While it might seem like the super-super-senior in your Gen Ed just won’t graduate, there are a few figures who have haunted campus for much longer. Harvard’s long and storied history brings with it a number of paranormal figures, seen now for centuries in some of the 300-year-old buildings on campus.
Inscribed on Harvard Yard’s Meyer Gate is an acknowledgment of these spirits. The inscription, a quote from the journal of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Class of 1821, states: “Cambridge at any time is full of ghosts… of the men that wore before us the college honors & the laurels of the state — the long winding train reaching back into eternity.”
In his book “Ghosts of Cambridge,” paranormal researcher Sam Baltrusis chronicles these legends. “A ghost is history demanding to be remembered,” says Batrusis, who has extensively researched the ghosts of Harvard and its environs. So, this Halloweekend, remember more than just your jackets when you leave the Mather JCR. Instead, take a look at a few of Harvard’s most persistent spirits — you might even encounter one as you cross campus this week.
Looks like unfinished assignments aren’t the only things to be scared of; they say the mother of Harry Elkins Widener, Class of 1907, haunts the library, wandering its sprawling catacombs of books in mourning of her son. During renovations to Widener Library, Harry’s portrait was temporarily removed and replaced with a piece of plywood. Immediately after, chunks of plaster fell from the ceiling onto the desks of a few circulation assistants, perhaps warning the librarians to never disrespect Harry’s memory again. It’s thought that Harry’s library is protected by his mother, Eleanor Elkins Widener, who students in the most delirious state of essay writing have reported seeing in the stacks. Perhaps she is trying to deter any unsacred acts from taking place...
Hicks House Attic, Kirkland House Library
Supported by ethnographic research completed by one of FM’s own, the Kirkland ghost is one of the most notorious spirits on campus. John Hicks, who built the house in 1762, has been reported roaming around in his Revolutionary War uniform. Legend has it, you can still smell the tea from the boots he left by the door after returning from the Boston Tea Party. So, next time you want to diss Kirkland’s housing, Hicks’ 250-year stay proves that some find it extremely hospitable.
Is there anything more haunting than a ghost with sad eyes? Resident-spirit Holbrook Smith is said to have returned to Mass. Hall, the oldest building on campus and the former residence of John Adams, Class of 1757. Rumor has it that he has returned every fall since his supposed graduation in 1914 — though no one can find record of his attending Harvard. After students complained that there was a ghost in their dorm, Assistant Dean of Freshmen William C. Young ’55 asked Holbrook to leave. He saw in Holbrook the “saddest eyes I’ve ever seen,” but there have still been sightings in recent years. To the 12 freshmen living in Mass Hall: may your strength lie in numbers.
The Harvard Lampoon Castle
Supposedly, a spirit haunts the gothic abode of the Harvard Lampoon, a semi-secret Sorrento Square social organization that used to occasionally publish a so-called humor magazine. The ghost’s presence makes walking the corridors “the creepiest building to be in when you’re alone at night,” Castle curator Joe Hickey told the Cambridge Day in 2005.
Built in honor of the Harvard students who fought for the Union in the Civil War and home to Annenberg Hall, Memorial Hall boasts Hogwarts-esque architecture and dark academia vibes all around — ghosts included. The drafts you feel in Berg or whispers you hear in the empty basement cafeteria might be courtesy of the Memorial Hall Ghost, who’s been spotted returning to a classroom above the dining hall, supposedly to finish his exam. Legend has it, he is just one of many ex-Confederate soldiers returning to haunt the building, feeling slighted by their exclusion in the dedication of Memorial Hall.
Cabot Library Suite
If your Cabot blocking group is eyeing the Library Suite for its reputation as the dorm with the best Ivy League aesthetic on campus, remember to consider more than the material world. Supposedly, Radcliffe alumna Margaret Coleman Waites, Class of 1905, whose books occupy the shelves of the Suite, lives within the mahogany inlays to protect her beloved collection.
Built in 1726, Wadsworth House served as home to the president of Harvard until 1849. However, George Washington stayed in the house for a brief period in 1775 while he was the general of the Continental Army. The second-oldest building on campus, the house’s fabled history certainly leaves a spiritual imprint — on multiple instances, custodians of Wadsworth House have reported seeing a man in a tricorn hat and a cloak walk down the stairs and go out the door.
Cambridge Old Burying Ground
A cemetery with subterranean tunnels!?!? Look no further than Cambridge’s Old Burying Ground, conveniently located along the trek to the Quad, on the corner of Mass. Ave. and Garden Street. Home to many of Harvard’s past presidents, the burying ground also houses extensive underground tombs, including one with more than 25 caskets. Visitors on ghost tours have spotted orbs of light and full-bodied apparitions.
The infamous food fight of 1818, which was a protest for administrative reform, lives on in the walls of University Hall, formerly a dining hall in the 19th century. Taking place one peaceful Sunday dinner, the food fight led to the expulsion of the entire sophomore class — including Emerson, who was later granted readmittance. Even decades later, students reported hearing voices from the food fight.
On a snowy night in the mid-19th century, Emily Pickham was on a sleigh ride through the Yard, which was unfortunately cut short when the horse slipped, tipping over the carriage, killing her fiance. She returned to his grave frequently to mourn until she noticed his body had been stolen by graverobbers. She launched an investigation and learned that his body had been sold to the Medical School as a cadaver, housed in Holden Chapel. Every few years throughout Cambridge history, on the first snow of the year, students have reported seeing a woman banging on the door to Holden Chapel trying to get in — but there are no footprints in the snow.
— Magazine writer Molly E. Egan can be reached at email@example.com.