Though our legends aren't as well known as some other colleges', Franklin and Marshall has spooky stories of its own to share. Happy h(a)unting!
Performing Arts, Lectures
Hensel Hall was constructed in 1925-6 to provide a venue for performing arts, lectures, notable guests, etc. In 2000, the interior was vastly renovated and the entire space was renamed "Barshinger Center for the Performing Arts." Though there are no morbid stories reported about this building, one strange occurence has been reported. Allegedly, if you stand on the stage at night and turn off all the lights, and look out over the empty auditorium, you can see two lights moving slowly back and forth across the back of the auditorium. This has not been confirmed.
Diagnothian Hall was constructed in 1856 and dedicated in 1857 to house Diagnothian Literary Society, a popular college activity of the time. Members would read classic pieces of literature and discuss them, as well as debate and make speeches on important issues of the day. Elected officers conducted meetings with strict procedural and customary rules. Members were not to talk among themselves while another was speaking, and were to remove their shoes at the door and put on slippers to keep the building clean. The "Diags" competed fiercely with the Goethean Literary Society to make both grow and sustain themselves. As fraternities grew in popularity, literary societies lost their fraternal appeal. The literary societies lost their importance as a place to collect books as campuses around the country built central libraries. After the societies became virtually extinct at Franklin and Marshall, Diagnothian housed various other functions, including the College Bookshop from 1926-1959 and the Music Department from 1977-2001. Presently, the Registrar's office uses Diagnothian's first floor and the upper floor is an open large classroom/lecture hall.
A number of years ago, a music professor was working late in his office in first floor Diagnothian. It was around 2:00 in the morning, so no one else was in the building. He was listening to a recording of a Souza duet called "Red Cross Nurse" that he was to later perform with a soprano. The song is about a nurse bandaging soldiers in WWI. As this song played over his stereo, he began hearing sounds apart from the music -- he heard moaning, rattling sounds, and overall, the sounds of a person in intense pain. This came from the other side of his office wall -- the area that is now the main lobby. He turned off the music quickly and ran around the wall to see who was there. The lobby was empty. He later realized the connection between his experience and Diagnothian Hall's history as a Civil War hospital. About 3 or 4 years after his first experience, the same professor was in his office late at night and was playing the piece "Haunted Landscape" by the University of Pennsylvania's George Crumb. Crumb wrote the piece specifically about the battlefield of Gettysburg as it is today and the sense of a "lingering presence" there. The atmosphere of the piece is ambient and quiet. The professor, not realizing at that moment the implications of this piece, played it over his stereo and heard precisely the same sounds as before when he had played "Red Cross Nurse." Reportedly, people who have worked there in a past have heard doors slamming with no one in the building and other strange occurences.
Though Diagnothian seems to be ripe for ghost stories with its rich history, its ghostly occurences have all revolved around its history as a Civil War hospital, and its time as the College Bookshop. Various sources report that Diagnothian was used as hospital for either wounded from the battle of Gettyburg or sick troops from Camp Johnston. Similar ghost stories can be found all over Gettysburg College campus.
Additionally, though it has less actual bearing on the building itself, Edward L. Gibbs, F&M student and convicted murderer of Marion Baker, a secretary in the Treasurer's Office, reportedly worked in the bookstore when it was in Diagnothian in 1950's. After Edward Gibbs murdered Marion Baker in 1950, he was executed in the electric chair at the state prison at Rockview in 1951. (see Stager Hall)
Dietz doesn't have any formal ghost stories, but on September 8th, 1936, workmen found a truck full of dismembered, headless skeletons buried 8 inches below the surface, on the Hartman Green side of Dietz. The workers were obviously shocked, but upon further inquiry, the Biology department reluctantly acknowledged that their Anatomy division used to dissect cadavers in their lab on the 3rd floor of Stager, and these were concluded to be bodies they did not dispose of in a proper manner. The absence of heads was puzzling, but the Student Weekly reminded its readers that many fraternities harbored skulls in their cellars (presumably as conversation pieces). No students have reported ghostly incidents in Dietz-Santee hall. Yet.
Center of the building (over TV room in DSU), but story involves entire building.
One of the oldest buildings on campus, the Gym (now Distler House) was constructed in 1891 as a gymnasium and physical fitness center for Franklin and Marshall College. The upper room (now Personel Offices and Distler Commons) was open and housed an indoor track along the perimeter, wrestling mats in the middle of the floor, and assorted weights, suspended rings, and other 1891 physical fitness equipment. According to the F&M Weekly of April 8th, 1891, the lower floor (now DSU) had a bowling alley, bathrooms, lockers, dressing rooms, and a boiler room. After Biesecker Gym was built in the 1920s, the Old Gym was dubbed Campus House and turned into a student center, with pool and pingpong tables on the top floor. It remained this way until 1943-1994, when the basement was used as a mess hall for the troops on campus, complete with new cooking and refrigeration facilities. In 1976, it was remodeled again and renamed "Distler House" after former F&M president Theodore "Prexy" Distler. The building housed only various adminstrative offices and academic deptartments unti l999-2001, when it was converted again into student use and the bottom floor was renamed "Distler Student Union."
Actually, Distler has no morbid stories that would inspire ghost stories. It would appear to be a good place for ghost stories, considering its uses as student center, hangout, and gym over the years. The "spiritual residue", for those who are into that sort of thing, would be more noticable in Distler than in most other buildings. In addition, Distler's exterior form and appearance has remained virtually intact through the years, leading it to look obviously old and famliar to alumni who see it years later. Distler remains closely connected its past in this way very physical and visual way.
Multiple students and even students in large groups have reported strange noises late in night on the upper floor while they sit in DSU. Students have reported what sounds like squirrels running in circles along the perimeter of the building. The gym had an indoor running track. Most of the most noticiable noises are concentrated over the TV room in DSU. Most people describe those noises as people "moving furniture", "horseing around", "rough-housing". According to pictures of Distler House in its gym days, the wrestling mats were placed squarely over what is now the television room in DSU. As well as wrestling mats for practices, it is proven that wrestling meets were held there until Biesecker Gym was constructed. These noises always occur late at night (11:30-1:30) and usually occur multiple times.
Art Deptartment Offices, Service Learning
2nd floor in particular, or wherever the bedrooms sused to be - but story involves rest of building as well.
John Ahlum Schaeffer, F&M President from 1935-1941 had been involved with Franklin and Marshall College for many years. He graduated from here in 1904 and was a member of Kappa Sigma fraternity and Goethean Literary Society. Later in his life , he came back to be F&M's president. During his time as president, he oversaw the construction of Fackenthal Library and Keiper Liberal Arts buildings. He was described as tall and robust in appearance; and in temperment, he was described as restless and impulsive. He habitually chain-smoked cigars, and used to relieve the stress of being president by leaving the campus at lunch hour and speeding recklessly through the Lancaster County countryside. From 1919 through 1966, Huegel Alumni House served as the college President's residence, so Schaeffer lived there with his family.
On the evening of Sunday, April 6th, 1941, Schaeffer went upstairs early to read in bed. His daughter Mary found him dead around midnight that night, book still in hand. It was later determined that Schaeffer, who was in good health as determined by his doctor, had died of a sudden, tragic, and inexplicable cerebral hemmorage.
From 1967-1985, guests of the college stayed at Alumni house, and some reported strange sensations as they lay in bed at night.
Old Main was built in 1853 to house the newly-merged Franklin and Marshall Colleges. (Shortly afterward, Diagnothian and Goethean Halls were built to house Marshall College's competing literary societies.) It has served as a classroom building, administration offices, chapel, and other uses throughout the years.
As college legend has it, Old Main was built on the site of Lancaster's old "gallows hill". This may be true, because the present site of the college was, in 1853, large expanses of farmland. Old Main is the highest point around Lancaster. Reportedly, towns hundreds of years ago used to hang its convicted felons from the highest remote point outside the town. This way, the townsfolk might look out and see the hanging, and perhaps learn lessons from that. In these senses, this story of "gallows hill" may be true. It's been speculated that the idea of hanging people outside of town may be more accurate with, say, pioneer towns in the west. On the other side, though, there is nothing to contradict these stories. In Mombert's An Authentic History of Lancaster County, he says that convicted murderers and theives were hung "at the usual place of execution ... till [they] be dead." (Mombert 286)
The F&M Gazette in October of 1990 described how the bell of Old Main has been known to ring randomly a number of times in the middle of the night, with no human involvement. Though the bell used to be rung every day at the beginning, end, and changing of classes, now it is only rung for special occasions such as the anouncement of the new president in February 2002.
Classrooms and Offices
Baker/Gibbs case would involve the first or the second floor. Dissecting theater was on third floor.
Stager Hall was redubbed as such in the mid 1980s after extensive renovations. Before that, it had been called "Stahr Hall" after former President Stahr, and before that it was simply "The Science Building". Although the building usually housed classrooms, for a while in mid-20th century it was also the home of the administrative offices.
In Stager's early days as the college's Science Building, the Biology department's Anatomy students dissected cadavers on the third floor. See Dietz-Santee Hall for related story.
The more prominent story in regard to Stager is the tragic murder case of Marion Baker in 1950. Marion Baker, 21, had worked as a stenographer in the Treasurer's office (presumably located in Stahr Hall) since she graduated from high school. She was recently engaged, and lived nearby in a boarding house. Edward Gibbs, 25, was a married F&M senior who lived with his wife in East Hall (currently the Roschel construction site). He studied business, worked in the Campus Bookshop, played football, and was a Sigma Pi brother. He, along with many other F&M men at the time, was a war veteran, having served in Italy during WWII.
On January 10th, 1950, Marion Baker took a bus downtown to run some errands. As she walked out of the post office, she ran into Edward L. Gibbs, who offered to drive her back to campus. She accepted since she knew Gibbs from his frequent visits to the treasurer's office to make deposits for the bookstore. He drove her to a secluded spot to the south of town instead, and strangled and bludgeoned her to death. After her body was discovered and the search intensified for her killer, Edward Gibbs walked into President Distler's office and confessed. During his trial he could only offer "impulse" as his reason for senselessly murdering Marion Baker. After a closely-watched trial, Edward Gibbs was sentenced to death. He was executed in the state's electric chair in 1951.
Possibly due to the extensive renovations over the years, no ghost stories have been reported.
NE corner of 3rd floor (roughly the group study room nearest to College Ave., on the top level), but story involves rest of building as well.
In 1950, students frequently saw a "little old man" who inhabited the NE 3rd-floor attic of Fackenthal Library in his enthusiastic studies of Pennsylvania-Dutch (ie. Pennsylvania- German) Culture. Dr. Harvey Bassler, noted geologist and expert on the Amazon river basin, had developed a passion for the Pennsylvania-Dutch culture five years earlier. He had donated his large collection of Pennsylvania-German artifacts to the Pennsylvania German Society at a meeting at F&M in 1948. His ultimate dream for his collections, tells the Lancaster New Era in an article entitled "Outstanding Pa. German Collection at F.-M. Library", was to house them in a separate building which would serve as a institution for the study of Pennsylvania-German folklore. Bassler, also a director for the Pennsylvania German Society, used the NE corner of the 3rd-floor of Fackenthal Library as his workshop for filing, cataloging, and organizing his enormous collection. Joel Hartman described his relations with Dr. Bassler in a memorium for the Student Weekly(the student newspaper in the 1950s) as such:
"His small frame was humped over a table, and his mind was completely absorbed in the material which lay before him. As we were informally introduced he raised his head, and I saw in his eyes a youthful brightness that was in sharp contrast with the wrinkled features and shaggy white hair. We talked of many things at that first meeting. During the days and weeks that followed I found myself frequently climbing the stairs to his attic workshop , and for my benefit he thumbed back over the pages of his memory, recalling incidents and experiences of earlier days ... now he was spending the reclining years of his life devoted to the conservation of Pennsylvania dutch culture." (Hartman 2)
According to newspapers, Bassler had premonitions that he would die in a car crash, and three days before he died, he wrote a letter to his farm's caretaker, explaining where to find money Bassler owed to him "in the event of my [Bassler's] death". On March 14th, 1950 at 4:15 PM, while transporting another station wagon full of books to his 3rd floor collection, Bassler and Rudolph Hommel died in a tragic three car accident on Lincoln Highway, three miles east of Downington(near Philadelphia). The two historians were returning to Lancaster with their newly-purchased collection of old books to be reviewed and possibly added to the College collection when they struck the open door of a parked car, careened into oncoming traffic, and hit an oil truck head-on. The car was demolished and Dr. Bassler died at 10:00 PM that night at Chester County Hospital in West Chester, PA. His friend Hommel died later from injuries sustained in the accident.
Up through the 1970s and early 1980s, students and staff would report strange sights and sounds in the library at weird hours. Elevators would go to the wrong floors randomly, and staff would arrive in the bookstacks to discover books strewn about, as if someone had just been cleaning. Alas, Dr. Bassler has not been reported nearly as often since the renovations and addition of the Shadek wing from 1981-1983, though students and staff still report odd noises in the middle of the night after the library closes and everyone else has gone home. One student described hearing noises like "people moving furniture" in the southwest corner of the 3rd floor, though she didn't feel threatened. Although Dr. Bassler may have been thrown off by the renovations, he's still reportedly around, as a paternal spirit toward the library.
Wohlsen House was constructed on campus in 1929 as the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity house. It served as such until 1982, when it was renovated and turned into the Admissions Office.
Legends tell that a young man died in Wohlsen House many years ago, either from drowning or from falling down the stairs.
Wohlsen House probably has the best collection of ghostly tales on campus. People have heard doors slamming in the house in the middle of the night when there's no one there. A woman working alone in the basement one night heard a loud BANG on the stairs behind her and found out later about the young man who may have died falling down stairs. Two women were working in the basement one night and saw a man walk into view, then disappear behind a wall. One woman told the other that her husband was here -- but there turned out to be no one there. Sometimes, the lights will all fail at once in Wohlsen House, and someone will yell "Knock it off, Bob!" -- and the lights will turn back on.