CHAPEL HILL, NC–Calling college “a unique time to reflect and think on the future,” Steven Hart, and many like him, have enjoyed the opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to find both themselves and the festering corpse that lies in the corner of Gardner Hall’s basement.
“I’ve really looked inward, wondered about what makes me happy, and questioned the path I thought I was on,” Hart said. “Carolina gave me time to do that and also time to come across the body, swarmed by gnats and other parasites, devoid of all recognizable face, that is hidden in the bottom of Gardner Hall.
“I feel so lucky to have had those experiences,” he added.
The Order of the Bell Tower (OBT) places the dead body in the basement each year as part of a tradition dating back to the university’s founding.
“Each year we murder one unsuspecting victim and hide them down there to be found by the surviving UNC students,” said Trent Brown, president of OBT. “It’s a great college tradition you just can’t do any other time in your life–unless you live in New York or something! But most people aren’t going to just find a horrifying dead body, splayed across the floor, forgotten by all, at any other time in life! And certainly not with the same magic of doing it here at Carolina.”
John Raft, class of 1986, remembers fondly when he found the body.
“It was a life changer, simple as that, really put things in perspective,” he said. “The haunting image of it is forever branded in my mind, unshakeable after all of these years. Just another great college tradition!”
For many, college can be a time to explore more than just the classroom.
“The value of a college education is the conversations, late at night, with some of the smartest people in the world, just about nothing. Just about life,” Kristin Hutchins said. “Well especially the life of that person’s whose rotting remains are in the basement of Gardner.”
Claire Watson, class of 2011, said she often used her free time, and the discovery of a dead body in Gardner, to create little adventures.
“I was just trying to be creative and fun. So I’d say, ‘Yeah, let’s plan this huge scavenger hunt’ or ‘Let’s create an intricate timeline and try to solve the horrific murder of this person by members of OBT,'” she said. “Just wacky, fun adventures for when you’re half-kid half-adult.”
The body this year, barely recognizable after months of decay, has inspired many.
“I remember finding it early this year, and I was so sure before that I wanted to be pre-med, but the image of it haunted me, I could not deal with death in the clinical way of a medical professional. That body destroyed any sense of a comfortable reality for me,” Fred Uner, sophomore philosophy major, said. “It’s just what makes college great–you change your path and find a new way to live after the unimaginable trauma of seeing a dead body in the basement of Gardner.”