Nearly as old as the college itself, the rumors and hauntings of Kenyon College have gripped the imaginations of every student who has passed through the school. Old buildings and an older history inevitably result in one thing: ghosts.
One of America's Most Haunted Places
Kenyon College has been featured in numerous publications depicting some of America's most haunted spots. In 1999, The Wall Street Journal's Weekend Journal published an article by Sam Walker and Daniel Costello entitled "America's Most Haunted" for its October 29 issue. The article featured a picture of Old Kenyon taken at night. Kenyon's section of the article reads:
What do you get when you put a bunch of college students in the middle of the Ohio woods, house them in Gothic buildings and ply them with literature? About two dozen ghost stories.
Welcome to Kenyon College, bastion of liberal arts, alma mater of Paul Newman, and undisputed NCAA champion of the supernatural. Of the 20 students we interviewd here, 18 claimed to have seen a ghost. We knew we were on to something when John Anderson, the dean of admissions, told us he wouldn't guarantee any student a ghost-free experience at Kenyon, even for $30,000 a year in tuition, room, and board. "We're a little kooky out here," says Shannon Farney, a senior.
On the morning of our visit we were greeted by Tim Shutt, a Kenyon professor best known for his ghost tours, which he often conducts for students and alumni in a top hat and waistcoat. Our first stop: Old Kenyon dormitory, the oldest structure on the campus and the site of a 1949 fire that killed nine undergraduate sutdents. Students say the ghosts of those victims can be seen wandering the halls at night in Brooks Brothers pajamas. Lori Schilling, an amateur ghost hunter invited by students to inspect the building last year, said she sensed "strong impressions of death" in several rooms.
Just to be sure, we rapped on the door of sophomore John Parks, who appeared to be napping comfortably (at about noon). He told us, in a convicingly blase fashion, that everybody on his hall knows "Stuey," a benign ghost who likes to slam doors and click radios on and off. Downstairs, junior Amy Pawlukiewicz told us about another student who awoke to feel a ghost with icy hands pinning her to the bed. And Baltimore native Sarah Pearce-Batten even says the blinds in her dorm room used to flip open and closed on windless days. "It's just one of the little quirks of the place," she says.
School officials aren't exactly thrilled about the school's haunted reputation. Mr. Anderson concedes tour guides were recently told to keep ghost stories to a minimum. But not everybody is keeping mum. The most chilling moment of our visit took place at the office of Kenyon's campus security director, Dan Werner. He told us about a recent night when the switchboard lit up with emergency calls from a dormitory called Caples. The only problem: The building was empty and locked for the summer. "There was nobody in there," Mr. Werner says. "It's just inexplicable."
In addition to the Weekend Journal, Kenyon's haunted reputation has been written about in Kestrel Publication's Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard, Cleveland's newspaper The Plain Dealer, Mount Vernon News, and The Columbus Dispatch.
The Gates of Hell
One of the most recognizable features of the college are the Gates of the College. Constructed by order of David Bates Douglass during his presidency at Kenyon (1841-1844), the gates mark where the college's southern grounds begin. However, over the years, the gates have acquired a new nickname: the Gates of Hell.
This name stems from a visit by a psychic to the campus a number of years ago. On the show Phil Donahue, he claimed that Kenyon College is "the most spiritually active and evil place on earth." In a later interview, he also claimed that "The Gates of Hell" rest in Gambier, Ohio.
There are all kinds of horror stories about what you are not supposed to do regarding these gates. The most popular tale claims that you should not walk between the gates when the bells in the Church of the Holy Spirit are chiming midnight: if you do, you will find yourself transported to Hell itself. In addition, when the clock tolls midnight, you are not supposed to look into the trees surrounding Middle Path--they are called "Pitchfork Trees" because of their shape and perhaps something more sinister.
The Church of the Holy Spirit
You are not safe even in the campus chapel. There are two different accounts of haunting-related events in the church. A common belief is that the Church is cursed. Most churches in the 19th century were built in the shape of crosses on the East-West line, with the altar facing East to celebrate Christ's death and resurrection every day. However, the Church of the Holy Spirit is built on the North-South axis and faces South: it is, in essence, an upside-down cross. Also, though there is no official record of any fire in the Church, there are scorch marks beneath the windows of the chapel: the catch, however, is that the marks are facing down, indicating that the Church burned from the top to the bottom, defying the laws of physics as it did so.
The second story is of an actual haunting. If you go into the Church late at night by yourself, perhaps you will catch a glimpse of the priest's ghost, a pitch-black shape in the dark recess under the choir loft. Years ago, a priest was said to have gone crazy and locked himself in the office of the Church. The story goes that he hung himself in the belltower and is now condemned to haunt the church.
Stuart Pierson: First Hazing Fatality in America
The night of October 28, 1905 was to be Pierson's initiation into the fraternity. His father, a graduate of Kenyon in the Class of 1880 and a DKE as well, had come up the night before to take part in his son's initiation. The last time he saw his son alive was at 9PM, when Pierson left for the C.A. & C railroad bridge. He was left at the east side of the bridge and told to wait for the other members of the fraternity to arrive. Some say he was tied to the tracks, but this is obviously a matter of speculation. It was common knowledge that no trains ran at night. Unfortunately, there was an unscheduled train that night, and, whether he had fallen asleep on the tracks or was tied to the them, Pierson was hit and killed. The DKEs argued that Pierson had been exhausted from waiting up all night for his father the evening before, and had fallen asleep on the tracks.
Three of his Brothers came to get him at 9:55PM, and found the mangled remains of his body twenty yards from where they had initially left him. A note had been pinned to his chest before he was left at the tracks, which read: "This will do for this time, but if we come again it will be worse." The note was a reference to the members of the DKE's conducting the ceremony: little did they know how true the message would become.
Kenyon became the center of international news after the event. Debates raged as to whether Pierson had been tied to the tracks or not, but contradictory reports about the state of his wrists and ankles were circulated, and nothing was ever settled officially. The international community began examining the safety of hazing practices and the fraternity insitution.
The haunting part of this story comes in modern times, however. Many students have reported seeing a ghost in the west wing Bullseye window in the DKE area of Old Kenyon, the window that faces the tracks where Pierson was killed. He is said to appear throughout the year, but especially every October 28th, to look out on the bridge where he met his end. His ghost is said to walk the corridors of the fourth floor, causing footsteps to echo in empty halls, radios to turn on and off, doors to suddenly blow open, windows to shut, and showers to turn on and off, all seemingly of their own accord. The ghost's nickname is "Stuey."
The Old Kenyon Fire of 1949
Old Kenyon burned to the ground in the early morning of February 27, 1949, and despite the heroic efforts of many, nine students were killed in the blaze, and two were killed jumping from the third story. After the fire, Old Kenyon was rebuilt on a new foundation, which was three feet higher and which used many of the same stones from the original building. However, because the stones were not all put back in their original places, some floor pieces became part of the ceilings and some ceiling pieces became part of the floor.
Many students have reported seeing legless torsos "walking" down the halls of the first floor. Lights turn on and off inexplicably. Students who live in the rooms previously occupied by the victims of the fire have reported strange happenings. One student who lives in a room where a victim was trapped reported hearing pounding noises on his door and cries of "get me out!" Another student had an unpleasant encounter with his room's possessive former occupant: he was studying at his desk when someone tapped his shoulder from behind and screamed, "What are you doing in my room?" When the student turned around, no one was there. Another student claims that he was awoken one night by someone shaking him and screaming of "Ed, wake up, fire!" One of the victims that died in the fire was Edward Brout. In 1979, a student reported waking to the feeling of a hand sliding across his pillow, but when he opened his eyes, no one was there.
On the anniversary of the fire, a student was said to have entered his room (or the storage room) in the tower and found a candle smoldering on his desk and a 1949 yearbook flipped to the page on which the names of the fire victims are located. It looked as though someone had just left the room, but the student did not meet anyone in the hall.
Even Safety and Security has had run-ins with the ghosts of Old Kenyon. During the summer one year, some security officers were inspecting the rooms in the dorm. They would unlock, inspect, and relock each door. They heard a door behind them unlock and open and, upon investigation, found that one of the doors they had just locked had been opened. Then they heard the shower turn on in the bathroom. They went to check out the source, but as soon as they entered the bathroom, the shower turned off. No one was there. The only thing they found was a pair of wet footprints leading straight into a wall.
Some claim that the ghosts are actually nine women who died in the fire while staying over at Old Kenyon with their boyfriends after the Sophomore Dance in Rosse Hall Annex on the evening of February 26. However, the administration will not concede that women were in the all-male dorm, and the women were not remembered during the memorial service. It is said that at night you can hear a group of women singing around Old Kenyon.
Some say that Leonard Hall 13 is haunted. It is said to have had, at one time, two doors. In 1961, the room was remodeled, one of the doors blocked off, and is now used for storage. However, there have been a few incidents that have led students to believe that this room is haunted. In 1980, Beth Schaefer lived next door to room 13. One night, she heard what she thought was the sound of a bed creaking coming from the room. When she investigated, there was no one and no bed in the room. Another Leonard resident was up early one morning in the bathroom. She heard the door open and felt the presence of someone in the room with her. When she turned around, no one was there. In 1972, security officer Vernon Parker was making his rounds during the summer, after all the students had left. He saw a figure wearing a baseball cap coming out of the east wing of Old Kenyon walk towards Leonard, where he then disappeared. When Mr. Parker went to investigate, all the doors were locked and there was no trace of this "person."
The story goes that there was a young woman who was accepted to Kenyon College years ago and was eagerly looking forward to attending. Unfortunately, she died of leukemia before she could begin her freshman year. The room she would have lived in, Manning 108, is reported to have its furniture periodically rearranged by her ghost.
There is a rumor that a drunk driving accident happened where the Hill Theater stands today. The driver lost control of the car, and he and his passenger were killed. For good luck, a light is left on every night on the stage (called a "ghost light"--a common practice in theaters around the world). Security officer Vernon Parker claims that during his rounds at night there were numerous times when the light would be off because the bulb had been unscrewed. He would screw it back on, lock the door, and continue his rounds. Upon returning a few hours later, the bulb would be unscrewed again. He also said that there were many times the curtains would be open the first time he made his rounds and closed when he came by at the end of his rounds.
Vernon Parker also claims that Bailey House is haunted, though he says that he does not believe in ghosts. Often, during his rounds, he would come up the back steps from the cellar, sense a presence behind him, and feel a draft of cold air follow him. People also frequently report hearing the creaking of footsteps coming from the second floor when it is apparently completely empty.
Shaffer/Bolton Dance Studio
One of the more famous ghosts of Kenyon is the one that resides in the boiler room of the Shaffer Dance Studio. The studio is built over what used to be Shaffer Swimming Pool, and this ghost is reported by Kenyon's swim teams to bring them luck during Nationals. Years ago, there is said to have been a diving accident at Kenyon. According to one version of the story, the three-meter diving board was removed by Dean Edwards after a diver broke his neck during his first year as coach. Another version says that as he was diving from the high dive, the diver bounced too high, smashed his head through the glass ceiling, broke his neck, and drowned: he had been practicing early in the morning before anyone else was at the pool.
One of the more popular encounters with this ghost took place years ago. While training for a swim marathon in 1971, during the reign of Coach Sloane, teams of two swimmers were required to be at the pool at all times: one to swim and one to count laps. One morning, during such a practice, the student counting laps felt ill at ease and decided to call another student to join them. While he was on the phone, a voice from behind him said "Hi," loud enough for the person on the other end of the phone to ask who was there. When he turned around, there was no one there, just his partner swimming laps in the pool. Voices have also been reported calling to the counters from the locker room.
Common incidents with the "Pool Ghost" include hearing splashing late at night, both when the building was still Shaffer Pool and when it was converted to a dance studio. Wet footprints can be seen leading into walls, and one time the footprints went from the pool to the locker room. Lifeguards at the pool have reported curious incidents, as well: showers would turn on and off, and the volume on the stereo would be changed without anyone touching it. In 1979, Steve Killpatrick was the lifeguard responsible for locking the building up at night. He turned out the lights, locked the doors, and began climbing up the hill. By chance, he turned to look at the building over his shoulder: the lights were back on and he could hear the sound of someone splashing. He went back to investigate, but no one was there. In 1984, after the pool had been converted to a dance studio, a senior girl was working out one night by herself in the studio. She heard the sound of a springboard, and went to investigate the locker room. There were wet footprints leading into it, but nothing else. Even today, people still hear splashing when passing Shaffer Dance Studio and see a face peering out at them from a small window.
The "Pool Ghost" is a favorite of the Kenyon swim teams--they credit the ghost with bringing them luck and their twenty seven consecutive championship titles. After the Ohio Conference Swimming Championships, the team allegedly makes a midnight visit to Shaffer, where they sit around with candles, tell ghost stories, and discuss their year and expectations for the coming season. Then they form a huddle and, in unison, count the victories that they hold, adding one more for the next one they are expecting. When the pool still existed, the team used to stand in the pool, in a circle, to count their victories. They count them for the ghost that resides in the boiler room.
Wertheimer Field House
It was 1975 and Kenyon had opened the season with an away game against Bethany College. Coach Morse asked Paul Schoenegge to put away the projector; the team had just returned and it was late. Paul was alone in the field house and all was quiet. He put the projector down and went into the bathroom, when he suddenly heard music coming from a record player--he assumed it was the one in the "cage." When he went to investigate, the music stopped; and when he looked at the record player, it was still. He called out, but no one answered. Picking the projector back up, he headed towards the coach's office. There was a door between the coach's office and the locker room that locked automatically each time it shut. Paul stood in front of the door when, all of a sudden, the door swung open by itself. Paul entered, tripped over someone, and fell. When he scrambled to his feet the door shut and locked. Paul saw no one, but claims that he "felt a presence."
Even security has had a run in with this ghost. They state that, late at night, when they go to lock up the field house, they have heard footsteps that sound like someone running on the track. No one has ever been seen.
Not even first-year students are safe from the ghosts. Norton Hall is said to be haunted by the ghost of a girl who lived there years ago. She was an insomniac and would pace up and down the halls at night. She committed suicide--no one knows why. Now, late at night, when everything is still, footsteps can be heard pacing the hall. There are a few girls who have heard these footsteps, but, when they checked the hall to see who was pacing, no one was there.
This freshmen dorm is home to a practical joker of a ghost. A while ago, a young man hung himself in the Lewis attic. (If you look at the front of Lewis, the attic is the room all the way to the right.) The attic has since been boarded up. Periodically, though, the light in the room flickers on and off. But no one knows where the light switch is, and the power to that room should have been shut off years ago.
In 1987, there was a strange occurence blamed on the Lewis ghost. Eric Chambers lived in Lewis 26 and, around Halloween, the radio would turn on for a few seconds before shutting off by itself. One evening, Eric had a group of people over to his room. Someone knocked at the door and Eric yelled for the visitor to come in, but when he opened the door, there was no one there. It happened again, with the same result. The third time, Eric had someone stand at the door, and as soon as he heard a knock, he swung the door open--no one was there. How could a human have time to run that far in less than a second? The obvious answer: he can't, but the Lewis ghost can.
The ghost is still said to haunt Lewis: showers turn on and off of their own accord, radios do the same, and all the toilets have been reported to flush by themselves at the same time.
During the 1979-1980 academic year, a young man fell to his death in the elevator shaft in Caples. While it is true that he died this way, circumstances surrounding the fall vary according to to which version you listen. Some say the elevator jammed between floors, and the boy pried open the doors, tried to jump to the next floor, and fell. Some say that the accident occurred on the eighth floor. The boy had spent the night there, in his girlfriend's room; when he left, early the next morning, the elevator wasn't there when the doors opened. Some say he was still drunk when he walked into the empty shaft, while others say he simply tired. Still others say he was pushed.
A few weeks later, the boy's girlfriend woke up to the feeling of cold hands on her face. She was too scared to move or speak, and when she finally opened her eyes, no one was there. It is also said that her room had no windows and, after weeks of having horrible nightmares, the girl decided to move from the room. She and a friend who was helping move her belongings were standing at the elevator door when she realized that she had forgotten something in the room. Her friend went back to get it, but was unable to open the door--a bureau was blocking it. Who could have possibly moved the bureau inside the locked room?
Ever since this accident, a ghost is said to haunt the eighth floor. He has appeared and disappeared through the door of a suite. On the first floor, a girl awoke late one night and saw someone leaning against her bookcase--she could see right through him. People on the eighth floor report waking in the middle of the night to the feeling of someone sitting on their bed, laying on top of them, or holding them down: they open their eyes and can see no one.
Another story states that a girl was dreaming she was being suffocated by her pillow. She pushed it away, went to the bathroom, and splashed water on her face. This happened again and she did the same thing. The third time she screamed for her roommate but she never answered. The next morning the girl told her roommate about the dream and her roommate had only one question for her: "Why are you so wet?"
The most famous incident with the Caples ghost, and the only one that has any official record at the College, happened in the late 90s. It was after the end of the year, after all the students had left, and Caples was empty, locked and secured for the summer. One day the switchboard in the Safety and Security office lit up with emergency calls from three different rooms in Caples. Officers were sent to check it out. They had to unlock the building to get in and, when they reach the three rooms--they were rooms directly on top of one another on the different floors--they unlocked the doors and went in. No one was there, everything was as it should be except the phones were all off the hooks. The security officers replaced the phones and unplugged them from the wall just to be sure. They returned to the office when it's said that the switchboard lit up again with calls from the same three rooms. The officers went back to investigate and the plugs were still disconnected from the walls. But this time, there was steam filling the halls of the three floors--someone had turned on all the showers to their highest temperature. The officers turned all the showers off and scoured the entire building for the intruder. They didn't find anyone.
The Kokosing House, also known as the Bishop's House was built in 1864 by Bishop Gregory Thurston Bedell and his wife on the banks of the Indian-named Kokosing River (Kokosing means "Place of the Owls"). True to the spirit of the college, Kokosing gives rise some legends, as it acquies the fame of being inhabited by a memeber of Kenyon's community of ghosts.
In 1971, Kokosing was the residence of Professor Galbraith M. Crump of the English Department, who lived there with his wife and sons. The Crumps moved into the house in 1966 when its former occupant and writer-in-residence, Jerry Madden, left Gambier. That year The Kenyon Collegian publishes an article on the ghost in Kokosing:
"Kokosing is not without its legends. The old home is the scene of one of Gambier's most famous ghosts. There is still a dispute as to the specter's identity. Some say it is Bishop Bedell himself, others think it is the mistress of some former resident. Mr. Crump explains that the spirit is said to appear on the third floor of the balcony, descend the circular stairway to the second floor, enter a bedroom fireplace and emerge one floor below to tour the large front room of the house. The Crump cat has occasionally been found in the front entrance hall spitting at something unseen in the living room." - Steve Stettler, [[The Kenyon Collegian], December 9, 1971
"Evidently a fairly recent arrival, the ghost has not been positively identified, but it is generally believed to be a woman. It is in the form of a woman that the ghost appeared to a member of Prof. Crump's family. An earlier resident, Prof. Philip Church also believed the ghost to be a woman. He is reported to have said, "I knew she was there, but I never saw her." Residents and guests have reported organ music, doors which had been closed standing open, strange noises in the front room, creaking floors, footsteps and banging windows.
Prof. Crump seems quite willing to share his home with a ghost. "Benevolent" is the professor's word for her and this may account for his apparent unconcern. The Crump's cat, however, is not as relaxed. Several times the professor has found his cat, hair standing on end, spitting at something unseen in the downstairs hall." - James Buchwald, The Mount Vernon News, November 10, 1975
While the above are all the documented cases of hauntings on the campus, there are a two other well known things that the students of Kenyon know.
- In Rosse Hall, the eyes of the portrait of Lady Rosse are said to follow you if you look directly into them at night. Stare too long, and you'll be cursed.
- The Trap Door to Hell is located in the basement of Mather.
Resources in the Kenyon College Archives
- Ghosts -- collected materials