In Kentucky you have several things going against the case for normality. Not only does the history of the state show its bloody background but many of the victims of its history have stayed. Whether to warn those currently there or too teach them has yet to be seen. This is the case with Transylvania University’s very own dead residence, Constantine Rafinesque.
Transylvania University sits in Lexington, Kentucky and holds a large amount of forgotten history in its hallowed halls. Even the name, Transylvania, holds the fact that the state of Kentucky almost became named Transylvania back in the day. Being the oldest college west of the Appalachian mountains the college seems to collect history, many of it unknown to the vast majority of Lexington’s own citizens. This is the case with one of the more strange professors of Transylvania, Constantine Rafinesque. Purportedly this man put a curse on the University and now sits in his own tomb on the grounds.
Constantine Rafinesque was what can only be describe as an eccentric genius. Born in Galata, which is a suburb of Constantinople, in 1793 to a french merchant family it became apparent at a very young age that when he taught himself botanical Latin and began to collect plants. It wasn’t until 1819 that he would become a professor of botany at Transylvania University, at this time he had already rebuilt his collection of plants at least once and also began to document the flora of the state of Kentucky. This started the most productive years of his life in more ways than one. Though he began his intensive study of plants he also was suppose to start teaching classes. Unfortunately he seemed to miss more classes than his very own students, and even those classes he did teach the students might as well have skipped since it was well beyond the majorities scope of comprehension. Add an affair with the university’s president’s wife and Rafinesque became a very unpopular man.
Thus in 1826 after a fight with the university president, Horace Holley, Rafinesque left Lexington to return to Philadelphia, never to return in life. As he passed disgraced from Lexington he was said to utter a curse. As curses go it is pretty standard, “ Damn thee and thy school as I place a curses upon you”, but apparently it has been plaguing the place since. Holley succumbed to yellow fever about a year after Rafinesque resigned. Also the first building of Transylvania University burned to the ground in 1829. This lead to the building of Old Morrison, which would serve as the main building of Transylvania University for many years to come. Though the curse did manifest in Old Morrison when it was gutted by fire in 1969. It was later remodeled and reopened in 1973.
As if this purported curse could not get any weirder the fact that Rafinesque is housed in Old Morrison has not been discussed. Apparently in 1924 a secret society known as The Hemlock Society from Transylvania removed a body from a pauper grave in Philadelphia that was said to be Rafinesque’s. The tomb is now a point of pride, though it has been reported by more than one source that The Hemlock Society screwed up and retrieved the wrong body. It appears that a one Miss Mary Passimore now occupies the tomb meant for Rafinesque. This may be true but this does not stop Transylvania students from trying to pacify Rafinesque by devoting the week before Halloween to him.
Though history may not have been kind to Rafinesque tradition has. As the traditions of one University have attested too he may have finally acquired the respect he so wanted in life and in death.
Constantine Samuel Rafinesque
Rafinesque at Transylvania
Constantine Samuel Rafinesque