I visited Bowdoin for the first time in February 2011 and stayed in one of the hotels at the desperate end of Pleasant Street, right off of Route 295. To the 17-year-old me who had grown up in a beach suburb of Los Angeles, the opposite corner of the nation was more naturally grim than I had expected. Its buildings seemed to abide the weather with an aged melancholy, as if past generations had fought nature and settled for a stalemate that still held. I remember standing in the deserted and windy stretch of restaurants near the College feeling like Brunswick was a literal ghost town.

When I arrived, I had no sense of what New England life was like in any season. I’m not sure I was even aware of Dunkin’ Donuts, let alone Tim Horton’s. My only frame of reference came from school. I was taking AP U.S. History and American Lit, and junior year academic overdrive shoved a heap of historical associations to the front of my mind. Didn’t James Bowdoin put down Shay’s Rebellion? I’d commit suicide too if I was Ethan Frome and I was this cold all the time. Just focus on the tour, geez.

The character that kept popping up was Nathaniel Hawthorne, Class of 1825, whose stories I had recently been reading. It was all so novel—I connected the towers, shadows and lamp-lit walks of the College with the eerie townscapes of his fiction. The dark outlines of the Pines gave off the same foreboding as the forest that swallowed up Goodman Brown, and the severity of colonial houses seemed to hide unknown evils behind closed doors.

Back home in southern California, one’s senses work more straightforwardly. After all, my town was a long stretch of sand dunes a century ago; it has only one season, and its only legends were written for the screen. No one has ever been burned at the stake, experienced a Great Awakening, or influenced the course of history; everyone just drives their cars and surfs.

Bowdoin, on the other hand, has not only a history but a whole mythology. Pine stands and plaques, gravestones and cornerstones; there is a historicity to every part of the College that brings the weird and hallowed traditions of the past into our present. The creepy-crawly stuff of bygone centuries is never that far out of sight. My current residence—the old Chi Psi lodge—has skulls carved into its front lintel and an empty coffin locked away in its basement.

Hawthorne’s images stayed with me because they resurrect the world that gave birth to these supernatural extensions of this school’s identity. As an outsider, I was hypersensitive to them when I arrived and have somehow remained so two winters later. The freezing weather and ever-present historical tradition give the shapes of everyday life a sort of mysticism in my vision, so that settling into a town incorporated in the 18th century is more than a novelty. It feels a bit like living a narrative.

All this will sound silly to the hundreds of J.O.B.s on campus. Maybe I’m overthinking things, and maybe I was a little oversensitive to the imagination of our mustachioed favorite alumnus. But Bowdoin truly is a rich repository of the ghost stories, gothic designs and Puritan history that Hawthorne channeled so vividly. On freezing nights when I’m walking alone and the Quad feels alive with inhuman things, I get a tiny thrill as his world spills over a little into mine.

I know I’m not completely alone in this. One only need refer to John Cross’ wonderful “Whispering Pines” column to see that Bowdoin’s flirtation with the unearthly goes back a long way. In the 1880s, for example, students annually buried mathematics textbooks after a long funeral procession in honor of “Anna Lytics,” and multiple gravestones on the Quad bore her name. The cadaver hooks that still hang in Adams Hall are yet another morbid legacy.

For a better example, an 1888 article in the Lewiston Wednesday Journal recounts the rituals of Old Phi Chi, a now-defunct secret society whose hazing routine makes the men’s tennis team look like the Children’s Center. It is subtitled “A Gruesome Tale of the Era of Barbarism at Bowdoin,” and tells the story of an inductee dragged through mud, placed in a coffin, dropped from a height of 20 feet into a sail-cloth, and then tossed up and down above a bonfire for good measure.

The days when sons of Bowdoin reveled in the supernatural attachments of the College’s setting and origins died out with the fraternities and secret societies that revered them. Morbid thrills and pranks belonged to the 19th century, the way top-40 a capella covers and sweaty dance parties belong to the 21st. But as summer approaches, I am already looking ahead to those blustery evenings when the ghosts of old Bowdoin feel at home in the new one.