Written by Jenny Morris, CNN
While most owners of antique lanterns try to keep the bluish lights at the end of a long summer night mostly to themselves, two roommates at Glendon College in Milton Keynes, United Kingdom, have managed to host a community of lantern enthusiasts online.
The flaming lanterns, a dramatic bright-blue and striped affair, stand at the entrance to their large, circular sunroom. They were first used as ceremonial costumes and as the setting for 40th anniversary parties. Now, each one lights up three to five times a summer evening, and they’re a favorite of everyone on campus. But two years ago the candles either melted or disappeared — leaving an eerie scar.
“We were building up to 40th anniversary celebrations and we were storing them in a cooler in the college,” said Joel Aitchison, a fourth-year anthropology major and roommate of Olivia Soedder, one of the college’s student-athletes. “We had them in a cardboard tube. The date was just the cardboard tube so I guess someone took it.”
‘Are they safe to return?’
It wasn’t an easy mystery to solve. The kerosene lanterns — which made a brief appearance on one of the college’s essays describing the different lantern styles — were found in a dumpster in September 2016. When Nick Mudd, who made the nod in one of the essays, went back looking for them a year later, he had yet to find any trace of the missives to his former roommate, Soedder.
“I kept getting these cold emails from Joel,” Mudd said. “I thought they might be documents on file or photos on our Dropbox, but it got worse and worse. They were written by the morning of March 9th 2016.”
“We made a point of checking the LSI [his computer] every few months and we never found anything.”
Soedder was soon working on a documentary about Glendon, the first all-female college in England and a part of the University of Buckingham, and she began talking to Mudd about what might have happened to her lanterns. She told him that she wanted to get to the bottom of it.
“She just didn’t want to get paranoid and fall out of good graces with Glendon,” Mudd said. Soedder remembered that when she first moved in with other roommates, her roommates made her a pair of slippers with a bright green and bright blue ribbon. She especially loved it, since a pair of slippers usually makes for a solid warm-weather ensemble.
“I didn’t want to get paranoid and become embarrassed about Glendon and Glendon College,” Soedder said.
Man used Glendon’s drone to film his girlfriend when she celebrated their baby’s birth
Aitchison understood. “I understand completely,” he said. “I mean, it’s always concerning when you’re over 60 in your late 20s and you own something in the vicinity of 100 candles. So I would’ve been a lot more jumpy if they were in my room.”
Mudd suggested that perhaps someone had stolen the lanterns from the college or its grounds. They’re large enough to fit a full-size car, Mudd said, and are protected by an impenetrable coating of oil.
Aitchison said he understands that the lights might be protected, but he’s not sure that means he’s out of the woods.
“It definitely seems like there’s someone out there with a grudge,” Aitchison said.
The college still has surveillance footage, but Aitchison said that he does not know whether it caught someone taking the lanterns or whether they were smashed.
Even if the lanterns were just stolen, there’s no crime to prosecute in the United Kingdom. The lanterns were gifts from Soedder’s boyfriend from Canada, Aitchison said, and unless he can find a way to retrieve the gifts — often known as gifting legally requires a designated donor — Soedder would not be able to reclaim them.
Soedder said that if the lanterns were stolen, she knows there’s someone out there who would pay her some compensation.
“At least my holidays will be very different next year,” she said.