Anyone who knows me well knows that Halloween is by far my favorite holiday. While members of the Tribe current and past may have varying beliefs regarding the existence of ghosts, one thing can be agreed upon for sure: Williamsburg is one of the best places to spend Halloween. With a colonial history spanning three centuries and a campus tinged with stories of piracy and war, William & Mary has more than a few creepy ghost stories. For some, ghost tours, both formal and informal, are a rite of passage at W&M. An exceptionally dedicated RA or a sorority clue week clue might have you wandering through campus and CW to hear tales of the paranormal on chilly fall nights. Still others might have ghost stories of their own – a late night spent in the supposedly haunted basement of Tucker Hall, or echoing strains of piano music in Phi Beta Kappa Hall. Ghost stories are a part of any college tradition, but particularly so at the nation’s second-oldest college.
When I was a freshman, in 2011, the subject of my amateur Halloween ghost hunting was Barrett Hall. The dorm has a storied history—once a hotel, then an all-women’s dorm, and later a freshman dorm, Barrett has been through many reinventions in its history. Widely reputed to be one of the most beautiful dorms on campus with its expansive front porch and stately lobby, Barrett occupies a prime location on old campus and was the envy of freshmen everywhere in former years.
Like any old building housing hundreds of college students, Barrett Hall quickly developed its own ghost stories. In a W&M blog post dating back to 2009, Isshin Teshima explores the supposed attic ghost of Barrett Hall. According to Teshima, every Halloween night, “someone (or thing) manages to get into the [locked] attic to turn on the attic lights, which are simply bulbs on a string that don’t actually illuminate the room, but rather simply flicker and swing around.” While I cannot personally verify the accuracy of the creepy attic lights, I can attest that the residents of Barrett Third East, from fall 2011 to spring 2012, did indeed believe the attic was haunted.
Around the start of the fall semester in September, and continuing through the spring, the female residents of third east would hear thumping on the ceiling at night coming from the attic. The source was always a mystery to us, as the attic in Barrett Hall is locked at all times. Accessible by the stairwells on the sides of the building, no one has ever been seen coming or going from the mysterious fourth floor—which made the inexplicable thuds and bumps coming from the fourth floor in the hours after midnight all the more alarming.
Tales of ghostly whistling also circulated among the wing near Halloween that year. One of the girls was in the spacious hall bathroom showering at night when she heard whistling echoing from inside the bathroom. When she stepped out of the stall to see who it was, she found that she was alone.
The mystery of the Barrett Ghost came to a crescendo that year when, on Halloween, some hallmates and I decided to play with an Ouija board on the third floor. A resident had crafted the Ouija board out of cardboard a few days earlier. A group of seven of us had gathered around the board and were preparing to play—everyone with a hand on the planchette, skeptical of the game and goofing around before going out for the night. But when we asked the board questions, our hands moved in unison as the planchette traveled across the board and back, spelling out answers to our inquiries letter by letter.
Is Barrett Hall haunted, we asked? Y-E-S came the reply, spelled quickly and fluidly by the little cardboard game piece.
Whether the Ouija board was a toy operated by a prankster hallmate, an example of subconscious collective movement, or actually a window into the unknown, we never did discover. We quickly tired of the novelty of the game, and of accusing one another of moving the planchette to protestations of quavery-voiced denial. The strange, late-night attic thumping continued for the remainder of the year and eventually, the Barrett Ghost disappeared into memory as we moved onwards through our four years.
But every Halloween, I still think about that night freshman year, and the Ouija experiment we couldn’t quite explain.
Happy Halloween, Tribe!