Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Chatham College Spooks

chatham college
Image from the Chronicle of Higher Education

Nothing like a bunch of rich folk playing patty cake with the French maids to create a few spooks to haunt the halls of Pittsburgh's Chatham College in Shadyside.

Benedum Hall (“Graystone”): Originally, this was the home of The Great Wildcatter, oilman Michael Benedum and his wife Sarah, along with their son, Claude. Claude fell hard for the family maid, Maude. His parents disapproved, of course, and sent him off to the Army.

He died of pneumonia while in uniform in 1918 at the age of 20, and Maude joined him in the afterlife soon afterwards. It's said that they can be heard together playing footsies in the house. It became a dorm in 1960, and the mischievous Claude was known to pull the covers off sleeping students while filling the room with cigarette smoke.

A more malicious story involves Michael, who was said to be involved with a maid from the Rea household (more on them later) and got her pregnant. The enraged Sarah hung the maid from the Benedum's chandelier and tore the baby from her. It's said that sometimes you can still see the maid hanging from the chandelier in her black outfit, feather duster in her lifeless hand.

Other more mundane paranormal activity took place at Benedum. A former resident told us that she saw a spirit looking out her dormer window, and that "there were many other instances of people hearing parties in the main rooms with music playing and people laughing, shadows moving, etc."

Sadly for spook lovers, the college sold the Benedum property in 1986 and it's now the site of pricey town houses and condos.

Berry Hall: Now the admissions office, the building was once used as a dorm. It was built originally as a private residence in 1895. Students could hear the cries of children, and the speculation is they were youngsters that died while living in the house before the college took it over.

Fickes Hall: Built in 1927, the home was the residence of Edwin Stanton Fickes of Alcoa fame before becoming a dorm in 1946. It's ghosts include a woman that committed suicide by jumping out of a window (although readers Michele and her anonymous friend say she was talked back in, squelching that sighting), and the third floor is haunted by the spirit of a boy who fell out of a window.

Another reader, a student who lived on the third floor in the nineties, wrote to add "I frequently saw a female ghost in my room. She appeared to me several times a week, usually between 2:30 and 3:30 A.M. I never saw her until I moved my bed...under the two windows. Her appearances lessened significantly when I moved my bed to a different location. She was a very strong presence."

The main spook, though, is thought to be Fickes himself, who returns to his old suite of rooms every so often, rummaging through desks and closets and jumping in bed with the coeds, the old rake. Mellon's son lived there, too, and has to be considered an etheral suspect.

Gymnasium: The lights stay on in the gym even after you've shut them off. The athletic director isn't sure if the cause is electrical problems or just a friendly ghost keeping the gym open. Spooks have been known to have a basketball jones.

Laughlin House: The house was built in 1912, and it's now a dormitory. The grapevine has it that James Laughlin or James Rea hung themselves there. (They didn't. Julia Rea and Laughlin had a rumored affair, but it didn't end in anyone's suicide.) Laughlin House (Its' namesake is one of Jones & Laughlin Steel's founders, and grandfather of noted American poet James) is supposed to be the eeriest place at Chatham.

One former student told us she had her eeriest experience there: "The worst was a female spirit in Laughlin House (3rd floor). She had long dark hair and a bluish white dress, (and) she woke me up one night by putting intense pressure on my chest..."

Most phenomena experienced there are fairly traditional, with slamming doors, electrical devices turning on and off, ringing phones, opening and closing windows, running commodes and rearranged clothes and shoes. Some feel that the long ago affair cast a negative vibe over the house that can be felt to this day.

Mellon Center: Built in 1887, Andrew W. Mellon lived there for 20 years. There's a pool (now drained and used as a mechanical room) and bowling alley in the basement, and Mellon doesn't like to share them with the students, so he tries to shoo them away.

He's been seen walking across the pool area, but most of the sightings are in the bowling alley. Students can hear Mellon and Henry Clay Frick talking and listening to music. You can smell cigar smoke, and if the alley's closed, you can see the smoke coming out from behind the shut door. If you do bowl, the room is often cold.

The pins get into the act, too, sometimes resetting themselves so you can bowl another frame. There's some unspecified ghostly going-ons on the third floor. It's also said that the eyes of the portrait of Andrew Mellon in the lobby follow you around.

Rea House: This was also built in 1912. The ghost of a maid that had an affair with Andrew Mellon, or maybe Claude Benedum, makes her presence felt in the dorm. (No one's certain which one she did the dirty deed with. What is known is that she ended the affair by hanging herself in the dining room. We're not sure if she was the same maid hung in Benedum Hall or not. If not, same ending, different house.)

Allegedly, a woman's ghost walks through the front windows. There are also reports of crying babies, windows that never close, and some other poltergeist type activity. But for all its alleged history, many other students said that they've experienced nothing out of the ordinary.

Woodland Hall: This is where Chatham's most famous spirit lives, the “Blue Lady of Woodland Hall”. Students wake up with the vision of a woman hovering above them, dressed in a blue chiffon dress. But she shares the spotlight with the ghost of a young boy, who once grabbed a hapless student by the ankle while imploring her to play with him. The specter had a good grip; he left a bruise on her ankle. His haunt, the fourth floor, is always cold.

If you wonder how people from different mansions managed to meet discreetly for their various trysts, the answer is tunnels. Andrew Mellon, a lover of privacy, had various residences connected by underground tunnels (now closed; one reader said it went just from Benedum to Fifth Avenue) that were said to be wide enough to drive a carriage through. And once they got the maid in the back seat...

The school has held an annual Chatham Ghost Walk since 2005 to explore the haunted history behind Chatham’s residence halls.


mbpowell59 said...

My daughter had a full scholarship and a resident of the Rea House. It is a beautiful place and known for female attorneys. My daughter spoke of hearing sounds. It is scary wow!

Ron Ieraci said...

Dang, MB, I think it'd be scarier to live with a houseful of lawyers than spooks ;-)

Unknown said...

When I went to Chatham, Benedum was known as the haunted mansion. I lived in Fickes for 2 1/2 years and never heard a peep. A student did threaten to jump out a window once but was talked back into her dorm.

My how these tales have grown to include nearly all of the dorms on campus! Certainly makes for a good story.

Ron Ieraci said...

Hey, Michele, when your old dorms where once the playgrounds of the rich, famous, and rambunctious, ya gotta expect a little bit of energy will remain.

Actually, I think the tunnel connecting the dorms is the neatest thing about the layout. It sorta surprised me that there weren't any tales associated with it.

Anonymous said...

Yeah...I am with Michele in regards to hauntings at Chatham with a few exceptions:

first of all there are no tunnels connecting the dorms as many were seperate residences that were left to the college during various times throughtout Chatham's history and to have connecting tunnels would have to be of an expense that I cannot imagine Chatham paying for and or a collaborate effort by former home owners with prescient abilities. The only tunnel I am aware of is the one that runs from Benedum to 5th street and that had long been blocked...if it still exist.

The window jumping student was someone who I knew from first hand that had to be talked back in (by myself). I am amazed how that has rolled into a horror story over the years.

I lived in Rea House for a year and a half and had heard of no spooks though the abandoned coffee house in the basement had developed a profound silence in it's neglect!

I can say this, Mellon Center gives off interesting vibes when it comes to the paranormal!The original house part of Fickes also has odd vibes! And...I am told Berry was quite unsettling.

Ron Ieraci said...

Thanks, Michele and Anon - I edited the post to include a couple of your comments.

As far as being haunted, I was a Pitt guy and dorm visitation rules were quite different in the 60's, so I never got to hang out at your alma mater. We had to get in trouble in Oakland, lol.

So let's see - your dorms were fine, but yes and no on Ficke, vibes for the Mellon Center, Benedum, Berry...hmmmm.

Anyway, have either of you or any of the readers gone on the Ghost Walk? I'd be curious about which tales it picks up on.

And anon, I'm sure you're right about the closed-down tunnel(s) of old; I never found anything that mentioned specifically how extensive it was, just that it existed in some form.

Anonymous said...

I lived in Fickes on the third floor, overlooking the small courtyard area. I frequently saw a female ghost in my room. She appeared to me several times a week-usually between 2:30 and 3:30 A.M. I never saw her until I moved my bed to sit under the two windows. Her appearances lessened significantly when I moved my bed to a different location. She was a very strong presence. This was in the '90s.

Anonymous said...

I lived in benedum my sophomore year at Chatham and experienced many strange things. I lived on the third floor, alone, for the first half of the year. I was coming home home one night and remember looking up and seeing the shadow of someone standing in my dormer window. When I got to my room, the door was locked and no one was there. There were many other instances of people hearing parties in the main rooms with music playing and people laughing, shadows moving, etc. I loved living there, but even now I get goose bumps relating the things I experienced.

Anonymous said...

I went to Chatham in the early 80's and lived in Laughlin for two years, Rea for one. Benedum hall was a dorm at that time as well. Laughlin was crazy haunted! I saw and heard ghosts regularly as did most of my roomates. They would slam doors, close windows (hard and loud), flush toilets and move things. We would just be studying or hanging out in our room and the phone would literally jump off the hook. Benedum was beautiful but Claude definetely lingered! He would uncover sleeping students, fill rooms with cigarette smoke out of nowhere, very strange. No one wanted to live there. I had no problems at Rea House. The worst was a female spirit in Laughlin House (3rd floor). She had long dark hair and a bluish white dress, she woke me up one night by putting intense pressure on my chest, I literally couldn't push her off for several seconds. Needless to say, I left and drove home at 3:00 am, in my nightgown, in February! I commuted for about 3 weeks, I was afraid to sleep in the 3rd floor Quad for a long time! I had no issues in Laughlin when I lived in the 2nd floor quad.

Heidi Clark Bonwell '95 said...

I will never forget the night that the little boy visited me in my room. I had awoken from a bad dream and was lying there in the dark. Then I heard out in the hallway what sounded to be an older girl walking with two young children, a boy and a girl. The children were running down the hall, and she said to them, "Shhh! People are sleeping." It then became very quiet. All of the sudden I knew that someone else, other than my roommate, was in the room. I looked to the end of my bed and saw standing there a blonde headed little boy in a light blue outfit. I instantly put my head back down on my pillow and started saying the Lord's Prayer. The next thing I knew, I felt pressure on the end of my bed and this hand wrap its fingers around my ankle. He pulled himself up on the bed with me, and then started scooting himself up the side of the bed until he reached my arms and shoulders. He began to push me on my shoulder saying, "Let's play! Let's play! I want to play." I tried to scream and nothing would come out. When I didn't answer him, he moved up closer to my head, grabbed some of my hair and started to tug on my hair, begging me to play. I finally was able to scream at him and tell him to get away. At this point he started to shimmy his way back down to the end of the bed, grabbed me by the ankle again, in the same location, let himself off of the bed and started to walk away. I do remember hearing him whimper, lightly crying at how I upset him.

When morning came around, my roommate asked me what in the world happened in the middle of the night and I shared with her my experience. She heard it all, but stayed silent through it all. Later in the day when I went to take a shower, I discovered a large black bruise on my ankle where the boy had touched me. I couldn't recall in the days leading up to the event anything that could have caused such a dark, large bruise.

I have in the past been very sensitive to ghosts, but this was the very first time one had actually touched me. I never saw him after this again.

OtraDama said...

I was at Chatham from 94-96, lived in Fickes Hall first year. Room was on the 2nd floor overlooking the courtyard but part of the addition not the original house. My room did look over at the room on the 3rd floor where the previous poster stated she saw the ghost of girl. When I lived there, that 3rd floor room was a triple (meaning 3 girls shared the room), and all three had moved out. I was told because me being a lowly freshmen and new didn't really know any upperclasmen that they moved out 1 by 1 because of the "strange" happenings in the room.

I myself had 3 different experiences while staying in my 2nd floor room. I had a roommate, but she only stayed in the room one day a week. So the rest of the time, it was just me and at that time NOT a believer of anything paranormal.

First incident was on a weekend morning when i was sitting on my bed tying my shoes and I saw movement out the corner of my eye. I looked up to see my telephone cord swinging back n forth by itself. Middle of winter, no open windows no fans nothing. When I stared at it, it slowly came to a full stop. I almost ran out the room!

Next time, it was middle of the night, and the room felt bright like the sun was in my face, opened my eyes to my desk lap on and pointed at me. I like sleeping in complete darkness by the way. When I went to turn it off, the hair on my neck stood up and that voice inside my head said, when you click it off - close your eyes, don't open them! I was afraid I would see something I wasn't supposed to/didn't want to see. That incident happened to me once more, but then I was convinced those were not just random happenings.

I became a believer! On the 4th floor of Woodland Hall visiting a friend I did feel a heaviness in the air and a feeling I wasn't alone but I shook it off.

Definitely unique experiences, I've never been through again but will be with me always.

Anonymous said...

I was a student at Chatham '83-'87 and lived in Fickes for three years. My freshman year I lived in the original master bedroom, then a quad. My second year I was on the first floor and junior year on the third floor. The master suite is absolutely haunted. My roommate and I had multiple experiences in that room. One particularly frightening episode sent us screaming into the adjoining room, waking up our suite mate and her boyfriend as we ran through their room and into the closet to hide. We were in the bathroom and heard a guttural growl so loud we were convinced we were going to die. I will never EVER forget that experience and get chills just thinking about it. There were other episodes in the room, but none nearly as frightening as that. As far as the first floor, I never experienced anything there, but there was definitely a presence on the third floor. Without exception I felt a presence in the hall, as well as in the bathroom. I continually looked over my shoulder.

Julie said...

I lived in Fickes my first year in the room of the main house with the bathroom connecting to the other room (as mentioned above) and there were certainly interesting things that would happen. More often than not, just objects being moved or crashing to the floor in the middle of the night. My sophomore year I was the desk attendant in Rea House and absolutely, without a doubt, heard a baby crying one night. It was during January, when few students were on campus. I walked around the house, trying to check on where the sound was coming from but every time I thought I was close, it seemed to move to a different area in the house. I called security, but by the time they came it stopped (and I promptly asked for a ride back to Woodland!).

Unknown said...

I am currently a student at Chatham. The gym (now the art and design center) is super creepy at night. One night I was there alone working on a project and kept hearing foot steps on the mezzanine above me.

Onnie Johnston said...

I lived in Rea, Fickes and Woodland Hall and never had any experiences with the supernatural. My friends who lived in Benedum Hall complained about ghosts and paranormal activity all the time. My one experience with a ghost (I believe) was in the attic of Mellon where the literary zine office was located. Around 3am one evening, while studying with a friend, we heard distinct footsteps approaching our door. They were so loud we both looked up and we waiting for the night watchman to make his appearance. He never did. The footsteps stopped and we went out into the hall and there was no one there. Later, around 4am, the night watchman did come around and he told us he never was in the house more than once a night, and those prior footsteps did not belong to him. He also shared that he had heard them himself many times. There were no others in the entire mansion that night - my friend and I were alone. No one ever went in Mellon at night, but I had a deadline to meet as I was the Editor. Ghosts?? Who can say, but it was really creepy.

Anonymous said...

I went to Chatham in the 70's. One year I lived on the third floor of Laughlin in a huge room with a balcony facing Woodland Road. It was gorgeous. It had a secret back stairway in one of the closets, presumably for the servants' access to the kitchen. I didn't know of any hauntings there during my stay. Benedum was the hot spot at that time. I also lived in Fickes. The solarium is one creepy room. I really miss living in those dorms.

Unknown said...

Yes it was beautiful but creepy...

Unknown said...

My daughter lived in Fickes her freshman year (2016-2017) and had heard a ball bouncing down the halls as well as in the communal bathroom on the 3rd floor. She said that she saw an image of a little boy, as well as other experiences