Ever since I first came to Whittier College, I’ve heard stories about the campus being haunted. At first, I dismissed the rumors and did not think they were important. I thought that upperclassmen were spreading rumors as a joke. But, as the months went on, I kept on hearing more stories. When the school reopened after the pandemic, I was surprised as the topic of hauntings and haunted buildings came up again. So, I decided to investigate. I asked a few students about their experiences with hauntings, and I was quite surprised by what I found.
The first student, who graduated in the spring of 2019, stated that, when she was living on campus, she experienced some spiritual activity in the upstairs area of Harris D. She was living there her senior year. One night, after she’d been up late with her friends, she went to the bathroom to get ready for bed. It was 2:00 a.m., and she was alone in the bathroom. She said that, while she was there, she “suddenly felt like someone was behind [her].” It was a taller person, and she could feel their presence. She “felt like someone was breathing down my neck.” However, when she looked up, there was no one in the mirror. As more time passed, “the bathroom got eerily quiet, and the buzzing noise with the lights stopped, but the lights were still on.” When she got back from the bathroom, she told her friends about her experience. They also believed in spirits and supernatural forces. One of them, who was Catholic, “took out her rosary and started praying.” The other, who “was into herbalism and holistic healing, started getting out all of her herbs. She put together a sachet of herbs for me to ward off nightmares and bad energy.” According to this student, sachets are part of a larger historical practice. She said, “People who believed in herbs and healing would put together little pouches of herbs that could be carried in their pockets and purses or be placed in their homes. Depending on the herbs, they could be for nightmares, good luck, protection of the home, and/or warding off evil spirits.” Apart from that unsettling experience, this student has not claimed to have experienced any noticeable spiritual activity in other residential buildings on campus. The only major way the hauntings have affected her is through heightening her sense of awareness. She stated that she “didn’t feel comfortable in certain areas late at night on campus,” and that she “was much more aware of any weird noises or feelings that she had.” In the future, she knows that “this sense of awareness will follow her.”
The second student, fourth-year Scout Mucher, had many things to say about her experiences with hauntings while living in the Wanberg dormitory. She even said that, “My belief in ghosts has definitely increased since coming to campus. I think that a lot of the stories I’ve heard that I take seriously now are things that I wouldn’t have believed before. I was very ambivalent before coming to college.” When Mucher first came to campus, she heard stories about ghosts from her friends who were living in Wanberg. During her freshman year, when she was living in Ball Hall, her friends were living on the second floor of the east wing of Wanberg. While they were living there, she “heard stories about them feeling a weird presence.” One of her friends even cleaned their room with sage, and it was rumored that the cross in her room fell off the wall when she did that. Later in Mucher’s freshman year, she had other friends who were living in the same wing of Wanberg. That year, during Thanksgiving break, they were living there alone. One evening, “One of them went to the bathroom while the other stayed in the dorm room. While my friend was in the bathroom, she heard her name whispered in her ear. Immediately afterwards, she went back to the dorm room and asked her roommate if she had been in the bathroom. Her roommate, who looked white as a sheet, responded that she hadn’t. But she did ask her if she had knocked on the door earlier. Apparently, while the other roommate was in the bathroom, the one who stayed in the room heard a knock on the door. When she opened the door and looked out, the hallway was empty.” While that story may seem chilling, the curiosity that those stories induced became far more prevalent once Mucher moved into Wanberg the following year.
That year, she had moved in about a week before everyone else, and during that week, she experienced some supernatural activity in her dorm room. She said, “That year, I also lived on the second floor. One night, when I felt as if I had woken up just before a dream, I opened my eyes, looked down at the foot of my bed, and saw a woman standing there. She was wearing a blue dress, and I’m not sure if she had legs because she didn’t look solid. I freaked out, flicked on the lights, and, of course, nobody was there. Even though I was alarmed and startled in the moment, after it happened, I wasn’t scared. I felt very calm after the experience. It didn’t feel like the spirit was there to hurt me.” However, this was not Mucher’s only experience with the supernatural. A few days before that, she “had been hearing knocks on my door, and, when I opened it, the hallway was empty.”
The main way that Mucher and the former student differed was in their beliefs. Mucher stated that she “wasn’t sure if she could say whether she believed in ghosts or not. I think if ghosts are real, then there are far more benign ghosts than there are malevolent ones. For the most part, I try and treat them with respect and take them seriously. I don’t know what they’ve been through, I don’t know what their story is, and I’m not trying to piss off any ghosts.” The former student, on the other hand, very firmly believed in ghosts. She said, “I don’t always think that they’re malevolent, though. I think that there’s a veil between this world and the next, and that it can be very easy for things to just cross over, both from that side to here and from this side to there. So, there are people who can gain glimpses from this world into the next.” In addition, this student also grew up with Santeria, brujas, and brujería because of her Cuban heritage. She was also well-versed in atheism, Catholicism, and Christianity due to the influences of both her parents. In fact, her Cuban heritage and her knowledge of various religions heavily influenced her personal beliefs in ghosts and the supernatural. In regards to her personal beliefs, she stated that, “I don’t consider myself to be particularly religious, because I don’t think that organized religion personally works for me. But, I do consider myself to be spiritual, and to believe in a multitude of spiritualities.” However, in one case, the two parts of her world came together in a very specific way and further cemented both her own and her family’s beliefs in the supernatural.
This student told me that, from the time she was very young, she had a gold necklace with various types of charms on it. “Especially in my family, every Cuban child got this gold necklace with different charms on it,” she said. “The different charms symbolize different things. There’s, of course, a cross because my grandparents were Catholic, and there’s a little black stone that we call azabache. It essentially means the evil eye, and it’s supposed to ward off any bad intentions or bad looks that people might give to a baby. . . . Me, my brother, and all my cousins got one as soon as we were born. I did not wear mine for a lot of my childhood. When I first received the necklace as an infant, there were multiple times where my parents would put me down to go sleep in my crib and the necklace would be latched around me. When they came back to check on me later, I would still be asleep, but the necklace would be underneath my crib still latched. It was almost as if someone had slipped it off and put it underneath my crib. At one point, my Nana [her grandmother on her mom’s side of the family] took the necklace away from my mom and put it away in a drawer. Her belief was that I was already being protected and the necklace was interfering with my protection. She believed that I did not need the protection that the necklace provided, that something or somebody was already protecting me, and that whatever it was didn’t want the necklace on me. By wearing the necklace, forces were battling against each other. She put it away until I got older to just let whatever was protecting me do its job. . . . I didn’t get the necklace back until I was about three or four years old. But, as I was growing up, it would constantly fall off of me. I finally lost it when I was about eight years old on a day when I was out running at school in the field. I never found it again. But my brother still has his and all my cousins still have theirs.”
Despite the various experiences each student has had with the supernatural, it is clear that their experiences have been very distinct. Whether or not the students’ differences in belief led to a stronger connection to the supernatural is another question entirely.
The third student, fourth-year Teresa McGlothlin, also experienced some spiritual activity while she was living in the Wanberg dormitory. “Wanberg Hall has a ton of spiritual activity,” she said. “I was hearing my name whispered when no one was around. My friends also experienced this as well, so I knew I wasn’t crazy! Additionally, I was using the treadmill in Wanberg Hall and I felt the room get freezing cold, heard my name whispered in an eerie voice, and then, suddenly, the treadmill stopped. I consulted my shaman friend and she believed that it was spiritual activity.” In fact, this shaman friend is the main reason why McGlothlin believes in spirits. She stated that this shaman “told me little known facts about my ancestors that only my family knows about.”
While all of these stories are intriguing and frightening, they still bring us back to one important question: Are the ghosts on campus real? Some could argue that the experiences and candor of the students is ample evidence. However, at the end of the day, we may never truly know whether or not the ghosts are real. We have to accept that we cannot control the tangibility of their existence. But the thing we can control is what we choose to believe. When all else fails, the decision to believe in the ghosts and to treat the dead with respect is up to us.
Featured Image: Courtesy of whittier.edu