We’ve all heard them before: the story of the security guard whose ghost wanders through Old Main on his nightly rounds, the swimmer who drowned in the old pool and now searches for the locker room, and countless other stories of figures haunting the campus after their untimely deaths. The fact is, ghost stories at Gustavus are nothing new, yet we remain fascinated by them and continue to retell these stories year after year.
Sean Cobb, Professor of Film Studies in the English Department, offers insight into why we continue to fixate on stories of ghosts and ethereal encounters.
“Ghost stories are actually fairly traditional in most societies and have roots in oral cultures, so it’s not surprising to hear of ghost sightings here and elsewhere,” Cobb said. “Notice that it’s always ghosts and never a zombie or a vampire. That’s because ghosts link us to the past, to tradition.”
Therefore, we can think of the prevalence of ghost stories in terms of the past haunting the present.
“Think of what it means to haunt. It means to visit and to occur again. Haunting has a dual, almost contradictory status–ethereal and without substance, yet pervading and always present. In the case of ghosts, it’s the return of our repressed past in the form of unresolved apparitions,” Cobb said.
Ghosts and monsters in society today are understood as projections of psychological and social deadlocks, fears, and anxieties, according to Cobb.
“Most horror films today seem to understand that we, ourselves, are the monsters and ghosts; whether it’s The Others or Warm Bodies, the horror genre portrays the self as an Other, to paraphrase the poet Arthur Rimbaud. Projection is a mechanism to psychically deal with the unknown, mysterious and repressed aspects of our identities and society’s historical blind spots,” Cobb said.
So whether you believe in ghosts in the literal sense or understand them as projections of society’s fears, ghost stories will endure throughout time (just like the otherworldly spirits themselves) because of their link to tradition – and let’s face it, everyone loves a good ghost story.
The Woman In Rundstrom
We all know the Rundstrom Chapel is not the most inviting place on campus, but to make things spookier, a woman is supposed to have committed suicide in the Rundstrom basement ages ago. Her ghostly figure is said to glide through the building, occasionally making her presence known to unsuspecting students.
The Old Main Security Guard
One night, one of the former chaplains, Chaplain Alvie, was working late in his office in Old Main when exhaustion got the best of him and he dozed off at his desk. After a short while, a security guard’s voice drew him out his slumber. The security guard popped his head into Chaplain Alvie’s office and told him he ought to go home since it was so late.
The Chaplain agreed, and began to pack up his things. Then, as he was putting the last of his books into his bag, he stopped short – he ran to the hall, but no one was in sight. It wouldn’t have been quite so odd if the security guard hadn’t been dead for over a year. Chaplain Alvie never saw him again, despite many late nights spent in his office.
They say you can sometimes see lights flickering on and off throughout Old Main – the security guard doing his rounds through the building, as he did every night before his death.
The Wandering Swimmer
According to rumors, a young St. Peter man drowned in the old pool in the 1930s. When the pool was renovated into the Dive after Lund Center was completed in 1985, the ghost of the young man could no longer find the locker rooms. He is believed to wander the Campus Center, in search of the locker rooms that he once knew so well, wishing to change out of his cold, wet swimsuit and dry his hair.
The Ghost Rider
Have you ever been studying in the basement of the library late at night, only to notice the presence of a Native American on horseback knocking down the shelves? It’s unlikely you would have, ever since the library became “ghost-rider accessible”.
Late one night a number of years ago, a student security guard opened the door to the bottom floor of the library, only to see a Native American on horseback riding between the stacks of books. The next morning, library employees found books strewn across the floor in certain areas. This lasted for a period of ten years in different parts of the library, suggesting it wasn’t just a student prank.
After the tornado hit in 1998, the library needed re-carpeting, so the staff took the opportunity to widen the bookshelves to increase handicap accessibility. Employees never again found books strewn across the floor. The Native American and his horse could finally ride through the shelves at night peacefully.
The Cow On 3rd Floor Old Main
Legend has it that a number of years ago, a few rowdy pranksters rounded up an innocent cow and herded it through campus to Old Main. They led the cow up the stairs and left it there for the professors to find. However, cows can go up stairs, but cannot go back down them, so the cow met its fate on the third floor of the building, and the college had to shoot the cow. Ever since, the cow’s restless spirit roams the third floor of Old Main, and you can occasionally hear its distant, desolate mooing in the midst of the night.
Rundstrom Ghost Encounters
Last year I was living in Rundstrom with my roommate Joe Haas. As I was getting ready for bed, I got under the covers, set my alarm, and closed my eyes. Then suddenly my room door jolted open. I stood up immediately and checked the hallway to see if anyone had opened my door, but no one was in sight. So I checked the windows to see if they were open, wondering if a draft had blown it open, but the windows were shut.
I became very nervous, having heard stories from people who have lived on third floor Rundstrom before, stories where people had doors open and close on their own as they approached them. And roommates waking up to what they thought was an outline of a woman standing over their bunk bed and then vanishing. So I went to bed, still feeling nervous. A couple hours later in my sleep, I felt as if two hands grabbed my head from behind just above my ears and kept me from sitting up. I woke up instantly in a panic contemplating on how real that had just felt. I laid in bed feeling very anxious and couldn’t fall asleep until the morning.
I am not easily scared, but in the spring of 2012, I was working in the Rundstrom basement common room in the wee hours of the morning. I had not seen or heard anyone walking around for hours. Over the course of a couple minutes, loud, strange, wailing noises started coming from the vent near the ceiling and the chapel that sounded like howling and laughing, and it wasn’t the building vent system turning on. Needless to say, I got out of there fast!
Zach Van Orsdel
I was moving into Rundstrom early this summer, alone, when the hallway lights turned off. The fuse box was locked so I couldn’t turn them on, which made it quite dark in the dorm. I had been unpacking everything in my room for about an hour or two, when a phone started ringing in one of the rooms at the end of the hall, so I decided to go down and answer it to see who it was. As I reached for the phone, I heard some scratching noises, like a mouse in the walls, and when I picked it up, all I heard was the dial tone. I just shrugged it off and went back to my room. Seconds after getting back to my room, the same phone started ringing again, so I figured I just missed the caller. As I reached for the phone, I heard the same scratching noises, and when I picked up the phone, it was just the dial tone again. I went back to my room and seconds after getting back, the same phone started ringing again.
This time, I didn’t answer it and it rang for about a minute before stopping. I left five minutes after that. I went back the next morning and within seconds of getting into my room, the same phone started ringing again. At this point, I stood in the hallway and said that I just wanted to unpack quickly and I’d be gone as fast as I could and didn’t want to cause any trouble. For the next hour I was there, it didn’t ring.
The last experience with this was when I told the story to my floor during a meeting, and the second I got done telling the story, the exact same phone started ringing. Also, some friends told me that the phone in that same room made a 911 call at 3 a.m. last year when the phone cord wasn’t plugged in…