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ISSUE 116 VOL 17 PUBLISHED 4/18/2003

Uncovered: Truths behind the myths

By Bethany Jacobson
Staff Writer

Friday, April 18, 2003

Students have been living on the Hill and attending St. Olaf since 1878. In all that time, it is inevitable that a few ghosts should come to inhabit the various dormitories and buildings where they are rumored to have met their untimely ends. Two of the most famous St. Olaf spirits are the mysterious Red Cap Boy and Professor Ytterboe.

Red Cap Boy was supposedly a St. Olaf student who lived in Thorson. On Halloween night, 1987, he died of unknown causes. Ever since then, there have been sightings of the Red Cap Boy in the upper floors of Thorson. Students living there may or may not decide that a resident poltergeist is a price they’re willing to pay for having a loft. Supposedly, Red Cap Boy likes to make noise in empty, locked rooms. He is also fond of old 80s rock bands and tends to turn on the radio to get his fix – even when it isn’t actually plugged in. This understandably frustrates his more corporeal roommates, who have to worry about things like grades and sleep. Occasionally, students catch glimpses of Red Cap Boy rounding the corner in the hallway, or they hear screaming.

Lately, Red Cap Boy has been quiescent and left students alone. However, in the past students have reported seeing him involved in such diverse activities as 2 a.m. poker with their roommates, who later report having been off campus at the time. Not much is known about Red Cap Boy’s life, but he seems a fairly harmless ghost. His presence makes the Thorson lofts the only “officially” coed rooms on campus, every other year.

Much more is known about the actual life and death of Professor H.T. Ytterboe, who could be called one of the college’s guardian spirits. He was one of the original professors when the college was first establishing itself on the Hill, and he lived in Old Main with the students. In 1903, a scarlet fever epidemic struck the area. Though careful precautions were taken, students kept falling ill and nothing seemed to be able to prevent it. College officials eventually decided that the ongoing epidemic in Old Main was due to the presence of infectious bodies permeating the building.

In order to clean out the students’ quarters, Professor Ytterboe volunteered to fumigate the entire dormitory repeatedly with formaldehyde. He would often return from the project at the end of the day with his eyes streaming tears from the strength of the fumes. Later that month, he turned to his wife and said, "It is strange, but when I look up at the ceiling, I see two moldings. I know there is only one, but I see two."

Soon afterwards his family began to notice signs of weakness in Ytterboe. His eyesight continued to deteriorate, and later that year he was forced to retire from the school. His family sent him to Luther Hospital in St. Paul, where he was diagnosed with formaldehyde poisoning. Ytterboe stayed in the hospital, often writing affectionate letters to his wife and children and claiming that he felt his health was improving. However, this was not the case. “The man who saved St. Olaf College,” as his daughter Edel refers to him, died on Feb. 26, 1904, in the hospital.

Although Ytterboe did not die on campus, students have claimed they have encountered him on late-night walks. He is said to prefer Ytterboe Hall for his haunting, though it was not built when he lived at the college. He is generally courteous to ladies, giving them advice and directions if they are lost, but shows a tendency to un-stick the posters on peoples’ walls. Some people believe the spirit of Ytterboe the dog, his namesake, accompanies him as he walks about the campus preserving order.

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