When I was younger, I would go to my friend Clara’s house around Halloween to bake pumpkin pie, watch TV and tell scary stories with our friends. I remember huddling in a circle under a tent we’d made from sheets, taking turns narrating the eeriest, most haunting tales we could imagine. Some were family tales passed down by our parents and siblings and some we created in that very house. We imagined creaky floorboards to be ancient ghosts, shadows on the wall to be dormant killers and empty rooms to be full of monsters. Clara’s dad would sometimes join, using his scariest voice to recount decades of killings and residents gone rogue in the neighborhood. The allure of such stories, however, was never the exact plot or even the storytelling itself—it was always the anticipation, the tiny bit of fear that crept into our minds, not knowing for sure if these stories were real or made-up.
As I grew older, I told myself these ghost stories probably weren’t true. I decided not to believe in ghosts because it seemed impractical, and I rationalized that their existence went against scientific thought and reason. But the more I thought about it, the more ambiguous it has become. Why is it so difficult to imagine the spirit of a loved one living on or the soul of a struggling mind staying near its place of death?
All these thoughts accompanied me to Bowdoin. See, Bowdoin has a rich history not only in ghost sightings but also eerie and unexplainable occurrences. In 1862, Adams Hall became home to the Maine Medical School. This building, although recently renovated, still bears traces of its inhabitants from over a century ago. David Francis, resident Bowdoin ghost expert and academic technology consultant, showed me around Adams Hall and pointed out significant indications of the building’s past.
A black iron hook hangs down from the top floor’s ceiling, reminding students of the cadavers hoisted via a pulley system to the fourth floor during the medical school. Alcoves and recessed walls in the basement are lingering reminders of storage locations for the bodies, while the gaps between flights of stairs measure the perfect width to fit gurneys loaded with medical subjects. When Adams Hall was renovated in 2007, workers found that the floorboards on the top floor were reused coffin lids from penitentiaries. These coffins were presumably the least expensive wood Bowdoin could buy when building the hall, and they too came with their own share of history.
Not only does Adams itself bear signs of Bowdoin’s ghosts, but generations of students have passed down their fair share of eerie stories. Take, for example, a female student a few decades ago who claimed to see a shadowy figure while studying in Adams basement. She stood up to approach the figure and just when it turned to look at her, the figure vanished. Many years later she came back to campus and partook in the Haunted Bowdoin tour, confirming this sighting and that she still carries the terror from this incident.
Rumor has it that some years ago, a group of students were studying in Adams for a math exam when they saw a wispy blue-green light. They got up to inspect the eerie light more closely, but it vanished to the other side of the room before they could get a glimpse. These types of stories are not uncommon at Bowdoin, and Francis explains that housekeepers and security officers have scores of ghost stories as well, as these staff members often roam campus at night and in the dark.
So, whether it’s Adams’ ghosts or other resident phantoms, Bowdoin is anything but lacking in the supernatural. Hubbard Hall has been host to three seemingly coincidental deaths, including one student who slipped and fell on the way to class and an IT consultant who slumped dead over his computer in the basement; one student fell off the roof of Searles during a lunar eclipse. The number of unfortunate deadly incidents at Bowdoin is too high to comfortably ignore, and my mind goes once again to the question of whether ghosts exist.
So, as October progresses and campus fills with pumpkin lattes and talk of Halloween costumes, don’t forget to keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. Who knows? Maybe you’ll experience a ghost story of your own.