Statues, Myths and Atmosphere

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In the grounds of a Hall of Residence that I worked at –I’ve worked at several – there was a statue. It had been on the grounds long before the site was bought by the university. No one knew who the statue was meant to represent and even the council and local library had no information about who the subject may be. The Halls Manager – fed up of being asked about the statue – made up a story about it.

He told students, staff and parents the story of a notorious highwayman who had managed to clean up his act and become a politician. He was, apparently, partly responsible for making basic education available to the masses. Once he had told his tale, he would lean in, conspiratorially and say, “There is a story that if you tip your hat to him or salute or say good morning to the statue, you’ll have good luck in your exams”.

At exam time, students would do just that. Sometimes, flowers and small tokens would appear on the plinth.

The statue has become the focus of a false history, a touchstone for intelligence, a post-modern wishing well. The story has escaped the confines of the Halls to the wider University community and people would travel from other halls in the city to salute the statue.

This process of myth creation only took five years from conception to adoration and even though the truth has been revealed, the myth and the legend is still active.

Exaggeration of the situation has led to claims that the statue itself arrive on-site by supernatural means. It’s easy to see how the escalation of mistruths creates a mythical, almost magical ambience. It’s interesting to note how the statue has been repurposed, producing a deeper psychological experience and meaning to the residents.

The same site is also subject to a horrific history in that a high-profile murder took place just outside of the grounds. A family member lays flowers by the gates on the anniversary of the victim’s death. Students have reported feeling scared and vulnerable walking along the road to the gates – even before knowing the history – followed by a feeling of relief and safety once the miraculous statue has been sighted.

The site of the halls of residence has become subject to a layer of false history that has merged with real-life events creating a supernatural unease that informs and modifies the behaviour and emotions of its residents.

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