Smith College Ghost Stories (Undergoing Revisions)
In an institution that has been around as long as Smith College, one would naturally expect myths and legends to grow. Although some stories are more well-known than others, many houses have unique traditions of hauntings that have sprung up over the years, ranging from the romantic to the perplexing.
150 Elm Street
150 Elm Street gives an example of the less well-known but endemic traditions of ghosts many houses have. Although there is no specific “house ghost,” one resident was kind enough to share her recollections.
As she recounted, one event involved the bathroom broom-closet door constantly being open, even when no one opened it. After asking Ms. Clara, the previous, deceased owner of the house, to keep it closed, it remained closed.
Another event in 150 Elm Street found mysterious knockings from the ceiling and walls in one of the upstairs bedrooms after the lights were turned out. The resident could not discover the cause of the noise, and attributed it to a “goodnight” message.
The final incident occurred on the second floor. A group of residents was waiting for their friend who lived on the second floor. Moments after locking her door, she realized she had left something she needed in her room, and turned back to get it. Upon unlocking the lock, she found she could not open her door, as a bookcase next to it had been moved so that it wedged the door shut from the inside of what had been an unoccupied and locked room. They eventually managed to open the door, but no mechanism for moving the shelf was found. (1)
There are no ghost stories in Albright House. (2)
While there is no historic evidence to support ghost stories in Baldwin House, residents still claim hauntings occur. Most stories center around the attic and upper stories. Fourth-floor residents (the highest floor) recount hearing noises ranging from footsteps to banging to the dragging of large objects in the attic late at night on numerous occasions, although examination at the time found the attic door locked.(3) One story has damp footsteps leading from the old location of the forth floor bathroom, which had changed some years prior, to the attic. (4) One resident had the attic door slam shut as she was about to enter the attic, (5) and another had the attic lights turned out only to find no one there. Similarly, residents’ lights on the third floor have turned on and off for no apparent reason. (6) Finally, one past resident reportedly saw a translucent figure walk through her wall, pause at her roommate’s bed, and exit through the other wall. (7) Popular rumor has it that hauntings are caused by one of the old house-mothers, and that she turns off lights to tell students studying late at night to go to sleep. (8)
Chase House is the home of perhaps the most gruesome ghost story of Smith College. As the story goes, prior to the house’s acquisition by the college in 1968, and even prior to its establishment as a girls’ school in the 1870s, (9) it was a boarding house for single working women. (10) One of the boarders became pregnant out of wedlock, and in order to disguise her shame, she had a friend kill the baby immediately after its birth, and subsequently killed herself. As an article in the Sophian put it, “In death, she was reunited with her baby and now she carries it in her arms as she traverses the house. Her footsteps are clearly heard, and so are the occasional wails of the baby.” (11)
A 1973 Sophian article asserts that the spirit of the girl who the fountain in front of Burton is modeled after haunts Clark House. “…is supposedly a memorial in the likeness of a girl who died while a resident of Clark—shot by a jelous lover.” (12) However, the inaccurate rendering of the story of the fountain (the girl in fact died of a sudden illness) calls the story into question.
There are no ghost stories in Gillett House. (13)
Northrop’s ghost story is a romantic one. As the tale goes, a Northrop resident, known only as “Francine,” went to Italy one her Junior year abroad and fell in love with an Italian named Francino. They remained in corresponded and planned to elope, but the letters abruptly stopped. Francine was heartbroken and disappeared, finally being presumed dead. The rocking chair she left behind was said to have been observed rocking without anything to move it. The Sophian notes that a girl in 1968 with Francine’s room witnessed the phenomenon with her own rocking chair. (14) However, no records of a missing Smith student by the name of Francine were available. (15)
There are no ghost stories in Parsons House. (16)
Park House’s ghost story is based in fact. It features the tragic story of the accidental death of one of the residents, Jeanne M. Robeson, in 1925. Robeson, a senior, was found in the third floor kitchenette on November 13th, dead of asphyxiation. (17) She had been in the kitchenette in the evening to do ironing and had turned on the gas stove, but before she could light it, she either tripped or fainted and hit her head. She remained unconscious for the night, and was slowly asphyxiated by the gas from the stove. (18) Because the door to the kitchenette and nearby bedrooms were closed, no residents noticed the smell of the gas until the morning, when she was discovered. (19) Robeson’s spirit is believed to still haunt Park House.
The most well-known Smith ghost story by far is that of Sessions House. The building is one of the oldest in Northampton, dating from the 1751 when it was built by Lieutenant Hunt. The origins of the ghost story date to the Revolutionary War. As the story goes, after his capture by the revolutionaries in 1777, General John “Gentleman Johnnie” Burgoyne, a general of the British army, was held as a prisoner in Sessions house, (20) where he fell in love with Lucy, one of the lieutenant’s daughters. (21) Because he was a British soldier, the love was forbidden, but rumor has it that the lovers still met on a secret staircase hidden in the house as an escape route during Indian attacks. (22) Eventually, General Burgoyne returned to England. The fate of his lover is less clear—legend has it that Lucy went into a decline and eventually died, or even that she was actually an entirely different woman, Martha Henshaw, who married and lived happily with her husband Samuel Henshaw. (23) Accounts are given of the ghosts in Sessions House. One holds that General Burgoyne still wanders Sessions House looking for his love, (24) while the other has the two ghostly lovers still rendezvousing on the secret stair. (25) In fact, the secret stair is not just a romantic fiction, but a real feature of Sessions house. A long standing tradition, started by Session’s first house mother, is to have new residents of Sessions search for the staircase on Halloween each year. (26)
As the president of Talbot House reports, “Talbot House has two ghosts. The first is a mysterious woman in white who runs across the porch late at night. She has also been seen standing under the streetlights in front of the house, as well as the light in the parking lot between Talbot and Lamont. She is always in a white dress, almost like a wedding gown. She has long brown hair, and is of average height. When she runs across the porch, she jumps over the rail and disappears. When seen under the streetlights and in the parking lot, the woman in white stares off vacantly, until she acknowledges your presence. Then she disappears.
The better-known ghost in Talbot House is Thomas. Thomas was a little boy who was killed by his “friends” when the house was used by the Bessie Capen School. Because Thomas was chubby, and not as quick as the other boys, he was teased and mistreated by his peers. One winter, the boys were playing a game of hide and seek, and they asked Thomas to play. He was overjoyed by the invitation, since the boys were generally not nice to him, and he joined in the game. Unfortunately for Thomas, the boys’ invitation was just another cruel joke. When the game started, two of the boys led Thomas up to the attic. They told him to go in first, and they would come in behind him. Instead, they slammed the door shut as soon as he was up the stairs, and ran away. A few days later, Thomas was reported missing. When the teachers came to the attic, they found Thomas, who had died of dehydration. Thomas still lives in Talbot. Before the attic was locked, Thomas would frequent the 4th floor bathroom. He would turn on the faucets, flush the toilets, and was sometimes seen washing his hands. One Family Weekend, a mother had an entire conversation with Thomas. As she walked out of the bathroom, she turned back to say goodbye to Thomas. He had disappeared. Since the attic has been locked, Talboteers residing on the 4th floor can hear footsteps and running through the ceiling. Sometimes there are faint knocking sounds at the attic door.” (27)
There are no ghost stories in Tenney House. (28)
Wilder House is said to be home to a ghost named “Gloria,” the spirit of a student who hung herself in a downstairs room. (29) As a Sophian article from the 1970s states, “No one knows of any apparent reason for her death, though of course an unhappy love affair is suspected.” The report continues on to note that Gloria’s spirit is thought to have remained in Wilder, and that her footsteps are still heard in the attic. (30) According to the article, at one point a recording of those footsteps was made by a student. It should be noted that there are no records of a suicide in Wilder House in the archives. (31)
1. Stark, Lisa. Personal Interview by Kaitlin Hovanes. 14 Feb 2010.
2. Hoke, Kelsey. Personal Interview by Kaitlin Hovanes. 24 Feb 2010.
3. Holley, Anna. Personal Interview by Kaitlin Hovanes. 12 Feb 2010; Baker, Ellie. Personal Interview by Kaitlin Hovanes. 12 Feb 2010.
4. Baker, Ellie. Personal Interview by Kaitlin Hovanes. 12 Feb 2010.
6. Hill, Amanda. Personal Interview by Kaitlin Hovnes. 12 February 2010.
9. “Chase House.” //Living at Smith.// http://www.smith.edu/sao/reslife/houses/chase.php
10. “Students Return to Former Haunts”
11. “Students Return to Former Haunts”
12. “Students Return to Former Haunts”
13. Sargent, Natalie. “Smith History Research.” Message to Kaitlin Hovanes. 21 Feb 2010. E-mail.
14. “Students Return to Former Haunts”
15. Missing Persons Folder, Disaster Box (double check this)
16. Mueller, Sarah. “Smith History Research.” Message to Kaitlin Hovanes. 10 Feb 2010. E-mail.
17. News clipping (no title), 13 Nov 1925. Accidents folder, Disaster Box.
18. News clipping (no title), 13 Nov 1925. Accidents folder, Disaster Box.
19. “Smith College Senior Found Dead in Room.” Accidents Folder, Disaster Box.
20. “Ghost Still Haunts Secret Passage,” Smith College Weekly, 19 June 1929.
21. “Legends of Historic Sessions House Reveals Added Attraction in Staircase,” Smith College Weekly, 11 Nov 1939.
22. “Ghost Still Haunts Secret Passage,” Smith College Weekly, 19 June 1929.
24. “Legends of Historic Sessions House Reveals Added Attraction in Staircase,” Smith College Weekly, 11 Nov 1939.
25. “Secrets of Sessions House Centered at Staircase,” Giselle Bawnik, Sophian, 22 Feb 1973.
26. “Legends of Historic Sessions House Reveals Added Attraction in Staircase,” Smith College Weekly, 11 Nov 1939.
27. Devlin, Kai. “Smith History Research.” Message to Kaitlin Hovanes. 3 Mar 2010. E-mail.
28. Mokey, Rebecca. Personal Interview by Kaitlin Hovanes. 12 Feb 2010.
29. “Students Return to Former Haunts”
30. “Students Return to Former Haunts”
31. Suicides Folder, Disaster Box