31 October 2016

Paranormal Storytime: I Stayed in a Haunted Dorm

This year I discovered the "Paranormal Storytime" genre of YouTube video, in which vloggers share their experiences of supposedly paranormal phenomena. I always like a good supernatural story and believe, to quote a favorite television show, that "in matters of the other world, it's best to keep an open mind." So, for Halloween I thought I'd share a story of something strange I experienced when staying in a college dorm six years ago.

Woman with a Candlestick by Caspar David Friedrich, circa early 19th century

My college experience has taken some unusual twists and turns, and after an unhappy first year at a mid-size regional university I made an impulsive decision to transfer to a tiny women's liberal arts college in the South. Because the decision was so hasty and because I hadn't been able to visit the campus before accepting my offer of transfer admission, I actually changed my mind and withdrew just after orientation before the semester officially began. The strange experience I had on this campus wasn't a factor in my decision, but it's certainly something that I wasn't expecting.

One of the things that really attracted me to this school was its rich history and beautiful setting. The college is situated on thousands of acres of land that had been a plantation in the early nineteenth century. At the turn of the twentieth century, the plantation was converted into a school for young ladies in honor of a daughter of the family who died at the age of sixteen. Dozens of the buildings added to the campus in the early twentieth century are on the National Register of Historic Places, even though the original plantation house is no longer standing. During my orientation, I chose to attend an optional architectural tour of the campus that showcased these buildings as well as the remains of the plantation--the most notable and sobering of which were the graves of slaves who had worked there.

Of course, any place with any degree of history is bound to accumulate a few ghost stories. I heard several during my orientation, including tales of how the founders' daughter lingered on campus after her tragic death and stories of a haunted portrait in the school library. I enjoyed these stories for what they were--just stories--and got on with my orientation concerned with matters more practical than paranormal.

Because I was a transfer student, my housing situation was somewhat unique. My roommate and I were assigned to an upperclass dormitory, a beautiful four-story brick building built in the early twentieth century with hardwood floors and big closets in every room. Since orientation for first-years and transfers began before returning students arrived on campus, my roommate and I were the only students in residence for several days. Our room was on the third floor, and an adult resident advisor occupied a room on the first floor.

I was a little nervous to be in a strange, new place and sharing a room with a stranger, so I was up rather late my first night watching Gilmore Girls on a portable DVD player on mute with the subtitles turned on. (This was only 2010 but I've always been way behind the times with technology.) My roommate seemed to fall asleep before me, or at least was quiet and still in the bed across the room. When I finally turned the DVD off and closed my eyes, I laid awake for quite some time trying to adjust to my surroundings. The room, the dormitory, and the surrounding campus were almost silent--until I heard the sound of footsteps and furniture scraping across the floor overhead.

I checked the time on my phone and saw that it was past midnight. I knew that my roommate and I were the only students in residence, and the resident advisor's room was below us on the first floor. I considered and dismissed several explanations: Could college staff be bringing in furniture in preparation for the returning students' arrival? But what would they be bringing into rooms that already had all the basic furnishings, and why would they be working so late when the rest of the students wouldn't arrive for days? Could the R. A. be rearranging things? But then, why would she, particularly in the middle of the night? Could I have imagined it? No, the sounds were distinct in the silent building and went on for several minutes. Odder still, when the sounds stopped I heard neither the footsteps of anyone on the stairwell nor the mechanical whirs of the ancient, noisy elevator right outside my room.

The next day I pushed the odd, unexplained sounds from my mind and continued with my orientation. However, I heard them again around the same time that night, and again on the following night as well. I didn't mention them to anyone for fear of sounding silly or paranoid, until one day my roommate and I got to talking about the orientation ghost stories. Like me, my roommate was open-minded about ghosts in general but noncommittal about the rumored ghosts of the college in particular.

But then she asked me if I had heard the footsteps and furniture moving overhead.

Obviously I couldn't have imagined the sounds if my roommate had heard them independently. After talking it over, though, we still couldn't think of any logical explanation for what we had heard. The sounds continued for another night or two until the returning students moved in, and after that any sounds we might have heard could easily be attributed to other residents or covered up by their late night chatter and music.

To this day I cannot think of a satisfactory explanation for those sounds--except, that is, for one that requires a very open mind.

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