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St. Olaf College: Fact or Fiction?

September 21, 2009

Most of us accept The Legend of St. Olaf College without too much undue reflection. It is Carleton’s shadowy sister college, located in a remote corner of Northfield that can only be accessed by car or Love Bus. But how many of us have ever actually been to St. Olaf? Is it possible we are being hoodwinked by the Northfield Chamber of Commerce? What sort of a small town has two colleges in it? Skeptics suspect some conspiracy, while believers protest St. Olaf’s existence. My aim in this essay is to bring a critical voice to this debate, pointing out some major landmarks of the issue without leaning too much to either side.

The reputed location of St. Olaf College is conveniently difficult to access. It is said to be found on the top of a hill in the furthest recesses of Northfield. One cannot walk there. That doesn’t mean I haven’t tried, one afternoon when I didn’t have too much work to do. I got about halfway up the hill before it started getting dark and I had to turn back or risk getting eaten by werewolves.

Many people have reported glimpsing … something … out the windows of the Love Bus on its circumnavigation of the town. Just for an instant. A place, with strangely attractive stone buildings that all match. It is evocative as well as college-like in appearance. These visions are probably the original source of the St. Olaf legend. Nobody I’ve spoken to has actually gotten off the bus at this location, however. They were all on their way to the Target.

I have one final point to make about the location of St. Olaf. How is this region of Northfield supposed to be humanly habitable if it is so far from the Econofoods? It must be a difficult existence for the people who live there, or else they all have cars.

The tradition of St. Olaf college goes deep into Northfield’s history. It is almost as cherished a tradition as the Jesse James day festival, though the latter has a great deal more founding in historical fact. To this day, local shopkeepers put signs in their windows inviting St. Olaf students to come in and buy the merchandise! It seems to be roughly analogous to putting a bowl of milk out for the fairies so they won’t go on the attack. The definitive website dedicated to the legend of St. Olaf can be found at The site is exhaustive, covering everything from a speculative class schedule to school history and even maps of the grounds. There is no way of knowing how much of it is made up, of course.

The most compelling piece of evidence, and what has gotten most of us convinced at one point or another, is the Ole sightings. Of course, the sightings always happen in circumstances that are hardly conducive to making the people involved good eyewitnesses. They generally happen in the dead of night and involving the heavy use of alcohol. It’s been said that it’s the alcohol itself that attracts them, as it doesn’t exist in their home dimension. They are strange, strangely beautiful beings. Inevitably the police get involved when such a sighting occurs, but by the time cameras have arrived, the Oles have vanished.

St. Olaf College: cold, hard fact? Or just a fancy of the townies that deserves to join the ranks of the Fountain of Youth and the Loch Ness Monster? I’ll leave you with the testimony of an anonymous freshman who claims to have been abducted by Oles:

“I mean, I don’t even remember what I was doing that night, so it could have all been a hallucination, you know? But it felt so real. I was just coming out of a Sayles dance with some of my buddies. It was one in the morning.

“And they were there. They were… they were… they’re not like us, all right? Hypnotic. They took me into their vehicle. I – I remember flashing lights, white in the front and red in the back. They took me to this place where there were more of them. I wasn’t scared. That was the weirdest part. They kept talking to me in this language I didn’t understand.

“And then … I don’t really want to talk about the part with the probes.”

[Here the freshman is silent for a while to compose himself.]

“When I woke up I was in the Arb. I have no idea if any of it really happened or not.”

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