If grocery store candy displays can be taken as an accurate social barometer, fall is dominated by Halloween. And as the weather gets cooler and the holiday draws closer, thoughts of ghosts and the paraabnormal become more prevalent. Lawrence is no exception to this trend, a fact which is seen in the Warch Campus Center Cinema’s movie choices, and this year, in the return to an infrequent Lawrence tradition—the “Haunted Lawrence” tour.
The current guide for the tour, University Archivist Erin Dix, explained a little bit of the history behind it. “My predecessor in this position, the archivist in 2007, developed this haunted Lawrence tour. She had heard a lot of stories, and so she thought it would be fun to gather those together and combine historical information about the campus into a tour. It was really popular, and so we’ve been doing it sort of off and on ever since.”
Dix explained that the reason the archives compile this tour is the link between the paranormal and the past. “I think sort of the root of [the interest in ghosts] is sort of that ghost stories usually have some sort of historical basis and that’s probably why haunted stuff comes out of the archives. Our earliest reporting of a haunting is actually 1899 in the Lawrentian, so it’s not just a modern day phenomenon; it’s something students have talked about for generations,” Dix said.
Dix was careful not to mention any specifics about the stories told on the tour, but she did mention how the anecdotes are compiled. “Any of the stories that are included in this tour that we do, we don’t make them up, they either come from the Lawrentian, other documents we have here in the archives, or they’re from firsthand accounts that we’ve actually gathered from students, faculty and alumni over the past ten years or so,” Dix said.
She was also able to list some of the stops, including “Memorial Hall. We normally stop in Stansbury or Cloak Theaters because there are a lot of stories there, but unfortunately this year they’re both booked. So we’re not going there, but we will talk about them. We go to Main Hall, Ormsby — and not just Ormsby but the Ormsby attic — so that’s kind of a fun thing that students don’t normally get to see. And we try and incorporate less visible parts of campus as part of this tour, we go to some underground areas.”
While Dix admitted that she’s never experienced any haunting on campus, she has heard of some very spooky experiences. “I will say I did one of these tours at a reunion event for alumni, this was maybe four years ago, and someone on the tour said that she had felt a presence in the chapel when we were in there. She identified two ‘discarnate beings,’ was her phrase.” But just because she hasn’t experienced anything out of the ordinary, Dix did not dispel that these kinds of stories could have some merit, adding, “So who can say, I’ve never personally experienced anything, but a lot of the stories that I’ve been told are really hard to explain.”
There were some other incidents that Dix has learned about that didn’t make it onto the tour that she was willing to share. “Stories come from the small guest houses that Lawrence owns that used to be private residences, houses that are used for visiting faculty or staff to live in for short periods of time,” Dix said. “I’ve heard from people there are certain rooms that feel really unnerving for people, people feel their beds shaking…and one thing I’ve mentioned before is that Stansbury has really consistent reports, I’ve heard this from alumni and from security officers, that you hear screaming from in there even when it’s all closed.”
If students are interested in hearing more, they can go to http://www.lawrence.edu/library/archives/haunted_lawrence_tour to sign up for the tour, which is happening next Thursday, Oct. 22. As of Monday, Oct. 12 when Dix was interviewed, 12 of the 20 spots were already filled. The reason for the size of the group, Dix explained, is that “we found that it works best to limit the number of people to come on the tour, because if it’s a really huge group we can’t get into the smaller spaces that are good to go in, so we’re limiting the tour this year…If someone tries to register after we have 20 people it just won’t let them do it.” “It’s a lot of work for me to put together, people don’t always think about the logistical finagling that goes into it, trying to choose a time that works well for people, getting permission from campus safety to go into some of these places, all that kind of stuff takes more time than you might imagine. I think it’s a really cool thing for the archives to do, I think it’s a really fun way to share some of our history.”
If students are unable to go on the tour and are still interested in learning more, Dix encouraged students to stop by the archives during regular hours. Dix said, “I’m happy to talk with people about the stories we have, and if people have stories they want to share with me, I’m always looking for information to add to the tours. So people might want to get in touch.”