Fearsome Phantoms Lurking in the Ivy ...
They don't put it in the admissions brochure.
Like any self-respecting 350-year-old institution, Harvard has a long and illustrious history of spooks, specters and scary spirits. But just try getting any information about them from University bureaucrats.
It was a ghost of a time.
Harvard's ghosts are something of a secret among the powers that be, apparently, which should come as no surprise. Administrators don't want to go on record talking about things science can't explain. Like the tenure process, and the housing crunch, and the food. Of course, they stand to lose a great deal if they appear ridiculous in print.
A lot of them say that aside from a few skeletons in the closet, they've never heard anything about ghosts at Harvard. But The Crimson has learned differently. Much differently.
From the tower of Memorial Hall to the basement of a nearby church, and from the oldest dormitory to the oldest house in Cambridge, Harvard is the hub of legend and supernatural activity for miles around.
Eighteenth century alumni revisiting their dorm rooms. Old professors wandering the stacks. Revolutionary War veterans retracing their steps. Harvard's got' em all, reliable sources say.
Who Ya Gonna Call?
Thank heaven for Thomas E. Crooks '49, special assistant to the dean of the faculty, who puts propriety aside and speaks freely about Harvard's resident ghouls. Crooks says he has seen lots of ghosts since he returned to his alma mater as an administrator at the end of the Korean War.
"Every time I see one, I forget it right away," Crooks says. "It's such a traumatic experience that I erase it from my mind at once."
But he remembers enough to talk about one ghost who used to lurk at the northeast corner of University Hall. Since the old pine tree there was cut down two years ago, the ghost has not been seen.
Holden Chapel, which he says was the first cadaver room of the Harvard Medical School, also abounds with ghosts. "And in Massachusetts Hall," he says, "there are a couple of ghosts who are passing as people."
"One time I found a pizza on John Harvard's lap," says Crooks. "Who on earth would want to feed him?" The veteran administrator also reports seeing jack o'lanterns hanging from the gargoyles atop the tower of Memorial Hall. "How in God's name did those pumpkins get up there? I've heard tales that one of our mountaineering boys who passed on might have done it, but of course I don't have proof."
He also spoke of an owl who has apparently been lurking in the Yard for "literally hundreds of years," and to this day occasionally disturbs other birds near University Hall. "He survives by eating transformed wrong examination answers," Crooks says. What are they transformed into?
"Pigeons," he says. "Pigeons are ghosts, too." Of course.
Apthorp House, the residence of the Adams House masters, is also home to ghosts of Revolutionary War soldiers, among them British General John Burgoyne, who was imprisoned there during the war. "I hear them rumbling about all the time," says Hannah L. Bouldin '86, who lives in the attic of the 226-year old house. She adds that the general's ghost inspired her during a midterm yesterday.
"General Burgoyne is still complaining about the high rent of Harvard property and wants the University to do something about it," says Adams Co-Master Jana M. Kiely. "The University should provide affordable housing," Kiely, a part-time Cambridge activist, quotes him as saying.
"The ghosts can play Monopoly very well," says Kiely's nine-year old daughter, Mimi. "But they cheat."
"See how interested they are in real estate," says Jana Kiely. "They even play Monopoly."
Too Spooked to Talk Spooks
In all of Harvard's 12 residential houses and 14 freshmen dorms, there are bound to be a few goblins hobnobbing around. Two Harvard students who reported ghoulish presences in their rooms last year are unwilling to talk about their experiences.
One evening last year, an Eliot House junior told her roommates, she had seen a ghost in her I-entry room. "She said she sensed a presence and saw a specter, but it was really brief," says one of her roommates, who would not be identified. "She said it was not a fearful presence."
The woman who saw the ghost spoke on the condition that she not be identified. "I went from a light place to a dark place, and I saw an image, but it was probably just my eyes adjusting," she says. "I don't believe in ghosts."
Eliot Co-Master Arline G. Heimert backs her students' claims. "There might be one or two lurking here, but mostly we have mice."
Quincy House resident Audris S. Wong '89 yesterday refused to discuss the sighting of a ghost last year in her Weld Hall common room.
Shades of Shades
There have been other shady reports of mysterious happenings. Twelve years ago, a clairvoyant spoke at Massachusetts Hall, Harvard's oldest building, where a ghost purportedly visits each fall to take up the residence of his youth. The speaker also warned students that any photographs taken of her would not come out because of the strong supernatural presence in the room. Sure enough, the photographs came out blank.
And on old Tory Row, the Hooper Lee Nichols House on Brattle St. is said to be home to the ghosts of five Hessian mercenaries who fought in the Revolution. Legend has it they first appeared in 1915, when a library was built on the sight of their graves. They Hessian quintet has been playing cards in the room ever since.
Then there's old Christ Church, located at the corner of Garden St. and Mass. Ave., close to where George Washington stationed his troops in 1775. Several feet underneath the church lie the remains of a patriot prisoner of war shot by the Redcoats. According to popular legend, "he comes up once in a while and blows out candles," says church archivist Donna LaRue.
Over at Wadsworth House, where Washington once slept, ghosts of American patriots wearing tricorn hat and cloak have not haunted the colonial building in at least 25 years.
Students working in University Hall say if you listen at the southwest entrance, you can hear voices. Maybe they're going crazy, but then again maybe they're just hearing echoes of a foodfight from the dining hall located there a century ago.
Whether or not they exist, ghosts, ghouls, and things that go bump in the night have certainly made a ghastly impression on Harvard. And that's something Crimson Key doesn't talk about either.