I’m Petra Schaaf-Grisham, the newest admissions counselor at St. John’s and a member of the Class of 2021. Through extensive research, my friend Ives Williams and I created a ghost tour of the Annapolis campus of St. John’s College. For my first blog post, on Halloween itself, I want to introduce you to some of the scariest parts of the college.
St. John’s was founded in Annapolis, in the English Colony of Maryland, in 1696. For over 300 years, she has born witness to the happenings and hauntings of early settlers, witchcraft trials, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and, into the 20th century, the adoption of our famous Great Books curriculum.
Let us begin by telling you about the mist walkers on back campus. In 1655 in the town of St. Mary’s city, Maryland was founded slightly south of present day Annapolis. St. Mary’s City was the largest settlement at the time. The protestants, unhappy with the very catholic city moved and founded the town of Providence. On March 25, 1655, there was a battle south of here at St. Mary’s in the Colony of Maryland between Protestant and Catholic militias. The Protestants won, which was the first battle between Englishmen on the North American continent. As a result, the capital was moved further north to Annapolis and the town of Providence disappeared into the mist.
Some of the most haunted sites on campus include:
At the very heart and soul of campus, McDowell Hall stands proudly. The building was chartered in 1741 after the colonial legislature authorized funding for an official residence for Colonial Governor Thomas Bladen. The Governor’s home was planned as one of the largest and most elaborate houses in all the colonies. Unfortunately, work stopped due to lack of additional funding, and the structure was left without a roof. The site became known as “Bladen’s Folly,” and it was left to deteriorate for nearly fifty years. The college took it over in 1784, and today it houses the best classrooms on campus, including the Great Hall. It was here in 1937 that Scott Buchanan and Stringfellow Barr instituted the famous Great Books curriculum that students continue to study today.
Recently, a student was reading in McDowell when he heard voices coming from the room next to his. They were talking about Aristotle, one of the authors all students at St. John’s read. The student opened the door to join the conversation and was met with a roaring fire in the fireplace and two men with open books sitting in leatherback chairs. They both had on well-tailored suits from around the 1930s and looked both shocked and slightly offended at the intrusion. The student apologized profusely and shut the door. On second thought he opened the door again and was greeted by an empty classroom. Gone were the leatherback chairs and the roaring fire, instead he was met with the usual large wooden table with empty chairs and an old- painted over fireplace. Other students swear that when they look up at McDowell around 2 to 4 am they see rapid lights moving through the windows on the second and third floors. Sometimes whole rooms glow green or red and these glowing orbs are seen to gently float inside.
The Boathouse and College Creek
During the Revolutionary War, the French military officer Marquis de Lafayette camped his troops nearby College Creek. Here on campus, he attended several balls. Many soldiers died in the field near College Creek and were buried in shallow graves with wooden crosses, and after the war, the bodies and crosses would wash up when College Creek would flood. There’s a monument dedicated to these dead soldiers that was erected on April 18, 1911. The area has experienced paranormal activity. Visitors to the area near the monument report of cold spots and hearing voices speaking French. Some have experienced feelings of anxiety and would have visions of how the area looked in the 1700s. Re-enactors also have reported seeing men in old French uniforms that do not match their costumes.
In 1862, Annapolis became the main depot on the east coast for Union prisoners released on parole by the Confederacy. The camps, and the army regiments stationed in and around the city, changed Annapolis from a sleepy market-town to an over-crowded city filled with thieves and murderers. The Naval Academy and St. John’s College were turned into hospitals to treat the wounded.
Humphrey’s Hall was built in 1837 in gothic revival style as a library, laboratory, and dormitory, the last of which it still is today. But it served as a morgue during the war. Medicine and medical practices in Humphrey’s were adequate at best and often the cure for a bullet wound to the leg was to amputate. Stretchers were made of metal bars beneath the bed, allowing it to be folded shut for easier transportation but strong enough to comfortably transport the wounded. With the often-rainy weather and bloodstains, the wood became well-worn and the springs rusted. The stretchers would creak and moan with the weight of the men. Students living in Humphrey’s have been known to hand out after seminar and hear something that sounded like squeaky metal grinding on wood as well as hurried footsteps and the low moan of someone in pain.
The supernatural happenings in Randall Hall are harder to link to specific people, but nonetheless, students have reported eerie feelings and seeing spirits out of the corner of their eyes. The third floor is known to have more activity than others with students reporting a ghostly apparition appearing in the bathroom mirrors and the sound of knocking on their doors. One student late at night said that he heard scratching coming from the other side of the door. When we went to open it he found the hallway empty. Another student swore they had locked the door behind them but found it open again. Brushing it off as a lapse of memory they closed and locked the door only to have it swing open again.
Nearby Pinkney Hall was built in 1855 as a dormitory; however, almost immediately after the building’s completion it was commandeered by the Northern army and used as a place where battle plans were drawn up and prisoners of war were traded back to the south. There have been cases of doors that shut on their own or the feeling of being watched. The ghost that haunts Pinkney is known as the Lady in Red. Usually wearing a red dress, she patrols the third and fourth floors, carries a candle, and gently drifts up and down the halls keeping watch. Sometimes she appears to be in a nurse’s uniform that has been blood soaked, which leads us to believe she’s connected to the use of campus as a hospital in the Civil War. As far as our research goes, we have not been able to track down any woman that died in Pinkney’s.
Greenfield Library used to be the Hall of Records for Maryland, and it held the state records. Legend holds that an archivist who was always being overlooked for promotion died here and swore he would get revenge on those that had passed him over. If you are in the library late at night some student workers have said they can hear whistling from deep in the archives, but upon reaching the sound there is no one there. Soon after the whistling begins again this time from the opposite side of the library. This will continue for some time or until you leave.
Nearby, is the Barr Buchanan Center, which was originally built as Woodward Hall in 1899. Inside the King William Room upstairs, students annually sit to be assessed by the faculty in a process known as “don rags.” Instead of grades, Johnnies get verbal feedback on their essays and participation in class discussions. The painting in the center of the King William Room is said to follow you with his eyes and looks as if he is eternally judging you.
Temple Iglehart, as the gym is known, was dedicated in 1910. The classical revival style building consists of a large open room on the first floor that provided ample space for drilling, as well as basketball and tennis. The 120-foot by 160-foot main room is encircled by a wood running track, suspended from the metal truss roof at a height of twelve feet. More than half of Johnnies use Temple Iglehart for the intramural program, where students compete in dozens of sports for the coveted intramural blazer.
The more famous paranormal activity here in the gym is the ghost simply known as the jogger. Gym assistants that are responsible for locking up at night have said as soon as the lights go off they will hear someone start running up on the track. The steady footfalls and creaking of the track are very distinct and upon turning the lights back on there is no one there.