Sherman Raftenberg Day
This story takes place in the 70's [Feb. 7, 1973]. Stony Brook University was under construction back then. (Some things just never change!) There were huge gaping holes that led down to the steam tunnels. For some reason, these were not really blocked off. There was some police tape around them, but thats about it. (And we know how successful a sign saying "Keep Out, Danger" is against a forumite)
Young Sherman and his friends had been taking part in the number one USB pastime: drinking. They were quite toasted, and on their way home from a party in Kelly Quad. Sherman saw the steam rising up into the cold night air from the steam tunnels.
"Wow, that looks cool. I bet it sure would be fun to jump through that " said young Sherman, "It would be like that Star Trek episode, where they jump out of the fog!"
So Sherman takes a few steps, runs, and leaps over the pit. "That was pretty cool," he thought.
"Do it again, do it agin" chanted his friends.
And, so he did. With a mighty leap, he sailed over the gaping hole, and landed on the other side. Elated, Sherman decided to jump one last time. Unfortunately, he must have sobered a bit, because halfway over he decided that maybe this wasn't such a great idea. He tried to turn around and go back. Instead he went down, down, down into the steam tunnels. His dumbfounded buddies ran to get help, but, alas it was too late for poor Sherman.
The next day, the physical plant showed up with a big spoon to scrape what was left of him out of the pipes. Of course, his parents sued the university. Who wouldn't?
But, apparently they did not hire a very good lawyer. They were awarded $1000 for every second that Sherman suffered before dying in the tunnel. A study was done to figure out exactly how long he could have survived. A number was reached. [18 seconds]. His parent were paid.
Somehow, that wasn't enough. So the Forum decided to commemorate his death in our own tribute to stupidity and bureaucracy that is USB. Each year on Sherman Raftenburg Day, the Forum travels en masse to the steam tunnel that might have been nearest to where Sherman fell in. We pry off the lid. [The manhole cover near the ESS parking lot used for this no longer exists] The president jumps three times, Sherman's story is told, [Then the assembled Forumites scream for 18 seconds and then run like hell] and we leave an offering of White Castles, because, like Sherman, they are steamed, not fried.
There are several documents which validate the basis of the Forum's tradition. Following are excerpts from Newsday around the time of the incident, two of which state that the death took place on the preceding Thursday. The articles were on Sun Feb 11 and Tue Feb 13 and Wed Feb 14. Looking at a calendar for 1973 puts the death on Thu Feb 8, 1973.
I have scanned the articles for reference and will transcribe them below. They are from Newsday in February of 1973. I will include the links to the scans here as well.
Newsday, Feb 11 1973
STUDENT DEATH - A freak accident claimed the life of Sherman Raftenberg at the State University of New York at Stony Brook Thursday. The 19-year-old student from Valley Stream fell into a steam-filled manhole when, officials said, he tried to jump it in response to a dare.
Newsday, Feb 13 1973
Memorial for State U Student
Stony Brook - Nearly 200 students at the State University here gathered yesterday for what one youth described as "a quiet and personal memorial" to 19-year-old Sherman Raftenberg, who died Thursday when he fell into a steaming 25-foot-deep open manhole on campus.
Raftenberg, A freshman engineering student from Valley Stream, reportedly had tried to jump the steaming manhole in response to an offhanded dare and slipped in. At the noontime memorial service yesterday in the Student Union Building, several students read poems and offered spontaneous prayers.
Sunday night, about 150 students and faculty members met in the union for a five-hour discussion of "the urgent problem of campus health and safety conditions," according to acting student government president Danny Weingast
Newsday, Feb 14 1973
Safety Demands at Stony Brook
Stony Brook-About 300 students and some faculty members, angered by the death of a freshman engineering student on campus last week, presented 40 demands yesterday for increased safety measures to University President John Toll.
Toll, who agreed to reply to the demands at a meeting at 4 PM Friday, was frequently shouted down by the students as he attempted to provide a point-by-point outline of safety measures the university is adopting. Some of the students said the university was directly responsible for the death of the studen, Sherman Raftenberg, 19, of Valley Stream, who dell into a steaming open manhole.
During the meeting in the Administration Building lobby, Toll said he had appointed Ronald W. Siegel, assistance executive vice president, as interim coordinator of safety. He also said he had received $30,000 in emergency funds from the state university system for lightning on campus. Another $170,000 appropriation for additional lighting and "general campus safety" was awaiting approval by the State Legislature, he said. Part of the south campus loop road will be closed because of a dangerous curve, Toll said, and permanent covers are being installed on three manholes. Temporary plywood barriers are being placed around all 24 manholes on campus, he said.
The students' 40 demands covered a wide range of safety and health conditions on campus. A flyer issued by some students said, "TOll will be allowed a period of two weeks from Tuesday [yesterday] to begin acting on these demands. During these two weeks there will be a day-by-day countdown while administrative activities are closely monitored by the total campus community."
Suffolk County police said yesterday that their investigation into Raftenberg's death supported a university report that the student fell into the hole after accepting a dare from other students to jump across the steaming 25-foot-deep shaft.
- (Commentary from Kevin Conod: I'd have to look at the Statesman article again but I think the accident happened late Wednesday night (Feb 7). By the time the body was extricated from the steaming hole (again sorry for the inappropriate holiday topic!!), it would've been early Thursday morning...so I think that's why there's a discrepancy.)*