Sex abuse rituals at NJ boarding school exposed — in cartoons by survivor
Glenn Head didn’t wait 50 years just to pull punches. After all, he survived a child’s waking nightmare at the hands of a pervert — not to mention the self-destructive sex- and substance-abuse streak it spawned in his adulthood. He didn’t get out alive by throwing fights.
The veteran cartoonist is telling his triumph-over-trauma tale for the first time in the new graphic memoir “Chartwell Manor.”
Don’t let that whimsical cover art throw you: Head’s unflinching book recounts his two years at the now-defunct Mendham, NJ, boarding school run by headmaster “Sir” Terence Michael Lynch — a serial sexual abuser who manipulated young boys into “cuddling sessions” after fondling and beating their nude bodies.
Head’s “bland, suburban” existence was shattered at 13 when he scored subpar marks in the seventh grade. On a rainy Sunday in fall 1971, his parents sent him packing to the fancy, “British-style” prep school, Chartwell Manor, which was hyped as a haven of “healing and reform” for troubled kids. He started cartooning at 14 to cope with “entering a real-world horror comic — depraved, criminal and corrupting to so many who attended it.”
Now, five decades later, Head’s critically acclaimed memoir could help bring a measure of justice to his fellow victims — at least the ones who managed to go on living with their emotional scars.
“I always feel like, with an autobiography or memoir, you’re wasting your time if you’re not risking something. I sort of bet all my chips on it,” Head told The Post of sharing his darkest secrets. Faded photos from his “Chartwell Manor” era capture a serious kid in a smart school uniform, with curly blond hair tamed into a side part — and haunted blue eyes concealing revelations “it took a whole lifetime” to make.
Head’s “merciless self-examination” — as legendary cartoonist Robert “R.” Crumb declared in his “masterpiece!” review — almost dares mainstream comic fandom to disapprove. He doesn’t ask readers to like him as he struggles to stick a pitchfork in the adult demons born of his warped school days — he gambles on the truth instead.
“My bottom-line approach: You gotta know what I know,” said Head, now a youthful 63 with a mop of unruly silver curls, at his home in Brooklyn. “You gotta know what I feel like. What’s it like to experience sex abuse and what sexual behavior that may have grown out of that feels like. That’s the deal that’s made when someone picks up the book.”
IT WAS GOTHIC — BUT IT WASN’T MAGICAL
Some readers might be momentarily disturbed by the cover art: It sparks a bizarro world sense memory of another legendary prep school: Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School of Magic and Wizardry.
“I was aware of the books — but I didn’t so much get into the Harry Potter thing,” Head said. Obviously, no magic happened at Chartwell, but it did share a certain “gothic” Hogwarts vibe — chandeliers, high ceilings, otherworldly architecture befitting an idyllic mansion and estate named after Winston Churchill’s country home — that he wanted to recapture.
“Really, the only way I can put it is: I grew up in Madison … public schools were institutional settings and all the same no matter where you went,” Head recalled to The Post. On the other end of the spectrum was “an ominous castle in the woods, this boarding school was gothic, haunting, atmospheric, to my 13-year-old eyes. Chartwell Manor, I always felt, was begging for the comic book treatment,” he said in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter.
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Meanwhile, every great comic needs its evil villain. Head’s came in the form of sick “Sir” Lynch, a UK-born perv who was eventually charged in a 103-count sexual abuse indictment with robbing his young Chartwell charges of their innocence.
Little is known about his life before Chartwell, but “’Sir’ was a larger than life figure: clownish, exuberant, florid in his speech patterns, grandiose — almost a parody of a boarding school headmaster,” Head said. “He was also a pathological liar and a serial abuser of children. Too criminal for words, he needed to be drawn!”
A DOCUMENTED TRAIL OF PERVERSION
Because of a vow of silence among students, many parents didn’t learn of Lynch’s sadistic abuse until after the disgraced school was shut down in 1984. Accusers testified about groped genitals under the guise of medical exams, creation and distribution of child pornography and “cuddling” after naked-buttock beatings, the latter an attempt to “comfort” his humiliated victims in a perverse ritual of emotional control, according to one student.
Lynch eventually pleaded guilty in 1989, and served seven years of a 14-year sentence for molesting at least a dozen boys at Chartwell Manor. After his release, he got back to work. Lynch was sentenced in 2007 to one year in jail for assaulting three men between 2004 and 2005 at a drug and alcohol rehab in Morristown, where he posed as a volunteer doctor doing hernia checks, genital exams and spankings. Those adult victims received a $780,000 settlement — Chartwell students have yet to receive civil compensation.
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In 2011, the registered sex offender was charged with failing to notify police of a change of address. Lynch is believed to have died at 77 the same year in Parsippany.
Decades after “Sir’s” reign of terror and Head’s subsequent spiral into addictions depicted in his memoir, the artist-author is now married and a parent himself, to a 20-year-old daughter who hasn’t read the book — “but she knows she’s in it,” he told The Post. “She is sort of a very important figure in terms of my life taking a turn for the better.”
CIVIL JUSTICE POSSIBLE AS DEADLINE LOOMS
Self-destruction is in his past now, but Head admitted there are emotional scars he’s still processing today. He knows he’s among the lucky ones.
“I’ve been in touch with some alumni — and a lot of people I knew who were kids then committed suicide or are dead from drug overdoses. Others [got into] criminal things. A lot of that grew right out of that school. A great many students went through what I went through. Alcohol, drugs and sexual behavior followed that went part and parcel with this. I’m very lucky to have been clean and sober for some time.”
Yes, Head has overcome a lot — but to reveal much more about how he got here would spoil what his peers and critics have hailed as an important book.
Meanwhile, the timing of the release of “Chartwell Manor” could shine a light on an ongoing push to bring compensation to survivors who were too traumatized to testify in the past.
In May 2019, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed the Victims’ Rights Bill into law, extending the statute-of-limitations window for child sexual abuse survivors to bring civil suits against those who hurt them.
However, time is running out for Chartwell Manor victims to join those who’ve already filed claims against surviving Chartwell administrators accused of letting Lynch — and other accused faculty — cultivate a culture of abuse.
“New Jersey law gives you an opportunity to seek justice and compensation, and more importantly, hold the abusers accountable and get your voice back,” said attorney Greg Gianforcaro, a state child victim advocate of three decades. “Claims must be filed by November 30. Hundreds of survivors have already come forward to make their voices heard. You are not alone.”
Survivors can confidentially consult with lawyers online or by calling 1-888-920-9849. (Note: Head told The Post it’s “amazing” that survivors are still seeking justice, but he’s not affiliated with organized legal efforts.)
GLENN DOESN’T HAVE THE LIGHT STUFF
After diving so deep into darkness, one might think Head was craving some levity in his work. No way.
“I’m not sure I’m really capable of lighter material. It sounds funny, but it’s just not really my thing,” he said with a chuckle. In addition to his award-winning contributions to alternative comic books and “comix” anthologies, Head’s art has appeared everywhere from the New York Times, Playboy and Sports Illustrated to the Wall Street Journal and the iconic underground paper Screw. However, the graphic novel format allows him to strive for something deeper within his panels.
“Not to make light of other material, but what I’m really fascinated by is human behavior and how it affects us, how it follows us,” he said. “I tried to give as much as I could in terms of honest characterization to both parents, Lynch, a pedophile, and the other kids I knew. I really wanted to flesh those things out with as much humanity as possible. Those are the things I strive for.”
As he recently told “The Virtual Memories Show” podcast: “My whole interest in comics and autobiography is to show the dirt that’s under everyone’s fingernails, to capture that and not look away from it.”
Despite this professed lack of sentimentality, Head does cop to one feel-good cliche: Art saved him.
“I’m really convinced it did, actually. For three years [in the ‘80s] at the School of Visual Arts, studying under Art Spiegelman, I was a profoundly heavy drinker. But I learned a lot from him and it was really helpful to me,” the husband and dad told The Post. “One gets up to a lot of stuff in 20 to 30 years — but studying comics held me in good stead. It’s something more than just an escape — it can save you. I think it really did.”