Scaredy 'Cats

    Frightening tales of ghosts and ghouls are an autumn tradition, but spooky Northwestern stories are surprisingly hard to come by. We dug deep into the past to bring you two haunting Evanston legends.

    Photo from the University Archives / North by Northwestern

    Dearborn Observatory

    More than 100 years ago, supernatural activity was reported outside of Dearborn Observatory. A 1907 edition of The Northwestern - the former title of The Daily Northwestern - describes a group of students witnessing “a tall black figure stalking solemnly parallel with the frightened watchers” late at night.

    As the group continued to walk, they kept an eye on their frightening visitor. When the figure approached a bright, moonlit spot, the group eyed it eagerly, hoping to catch a glimpse of who it was. Instead, the figure stopped just short of the light, stood perfectly still and sunk into the ground.

    Skeptics emerged as the tale spread around campus the following day. But few doubted the story after students at the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary were able to confirm the incident and assured others that the figure was in fact a supernatural being.

    No other mentions of the story or the figure itself appear in any campus publications since the initial 1907 report, and no one at the observatory has even heard of the incident, let alone seen the figure.

    The article ends by stating that several “liberal arts men are planning a nocturnal investigation.” Yet despite the efforts of these intrepid ghostbusters, the supernatural forces evidently proved powerful enough to elude their detection.

    Photo from the University Archives / North by Northwestern

    Willard Hall

    Late-night noises in the dorms can come from anything. Usually it’s just a roommate stumbling to bed around 3 a.m., but one group of Willard Hall residents once reported a series of noises in the building that left them a little shaken up.

    A 1931 article in The Daily titled “Ghosts Invade Willard Hall; Moan Nightly” explains the incidents. “One girl with an especially keen sense of melodrama states that a shrill whistle rents the air at exactly four minutes after 11 every night,” the author wrote. “Later in the evening the creatures get together and shuffle outside the bedrooms, emitting low whistles.”

    Students immediately wanted to know what these supernatural beings desired with the then-all-womens dorm. One theory took a moralist approach, claiming that “the sins of the freshmen women are at last being repaid in full.” Others believed that the intruders were seeking revenge on the final witness of an unknown incident in the building. Perhaps the most popular explanation asserted that Frances Willard herself had returned to her namesake to haunt the students who had involved her in the cigarette wars, an early anti-smoking reform movement.

    While Willard residents were quick to label the episodes as clear evidence of a haunting, campus skeptics raised other possibilities. Many simply brushed the sounds off as wind while some suggested that the noises existed only in the heads of nervous students steeped deep in Northwestern exam season.

    Eight decades later, Willard Hall seems to have quieted down considerably.

    “I live on the first floor,” says SESP freshman Robert Bourret. “And I haven’t heard anything that would imply supernatural beings living in Willard."


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