Saturday, February 28, 2015

Q+A: Gabriel Barcia Colombo—Digital Collector

A Q+A I did for my Writing and Reporting II Class at NYU:

When Gabriel Barcia Colombo was a kid he collected random stuff—everything from hot sauces to insects. These days, Colombo collects people through digital art, passionately preserving moments and memorializing individuals. The NYU professor has projected videos of his friends into jars, a 1950s housewife into a blender, and created a vending machine that distributes human DNA. Most recently, Colombo has collected New Yorkers.

His art installation “New York Minute” encircles the giant atrium beneath the skylight oculus of the new glass Fulton Center, a subway station that connects 10 lines. The piece features slow motion, video portraits of New Yorkers—in-between advertisements—on 52 screens up to 32 ft. long. A basketball player spins a basketball on his finger. A businessman throws money into the air. A little girl blows bubbles.

Gabriel Barcia Colombo giving his TED talk in 2012

What is the idea behind "New York Minute?"
To slow down the little moments. New Yorkers are very familiar with this term because of the frenzied lifestyle we lead.

The term originated in Texas around 1967.
Yes. The saying goes: A New Yorker does in an instant what a Texan would take a minute to do. I want this piece to slow people down. I want people to look up from their phones.   

Why are New Yorkers always in a hurry today? 
I think the pace of life is too fast due to our connection to digital media and social networking.

How did you get this commission?
I'd been working with the MTA on a previous project called Springfest, which involved poetry on the walls at Grand Central Terminal. Words were projected onto the walls and then assembled into poetry. Then they commissioned me for the Fulton concourse, which I visited several times before filming and constructing the piece. It’s easily the largest scale art installation I’ve done.

What do you think of the new Fulton Concourse?
I think it’s amazing! I think the architecture of the space is really incredible and it feels a little like a space ship because everything is so clean and silver-looking. The “Sky Reflector-Net,” which is the piece that’s on the top—the James Carpenter piece—is incredible.

Which subway line is your favorite?
The F because it’s the fastest.

What do you usually do on the subway?
I listen to music and read, but I also like to people watch. There are so many different types of people in New York.

How did you choose which New Yorkers to include in your piece? 
There was an open call. I ended up filming 52 New Yorkers many who I met while working in various jobs around the city. The girl who is dressed up as the Statue of Liberty in the piece is actually a girl I met while I was working at a bar years ago.

What is so great about capturing people on film?
It’s fascinating to me to memorialize moments, even simple ones. 

 You have done two TED Talks. What were they about?
The first TED Talk that I did was about my video art pieces, my installations. It was about these people that I filmed and I would project into different materials, whether they were bottles or blenders or jars. It was asking how we could immortalize people through video. The second one was about this vending machine that I built that sold human DNA.

Human DNA!?
[nods] That was a collaboration with another TED fellow who runs an open source bio lab in Brooklyn called Genspace. And I went there and started discovering this whole other world of possibility for art with bio-tech which I had not really known about before. We decided to get this collection of people’s DNA and then put it in a vending machine and sell it as if it were a luxury item.

Do you think we will get to the point where we will have our own digital clones?
I think we already do to a small extent. I think like the way we interact with social media is sort of like having a small clone of ourselves online. [laughs] I mean obviously there’s no free will, like we don’t have our Facebook account posting things without us.

Do you have any future projects in mind?
I'm working on a series of projects right now as well as a second edition of the DNA vending machine that will be displayed in London at the V&A Museum as part of a show titled "What is Luxury?" It will be up from April ‘til September. The DNA vending machine looks into the future. Access to biotechnology is just going to increase so ownership of one’s own DNA might become a luxury.  

What is your favorite thing to teach your students?
How to create meaningful interactions through art. Art is a communication tool and should be used as carefully as any other form of communication. 

What are some projects you’ve assigned in your classes at NYU?
[he laughs] I try to teach really interesting things that they won’t get elsewhere. So I taught a class called “Pop-Up Windows Displays” which is about making interactive window displays in New York. And a class called “Ready-Mades,” which is what I’m teaching right now actually, which is about finding vintage objects and putting sensors and new technologies in them to make them have new personalities. And then last semester I taught a class called “Haunted House” where we made an immersive theatre haunted house as the final for Halloween.

I understand Westfield, the company that manages the Fulton concourse, lost some ad revenue because of the “New York Minute” art installation.
It became a battle between them and the MTA about how much art was going to be on these screens. So I think it’s still undecided about how much art there will be after my project. My project is up until March and I don’t know what’s happening after that.

When do your video portraits play?
The first month that Fulton opened they came up every minute on all the screens and now its every thirty minutes. There’s nine different things that come up on the big screens over the course of a day. The chance of seeing the same things are pretty slim.

With everything that grabs our attention today, what is the appeal of digital art to the New Yorker? 
I think digital art is appealing because we interface with so much content digitally already. There are digital screens on busses, in subway terminals and its only a matter of time before art makes its way onto these screens.

Friday, October 31, 2014

It’s All Fun and Games, Until Someone Gets Hurt

An assignment about two years after Hurricane Sandy:

The sun is setting on a nice, warm October night at Coney Island in Brooklyn. A group of kids are playing in the sand. They throw fistfuls of it at each other and laugh so hard they have to grasp at their sides between throws. It is finally the end of the day, the sun is setting over the water, and their parents look relaxed.

As a tourist destination, Coney Island has it all—cheese-covered Nathan’s hotdogs at their original storefront, amusement rides from coasters to Ferris wheels, bars on their boardwalk, the New York Aquarium, Coney Island Museum, and the beach with its soft sand. Known for its “freak shows” and Nathan’s annual July Fourth International Hot Dog Eating Championship, Coney Island has been called “People’s Playground” or “America’s Playground” since the nineteenth century.

 “Coney Island is like a tomb—looks good on the outside, but everything on the inside is dead,” says Pastor Constance SanFilippo-Hulla, 65, sitting in her crowded office at Coney Island Gospel Assembly. Hidden behind stacks of books and papers, she is dressed all in black as if she is about to attend a funeral. A portrait of her father, who founded the church in 1957 and passed it down to her, hangs on the wall above her head. Bottles of water and boxed food are stacked against the far wall. She tells me I shouldn’t have walked here alone because there have been a lot of murders in the area, and offers me a ride to the subway station when I leave. She shows me an obituary of a teenage boy who was shot in the head down the street.

At approximately 100x100 feet, the church is one of the largest in Coney Island, and once had two fully operational levels. That is, until Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast on October 22, 2012, taking 285 lives along with it, including two elderly people from Coney Island. The storm raged on during the church’s Founder’s Day.
(Photo courtesy of Fred Rodriquez)

Two years later, the church is preparing to celebrate another Founder’s Day, but is still without a functional basement which was once used for housing volunteers, youth group meetings, pageant rehearsals, offices for the Sunday school education department, and the annual Founder’s Day banquet. Also in the basement were computers, a TV, a thousand new donated books, filing systems with people’s records, a boiler, and the breaker panel. According to SanFilippo-Hulla, the water was 25 feet high in the lower level when the storm ended. The parking lot and roof were ruined and the cross in the front fell down. In all, the damage amounted to a monetary value of two million dollars, but the emotional drain carries on.

(Photo: courtesy of Fred Rodriquez)
“Not something I ever want to experience again,” says Savone James, an assistant pastor who has been living in Coney Island her entire life. Even though SanFilippo-Hulla says that Coney Island lives with a “certain degree of flooding,” James says that most of New York wasn’t prepared for Sandy. “Nobody was anticipating the degree of loss,” James says as she reflects upon the smell of the ocean in the upheaval of her apartment. She had to stay in a hotel and then with a friend for a few weeks. 

Brother Fred Rodriquez can’t hide his sarcasm when he says he had to live in a hotel room for seven “glorious” months when his house was leveled. His six brothers and sisters and their six houses were all destroyed as well, he says. Same thing was true for Mary Gangainey, an usher at the church. She says, “they had to tear everything down to the bare bones” in order to renovate her house, costing her $12,000 out-of-pocket and her insurance had to pay even more. Gangainey lived in a high-rise for eight months, a situation she calls “horrific” because there was no heating and the complex was full. To this day, she is still doing repairs to her backyard.

According to SanFilippo-Hulla, the church custodian was in the building when the hurricane struck. He awoke to water up to his chin in his room in the lower level. Since the water had gotten to the electrical cords, he kept getting electric shocks as he fought his way out the door.

Although the Gospel Assembly has only 100 members in its congregation, and the structure was severely damaged, the church cared for up to 3,000 people a day during and after the hurricane with food, clothing, money, and shelter, according to SanFilippo-Hulla. To her, the people come first. “Our church is in an impoverished area so we help the people,” she says, “The building is not a priority. It’s still very important to us, but the people is our priority. In aiding the community, we made this compromise.”

(Photo: courtesy of Fred Rodriquez)
And aid they did. She tells me that the Red Cross recognized her after Hurricane Sandy. From a drawer in her desk, she takes out a red-ribboned medal. “HERO” is written in block letters at the top of the bronzed circle. As a gospel choir begins to practice in another room, she says that everyone who works at the church is a volunteer—no one receives a salary.  Without the aid of organizations like the Red Cross, Americorps, the DOE Fund, Habitat of Humanity,  and Occupy Sandy, SanFilippo-Hulla is not sure how they would have been able to help.

Even with Red Cross stations set up in front of the church and free meals being provided for those in need two years ago, the church could not receive aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). As a religious establishment, it does not qualify. Their insurance didn’t cover them either. As for donations from the community, SanFilippo-Hulla says it’s not possible. “Everybody was digging themselves out,” she says. So even two years later, the church has a long way to go to being fully operational.

Besides the church, SanFilippo-Hulla worries about the residents of Coney Island. “From what I have experienced and observed, there two different planets. There is the corporate planet and then there are the people who live in poverty. They never meet, and nothing is ever extended,” she says.

The amusement parks are doing fine. Many of the rides and businesses have been rebuilt. The new Thunderbolt rollercoaster opened this past summer on June 14th. It costs ten dollars to take the 2-minute ride that took $10 million to make, according to the Coney Island History Project. Even with all the expandsion underway, the Alliance for Coney Island has created Coney Corps and #Coneyrecovers, initiatives to help residents find jobs and local businesses to succeed.

Yet, just two streets away from the boardwalk, there are cracked sidewalks, empty lots, and small markets with minimal lighting. Such is Mermaid Ave—a struggling community street with hardships still to overcome. A new eyeglass store with a “Stronger Than the Storm” sign has just opened up halfway down the block. The owners are giving away free Snapples to people who buy $100 eye-exam. People come in asking for free Snapples all day, but apparently do not have enough money to buy a pair of glasses.

(Photo: courtesy of Fred Rodriquez)
SanFilippo-Hulla and James both acknowledge that the city did set up mental health programs for residents, but they see no sense in this when basic needs such as shelter and food go unmet. The pastor says that many of the buildings have not been repaired and still have mold, rot, and leaking pipes. “Hurricane Sandy just compounded the need that was already here,” says James. SanFilippo-Hulla passionately sits up in her chair and says that the programs are, “Worthless, because if you are sitting with no food and roaches and mice crawling all over you and rats. I don’t need to talk to you about what’s wrong. I need to change the situation that you are living in. You’ll get healthy mentally real quick.”

Coney Island Gospel Assembly may have a long road of recovery ahead even two years after Hurricane Sandy, but that is not what worries the church volunteers the most. It is education. SanFilippo-Hulla says, “It is the answer out of poverty. Kids can learn…but we have been let down and dumbed down.” James is worried about the lack of mentors. She says that, “Nobody is telling them that they are good at other things.”

Derrick Brown, a former professional basketball player comes in the office towards the end of the interview. He is there to talk to Sam and Chris, two high school boys who are failing in school (names have been changed to protect identity). Chris is fighting gang members and had to change schools because of violence. Sam has a fractured home that reflects in his schoolwork. SanFilippo-Hulla says that basketball is their escape. Brown says, “They only want to follow people who are famous. They want to live the ‘baller’s life.’”  He hopes to open their eyes to what else is out there. For now, they all agree that the church is the only place the students have for support. And with no more resources in their lower level, the fight to keep these kids off the street and out of the obituaries is harder than ever.


Much Love for An Orange Couch

One of my assignments-a feature story:

“How you doing?” “Smelly Cat.” “Could she BE more out of my league?” “We were on a break!” Central Perk. A golden frame. An orange couch. To any Friends fan, these images and phrases conjure up episodes and characters that carried the TV show for ten seasons, when most shows to this day are lucky to last for two or three. Twenty years later, and there’s still so much love for the show.

Friends, a comedic sitcom about six New Yorkers in their twenties, created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, celebrates its 20th anniversary since it first premiered in September 1994 on NBC. In celebration, Eight O’Clock Coffee Company has set up a mini “Central Perk,” the gang’s old hangout, in SoHo at 199 Lafayette Street. The shop opened to the public on Wednesday and will be serving free coffee to Friends fanatics until October 18th.  

Alike so many my age, I have watched the show since I was a child, and loved every minute. On school nights with TV trays set up, my brother and I would watch and learn from Friends. It was a show that brought us together, when at other times we would fight about who had to feed the dog or what movie to choose. We both agreed on Friends. To this day, we both quote the show and erupt into laughter. The show didn’t have too much adult humor, and the jokes were never crude.

On opening night at four o’clock, I expected to see a line full of teenagers and twenty-somethings reliving the 90s, the prime of their youth. Instead, the two-hour line was made up of people of all ages. It wrapped around the brick pop-up shop with the familiar “Central Perk” signs in the windows and continued for several blocks. I got in line behind four women in their late fifties/sixties who were just as excited to see the pop-up shop as the many 28-year-olds I talked to. 

The four have been friends for a very long time, two of them for more than forty years. They had just arrived in New York for the first time from Idaho, and were grateful that they found out about the shop on the Today Show that morning. Sue Leavy, 61 years old and now retired, said the show comes with an assortment of good memories since “we raised our kids during that time.”

At one point in line, I heard cheering coming from the entrance. James Michael Tyler, who played the Central Perk manager Gunther, appeared for a half-hour and will continue to make appearances at “Central-Perk” throughout the month. Now 52, he doesn’t look like he has aged much at all. His gray suit looked very much subdued compared to how his character dressed in the show. Gunther was known for being grouchy, fawning over Rachel, wearing eccentric bright ties, and having translucent yellow hair. Before he sat down on the orange couch with some Central Perk Roast coffee, he said he is, “Very excited. Very thankful,” about being present. According to Buzzfeed, he dyed his hair platinum blonde just for the 20th Anniversary celebration.

I ran into Jessica Gaston and her friend Brett Gibson, fellow students at Hunter College, on their way out of the pop-up shop. Both are 28 years old and easy examples of Friends fanatics.  They enjoyed the replica of “Central Perk.” It took them back to their childhoods, although they admitted that they still watch reruns on TBS and TV-LAND all the time. Gaston said, “It made me realize how old I was. It must be exciting to know that you are apart of something and twenty years later you see this line and the impact it has on people.” But, what impact did it have on her? She explained how the show always makes her happy after a long, hard day. Gibson agreed and said she likes the actors’ comedic timing. She does her best impression of Monica: “I know!”

Not everyone felt that the line justified the experience.  25 year old Or Baran was visiting from Israel and was told about the event from a friend. He said, “I’m going to limit myself to 45 minutes to an hour because it’s just like, to get a coffee.” Although he liked the show, its true not all tourists have the time to wait in such a long line. 

Tyree Brown, a brand ambassador for Eight O’ Clock Coffee, was working the exit, making sure that only 74 people were staying inside the room at all times, a small number compared to the 300 waiting in line.

When I finally got to the front, I could see the white dog, “Pat,” that Joey bought in “The One Where Eddie Moves In” through the window. Once inside, “Central Perk” became part coffee shop, part souvenir shop, and part mini-museum. To the left of the room were costumes worn by the main characters—Monica’s red, see-through shirt and Phoebe’s polka-dotted brown jacket, for instance. Phoebe’s guitar sits nearby. On the walls are black and white stills, a collage of scenes from all ten seasons.

Underneath a large framed picture of the cast, was a case full of memorabilia from the show: Ross’ “Science Boy” comic book from “The One With the Mugging,” a Soap Opera Digest magazine with Joey’s face on the cover from “The One With Joey’s Interview,” “Buffay the Vampire Layer” porn video with Pheobe’s sister on the cover from “The One Where Chandler Can’t Cry,” Monica and Chandler’s wedding announcement and engagement rings, Rachel’s sonogram of her baby girl from “The One Where Rachel Tells Ross.”    

For such a small space, there was a lot of activity. A photographer took pictures of people on the orange couch which sat next to the original green armchair and on the black and red rug from the set. A Gunther-look-alike barista served free coffee next to a gold coffee machine from the show that never actually worked, said James Michael Tyler. A souvenir booth sold Central Perk mugs, T-shirts, key chains, posters, iPhone cases, and even the complete ten-season set.

According to James Michael Tyler, while filming, the cast were the only ones who got to sit on the orange couch. With an event like this, Friends fans get to feel special, imagining themselves as part of the environment.  As Gaston said, “It’s something about Friends that makes you feel like they’re your friends.”

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Article Published in Bedford+Bowery

(Photo: Ilyse Liffreing)
(Photo: Ilyse Liffreing)
The pantry at The Bowery Mission is bleakly bare. Where once enough food was stored to fill up the small shopping carts of the homeless who came in looking for comfort every two weeks, now the organization has to suggest its members come only once a month. It’s in “urgent need” of more food.

Usually at this time of the year, the Mission, at 227 Bowery, receives more donations. But the shelves are nude two and a half months before they usually start to notice a reduction of canned goods, according to Matt Krivich, Director of Operations and Community Relations. While The Bowery Mission receives the bulk of its food from entities like City Harvest, Whole Foods, and the Food Bank for New York City, it needs more individuals to donate canned goods. The building is open 24 hours every day, taking donations as well as online. Bread, bananas, meat, and drinks are plentiful. However, foods like pasta, rice, beans, vegetables, and soup are just as essential and now in minimal supply.
(Photo: Ilyse Liffreing)
(Photo: Ilyse Liffreing)
At the rate the organization gives out meals, Krivich says the cans might last the rest of this week, but as of now there is “not enough for 200 people.” The mission serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner (about 1,000 meals per day) at its locations, and gives pantry food to about 80 to 100 people a day, he says.
Last week, Lt. Patrick Ferguson of the Ninth Precinct noted anuptick in homelessness in the East Village, and statistics bear it out: citywide homelessness is up 6 percent since Bill De Blasio became mayor, Washington Square News reports today. Krivitch believes it’s at its highest since the Great Depression. The Bowery Mission website states that one in every 152 New Yorkers is homeless — 52,000 live in shelters, while another 3,200 sleep on the streets.
(Photo: Ilyse Liffreing)
(Photo: Ilyse Liffreing)
Most people travel long distances to get to the pantry and the daily meals, Krivitch says. They come from the Bronx or Staten Island. “It shows me that some of those pantries are distributing less and something is putting a strain on their resources.”
To accommodate a wide array of needs, The Bowery Mission also provides clothing, shelter, showers, biblical services, counseling, free clinics, a women’s center, and summer camps for children. There are 6-month residential housing programs available to those who need to turn their lives around and stay off the streets. Right now, 80 men are housed in the program, and as soon as the renovation is done to the building, there will be 140 beds. There are also about 200 men who make the chapel their bedroom every night.
(Photo: Ilyse Liffreing)
(Photo: Ilyse Liffreing)
Today they will have 100 men asking for pants, but will only be able to provide 30 pairs. About twelve pairs of shoes are on the ground underneath the shelf of pants, but there is not a variety of sizes. There are enough T-shirts, but no sweaters, long-sleeve shirts, or boots for the cold months ahead. Krivich says, “We do the best that we can.” But, he adds, “We don’t do it alone. We rely on our supporters and donators.” The Bowery Mission has a long history of this working. They have been around caring for those hurting since 1879.
Krivich points to his favorite photograph on the red wall of their upstairs meeting room. It shows immigrants from over 110 years ago, taking up all the room on the pews in the chapel at an old location of The Bowery Mission. “Our pews are still full more than 110 years later,” he says with a proud smile.

1st Published Article of Grad School

My first article published in graduate school on Bedford+Bowery, which is now where I intern for this 1st semester: 

(Photo: Ilyse Liffreing)
(Photo: Ilyse Liffreing)
If you’re anywhere near 50 Varick Street today, you may want to head over there toot sweet. Not for the Calvin Klein fashion show (yawn), but for something far more colorful that’s happening outside of it at this very moment.
Remember Andy Golub, the artist who got arrested a few years ago for staging live body painting in Times Square? and who in June hosted a New York Body Painting Day, where 40 painted, fully nude models marched down Broadway?
(Photo: Ilyse Liffreing)
(Photo: Ilyse Liffreing)
He’s back for his second New York Fashion Week. On Sunday, he set up 20 feet away from the DKNY show, and it was quite a scene: on one part of 26th Street, guards stood protecting the entryway, velvet ropes lined the sidewalk, and models adjusted their poses for the firing squad of photographers. A little away from the crowd another line began to form around a naked woman and man, their bodies full of swirls of purple, pink, green, black, and yellow. Their faces looked just as serious as the models on the runway.
“They are the money. We are the love,” said Golub as he painted yellow stripes on the man’s arm. The art, he said, is “not about money. Not about status. It’s about, sort of, being true to yourself. I think that people on some level, some very right-brain level, they understand that. I think that we don’t really see that freedom and openness that often.”
Golub isn’t necessarily attacking the fashion world. “They look nice with their different outfits,” he admitted. “I’m not saying they don’t, but I’m interested in the inside of people, the spirit of people. That,” he points to the line of models, “sort of almost blocks the spirit of people. You become a representation of yourself in a sense. Especially when one person is designing the clothes and the other person is wearing it.” For his shows he wears a blue t-shirt with faces he drew himself. He hasn’t yet joined his models in their nudity, but he would if the chance came up.
(Photo: Ilyse Liffreing)
(Photo: Ilyse Liffreing)


Nude model Halena Herrera, 27, who was bright with color and hanging off the lamppost, said she was there because she “loves the art.” Another volunteer model, 22-year-old Tahirah Cochran, said, “I feel like we’re just spreading the love.”
After Golub was arrested in Times Square in 2011, the charges were dropped. He insists that “full nudity is legal in New York if it’s a part of an exhibition or show. Cops tried to stop us, but the law is on my side.” He plans to have another New York Body Painting Day in the near future because “art is a great way of connecting with people.” In the meantime, you can find him outside of 50 Varick Street today from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Good Gone Grad Girl Indeed

Welcome to my blog all about grad school at NYU, my experiences in New York, and a collection of my articles, photos, and videos during my time at NYU. I am thrilled to be living in this city that has eluded me until this year :)

I like my cute, little New York room and so far have only seen one centipede creeping across the wall. Yay! For the first couple of weeks my roommate Katherine and I have had some troubles. We went without water for three days and without energy for two (we had to camp in the kitchen with only a few outlets that worked),

However, so far I have had excellent classes with plenty of cool guest speakers. Ben Kesling with the Wall Street Journal talked to us about social media, Geraldine Baum, previously with the LA Times, talked to us about how she covered 911 on the ground, Natalie Osterling with the Wall Street Journal discussed SEO with us, and Bob Kolker with New York Magazine talked to us about writing long-form articles about ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances. Thursday night was an event where editors at Vice, Mashable, and Buzzfeed talked about their international coverage. I have learned a lot already.  

Our first assignment of the semester was to cover New York Fashion Week. I wrote a piece about the protestors on the streets. Here are a collection of pictures I took of a mix of the fashionable models outside of the runway shows and the protestors on the streets:

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Campus Ghosts

            Rumors are often spread about the ghost of Lone Mountain—a pregnant nun who killed herself after having an affair with a priest. Some consider it to be the actual story of Sister Agnes, a nun who attended the Women’s College and threw herself off the bell tower, despite the 1980’s movie Agnes of God having a similar plot line, according to a recent article published in October 2010 in The Foghorn. Some consider the rumor foolish, while other students haven’t heard. But how many other ghost stories are alive and present on campus? Do students actually believe what they hear? Most importantly, are any real?
The sky turned a maddening red and purple as senior Performing Arts and Social Justice major Kelley Greer and I walked up to the historic Lone Mountain building, once its own women’s college, with a mission to unravel the truth behind the ghost stories at the University of San Francisco (USF). The wind was strong and we hurriedly closed ourselves in the old structure, determined to stay to the early hours of the morning among the religious statues of the Virgin Mary and rumors of the ghost of the suicidal nun—an odd combination. With each hour passing and our eyes growing weary from our time spent studying, the hallways began to become dark and empty. As though the Gothic Spainsh architecture with the hanging chandeliers and sculpted pillars does not make the building spooky enough, lights in some classrooms were left on as if the professors wanted to make sure the ghosts could see their way around.
Needless to say, we became quite jumpy as the night went on. Every sound of the wind would cause us to freeze and huddle together for protection. It was at one of these moments where Kelley, 21, said, “We should have brought a man with us,” and almost screamed at the sight of a shadow down the hall. Neither of us had the courage to approach it so instead, we moved up a floor. We convinced ourselves that it was probably just a chair’s shadow. Later, when we had built up enough nerve we went back down only to find that the shadow that we swore we saw was not there.
Certainly, the possibility of seeing a ghost on our campus is highly likely if you are a person who believes that the spirit lingers on in a place where the dead are located. In this case, once located. Indeed, according to Professor of Architecture Steven Doctors, 55, the University of San Francisco was built on “all kinds” of cemeteries. Even babies were buried on the very top of Lone Mountain. He says, “These cemeteries were divided by ethnicities, and then supposedly all caskets were moved to Colma in the peninsula, except some skeletons that were sent back to China.”
At one time there was as many as 150,000 bodies buried where the university now sits and bones are found every so often during construction periods, according to Doctors. With a smirk he says, “The people of San Francisco did not want to live next to dead people anymore and so the Women’s College bought the land which was later bought by USF in 1978 to expand their lifespan.” As it has always been said, “from death comes life.”
            But Doctors does not know whether he believes in ghosts or not. What he does know is the significance of a place and he can imagine how that could play a role in drawing potential spirits. Of this he says, “Places are always changing. Old lives fade away—new lives come in, new memories are formed. I imagine that the places still carry their importance.”
Kimberly Garrett, Program Assistant for the English Department, shares Doctors’ outlook on ghosts. Yet, she still feels like it is “crazy walking around the hallways,” referring to the eerie feeling she feels at night when USF’s “old school charm” shines through. An example is with the large mirror on the second floor of Lone Mountain where a staircase can be glimpsed through the mirror, although Garrett calls this an “optical illusion.”  Even though Garrett, 32, has been working for USF for ten years now, she also attended as an undergraduate, graduating in 2000. During her four years in college, she described how she would make these scary homemade movies, along with her friends, using the school as a backdrop. These would be based around the Blair Witch Project movie that came out in 1999. Together, they would get objects on campus like “forks from the old Lone Mountain cafeteria” and “stacks of books from the library” to create their film. Perhaps this was her way of making sense of the rumors.
Senior Kelsey Ransick, 22, who is graduating this year with an Art History degree, has to agree with Garret and Doctors. She says, “The school may be creepy at times, but I believe its simply because it is old. There is a history to this school, but there are no ghosts that have come from it.”  
            Even though Doctors, Garret, and Ransick may not believe in the rumors, there are plenty of professors, students, and even priests on campus who do. In fact, in a recent survey I conducted, out of 200 students asked, 87 believed the rumors were true. Also, out of 200, 132 had heard of one or more ghost stories on campus. Sophomore Kyle O’Brien, 20, believes entirely in the Lone Mountain ghost story, and even adds that the ghost of the nun “hid the body of her baby in one of the nooks of the ceiling in Lone Mountain.” Chilling to say the least.
            While some students may be willing to fully adopt the stories, others are skeptical about the ghostly nun on campus, but still say they believe in ghosts. Dylan Wittrock, 21, is a sophomore who has a past accustomed to ghost stories. According to Wittrock, his father once worked at famous writer Edith Wharton’s old mansion that is supposedly haunted. With an awed expression, he says, “I do believe in ghosts. I probably wouldn’t if I hadn’t heard all these ghost stories.” For him, ghosts can be seen by only some people and are completely harmless.
            Senior Kevin Kunze, on the other hand, is convinced that ghosts can be dangerous and often cause mischief, especially the ones on campus, according to him. The story he talks about is one that nobody else brought up when asked about the ghost stories on campus. Kunze, 22, describes the story with excitement. He tells me he “likes telling ghost stories.” He begins with, “Once there was a man who died in Hays-Healy that had a pipe shot through his head…”
            Apparently, the story goes that a man from London came to San Francisco to work on the construction of the Hayes-Healy dorm, according to Kunze. In fact, Kunze says that Hayes-Healy was one of the first buildings constructed, although he is not sure about the exact year. During the construction, a pipe shot out from somewhere and went right through his head. However, he did not die for a long time. Now he wanders around the Hayes-Healy dorm, Kunze says. Also he adds, “One time this medicine man was chased down by the Pipe-Headed Ghost and met his ultimate end.”
            Who can say if this ghost story is actually true? Either way, it has affected Kunze, a filmmaker and Media Studies Major, to the point where he now uses ghosts in his film projects. In fact, the film he is working on right now is based off Philip K. Dick’s novel The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, which involves the suicide and ghostly reappearance of the son of a bishop.
            On top of that, Kunze brings up another reason why ghosts may be haunting the school and it has nothing to do with the fact that USF is built over graveyards. According to Kunze, there have been a lot of deaths that have occurred on campus. He says, “There was a boy who died of a cold in one of the dorms, several hushed up suicides, and a double homicide where an eighteen-year-old student was shot in front of Harney.” For Kunze, these deaths mean more ghosts on campus. He says, “If I was a ghost I know I would haunt USF, especially if I died here.”         
            Another strong believer in ghosts as well as an actor in Kunze’s upcoming film The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is Dave Pangaro, the Director of Presentation Theater. Presentation Theatre can be found in the Education Building on USF’s campus. Pangaro, 45, has worked as a Director of Presentation Theatre and before that the Director of Gill Theatre since 1984, and has seen some “strange things” in his time, he says. It is a common thing for theaters to be haunted, according to Pangaro, but hearing his stories could make a skeptic turn into a believer.
            All Pangaro’s ghostly encounters took place at the old Gill Theatre, home to the College Players, which use to exist where the new Kalmanovitz Amphitheatre is now. According to the USF website, Kalmanovitz is the “oldest existing school building on the main campus” and is 80-years-old. It was at this building where a gravestone once stood that read H. Peterson and where students were protected from countless fires, according to Pangaro. It was also at this building where Pangaro changed his mind about believing in ghosts.
            Pangaro says he used the balcony of the old theatre as storage and one day as he was cleaning up the theater he looked up at the balcony and saw three boys’ faces. When he looked back again they were gone. Another time he was in the theatre and a “mysterious” hand that was about 15 ft. off the ground pushed a cloth that was in front of a white wall for about 30 ft, according to Pangaro. Pangaro believes these ghosts to be former students, to be exact, “former College Players members.” He says, “Oh, I absolutely believe that some of them are lost.”
Since he had a grandma who was a psychic, Pangaro says he asked a psychic from the city to come check out the old theater. From this inspection, Pangaro says, “The psychic told me that the stairs leading up to the theater were definitely haunted.” So far there have been no ghostly apparitions in Presentation Theatre, according to Pangaro, and therefore no need for another psychic.     e
            Junior English Major Zoe Bronstein may have had an experience that proves otherwise, at least that there might be paranormal activity in the Education Building. Ironically, Bronstein, 21, was rehearsing in ED040 in the Education Building for Anges of God, a play she directed last year, when a Public Safety officer shared with them personal ghost stories, according to Bronstein. She says, “The officer said he had the duty of locking up at night and once he saw a 6-year-old boy sitting on the stairs right by the vending machine. He said the boy was smiling and then when he turned back the boy was gone.”
            Another thing the officer told the cast was that they get a lot of calls about a woman in a white dress being attacked by a group of men at the base of the Lone Mountain stairs, according to Bronstein. “Apparently, the officers got this call so many times that they thought it was a prank,” says Bronstein. But the officer continued on to say that they found out that this incident actually happened about 150 years ago when USF was still a graveyard, according to Bronstein.
                Director of Public Safety Dan Lawson, 59, backs up Bronstein’s story about the little boy on the stairs. For the past 8 years, Lawson has worked in Public Safety, but actually attended USF as an undergraduate, he says. Even though he never heard of any of the ghost stories while attending the school, now he is constantly talking about the paranormal activity that his officers see on campus, according to Lawson, and therefore was very serious throughout the interview. In fact, he says, “Officers at Education would always report spooky things like doors closing and weird noises being heard.” Yet, he also says, “Our officers appear to have good relationships with the ghosts.” No one has been hurt, according to him.
            Lawson called up Lieutenant Dean Coit, 55, who has worked at USF for about 10 years, and he relayed that “Multiple officers have seen the ghost boy late at night.” According to Coit, he is seen wearing 1940-50s style clothing, is seen walking in the hallways and sitting on the stairs, and comes along with noises and a feeling of cold.
            However many ghost sightings the officers see in Education, Lawson says the nun ghost story is “not true.” He says there was a nun named Sister Anges who went to the women’s college, but that is where the story ends. As for his own belief, Lawson says, “I think there are many possible dimensions, but I think it has more to do with our imagination.” This seems like a contradictory statement considering what his officers convey to him.      
            Fr. Sean Michaelson, 42, coming from a parish meeting, says all the Fathers knew about the nun in Lone Mountain and were “unimpressed by what Public Safety had to say” about the subject. It seems as though the Fathers, at least Fr. Michaelson, enjoy the ghost stories, if not fully believe in the ghosts’ existence. Additionally, Fr. Michaelson talks about one ghost story that Fr. Gagen says is true. According to Fr. Michaelson, Fr. Gagen, the pastor of the parish, heard from one of the people who work in the parish that there was a ghost of a priest praying in St. Ignatius Church. According to the USF website, the church was dedicated in 1914, and one of the largest churches in San Francisco. Fr. Gagen, 57, says this priest was “fully vested for mass” and “walking back and forth at one of the altars along the western side of the church.” When this parish worker went over to see whom the man was, the “priest disappeared,” according to Fr. Gagen.  
            It may be that believing in ghost stories is a mystery for some people. Professor of Psychology Saera Khan, 33, laughs when asked if she believes in ghosts. She says, “Ghost stories are fun because on one level you actually know the fabrications behind the story.” Khan says she doesn’t believe in ghosts, rather, she sees the telling of ghost stories as a way to “bond with people.” She says, “We all seek human connections when scared.”
             After a good laugh she adds, “We might never know if some ghosts stories are real or not. It’s not like we can just ask that dead person about what we just heard about.”

 By Ilyse Liffreing