The Haunting of Pemberton Hall

Pemberton Hall

After nearly 100 years, two tortured spirits still roam the dormitory of Pemberton Hall at Eastern Illinois University.

In the early 1900s, few women went to university let alone actually resided on campus, so the groundbreaking of Pemberton Hall at Eastern Illinois University in 1909 was truly a groundbreaking event. Named for Illinois State Senator Stanton C. Pemberton, the building was the first residence hall to provide on-campus housing for female college students in the state and is registered as a historic landmark.

Designed to house approximately 100 students, Pemberton Hall featured a spacious first-floor parlor that was a popular spot for parties and meetings on campus. The building also featured a fourth-floor music room, which was the scene of a horrific crime which would lead to nearly 100 years of paranormal occurrences.

On a bitterly cold winter’s night one January around the year 1917, student counselor Mary Hawkins was awakened by a faint scratching at her door. Not much older than her charges, Mary was a popular young woman with long blonde hair and a sunny disposition. But what she would find at her door that night would change her life forever.

Just a few hours earlier, one of the residents of the dormitory, restless and unable to sleep, had made her way to the fourth floor in order to soothe her jangled nerves by playing softly on the piano. With her back to the door, she was unaware of the arrival of her attacker, thought to be a campus janitor who had somehow gained access to the building.

Brutally beaten, raped and left for dead, the young woman somehow managed to drag her mangled body back down to the residence floor, where she spent the agonizing last moments of her life desperately scratching at doors, trying to awaken the sleeping students, to no avail. Her trail of bloody handprints ended at Mary’s door, where she finally succumbed to her injuries.

A light sleeper, Mary Hawkins was awakened by the sounds and rushed to her door but was too late to do anything but break down in tears at the sight of the murdered student. She was so distraught over the loss of her charge that she sank into a deep depression, was finally institutionalized and eventually committed suicide.

Soon after the killing, students began to report hearing the sounds of scraping in the hallway at night, faint scratching at their doors, and soft piano music coming from the fourth floor. Although the music room was locked and the fourth floor was converted to a storage attic, the old piano remained, and was thought to be the source of the ghostly tunes. After Mary’s suicide, students reported hearing her pacing the hallways, as she had done in the months after the murder, racked with guilt and despair over the young student’s demise.

In the early 1960’s, Pemberton Hall was expanded with the addition of a new section, and now houses as many as 200 students in single, double and triple rooms. A plaque in the foyer is dedicated Mary Hawkins, and each new generation of students quickly learns of her legacy, and of the many ghostly sightings of Mary pacing the halls, bloody hand prints on the walls and vanishing pools of blood in the hallway where the unfortunate girl was found.

Her murderer was never captured.