Saturday, October 31, 2009

One last campus ghost story: The University of Toronto

Canadian colleges, such as the University of Toronto, are increasingly popular destinations for American high school students. Our friends to the north are quick to point out that students studying in Canada have much in common with their counterparts in the U.S. and going over the border doesn’t necessarily mean giving up Halloween or other ghoulish campus traditions found nearer to home. With soaring Gothic spires and a history rich in colorful characters, the University of Toronto welcomes adventurous American students and can provide more than enough in the way of scary stories to satisfy even the most active imaginations.

One such tale documents the doomed lives and loves of a couple of 19th century stonemasons. It’s an all-too-familiar story: love goes wrong and the wronged take revenge. Hired in 1857 to complete decorative stonework for Toronto’s University College, Ivan Reznikoff mysteriously disappeared after discovering his fiancé’s infidelity with Paul Diabolos, the project foreman. Legend suggests that Reznikoff challenged Diabolos with a stonemason’s axe to avenge his honor but lost out to a quicker knife wielded by the cunning Diabolos, who later disposed of the body in an unfinished stairwell. To add insult to injury, Diabolos is said to have carved the face of Reznikoff into one of the monstrous gargoyles seen today by the southwest corner of University College.

Dishonored, murdered, and mocked, Reznikoff haunts the University of Toronto campus seeking students to listen to his sad story. A deep gash in one of the University’s doors gives proof that a fight occurred. And, the accidental discovery, in 1890, of a skeleton wearing a stone-mason’s belt hidden deep within a ventilation shaft of University College certainly appears to confirm the ghost’s story. Students are warned that Reznikoff tends to appear as a tall man clad in black with “lank hair” spilling out from under a pointed hat who accosts those who have indulged in a bit too much partying.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Even more campus ghost stories: College of William & Mary, GMU, and Georgetown University

Ghost stories come out of the woodwork this time of year, and colleges within driving distance of DC have more than their fair share.

College of William and Mary, Williamsburg VA
As the nation’s second oldest college, William and Mary claims the oldest academic building still in use on any campus in the US—the Sir Christopher Wren Building. Constructed between 1695 and 1700, Wren functioned as a hospital for French and American troops during the Revolutionary War and is said to be the site of at least one local haunting. Footsteps heard on the upper floors are thought to be those of a French soldier who died in the upstairs wards. Others believe the footsteps could only belong to Sir Christopher as he continues to admire the building he designed.

Located northeast of the Wren Building is the President’s House. The oldest official residence for a college president, the building housed many interesting personalities and boasts a colorful history since construction began in 1732. During the Civil War, the house served as the Federal Headquarters for the area and was used as a prison for captured southern soldiers. It is believed that the spirits of Confederate Army ghosts are still trying to escape from the house and play tricks on unwitting visitors.

George Mason University, Fairfax VA
Folklorist Margaret Yocom, associate professor of English, is George Mason’s official “ghost keeper.” Over the years, Dr. Yocom has collected stories for the Northern Virginia Folklife Archive, a number of which document ghostly sightings including a bizarre spirit who haunts the women’s crew team on the Occoquan River and a few strange occurrences at a local restaurant popular with Mason students.

One particularly gruesome story suggests that a small gazebo bordering Mason Pond on the Fairfax campus is frequented by the spirit of a young man who drowned one night under mysterious circumstances. The next morning, his body was allegedly found sitting in the gazebo by two women who happened to be visiting the area. Ever since, the man’s figure has been spotted standing at the edge of Mason Pond or sitting in the gazebo. His spirit beckons young women to join him but instantly disappears when approached.

Georgetown University, Washington DC
With Victorian spires dominating the local skyline, Georgetown’s Healy Hall sets the scene for a variety of campus pranks involving stolen clock hands as well as wild stories of student exploits within the labyrinthine tunnels that wind beneath the building. Constructed during the presidency of Father Patrick Healy, between 1877 and 1879, the former dormitory cost the University an enormous sum of money. The impossible debt eventually caused Healy’s retirement and death and could explain the restless nature of spirits haunting the large stone ediface.

Officially, the 5th floor of Healy Hall does not and never did exist. The Gothic design of the building inspires much speculation about secret sealed-off floors and ghostly inhabitants. One story suggests that a young Jesuit student accidently opened the Gates of the Underworld while reading forbidden chants in a book about exorcism within a secret room that is now among those sealed-off to students. Another story documents the gruesome death of a priest crushed while working on the clock in the building’s spire whose groans may be heard by students walking the campus at night.

Since the filming of “The Exorcist” on campus, Georgetown students celebrate Halloween with a screening of the movie either on Copely lawn or in Gaston Hall. At midnight, students gather in the shadow of Healy Hall—at the gates of the Jesuit cemetery—and literally howl at the moon.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

More campus ghost stories: OSU and Stanford University

Virtually every college has a least one alleged haunt frequented by a known ghost or spirit. There are resident ghosts, suicidal ghosts, lovers’ ghosts, and a few Greek ghosts. They may be found in libraries, residence halls, bell towers, and the remotest corners of any given campus. Some stories are legends, but most are told from personal experience as undergraduates are well known to possess an excess of imagination.

Ohio State University (OSU), Columbus OH
OSU boasts a campus rich in legend, folklore and a few really good ghost stories. Chief among the spirits are a mysterious lady of the lake, the professor whose cremated remains are walled up in a lecture hall, and the bizarre appearance of President Rutherford B. Hayes. But the most frequently-told story involves the first president of Ohio State University, Edward J. Orton, and the hall that bears his name.

One of the oldest buildings on the OSU campus, Orton Hall was constructed in 1893—two years after President Orton suffered a paralyzing stroke. The building appears as a gloomy Romanesque castle laboring under a façade of 40 different kinds of Ohio building stones painstakingly layered as they are found in the layers of the earth. The hall is topped by a bell tower, dedicated nearly 15 years after Orton’s death, containing 25,000 lbs. of bells tolling in the key of D flat. Encircling the tower are 24 columns decorated with monstrous-looking gargoyles which are actually reconstructions of prehistoric animals found in Ohio. The building houses OSU’s Geology Department as well as a Geology Museum which is often overlooked by visitors but which contains 10,000 specimens donated by President Orton.

In his last years, Orton spent considerable time reading by lamp light in the top of the bell tower, and there are obvious scorch marks on the inside ceiling of the tower room left by his lamp. Legend says visitors can see the light of his lamp flickering through the vertical slats surrounding the tower, as his ghost still reads in his favorite spot high above the geological collection he amassed during his lifetime. A guardian of the building, Orton is also reputed to chill the air and make noises in attempts to quiet disrespectful students.

There are a number of other really scary OSU ghost stories. You can find a few in the most recent edition of the Buckeye Loop.

Stanford University, Stanford CA
A seldom-told tale suggests the founding of Stanford University may have been the result of communications from the “other” world. Shortly after the tragic death of their only child, Leland Junior, Jane and Leland Stanford traveled to New York and Paris for a series of séances. According to Maud Lord Drake, who attended one of the séances, the idea for creating a university came directly from Leland Junior in a spirit communication channeled through her to his parents. Responding to published accounts of the event, Leland Stanford denied that this ever happened and insisted the idea for Stanford University came to him in a dream.

However true either story may be, it’s clear that Jane Stanford suffered her son’s death greatly and continued trying over the years to make contact with him via the “netherworld.” A grieving mother on a mission, Mrs. Stanford threw herself into the construction of the university that was to honor her lost son’s memory and supervised every detail down to designing the stained glass window found in Memorial Church illustrating Leland’s rise to heaven in the arms of angels.

Sometime in 1893, Mrs. Stanford had her son exhumed and moved from his original resting place to a grand marble and granite mausoleum, guarded by four sphinxes. Both parents would join him there in death. Mrs. Stanford also supervised construction of an ornate university museum, designed in the neoclassical style which she located not far from the mausoleum. The museum (now the Cantor Center for the Arts) houses a vast collection of family artifacts including objects collected by Leland Junior during his world travels. Both museum and mausoleum symbolize Mrs. Stanford’s continued mourning, bearing striking resemblance to temples. Both are said to be haunted by her restless spirit, no doubt deeply disturbed by repeated earthquake damage and neglect over the years. Sightings of the great lady have been reported by visitors to the area, lending additional meaning to the poem she engraved on tablets carved from Leland Junior’s original crypt formed into a pyramid shaped marker standing sentry to his first burial place:





Wednesday, October 14, 2009

E-Book offers insider strategies for saving money

The brilliant folks at Cappex recently announced publication of a new e-book entitled, 20 Insider Strategies to Save Money on College NOW, available FREE of charge on the website. The concept is simple: most students and their parents don’t know how to take full advantage of all the money-saving tools available to them and many miss out on financial aid simply because they don’t understand the process. To level the playing field, the book offers insider tips, strategies, tools, secrets, and other ways to help families in the never-ending quest to pay less for college.If nothing else, the book's easy-to-understand guide to financial aid terminology is worth printing out and saving. From there, readers will learn the importance of choosing the right college list, how and when to apply for financial aid or merit scholarships, and what factors should go into making smart decisions about where to attend college. The book is simple, direct, and extremely helpful.“This e-book is ideal for anyone seeking help paying for college. It sheds light on the top approaches,” suggests Chris Long, President of “Among the approaches are a revealing look at merit scholarships, special strategies for saving on public and private colleges, and getting money that you don’t have to pay back.”

Founded in 2006 by the former CEO of FastWeb, Cappex offers college search tools designed to promote easy access to profiles and reviews of more than 3000 college and universities. A key support for the service is, which provides Cappex with comprehensive details on about $11 billion in merit scholarships. Both websites are definitely worth investigating, as they offer an incredible wealth of information in addition to the search tools which form the basis of both services. Note that everything is free and that privacy is fully protected for those who choose to register on either website.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Campus ghost stories: Washington & Lee University and Flagler College

Ghosts and goblins and apparitions of all sorts haunt the hallowed halls and dormitories of colleges and universities across the country. In honor of the approaching Halloween season, I’ve gathered a few scary stories including some legends, superstitions, and folklore to share over the next several weeks…or…as the spirit moves me.

Washington and Lee University (W&L), Lexington VA
Buried in a wooden box encased in concrete next to W&L’s Lee Chapel, General Robert E. Lee’s horse Traveller lives on in the form of a friendly spirit watching over the campus. Not long after the Civil War, Traveller accompanied Lee to what was then Washington College, as the General took over the presidency of the rural Virginia school. Lee took great pride in his large “Confederate” gray horse and built an impressive stable connected to the president’s house. A celebrity in his own right, Traveller eventually achieved fame as the author of a ghost-written volume documenting the Civil War through a horse’s eyes, and admirers came from all over the south to pluck hairs from his tail to keep as souvenirs of the general and his famous steed.

At the time of Lee’s death, Traveller was led behind the caisson bearing Lee’s casket. As an unofficial mascot, the horse wandered the campus at will, grazing on lawns and interacting with students. After his death, Traveller’s remains suffered a series of indignities until they finally found a resting place next to Lee Chapel. According to tradition, the doors to Traveller’s stable must remain open to allow his spirit to continue wandering the campus. Bad luck is sure to follow those foolish enough to close them, or so a former university president discovered. Students leave apples and sugar cubes outside the doors of the stable or on Traveller’s grave for good luck. Sometimes pennies are inexplicably left as well.You can visit Traveller’s grave while on tour of the W&L campus. Be sure to bring apples—Traveller’s apple of choice is the Granny Smith.

Flagler College, St. Augustine FL
Central to the Flagler campus, Ponce de Leon Hall is the scene of many college ghost stories. Once the famous Ponce de Leon/Alcazar Hotel, constructed in the 1880’s by Henry Flagler, the hall is used as a freshman girls’ dormitory and dining hall. Its fabulous Spanish Renaissance architecture and Victorian interior including Tiffany stained glass windows inspire active imaginations and much student speculation.

Several of the most frequently told stories involve Flagler’s funeral which took place in the massive front foyer of the hotel. According to one tale, hotel windows were accidently closed during the funeral and Flagler’s trapped spirit found a home in a particular floor tile located to the left of the doors and toward the rear of the hall. Another variation suggests that Flagler’s coffin was dropped while being carried across the grand foyer leaving an illusion of his face and a skull on the tile. Either way, tour groups are encouraged to locate the tile and are reminded that Flagler’s spirit lives on in the building. Other stories involving Flagler’s wife and mistress complete the lore of the Ponce de Leon.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Consider Baltimore as your college destination

According to the Baltimore Collegetown Network (BCN), the City of Baltimore is a fantastic place to go to college. With 16 post-secondary institutions and more than 120,000 students, Baltimore is basking in the success of a multi-billion dollar renaissance begun in the late 1970’s with the construction of Harborplace, the National Aquarium, the Raven’s football stadium, and Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Go O's!

Located along an arm of the Chesapeake Bay, Baltimore—or Charm City—offers a lively arts scene, big time sports, large-scale business, thriving research organizations, and a variety of colleges and universities deserving of close investigation by students seeking easy access to the amenities of a busy east coast city with the advantages of a small town community. As a key resource, BCN wants to make it easy for visitors to discover what’s special about Baltimore and upgrade the city’s image as a college destination.

On its award-winning website, the Baltimore Collegetown Network provides a nifty planning device designed to facilitate college touring. Each of the 16 participating colleges and universities is profiled with links to college web pages outlining everything from admissions information and academics to parent resources and special events. In addition to basic college planning tools, the site offers a number of supplementary services including a listing of area internships, a roommate board, ticket discounts to area attractions, community volunteer opportunities, and a ride board. A variety of publications, including a glossy guide to Baltimore and its colleges and universities, is also offered free of charge on the website.

Through partnerships and marketing initiatives, BCN works to enhance the academic and social lives of Baltimore’s students as well as to increase professional development at the colleges located in and around the city. As part of its mission, BCN funds and operates the free Collegetown Shuttle which runs 7 days per week ferrying students to stops at 6 BCN member colleges and popular destinations like the Inner Harbor, Penn Station, and the Towson Town Center. BCN partner institutions open their libraries and classrooms to students in the network through such programs as the Baltimore Academic Libraries Consortium and the Baltimore Student Exchange Program. Twelve of the BCN colleges and universities allow students to cross-register for courses at other member institutions for up to two classes per year. Among the schools participating in the exchange are Goucher College, Loyola of Maryland, Johns Hopkins, Towson University, UMBC, and the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Check out the crab cakes or visit the Inner Harbor, but be sure to take the time learn what Baltimore has to offer as a college destination. If you haven’t visited for awhile, you may be surprised at what you find!BCN colleges and universities include:

College of Notre Dame of Maryland
Community College of Baltimore County
Coppin State University
Goucher College
Johns Hopkins University
Loyola College in Maryland
Maryland Institute College of Art
McDaniel College
Morgan State University
Peabody Institute
Stevenson University
Towson University
University of Baltimore
University of Maryland, Baltimore