Burying the MG

Is a British sports car really entombed beneath the Hauser Library?

Chris Lydgate ’90 | September 1, 2011

For many years, a curious legend has circulated at Reed claiming that a British sports car lies buried beneath the Hauser Library. Generations of Reedies are acquainted with this tale; most have dismissed it as too outrageous to be true. Future anthropologist Chris Roth ’90 even wrote an influential piece for the student handbook (still in print) citing the story as a classic example of mythological embroidery, in this case reworking an older tale of a police car supposedly buried in the canyon during Prohibition.

Fresh evidence has come to light, however, suggesting that the story is true after all. After interviewing several participants and obtaining this photograph (see right), we present the following narrative.

In the mid-eighties, classics major Mark Verna ’87 was the proud owner of a fabulous, green, soft-top MG Midget, then as now an iconic roadster. Upon graduation, he moved to Alaska to earn money for grad school and left his beloved MG in the care of friends.

Due to a combination of mechanical trouble and long-distance communication issues, the car spent the summer and fall in the east parking lot, gathering grime, mold, and neglect. Eventually, it was relocated to the Red House, a Reed house at Southeast 40th and Schiller, where its decrepitude grew sufficiently advanced to alarm the neighbors, who filed a nuisance complaint with the city.

In May 1988, a band of troublemakers hatched an audacious scheme. A construction crew had dug a giant hole behind the library and was getting ready to pour the foundation for a new addition. Why not lay the MG to rest in a place where it would never, ever incur the insult of another ticket?

On the appointed night, a score of Reedies towed the car down the hill, armed themselves with shovels, picks, and mattocks, and began to excavate a hole in the bottom of the official hole. First they had to dig through a layer of gravel, a noisy business that drew the attention of Dick the security guard, who was somehow intercepted before he came upon the scene. The conspirators then labored for several hours to quarry a chamber of the desired volume. When this had been accomplished, they rolled the MG into its grave. Unfortunately, it stood a few inches proud of its sepulchre, so they popped the tires and flattened the windshield to get it to the proper depth. They covered it up with earth and smoothed the gravel back in place just as dawn’s rosy fingers appeared. Hours later, several of them marched in commencement, where one of the pranksters was scolded by his grandmother for having dirt caked under his fingernails.

Rumors began to fly, but nothing looked amiss at the site. The foundation was duly poured and the addition built. Eventually the participants graduated and the story began to sound like a fairy tale.

Even after examining this photo, some experts remain skeptical. Geotechnical consultant Frank Fujitani, who visited the excavation many times, thinks the car must have been buried elsewhere. Architect Larry Bruton of ZGF says the concrete forms in the photo don’t look quite right. Towny Angell [facilities operations director 1989–]doubts that a bunch of guys with shovels could have dug a hole so neat, so square, and so fast.

These objections only make the pranksters roll their eyes. “I have to apologize to the experts,” says William Abernathy ’88. “But there is a car down there.”

Readers will recognize faces of several classmates in the photo. William, who says he popped the tires himself, asks why a mob of Reedies would bury a car on another construction site. As to the possibility that the photo is faked, one imagines that counterfeiters would come up with a more artful fabrication.

To be sure, the episode is enveloped by an atmosphere of coyness—several conspirators declined to speak publicly about it, some out of discretion, some out of guilt. (It was, after all, a classic car, and Verna was understandably distressed by its untimely demise.) Some prefer to keep the story in the realm of myth, rather than history.

In terms of imagination, daring, and outright chutzpah, however, this deed must rank among the most astonishing pranks in Reed history—even if its ultimate proof lies buried beneath a thousand tons of concrete. 

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