April 1, 2017

Salamanders, Swords, and Shen: Discovery Sheds Light on Houghton History

It was a routine trip to a nearby water source, seeking out aquatic life. Dr. Aaron Sullivan, associate professor of biology, beckoned his class closer as he waded into the turbid waters of Shen Pond, reaching down to capture the elusive salamander. A glimmer caught his attention, and as he stood, the class withheld an inconceivable sight: a gold doubloon and a golden chalice.

And the rest is history. Literally.

On that random Tuesday, Sullivan discovered a piece of Houghton history that has since changed the college as we know it. The campus came together with buckets, backhoe, and bravery as students labored alongside faculty and staff to empty Shen Pond and raise The Amethyst Dragon, muddied flags torn and tattered. Campus historians, led by college archivist Laura Habecker, pored through hundreds of years of faded documents to find the identity of the ship’s captain.

The Dread Pirate Roberts of the Genesee – aka Westley – was renowned for his voluminous black cloak and for travelling with a uniquely talented Spanish swordsman. As he took to the seas to engage in piracy, Westley, a distant cousin of John and Charles Wesley – the founders of the Wesleyan Church – distanced himself from his missionary roots, turning his attention to marauding the towns along the Genesee River Canal. During an especially heated battle waged at the foot of what is now known as the Houghton ski hill, The Amethyst Dragon became stuck in a then-unnamed water source and began to sink – an amazing feat, as not a shot was fired.

The discovery of his ship has sparked much interest at Houghton and beyond, leading to a new outreach initiative: The Center for the Reformation of Underserved Sailors (ROUS). “Understanding Westley’s motivation to engage in piracy is crucial to the rehabilitation of modern-day corsairs,” remarked Dr. Michael Jordan, dean of the chapel at Houghton. In an effort to reach modern pirate populations, the college’s first Shiver-Me-Timbers Symposium is in the works, covering such topics as:

  • The Art of Parlay Negotiation
  • Preventing Scurvy: An Introduction
  • Fit as a Fiddle at Sea: Creating Your Nautical Workout Plan
  • Eye Patch Psychology: Where You Came From and Why It Matters
  • Avoiding the Bermuda Triangle: How Proper Nautical Calculations Can Save Your Life

Marshall Green, facilities marketing and event coordinator at the Kerr-Pegula Athletic Complex (KPAC) – and an avid admirer of all things pirate – recognized the impact that this discovery could have on the local and regional economies. “Given Houghton’s mission of reaching out to the community, it seemed natural to take this inconceivably perfect situation and open it to the public. We anticipate upwards of 30,000 visitors in this year alone to Houghton’s newest tourist attraction: Highlander Pirate Theme Park and Resort.”

Dr. Mark Yuly, associate dean for the natural science and mathematics, has joined with students to chart out additional potential treasure sites using ground-penetrating radar, the primary being deep under the ski hill. The potential worth of the find is estimated at $1,883,000 in today’s dollars. Unconfirmed reports have also indicated a potential site on the Field of Dreams, beneath the very ground where the Tree of Life stood. Should those reports prove true, the college will obtain roughly half a million dollars in additional funds, factoring in the exchange rate and inflation.

Such a discovery provides Houghton with a unique opportunity to reach this unusual people group, and the chance to demonstrate to the wider public the value of an inclusive liberal arts approach. “These discoveries at first seem counter to our mission at Houghton College, but in fact, they speak to the very need for scholar-servants who can minister to individuals across all walks of life – plank or otherwise,” remarked Shelly Hillman, public relations and communications specialist.  

[Editor's Note: Gotcha! April Fools!]

Author:
Shelly Hillman|

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