Wells College Ghost Stories

For many generations, just before Halloween, upperclass students at Wells have told ghost stories to underclass students

These stories are passed down orally from class to class, and are therefore constantly changing as each storyteller adds unique elements or changes things around to suit different styles. At some point in the early 1990s, several of the traditional stories were written down, and the Archives obtained copies of the stories. We offer these here, along with other odds and ends found in the folder — one an account of a hanging on Wells land from a clipping amongst the Temple Rice Hollcroft papers, and another a spooky story written by an alumna about the Library.

The following stories were compiled before Wells became coeducational in 2005. There are no further documents in the Wells College Archives to either prove or disprove the accuracy of the stories presented here.

The Security Guard (Max)

Many years ago there was a fire in the building where Morgan Hall now stands. A security guard, trying to get everyone out of the building, was forced to push some of the students down the stairs. All of them made it out of the building but, unfortunately, the security guard did not. Sometimes students feel a push from behind when descending the stairs of Morgan. It is the ghostly security guard, Max, still trying to save them from the fire.

The Return of the Security Guard

One year a political science major was studying in the library of Morgan Hall. It was very late when she finished, so she called security for an escort back to her dorm. Even before she could turn her head, security had arrived.

"That was fast," she said, but she didn't receive an answer. Instead, the security guard approached her and proceeded, to her utter disbelief, to walk right through her. He disappeared, never to be seen again. She, however, did not fare so well; she refused to set foot in Morgan Hall ever again.

The Science Student of Zabriskie Hall

Once there was a very bright student who was doing a great deal of scientific research, often working in Zabriskie late into the night. Her professor was very pleased with her work and gave her a lot of attention. This also pleased the student, until she found out he was stealing her work and publishing it as his own. One night the professor visited her while she was working. She confronted him with her knowledge of his theft. He panicked and stabbed her to death, leaving the knife embedded in her lifeless body. To this day, every now and then, students who study in Zabriskie late into the night may be approached by a student who asks, "Would you please pull this knife out of my back?" If you pull the knife out, she will try to kill you with it.

The Frightened Roommate

At one point Pettibone House, located on the southern edge of campus, was a senior dormitory. All the rooms were connected, in order to bring the seniors closer together before graduation. One particular friendship among three seniors proved to be stronger than death itself.

The two friends — let's call them Amy and Jo — had returned from Spring Break and were unpacking when a third — let'se  call her Beth — returned. After they had been talking for a while, Amy and Jo realized Beth was troubled by something. They asked her what was bothering her and Beth said she was afraid that they would lose touch after graduation. Her friends hugged her and told her she was being silly; they would keep in touch and never forget her. Reassured, Beth told her friends she was going to go visit Meg, another friend down the hall. When Beth didn't return after many hours, the two friends went to find her. Meg said Beth had never been to visit her at all. A little later all three women were called into the Dean's Office and told that their friend Beth had been killed in a car accident on the way back to Wells. She had never arrived at the school.

The Ghost of Mrs. Wells

[One of many, many versions of this story]

In the early days of the college, Henry Wells was having an affair with a young woman living with the Pettibones, of Pettibone House. (Some people have it that his mistress was Mrs. Pettibone, others that the lady in question was a secretary who was boarding there.) Whoever she was, Mrs. Wells discovered the affair and one dark night she slipped out of Glen Park, across the bridge and struck out towards Pettibone. She came upon her husband's mistress at their place of assignation and with the knife she brought for the purpose, she viciously stabbed the other woman to death. Beware on dark nights, if you cross the bridge in front of Glen Park. If you are on the bridge and one of the lights goes out, don't look back, for you may see the ghost of Mrs. Wells, with wrath in her eye and knife in her hand, seeking the woman with whom her husband betrayed her — she might mistake you for her victim!

The Read Door

During one particularly snowy, cold and harsh winter, the Wells College campus was hit by a terrible epidemic of influenza. A large number of the students fell ill, and the weather prevented them from leaving campus. A small hospital was set up on the fourth floor of the College's Main Building, now a dormitory. The sick students were quarantined and a number of kind nurses stood watch over them, doing everything possible to ease their suffering.

Unfortunately, many of the students died, and there was no place to store their bodies in the dead of winter. A room on the same floor was made into a temporary morgue, and the bodies were kept there until the families could make funeral arrangements. The door to this room was painted red so that no one would accidentally wander into their resting place.

After the epidemic, the door was repainted, and the fourth floor was made habitable again. Within a few weeks, the red paint bled through the other color as a testimonial to what had happened to the women who had died. Because the Main Building has been redecorated since this ghostly happening, no one knows which fourth floor room served as the morgue. The location, however, is the subject of great speculation. Many brave first-year students have been known to wander the fourth floor looking for signs of red paint.

Main 220

220 Main Building was once a triple dorm room. Today it houses a resident advisor. Although it is one of the most beautiful rooms in Main, boasting its own fireplace, many students refuse to live there. While the room was still a triple, one woman who was living there became obsessed with the occult. Her friends became more and more anxious about her as she slipped further into a depression. No matter how hard they tried, she would not talk to anyone or seek help. One day, the friends went shopping off-campus, but they had to leave the depressed woman alone. She resisted all efforts to cajole her into going. So they left, having done all they could.

When the shoppers returned, they were told that their friend had committed suicide. Today, it is said that although Main has been remodeled and the rooms are not the same, anyone in Room 220 who looks in the mirror over the mantelpiece in just the right way can see her ghost, sitting near a corner. Although few claim to have seen her, the room is full of cold spots — sure signs of supernatural activity.

Main 305

At one time, during the College's early years, there was a cholera epidemic on campus. One of the rooms on fourth floor Main was used as an infirmary, a room facing south towards Morgan. It was formerly Room 305, but during the renovations in the summer of 1983 it was split into two rooms, one of which has the more easterly of the two "eyebrow" windows. One young woman confined there with cholera was nonetheless visited regularly by her fiancé. Since he couldn't enter the dorm, and she couldn't go out, he would climb to the top floor of Morgan and wave across to her window in Main. He happened to be there in his usual place in Morgan on the night of a terrible fire, and as he watched, his sweetheart was consumed by flames.

Many people have lived in those rooms in Main and, although none have reported specifically of the ghost of a girl waving at the window, many have complained of a wide variety of strange happenings — unexplained knockings and other noises, feelings of unease, small objects being moved about when no one was in the room, and so forth.

Before the renovations, Main 305 had been a triple. Three students living there in the mid-1980s experienced several of these odd phenomena, and took to talking to the spirit which shared their room each night before going to bed. One night they forgot and one of them fell asleep on a couch they had. In the morning when she woke up the folds of her clothes had left marks on her skin, which is not uncommon, but these marks took the shape of words. No one knows what the words said, but the students were able to get the Dean of Students to give them an immediate room change, which was very much discouraged and hard to get in those days. They all moved to Weld and would never live in Main again.

The Angels of Mercy

A variation on "The Red Door" tells of another epidemic that was far worse then the first. Main Building's third and fourth floors were again converted to an infirmary, and more nurses were called in to assist. Once again the nurses could do nothing but comfort the sick women. Then a catastrophe hit — a fire broke out in the hall. The valiant nurses risked their lives to save the quarantined students, but many of the nurses themselves died in the fire. To this day, students who are sick in Main Building claim to have had their temperatures and pulses taken by these Angels of Mercy, who also have been known to stroke the hair of sleeping residents.

The Melting Bicycles

Between fifteen and twenty years ago, students who lived in Glen Park Mansion (once the home of the College's founder, Henry Wells, and now a dormitory) stored their bikes in the basement. When they came back from a break, they found all their bicycles melted together in one large mass. No one could have gotten in — the door was kept locked to prevent theft. Nothing else in the basement was damaged, just their bicycles. No one has ever explained this occurrence. Some stories say that a murdered woman is buried beneath the basement. Others claim there is a natural hot spring flowing below Glen Park. Still others say the ghosts got mad and melted the bikes.

The Woman in the Widow's Watch

Sometimes, late at night, while walking across the bridge between Glen Park and the Dining Hall, students have reported seeing the shadowy figure of a woman in the tower at the top of Glen Park. Many believe this is the ghost of Mrs. Henry Wells waiting for her husband to return. Others believe it is the ghost of an infirmary nurse waiting for her intended husband to return from the Civil War.

The Mysterious Alarm

On the night of Wednesday, October 16, 1991, around 10 p.m., Security received a call that an alarm was going off in Weld dormitory. The van was patrolling campus at that time and even before the guard got to Weld, she could hear the alarm, but it wasn't the regular fire alarm, in fact, it was unlike any alarm known to her on campus. The RA and the Fire Captain were waiting for her and together they proceeded to Room 313, from which the noise was coming. The student living there was not in and the door was closed, so the guard retrieved her master key. She reached out to unlock the door, but before she had even touched it, the alarm stopped ringing. No one has been able to ascertain what the sound was, why it was ringing, or how it stopped.

The Mad Typist

Before they graduate, Wells seniors are required to write a thesis that incorporates all the knowledge they have gained in their college studies. Years ago a senior had a particularly difficult time with her thesis. She just could not seem to get it finished. As the deadline approached she stayed up later and later, edging towards a nervous breakdown, frantically typing her thesis. (This was before the age of the word processor.) Everyone in her dorm listened to her clack, clack, clack into the deepest hours of the night. She soon earned the nickname "The Mad Typist."

One night her friends, alarmed at their comrade's deterioration, convinced her to take a break and accompany them to the Fargo restaurant in Aurora. She went reluctantly, but after an evening of fun "The Mad Typist" began to relax. Her friends were relieved to see her old personality returning. They left the Fargo and began the long dark walk back to the campus. Tragedy struck when a vehicle (some say a wagon, some a car) careened off Main Street onto the sidewalk, killing only "The Mad Typist." She died instantly and was mourned by the Wells community.

Students still awaken in the dead hours to the distant clack, clack, clack. Today in the South Wing of Dodge, where "The Mad Typist" lived, many students who develop writer's block in the middle of the night swear they have felt someone looking over their shoulders, wondering about their progress.

Delaware John

[From a clipping amongst the Temple Rice Hollcroft papers]

After the sale of their land to the State of New York in 1789, almost all the remaining Native Americans moved out of their ancestral lands bordering the north shore of Cayuga Lake. One who did not was Delaware John. He lived in a small hut in what is now the town of Tyre, across the lake from Aurora, and subsisted by hunting the hardwood forests for game he sold to the new settlers in the area.

In the fall of 1803, Delaware John and one George Phodoc formed a primitive partnership to hunt together, with each keeping his own kill. Phodoc proved to be highly successful, but his partner missed shot after shot. John was soon convinced that Phodoc had put a spell on his gun and thus made a kill impossible. The only way to remove the spell was to eliminate Phodoc. He hid near Phodoc's cabin and when his victim arrived, a deer over his shoulder, he fired. As in previous hunts, his aim was faulty and his shot only wounded Phodoc, who quickly escaped to raise an alarm. Undaunted, John remained at the scene and soon saw someone he thought was Phodoc in his sight again. This time the bullet's flight was true, but the man turned out to be Ezekiel Crane, a new settler trying to buy venison.

Delaware John was arrested and brought to trial in Aurora, then the county seat, before Judge John Ambrose Spencer and within the walls of Cayuga Academy (later Cayuga Lake Academy). His plea was guilty, and it was said that he showed real regret at having killed an innocent person — but even greater regret at missing the true target. The foreman of the jury, Elijah Price, delivered the verdict, "Guilty." Although John requested that he be shot, Judge Spencer ordered that he be hanged. The order was expeditiously carried out. He was hanged in a ravine south of the village, next to which Glen Park was later built.

Through information supplied by the man from the State of Washington, noted at the beginning, the story continues and comes down to much more recent times.

Before the hanging, the local physician, Dr. Frederick Delano, offered Delaware John a jug of whisky in exchange for his lifeless body. The deal was struck and Dr. Delano secured the corpse immediately after the hanging. He then proceeded to reduce it to a dried skeleton which was properly mounted in his office. The skeleton passed on through a series of local physicians and was always displayed in a prominent place in their offices. Finally, Dr. Elijah Price Baker inherited the remains when he arrived in Aurora in 1869. In the spring of 1870, Dr. Baker had Delaware John's skeleton, along with some other bones used for medical instruction, buried in Oak Glen Cemetery. The only mourner was the doctor's son, Fred Baker, the man from Washington who wrote Professor Hollcroft in 1952.

Dr. Baker's home and office was the house where Floyd Gifford used to live, which has recently been restored by the Higgins. Fred Baker moved from Aurora around 1900 but retained an excellent memory of places, people and events associated with the village and surrounding area. His letters to Hollcroft treat a wide variety of subjects, all fascinating. It was through this correspondence that it was learned that the jury foreman, Elijah Price, after whom Dr. Baker was named, was Fred Baker's grandfather. Mr. Baker died in 1957 at the age of 96.

From The History of Cayuga County New York by Elliot G. Storke. 1879, p.397

In one of the upper rooms of the Patrick Tavern, located on the Southeast corner of Main Street and Dublin Hill Road, "the early courts were held, including one, in 1804, which tried the Delaware Indian named John, for the murder, the previous year, hear Seneca Falls, of Ezekiel Crane, one of the earliest settlers in Seneca County. John was captured after a hard struggle, and convicted before Judge Ambrose Spencer, who sentenced him to be hung. When the time for the execution arrived, he expressed his wish to be shot like a warrior, with his rifle in his hand. This being denied him, he submitted to his fate with the stoicism characteristic of his race. He was hung in the ravine in the rear of the College. Dr. Frederick Delano, who, in company with others, dissected him, preserved the skeleton and kept it until his death, when it passed into the possession of Dr. Morgan, and subsequently into that of Drs Alex Thompson and Baker, the latter of whom had it buried. This was the first case of capital punishment in Cayuga County.

From Historical and Statistical Gazetteer of New York State. 1860, p.198

"...the first courthouse was located at Aurora, on the E. shore of Cayuga Lake. It was built of poles and covered with brush. In 1803 a circuit court and court of Oyer and Terminer was held at this place by Daniel D. Tompkins, at which a man by the name of John was tried and convicted of the murder of Ezekiel Crane, jr., and sentenced to be hung. He urgently requested that he might be shot — a privilege, of course, not granted by our laws."

The Stacks

A short story by Karin Wikoff, Wells Class of 1986   © 1991

Louis Jefferson Long Library, or as it is better known, Wells College Library, was opened in 1968 — hardly long enough ago for it to harbor any of the romantic and antiquated ghosts which so commonly appear in legends surrounding other campus locations. Nor is the library built on the site of a former Indian burial ground (all rumors aside), nor yet situated in a locale infested with some innate evil, as are themes in popular horror novels. All of the above notwithstanding, there is something a bit peculiar about the library. Any student who has remained in the library, studying late into the night, can confirm that there is something rather unsettling about the place.

Walking among the stacks at night, or occasionally even during the day, and especially on the third floor, with its dim lighting casting weird shadows against the high, oddly-pitched ceilings, that strange, prickly feeling will creep over your neck and shoulders, the way it does when someone is watching you. You look around, yet there is nothing there, nothing but stacks and stacks of books.

You peruse the stacks, pondering which volume will suit your needs, answer your questions or set you on the trail of even more sources. You stand there, book in hand, leafing through the pages, when you hear the sigh. The wind blows high against that crazy cathedral-beamed roof, causing the wood to creak and moan. And yet it sounds uncannily like the soft breathing of some huge sleeping creature.

You look around again, and still you are the only person in the building, save for the workers at the desk and a student or two at the tables in the brightly-lit circulation area downstairs. And then you feel it — the heavy oppressive feeling of all those books — all that knowledge — pressing in on you, each volume containing a glimmer of the mind and soul of its author. You think of the effort and the energy that went into each author's work, then think of the hundreds of thousands of residual sparks there must be lingering in those books, teeming masses of them. And somehow the sum is more than the total of its parts, as if some unseen and unsuspected being has been born of all that energy and is feeding itself upon all those books, sucking from a pool of knowledge vaster than any of us could ever hope to grasp. The sheer burden of all that knowledge so close at hand presses in, making the aisles seem ever narrower.

A sudden gust of wind shudders the building, shaking you from your reverie, and yet is that shudder not unlike some giant and knowing beast stirring in its slumber? Now it is your turn to shudder and scurry downstairs to the light, vowing never again to walk alone among the stacks at night.

Aurora, NY — February 12, 1991