For Halloween: Haunted College Campuses

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The Southampton Windmill from inside
The Southampton Windmill from inside. Artist enhanced.

By Colleen Gibbons-Brown
Campus News

A window slams shut. The floor of an empty hall creaks. There is a tapping, but no one there. We’ve all experienced it; the late night phenomenon that raises goosebumps on our arms and makes our neck hair stand on end. Most of the time these occurrences can be explained away as loose floorboards, unnoticed drafts or mice in the walls. But sometimes it is not so easy to identify the source and in these cases, we often look for a paranormal cause.

Pat Kibby, cofounder of Paranormal Consulting & Investigations of New Jersey explains that when the “normal” causes for a strange phenomenon have been exhausted, it might be time to look into the historical background of a place. If there is a haunting going on then it most often occurs because of a tragic event that happened in the past, according to Kibby.

With the rich and varied histories of college campuses, it is no wonder that they seem to be a breeding ground for ghost stories. Whether it is the friendly theater ghost who helps out backstage or the civil war soldier who wanders the former battleground, almost every campus has the necessary historical fodder and a whole slew of lores too.

“There were always a few ghost stories told around the SUNY Geneseo campus,” said alumnus Chris DiCesare, “but I never believed in ghosts until one showed up in my dorm room.”  DiCesare, who graduated from SUNY Geneseo with a bachelor’s degree in 1986, endured perhaps the most famous haunting in New York State history: “My view of life was forever changed by a series of horrifying events in and around my dorm room: C2D1 of Erie Hall.”

In February of 1985, DiCesare began to hear whispers and notice the movement of objects, like chairs, around the room. The incidents escalated to include apparitions and even physical attacks, one of which was so vicious it left him with three slashes on his back, he says.

DiCesare, from a family with strong scientific beliefs, at first found it difficult to accept an explanation that involved the paranormal. He considered that it might be a prank or even some form of hallucination. “I didn’t believe in ghosts myself…it took me weeks to finally understand what was going on there” he says.

Once it sunk in that he was being haunted, DiCesare still tried to keep it quiet. He feared the judgment of his level-headed friends and family. And with constant shadows and whispering at all hours, and a Resident Director who would not let him switch rooms, DiCesare had to choose between dropping out of college and suffering through. “I dug my heels in,” he explains.

Like DiCesare, Marist College graduate Russ Voss had trouble believing what was happening before his eyes. “I’d been a skeptic about the supernatural for as long as I can remember,” Voss says, “but I attracted ghosts in college like nobody’s business.” Voss experienced disappearing scripts and violently shaking ceiling tiles around the college theater. But his most vivid experience came when he was leading a tour of potential freshmen around the Sheehan dormitory.

Voss was familiar with the stories of Shelly Sperling who was tragically killed by her boyfriend during her freshman year at the Poughkeepsie, New York, college. He had heard the tales of students returning to find their unfolded laundry neatly folded and stacked on their bed. But he had previously had no personal experiences with Shelly until he relayed the stories to his tour group. “I was telling some incoming freshmen about her, and a girl in the group asked me to stop. She was really bothered by ghosts…instantly one of the lobby doors began to rattle viciously against the magnetic lock that held it shut.” The rattling stopped after a few moments and Voss continued with the tour.

Kibby finds in her investigations that this sort of harmless encounter is most common. However, there are cases where the ghost goes too far and becomes not only a nuisance but unbearable. It can cause inhabitants to become fed-up with constant knocking and whispers or too terrified by them to stay in their homes. That is when Kibby advises occupants look into a good paranormal investigative group to help out.

Five University of Maine football players were driven out of their house in Old Town when they saw shadows and moving furniture, and repeatedly heard their names whispered. They called in the organization Paranormal Research in Maine. Founder Nomar Slevik says the investigation verified the athletes’ claims. Investigators experienced whispered names and footsteps.

In situations like these where someone is forced out of their home by the paranormal activity, Slevik explains it is the role of Paranormal Research in Maine to help clients feel empowered. “We will tell them to take back their home,” Slevik says, by having them stand in the middle of the house and tell the ghost “it is time for you to go.”

This was the strategy that finally allowed DiCesare some relief from the months of torment he suffered at the hands of the spirit he came to know as Tommy, the name of a boy who supposedly hung himself in room C2D1.

After an attempted cleansing by a priest resulted in physical attacks against his friends, DiCesare decided to confront Tommy outright. He went into the dorm room and came face-to-face with a full physical presence of a boy. He explained, “You are hurting people,” and “it seemed to understand.” It was finally after this confrontation that the haunting came to an end and DiCesare was able to find some peace.

The haunting, now referred to as “The C2D1 Haunting,” has become the inspiration for two films, “Please, Talk With Me” and the upcoming  “Surviving Evidence” and a feature on the SyFy show “School Spirits.”

While DiCesare only wanted his encounter to end, others are eager for a less vicious opportunity to interact with the paranormal forces on their campuses.

Most students, and faculty, at Dutchess Community College are familiar with the stories of the haunted Bowne Hall, which was built where there once sat a tuberculosis hospital with a morgue in the basement. Amanda Scannell, a twenty-year-old music major at Dutchess Community College, will attend a ghost hunt of the building on October 24th. The college, located in Poughkeepsie, New York, hosts the event annually to give students an opportunity to investigate the claims that the patients and nurses of the hospital still linger around the new building. Scannell has heard tales of flickering lights, randomly flushing toilets, and students feeling as though they are being watched.

Christopher Vickers felt a similar desire to explore the rumors of supernatural activity on his campus. The grounds of Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood, New York, were once a part of the Pilgrim Psychiatric Center. One night, Vickers, who has always been interested in the paranormal, went with a few friends onto the campus. There was “an eerie feeling being there…as if I was being watched,” he says. Vickers walked into a building and ended up in the mostly intact morgue with the body lockers and exhuming table still there. “It was amazing to see,” says Vickers, who has continued to pursue his interest in paranormal activity by co-founding Shadows of the Paranormal (S.O.P), a non-profit paranormal organization based on Long Island, New York.

Jordi Alonso, a Kenyon College student who spent the summer at Stony Brook University’s Southampton campus for a summer writing conference, spent a night reading poetry with friends at the 1712 three-story windmill that once served as home to playwright Tennessee Williams. Though Alonso did not experience any paranormal phenomenon that night, many students do tell a story of a young girl, eight or nine, who fell down the stairs and died. There are multiple accounts of spotting the girl’s face at the window, and the general sense of being watched while walking by.

Any new student interested in discovering the history and ghost lore of their campus will have no trouble locating a number of online sites detailing occurrences. Kitty Canfield, writer and nursing student, was inspired by the haunting of her own high school to create “Ten Most Haunted Schools in U.S. – East Coast” on her blog. On the list are some expected campuses, such as Pennsylvania State University, which is famous for its multiple hauntings. Canfield relates stories by students of experiencing screams, glowing red eyes, and apparitions that walk through walls.

Other campuses, such as Southern Maine Community College, are perhaps less famous hubs of paranormal activity. Located in Portland, the school has several very spooky tales associated with its history. The grounds of the college have housed a brothel, a nursing home and a funeral home, and now include a cemetery on part of the campus.  Canfield says students of the Hillside Dorm, the former funeral home, have reported hearing animal sounds in the attic, and found objects moved. A paranormal investigative group conducted an investigation and caught an EVP of a woman talking to them. This report coincides with stories of an older woman haunting the dorms and a younger woman in a nightgown who wanders the staircase at night.

Another lesser known, but equally haunted, campus is North Hampshire Community Technical College on Pease. On this New Hampshire campus there are rumors of lights flickering on their own and an eerie feeling on the top floors of the building that for a long time were supposedly boarded up. The college, which was at one time used as a hospital for the Pease Air Force Base, made “New Hampshire’s Most Haunted Places” because of the footsteps often heard from above even while the top floors were boarded off and the elevator no longer worked. Students have reported hearing strange noises and, on the rare occasion someone ventured up there, seeing apparitions.

Cold and unexplained drafts, human-shaped shadows on the walls, flashing clocks and lights, whispering voices, and “full-bodied figures standing in the room, watching you” are all signs of a haunting, says DiCesare. But, though the intensity of the encounters can vary from helpful laundry folding to horrific and terrifying attacks, ultimately, interacting with paranormal forces can change one’s worldview forever.

“When all of a sudden what you believed isn’t the case, you question everything you know,” explains DiCesare.

This can be an incredibly scary experience, scarier than any ghost, but it also can be illuminating and educating. “Whatever doesn’t kill you, will probably make you stronger,” says DiCesare, “and more aware.”

Though he has gone on to live a happy and fulfilling life, and come to terms with the traumatizing events of those month, DiCesare will never forget or fully escape the feelings of terror he experienced so many years ago. “If it happened once, it can happen again,” he says.

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