Many volumes have been written on Cornell’s history, alumni and traditions. But a new book takes a fresh look at the University that’s based on one theory: that Cornell is haunted.
According to Matthew Swayne, the author of “America's Haunted Universities: Ghosts That Roam Hallowed Halls,” which will be released on October 8th, Cornell is one of the nation’s most haunted universities. The list includes big state schools like Penn State University, small private colleges and Ivies Cornell and Harvard. Most of the book’s stories are based on legends and first-hand accounts from students, alumni and faculty members.
Swayne said that Cornell is haunted because it has all the necessary elements of great ghost stories, including its long history, abundance of traditions and great diversity among students and faculty. He claims that these elements ultimately facilitate the tradition of ghost stories to build a sense of community.
Although Swayne said that there are not many stories about ghosts on Cornell’s campus, he found some “interesting and creative” tales surrounding the University. These places are, surprisingly, some of the most unlikely locations on campus. First among them is Willard Straight Hall, where a staff member once allegedly encountered a ghost in tuxedo. McGraw Tower, according to legend, is visited by the ghost of Jennie McGraw, whose body is interred in Sage Chapel. Ecology House is also said to be haunted by ghosts since a fire killed nine people in the building in 1967.
A few Cornell faculty members have said they have encountered ghosts on campus, according to Swayne. Prof. Hiram Corson, English, is said to have communed with the spirits of dead poets, like Robert Browning and Henry Longfellow.
“So, Cornell can now say that they’re the home of a real dead poet’s society,” Swayne said.
Swayne asserted that the haunted folklore is not meant to frighten students. Rather, each story actually serves as a source of a university's traditions and enhances its sense of community.
“On a college campus, where students come and go every year, ghost stories become a way to create a sense of community and pass on the history and morals of the institution,” Swayne said.