Four Old Ouija Board Stories

Last week Tripping on Legends got the board back out.  It has been years since I had used one, and maybe a decade since I had seriously used one to try and communicate with the dead.  Natalie, on the other hand, had not used one at all.

Watch the video where we explain what’s been going on in Natalie’s house.

Before we sat down and tried to talk to whatever was making itself known in her house, I felt I needed to give her some basics on the board.  This sparked my memory of the experiences I had early one looking into the paranormal and some of the stories I had collected.  Thought it might be time to dust some of them off to share with people again.

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Watch some of the Ouija board session from that night

 

Kelly

I was never really close to Kelly. I actually only knew her in passing and I would never have spoken to her. She was the head cheerleader and three years older than I was. When she graduated from high school she came back and became the assistant cheerleading coach and I would see her in the gym during practice or on the campus talking to old teachers. She was, from afar, someone who enjoyed life and gave back to the community she had gotten from.

While using the board with some friends, I was asked by a spirit to be given permission to come into the room. When I did, it said it knew me from high school. I asked her name and the spirit asked me to open up my freshman yearbook to page 17. It was the seniors. The pointer spelled out Kelly’s name, and she was the fourth picture in the first row on the page. I thought maybe it was a spirit just looking over my shoulder picking out a name a random until I got back together with an old girlfriend. She had been a cheerleader and once she asked me if I knew whether her old cheerleading coach, Kelly, had died in a car accident.

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Listen to the Tripping on Legends episode about it…

Sarah’s Board

When people tell me stories of unusual things that have happened when they have used the Ouija board, I always ask the same question: Where did you get it? Most of the time the answer is a confused look up as they painfully search their past and then a shrug of the shoulders. I understand that. Ouija boards seem to be the last true artifact handed down from generation to generation. Anyone who has looked for on at their local store can tell you to look in the board game aisle of the toy store to find your new glow-in-the-dark board. You can find one at your local occult dealer, but the casual user won’t go to one except near Halloween. Instead, boards are found in the attic or basement of their parent’s or grandparent’s house. They are found where the boxes and dust of the house have collected, under a quilt, on top of old books, or next to the old game of Operation with the funny bone long lost.
We take them out and breathe life into them, sometimes asking the people who use to use the board about it, but more often not knowing the history.
Sarah know the history of her board, and the colorful path it took to her is as interesting as the events she witnessed with it. The board was made in the 1930’s. It belonged to her great aunt who lived on a farm with her brother and sister, Sarah’s aunt. There was a fire in the barn where she kept the board, but it was untouched although most of the other things in the barn where lost. When Sarah’s aunt left the farm she took the board with her, and years later it ended up with Sarah’s grandmother who didn’t use it. Sarah found it while cleaning her grandmother’s house and has used it since.
Sarah brought the board to a friend’s house who thought she lived in a haunted house. They talked to a while to “nice” spirits before something else spoke up. It spelled out, “DIE DIE DIE” and the temperature in the room dropped. They tried to move the plancette to Goodbye, but it wouldn’t move. The lights started to go on and off and furniture began to move. Sarah’s friend felt cold hands on her neck and began to scream. Sarah threw the board against the wall and everything stopped.
Sarah’s had other occurrences while using the board, usually harmless or amusing like the time they talked to Marie Antoinette who spelled out, “I want your head,” and then had a book fall on her friend’s neck, but the experience at her friend’s house has left her shaken. She has blessed the board, but is still hesitant to use it.

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I’ve had some bad experiences with the board as well. Some have been discouraging and a waste of time, which I consider negative, but one was all out dangerous.

I had been dating a girl my freshman year of college who practiced Wicca, who I shall call Cindy. My roommates and I had wanted to use the board and asked her if she had any knowledge we didn’t. She promised to use some of what she knew to see if we could get anything stronger. I should start out by saying my dorm was the old Charlesgate Hotel, which is now apartments or condo or something. It is considered one of the most haunted buildings in Boston. I saw and experience several occurrences there, but this one was the most intense.

Cindy formed a circle using rope and invited each of us into it. As we entered she blessed us and had us repeat something I don’t remember. She also anointed us with a salt water solution she said it was for protection. When we were all in the circle she closed it and said another prayer. She then cleaned the board with more salt water, the whole time speaking softly under her breath.

We started to use the board and made contact with several spirits. Then a particularly strong spirit came on the board that I shall call Aza. I don’t remember the spirit’s real name or I might use it, although from what I heard I might chose a different name anyway. All I do remember was it had a lot of A’s, Z’s and B’s. After talking to us for a while, Aza told us she was a woman and that she was a witch from three hundred years ago. She surprised us by knowing a lot about us and some very personal things no one in the room would know about the others. She then said she wanted to channel.

Cindy was dead set against it and told us to get off the board and wash it. I was young and intrigued by it. I had never tried to channel a spirit before, and although I didn’t know the first thing about it, I was into doing something new. Cindy went through it step by step. All it really consisted on was deep breathing and opening myself up to Aza coming in. I was unsure what would happen to me, and Cindy didn’t know for sure. Aza might talk through me or just move my hands directly to the letters she wanted.

I started to feel a dull pain in my back and kept crouching over. I was getting really tired, and before I knew what happened, I was lying down. My hands began to rise off the floor, and when I tried to stop them I realized I no longer had control over my arms. I tried to sit up but couldn’t. I was paralyzed, but my hands kept moving. They started going for my neck, and my friends just watched, not knowing what was happening. As they tightened around my throat, my voice came back and I screamed for help. My friends had to pray my own hands from my throat. The whole time I could talk and tell them what was going on, but I couldn’t control my body. I fought against them, kicking and thrashing my arms to break their hold, and I was finally restrained because one of my friends was over two hundred and fifty pounds.

Cindy eventually started yelling at Aza to get out of me and saying prayers over me. Later she told me something about a spirit being able to take over a living person if they caused the physical death of that person, something that has been echoed by a few people I have talked to, but which other people tell me is not true. Cindy was finally able to get the spirit to leave by standing me up and propping me in front of a mirror. Aza, as it turn out, did not really want to be inside of a man.

A few months later a high school friend of mine who was there that night called me. He told me he remembered the full name of the spirit and had asked a friend of his who was into the occult and a practicing “wizard”. The man told him to never say the word out loud again. It seems we had made contact with a non-living spirit, something like a demon. He said that although it was probably not the demon herself, people who devoted their lives to her often took her name in ceremonies and that they were often practitioners of some pretty powerful black magic.

Read the story of Federal Government, another Charlesgate board story

Jay

A group of five of us had gone on an investigation that had proven somewhat successful. Although we had gotten no solid proof, there had been a history at the sight witnessed by one of us and I believe I made contact with something. Nevertheless, the lack of seeing a concrete apparition that night had left us a bit teased. We went back to Matt’s house and decided to use the board to try and get something.

It was pretty casual, and two people had fallen asleep by the time we got settled in. After a few spirits had talked to us, we got a man who claimed his name was Jay. Jay was very angry, and said he had been in the apartment for a few weeks because he liked watching Matt and his girlfriend. He was able to give a few details about things they had done over the past few days, and with each right answer, Matt’s jaw got closer to the floor. When talking about Matt and his girlfriend, Jay’s movements around the board were smooth and even. As soon as he started to talk about himself he got aggitated and moved quickly. He said he was going to stay and there was nothing we could do.

I had recently read in a book about an angry spirit that appeared to a woman who eventually brought in an investigator and a physic. In the story the physic had asked the spirit to ask for help from a friend or relative from the other side. He had said he was so mean in life he didn’t think anyone would help him. Someone eventually came and took him away. I was drawn to the story by a line the ghost said upon leaving; “She was the only one that could see me.”
I asked Jay to call to someone to help him. He said he didn’t like anyone and no one liked him. That was why he had killed himself. I asked about family and he got abusive to Matt, Jenna and I. I tried to calm him down and asked him to try at least. He told me someone was now with him. I asked him to reach out to that person, who he then said was his father.

Now, I try to be as skeptical as I can. If I allow my imagination to get the better of me, I can invent about anything. It is easy to say I just imposed a story I had read onto a situation. I can see that, but there was an added, uplifting aspect to the session. Jay never said good-bye. When I asked him to talk to his father, he said okay and the pointer stopped. I don’t just mean it stopped moving, it stopped in mid-spell. I was overwhelmed by a feeling that what had just happened was real, and I felt I had touched the spiritual side of my searches.

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Revisiting Charlesgate

This was one of the first articles I wrote on Massachusetts Paranormal Crossroads, even before it was called that.  Part of this appeared in Jeff Belanger’s Encyclopedia of Haunted Places and was “borrowed”  by several other books.  Charlesgate is where it all started for me, so it holds a special place in my heart.
Two things hit me upon reading the article.  The first is that I hope my writing has become better since this was first published around 2002.  Not sure I can say that’s true.  The other is that so much of what I was putting out there about the building and its history was based on things I was told and information passed down rather than researched.  I think that works sometimes.  Natalie Crist of Tripping on Legends was going through the story and asked me questions about the dates and times things had actually happened.  I had no answers for her.  I don’t think I need them.  So much of the legend of Charlesgate comes things that cannot be verified.
Before I left Boston, I took a haunted tour of the city that went by my old dorm.  The person giving the tour retold my stories back to me, not knowing I was the one who had experienced them or at least had written them down.  They were mixed and matched, with details added that had never happened.   The Federal Government story was its centerpiece and almost none of the details were right.
In that spirit, I offer you the unedited original story.

 

The old Charlesgate Hotel is one of the most haunted buildings in Boston. Over time the building has taken on legend status, making it difficult to separate the truth from the mystique that surrounds it. It was built in 1891, supposedly by the Mafia, although there has been no connection between the original contractor and architect and organized crime. From the outside you can’t see the eighth floor, where some of the illegal activity was supposed to have happened. There are several areas that are boarded up or filled in, revealing hidden rooms that were once used but that you cannot see unless you follow the slight cracks in the wall. One such room on the sixth floor was the sight of a suicide. Walking through the halls, checking out the rooms and then comparing it to the original blueprints (on file at the Boston Public Library) shows many inconsistencies and points to potential areas of hauntings.

After serving as a hotel it was sold and sold again until it eventually became a BU dorm. The lore began with the influx of students. BU sold the dorms and it became a tenement, serving some of the worst tenants in Kenmore. At that time, students began to move in as well, often charged far more than the other people living there, creating an interesting mix of college kids and sketchy “adults”. Emerson College bought the building in the 1980’s and renovated it back into dorms, placing its foot firmly in the square and extending its influence in the city.

100_0170Some of the legendary spirits that walked the halls are very old. In the basement there are the spirits of horses that died when there were stables there. There is a little girl that haunts the elevator where she died. Often people had seances and weird things would happen, and more than once magic and black magic had been practiced in the dorm rooms. But there were other strange things that went on. Often at night there was scampering in the ceilings, too small to be people, but too big to be rats. There would be voices and light problems. Some student would see a gurney roll by their room.

Suicide plays a major role in the mythology of the building, often being the root cause of things that cannot be explained. In the 1970’s there was an alarm clock in a room where a supposed suicide had occurred that would go off at 6:11 am although it was not set. Another time 3 girls moved into a room on the 6th floor. Although each of them wanted the big closet upon moving in, they all had unusual sensations when they approached it, deciding it was better to let someone else use the closet. Research discovered another suicide in that closet. Once a student woke up to see a spirit hovering over him. The ghost was also seen by the RA who ran in to see why the student was screaming.

cgate3It was a hotbed of activity, and if you used a Ouija board anywhere in it, you’d get results (See the Federal Government story).  One night we got an answer to some of the activity. We contacted a spirit that called itself Zena that would clearly write out answers to our questions and offered a detailed history of its existence. It was not a normal spirit because it had never lived, but was more of a spell that had been cast on doorways by one of the original builders to protect those inside. They saw everything and tried to help people and often communicated on the board as different people to make them do what they thought was right. They told me of a spell placed on me by someone that was later confirmed by two psychics who had no idea what I was going in for. It knew things only the people themselves would know, and made a believer out of more than one skeptic that would try the board.

After we left the dorms it was sold again, and one person who lives in the building says he never has had anything happen. I think back to a rule of Ouija boards though. If a spirit is on the board and it is not cleaned, and it is destroyed somehow, the spirit is said to escape. If there was something in those walls, I wonder what might have happened when they gutted the place out to make the condos.

100_0175Recently, while taking photographs for a new book coming out I evaluated some of the designs at Charlesgate. I had lived in the building for two years, but I had never noticed the faces, some obvious and other not so obvious, around the windows and in the rest of the metalwork. There were also scratches which appeared random, but upon zooming appeared to spell things out. Some of the expressions I found, hidden in the beauty, were “No Exit”, “Hell”, and “Gone”.

Polo Shirts and Glasses

This story first appeared under the name “The Message” at Massachusetts Paranormal Crossroads and then in the book Ghostly Adventures.  The story has been changed slightly from its original appearances.  


Polo Shirts and Glasses

We have a hard time letting go sometimes, even when it is for the best.  The person tells us to move on, but we may linger on them, not understanding the signs around us.  Our perception of the moment, our slant of belief, makes angels into ghosts and familiar people into shadows, and we need to clear our heads before things can make sense again.  John was trying desperately to get someone to listen to him, and after his friends and fiancée turned him away, he turned to Denise.

All he wanted to say was that he was all right.

John was from Middletown, New Jersey, and was known as a good guy who went straight to work from high school and was known as a “typical guy.”   In the fall of 1997 he asked his girlfriend, Tara, to marry him.  She said yes and three weeks later he passed away for reasons that have not been discovered to this day.

Denise went to be with her best friend just days after she got the news.  Maybe it was how likable he was, or maybe it was the way he went with no explanation, but everyone he touched was unsettled by the passing.

Unusual things started to happen the night of his wake.  Everyone was standing in the driveway getting ready to leave when the sensory lights began to blink on and off.  John had been working on them when he died, but he had never finished installing them.  “They had never worked before, and never did again,” says Denise, remembering Tara laughing about the lights before breaking down sobbing.

Tara became convinced she saw John at night.  “She would wake up and see him sitting on the bean bag in her room.  She told me it became something that happened every night.  She stopped sleeping, but that didn’t stop it either.”  She would also see him at the foot of her bed and hear him walking through the house.  She would be too scared to talk to him and lie under the covers, hysterical.  She began sleeping with her parents and was unable to walk in areas of the house she thought he had walked on.  When she walked in the house, she would shift direction or talk the long way around the room to avoid places the ghost had stepped.  Her parents thought it might be PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) but they still ripped up the carpet and changed the house around trying to settle her mind.  Nothing worked.

In the meantime, John’s friends started to see him at night too.  He would appear at night at the foot of their beds or in the corner of the room.  He always seemed like to want to communicate with them.  Most of them hide under the covers until he disappeared or ran out of the room.  Other convinced themselves they were dreaming, until they started to talk about it.  He appeared to at least six of his friends before one of their mothers went to a psychic about it.  The psychic said he was trying to tell them something, and they went to her as a group.  They were unable to make contact.

Denise also had her own experience, but she didn’t tell anyone until eight months later when Tara finally went back to school at Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, West Virginia.  She asked Denise about the wake and the funeral because she had blocked most of it out.  Denise told her and then began to tell her a dream she had not longer after his death.

“I call it a dream because I don’t have any other explanation.”  She was sleeping in her bed, her room in complete dark, when she was suddenly awoke.  John was standing in the middle of her room looking down on her.  Everything in the room was dark except for him.  He had on a navy blue polo shirt with a red symbol and glasses, something she had never seen him wear.  “He told me to tell her that he was okay.  That he was happy, that he had moved on and that she doesn’t have to be afraid.”  Denise says he was solid, talked his usual voice and there was nothing unusual other than the fact he shouldn’t have been in the room.”

Tara’s reaction when Denise told her about this was even stranger.  She ran out of the room and came back with the only processions she kept from John; a navy blue polo shirt with a red rider and a pair of glasses he never wore after he had gotten his contacts.

There were no more occurrences after that.  After hearing the story, John’s friends moved on knowing their friend was okay.  Tara found peace as well.  “Prior to that she used to go to his grave every single day.  It was an obsession, she had to go.  If she didn’t she couldn’t function.”  Now she has married another man and is happy in her life.

“After my dream, the message got to her.”

Unseen Students at Becker College

The following account was originally published at Massachusetts Paranormal Crossroads…

College dorms have long been considered ideal locations for paranormal happenings.

Whether it is young people dealing with being adults for the first time or the history behind the walls, every college seems to have at least one famous haunting that is connected with it.  Massachusetts, with more colleges per square mile than any other state, cultivates its share of college ghost stories and adult who remember the spirits they shared their rooms with.

Becker College opened as an academy in 1784 in Leicester, Massachusetts.  One hundred years later E.C.A. Becker began his college in Worcester, and in 1974 the two colleges merged to create one college with two campuses.  More than a decade before the merger the Worcester campus bought Miller Hall and inherited something more than the tradition and history inside its walls.

Miller Hall was built in 1891 as a two family house.  The property switched hands for the next fifty years.  It most famous residents were the wife and daughter of Judge Webster Thayer who lived there after a bomb destroyed their house in 1937 by communist sympathizers who were angered at Thayer’s decision in the Sacco-Vanzetti case.  Until 1937 the house remained much like it was when it was built by Daniel Bates.  In that year

Harlan Pierpont bought the house and began reconstruction, changing the outside of the house and installing modern plumbing and heating.

Whether it was these changes or the energy brought on by the new residents, the dorm has now become known to the people on campus and in the surrounding areas as one of the most haunted spots in Worcester.  It now acts as a Co-ed dorm for 23 students and at least on ghost.

Over the years students have dealt with unseasonable temperature changes in certain areas, voices coming from the walls and the locking and unlocking of doors.  Due to modifications in the layout of the rooms, some doors lead to nowhere or are always locked.  Although there is nothing behind these doors, voices and banging are often heard. At least twice, people said they had seen a figure in their room or unexplained lights.

Jennifer remembers one night in particular.   She heard banging from inside one of her locked closets.  She had often experienced chills in her room and the feeling of being watched, as well as a feeling of foreboding in her own closet, but that experience left her truly scared.  When she talked to others she found they had experienced similar occurrences.  One room had their fan begin spinning so fast it seemed it was going to come out of the wall.  They then heard something being dragged across the ceiling above them.  They talked to the people that lived above them, but the other students confirmed they had been asleep at the time.  Another night Jennifer heard moaning in the halls.  The next morning, when the students woke up, trash was thrown about the hall.

All the students claimed they had not done it and the floor was isolated by fire doors.

One of the most disturbing incidents involved another girl in Miller Hall.  She woke up to find herself paralyzed and something holding her down.  This kind of haunting is not unusual and is often explained away scientifically.  For a long time there has been the legend of the Old Hag who would hold you down at night and drain your energy.  What was unique about this experience was that the young lady also felt her eyes being held shut, a physical effect not heard often if at all.  When she was finally able to open her eyes, her whole room, darkened when she had gone to bed, was filled with a brilliant white light.

There are no specific tragedies linked to the house to give a reason for the hauntings at Miller Hall.  There seems to be different types of hauntings, from unexplained noises to visual hauntings and they seemed to not be confined to a certain area or room.  Whatever lurks in the halls of Becker Colleges dorm seems to truly be unexplained.

Haunted Tradition: Ghosts, Legends and Tradition at Smith College

Ghost stories have their roots in the tradition of oral storytelling.  Told around the fire to explain the unseen, they evolved and changed with people’s culture and taught generation what to fear.  The way the stories were told influenced them as much as the words spoken and those tales became the bonding force of the society.  Listening was not passive.  The weight of remembering and retelling helped to form identity.  The relationship between those that spoke and those that heard connected the group and signaled an informal initiation.

The tradition is not dead.  The passing of ghost stories, whether they are true or not, still has the same effect.  No longer is the telling crucial to maintaining the social structure, but its value as part of an initiation lives in sleepovers, camp outs and in the spreading of local legend.  To believe is to belong and to be part of the tradition means to be part of a group.

At Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, tales of lost love and ghosts forge a special relationship between those that search today and those that found generations ago.

In 1700 John Hunt built a house for his family outside of the main military complex in Northampton.  The area was still a prime location for attacks from the Native Americans in the area, so like most houses of its time, it was built with a secret passage to hide the family from any invaders.  The passage perhaps was also designed get them out of the house safely.  Some say the passage leads to a nearby pond, but few know for sure. Those that do keep the secret well.

eccentric-hidden-passage-6-1The house passed through different hands over the decades and was finally purchased by Ruth Session in 1900.  To earn extra money for her family, she rented out rooms to the students at nearby Smith College until she finally sold them the property in 1921.  Sometime before then she is said to have found the secret passage and the legend of what had happened there was born.  In the next few years the story grew, and although peopled with actual figures of the day, the truth of what lives in the darkened hallway is only hinted at.  The young women who now use Session House as their dorm fully embrace the legend and participate in passing it on to the next generation.

It’s the traditions and rich lore of the campus each student experiences that the online universities of today are lacking.

The story of the hauntings differs depending on the source, but the most accurate account comes from the play put on every Halloween in the dorm.  General “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne fought against the colonist and was eventually caught and held prisoner in the house, then still owned by Hunt.  The war raged on, but the general found comfort in Hunt’s daughter Lucy.  The young girl quickly fell in love, but the Generals motives are hinted at as being more out of boredom than passion.  Her family was strongly opposed to Burgoyne’s political and military alliances and they were forbidden to see each other.  Lucy knew of the secret passage though and encouraged him to meet her there.

Eventually Gentleman Johnny was sent back to England, promising to return for young Lucy.  Upon his return he was returned to active service and sent to Ireland never to return to her.  Lucy was heartbroken.  She eventually married into a passionless marriage but never got over her first love.

grandma3Ever since, the ghosts of the two lovers has been seen and heard from the passageway.  There is not much detail about the nature of the hauntings, but what is interesting is not the ghosts that might exist in the hallway but the ceremony that has evolved around the them.  Every Halloween the young women at Session House are allowed to search for the hidden passageway and the souls that are suppose to haunt there.  They are presented with the figures of their past and are invited to become part of the story as actresses dressed as the ghosts that preside in the dorm perform a play of the tragedies that have become legend there.  Then for twenty minutes on that night only they search the nooks and crannies of the house without any light looking for the passage that contains the spirits.  If they find it, a senior who has found it in one of her previous years is there with a flashlight to congratulate her.  She must tell no one that she has found it and must sneak downstairs unseen during the night to tell the house mother.  Her accomplishment is announced at the Thanksgiving dinner and for the rest of her college days she cannot reveal the location to anyone who does not know yet.  If she has not found it by her senior year she is told where it is.

The unlucky lovers are not the only ghost said to live in the dorm.  Another tale tells of a mother and her two children who were alone in the house one night telling ghost stories and scaring each other.  The mother thought she heard a noise and grabbed an ax to protect her family.  She began to search the house, eventually making it back to the room her children were in.  Thinking they were intruders who had broken into the house, she chopped them up.  When she saw her mistake, she killed herself in a room on the third floor of the house.

The other famous tale from Session House takes place after it had become a dorm and the passage hunt had already become part of its tradition.  Two girls found the secret passage but fell into a hole in the staircase and either broke their necks or injured themselves and starved to death.  They are said to be heard as you near the staircase and might also try to push or drag you into the hole.

All of these stories add to the aura of a classic site for a ghostly haunting.  The college dorm has been the set of ghost stories as long as there have been underclassmen for upperclassmen to tell stories to.  The older the college, the more tradition contained within its walls, the more colorful and powerful the story becomes.  If you were looking for a set for a Gothic story you would search the campuses in New England in the wall when the leaves are starting to change and the grey skies match the masonry.  They are often isolated and in rural settings.

Taking a walk through these campuses in late summer when the students have gone reinforces the weight of the power of these buildings.  They are larger, more overwhelming versions of the classic haunted house seen in every town.  In fall the students arrive from all parts of the country bring the tales of their hometowns with them.

These stories feed into the already active minds of people on their own who have been forced to start taking responsibility for their actions.  The fear and pressure of the situation becomes fertile ground for ghost stories.  Add the architecture of older college buildings, the mystic of secret societies and the already charged atmosphere of fall, the start of the school year and the season of Halloween, and those anxieties manifest themselves as scratches on the wall and ghostly visions.  A quick check of most college students usually finds at least one story of a famous haunting on campus.  That fear gets more intense when the dorm is used by women.

There is an entire section of urban legends that focus on females at college.  Most people have heard of the student who comes home to the darkened dorm room and thinks that her roommate is engaged with her boyfriend.  Not wanting to disturb them she slips under the sheets and pretends not to hear them.  When she wakes up she finds her roommate dead and the word, “Aren’t you glad you didn’t turn on the lights'” written in blood on the wall.  There are also several tales where one girl goes out and the other stays in.  Later she begins to get scared and hears a scratching on the door.  She locks herself in but in the morning she finds her roommate dead outside the door with her fingernails broken off.  They are extensions of legends involving younger girls who become victims of murders while babysitting and older women who lose their children because they leave the house for their own benefit.

The traditional interpretation of these tales is that the woman deserves what she gets because she should not be at college in the first place.  They reflect people’s subconscious objections to the woman’s leaving the home and rejecting what has been her role for generations.  She should be in the home learning to become a good mother and wife and not learning to become a professionals and leader.  This may only be part of the inspiration of these stories though.  Society does not frown on a woman getting an education like it did during the genesis of these urban legends.  There is still a prejudice acting in the subconscious and the stories have already taken on a life of their own, but similar tales were alive and well before women even started to attend college.  For hundred of years men at college have shared their classrooms with the supernatural and the bonding experience of telling of these stories serves the same purpose no matter what the sex.  It would seem the role of women outside the

house might add to the depth to the legends and act as a variation, not just the cause.

 

sessions_367What purpose does it serve for the women of Session House and is it a genuine haunting or a localized legend?  The first hint is that it is probably only a legend is the fact that it is not localized at all.  While there may be historical people mentioned throughout, and it might involve an actual location, the themes talked about are seen in other stories since the beginning of oral and written history.  Here we have the ageless story of two people kept apart who return from the grave to live out their love.  In some of the tales, Lucy is the only ghost, searching the passage for Gentleman Johnny and unable to rest until they are reunited, searching for in death what she could not have in life.  Some stories say that she killed herself, one of the most common elements to cause a spirit to not rest peacefully.  They set the table perfectly for a haunting and draw us in because we can feel the passion for a lost love and enjoy the romantic notion that their love could exist even in the afterlife.

It also is common to have secret passages where ghost may be. There are several stories throughout the country of hauntings in passages that used to be used to hide runaway slaves along the Underground Railroad.  The Winchester House in Seattle is known for its hidden hallways and the ghosts that walk them.  In Massachusetts, there is the House of Seven Gables and other historical buildings that either are known to be haunted or have inspired ghosts stories from the people that have seen them.  It is not unusual for the dark areas of our house to produce fear.  In the safest place for a person, the one place where everything is thought to be secure, there is something secret and foreign invading that peace.

It might be unfair to say something has not happened because it reflects a theme seen in other hauntings, but there are other elements to the story that make it seem more like legend.  There are glaring inconsistencies in the story of the hauntings as well as the ritual the girls play out.  Some accounts say both ghosts haunt the site while others say it is just Lucy.  Some say Gentleman Johnny returned and found her married and went back to England.  Some say she immediately killed herself while others say she married, left and only returned after her death.  Some sources say the women are allowed twenty minutes and others fifteen.  One account has Martha, another daughter of John Hunt, as the woman who loved the wrong man.

The other hauntings in the dorm raise an eyebrow as well.  It seems highly improbable that a mother searching a house would come in through the room she came from and attack her own children.  There is however many legends where a person, often a parent, mistakes an ally for a foe and accidentally kills them.  There are also no records of students dying in a hole in the passage at Session House.  If it had happened there would have been an investigation that would have revealed the location of it.  The most common response for this is that the college covered it up to avoid negative publicity.  That excuse always comes at the end of a good urban legend and offered as the reason the story is known to only a few.  This is in conflict, however, with how the students tell and retell the story.  It is the details that are somewhat mysterious, but the deaths are stated as fact.  And why where the screams of the girls or the fall not heard by the senior hidden in the passage?  Let us not forget there are also conflicting stories of how the girls died from the voices inside the house telling the tale to the girls on Halloween, something unusual when you consider the story is fairly recent and not likely to be forgotten.

It is important to note all three stories involve places the young women come into contact with over the course of the night.  The lovers haunt the hidden passage and the ghosts of the former students are there waiting for them.  This heightens the excitement and anticipation as they look for it with no lights.  The mistaken woman kills her children in the same room where the students sit hearing the story.  One can imagine the story being told by candlelight and the shadows dancing against the wall looking like axes and nooses.   How many good ghost stories begin, “It was a night just like this,” or, “It was three years ago tonight?”

None of these elements alone prove the story false.  Tales often change over time and each teller adds their own personal slant to the story.  Several different newspaper articles written at different time use the same language and terms to describe the story at Smith College.  It seems likely one paper used the other as research and one error in reporting led to new facts presented as fact.  With the invention of the Internet the information is spread to countless people who tell the story to their friends and distort the details even more.  People make the stories their own and there is something to creating an aura when telling a story.  When everything is taken together, though, you have to start to wonder about the truth of the story.

What the truth is does not seem to matter to the young women involved in the ceremony.  It is hardly the point in this setting and the truth is not what the students need.  We know most of the ghost stories we hear are not true and yet that does not diminish our enjoyment of them.  We doubt the things we hear could happen, but we still sleep with the lights on.  It is the possibility of the improbable; the fact that we do not know for sure that awakens our imagination and turns the things around us into apparitions.

The students at Session House take it one step further though.  The telling and retelling of the stories that happened there bonds them as much as singing a school fight song or remembering the long list of past presidents of a sorority.  While most colleges shy away from any ghost that might be rumored on their campuses, Smith College embraces them.  A check of their website finds several references to the ghosts at Session House and pictures of the play are displayed with pride.

This has an impact on the student inside the dorm and forms their belief in the spirits and their likelihood of seeing things other college students might deny.  To dismiss the story is to be on the outside looking in among your peers in a small community during a time where it is difficult to fit in.  To not look for the passage is to be isolated from your friends and roommates.  Who wants to be the one not to find the passage, especially when those that do are praised?  To believe in them means instant belonging, which might account for the added stories of paranormal happenings inside the house.  The tradition creates an environment where seeing a ghost is not only accepted, it instantly burns a place for you in the lore of the house.

When the story of Lucy Hunt is told and the young women of Session House listen they are tapping into a larger tradition of the college and the dorm.  Candles replace a fire and upperclassmen replace the elders pressed to preserve their ancestors.  It gives them an automatic past, a legacy to be a part of.  Their stories become part of the myth and will be told as legend to generations that follow them.  They become the heroes and villains of a living, breathing history book.  The women are also part of a larger play, one that continues whenever we hear or read or watch a ghost story and feel the skin on our arms start to rise.