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The curse of Constantine Rafinesque

Did you know Transylvania University has a tomb? We’re sharing the story of eccentric botanist Constantine Rafinesque, who is buried on the campus he cursed.

A big white stone building with columns and lots of steps

Enter Old Morrison at your own risk. | Photo by LEXtoday

Table of Contents

Would you believe it if we told you there was a tomb on Transy’s campus?

Yep, inside Old Morrison, the big white building that faces W. Third Street, is the tomb of early 19th-century professor Constantine Rafinesque.

Today, we’re sharing with you the spooky story of the man whose name has made a lasting impression on this historical Lexington university.

Fast facts

  • Constantine Rafinesque, originally from Turkey, was a professor of botany and natural science at Transylvania University from 1819-1826.
  • During his time there, he published scientific names for thousands of plants + hundreds of animals. One of those was the Rafinesque’s Big-Eared Bat.
  • Legend has it, Constantine often showed up late to classes or skipped them completely. He was eventually fired by then-college president Horace Holley.

Quote: Upon his departure, the eccentric naturalist said, “I took lodgings in town and carried there all my effects: thus leaving the College with curses on it and Holley.”

Seven-year curse

Vice President of Marketing + Communications Megan Moloney noted, “The curse was said that something bad would befall the university every seven years.”

  • Horace Holley died in 1827, just one year after Constantine’s firing.
  • The old Main Campus building, where Old Morrison stands today, burned down.
  • There were cholera + influenza outbreaks on campus.
A woman standing inside a brick tomb

City Editor Molly casually hanging out in the tombs of Old Morrison. | Photo by LEXtoday

Present day

Constantine died in Philadelphia in 1840. In an effort to pay tribute to the professor, a group exhumed his body + moved it to Lexington in 1924. It now rests in the tomb inside Old Morrison.

Here’s how he is remembered + celebrated on campus today —

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