Spirits and Specters at SLU

BY: Olivia White, Features Editor, & Annie Wilcox, Staff Writer

Herring-Cole is one the oldest buildings on St. Lawrence’s campus. It is comprised of Herring Hall, completed in 1870, and the Cole Reading Room, added in 1903 to compliment the stand-alone library.  Tour guides feed prospective students this information during campus visits. They even playfully mention the campus-wide suspicion of paranormal activity in the 100+ year-old establishment. However, the building is quite harmless, as most supposedly haunted locations are, until it is experienced after dark. Perhaps it’s the way the lamplight glints off of the glossy wood, or the countless, seemingly shifting eyes of portraits, peering at visitors through a thin veil of obscurity from their respective places on the walls, that imbues the air of Herring-Cole with an eerie sensation of discomfort.

The bucolic, country atmosphere of St. Lawrence, accompanied by the evocatively elegant architecture of its older buildings, make our alma mater the perfect setting for Stephen King-esque ghost stories and tales of spirits who weren’t quite ready to forfeit their college years. The lore isn’t limited to the brick confines of Herring-Cole, either, but has origins all over campus. In the 1970’s, paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren ventured from their headquarters in Connecticut to SLU to investigate reports of ghostly happenings on 1 Lincoln Street. According to campus myth, Florence Lee Whitman, daughter of former university president John Stebbins Lee, haunts the building to this day. Lorraine corroborated this SLUrban legend when she reported seeing a ghost perusing through the butler’s pantry. More morbid rumors recount the events of suicides committed by troubled souls in residential buildings, such as Dean Eaton and the Kappa Delta Sigma house on Park Street. In both cases, the students chose death by hanging, and it is said that their spirits inhabit their old living quarters to this day. In the case of KDS, according to The Big Book of New York Ghost Stories, authored by Cheri Revai, the spirit makes herself known when one of the current residents is on the phone with a male person. If the spirit detects bad vibes from the guy on the opposite end of the call, she’ll promptly end it. When asking around for scary SLU stories, I was informed twice, by both Nicole Potter ‘15 and Emily Mulvihill ’16, of a first year student who fell out of her lofted bed in her single dorm room, died, and was found weeks later, her body well into the process of decay. Let it be known, the higher the bed, the loftier the consequences.

Without a doubt, however, Herring-Cole has the eeriest reputation. A hot spot for séances and meditation, along with professionally led “ghost hunts”, this study spot is the place to be if you’re looking to make a close encounter of the supernatural kind. Which is exactly what prompted myself and staff writer Annie Wilcox to make a late night trip to the reading room in order to explore its wood-paneled walls and winding balustrades and experience this purported paranormal activity for ourselves. Although we didn’t make it to the catacombs that supposedly exist under the establishment (but if you ever do, please do tell), we did muster up the courage to quickly peek into the basement before summarily losing our nerve. At one point, Annie’s phone, which was sitting on a nearby table, flickered, opened up to the Pandora app, and began softly playing a melodious female voice. Confirmed: ghosts are familiar with modern technology and have no shame in setting the vibe with some mood music when the feeling strikes them. At about one in the morning, moments before we decided to concede to our fright and vacate the premises, we noticed the basement light had suddenly flickered to life, its glow apparent from the top of the narrow stairs. Intrigued, we stepped closer, drawn to a whirring sound that accompanied the sudden illumination. A careful listen revealed that it was the hand dryer in the bathroom. To our knowledge, we were the only humans present, not that it necessarily meant we were alone. Our bravery extinguished, we made like trees and got the hell out of there, one satisfying ghost hunting experience in the books. Confirmed: Herring-Cole is more than a little bit creepy after midnight. But don’t take my word for it, the only real way of confirming if any of these myths are factual is to do some immersive, hands on research of your own.

About the author

Olivia White '17

  • Paul R. Kantor

    Freshman year of college at St Lawrence University, tech week rehearsals for 10-Minute Play Festival taking place at Herring-Cole Reading Room, the school’s original library, a building that will celebrate its 150th year in 2019. This building is also reputed to have quite a few ghosties floating around the rafters.
    One of the plays is called “Visiting Dad”, a short play about a girl taking her new boyfriend to meet her father. The catch is, daddy passed away a few years ago. When the get to the cemetery, boy tries to humor the girl’s delusion that dad will give approval, at least until Dad’s voice starts speaking to him from beyond the grave (I was the Voice of Dad, stowed away on a balcony above the audience and armed with a mic to enhance my already booming delivery).
    At one point, the girl character has a line, “It’s a sign, Mike, the universe puts out these big giant neon signs and we’re just too blind to read them.” During the final dress, the cast for the other plays was hidden from view behind a dressing screen, seated beneath a massive gilt framed portrait of some person long since passed. Soon as that line was delivered, the painting jumped off its hook and just missed crashing down on the heads of all the other cast members. We called it a night after everybody stopped screaming and was able to calm down slightly, saying must’ve been a bad hook or that the wire broke, making excuses. Of course, the wire was fully intact and the hook was still firmly nailed into the wall with no visible damage or wear on it. Luckily, no harm done as we all apologized for any offense to the ghosts as we left.

    • Paul R. Kantor

      Btw, freshman year for me was 97/98