“The Writer’s College,” “Paul Newman’s alma mater” and the “Best Liberal Arts School in Ohio” are some common phrases we tend to hear to describe Kenyon. But others like to honor Kenyon with a not-so-inviting title: for years Kenyon has topped the charts as one of the “most haunted college campuses” in America.
So the question remains: What makes Kenyon so haunted? Let’s delve into some spooky stories that have endured through Kenyon’s haunted history — some that you may already be familiar with, but are sure to bring back the seasonal spook!
The DKE Bullseye Ghost (1905): One of many stories particular to Old Kenyon surrounds the death of Stewart Lathrop Pierson, a student who died after being struck by an unscheduled train during his initiation to the Lambda chapter of the Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity. The coroner found that Stewart had been tied to the tracks, but Stewart’s father, who had previously been a member of the Lambda chapter himself, according to the College Alumni Bulletin — said that his son “fell asleep.”
According to the Nov. 3, 1905, edition of the Collegian, Stewart’s father, Newbold L. Pierson, was at Kenyon to “be present and take part in his son’s initiation.” Mr. Pierson later learned of his son’s death, and had Stewart’s body shipped back to Cincinnati for the burial. Students have reported seeing the ghost of Stewart in the West Wing Bullseye Room, and others say they can hear train whistles blowing during hours when the trains are inactive. While the reason for students attributing sightings specifically in the DKE Bullseye is unclear, the room remains the residence of members of the Lambda chapter to this day.
The Greenhouse Ghost (early 1940s): When walking down to the Lowry Center, you may have passed the Schaffer Dance Studio, formerly holding the Schaffer Pool (which was nicknamed “The Greenhouse” due to its peaked glass roofing). Though the tale tied to the now-Dance Studio holds a more speculative edge, with no evidence in the archives of a death ever occurring, nighttime passersby still describe a “strange” and “uncanny” feeling around the empty studio.
The ghost, which seems to have changed over the years, was originally called the “Greenhouse Ghost.” According to a Fall 2007 Alumni Bulletin Article, and a supporting video posted by Kenyon, students using the pool would try to see how high they could jump on the boards. The ghost, either a Kenyon student or an Air Force Cadet, jumped too high, breaking his neck on the glass ceiling and drowning in a horrific “diving accident, which led to the removal of the diving board.”
Isaac Turnley ’26 shared his own take on the story: “What I heard was that a kid had been swimming in the [Schaffer] pool and drowned. They eventually redid the building, taking away the pool, and the story goes that occasionally you can see the boy’s wet footprints or a puddle forming on the reconstructed ground.” While no death was ever confirmed, former swimming coach and Dean Tom Edwards did have a diving board removed in the 1950’s due to a series of bloody accidents caused by inadequate construction of the pool area — the deep end was three feet too shallow and a dangerous ledge had been constructed near the board. This led to several accidents where swimmers would come up from a dive with “blood streaming down their faces.”
Old Kenyon Fire (1949): Arguably the most well-known tragedy around campus is that of the Old Kenyon Fire. Confirmed by the March 4, 1949, issue of the Collegian, in the early hours of Feb. 5th, 1949, sparks from a newly built fireplace began to smolder between the second and first floors before rapidly spreading to the second and third floors, both of which had little to no fire walls for protection. Nine students fell victim to the flames from the merciless inferno that arose in Old Kenyon Residence Hall. Of the nine students who died, seven lived on the top floor (where the Bullseyes are located). Some students have mentioned hearing noises of “commotion” and even seeing a burned figure or limb, primarily on the third floor of Old Kenyon. Tom Murphy ’84 recalls hearing about “a ghost on the [fourth] floor of Old Kenyon who would be seen walking around,” but added that he did not experience any supernatural events during his years at Kenyon.
Caples Elevator Tragedy (1979): According to an Nov. 15, 1979, issue of the Collegian, on the night of Nov. 8th, 1979, tragedy struck the Hill when Doug Schafer ’81, after a night of partying, was found unconscious at the bottom of the Caples Residence Hall elevator shaft. Shortly after his transport to The Ohio State University Hospital in Columbus, he was pronounced dead, though “his brain had been physiologically dead since the incident.” While the sequence and circumstance under which the events of that night occurred remains hazy, what is clear to many students is that Schafer’s ghost continues to haunt the halls of Caples.
Recently, students have reported waking up during the night to a rapid tapping or pulling sensation on their leg. Others have talked of seeing figures of a man (whom many assume to be Schafer) lurking around the eighth floor of the residence.
Murphy was a student at the time of Schafer’s death. He kindly shared his own recollection of the Caples tragedy with the Collegian, saying “It was rumored that he [Schafer] had messed around with the buttons causing the elevator to stop. He then pried open the doors and attempted to jump out onto the floor below him…falling to his death. The campus was very saddened by the incident to say the least.”
These chilling stories have been an integral part of Kenyon’s haunted past for decades. However, it should not be forgotten that the ghosts that haunt this campus were once real Kenyon students, who were struck by great misfortune. Despite subtle alterations to every story, their legacy in Kenyon’s ghostly tales may be considered a way to keep their spirit alive. All in all, Kenyon’s hauntedness is no frivolous affair — frightening paranormal experiences and their respective stories continue to captivate the spirits of Kenyon students to this day.