Hair-raising tales haunt Ohio colleges
Monday, October 31, 2005

Jane Hawes for the COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Ohio Wesleyan University's John Ciochetty -- pictured in a long exposure in Gray Chapel -- collects ghost stories at the school.

DELAWARE, Ohio - Every autumn between midterms and Thanksgiving break, college campuses throughout central Ohio begin to ooze a certain ectoplasmic charm.

Clanking steam pipes become conduits for otherworldly communications.

And that flicker in the corner of the library archives - Is that the ruler-wielding librarian on eternal patrol for sleeping students?

In paranormal circles, the gates of higher education seem to be vortexes into a ghostly realm.

"It's the amount of energy in a place," said Michael Robare, founder of the Central Ohio Paranormal Society." Sometimes (a haunting) could be because of a violent death, but most of it seems to be residual hauntings that are playbacks of past events."

College campuses fill that bill with their occasional tragedies and constant flow of people, said John Ciochetty, a public-safety officer at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware.

In his five years of midnight rounds at the 163-yearold school, Ciochetty has collected enough ghost stories to compile into two volumes with an eye toward getting them published.

"This may be the most-haunted college campus in the country, when you look at it based on square footage," Ciochetty said. "There are very few buildings here that don't seem to have a ghost."

Ciochetty stood on the broad, open stage of Ohio Wesleyan's Gray Chapel using a digital photo in his hands as a road map.

Oak leaves fluttered in the breeze outside. In the pale light of an autumn morning, their trembling shadows danced across the hundreds of empty red-velvet seats.

He pointed to a spot in the rear of the hall.

"Right there is where they were," he said. "Two young boys, talking to each other before they ran away."

The photo depiction differs a bit, showing four whitish blurs at the head of a carpeted aisle, with two rounded blurs above them.

"Their feet and their heads," Ciochetty explained. "They like to scamper around just like children do if they got away from their parents during a show."

Few campuses seem immune to ghost stories.

Kenyon College in Knox County has an especially robust collection of haunted spots, spokeswoman Linda Michaels said.

"There's one story about a ghost you could hear swimming in a dance studio that used to be the swimming pool," Michaels said. "When they opened the new pool, the ghost went with them. I'm not quite sure how that was accomplished."

According to Web sites such as Haunted Places in Ohio, Ghosts of the Prairie and Forgotten Ohio, Ohio State University's Mirror Lake is home to two spirits: a drowned swimmer and a slain jogger.

Jefferson Hall, a dormitory at Ohio University in Athens, reportedly is plagued by "the marble sound" - the noise of hundreds of marbles being dropped on the floor above listeners.

Ohio Dominican University supposedly harbors the ghost of a nun with a penchant for turning off appliances and extinguishing cigarettes.

And the top floor of Denison University's library seems to be the unresting place for a longdead librarian who whacks snoozing students with her ruler.

"Actually, I have been told that a staff member who's no longer here made that one up," Denison archivist Heather Lyle said. "But it is fun, I think."

And the fun factor of fear may be at the root of many ghost stories, Ciochetty acknowledged.

"I always try to debunk the stories, find an explanation for them," he said. "But if you rule everything out and it's still happening, then you have something."