Few college students can boast tales of their haunted campus experiences quite like Kenyon students. With a history of tragic calamities and a lengthy roster of superstitions on campus, the College certainly stands out from others — especially around Halloween. Everyone celebrates the holiday in their own way, but the Halloween spirit in Gambier deserves special recognition.
The allure of a spooky campus has drawn people to Gambier since the beginning of Kenyon’s history. An 1890 issue of the Collegian paints the picture of one peculiar dance that took place at Harcourt Place Seminary for Young Ladies and Girls, a church school located in Gambier during the late 19th and early 20th century. Evidently, Kenyon’s obsession with phantoms has been around for quite a while. Among the 50 guests at the engagement, “the old girls according to the usual custom gave a sheet and pillowcase [masquerade] to the new ones,” according to the article. “Promptly at half-past seven the school hall was filled with grotesque figures and soon a ghost-like grand march was formed. The hall was dimly lighted and the music played for the dance of the shades was slow and impressive.”
The infatuation with paranormal activity on Kenyon’s campus extends beyond Gambier. In fact, some stories have reached national headlines. In a 2017 New York Times opinion piece, Kenyon alumna Natalie Shutler described her experience living with a ghost in her Old Kenyon dorm. “The room would get very cold, and I would feel the presence of a slow-moving force, gliding toward me, past my dresser. My makeup cases, vitamin bottles and other dresser-top trinkets would clatter to the floor,” she wrote. “In these moments, I’d lay very still, paralyzed by an oddly cheerful terror. My ghost was back!”
In light of Kenyon’s haunting past, the typical Halloween experience brings its share of quirks. One Collegian issue depicts how first year students took advantage of the holiday in 1993. While some students engaged in a jack-o’-lantern carving competition on campus, others ventured to the Kenyon College Cemetery, the burial ground of many notable alumni. That weekend, students dressed up as members of the B-52s and the Jackson Five, and one special guest from Ohio State University (OSU) reportedly made an appearance at a Halloween party. “Also present was ‘Preacher Paul’, the OSU graduate who tried to save the souls of Kenyon students a month ago,” the article said.
“Preacher Paul” might have had a questionable mission, but his concern for students was not unwarranted. After all, some students enjoy testing their fate by defying various superstitions on campus. During that peculiar Halloween of 1993, a few individuals did the unthinkable. “Some students, defying Kenyon lore, stood at the Gates of Hell at midnight on Halloween. These curious few were anxious to see if anything would actually happen to them. Others crowded around to watch them ‘become possessed by demons,’” the article said.
While the ghost stories may be slightly overdone at Kenyon, the Halloween festivities are not. Every year, the Kenyon College Players puts on a shadow cast production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Ellie Kahle ’25, the makeup and hair designer for the production this year, believes in the unifying power of the show for the campus community. “It’s such an exciting moment for so many people to get together and share an experience together and express themselves freely. It’s where you’re seeing some of the most exciting outfits on campus,” she said. Kenyon students have more than just a shared haunted legacy to bond over — they have Rocky Horror. As the community prepares to embrace the wild experience of the production, perhaps the ghost stories will simmer down this year. After all, Rocky is what shapes a great deal of the current Halloween experience at Kenyon. “It’s the big event for Halloween every single year, and without it, I don’t know what Halloween would look like,” she said.