Haunted Colleges: Saint Mary-of-the-Woods

SaintMarysOfTheWoodsWhen it comes to apparitions that truly terrify, few come close to that of the Catholic nun. Enveloped in crisp black cloth which rustles eerily when crossing a room, she naturally presents a dark and ominous specter that becomes human only when one catches a glimpse of her face (sometimes). Now imagine seeing one with only a vast darkness where her face should be – now THAT’S creepy!

That’s what is rumored to prowl the campus of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, a Roman Catholic liberal arts college just northwest of Terror Haute — excuse me, Terre Haute, Indiana!

The oldest Catholic College in Indiana, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods was founded as an academy for young women by Saint Mother Theodore Guerin in 1840, and granted the first charter for higher education of women in the state of Indiana in 1846. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin became Indiana’s first saint after being canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.

So how did the campus become haunted? Well, any institution as old as this one, forged from the wilderness of Indiana by six brave nuns nearly 200 years ago is bound to have its share of legends, and SMWC is no slouch in that department. From the Dark Angel of Guerin Hall and Ghosts of Le Fer to the Black Bird, stories abound about paranormal sightings and encounters. Students have even claimed to have felt ghost touching them while they were sleeping.

The faceless nun, however, is the most well-known and easily recognized of the restless spirits that prowl the campus. As the story goes, one of the sisters at the school had a talent for painting portraits, and spent many an afternoon in Foley Hall capturing every nuance of her current subject at hand, always saving the face for last. Insisting that the face was the most important part of the portrait, she gave it her full attention only after completing all the rest of each painting.

Lacking a subject for a time, the nun decided to do a self-portrait, and spent countless hours working out every detail of her painting until it came time, finally, to recreate her own face. Unfortunately, she fell ill that very day and was rushed to the infirmary. Although the doctors could find nothing wrong with her, she mysteriously died, leaving the portrait unfinished.

Shortly after the nun’s passing, paranormal sightings began to occur, with students and staff reporting a shadowy nun roaming Foley Hall and its courtyard. One of the sisters was said to have heard sobbing coming from the hall where the unfinished portrait stood, still on its easel. Upon entering the room, the sister saw the back of another nun who stood weeping in front of the painting. She moved to comfort her, but as the mysterious nun turned, the sister saw that there was only darkness where the woman’s face ought to have been.

Foley Hall caught fire and was torn down in 1989, but paranormal activity has persisted throughout the campus. In the conservatory next door, pianos are have said to play themselves from time to time.

The lesson to be learned here is, if you’re going to do a self-portrait, for Heaven’s sake, paint the face first!

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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.

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Infamously Haunted Schools and Colleges

Ohio University entrance
Ohio University, one of the scariest places on Earth.

Every year as the nation suffers through the sweltering dog days of summer, high school graduates everywhere are packing their bags with a great deal of excitement and just a modicum of dread, in anticipation of heading off to college. Starting college heralds a whole new chapter in a young person’s life, exposing them to a cornucopia of new experiences, hopefully most good, some bad, and possibly even some paranormal!

In celebration of this time-honored fall ritual, Cutting Edge Haunted House presents a multi-part series of blogs on haunted colleges and universities around the country, starting with Ohio University.

Located on 1,850 acres in Athens, Ohio, this major U.S. public research university was chartered on February 18, 1804 and first opened for students in 1809. As of 2014, Ohio University boasted 39,201 enrollees, equivalent to 30,878 full time students.

According to the British Society for Psychical Research, the town of Athens, Ohio is rated as the 13th most haunted place on Earth, and its famous university is no slouch in the paranormal department either. In fact, there have been so many instances of spooky encounters that the college was featured in an episode of Fox’s “Scariest Places on Earth, hosted by Linda Blair in October of 2000.

One theory for all of the paranormal activity is that five ancient cemeteries form a pentagram around the town of Athens, Ohio.

And while there are a mind-boggling number of places on campus where students and faculty have claimed to see and hear spirits moving about, by far the most famous (or infamous) one is Wilson Hall, said to be located in the exact center of the pentagram.

Room 428 in Wilson Hall has been sealed off, and is no longer assigned out to students. Why? In 1981 a female student reportedly committed suicide in that room, dying in a violent and somewhat perplexing manner. Students who were subsequently assigned to that room claimed to hear footsteps and strange noises. Some purported to witness objects moving on their own, flying off of shelves and smashing into walls.

Campus legend has it that the student who died had spent a good deal of time practicing the occult in her dorm room, attempting to contact the dead and teaching herself astral projection. The circumstances surrounding her death were vague and mysterious, and the subject of much rumor and innuendo.

Deeming the room uninhabitable, University officials finally removed it from service and sealed it off from all access.

That’s just one of many spooky stories surrounding Ohio University; just one of many haunted schools and colleges where not every student has made it out aliveā€¦

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