Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 (Fordham), iStock (Ghost)
Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 (Fordham), iStock (Ghost)

Ghosts Might Attend These 7 Supposedly Haunted Colleges and Universities

Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 (Fordham), iStock (Ghost)
Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 (Fordham), iStock (Ghost)

Universities aren’t just for higher learning—some are reportedly the locations of pretty freaky paranormal activity. Whether or not there's any real evidence behind them, these stories are more than just a little goosebump-inducing.

1. FORDHAM UNIVERSITY

If you need any context for the rumored hauntings at Fordham University, note that some scenes of The Exorcist were filmed on its campus. Elizabeth Tucker recalled one of the school’s most popular legends in her book Haunted Halls: Ghostlore of American College Campuses. According to Tucker, one night in the summer of 2003, a resident assistant was filling out a damage report when he noticed mattresses that should have been flat on the floor standing upright against the walls. Around 2:30 the next morning, a Jesuit priest knocked on the R.A.’s door to explain he’d “taken care of” the evil spirit responsible for messing with the mattresses. Fordham University’s library website reports that the R.A. later tried to track down the Jesuit and eventually learned that the likeness he saw was that of a man who died 10 years prior.

2. UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO

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Tales of the supernatural don’t faze the University of Toronto. In fact, the school embraces the lore, giving haunted tours of the campus. Multiple specters are rumored to linger on U of T’s grounds, but perhaps the creepiest story of all is that of Russian stonemason Ivan Reznikoff. U of T Magazine recounts the tale of the builder, who was working on the University College building in 1856. The project’s foreman, Paul Diablos, played a joke by carving one of the building’s gargoyles in Reznikoff’s likeness. One night Reznikoff returned to the site to alter a gargoyle in Diablos’ image—and vanished.

A student journalist quoted by the U of T Magazine reported that in 1889 Reznikoff’s ghost came back to visit one of the university's students, in the form of a mysterious long-haired figure. The figure explained that while he had been carving the gargoyle, he spotted Diablos with his fiancée, Susan. Reznikoff tried to attack Diablos with an axe, missing the man and hitting a door instead. Diablos retaliated by stabbing the Russian with a knife, killing him and hiding the body in a ventilation shaft. U of T Magazine says the mark from the axe can still be seen in University College’s southwest corner, and workers later found the skeleton of a man wearing a belt buckle with a stonemason’s emblem in a ventilation shaft.

3. OHIO UNIVERSITY

The Grand Hallway, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 / iStock

Some insist Ohio University is one of the most haunted campuses in the country. While ghost stories abound, one bone-chilling feature is the location of the school’s Wilson Hall. According to Haunted Athens Ohio, the building is surrounded by five cemeteries. When viewed on a map, and with an especially active imagination, Wilson Hall and the graveyards supposedly form the shape of a pentagram.

Naturally, Wilson Hall is rumored to be haunted. As the story goes, in the 1970s a female student died a violent death in Room 428 after performing some kind of an occult ritual. In the following years, students residing in the room claimed to hear strange noises and saw objects moving on their own. The room is now said to be permanently sealed.

4. SAINT MARY-OF-THE-WOODS COLLEGE

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The name “Faceless Nun” is enough to send goose bumps skittering up your arms. The story behind the specter is no less chilling. In her book Storytelling: An Encyclopedia of Mythology and Folklore, Josepha Sherman explains that the ghost, who still wears her habit, floats through Foley Hall, where she once taught art. The Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods website further details the legend in a 1974 interview with Sister Esther Newport, who also taught in the art department from 1931 to 1964. Newport recalled numerous instances in which an art department worker named Isabel interacted with the Faceless Nun. In one of many incidents, Isabel complained to Newport of a nun who constantly came around, standing between her and the light. “She leaves when I speak to her,” Isabel explained, “and I never see her face.”

5. UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT URBANA–CHAMPAIGN

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One of the University of Illinois’ hauntings dates back to the reported death of a student in the 1900s. In his book Haunting the Prairie: A Tourist's Guide to the Weird and Wild Places of Illinois, Michael Kleen writes that the student either drowned or committed suicide in the campus’ English Building, originally known as the Women's Building. At the time, it was a female dormitory, but had a swimming pool on its lower level. ExploreCU elaborates on this story, explaining that the woman’s ghost is rumored to roam the halls of the building, flickering lights and slamming doors. While the building did formerly have a swimming pool, there is no evidence of the student’s death.

6. PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY

Ghost stories are common at PSU, especially in relation to Old Botany, one of the campus’ oldest buildings. Penn State’s official website details the lore surrounding the cottage, explaining that “In one legend, [the deceased] Frances Atherton, the wife of [former PSU president] George Atherton, uses the windows in the top floor of Old Botany to keep an eye on her husband’s grave, which rests across the street from Old Botany. As students trudge along Pollock Road—one of the busiest walkways through campus—they cast an eye on the upper-floor windows, half-expecting to see the worried gaze of Frances looking back at them.” Creepy, right? 

In a 2003 article in the Daily Collegian, one of the building’s staff members, Karen Snare, recalled a particularly eerie instance she experienced in Old Botany. "I came to work one day and put the key in the door and they both flew open," Snare said, after explaining that usually only one of the doors opens. "You have to physically pull a chain and lift the bolt from the floor [to open the other door]." She noted that there were other creepy abnormalities that day, such as a roll of carpeting changing location and what sounded like books hitting the floor of an empty room.

7. UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME

Notre Dame has been described as a “breeding ground” for ghosts—and for good reason. In Matthew Swayne's book America’s Haunted Universities: Ghosts that Roam Hallowed Halls, he writes of numerous reports of paranormal activity in the South Dining Hall. Workers reportedly heard claps and moans, saw weird flashes, and one person even claimed to see a white figure floating by the entrance—only to later recognize him in a campus portrait. The figure was reportedly Father Sorin, the founder of Notre Dame. As Notre Dame Magazine notes, Sorin died on Halloween in 1893, which only adds to the creepiness of the story.

14 Haunting Facts About the Winchester Mystery House

Despite the Winchester Mystery House's cheerful appearance, this massive California mansion's history is edged with tragedy, mystery ... and maybe some ghosts. Naturally, it has inspired a chilling horror movie, Winchester, which opens in theaters today. But before you go to the movie theater, wander through the curious past of one of America's most infamous homes.

1. THE WINCHESTER HOUSE IS NAMED FOR ITS MISTRESS.

Sarah Lockwood Winchester—the wife of gun magnate William Wirt Winchester, whose family created the Winchester rifle that was heralded as "the gun that won the west”—designed and oversaw the construction of the sprawling Queen Anne-style Victorian mansion that bears her name. Construction on the 24,000-square-foot home, which is located at 525 South Winchester Boulevard in San Jose, California, began in 1886.

2. MANY BELIEVE SARAH BUILT WINCHESTER HOUSE OUT OF FEAR.

Overcome with grief in the wake of her husband's death from tuberculosis in 1881, folklore states that Sarah sought out a spiritualist who could commune with the dead. While she was presumably looking for solace or closure, she was instead given a chilling warning.

Through the medium, William told his widow that their tragedies (the couple had only one child, a daughter named Annie, who died at six weeks old) were a result of the blood money the family had made off of the Winchester rifles. He warned that vengeful ghosts would seek her out. In order to protect herself, William said that Sarah must "build a home for [herself] and for the spirits who have fallen from this terrible weapon."

Sarah was advised to leave their home in New Haven, Connecticut, behind, and move west, where she was to build a grand home for the spirits. There was just one catch: construction on the house could never stop. "If you continue building, you will live,” the medium warned Sarah. “Stop and you will die."

3. THE HOUSE WAS UNDER CONSTANT CONSTRUCTION FOR 38 YEARS.

Sarah Winchester's bedroom, on the second floor of Winchester House
Sarah Winchester's bedroom

In 1886, Sarah purchased an eight-room farmhouse in San Jose, California, and began building. She employed a crew of carpenters, who split shifts so construction could go on day and night, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, for 38 years. The work only stopped on September 5, 1922, because the octogenarian mastermind behind the home died of heart failure in her sleep. It's said that upon hearing the news of Sarah's death, the carpenters quit so abruptly they left half-hammered nails protruding from walls.

4. THE HOUSE IS FULL OF ARCHITECTURAL ODDITIES.

Sarah issued many bizarre demands to her builders, including the building of trap doors, secret passages, a skylight in the floor, spider web windows, and staircases that led to nowhere. There are also doors that open to blank walls, and a dangerous door on the second floor that opens out into nothing—save for an alarming drop to the yard far below.

5. AN EARTHQUAKE ONCE RATTLED THE HOUSE AND TRAPPED SARAH.

In 1906, the great San Francisco Earthquake caused three floors of the then seven-story house to cave in. A 1900 postcard of the place shows a tower that was later toppled by the natural disaster. That tower—plus several other rooms destroyed in the disaster—were never rebuilt, but cordoned off. As for Sarah, she was safe but stuck in the Daisy Bedroom, named for the floral motif in its windows. She had to be dug out by her staff, as its entrance was blocked off by rubble.

6. THE HOUSE WAS DESIGNED LIKE A LABYRINTH.

Some say the labyrinth layout was meant to confuse the ghosts, allowing Sarah some peace and a means to escape them. She was the sole architect of this extraordinary home, and no master building plan has ever been uncovered. So Sarah may be the only person who ever truly knew all of its secrets. When movers were called in after her death, one lamented its labyrinthine design that includes many winding hallways. One mover told American Weekly the Winchester House was a place "where downstairs leads neither to the cellar nor upstairs to the roof."

7. SOME SAY THE SYMBOLS IN THE HOUSE POINT NOT TO GHOSTS, BUT FRANCIS BACON.

An alternate theory on the Winchester House's perplexing design declares that Sarah was creating a puzzle full of encryptions inspired by the work of English philosopher Francis Bacon. There's speculation that clues to the house's true meaning are hidden in the ballroom, the Shakespeare windows, and the iron gates. This theory suggests that Sarah was a member of a mystic society like the Rosicrucians, or a secret society like the Freemasons—or possibly both.

8. THERE ARE OTHER THEORIES, INCLUDING THAT SARAH WAS "CRAZY."

Others speculate Sarah was coping with her grief with a flurry of activity, or that she was simply "crazy." However, Winchester Mystery House historian Janan Boehme paints a happier picture, imagining that the continual renovations reminded Sarah of the good times when she and William built their New Haven home together.

"I think Sarah was trying to repeat that experience by doing something they both loved," Boehme told the Los Angeles Times. She also suspects that Sarah was just an ardent—albeit eccentric—philanthropist who used her family fortune to purposefully employ the San Jose community. "She had a social conscience and she did try to give back," Boehme offered, noting the hospital Sarah built in her husband's name. "This house, in itself, was her biggest social work of all."

9. ONCE IN WINCHESTER HOUSE, SARAH WAS RECLUSIVE, BUT NOT ALONE.

There is only one known photo of the widow Winchester, which was taken surreptitiously. Though she was reclusive, she was never alone. She had 18 servants, 18 gardeners, and the ever-present construction team working on the grounds. Every morning, Sarah met with the foreman to discuss the always-evolving building plans. And it's said that each night, she visited the Séance Room to speak with the spirits, who weighed in on plans for the house's unusual design.

10. THE HOUSE WAS AS OPULENT AS IT WAS ODD.

The home boasts 950 doors, 10,000 windows, 40 stairways, 52 skylights, 47 fireplaces, six kitchens, plus a trio of elevators, and once-groundbreaking elements like wool insulation, carbide gaslights, electricity, and an indoor shower, complete with a sewage drainage system.

11. NO ONE IS SURE HOW MANY ROOMS THE HOUSE HELD.

Following Sarah's death, Winchester House was converted into a tourist attraction. But when trying to get a room count, the new owners kept coming up with different numbers. After five years of renovations, they estimated the number of rooms to be about 160, which is the number most often quoted today.

12. SARAH HAD AN OBSESSION WITH THE NUMBER 13.

Among the secrets Sarah took to her grave was why she insisted that so many things relate to the number 13. The Winchester House has many 13-paned windows and 13-paneled ceilings, as well as 13-step stairways. Even her will had 13 parts, and she signed it 13 times. But the pièce de résistance might be the house's 13th bathroom, which contains 13 windows of its own.

13. IT’S A NATIONAL LANDMARK.

The Winchester Mystery House earned landmark status on August 7, 1974. The fascinating mansion is still owned by the family (families?) who purchased it from the Winchester estate in 1922 for $150,000—however, their identity is another Winchester House mystery. But thanks to them, tourists can now explore 110 of the 160-some rooms Sarah dreamed up. The Winchester Mystery House even boasts special tours on Halloween and Fridays the 13th.

14. IT’S REGULARLY CITED AS ONE OF THE MOST HAUNTED PLACES IN AMERICA.

To this day, Winchester House is a destination for believers who hope to have a paranormal encounter of their own. A popular spot for such activity is the corridors of the third floor, where tour guides have claimed to hear footsteps and disembodied voices whisper their names.

In a Reddit AMA, a Winchester House tour guide confirmed that the house’s third floor—only a portion of which is accessible during house tours—is definitely the spookiest part of the house, “because that's where the servants lived, so there's been a lot of reported activity there. Also, when you are on that floor you can never really hear any of the other tours, so you feel pretty isolated.”

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6 Historical Methods for Contacting the Dead (and Their Drawbacks)
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

'Tis the season for getting in touch with the spirit realm. (This applies no matter what month we're in right now; 'tis always high time to get your séance on.) But there are several different ways you can go about it. Do you Ouija? Should you go wandering around a haunted house? No, you should probably pick up the psychic telephone.

Lapham's Quarterly helpfully charted out some of historical ways you could (supposedly) go about contacting the dead, from Chinese Fuji writing—a method that's kind of like a Ouija board, but using a stylus to make letters in sand instead of a board—to past-life regression via hypnosis. The chart lays out how each ghost-whispering concept works, and its theoretical drawbacks. Because there are always drawbacks.

Transfiguration, for instance, lets you see a spirit's face through the body of a medium, but that's a whole lot of hard work for your medium. You can listen for electronic voice phenomena via a recorder, but you have to buy the recorder first. F. R. Melton's 1921 invention, the balloon-powered psychic telephone, was a great option—except when his son George wasn't around to work it. And past-life regression, as you might imagine, holds “potential for new levels of self-hatred." No one wants to find out that their past self was a total jerk.

There are plenty of scientific and cultural explanations for seeing ghosts that don't involve the actual spirits of the dead returning to the Earthly plane, but if you're into the history of the occult, this is a great primer on spirit-conjuring traditions.

[h/t Lapham's Quarterly]

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