Campus Safety officers have seen it all. They bear witness to the strangest happenings on campus, including medical mishaps, spooky night shifts, out-of-control parties and animals in unexpected places.
Safety Officer J.P. Downes has worked at Kenyon for 20 years, and 13 of those on the night shift. He wishes he had written down all the stories he has accumulated on the job, and said he has experienced many “weird things” happening during the night.
“We’ve actually caught faculty and staff workers during the summertime playing cards in the library at 2 a.m., and you’re walking through like, ‘What the heck?’” he said. “They scared me, I scared them.”
Despite not putting stock in Kenyon’s ghost stories, he had the most frightening experiences of his tenure on the night shift in supposedly haunted buildings.
He was present in the early 2000s when Campus Safety received a series of strange phone calls from Caples Hall after the building had been locked and checked, and students had already gone home for the summer.
“I was here that night,” Downes said. “I’m still thinking there’s somebody hiding in a closet somewhere.”
Caples is supposedly haunted by the ghost of Doug Shafer ’82, who fell to his death in the elevator shaft in November 1979.
Years ago, the Shaffer Dance Studio was home to a swimming pool in which a student died in a diving accident. According to Downes, he was doing a round through Shaffer one night when he heard a noise as he crossed the floor toward the locker room.
“I hear this banging and I’m thinking it’s someone in there, and it was a locker door, just tap-tap-tapping,” he said. “I contemplated that for about 10 seconds and then I’m like, ‘I’m out. See you later.’”
Deb Shelhorn, Campus Safety supervisor/telecommunications coordinator, has worked at Kenyon for 32 years and has had her own strange experiences on the job, including one involving Caples. One evening when she was working the night shift, she was waiting for the elevator when the door suddenly opened to reveal a dog inside of it. The dog, she said, did not look pleased.
“The door came open and there’s this dog on the elevator growling at me and I’m just like waiting for the door to close again,” she said with a laugh.
Shelhorn recalled another incident in which she heard a cat screaming in Old Kenyon Residence Hall and discovered it with the hair on its back standing up. She found this frightening, because “animals see what people don’t.”
Another time, Campus Safety found a skunk in Weaver Cottage, then had a custodian coax it (with a supplication of “kitty, kitty, kitty”) before it could spray its scent. Shelhorn said this was critical because of how difficult it would have been to remove the smell.
“We should write a book on some of the stuff that we’ve dealt with,” Shelhorn said.