Ghosts At Dartmouth
Halloween — the day on which some believe spirits walk the earth again to perform their unfinished business — is only days away. As it turns out, Dartmouth has a fairly extensive history with ghosts, as I discovered looking through the special collections at Rauner this past weekend. Not only was I able to say the sentence “yes, I’d like to see the Ghost File,” with a straight face, but I was able to collect information on a few Dartmouth ghosts to share with you all. Here’s what the Ghost File had to offer.
The Ghosts of Alpha Theta
According to a story by Erika Patrick ’99, a staff writer for The D, the ghosts of seven men haunt Alpha Theta’s basement. On Feb. 25, 1934, when the building was occupied by Theta Chi fraternity, seven brothers and two other men died of carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of a crack in the fraternity’s coal furnace flue-pipe. For the record, the New York Times and Time Magazine covered this event, and it’s considered to be one of the most fatal accidents to occur in the College’s history.
Though the house was demolished in the 1940s to make way for the current Alpha Theta physical plant, people often “feel strange” when they are in the basement. In 1992, a man going through Alpha Theta’s “Sink Night” saw seven men wearing old-fashioned woolen suits taking part in the sink night rituals. While some might dismiss this as a creepier iteration of beer goggles, he was able to back up his story. The brother who saw the ghosts had no prior knowledge of the carbon monoxide accident, but was able to pick out the faces of the men he saw from a copy of the 1934 Aegis. All the faces he pointed out corresponded with the brothers who had died in the accident.
The Ghosts of Panarchy
According an article by Peter Jenks ’05, a staff writer for The D, Panarchy also has some ghosts wandering its house. The poltergeists are attributed to two stories. The first is a gas leak that killed around a dozen or more pledges of the house who were forced to sleep in the attic. There is no other record of this ever happening, so this seems it may just be some old Panarchists trying to steal Alpha Theta’s thunder.
The other story seems to be a little more plausible and dates back to before the building was being used by students. In the 19th century, a local doctor lived in the building with his schizophrenic daughter. Mental illness was highly stigmatized back then, so the daughter was locked in the house attic and periodically beaten by her father before eventually completing suicide. Back in 2002, when the article was written, one Panarchist reported feeling a female presence in the house, as well as feelings of anxiety walking up and down the stairs to the attic.
Satan in Dartmouth Hall
Just one look at the heading of this section should tell you there is zero truth to this story. It seems to have been grandfathered into the Dartmouth ghost lore because it’s a short story written really long ago. The tale appears in an old literary journal called Dartmouth Sketches and was penned by a student in 1871. It covers the exploits of a couple of students who became incredibly bored during Hanover’s winter. Things were so bad that, “tobacco had been thrown aside in disgust and even very liberal potations of the very best old liquors...had not served to raise the spirits of the company to a very hilarious pitch.”
The group becomes so bored that they decide it would be a good idea to summon Satan. Fortunately, two of the students are chem majors, so they know where to get all the ingredients to do this. A third student gets a book from the library that contains the proper spell. The six students brace the cold and go to Dartmouth Hall to perform their satanic experiment.
After some trial and error, they create a small explosion and from the smoke emerges a “small wizen-faced man … on his forehead were two small horns, his feet were unmistakably cloven and a slender barbed tail curved gracefully around his left leg.” The students freak out that their plan actually worked, so they start throwing chairs, books and bottles at him. Satan gets angry and jumps out of the third-floor window of Dartmouth Hall. The next day the boys are arrested and suspended for drunken and disorderly conduct. The story ends with the author, who submitted this story anonymously, writing that “every term two or three saturnalian dances are still held in the third story of Dartmouth Hall, in commemoration of the great event which happened years ago.”
Reading this last story made me realize that none of these stories were put in the Dartmouth ghost file because they were very scary. They were put in the file because they were written down at one point, meaning that there might be Dartmouth ghost stories out there that are too scary for words.