Ghostly tales thrive but little verified
Lore and legend place ghosts and hauntings in a number of buildings across the WSU Pullman campus. But modern day corroboration of such eerie occurrences is as elusive as the spirits themselves.
“I’ve worked a couple years in Bryan, and there’s been nothing eerie,” says Bryan custodian Aaron McArthur. Sure, when the wind blows, the doors rattle and there’s clatter above the theater stage.
“When I first got here, the theater kind of creeped me out,” McArthur admits. “But every building has its weird noises.”
“I have no personal encounters with ghosts in the 10 years I have been at WSU,” says Sandra Lea Carlson, performing arts facilities coordinator. Among other duties, she orchestrates events held in the theater in Bryan Hall, the building most cited for inexplicable incidents in the various historical accounts consulted for this article.
“If you psych yourself up,” McArthur adds, “you can scare yourself with anything.”
Bryan most haunted?
Over the years, Bryan seems to have scared many with much: The secluded clock tower and its resident owls (definitely a spooky bird); chimes that unaccountably ring in the middle of the night; a chair rocking by itself; doors that lock and unlock on their own; lights crashing down on stage in too-close proximity to actors; moaning and whistling sounds.
The lobby portrait of Enoch A. Bryan, WSU president 1893-1915, follows you with its eyes and sometimes seems to turn its head, says Lee Bannister, an electrical technician for Facilities Operations maintenance. The former president was known to relish telling a few ghost stories in his day, he died just one week after Halloween in 1941 and his funeral reportedly was held in Bryan Hall.
And then there are the basement “catacombs,” as they’re called in news accounts from a few decades back. Bannister calls the area the “dungeon,” but it’s really just a crawl space, he adds. The dirt floor, some of it mounded in small hills, can kind of look like graves, McArthur supposes.
“But I’ve spent hours working down there,” says Bannister, “and I’ve never experienced anything.”
No ghosts here
Nor have six of the custodians consulted about Holland Library, which word of mouth reported might be haunted by Ernest O. Holland, who was president at WSU from 1916-1945.
Nor have any of the custodians at the reputedly haunted student dormitories — Regents, Streit, Orton and Stevens. Bob Tattershall, director of housing and conference services, had only heard that Stevens might entertain ghostly residents. But the Stevens custodian, Linda Drader-Schell, says she has yet to meet them.
That’s likely a good thing. The dorm legends are some of the most harrowing and recent reports of the tragedy and unalleviated sorrow that seem to spawn tales of hauntings.
While the Orton ghost, mentioned in just one account from 1999, is supposedly the rather benign Railroad Sam who just likes the dorm’s proximity to the train tracks, the others are reportedly the victims of dismal deaths.
In the 1970s in Regents, the story goes, a student hanged herself in her room. In the 1980s in Streit, a disgruntled boyfriend blew himself up; his ghost is said to wander the halls still looking for his love.
In 1971 in Stevens, a chunk of carpet was missing and a room was found blood-spattered. Sometime later, a student’s body was discovered rolled in the carpet at a location some miles from campus.
Steve Hansen, WSU police chief, says the Stevens crime did indeed occur. So did the sad incident of the incendiary boyfriend, although it was in nearby Perham Hall. The dorm’s fifth floor was destroyed and two police officers were injured, Hansen said.
However, he said, neither he nor his lieutenant recall any student in Regents hanging herself. Nonetheless, it has joined the factual incidents in generating ghost stories.
Buildings as explanations
As has the tale related by Sue Heitstuman, library specialist, that the third floor of the Owen Science and Engineering Library might be haunted because it felt so cold and spooky compared to the rest of the building. But Lorena O’English, social sciences reference librarian, in following up found that when the science library was built the third floor got shorted on insulation — hence the drafty atmosphere.
Such building peculiarities likely are responsible for much haunting lore in Daggy Hall, as well, agree custodian Arron McMullen and theater instructor Ben Gonzales.
First, the building is unfinished — a third theater originally was planned, Gonzales says — so there are doors, stairs and halls that end abruptly or lead to nowhere. McMullen typically hears creaking when the heat and air turn on shortly after his 5 a.m. daily arrival. Gonzales says the systems that constitute a theater building — mechanical, hydraulic, electronic, ventilation, etc. — are bound to make strange noises and not always behave as expected.
Nonetheless, Gonzales adds, he has had some unsettling experiences.
“I’m very much a skeptic,” he says, recognizing that some of what he’s heard has occurred when he’s working backstage alone in Daggy in the wee hours of the morning and hasn’t slept for 18 hours.
But he can’t explain the sounds of running feet. And he’s mystified by the children’s voices that both he and the stage manager heard backstage in the Jones Theatre at 3:30 a.m.
“When you’re in this building late at night,” he says, “you definitely get a feeling you’re not the only person here.”
Thanks to Bob Smawley, retired director of University Relations and unofficial WSU historian, for contributing material. Thanks also to Lorena O’English, social sciences reference librarian, for her work as researcher and citizen reporter for this article.