College Consensus ranked Drew the 9th most haunted college in the United States. Drew received this ranking in 2018, but obviously ghost infestations do not develop overnight. Drew University has a long and varied history, and it is consequently thought to be riddled with ghosts, spirits and the like. Therefore this week’s column will be dedicated to uncovering why Drew has a reputation for being so haunted and what exactly this reputation looks like for students today.
Drew is an old school, and for those who have spent any amount of time on campus, this is not new information. The original seminary school was founded in 1867, yet the property, originally belonging to William Gibbons, began seeing regular use in the late 1820s.
Several of the buildings on campus—some of which have been built in the years since the property’s initial development—are themselves old and have a plethora of ghost stories attached to them.
In Seminary Hall, it’s said that a ghostly presence enjoys playing the organ in the upstairs Craig chapel.
In Mead Hall, it’s speculated that Roxanna Mead Drew, the namesake of the mansion, walks the halls, appears as a misty apparition, slams doors and was even seen by firefighters as they attempted to put out the flames engulfing the building in August 1989.
Hoyt-Bowne has a reputation for being particularly haunted by a variety of souls, such as a bright white figure who graces the attic, poor George Leonard Lose, who lost his life due to electrocution in room 217 in December 1902, and the female ghost who has a distaste for men living on the fourth floor (which is supposedly the reason no male residents are housed up there!).
There are also other hauntings afoot on campus, such as mysterious Revolutionary War soldiers on Asbury lawn, a young girl named Carol who supposedly haunts the woods behind Tolley-Brown and Reggie, who enjoys causing mischief in the Shakespeare Theater. Almost every corner of campus is associated with its own spooky story.
Over the years, the stories that make up the fabric of Drew’s haunted reputation have shifted and changed. The reason for this ebb and flow is that almost none of these stories are reflected in historical research.
In fact, Lose, the young theology student who lost his life in Hoyt, is the only recorded death that the archives staff can access in regards to the supposed hauntings. Other stories come from members of Drew’s community such as alumni, current students, security and custodial staff who navigate campus at odd hours of the night.
Most students today receive information about hauntings from annual campus ghost tour which have been hosted by The Special Collections and University Archives since 2016.
And these popular tales are not a new fascination of the Drew community. In fact, in the 1980s there was a particular fascination with the spirits on Drew’s campus.
In September of 1983, Lisa Spitz, a co-Editor-in-Chief of The Drew Acorn, would write “Guess Who’s Sleeping in Your Attic?” for the paper. Spitz’s focus was on the paranormal experiences that members of the Drew community could detail for her.
She took note of their experiences, many of which spanned their years on campus. Yet, many of their stories were too similar and consistent to be explained by coincidence; some of the recorded accounts send a shiver up the reader’s spine and at the same time explain the origins of the popular anecdotes floating around campus.
Spitz also made an offhand remark about “the parapsychologists who hold their conference at Drew every summer.” Parapsychologists study psychic and paranormal phenomena and the psychology associated with such topics.
A visit from Marjorie Kaschewski, a member of the Parapsychology Society, was recorded in an Acorn article entitled “N.J. ’s Ghosts Explained, Drew’s Too” from February 1975. Kaschewski explained the beliefs that people in her field held about ghosts and why the geography of lakes and mountains allowed spirits to exist in abundance in northern New Jersey. Drew’s environment provided the perfect place for these professionals to congregate and would continue to serve as a meeting point to discuss parapsychological research.
Drew’s ghostly reputation reaches beyond the haunted forest behind Tolley-Brown: On Halloween 2008, an annual seance was held on Drew’s campus in an attempt to contact Harry Houdini.
At first, Drew may seem a strange place to host such an event, but even those familiar with the Dorothy Young Center for the Arts may be unaware that Dorothy Young, the building’s namesake, was not only an influential Drew community member, but was also one of Houdini’s cast members in his touring show of 1925. Because of this correlation, the Official Houdini Seance of 2008 was held in the Black Box Theater of the DoYo. Sadly, the seance was unsuccessful.
Skeptics and believers alike may be left to wonder why Drew has clung to its reputation, even after students remained off campus during the pandemic.
Some may speculate that it’s due to an overwhelming amount of paranormal experiences, stories and lore. But in fact, these stories serve a greater purpose than one of mere entertainment: the stories serve as one of the deep rooted traditions of Drew.
The campus community lost many of its rich traditions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, yet the remnants of past students (both alive and undead) remain a core part of university lore.
Story-telling is an ancient and respected tradition and remains so at Drew. The team in the Special Collections “wing” of the University Archive has worked hard to put together sources to document this story-telling tradition. This work has culminated in haunteddrew.com
The website hosts several resources about spooky occurrences on campus, Acorn articles dedicated to the topic and digital media that was created to maintain Halloween traditions in fall 2020. The website even allows students to submit their own paranormal experiences to be added to the record.
While the world changes and Drew changes with it, we understand that our reputation for being one of the most haunted schools in America is not going away anytime soon.
Whether you have had a paranormal experience of your own or have heard whispers of the famed stories, the tradition lives on every time a Drew tour guide passes Hoyt-Bowne Hall. Even if we do not always know why they are here, we have rallied around the ghosts that may be residing in the poorly lit corners of campus. We just hope they do not scare us too badly this Halloween night.
Jocelyn Freeman is a junior majoring in history, English and Chinese.