hands between the college administration and various student groups many times. Traditionally, members of even year and odd year classes have battled for possession of the statue.


Early history[edit]

The Sabrina statue on the Amherst College campus, 1868

In 1857, Amherst College accepted a gift from Joel Hayden, then the Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts—a bronze neoclassical sculpture by William Calder Marshall named after Sabrina, Goddess of the Britons. The statue was originally installed on the town side of the Amherst campus, between North Dormitory and the Octagon. [1]

It was not long before the scantily-clad Sabrina attracted the attention of the then all-male Amherst students. Around 1860, an industrious Amherst student, in the first of many Sabrina-inspired pranks, stole a set of undergarments from one of the nearby female colleges and used them to clothe Sabrina. The college administration harshly reprimanded the student. The next morning, Sabrina appeared with a dent in her cheek, apparently inflicted by a blow from an axe.[1]

This first incident of chicanery inspired a series of other pranks. Between 1870 and 1880 students painted the statue several times, typically alternating between white and black.[1] The class of 1877 stole Sabrina and kept her for nearly a week before returning her. In 1878 she was transported to the roof of the Octagon building, where she was found holding a doll emblazoned "'81." The class of 1882 stole the statue to make her the guest of honor at a class banquet, a theme that was to become a recurring pattern in Sabrina pranks. The class of 1883 threw the statue down the college well, from which the administration had considerable difficulty extracting her.[1]

These early pranks typically pitted students against the college administration, making Sabrina an object of some controversy. In 1884, the statue was nearly destroyed when President Julius Hawley Seelye, frustrated with the pranks the statue inspired, ordered a college groundskeeper to destroy her. The groundskeeper, however, was too moved by the statue's beauty to carry out the orders and instead hid her underneath a haystack in his barn. The statue was recovered on June 19, 1887, when members of the class of 1890, motivated by rumors that the statue had not been destroyed, snuck into the barn at night, found the statue, and carted her off in a wheelbarrow.[1]

Tradition of interclass rivalry[edit]

The tradition of odd- and even-year class members competing for possession of the statue began in earnest in 1891. The sophomore class 1893 brought Sabrina out of hiding to attend their class banquet and kept her stored safely in Boston. Yet when members of the class of 1894 caught wind of plans to bring her back to campus, one of them traveled to Springfield to intercept the package, impersonating the statue's owners and convincing the clerk to send her back to Boston under his own care. This trickery resulted in a warrant being issued for the student's arrest, at which point he boarded a steamer for Europe to wait "for the excitement to die out."[1]

The Sabrina statue dangling from a helicopter over an Amherst College sports game in 1990

The statue remained under the control of even-year classes through 1910, when senior Max Shoop compiled and published a brief history of the pranks involving the statue.[1] Sabrina remained a topic of significant interest at the college and beyond, generating an article in the New York Times about the statue's history in 1910,[2] and another book on her history in 1921,[3] as well as a brief New York Times notice about her appearance at a baseball game in 1922.[4] Particularly notable was an appearance in 1919 that resulting in "a car chase, gun fire and a car accident that left a number of students injured."[5]

In 1934 the statue was returned to the college, where she was installed in the memorabilia room. She was subject to many failed attempts at theft (including by students from Amherst's rival Williams College) and several acts of vandalism, including a decapitation in 1941. (Her head was welded back in place shortly thereafter.) The administration attempted to discourage further thefts by falsely claiming that the statue had been filled with concrete and welded to its base.[6][7]

She remained in place until 1951, when members of the graduating class, suspecting the statue was in fact hollow, used a torch to detach Sabrina from her base and steal her again.[5] This theft and the later appearance of the statue flying over a college baseball game the following fall generated an article in Life magazine article about the tradition in 1952.[8]

The class of 1951 subsequently returned the statue to the college, where she remained for over 20 years, until students staged a high-profile heist in 1977. In June 1977 the statue was displayed at the 25th reunion of the class of 1952 in order to raise donations for the college. The class required that the statue be placed on display, however, so she was mounted behind plexiglass in Converse Hall. In the early hours of October 13, three masked students entered the hall, tied up the switchboard operator, and pried the statue loose.[9] At the last minute the students enlisted Prince Albert Grimaldi (then a student at the college) so they could claim diplomatic immunity if necessary.[10] They were apprehended less than a month later, when campus police, having learned of their plan to fly the statue over a football game, staked out the local airports.[9]

The statue became the subject of some controversy after the college became coed, as some argued that the statue's tradition was inconsistent with the desire to become a more diverse, progressive institution.[11]

The statue was stolen again in 1984 by Bruce Becker (class of 1980) and Rosanne Haggerty (class of 1982) and made two more flights over Amherst athletic events.[12] The statue was returned to the college by Bruce Angiolillo (class of 1974) in 1994 for the inauguration of Tom Gerety as president of the college.[13] She remained securely kept by the college, occasionally displayed for alumni events, for well over a decade.

Theft of 2008[edit]

Email sent to class of 2008


Select fellow members of the class of 2008:

This email has been sent to 50 hand-picked members of the class of 2008. We ask for your assistance in a matter of the greatest importance.

As our time as Amherst undergraduates comes to a bittersweet close, we are not quite ready to let it go just yet--such a small community is not easily left behind. Therefore we find ourselves, in these final days, wishing for a capstone occasion for class-wide collaboration, collective spirit, and yes, a little mischief. And so we write to you with a proposition:

As many of you may know, Amherst was blessed long ago with the protection and guidance of the river goddess Sabrina. In 1857 the governor of Massachusetts bestowed a bronze statue of the water nymph upon the College on the Hill, and since that time she has excited generations of Amherst students, inspiring legendary battles between odd year classes and even year classes over her custody. During one year, she was dangled over the campus in a plane; another year, she was held out of a passing train, causing athletes to drop their equipment in the middle of a game, and charge after the elusive statue.

Sabrina's ventures, however, were recently halted. Several years ago, she was returned to the College administration, who hid her away in dark and secret location, bringing her into daylight for only the occasional class reunion. This neglect has no doubt saddened our fair protectress, and even worse, we fear she has begun to slip from the collective memory of Amherst undergraduates. You will surely agree that she hardly deserves such a fate, and so we are certain that you will be excited by the news we bring today:


Photo included in email.
Some time ago, a few of your fellow classmates crept into a bunker, hidden in the mountains around our valley, and absconded the beautiful goddess. (And the administration may not yet even know she's gone!) We cannot, of course, disclose our identities just yet, nor can we display Sabrina publicly, for fear that the administrative forces of the College will work fervently to repossess her. We can, however, tell you that we are members of the class of 2008, and that Sabrina is currently in our safekeeping. We hope you find the attached photo of bikini-clad-Sabrina (posed with a recent copy of the Amherst Student) sufficient evidence of our sincerity. We now turn to you, fellow class members, and ask for your assistance in bringing Sabrina back into the Amherst public eye.

The plan is this:

This Friday, May 9, is our last day of class as Amherst students, and it is also the day of our senior dinner and assembly. As such, it is the perfect occasion to celebrate the fact that the class of 2008 has liberated Sabrina, but we need your help to pull it off. Imagine the following: Friday morning, the Amherst community awakes to find painted posters inside Keefe and outside Val, proclaiming the liberation of Sabrina. Sidewalk chalk scrawled throughout campus reads "Where is she? Liberated! -Class of 2008." Flyers are posted on bulletin boards everywhere, showing pictures of Sabrina, free of her confines, and messages celebrating her escape. Students enter Valentine to find copies of the History of Sabrina beside the day's New York Times. Even the public computers on campus have had their boring old wallpaper replaced by pictures of Sabrina. (Anyone have connections with IT?) And so on--suggestions are welcome.

For those of you who are willing to help out in the early hours Friday morning (distributing a few flyers, painting a sign, writing on sidewalks, or any other ideas you may have) reply to this email as soon as possible. We will orchestrate the efforts from here, and we're confident that together our class can turn this occasion into one hell of a memory. Please pass this email along and invite fellow members of 2008 to participate, or invite members of our fellow even year class, 2010, to help out. But please, DO NOT breath a word of the endeavor to either the College faculty or to members of odd-year classes. The better we can keep these plans under wraps until Friday, the more impressive the roll-out will be. Needless to say, those of you who are willing to help out will be first in our minds when we organize a secret meeting between Sabrina and the members of our class.

Again, we want to reiterate how great these four years have been, and we are optimistic that Friday will be the perfect way to top it all off. But we can only make it happen with your help. Who's in?



The tradition was renewed in 2008, when several members of the graduating class stole the statue from its secure location on campus. Despite rumors that the statue was locked in the college's military bunker, one of the students had seen the statue returned to the basement of a college dormitory after the reunion festivities of 2007. In late April 2008, the students staged a fake poker game in the basement of the dormitory; while two kept a lookout at the building's entrances, a third picked the lock to the basement storage room, and a fourth student backed a getaway car up to the dorm's loading dock. The heist was completed in under 20 minutes, and the statue was promptly transported to Vassar College, where it was left in the dorm room of a student's girlfriend.

Poster displayed on Valentine Quad, May 9, 2008

On May 7, 2008, an email was sent to many members of the class of 2008 soliciting their involvement in an elaborate senior prank. The students used a private Facebook account to organize efforts and share photos and information.

The graduating class answered the call admirably. On May 9 posters and decorations were put up and festivities were held across campus, including a live rendition of "The Sabrina Song" and a giant poster in the dining quad. During the college's "Senior Night" celebrations that evening, President Anthony Marx gave the following speech, with campus police officers standing beside him.

Good evening.

Tonight I was planning to talk about what a wonderful class you are, class of 2008. You are, indeed, the best and most brilliant class in the history of Amherst College. That, however, is not what I am going to talk about. Instead, I am going to talk about something else entirely. As you know, some group of you in this room has stolen my nymph, and I WANT HER BACK! From the theory of political science, many of you will be familiar with the concept of the monopoly of force. Let us make one thing perfectly clear. On this campus, the monopoly of force is ME.

Now I have thought long and hard about how to respond to this affront. I considered many possible retaliations. I have considered locking all the doors to this hall. I have considered beseeching you to bring her back, pleading with you for her return. I have even considered refusing to grant diplomas to the entire class of 2008 until the Sabrina is back in my possession.

In the end, however, I will do none of these things. Instead, I will pose a simple request: take care of her. In years past she has been thrown into wells, she has been battered, she has had her limbs torn off by people in your position. They have actually removed her limbs. Please do not do the same.

I say to you the following: We are looking forward to negotiations. In the mean time, I would greatly appreciate weekly photos of Sabrina, posed with a copy of a daily newspaper, so I know she is in good hands. And over the course of these next two weeks, as you conclude your final exams, enjoy your final hours as Amherst undergraduates. I leave you with the following: let the games begin. And have a wonderful night.

Thank you.

— Anthony Marx, as transcribed by a student present

Restoration and current status[edit]

The statue was kept in hiding for five years. During that period, her guardians had her carefully restored by the Polich Tallix art foundry in New Windsor, New York. Over the years the statue's hand had been broken off, her foot was sheared off at the ankle, and her head remained only precariously attached by brackets. The students contacted Bruce Becker, who had stolen Sabrina in 1984 and had since procured a mold of the statue. The foundry used that mold to reconstruct the statue's hand and foot, which were then reattached. The statue's cracked neck was reinforced with fiberglass and epoxy. The guardians also commissioned a wheeled base for Sabrina to aid in her transportation and display.

The statue was returned to the college in 2013, during five-year reunion of the class of 2008, where, in homage to the tradition's early days, she was displayed at the class banquet for student photos. At the end of the evening, the class returned the statue to the college. After less than two hours, Sabrina was stolen from the college police station by the ten-year reunion class of 2003. It remained in their possession for less than an hour, when the class of 2014 tricked the 2003s into helping carry her off the dance floor and into a getaway car. Sabrina's whereabouts are currently unknown.

Sabrina's Song[edit]

We may sing of our glorious college,
Of the old chapel steps and the bell,
Of the class-rooms just filled full of knowledge,
Which all Amherst men love so well.

But to-night as we're gather'd together,
Let us raise a strain loudly and strong
To her from whom naught can us sever,
To her who keeps watch o'er our throng.

Sabrina, fair, Sabrina, dear,
We raise to thee our hearty cheer,
Come fellows, all, and give a toast
To her we love, and love the most.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Shoop, Max Pardoe (1910). Sabrina, The Class Goddess of Amherst College, a History. Springfield, Mass.: Loring-Axtell. 00196294715.
  2. ^ Special to the New York Times (January 5, 1913). "Of All the Traditions and Customs at Amherst College Sabrina Easily Holds First Place". New York Times. Retrieved June 3, 2013.
  3. ^ Smith, Winthrop Hiram; Seward, Halvor Richardson; Gibson, John Graham, 2d (1921). Sabrina: Being a Chronicle of the Life of the Goddess of Amherst College. GLAD-50428209. Retrieved June 3, 2013.
  4. ^ "Sabrina, Amherst's Goddess, Nearly Disrupts Ball Game". New York Times. May 17, 1922. Retrieved June 3, 2013.
  5. ^ a b Leavitt, Mariah (May 31, 2013). "Sabrina". Archives and Special Collections of Amherst College Blog: "The Consecrated Eminence". Retrieved June 3, 2013.
  6. ^ Deutsch, Irwin F. (April 26, 1951). "Cement, Iron, in Museum, Defy Theft by Nitro of Bruised but Still Smiling Sabrina". Amherst Student. Amherst College. Retrieved June 4, 2013.
  7. ^ Morgan, Charles H. (Spring 1962). "Sabrina". Art Journal. 21 (3): 170–172. doi:10.2307/774416. JSTOR 774416.
  8. ^ "Sabrina Shows Up Again". Life. June 30, 1952. Retrieved June 3, 2013.
  9. ^ a b "The Great Campus Security Airport Stakeout". Amherst Magazine. Winter 1978.
  10. ^ Joy, Pete (August 21, 2006). (Interview). Interviewed by Daria D’Arienzo and Mariah Sakrejda-Leavitt. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. ^ Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky (1985). "Sabrina Doesn't Live Here Anymore". Amherst Magazine.
  12. ^ Schmale, Lauren (2004). "Sabrina, the Missing Goddess of Amherst College, Lives On". Amherst Student (22). Retrieved May 1, 2008.
  13. ^ Amherst Student. October 6, 1994. Missing or empty |title= (help)

External links[edit]