Thursday, September 1, 2011

SUNY Plattsburgh

MacDonough Hall from School Designs

SUNY Plattsburgh started its days as the Plattsburgh Normal and Training School when it opened its doors in 1890 as a two-year teaching and nursing institution in Clinton County. It joined the state university system in 1948.

Now you'd think after a dozen decades that this bastion of academia would do its duty and graduate a few ghoulish stories to spread around campus. But we could only come up with two haunted halls, and one may be in paranormal remission.

That would be the old Normal School building, the oldest structure on campus. As chronicled by Cheri Farnsworth in Haunted Northern New York, a turn-of-the-century schoolmarm sent one of her students to the basement to find out why the heat wasn't on. He found the answer hanging from the ceiling in the person of the janitor.

Cheri changed that a little later in her Big Book of New York Ghost Stories after some extra newspaper research. Just a few particulars were altered: in 1917, janitor John Blanchard did kill himself by inhaling gas because he was despondent over his wife's recent death.

Regardless of the year or method, the janitor reportedly didn't leave the Normal School after his departure from this vale of tears. Blanchard was often seen during the ensuing years walking the halls and checking the roof, just as if he were performing his everyday rounds.

The Normal School burned completely to ashes on January 26th, 1929, and it took more than three years to replace the original structure, built on the bones of the old. In 1955, it was renamed after Plattsburgh's longest tenured leader, George Hawkins, who was the school's principal (similar to president) when it was rebuilt.

Did Blanchard finally find the light home after the fire? Probably - he hasn't been seen since, although some still sense his presence.

But don't fear. There's still a dorm around that's full of unexplained phenomena and spooks, MacDonough Hall, the oldest resident hall on campus.

In 1948, work on the dorm, named in honor of General Thomas MacDonough, who led his troops to victory over the British in the Battle of Plattsburgh that capped the War of 1812, began. The field behind MacDonough Hall was used as a public hanging grounds for the nearby Arsenal, which was destroyed by a British raid on July 30th, 1813.

When workers began their site excavations, they found two old tombstones (some say remains were discovered, too) of a woman and a child, both believed to be among the oldest settlers in the area. The stones were moved to the roadway to be picked up and the digging went on. But the next morning, the markers couldn't be found. To this day, their disappearance has never been solved.

Hanging grounds? Disturbed graveyards? Hey, no good can come of a location like that, and MacDonough has its share of tales to tell.

Students have seen flickering on/off lights, heard piano music coming from an empty lobby and eerie children's laughter and crying echoing through the hallways. Some have seen grotesque images reflected from mirrors and windows, and heard the screams of a woman. One student reported being smothered in bed as her name was being called, supposedly verified by her roomie. A paranormal team went through the building, and got an EVP of a woman whispering to them in the attic.

One legend, reported on Shadowlands and some other sites, is that the basement of MacDonough Hall was once the morgue for the old city hospital. That's one bit of lore we can debunk. MacDonough opened in 1951 as a dormitory and has never been used as anything but a residence since then.

The morgue story has its roots in the web of underground passages beneath the building. They're not sinister. The "catacombs," as they're sometimes known, are used as maintenance tunnels, and back in the good ol' days of the Cold War also served as the school's bomb shelters in case the Russki Bear decided to drop the big one. And Plattsburgh was a primo target then; the nearby Air Force base was Top Ten on the hit list.

In fact, the base is supposed to be a haven to quite a few spooks itself, but we'll save that post for another day.

If you want to know a little more about Plattsburgh's haunted halls, open a copy of Haunted Northern New York or the Big Book of New York Ghost Stories by Cheri (Ravai) Farnsworth. Or enroll; your choice.

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