Illustrations by Amelia Mott
Kenyon is notorious for its haunted history. But what if its past hasn’t left us yet? Several students and alumni shared stories of their brushes with the paranormal.
Sleepless in Caples
The hauntings of Caples Residence Hall began with a real death.
Doug Shafer ’81 was returning to his eighth-floor suite on the night of Nov. 8, 1979 after a night of partying in the New Apartments (which were actually new at that time). His friends saw him leaving the party. He entered Caples with another resident who left him at the stairwell; he was last seen on the sixth floor of Caples near the elevator. His suitemates claimed he never returned to his room. The next morning, he was found unconscious at the bottom of the elevator shaft. He was transported to a hospital in Columbus and pronounced dead at 9:51 p.m.
Rumors attempting to explain what happened circulated quickly. The elevator was found stuck between the seventh and eighth floors with Shafer’s coat jammed between the doors on the eighth floor. In this position, it would make sense that Shafer would exit the elevator from the eighth floor, yet most plausible explanations given by College investigators had Shafer trying to exit from the seventh floor door and then falling back into the shaft, even though there were only 10-and-a-half inches of space for him to crawl out of on the seventh floor. Campus Safety officers did not notice the coat during their nightly rounds, and no one heard a scream.
The Assistant Dean for Student Residences at the time, Robert Reading, said, “It makes no sense. None of this makes sense,” according to the Nov. 15, 1979 edition of the Collegian.
Professor of Humanities Tim Shutt, who gives ghost tours of Kenyon’s campus, tells a slightly different version. He claims that Shafer was actually on his way to visit his girlfriend on the eighth floor before he fell to his death. Whatever actually happened, Caples has been haunted ever since.
Shutt knew a few students who experienced hauntings in Caples for several years after the incident.
“They would be lying in bed, slowly falling asleep, and they would feel someone sit next to them on the the bed and often lie down next to them on the bed and occasionally lie on top of them … on the bed,” he said. “This would happen repeatedly, like every week or so.”
Several of the students were so frightened that they requested and were granted room changes, according to Shutt.
More recently, Audrey Davis ’15 had her own ghostly experience in Caples. In 2013, she had just moved into a suite on the second floor with members of her sorority, Kappa Sigma Alpha — now Alpha Sigma Tau (AST). It was the sorority’s first-ever theme housing, and she anticipated many fun nights with her sisters. She did not expect to meet ghosts.
“Caples is not exactly the warmest and fuzziest building on campus to begin with,” she said, “but I never thought of it being haunted.”
One night, she found one of her suitemates, who lived in a single, preparing to sleep on the couch in the common room. Confused as to why she wasn’t sleeping in her own room, Davis and several of her other suitemates asked what happened.
Davis said the suitemate explained that a tapping on her shoulder had woken her up the night before. When she turned to see the source of the tapping, she saw a tall, blond man wearing jeans and a button-down shirt — a little different from what Shafer, who had darker hair, looked like. But before she could scream at him to get out, he disappeared through the wall. Because of this incident, she was too scared to sleep in her room that night.
At this point, another of Davis’ suitemates started to get nervous. When asked what was wrong, she confessed that the week before, she too had been woken up by a tapping on her shoulder. At the time she just assumed it was her roommate and went back to bed, but after hearing this story, she was starting to question what actually happened.
Her roommate, who was present, revealed that she had slept in someone else’s room that night, so it couldn’t have been her.
All students present in the suite started to scream, waking up another of Davis’ suitemates who was still asleep. This other suitemate, upon hearing the story, revealed that she too had seen a man in her room a few nights ago. The suitemates asked her to describe what he looked like, to which she responded: tall, blond hair, wearing jeans and a white button-down shirt.
“Our minds jumped to why it was us that he was specifically haunting,” Davis said, “like maybe he’s into brunettes.”
What happened next ended up being one of Davis’ favorite memories from college. The suitemates, collectively terrified of this new ghost that they had dubbed “Button-down,” barricaded the doors with furniture and slept together in the common room.
After a week, they returned to sleeping in their rooms and were never bothered by Button-down again, but Davis, knowing that her room was the only one not to receive a visit yet, was still uneasy.
“I slept with a hammer under my pillow for six weeks,” she said.
Deirdre Sheridan ’17, a member of the same sorority as Davis, lived in that suite the following year. Although she never saw Button-down, she claimed that she could occasionally hear buzzing, static and some slurred mumbling coming from the supposedly defunct call box in the suite. Having heard Shutt’s version of the tale, she assumed that it was the ghost of Shafer still trying to reach his girlfriend.
There’s another Caples occurrence that’s sure to turn the stomachs of believers and nonbelievers alike, and this time, it is corroborated by a Campus Safety incident report.
At 4:50 a.m., in the middle of July, 1999, Jolynn Bryant, who was then the switchboard operator for the Security and Safety Office, received three consecutive calls from Caples rooms 511, 611 and 711. Each consisted of a “non-mechanical, high-pitched scream,” before the call was hung up. Several Safety officers had done a routine check of Caples about five hours earlier and found it to be empty. As part of the check, they had also locked all interior and exterior doors of the building.
“The possibility of a person or persons being in Caples is very slim to none,” the incident report said.
An officer was dispatched to Caples at 4:58 a.m., but since he was alone, he was advised not to enter the building until he received backup.
At 4:59 a.m., Bryant received another call, this time from Caples 811. It was the same — a scream and then silence. The officer posted outside of Caples reported seeing no one enter or exit the building.
A little after 5 a.m., more officers arrived as backup. They promptly performed a sweep of the building. All four rooms, 511, 611, 711 and 811, were found to be locked. When the officers opened them, no one was inside. The phones in all four rooms were reported to be functional, although the phone in room 811 was found unplugged from the wall when the officers arrived. The officers also reported finding various lights and showers turned on throughout the building and in several bathrooms, toilet paper had been strewn across the floor.
The incident report concludes, “Writer and all other individuals involved are finding it very difficult to render a logical explanation for this occurrence.”
Tales from Old Kenyon
Old Kenyon’s ghosts come from two tragic events in the college’s history.
The first is the death of Stuart Lathrop Pierson class of 1908, a Delta Kappa Epsilon pledge who was struck by an unannounced train by the Kokosing River. Whether or not he was bound to the tracks as part of a hazing ritual is still a topic of debate. Shutt believes he wasn’t, but said that he was blindfolded.
The second is the Old Kenyon fire which occurred on Feb. 27, 1949. The building went up in flames when the 120-year-old wooden infrastructure caught fire after a campus dance. Nine students died that night: one from burns, one from the fall after jumping out of a window and seven from asphyxiation due to the smoke. But what’s really haunting is what the seven who died of asphyxiation chose to do with the last few minutes of their lives.
When they realized that they were trapped inside the center lounge on the fourth floor, the seven men started to sing. They could be heard from outside, Shutt said.
Natalie Shutler ’10 fondly recalls her experience with a ghost in Old Kenyon in an Oct. 15 article for the New York Times titled “My Haunted Dorm Room.” Over the course of the year, she would awake in the middle of the night to a sudden chill in the room and the feeling of a presence drifting past her to her dresser.
One by one, her makeup cases, vitamin bottles and other various items would drop from her dresser-top and onto the floor as if a hand were slowly being dragged through them. In her article, she described her emotions at the time of each encounter as an “oddly cheerful terror.”
Shutler used the article to solicit more collegiate ghost stories from her readers and has been happily reading them all.
“Everyone at work thinks I’m a freak now,” she said in an email to the Collegian.
Rachel Contri ’20 has had several eerie experiences in her Old Kenyon room that she lives in this year, but one particularly stands out. At 3:30 a.m. one night, both she and her roommate were startled awake by what sounded like a fire alarm.
“There were sirens inside the room,” she said. “It was a really loud blaring that you automatically associate with a fire alarm.”
They were preparing to evacuate when they looked out of the window and saw that nobody was outside. By then, the sound had stopped, so they decided to go back to bed. In the morning, Contri talked to her Community Advisor (CA) about the alarm and was met with confusion. Her CA said that nothing had happened that night.
“There isn’t something really concrete to account for the sounds,” Contri said.
Alyssa Williams ’17 had an even scarier encounter in her Old Kenyon room.
It was August, and she had moved in early for her job at the library. No one else was living on her floor yet. On the night of a massive thunderstorm, Williams decided to go to bed early. But there was a problem: Williams’ window didn’t have curtains. Every time there was a flash of lightning, she would wake up. On top of that, Williams knew that she was one of the only people currently in Old Kenyon.
“I was already creeped out,” she said. “Lightning kept on flashing. It was so scary. I was so pissed I was there.”
Eventually, she was able to fall into a state of half-sleep. After a while, though, she was again woken up, but not by the lightning this time.
“At some point, in the darkness, I felt like someone was spooning me from behind,” she said, “like someone was there and their arm was over my waist.”
Williams started to panic, only to realize she couldn’t move. The room was pitch black, so she couldn’t see anything until a flash of lightning lit up what was holding her.
“I felt — and I know this isn’t real because I’m a logical person — but I thought I saw a burnt arm,” she said. “It was speckled as if parts of it had been burnt, and it was red.”
After a while, Williams was finally able to get up. The body behind her had disappeared. Williams was crying, so she called a friend and asked her to come over, but the friend, also scared that night, refused to leave her room, so Williams resigned herself to sleeping with the lights on.
Williams spent the rest of the week sleeping on her friends’ couches because she didn’t want to sleep in her room. Once her roommate arrived on campus, she returned to her room, but never slept in it alone again.
When Williams told her parents about the incident, they chalked it up to the possibility of black mold in her room.
“I switched where I slept for a while so that my head wouldn’t be near the window, because they thought there might be moisture or mold there that made me hallucinate,” she said.
Williams didn’t have any other supernatural experiences that year but was always a little uneasy in her room.
Contri agreed that living in Old Kenyon can take its toll, but she also found the bright side. “Sometimes I feel a little freaked out,” she said. “Sometimes it’s fun.”