Campus Hauntings

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“What time do we have to leave tomorrow?” I asked C on the evening before a college open house. He was in the living room, but I was working on dinner in the kitchen.

“Wait, what did you say?” was his response.

“I asked you what time we have to leave in the morning.”

“Oh, phew! I thought you asked me what time I am leaving.”

“You can go by yourself it you want,” I responded, testing the waters, completely not expecting that he would be okay with that.

“I don’t know where I’m going, and you’re the one who asks all the questions,” came his logical retort. And really, he’s right; I would not send him on a college visit alone—I have too many questions.

Because I work at a college and have spent my adult life—my entire life, really—in education, I have lots of questions. And because I work at a college, I know that I am more likely to get a candid answer from the tour guides than from the people who are paid to deliver the institution’s canned marketing message. Yes, I am one of those parents.

While we are touring colleges, the other parents are asking about the safety of the campus. They ask where to find the Health Center. They ask how freshman roommates are selected. I am the parent asking about the advising program, the student retention rate, the weekend activities, the students’ ability to start clubs and programs. I ask if students can rent textbooks at the bookstore… and how many students try to get by without acquiring textbooks. I ask how many RAs per floor, what their toughest job is, and which dorm is the “party dorm.”

And so on a beautiful New England fall day, we are walking around the campus of a small liberal arts college. Our tour guides are both hockey players, and it is clear from the jovial banter that they get along well. There are only three families in our small tour group, and it seems there is not an athlete among the prospective students. Once we get through the athletic facilities—the first stop on the tour, of course—we are outside for a walk to the academic building. We pass a graveyard. The tombstones are leaning, blackened with moss and pitted by hundreds of harsh winters. It is clear that this is a landmark cemetery, one that has had no new residents in a very long time.

The hockey players fail to acknowledge the landmark, but C and I discuss what a great setting this would be for a creative writing class. Our tour guides pick up on the cue and tell us that art classes sometimes visit the small graveyard.

We stop in a building to see both the largest and smallest classrooms on campus, and we discuss the academics. As we leave the building, we are led across the street. Small white clapboard houses, some obviously original New England architecture, line the side of the road, and my mind wanders back to the cemetery.

“So I have a question,” I venture, and the hockey players’ heads turn in unison. “With these older buildings, the cemetery, I just have to ask….” Out of the corner of my eye, I see my son take a step, broadening the distance between us. He knows what is coming. “Do you have any buildings on campus that are haunted?” There is a slight pause and one parent snickers. “Or buildings that are rumored to be haunted.” As we all know, rumors of ghosts are circulated on every campus, whether true or merely to scare the freshmen.

The tour guides snicker and joke about things they have done to each other. And then one of them tells a story about finding his room full of leaves when the screen was intact and his door was locked. But in general, it seems the answer is negative. Or maybe these two young men haven’t heard the rumors….

My son actually finds it somewhat amusing that I ask. And he knows this is just the beginning. I still have two more children with whom to visit colleges. By the time I’m done, I should have some great information for Ghost Hunters!

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