Penn State Paranormal

Spooktober is almost over but I still have plenty of ghostly, scary tales to share.

When I wrote articles for Paranormal Rag, a now defunct online magazine, I did a series on haunted colleges. I have yet to hear of a college/university that doesn’t have its share of ghosts.

This particular article looks into the spirits at Penn State University. Apparently, there are so many ghosts in and around the campus of the Nittany Lions, they have their very own paranormal investigation group which was aptly highlighted in the television reality series, Paranormal State. Even though the show is no longer on, I still hold it up as one of the premiere ghost hunting shows to this day.

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Paranormal Phenomenon at Penn State

By KC Freeman

 

One of the most popular places for ghostly tales comes from colleges and universities. Every school seems to have its share of paranormal activities. But none more so than Pennsylvania State University (Penn State). The main campus in State College, Pennsylvania is renowned not just for excellence in academics and sports, but it tops the list of institutions of higher education in another less publicized category – ghosts!

Founded in 1855 as the Farmers High School of Pennsylvania, the school underwent many name changes over the years and officially became Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) in 1953. But not before the land and the buildings had seen their fair share of tragedy and death.

Two of the most note-worthy ghostly residents are a former president of the college, George W. Atherton (president from 1882 until his death in 1906) and the industrialist, Charles Schwab. George is buried next to Schwab Auditorium, near the Old Main building. There have been reports of the ghostly apparition of the president inside the auditorium taking in some of the shows there, possibly alongside another popular ghost – Charles Schwab himself who donated the majority of funding for the construction of the auditorium. Students and staff have witnessed the stage curtains moving when no one is near them. Even creepier are the accounts of seats being pushed down by an invisible force during performances and then goes back up when the show is over as if someone was sitting there watching the show. Mr. Schwab’s ghost has even earned the affectionate nickname of “Schwaboo the Ghost” from the students. Other ghosts are said to haunt the auditorium, including a janitor and at least one female spirit. Students and staff have experienced noises from upper levels when no one is there, footsteps, being scratched, and seeing objects move supposedly by themselves.

200px-George_W._Atherton_grave PSU

However, it’s the ghost of Atherton’s wife, Frances, who spooks students the most. She keeps vigil in an upstairs window of the Old Botany Building (the original location of the school’s botany department) overlooking her husband’s grave.

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The building itself was investigated by the Penn State Paranormal Society (A&E’s Paranormal State) in 2007. Mrs. Atherton keeps herself busy. Reports of lights going on and off and the sound of footsteps in the locked room from which she watches over the grave; electronic devices mysteriously malfunctioning; and even an apparition of an elderly woman rocking in her chair while knitting. She has also been seen floating along the corridors of Atherton Hall, a former girls’ dormitory (now home to the Schreyer Honors College) named after herself. Other ghosts are reported to reside in Atherton Hall – a former house mother nicknamed “Gumshoes”, and the ghost of someone who was rumored to have died in the elevator shaft.

So far Penn State’s ghosts appear to be friendly, or at least non-threatening. If you’re up for a bigger fright, you may want to park yourself in the Pattee Library late at night for a study session in spookiness. An unsolved and mysterious murder happened there on November 28, 1969. Graduate student, Betsy Aardsma, was stabbed multiple times from behind. There was no sign of a struggle and very little blood at the crime scene. Betsy’s ghost is said to haunt the stacks of the library near where she was murdered. She makes her presence known by sudden drops in temperature, moving objects around, and her apparition has been witnessed by several students studying late at night. One male student was intrigued by a pretty girl passing him in stacks. After gathering his courage to talk to her, he walked in the direction she had gone only to find it was dead end and…no girl. Still seems harmless, right? Not so for one female student who felt invisible hands gripping her neck in the same location as the murder. Other students have reported hearing screams from the library basement, shadow figures, and red glowing eyes in the darkness. Creepy!

Want to go on a ghost walk? Sadly, Penn State’s own Ghost Walk trail no longer exists, but that doesn’t mean the ghost(s) went away. The secluded path once traversed from the Old Botany Building to the far northern section of campus. It is marked today by a lone spruce tree between the Old Botany Building and Burrowes Building. Sounds innocent enough, right? Well, there’s a good reason it was given the name Ghost Walk. Back in the 1860s, a student became lost in a sudden blizzard and froze to death. Since then an apparition has been witnessed by students to be roaming the trail.

There are countless other tales of paranormal activity at Penn State, but by far the cutest ghost story (yes, I said “cutest”) is the one of Old Coaly, the mule. This particular mule was part of the pack team during the construction of the university back in the 1850s. Old Coaly stayed on campus after his work was done and was the first mascot for the school. He died New Year’s Day 1893 but still roams the campus. Sounds of his braying could be heard along with his thudding hooves through Watts Hall late at night. Why inside a building? Well, Old Coaly’s skeleton has been kept on display at the university. His bones have been moved numerous times, but wherever his remains are exhibited, his ghost follows. Currently, Old Coaly resides in the HUB-Robeson Center.

Old Coaly PSU

 

There are so many other tales of ghostly shenanigans at Penn State, it would take a full-length novel to include them all. Spirits are reported to rattle pipes in Beam Hall; a ghost hard at work late at night in Ihlseng Cottage; a poltergeist frightening students in the Keller Building by locking doors and ransacking rooms; disembodied voices in the Pollack Laptop Library; and too many ghost encounters to count in Runkle Hall – just to spotlight a few. Thus, why Penn State is considered to be one of the most haunted college campuses.

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Crimson Ghosts

Halloween season also happens to be football season, specifically college football. Where I originate from, the great state of Alabama, the latter season is sacred.

Most colleges have their share of ghostly tales. But the multi-national football champions from the University of Alabama could claim another national title…most haunted campus!

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Crimson Tide Ghosts – Hauntings at the University of Alabama

To anyone who even remotely follows college athletics, if you hear “Roll Tide Roll” you know exactly who and what it means. University of Alabama. More specifically, Bama sports. And more likely than not, it’s associated with Bama football. The university and the team are quite famous. After all, they won seventeen national football championships. Most of the country’s college football fans either LOVE the Tide or HATE them. For purposes of this article, I will refrain from expressing my own opinion.

But do you know what else Bama is famous for?

Ghosts!

Since its inception in 1831, the hallowed campus grounds in Tuscaloosa, Alabama have experienced trauma and bloodshed (and not always related to football rivalries gone bad).

In the early days, it was common for gun fights to break out on campus. Later on, the university was turned into a military academy to train Confederate soldiers for the Civil War. After the war, it reverted back into an institute of higher learning, but violence still marred the land and gave rise to numerous reports of paranormal activity.

The Little Round House, also known as Jason’s Shrine, was a cadet guardhouse during the Civil War. Three Union soldiers still reside there after their grisly murders. The legend tells that two Confederate cadets stayed behind while the Union army burned the buildings on campus. One cadet was accosted by Union soldiers looking for whiskey. He directed them to the cadet guardhouse where the other cadet ambushed the soldiers and killed them. The soldiers’ boots can be heard stomping around inside the building. When someone ventures in to check out the cause of the sounds, no one is there.

The shadow of a young woman who committed suicide by lighting herself on fire still wanders the 13th floor of Tutwiler Hall. Others experience feelings of foreboding and of being watched in the basement of the same building.

The tramping of horse hooves can be heard throughout the main floor of Smith Hall, located on the Quad, where there is an exhibit of its namesake, Dr. Eugene Allen Smith’s carriage. It is accompanied by the sounds of disembodied horses neighing and horse whips cracking. There are also reports of voices, and when someone investigates, they find desks that had been arranged neatly just moments ago to be in disarray. The room where this phenomenon occurs happens to be a former boiler room where a boiler explosion killed several students.

Marian Gallaway, former theater director, still roams the Gallaway Theater in Rowand-Johnson Hall. Some theater students claim a person can call forth Mrs. Gallaway by standing center stage (alone) and asking her, “How’s my blocking, Mrs. Gallaway?” Her ghost also voices her displeasure if students are not working hard enough by slamming doors to get their attention.

One student claims that after the opening night performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in the main theater, one student came up to a group gathered in front of Mrs. Gallaway’s portrait. He remarked that he saw Mrs. Gallaway in the audience and she appeared to thoroughly enjoy the show. When the group laughed and stated that was impossible, he pointed to the portrait and affirmed that was the woman he saw in the audience. He was shocked to discover Mrs. Gallaway had been deceased for some time.

An interesting side note is rampant speculation that Mrs. Gallaway was the inspiration for the character of Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ play, A Streetcar Named Desire.

What’s a college ghost story without a haunted library? The University of Alabama is no different. The Gorgas Library is still overseen by its namesake, Amelia Gorgas. She mostly haunts the fourth floor, so much so that the elevators have been programmed to NOT stop on that floor. However, students in the library late at night have experienced the misfortune of the elevator stopping and the door opening on the fourth floor.

Mrs. Gorgas is not alone though. Her husband, former University President and Confederate General, Josiah Gorgas, haunts the Gorgas House where he lived and died. Reports include claims of the sound of his sword banging against the walls.

Most colleges have a center of campus, commonly called a quad. Well, Bama students are wise to avoid the Quad on foggy nights. If one is unlucky enough to have to traverse the Quad on such a night, walk fast. Otherwise, you may bear witness to up to three ghosts – a Confederate soldier in full military garb of a Commandant, and two deceased professors whose bodies were cremated and their ashes scattered across the campus.

Following college football as closely as I do, I am surprised to find there has not been a reported sighting of the ghost of the legendary Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. If anyone happens to come across him, please let me know. There are a hundred plus football coaches that would like to pick his brain for game day strategy. Perhaps that is how Nick Saban is such an amazingly winning coach – is he channeling the Bear? Maybe there’s a Crimson Ouija Board in the field house? (see previous articles on ouija boards)

Whether you love Bama or hate Bama, one thing is clear – even death can’t stop Bama faculty, or students from hanging around campus for their Crimson Tide.

 

Happy Hell Gate Hopping This Halloween

Six more days of Spooktober! If you’re not into trick-or-treating, how about a little Hell-Gate hopping?

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Don’t Pass Through the Seven Gates of Hell

seven gates of hell pic

Urban legends abound, but none are quite as terrifying as this one originating out of a tiny rural are in Pennsylvania. The legend goes that if you pass through the seven gates, all located in a wooded area of Hellam Township off of Trout Run Road (formerly Toad Road), you go straight to Hell. A variant of the story states that you have to pass through the gates in order after midnight for the road trip to Hell.

Others say there are seven gates to Hell in Illinois where a portal to Hell opens and the person will be confronted by hell hounds; or if done in reverse order (end at Gate 1), you can see through the portal into Hell but are not transported there.

Another legend states that on Halloween night if you pass seven black gates (any seven black gates), you will see the seven gates of Hell. But let’s stick to the Hellam Township’s seven gates to Hell for now.

Two versions for the Pennsylvania gates exist. One – a mental hospital burned down and to keep the surviving inmates from escaping, law enforcement put up several gates to close in the area. These inmates were brutally beaten and most killed. The psychic echo of that heinous night cursed the land. Two – an eccentric doctor constructed the gates along a wooded path on his property.

Both stories agree that only one gate can be seen by daylight, and the other six gates are only visible at night. So far, no one has passed the fifth gate. Truly, who would want to?

Historically, according to Hellam Township, there was never an insane asylum there, and the doctor in question put up one gate on his personal property to keep trespassers out. The best evidence of remaining Hell gates are gnarled tree trunks throughout the forest that give off the impression of gates.

Even the reasoning that the gates to Hell exist here led to the name of the town, Hellam, is inaccurate. The name comes from Hallamshire in South Yorkshire, England. Most importantly, the township is adamant that the rumors are false and state on their website that “This area is private property. Trespassers will be prosecuted.”

So how and why does this legend persist? Over the years there have been many adventurers willing to test the theory – although, as reported, no one has made it past the fifth gate. Some claimed a sense of evil and the stench of death are so overpowering many don’t make it past the first gate. These explorers tell of piercing screams through the otherwise silent night and shadow figures stalking them along the path. Many are simply run off by law enforcement since it is private property and the owners don’t like trespassers (who does?). And even if someone did make it to the seventh gate, how would we know whether that person got a fast-pass to Hell if that person doesn’t return to tell the tale?

For now speculation runs deep as to the authenticity of the seven gates of Hell in Hellam Township, Pennsylvania. Plenty of locals will attest to the evil aura of the area. Some will even regale you with tales of their own adventures into the woods when they were devil-may-care teenagers. Regardless of the township’s own statements to the contrary, there simply isn’t enough evidence to convince this writer either way. But honestly, I’d rather not take the chance to find out the truth for myself.

If there is someone out there brave enough to seek out the seven gates and pass through them (remember the “No Trespassing” signs), AND you make it back out alive and well…I’d love to hear your story and share it with the world.

Happy Hell Gate Hopping!

 

 

Ouija Board – Family Fun or Demon Portal? (Part 2)

We started out the month of October (SpookFest) with an article I wrote for Paranormal Rag (an online magazine) about Ouija Boards. Below is the follow-up article…because honesty, ouija boards are fascinating…scary, but fascinating.

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Last time we discussed the history and a possible scientific explanation of the popular board “game” – the Ouija Board. It started as a simple board game for family entertainment, even though its origin was more supernaturally inclined.

Now I want to share true stories of just how dangerous this seemingly innocuous game can be.

A Ouija board, also known as a spirit board, is a flat board with letters of the alphabet written across in big arches, numbers 0 through 9 listed on a straight line underneath the letters, two words in the top corners of the board (“Yes” in the upper left; “No” in the upper right), and the words “Good Bye” centered at the bottom (sometimes the board also has “Hello”). A small triangle, sometimes heart-shaped piece of wood or plastic, called a planchette allows the participants to place the tips of their fingers on it and it guides them to spell out the answers to their questions.

Currently, Hasbro, Inc. (a toy manufacturer) owns the trademark and you can find the board game in the non-electronic games section of Walmart, Target, or even order online from Amazon. After researching for this article, I found there’s even Ouija apps for phones.

Can something so widely distributed and touted as a family game since its commercialization in 1890 actually be quite sinister?

In addition to being the basis for the possession of a little girl in the movie, The Exorcist, (which was based on a true story), there have been numerous reports of spooky, and even dangerous, encounters with the Ouija board.

One Reddit user’s experience was posted in Cosmopolitan magazine in 2016. She and her now ex-boyfriend used an Ouija board to attempt contact with a friend of his that had recently died. They got more than they bargained for when the spirit was more than anxious to speak with them. They stopped the session which seemed to anger the spirit. The planchette began moving on its own very rapidly, not even spelling out words. The atmosphere became heavy and oppressive, making the living persons in the room exhausted. The woman fell asleep for a few minutes. When she woke up, a dark shadow figure rushed at her and was screaming. She claims it felt like the apparition was trying to get into her body. After running from the house, the woman has sworn off Ouija boards forever.

One woman in West Virginia retold a story of using an Ouija board with her mom one night when she was just a pre-teen. She swore her mom was moving the planchette, although her mom equally swore she wasn’t. The spirit identified itself by a name neither recognized. When they asked how the spirit died, it did not answer so her mom attempted to say “good-bye.” The planchette moved to the word “No.” Her mom again said “good-bye” and the planchette moved to the word “good-bye” as well. However, that’s when it started to get weird. The woman (young girl at the time) began to hear growling in a corner of her bedroom at night. Her father did not hear it, but her mother did. Also, the mom’s cigarettes began to have a rotten egg smell (Sulphur smells like this and is commonly associated with demons). A few days later, her mom became very ill and was hospitalized with a nasty infection. After that, the growling stopped.

A couple teenage girls lost almost ten hours of their life using the board. They started a session with the Ouija board around 9 pm and after a few questions…it was 7 am. Neither recalls what happened after the first couple of innocuous questions.

People have reported shadows, voices, strange knocks and other sounds after using an Ouija board. However, some have also reported being assaulted – scratched, pushed, choked, and held down unable to move.

Doesn’t sound quite such an innocent game now, does it?

There have been countless stories of people throwing away, destroying, and even burning their Ouija boards and/or the planchettes (or homemade devices used as planchettes), but then the items turn up again, and along with it – dark shadows, disembodied voices, and a general sense of heaviness in the air.

Regardless of your own personal opinion of Ouija boards, and possible scientific explanations to how it works, there are enough reports of negative experiences both during the use of the board and long after the session is over to make goosebumps rise on even a skeptic’s skin.

For those of you daring individuals who break out one of these boards for any reason, please take care. Some safety precautions include:

  • Close out the session by saying “good-bye” and waiting until the planchette responds by moving to the words “good-bye” on the board (never leave a board open);
  • Do not leave these boards around for children to find;
  • If the spirit becomes aggressive, end the session quickly and include a statement to the effect that you do not give the spirit permission to remain – remember, you are in control, but you must wait until the planchette also moves to “good-bye” before walking away (otherwise the spirit will remain and could cause trouble);
  • Do not leave the planchette unattended on the board;
  • Do not ask the spirit to make a sound or touch something or someone to prove it is there. This will only invite trouble;
  • If the planchette begins making figure-eight designs on the board (either backwards or forwards), SHUT DOWN the board immediately (as described above). Same goes if the planchette moves forward or backward across all the letters and/or numbers. Both are signs the spirit is attempting a spell to cross over into our world;
  • Play the game with respect. Don’t curse at the spirit or call it fake. You’ll just piss off the spirit and then bad stuff follows;
  • Do not attempt a session with the Ouija board alone;
  • And this may sound nonsensical, but do not play with an Ouija board in a cemetery.

Just a few easy steps to make your Ouija board experience fun and safe. If you don’t, you may want to avoid it altogether. Don’t risk what happened to those persons whose stories are above happen to you.

 

Safe and happy Ouija’ing, folks!

Spirited Performances in a Haunted Opera House

Continuing our haunted tales series for the month of October, how about an opera performance from spirits of the early 1900’s?

DOWNTOWN_ALBEMARLE_HISTORIC_DISTRICT__STANLY_COUNTY

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Ghostly Concerts at the Albemarle Opera House

Although closed for over one hundred years, the building that housed the grandest theater in Albemarle, North Carolina has also experienced the highest level of paranormal activity in the state.

The Albemarle Opera House opened in 1908 and closed seven years later in 1915, shortly before the greatest flu pandemic of the twentieth century struck in 1917. Although vacant, many report that the building is not exactly uninhabited.

An apparition of a tall man in a dark suit and hat appears on the stage and in the balcony of the old opera house.

A lady in a white flowing dress graces the stairs going up to the balcony. Shadows of people dance across the stage.

Voices of a little boy and a little girl can be heard in the balcony, with the little boy confiding that he likes to play tricks – according to the owner of the building, the little boy does just that quite often.

Locked doors unlock themselves and open, much to the chagrin of folks looking for privacy in the bathroom of the jewelry store now located on the first floor of the building.

The sound of footsteps in the balcony and in other parts of the building when no one is there.

Once during a rare performance in the opera house for the local historical society, a female singer felt someone brush against her on stage while she was singing.

All point to one conclusion…the Albemarle Opera House is one of the most haunted sites in North Carolina.

The building was constructed in 1907 with the opera house opening in 1908, along with Huneycutt’s Furniture Store, Starnes Jewelry, and Hall’s Pharmacy. All of the various businesses there have experienced some form of paranormal activity.

The opera house’s claim to fame is that Thomas Edison visited the theater and provided a music concert with his first phonograph. The current owner, and grandson of the original builder and owner of the property, confirmed that there was a musical performance using one of Edison’s phonographs, but there was no evidence that Thomas Edison himself was present at the time. Regardless, the building hosted traveling shows, including magic shows, plays, and even comedic operas until it closed in 1915.

However, the building itself has its own intriguing history. During the pandemic of the Spanish influenza from 1917 until 1918, there were so many deaths that Huneycutt’s was used as a funeral home. And when space ran out, they cut out a wall from the mortuary and used the theater as a morgue. Some of the deceased awaited burial while stored just off the stage of the opera house.

According to the building owner, one of the fun aspects of working in the building has been the playing of music from the vacant theater. Albemarle citizens report you can hear the band from October until March, what would have been a typical season for musical performances in the theater.

The ghostly happenings aren’t limited to the opera house. Disembodied voices can be heard in Huneycutt’s Furniture Store and sometimes items move by themselves. Employees refuse to be alone in the building at night. The jewelry store computers and other electronics cut off and on; store merchandise (and personal belongings) are moved and hidden; and the store clocks chime in unison, but not on the hour. Hall’s Pharmacy was turned into a restaurant where employees and patrons claim items move on their own. An apparition similar to the well-dressed man in the opera house has been reported to be seen in the restaurant as well. When an employee followed the man upstairs to tell him no one was allowed there, he found the space empty.

Several paranormal investigators have been in the Albemarle Opera House. They’ve captured orbs on camera (a common indicator of spirits), picked up sound waves in response to questions, and experienced up to thirty degree drops in temperature. The most convincing experiment by a paranormal group consisted of twelve flashlights on the stage. While the investigators sat over sixty feet away and asked questions, the flashlights were turned on and off in apparent responses to their queries.

No one has ever complained of sensing anything evil in the building. Several paranormal investigation groups have conducted hunts there, and none reported anything malevolent. The building owner also stated that, at least in his experience, all the ghostly encounters have been associated with the opera house, nothing to do with the vast number of deaths from the flu. This was also the conclusion of the paranormal groups who have visited the opera house.

The Albemarle Opera House may not be open for business any longer, but that doesn’t seem to stop the musical performances. If you’re lucky, you may catch a ghostly concert walking by the building, having some good food in the attached restaurant, or perusing the sparkling jewelry in Starnes Jewelry Store.