Alfred State was where I started my college education and I consider it a very expensive lesson in caveat emptor. I have no interest in boring anyone with the details of their sub-par programs (except, I hear, for engineering) but because it was one of the weirdest and creepiest places I’ve been there’s a few stories worth sharing.

Alfred, like any college town I’m sure, has some local myths and legends but as far I can tell they’re all bunk. One goes that MacKenzie Hall’s architect designed the building as a reverse swastika and was so dismayed when they built walls to hide the shape he hung himself inside, his ghost haunting the place to this day. I lived in that building and I’m pretty sure it’s neither a swastika nor haunted but it was in state of disrepair enough to pass as a Halloween fun house. It was better than my first dorm there, Main Gate A, which tried to kill my grandmother with a stairwell railing that pulled right out of the wall. Did I mention they tried to bill us for that? They did.

Downtown Alfred

Downtown Alfred circa 2003

There was also the dirt parking lot, with the official name of Siberia, that was a toxic wasteland of oil and gas soaked up from the junkers the students drove. During the winter it was especially dangerous as it was never salted and extremely steep. Once it was so bad my car just stopped going about halfway up the incline and I had to turn around and wait for a spot to open elsewhere.

For reference, there are two small cities within thirty minutes of the town. The nice one is Hornell, which had a Wegman’s and a Wal-Mart and was where everyone went to hang out on Friday after 3 pm  The other city, Wellsville, is not so nice and is known for meth trafficking and its narcotics unit. They also have shooting range which has to this day never mailed me my membership card. Letchworth State Park is pretty close by as well.

The local idea of a 'bike path.' Certainly no one could be attacked in here.

The local idea of a ‘bike path.’ Certainly no one could be attacked in here.

The official story has changed at least once in this case and I’m going to relate what the news says and then what hearsay I was told. Benjamin Klein was a member of Zeta Beta Tau and for some reason (he was revealing ‘fraternity secrets’ about hazing) his brothers beat him severely, and then left him to stumble on down into creek that runs across the state campus. The police initially declared there was no foul play and that was pretty quickly rescinded once someone from The Outside World looked into it. Eventually they ruled the death suicide by drug overdose, and two ZBT brothers were charged with assault and hazing.

The then abandoned ZBT frat house.

The then abandoned ZBT frat house.

What I heard was a bit different. My friend had been there at the time and was involved pretty deeply in greek life on campus. He even walked over Klein’s body, unknowingly at the time, that morning while it was dark out. (There was a bridge above where they found Klein, he didn’t trip on him.) The version I heard was that ZBT had became involved in selling narcotics and Klein didn’t want that sort of thing going on. The story goes he got drunk and called them out on it, perhaps threatening to turn them in for it, and the other brothers decided he needed to go. I was told they spiked his drink and then as he walked down the street toward where he was eventually found they followed him and attacked him. How did my friend get this knowledge? Well someone told him a story.

True or not ZBT was known for being otherwise dirty and the school staff warned us away from them. There were stories of drugging, rapes, beatings, and plenty of drugs. The real kicker about this? They were located across the street from the Alfred Police Department.

Now, published local legends about Alfred are sparse because really nothing of note ever happened there. In the spring 1795, wasting no time to exploit the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua, some people moved in and built a small town in the valley. They were led by a man named Jebediah Springfield and…

Our quiet something something mountain town

Our quiet something something mountain town

The only interesting things I’ve found are some poorly written accounts of that architect’s ghost and a paragraph long entry in a Mason Winfield book about Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) legends. Even he seems to lean toward ‘the valley of madness’ being the product of bored college students.

I think the area looked best during the winter but...

I think the area looked best during the winter but…

The weather in Alfred was always extreme during the winter and spring. We’d get snowstorms that would bury the roads in a foot or two of snow in between classes and have fog so thick you couldn’t see ten feet in front of yourself.

...not everyone appreciated it.

…not everyone appreciated it.

During one snowstorm the power cut out and for some reason all the students in my dorm decided that was cause to start screaming. During another, our internet went down, and my friend who worked with the IT department on campus told us that the server that connected to the satellite had frozen. I thought he meant it locked up. No, he told me, they sent someone up to the shack on a snowmobile with a hair dryer.

Day one of our Art History movie shoot. Good atmosphere.

Day one of our Art History movie shoot. Good atmosphere.

The fog was usually good at adding to the creepy atmosphere of the little college town but once in awhile it would take a turn into Silent Hill. If we knew visibility was going to be bad we could avoid getting stuck in it while driving but on one trip out to Wellsville the fog dropped on us too fast for us to avoid it. We got to spend about an hour and a half driving 10-15mph on dark country roads in a ‘caravan’ of about five cars. Somewhere to our right at one point was a large pond that had no guardrails and later on plenty of ditches to worry about drifting into. As our luck would have it, the fog wasn’t in town or anywhere headed out the other way towards Hornell.

Mike 'bloodying' himself for a shoot.

Mike ‘bloodying’ himself for a shoot.

The woods around the college were entirely their own creature. On the University side there was a hiking trail and a path up to an observatory and occasionally bears. The State side had burned out car wrecks which always got me wondering how they managed to maneuver between the trees to get them there. The forest was branded with rumors of lost students, hill folk, ghosts, and whatever else you could think of. Reality was a little simpler but where’s the fun in that?

On the first night back my second year there we thought it would be a great idea to go walk the hiking trail at night. Nothing exciting happened during our walk but I was playing around with my camera and when we looked at the photos, my word, there was a ghost. It was actually a bit of fog trapped by the trees that the flash reflected off of but my friend wouldn’t be persuaded and still insists we caught the soul of some missing AU student.

Here is that image. Spooky.

Vade retro Satana!

Vade retro Satana!

Hill parties are an Alfred tradition probably going back to whenever the first liquor store opened in town. A bunch of the local frats (the ones who don’t assault people) get together and decide a date and time, and then start hauling kegs and furniture up a hill with a very steep incline. Generally these were on the University side somewhere off the hiking trail in a site you could tell had seen a lot of bonfires. I have fond memories of watching my drunk friends slide face first down muddy paths and saving people from leaning back into burning logs.

Alfred State architecture project for green building.

Alfred State architecture project for green building.

The most memorable one for me was when we scared two members of the Alfred PD. See, a friend and I noticed about an hour in that this light kept flashing up on the tree line. People had been using flashlights to navigate themselves in so at first I didn’t think much of it but this light never headed down toward us so much as across. A few minutes later, probably thinking they would be chasing off a couple students, two police officers walked down the hill with their own flashlights and started yelling toward us. I guess their eyes hadn’t adjusted because they froze mid sentence and looked very surprised to be surrounded by about 100 drunk and rowdy college students. Then they started singing the ‘Party’s Over’ and we all cleared out in a confused, intoxicated exodus to campus where we continued the party there. We later heard that some student had pissed off the farmer who’s field bordered where the parties took place and he took out his frustrations on us. So then the parties moved to the other side of the woods.

Finally, this town has a way of making you come back. I was with my brother and friend at the shooting range I mentioned they had in Wellsville one day in 2009 and we got hit by an unexpected rainstorm. We packed up and were going to head to Hornell for lunch and decided to take the back roads because it would be quicker. Instead, about half way there we found two roads blocked by fallen trees and we had to head back to that damn town.

This entry was published on January 15, 2013 at 8:01 pm. It’s filed under Memory Dump and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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