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