The Curse of the Fordham Ram: A strange story about a doomed dynasty of rams that once lived on Fordham University’s campus, and the urban legends that grew up around them.

Highlights include:
• Kidnapped rams
• A house built for the ram by Grace Kelly’s father
• Gruesome office decor

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Episode Script for The Curse of the Fordham Ram

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

  • Just right off the bat, I want to make it really clear: This bit is about a bunch of animals being abused and dying.
  • This is actually a pretty upsetting story about animal abuse that then is cast into a sort of paranormal and ironic tone, with  the tone of the reporting of these stories being lighthearted.
  • There are a few reasons why I wanted to tell this story:
    1. It’s a weird story that I think adds something to the narrative about Fordham that I’m crafting.
    2. More importantly, I think this points out a real problem that happens in the paranormal, when a story about a haunting or urban legend gets woven around something really bad, either as a way to evade responsibility and obfuscate, or to avoid looking at an issue right on its face, etc. This is a topic I want to continue to explore. I see it used in urban legends and ghost stories that are linked to racially motivated violence or sexual violence, etc, and I just think it’s a good thing to get into the habit of noticing and digging into and challenging. So this is me wading into the shallow end of this topic, where I’ll be talking about a ram.
  •  So just wanted to clarify that before getting into this story, because it’s real bad.
    • And I guess it’s worth mentioning here in case anyone doesn’t know: Rams are male sheep. I’ve seen pictures of the different rams who lived at Fordham and they looked like adorable, fluffy, helpless sheep, just with horns since they’re rams.
  • So, here’s the story. Fordham’s mascot is the Ram.
    • The story goes that the university got that mascot because at football games, students used to shout “one damn, two damn, three damn, Fordham,” but the administration didn’t like it on account of the cursing, so they made the mascot the Ram, so it rhymed, and they could say “one ram, two ram, three ram, Fordham.”
    • Anyway, in 1927, the brilliant minds of Fordham decided to get a live Ram to bring out as a mascot at sporting events.
    • And what happened next was . . . Not good. As Ram after Ram, all named Ramses, I think about 28 total, died in horrible ways, people began to claim that the ram was cursed. And I’m not sure that they’re wrong. But even if there is a curse, it was helped along by some pretty rampant animal abuse.
    • In case you’re wondering, all of the Ramses lived behind Queens Court, near the Metro-North train tracks.
  • Also worth noting, Fordham had a major rivalry with Manhattan College, another university that’s in the Bronx. Manhattan College shows up in the story a lot, with students abducting Ramses. Though I also heard accounts of  NYU and even Georgetown students abducting Ramses.
  • So I found this article called “The Curse of the Fordham Ram,” The Ram, October 14, 1982, that recounts some of the trials and tribulations of the different Ramseses:
    • “Most Fordham students are familiar with these supernatural aspects of the University, but one strange, yet true tale has thus far escaped notice–the Curse of the Fordham Ram.
    • The terrible legacy began in 1927 when a naive group of students procured a live mascot for the University and christened him Ramses. SInce that time every animal bearing that unfortunate title has been stricken down in the most unusual and sickening ways.”
    • Pausing here to say that I do remember being told some of these stories, but not all of them. I’ll continue reading:
      • “Ramses I himself was felled on a cloudy moonless night by a speeding passenger train. His shaggy head was subsequently decapitated and mounted on a ‘handsome walnut shield,’ as the unfeeling Ram [the newspaper] proudly announced. This ghoulish adornment graced both the front page and office wall of the Ram until 1930 and for this reason students and administrators alike accused the Ram editors of strapping poor Ramses to the tracks. However, a series of fiendish ‘accidents’ started in the mid 1950s made it all too clear that no mortal being was responsible.”
    • This is me again, here to correct this 1982 article and say that bad things happened to Ramses before the 1950s, as well. There’s a whole section of the Fordham library website that’s called The Toils and Troubles of Ramses, Ramses Dynasty 1925-1978.
      • The library claims that Ramses I actually came onto the scene in 1925, and was kidnapped by a rival school and send to a slaughterhouse. I don’t know who is correct.
      • Ramses II met the same fate.
      • Ramses III, according to the library, was a troubled animal. Possibly because Rams aren’t supposed to be kept on urban campuses in NYC and abused by college kids? At any rate, he was apparently “aggressive,” and often ran away from campus and tried to attack the NY Central trains, because the train tracks are right off campus. Trains were delayed, conductors were mad, so instead of maybe building a better habitat that the Ram couldn’t escape from, Ramses III was “sentenced to death” in December 1927 and “executed” (to use the library’s phrasing) by the Fordham Rifle Team. So you know, if there’s a curse on the Ram, maybe it was of the school’s own making.
      • Here’s something weird, though: I found a article from the 1930s that claims that Ramses III met a different, maybe even more upsetting fate. I wonder if the numbering is off, like if the rams that the library says were I and II were actually unnumbered Ramses, and then it started over again in 1927 and what the library thinks was III is actually I?
    • At any rate, in the November 13, 1930, issue of the Ram, you’ll find a front-page, above-the-fold article with a headline proclaiming:
      • Ramses III, Maroon Monarch, Dead; Long Live His Successor, Ramses IV! Fordham Mascot Sccumbs to Attacks of Wild Dog Pack at Dead of Night. Students Mourn Loss.
      • I wanted to read a bit of the article, which is slightly graphic, so if you don’t like hearing about injured animals, skip ahead a bit:
        • They found him Monday morning on what we call the Ramkin field over behind St. John’s Hall. No one knows exactly what happened but enough could be seen to piece together the story. He lay tangled in the long heavy chain that kept him to the stake. The ground about was torn and uprooted and white fleece scattered all around him. How long he fought that night stubbornly and silently–St. John’s is only fifty yards away and no sound was heard–hampered with his chain, a white blotch for his enemies in the blackness, we can only guess. Of the marauders we know nothing. The only hit is that a number of dogs were seen on the campus early Sunday evening. Whatever did the bloody work slunk off before daylight.
        • The knell of the chapel bell is rung–the Ram is gone. His ghost harbored in the mounted head will stare down enigmatically by day from one of the college walls and by night through the centuries will wander through the corridors and over the campus, munching quizzically . . . The Ram is dead, long live the Ram!
      • So based on this article, it wasn’t just Ramses I whose head was mounted and displayed somewhere on campus. I did find an article that contained a picture of at least one of the ram heads, the one at the Ram’s newspaper office, which I believe was in the basement of St. John’s Hall, now Queen’s Court. That ram head was there from 1927-1935 at least, not sure what happened to it afterwards. Where are these ram heads now?
    • The library website continues listing the Ramses dynasty:
      • Ramses IV was known for liking to eat cigarettes.
      • According to a 2019 article in the Fordham Observer (the LC newspaper), in 1933, Ramses V was kidnapped by NYU students. NY state police had to help track him down, and they found him 300 miles away, somewhere in Connecticut. The cops grabbed him and brought him back to NYC as quick as they could, so Ramses could attend the Fordham-NYU football game.
      • We don’t know much about Ramses VI-VIII, but we do know that they died early in life, no surprise there.
      • I’ll read what the library had to say about Ramses VIII, which weirdly echoes what happened to Ramses V in 33–not sure if that happened twice, or if someone got some dates confused:
        • “The first Rameses to grow old and die of natural causes. Kidnapped by NYU and taken to a Connecticut farm. New York State troopers picked him up at the state lines and he was escorted to the game by four squad cars and six motorcycles, sirens blaring. He arrived just in time for halftime. He also made headlines in 1941 when he escorted models at the British Relief Society’s fashion show.”
        • Also, there’s a picture of Ramses VIII with two football players, and Ramses just looks like the cutest, fluffiest animal I’ve ever seen. So at least I don’t need to imagine him dying horribly.
      • In 1948, apparently the Ram ran an article imploring volunteers to guard Ramses from NYU students, because, to quote that article “it would be very discouraging to have him show up at the Polo Grounds on November 27 on the wrong side of the field.”
      • The library website says that we don’t know much about Rames IX-XV, so we can pick back up with the 1982 article:
    • The article says:
      • “In 1954, Ramses XVI died under mysterious circumstances. Although foul play was suspected, the murderer was never found. Three years later Ramses XVII narrowly escaped a heinous kidnapping attempt by inept Manhattan students, but did not survive a second time when the luckless beast vanished one night and was brutally slaughtered.”
    • Maybe worth noting, the library website says the killing happened in 1955.
    • Back to the 1982 article:
      • “Ramses XVIII fared little better than his predecessor. In 1958, the Ram House was gutted by a fierce blaze that Fire Marshall Victor Delancey called ‘the most blood-curdling sight a man could ever witness.’ Although Delancey strongly suspected arson, this case too remained unsolved.”
    • Here’s what the library has to say about Ramses XVII:
      • “Homeless after his shed burned down under mysterious circumstances. He was the first to move into a two bedroom with running water Ram House built by Kelly Bricklayers, a business owned by Princess Grace’s father. He died of alcohol related liver disease in 1961.”
      • I read this and was like, is this some kind of not-in-super-good-taste joke? But no, I did further research and learned that students were giving Ramses alcohol whenever Fordham won games (and probably some times when Fordham lost too, would be my guess), so he really did die of liver disease.
      • Now, again, we’re talking about a bunch of rowdy college students abusing a defenseless sheep. I know Ramses was technically a Ram, but I feel like people think of like mountain goats and rams that live in the mountains and look all tough. (At least that’s what I think of when I think of rams.” But you look at pictures of Ramses and you’re reminded that again, a ram is just a male sheep, and he was just a docile, domesticated, extremely fluffy sheep who didn’t deserve to be abused.
    • Ramses XIX, whose nickname was “Thumper,” was kidnapped by Manhattan College students, who dyed him green, which is Manhattan College’s school color. There’s a Ram article detailing this 1961 kidnapping, and apparently the kidnappers bought all the green food coloring in Tarrytown/Sleep Hollow in order to dye Ramses green. It’s a whole long story, but I’m too exhausted by reading about this serial animal abuse to go into it, I’ll include a link in the shownotes, how about that?
    • Ramses XX was around in the mid-1960s, and his nickname was “fatty.” He was also a very cute ram. In 1965, students from Iona College in New Rochelle tried to kidnap Ramses, but they were foiled by Fordham students (that happened twice in two weeks.) Ramses XX died of pneumonia.
    • Ramses XXI was the most kidnapped ram; he apparently spent more of his career as a mascot at rival campuses than at Fordham’s.
      • I don’t get it, why was it a thing to repeatedly steal this animal? Was that a thing among all colleges in 20th century, or is this just a weird, cruel NYC/east coast type thing?
    • Okay, the next story in the 1982 article, about Ramses XXII dying in 1970, sounds almost made up: supposedly Ramses disappeared for months, and was found by a street cleaner who “found his bleached skull near Madison Square Garden. Dental records confirmed the poor creature’s identity.” That’s got to be a joke, right? To keep reading:
      • “Just two years later, the bloated green carcass of Ramses XXIII was discovered dangling by his horns from the Whitestone Bridge. Every Ramses since then has become so violently insane that they had to be destroyed.”
    • So I’d been told the bridge story when I was a student, I remember a professor told me about it.
    • However, a 2019 article in the Fordham observer claims that Ramses XXXIII lived a long life and retired to Birch Hill Game Farm in upstate NY, so I think the Whitestone bridge thing is an urban legend. I’ve also heard a version of the story where he was hanged from the GW bridge.
    • The article goes on to talk about how Ramses XXIV attacked a cheerleader at a basketball game in 1974 and “bit off a piece of her leg.”
      • I’ve read elsewhere that Ramses XXIV was actually a sheep, and the extremely intelligent Fordham students didn’t realize it until “he” gave birth to a bay ewe.
    • I guess there were a a few other issues with Ramseses over the next couple years, and then the last straw was when Ramses XXVII got in a fight with a horse in 1978 at the Pelham Bit Studios. However, I’ve also read in that 2019 article that Ramses XXVII accidentally broke his own neck by twisting his head in the fence around his pen in 1975. I believe the 2019 article more.
    • So after that, after 50 years of Ram issues, the university decided that there would be no more live rams on campus. The article ends in such a fun way that I have to read a little more:
      • “Yet, there exists one small fear harbored by those who know of the doomed Ramses heritage. Without a sacrificial ram, where will the angry force that plagues the campus vent his ancient rage? Given the demon’s past modus operandi, the student who wears the Ram suit would be wise to be on his guard, lest he find himself painted green and hanging from the nearest bridge, the latest, but not the last victim of the Curse of the Fordham Ram.”
  • I know this seems farfetched, but as you start to look into it, it does seem like there is something paranormal to consider here.
  • Most of these deaths seem attributable to abuse, except for when Ramses was torn apart by wild dogs, and when he broke his neck accidentally.
  • But this story shows some interesting things about urban legends, and how our stories about the paranormal can be dehumanizing or cruel.
  • Obviously, this is a story about an animal, and not a human, so maybe dehumanizing isn’t the exact right word in this case, but the urban legends, which seem to have been popularized and repeated in the 1980s, after the reign of the final Ramses, take a story about repeated, inhumane treatment and straight up abuse of a series of animals, and makes it into a spooky “ghost story” type urban legend.
  • You know, it’s easy to look at a chain of untimely deaths and attribute it to the paranormal. You can become so wrapped up in weaving a chilling story that you forget the real evil that may have been done.
  • This story is, of course, lower-stakes, because we’re talking about an animal. Now, I’ve eaten plant-based for years and was a vegetarian for 10 years before that, so I take animal life maybe a little more seriously than the average meat-eater. There is an argument that there’s a lesson about how we treat animals that you can take from this story.
  • But that’s not the thing I’m really trying to explore here. so I want to be clear that I’m using this story as a metaphor for the ways in which we talk about the paranormal, and perhaps even use stories of the paranormal to paper over some really bad stuff that may make us uncomfortable, but which are important for us to acknowledge and grapple with because they may still be happening now.
  • You know, many of the hottest spots to do paranormal investigations are old prisons, insane asylums, and hospitals. And I do think it can be easy to investigate those places and focus just on the “spooky” aspects of it.
  • And even if you’re thinking about the atrocities happening in those locations, and trying to honor that history through the paranormal stories you dig up, I think that it’s also essential to ask yourself if the terrible things that happened at, say, a closed old prison, are perhaps still happening now. And what about the medical trauma in old hospitals; are people still suffering unnecessarily in the hands of an uncaring medical system today?
  • I’m not saying that all paranormal investigators have to give, like, equal time to social justice topics, etc. I certainly don’t do that, and to be honest, I don’t want to do that. Paranormal research and investigation, for me, is a hobby and a sort of escape.
  • But with any kind of historical research and attempt to tell stories from human history, I do think it’s just important to make sure to peel back the layers of urban-legend, campfire-story type narrative and:
    •  1) look at what really is occurring in a supposedly paranormal situation. In the case of Ramses, you read the article from 1982 and it’s easy to be like, “oh, there’s a curse, how creepy and fun, after all, the campus is super haunted,” etc. but then once you really sit with the stories, and peel back the sensationalism, you can start to glimpse what ‘s really happening, which is that an animal is being abused.
    1. Once you see what’s really happening in a story, I think that’s a call to look around you and ask yourself, “do I live in a system that still allows this sort of thing to happen today? What are the ways in which I participate in making things worse, and is there anything I can do to make it better?”
  • Of course, this is just my opinion, and I’m not really interested in telling anyone what to do or how to think.
  • And to be totally clear, this isn’t directed at anyone I know. Everyone I know in the paranormal is really engaged in these topics and does talk about this sort of thing, and I know thinks about this sort of thing a lot.
  • I’m moreso trying to make a larger statement about how we as a society view urban legends, hauntings, curses, etc, and I’m trying to offer some additional lenses through which stories of the paranormal can be viewed.

 

Don’t miss past episodes about Fordham’s history and hauntings:

Sources consulted RE: The Curse of the Fordham Ram

See sources page for the full source list for the series

Books consulted

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