Sabrina's Daring and the Men Who Tried to Own Her

How The Octagon & Sabrina Got Together

Updated 3 weeks ago David Stone
Sabrina, Goddess of the Britons, in its original location - behind the Octagon on the Amherst College campus.
Sabrina, Goddess of the Britons, in its original location - behind the Octagon on the Amherst College campus.

Isolated on a patch of grass behind the Octagon, the Sabrina statue looks like an afterthought, alone, out of place, no other artwork in sight. Passing it a thousand times, I was never curious enough to take notice. Then, after news of how carefully it was handled while making way for the Water Tunnel 3 detour, my wife searched and discovered Sabrina's checkered past. But we still had to figure out how it ended up in the backyard of a Roosevelt Island apartment complex. We had to go back almost 200 years.

"In 1857, Amherst College accepted a gift from Joel Hayden, then the Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts—a bronze neoclassical sculpture by William Calder Marshall named after Sabrina, Goddess of the Britons," says Wikipedia. "The statue was originally installed on the town side of the Amherst campus, between North Dormitory and the Octagon."

Yes, Sabrina has another Octagon in her past.

How The Octagon & Sabrina Got Together

"It was not long before the scantily-clad Sabrina attracted the attention of the then all-male Amherst students. Around 1860, an industrious Amherst student, in the first of many Sabrina-inspired pranks, stole a set of undergarments from one of the nearby female colleges and used them to clothe Sabrina."

Decades of additional pranks followed.

Sabrina was painted and repainted numerous time, had her hand broken off and was once decapitated.

Among many pranks, Sabrina was "liberated" by the Class of 2008.
Among many pranks, Sabrina was "liberated" by the Class of 2008.

Technology advanced, and in the 1950s, for the first time, she was flown over a college sporting event.

That was 70 years after a frustrated school President ordered her destroyed to make an incident in which she was thrown down a campus well the last of the aggravating pranks. An art loving groundskeeper hid her under a haystack instead.

No effort to stop Sabrina's being parked on the roof of Amherst's Octagon building, holding a doll marked "81," or kidnapped to be the guest of honor at a Class of 1882 banquet was ever successful.

In 1919, her appearance stirred gunfire and a car chase that resulted in several student injuries.

Rarely does art inspire such sustained passions.

Fast forward to 1984

That's when Bruce Becker - sound familiar? - and Rosanne Haggerty kidnapped Sabrina, Goddess of the Britons, and among other things, flew her over a couple of sporting events, suspended from a helicopter.

Octagon historical plague near the instance. Notice the name "Becker."
Octagon historical plague near the instance. Notice the name "Becker."

That's the same Bruce Becker whose architectural firm restored the nearly ruined historical Octagon, here on Roosevelt Island - and is presumably responsible for our own Sabrina whose exposed breasts catch sunlight along the West Promenade.

But Becker did more to honor Sabrina.

After she was "liberated" in yet another prank in 2008, having obtained a mold of the statue, he let the college use it to restore the artwork to something close to its original condition, hand and foot reattached, head and neck reinforced with fiberglass and epoxy.

Sadly, that was not the end of problems for Sabrina. According the Wikipedia...

"The statue was returned to the college in 2013, during five-year reunion of the class of 2008, where, in homage to the tradition's early days, she was displayed at the class banquet for student photos. At the end of the evening, the class returned the statue to the college. After less than two hours, Sabrina was stolen from the college police station by the ten-year reunion class of 2003. It remained in their possession for less than an hour, when the class of 2014 tricked the 2003s into helping carry her off the dance floor and into a getaway car. Sabrina's whereabouts are currently unknown."

"...whereabouts currently unknown..."


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