Oberlin Blogs


November 16, 2013

Peter D'Auria ’14

Oberlin is, of course, a pretty old campus. It was founded in September 1833, which makes it older than (one) more than half of the U.S. states. Dang! For all you non-history majors out there, here is a little historical context. In the year 1833,

- The settlement that would become Chicago was founded
- Johannes Brahms, Alfred Nobel, and Alexander Borodin were born
- British parliament passed a measure abolishing slavery

Such an old place is, natch, pretty haunted. Halloween has passed, yes, but ghosts never go out of season. Some paranormal investigation on Oberlin campus has revealed a wealth of creepy information. Readers beware: upon hearing the following terrifying stories, you may be induced to flip your biscuit.

In the late 1800s, according to campus legend, Tank was home to the orphans of Oberlin missionaries who were killed in China. The legend goes that one day, a fire broke out in the building, trapping a group of orphans in a room. Their ghosts may continue to haunt the building. The wife of an old Area Coordinator, living on the first floor of Tank, described in the Review article a run-in she had with a bevy of phantom children in the night (jeepers). "They were pointing at us and talking to each other, saying 'they're here, they're here,'" she said.

J-House is also supposedly haunted. A particularly grim legend recounts the tale: in 1899, Albert H. Johnson, the president of Arkansas Midland Railroad Company and resident of Johnson House, was killed in a train accident. Sources disagree about the veracity of what occurred next, but the legend claims that, upon hearing the news of her husband's death, Johnson's wife Rebecca Ann Jenkins, who was at home at the time, went outside to their barn, shot their horses, and then returned to the house and killed herself.

Since then many students have reported brushes with the supernatural in J-House. An old Review article reviews a student documentary film about the existence of ghosts on campus. The film's director, Matt Stinchcomb, claims that he conducted 25 interviews with members of the community, all of whom have had paranormal experiences. Several of these experiences, all occurring in J-House, were linked by a common theme: students would return to their rooms to find dead birds in their rooms. According to the Review:

Stinchcomb interviewed one student for his film who shared an experience she had while living there last year. The student was conducting a photo shoot in the building and left temporarily while setting up her equipment to go get something. "When she came back," Stinchcomb said, "there were two dead blackbirds in the room so she got freaked out and left." When the student returned, however, the birds had vanished.

Ten years ago, the Review reported similar incidents occurring to inhabitants of Johnson House. Daniel Crompton, a senior at the time, told of an experience he had heard of concerning two residents of the building. "[They] returned to their room. The doors had been closed and the windows had been locked, but there was a small black bird in the room."

A short time after, Crompton experienced the same thing himself. "About three weeks later, I returned to my room," the Review reported. "The doors were locked, the windows had been closed, and once again there was a small black bird in the room."

A current fourth-year student, who wishes to remain anonymous, confirms the continued presence of the supernatural in J-House. "J-House is incredibly haunted," she says. "It would always creak and moan and sigh late at night."

Harkness Room 311 is also reputed to be haunted by a former student and her cat. The story goes: Student and cat disappear without a trace about thirty years ago. Student and cat return to haunt the room. According to a Review article from 1999, the RC at the time, Mike Hoddap, recalled students in the room having run-ins with the paranormal:

Said Hoddap: "[On two occasions the student saw] a college-age woman in a long white flowing gown wandering around her room, or hovering outside her window."

Hoddap also said, "Streak marks appeared across her mirror... other people that have slept in the room hear a cat meowing in the night." The student was driven out of the room by supernatural phenomena. [Area Coordinator at the time] Tracy Murry reports that she asked him to bring in an exorcist.

Oberwiki, Oberlin's most reliable source of information, confirms the existence of ghosts in Harkness 311. When I approached the current occupants, second-years Ava Nicolai and Juliet Vincente, they reported no paranormal activity in their current room, saying it has "great vibes." BUT, in a bizarre twist, aforementioned occupants did have a severely creepy experience last year in Dascomb 310: One night they both had identical dreams, or possibly visions, in which they both awoke in the middle of the night to see a figure standing over their beds. They described the figure as "a tall lanky male figure with a bag on his head." In the morning they decided to each independently draw a picture of the man in the dream, and when compared, the pictures were identical!

And supernatural experiences occur all over campus. The fourth-year student told me the story of how, on November 1st (All Souls Day), a friend of hers who is able to act as a sort of medium contacted her, saying, "There's somebody who's trying to communicate with you." They arranged a séance on the third floor of King and were visited by two spirits.

Second-year Preston Crowder reports an experience in which he saw a mysterious creature outside of A-house. "It was standing on the opposite side of the street staring directly at me..." Crowder recounted to me in an email. "It was about the size of a possum, but with much bigger legs. Its back seemed to have no distinct shape, but dipped inward like a trough...The color of it shocked me the most, though. It was extremely dark. It was as black as charcoal almost." The two stared at each other until "out of nowhere the eyes of the creature seemed to start glowing red," and Crowder made his exit. A ghost? Perhaps not. Inexplicable? Creepy? Certainly yes.

"Okay," you protest, "but this is just secondary source material. How do we know there are really ghosts on campus?" I understand, dear reader. I understand that you are a skeptical individual with an analytical and scientific mindset. I respect this. And this is why I have undertaken the most scientific procedure in these circumstances: Embarking on a real live ghost hunt. If you cannot believe me, dear reader, who can you believe? Tune in next week for the hair-raising, photojournalistic answer to this question: Are there ghosts on the Oberlin Campus, and if so, where, and, like, what are they doing, and stuff???

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