Big Ghosts on Campus. Do real school spirits haunt our colleges and universities?
I’ve investigated ghostlore at colleges and universities for about 20 years. Ghostlore is a form of folklore. People spread ghost stories for the same reasons they tell tall tales, urban legends, and other elements of folklore.
Like folklore, ghost stories can offer caution and instruction, like warning the co-ed not to venture out alone at night. A ghost story about the spirit of a president who haunts a building might offer bits of history lessons, passing on information about how and why the school was founded, for example. The stories also build a sense of community, creating a shared mythology.
However, some stories don’t seem to fit the bounds of ghostlore.
Perhaps because they heard I wrote a book on campus ghost stories, more than a few people have told me, in confidence, that they have had real brushes with the paranormal on campus. The people who confided in me about these seemingly supernatural encounters appear to be decent, honest people, who aren’t looking for fame. In fact, they did not want their names used -- which is pretty odd behavior for someone seeking attention.
The first story comes from a retired custodian at Penn State -- one of the most haunted campuses, or, at least, one of the most documented haunted campuses.
One night, the custodian had the unenviable task of cleaning up Old Botany on the graveyard shift. Old Botany is a small, brick cottage on the campus that is one of the oldest, if not, the oldest building on campus and its haunted legacy is enshrined in the ghostlore of the school’s University Park campus. It’s considered one of the most paranormally active spots on campus.
The grave of George Atherton, one of the university’s early presidents, lies right across the street from Old Botany. Students have passed on ghostlore that the president’s wife, Frances Atherton, haunts the building so she can look on the grave of her husband.
Another story is that a student froze to death during a blizzard in a grove of pine trees -- no longer there -- once situated not far from Old Botany.
But, it’s not just stories of dead presidents and anonymous students that circulate about Old Botany. In one version of the story, an employee arrived at the door of the building one morning and heard a tremendous commotion inside. Thinking that there was a break-in or a student fight in progress, the employee tried desperately to enter, but a carpet was rolled up in front of the door.
Once the worker entered, the mysterious melee stopped. There was no sign of anyone even around. The worker did find a colleague -- trembling in fear -- on the second floor who was so scared when she heard the rumble a floor below that she locked herself in the office.
If it was a student or students on a rampage, no one ever found the suspect.
The word on the street was that no suspect would ever be found. I mean, you can’t arrest a poltergeist.
However, as this custodian worked, vacuuming the floors, thoughts about poltergeist outbreaks weren’t exactly on his mind, he said. He just wanted to finish up and move on to the next building. For some people, there’s a fine line between rustic and creepy and Old Botany leaps over that line in the haunted sand.
The worker shut off the vacuum and -- within a few seconds -- a horrible clatter erupted. He heard the sounds of furniture moving, glasses shattering and what sounded like objects whooshing across the room and thudding against the walls. By the volume of the racket, the custodian guessed that the activity was right up the hall and around the corner. Sensing a vandal was on the loose, he ran toward the spot.
As he turned the corner, the noise immediately ceased. The hall was completely quiet. He checked each room. Not only were the rooms empty, there wasn’t even a sign that anything was out of place.
The Old Botany haunting claimed another victim.
Confidentially, this wasn’t the custodian’s only run-in with the unknown at the building, but it was the most memorable.
Another former Penn State student who attended the Penn State’s Mont Alto branch campus had his own story.
Wiestling Hall is reportedly the oldest building in the Penn State system and, according to this man, it’s the university’s most haunted. The building used to be home of an iron master. He’s suspected in the haunting. Another suspect is a ghost named, Sarah. She was a former staff worker who was murdered by her boyfriend at the campus in the early 1900’s.
If that’s not enough, the campus is just down the road from the completely haunted Gettysburg battlefield.
One of the legends of Wiestling’s ghostlore is that the attic is haunted. If you search the attic with flashlight, the light will dim.
This former student said he and a group of his budding ghost-busting buddies decided to take that challenge on. (By the way, it’s not exactly encouraged by school authorities.) They immediately heard noises when they entered the building. It sounded like someone was walking back and forth in the attic. They also heard sounds like something rolling across the floor.
But, they -- being either brave or idiotic, we can have that debate later -- went on with the hunt.
Once they entered the attic, they switched on the flashlights. So far, so good. Maybe it was just a legend, they thought.
About halfway across the attic floor, one student told the others he saw something that looked like a shadow flitting across the room.
Within a few seconds, the beams of the flashlights simultaneously dimmed into darkness. They had enough and made an immediate escape. So much for paranormal research.
As soon as they left the attic, they checked the flashlights again. The lights were on.
“I can see one flashlight dimming might be a coincidence, but both at the same time?” the former student told me. “That’s a little hard to understand.”
So, there you have it.
Are these cases of over-active imaginations? Could there be natural explanations?
Or could there be more than just great examples of folklore haunting the halls and grounds of our nation’s universities and colleges?
I’ll let you decide.
Author: Matthew L. Swayne
Publisher: Llewellyn Publications, 240 Pages (October 8th, 2012)
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Synopsis: America’s Haunted Universities examines some of the most haunted locales in the country—U.S. university campuses. From haunted libraries to doomed dorms, journalist Matthew L. Swayne has scoured universities across the country to bring readers the most comprehensive look available at ghost encounters at these bastions of higher education. This guide explores the strangest and most enduring stories with first-hand accounts, historical analysis, and a re-telling of classic legends.
Readers will find stories about long-dead college faculty who still appear in a spectral sense on American campuses, coeds who met untimely ends, a haunted elevator, the carnivorous Penguin man, the ghostess with the mostess, and a poltergeist named “Monkey Boy,” as well as many other chilling and bizarre entities and encounters.
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