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The Founding College of the University of Toronto
Front of UC building on a spooky night

Our Ghost Story

The Legend of Reznikoff and Diabolos

Diabolos and Reznikoff were stone masons who worked on University College during its construction in the late 1850s. Ivan Reznikoff was a huge man, with fingers and thumbs bigger than his carver’s mallet and a violent temper. Paul Diabolos was a sculptor from Corinth; pale, young, handsome and of a subtle nature.

Their opposite temperaments were reflected in their work. Diabolos was credited with much of the best-carved work in the east wing of University College, destroyed in the fire of 1890. He was also said to have used Reznikoff’s hideous face -- “more like a baboon than a man” -- as a model for one of the two gargoyles by the chimney between Croft Chapter House and the small cloister.

Meanwhile, around the corner, Reznikoff toiled and drank deeply from a flask he kept inside his shirt. He is said to have sculpted a gargoyle in the chimney that showed all the earmarks of a drunkard’s touch.

The two were in love with the same woman. Reznikoff had promised to marry her, and they had saved together for this. But Diabolos persuaded her to run away with him instead, taking Reznikoff’s savings with them. However, before they could leave, they were found out. On the empty worksite, Diabolos and Reznikoff confronted one other. In the confines of the small cloister at the southwest corner of the building, with a workman’s axe, Reznikoff attacked Diabolos, who carried a dagger.

In the confines of the small cloister at the southwest corner of the building, with a workman’s axe, Reznikoff attacked Diabolos, who carried a dagger.

They fought and wrestled until the giant Reznikoff backed his enemy against the door and struck with his axe. But Diabolos had clutched the iron handle of the door, and, as the blow descended, the door swung inward. Both fell headlong onto the floor, and the axe cut deep into the oak door, where the scar is still to be seen.

Diabolos fled through the unfinished interior of the building, pursued by Reznikoff … along the corridor, into the entrance hall and up one of the double flights of stone steps to the second floor. There, he listened as his enemy climbed slowly toward him. He could not escape down the opposite flight of steps, because the way was blocked with mason’s tools, piles of boards and broken stone.

Diabolos stood for several seconds thinking that his time had come, but turned and ran up the wooden stairs to the third floor, where he hid in the angle of the tower. When Reznikoff came into view, Diabolos pounced on him with his dagger. There was a sudden thud, a groan, and Ivan Reznikoff fell dead on the floor.

To conceal the body, Diabolos threw it down the stairwell, over which the circular staircase leading to the roof of the tower was built.

What became of Diabolos and the woman, we do not know.

Stone Carving of Diabolos & Reznikoff
Stone Carving of Diabolos & Reznikoff

Reznikoff haunted the college for many years, and it was only since his bones were found after the fire of 1890 and consigned to a decent grave that he left the college in peace. His burial place is said to be under a maple tree at the northeast corner of the UC quadrangle. Rumour also has it that his head was never found and that a skull discovered much later may belong to him.

However, even today, people report that late at night in the college, there are creaking and banging noises that cannot be explained.

Adapted from Richardson, D. (1990). A Not Unsightly Building: University College and its history. Oakville, ON: Mosaic Press.