The spooky haunts of Brandeis University

October 16, 2020

A collage of brutal concrete, brick and steel, the Brandeis campus is a haunt of its own unique variety. If you choose to wander on a particularly overcast autumn afternoon, certain corners of the campus take on an almost apocalyptic aspect. One only has to spend a night or two in that cement labyrinth where the pipes scream and the bricks seem to sag under their own immeasurable weight to know the latent horrors of this school. East Quad is one hell of a dorm. While Brandeis’s worn out visage can be unpleasant to live in at times, the campus itself is a ripe ground for October adventures. There is no better season to amble and explore. I have spent the last three years trying to reach every corner of this place and I have compiled a list of my favorite spooky spots. When the midterm doldrums strike in the night, venture forth from your cramped study-hole and seek these havens of fearful solitude and delight!

The first place on my list is easy to get to, and I have found that some orientation leaders even take freshmen to this spot during orientation. I speak of the ridge of Dedham granite that rises above the Brown Social Science center. A winding path through rock, dirt, and tree is hidden (not too subtly) behind Brown, and with nimble feet the summit can be achieved. As you wind your way up the crag, it is important to keep a sober mind, lest you tumble into the boulder-strewn abyss between the academic buildings and the rocks. If the fall doesn’t end your life, responders might be hard pressed to pull your body from the tangle of brambles and pitch pines that line the rock. That is, if your screams are heard at all beyond the sound-numbing qualities of the ancient granite.

On bright days, the spot commands a great vantage from which the southeastern horizon can be viewed. Try to ignore the smashed bottles and dented beer cans. You can also spy on the Brown faculty, if you are a total creep. Traveling to the rock during a drizzle, or even after dark, however, reveals a ghostly sight. The four impossibly high towers that rule that portion of the skyline align with perfect symmetry, and you can watch the undulating red glow of their distant aviation lights flicker on and off, on and off. The lights are soothing, if not eerie, but beware their hypnotic capacity. Once, while locked in a radio-tower trance upon this rock, a great white flash suddenly lit up the eastern skyline toward Boston. All of the towers flared a deep crimson. I ducked and awaited an explosive shockwave, but not a sound emerged. This insane meteorological event did not appear on the news, and I rationalize now that a mere lapse of my brain caused me to conjure the event in my mind.

Particularly vigilant denizens of East might occasionally notice the old shack that has lain dormant and boarded up for years just beyond Loop Road. It is something of a brick cabin, with black doors, a shingled roof and a chimney. Though the cabin possesses windows, they have been completely sealed by wooden boards painted pitch black. I have heard that it is possible to pry back these boards and enter the building, but this is not recommended mainly because the Waltham Historical Society apparently owns the building and they are likely trying to preserve it, but also because of the strange happenings within. A couch and bicycle can be found within, alongside certain animal remains. Do not approach on nights when smoke can be seen wafting from the chimney. This cannot be stressed enough: on nights when the denizens of the cabin are home, it is best to stay inside your dorm with the shades rolled down.

On the opposite side of campus is Sachar Woods, a quaint forest named after the first president of the university, Abram Sachar. By daylight, the forest provides a pleasant walking experience with its abundance of neatly kept trails and close proximity to campus. The abandoned children’s playground equipment is disconcerting, however, especially when seen through the cone of a flashlight. Patches of dirt give way to overgrown expanses of concrete, suggesting an abandoned parking lot once sat where the forest now reigns. The laughter of children, likely a trick of the wind, is known to lead unwary students into corners of the wood beyond the range of sight or potential help. If that is not enough reason to stick to the trail, then perhaps the abundance of hornets is enough to terrify. They range during the late summer and fall, and they tend to nest on slopes near rocky outcrops and logs. A single unfortunate step will spell your doom.

With the destruction of the castle came the loss of many great Brandeisian mysteries. Secret passages, hidden rooms, and a plethora of other oddities were destroyed, but the dungeons and oubliettes beneath the foundation of the castle might still exist despite Skyline’s construction. Passage to the deeper places of the campus may still be maintained in the remaining tower of the castle. There is a reason, afterall, that the doors are still barred and students are only allowed access to the cafe. Where some of these subterranean tunnels might lead is unknown, but anyone that has gotten lost in the endless maze below the biology research center might have an idea.

Have you visited the water tower? Have you ever stood atop the Mathematics building? It is possible to do, with a little finesse. Have you or anyone you know actually seen the Kutz bakery (if you try to visit it, the secretaries will take on an exasperated look and bar your entry). 

Brandeis may be a young school by the Ivy standard, but the land is historic. There are beauties and horrors alike brewing in this place, and I encourage all who have the privilege of attending to make the most of it. Recent circumstances have shown us just how easily the freedom to explore can be revoked, so do not delay. The season is changing fast. The greatest scare of all comes in that moment that you wake up and realize you are no longer a freshman and the time to frolic is rapidly slipping away. East and North are pretty scary too.

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