Tag Archives: boarding school

Rival Bonfire


“A festival that I loved at [boarding school] was our bonfire night. It was so weird though because our grade had the absolute worst luck. For 3 out of the 4 years of high school, we weren’t able to do it. The first two years it was raining on the day the bonfire was scheduled, then we finally got to do it junior year, but then senior year COVID cancelled it. But the one year we were able to do it was really fun!

Essentially, the bonfire happens after the pep rally the night before our [rival school]’s Day, which is basically our biggest sports event of the year where we spend the entire day just doing fall sports against our rival school. Their mascot is literally a door. Which is so goofy, like they are just asking to be made fun of. Anyways, during the pep rally, our mascot breaks down the door painted in their colors, and then afterwards we all go outside and light fire to the wood from the door. Its really fun, there was music, hot chocolate, we roasted marshmallows and made s’mores. And curfew was extended which is always a plus.”


AH is a current college student, and attended a new england preparatory boarding school for high school. 

“Well, I first heard about it from all of the older students freshman year leading up to what was supposed to be our first bonfire night. They all just said it was so much fun.

To me, it’s really just about school spirit and community. That entire week there are events going on that are super fun, which just encourage us to really like the school (which is sometimes hard when you’re constantly on the grind) and just get us in the mind set for the sports day.”


This is a celebration of community. It is a cyclical folk festival as it happens once a year in the Fall athletic season. It is really interesting to see miscellaneous events such as these at schools because they don’t have much to do with education, and instead are solely focused on interpersonal life and relationships. This event is also essentially a celebration of the athletes in the community, and their accomplishments. It is a notable pattern that many communities, regardless of original or main intent, always resort to celebration of athleticism. At jobs there are often recreational sports leagues and even countries play sports against each other. All typically culminating, with celebration. This is a phenomenon of folk all around the world, and it is interesting to see it on even such a small scale as an academic institution with a supposed focus on education.

The Ghost of Lib


“So basically, at our highschool [elite new england boarding prep school) there’s this dorm that is above the library. The library is 3 floors and then the dorm rooms are a floor above that and there are NO ELEVATORS, so everyone has to walk up about a billion stairs to get to their bedrooms. Not only is this dorm, which is colloquially referred to as ‘lib’, is one of the tallest buildings on campus, but is also one of the oldest. Because of that there’s no ac, and since heat rises it gets really hot to the point where they’ll get these giant fans from the gym, or some people will have to sleep in another dorm or the health center during the hottest days of summer. That’s kinda irrelevant to the sorry but i said it to set the stage of how old this dorm is. The pipes creak, the windows barely open, and the doors creak. So its basically just the building being old, however any time anything weird happens, people in the dorm blame it on the ‘lib ghost’. Essentially, there’s this story that there’s a ghost who lives in the lib attic. I think she used to be a student that lived in the dorm but she got so tired of the stairs that she just never came down. So now, anytime things go mysteriously missing, or strange noises late at night, or a light flickering. Or this one dorm door that notoriously opens by itself (probably just a faulty hinge or weird airflow) everyone just says “oh, it’s just the lib ghost.”


IL is a current college student who attended a boarding prepatory highschool in the late 2010s. She first heard this story from the prefects in her dorm during her sophomore year when complaining about a creaky door that sometimes randomly opens.

Interviewer: “Is the ghost evil? are students scared of it?”

IL: “No, not really. Think kinda like Casper the Friendly Ghost. But honestly not really because it’s not exactly friendly just kinda… ambivalent. Like just sorta coexisting with the students. We don’t bother it, it doesn’t bother us. We just sorta accept and acknowledge that it’s there and go about with our day.”


Ghost stories are a norm when it comes to folklore, particularly in the west. There is a fascination with the unknown, of what happens to the intangible thing we call a soul once we die. It is something that happens to everyone, yet we know so little about it. That, in addition to the American view of time (how it is finite, and we always want more) lends itself to this common acceptance of the supernatural. Additionally, in this instance, students cannot explore many places where the ghost supposedly resides, therefore it creates an enticing mystery ripe for storytelling and myth. That’s where this ghost story was formed, from the unexplainable being blamed on the unknown. We accept anyone as driven as a student would stay after death if their life was cut short, because we understand that time is a precious commodity and conversely know nothing about life when it ends.

Pet a Pig for Good Grades


“Well, Another legend from [boarding school] was about the statue of the boar outside of our school library. Basically, our school mascot is the wild boar, and there is this really big, really iconic statue of a boar (which is basically just a hairy pig haha) outside of the library which is basically the center of campus at the top of the hill and right next to the dining hall. The legend goes that if you have a really big test or exam that you’re worried about, if you rub the boar’s snout before, it will give you good luck and you will pass all of your exams.”


IL was a highschool student in the late 2010s attending a New England preparatory boarding school.

IL: “I’m not sure if I actually believe that it works. To be fair, I never majorly failed any tests or exams or whatever in highschool [laughs]. And I think it’s probably just a placebo effect, like if you’re that worried about the assessment that you’re willing to turn to superstition then you probably put in at least some work to prepare or study, and I think that probably has more to do with the result than the statue of a pig. But if it helps it helps, y’know.

I first heard it on my first day of school freshman year. I was on the international student program so we arrived a bit earlier and got a bunch of tours and stuff with and without our parents and I think on one of the tours the guide mentioned it as we entered the library. I also heard it reiterated among students over that year when they were stressed they would mention that they tried the boar. It kinda became less prevalent as the years went on I think. I think it’s more so new students that enjoy the novelty of legends and traditions like that”


This legend is one of hope. Perhaps it is a placebo effect, however, that is the joy of folklore. It takes the hopes and aspirations of a group (in this case students desiring a good grade) combined with genuine world occurrences (perhaps a few students did get a high score after petting the boar) and transforms it into myth and legend. It is perhaps a bit less exciting that the more commonly known legends of objects or certain actions causing supernatural events or powers, nonetheless, it is passed down between people and the myth lives on, true or not.

The Boarding School Hanging

Text: “When I was in boarding school, all of the male students lived in one dorm while all the female students lived in another. I remember there were multiple nights during my 3 years of living there, where someone was walking around the hallways in the middle of the night. This was not allowed of course, because we had “lights out” at 10 pm and there was no reason to be walking around at 3am. Even the teachers lived with us, and they would do a walk through every night, 5 minutes before “lights out” to make sure we were all in bed. We also had bathrooms attached to our dorms, so nobody was ever in the hallways that late. The building was extremely old so the wooden floors creaked like no other. But one of the nights, I heard a knocking. I couldn’t tell if it was a knock on our door or someone else’s down the hall, but I got up to check. When I opened the door, nobody was there. Even though it sounded like someone was n the hallway, walking back and forth, sometimes knocking on a door. Anyways, when I woke up the next morning, I asked Mr. Q if he had knocked on our door around 3am. He said he was fast asleep and that nobody should be up and about at that hour. So I asked some of my floor-mates to see if someone was pranking us. A few of the other guys also told me about how they hear knocking sometimes and that it sounds like there is always someone walking down the hallway. And when they opened their doors, nobody was there. A little scared, I called my mom and told her about the situation. She thought it was creepy but made me feel worse about it by saying the dorm was probably haunted. I ended up doing some research, and to my surprise, one of the kids who lived in this dorm, on this floor, hung himself from the chandelier in the hallway. It happened about 15 years before, but none of the students knew about it. I’m not sure if this was the ghost of him haunting this hallway or if the building is just falling apart, but I knew from the start that something was up.” -Informant

Context: This is one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the country and has had multiple student-suicides. The informant learned that there may be a ghost haunting them when his other floor-mates had been experiencing the same thing. The school covered it up so much that he could barely find the article where the suicide was explained. This situation really scared him and he still thinks about it occasionally. He thinks it was for sure a ghost.

Analysis: This ghost legend features many common elements found in ghost stories. It takes place in an old, isolated building, where strange and unexplainable occurrences take place. The setting of the boarding school also adds to the belief in this legend, as it is a place where the students are already away from their homes and families, making them more susceptible to feeling scared and vulnerable.

The knocking sound that the informant hears is a common motif in ghost stories, as it adds to the suspense and mystery of the story. The fact that the knocking is heard at 3 am, which is often considered the “witching hour” in folklore, adds to the sense of foreboding and suggests that something supernatural is at play. The revelation that one of the students hung himself from the chandelier in the hallway is a classic element of ghost lore. Tragic deaths, particularly suicides, are often believed to leave a lingering presence behind, which can manifest as ghostly apparitions.

British Boarding School 18th Birthday Hazing Tradition


DD: “At Malvern and at most boarding schools, you have all your meals in your house, which means you sit with your year group, but there’s people from [ages] 13 to 18 in that room. Whenever you turn 18, after lunch and the housemaster does all the announcements and leaves and goes to the private side, what the birthday boy would try and do is run out of the lunchroom, but what everyone else does—and it’s mainly the lower and upper sixth, like junior and senior years—they like, hold down the person and carry them out of the lunchroom and into the showers, which are in the basement. And we’re all wearing suits. And then they turn on the showers and you get thrown in the showers and you get completely soaking wet. And, also, as you’re doing this, if you resist at all, they beat the s— out of you.”


The informant is a 21-year-old college student who was born in the Netherlands and attended a British boarding school, Malvern college, from ages 16 to 18. He experienced this tradition on his 18th birthday and similarly hazed other students on their birthdays. DD describes this ritual as “the highest form of endearment” that someone in this environment can experience. Since homophobia and oppressive gender ideals play such a big role in shaping social dynamics at all-boys boarding schools, he says that boys often use violence to express affection for one another. He says that this ritual acts as a sort of substitute for more common birthday traditions like singing happy birthday to someone or baking them a cake, which students may deride as “gay.”

            Moreover, despite the brutality and humiliation of this tradition, he argues that boys enjoy it because it’s an opportunity for them to be the center of attention and to be celebrated on their birthday.


This tradition exemplifies how transitional events are often ritualized and the tendency for people to behave in ways which would ordinarily be deemed unacceptable during liminal moments. In International Folkloristics, Arnold van Gennep describes rites of passage as “ceremonial patterns which accompany a passage from one situation to another or from one cosmic or social world to another” (Dundes 102). I am arguing that boarding school students hazing their peers on their 18th birthday is a rite of passage which marks the transition from childhood to adulthood, where the event acts as a sort of acknowledgement or confirmation of a student’s status as an adult. 

People feel inclined to engage in abnormal behaviors during instances of liminality because the paradoxical qualities of these moments make people think that the conventions which govern normal time are inapplicable. In general, birthdays are liminal because they cusp the end of one year and the beginning of another. With this ritual, another dimension of liminality applies to one’s 18th birthday, as this day cusps the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. Further, one’s status as an adult is complicated by the student still being in secondary school, which is generally synonymous with childhood. One could argue that a possible intention of this rite of passage is to humble the person whose birthday it is by showing that despite having the nominal privileges of adulthood, they are still a part of the school. The inversion of social roles often occurs during liminal moments. Younger students hazing their older peers can be interpreted as flipping power dynamics.

Another feature of liminality in this ritual is it simultaneously being embraced as a cultural tradition and being seen as a form of rule breaking. Students wait for the housemaster to leave before carrying out the tradition, but this is merely a performance of secrecy which is part of the ritual. The practice is a kind of open secret, where school authorities know that it occurs and participate by turning a blind eye and not getting involved. Though such hazing would ordinarily be penalized, it is tolerated on 18th birthdays because the community understands the tradition as a longstanding rite of passage celebrating students’ transitions to adulthood.

Van Gennep, Arnold. “The Rites of Passage.” International Folkloristics: Classic Contributions by the Founders of Folklore, edited by Alan Dundes, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, 1999.