On some gray-skied days, the wind whistles through the alley between Gesu Church and Johnston Hall, creating a low whine audible in classrooms on the communication building’s upper floors. Distracting during the day, but in the dead of night, the sound can take on an almost mournful tone…
The same transformation occurs in the labyrinth of hallways that make up the Rec Plex beneath Straz Tower. Little more than slight nuisances to navigate when the building is full and alive, but take away fluorescent lighting and the comfort in knowing you’re not alone, and things begin to feel a little creepy.
Everyone enjoys a good ghost story, and over the years, Marquette has accumulated its fair share of these campus legends: haunts in Humphrey Hall from its days as a children’s hospital, a suicidal priest in Johnston Hall, a ghost boy in the Rec Plex, an alleged exorcism in Mashuda Hall, and the spirit of a very fastidious art critic in Cobeen Hall.
Most of these stories remain little more than old legends. They become proliferated and often exaggerated with each graduating class. And year-by-year, students are eager to embrace them.
Allison Kruschke, a junior in the College of Communication and former resident and Resident Assistant of Cobeen Hall, is all too familiar with the dormitory’s ghost. Allegedly, an art critic still haunts the building, tearing down posters and other wall hangings he doesn’t like.
“We always had issues keeping things on the wall. Like no matter what we did nothing would stay on the wall,” says Kruschke. “We always joked around that it was the art critic ghost.” Tape and tack couldn’t keep anything on the wall in Cobeen, not even Kruschke’s prized Beatles poster.
In the haunts of Johnston Hall’s fifth floor, the tales take a darker turn. The stories stem from rumors that a priest allegedly committed suicide by leaping out of a window in 1963. An obituary published in August of that year shows that a priest did fall to his death from the fifth floor of Johnston Hall, which was part Jesuit residence at the time. While it’s not explicitly stated, it is implied to be a suicide.
Back in 1999 three students documented a host of rather unusual experiences while staying overnight on Johnston’s fifth floor as part of a Marquette Tribune investigation into the ghost stories. Doors opening, strange noises, even the muffled sound of footsteps kept them awake through the night, but afterwards they couldn’t offer any one explanation for their experiences.
The ghost of a dead priest could have been the cause for the strange occurrences that night, but so could a number of other things. A drafty hallway, a leaky pipe or even the human imagination.
The fact that a death actually occurred still doesn’t prove that any strange happenings in Johnston Hall, or anywhere on campus, are the result of paranormal activity, but it does give a new level of possibility to the theory. According to Noah Leigh, founder of Paranormal Investigators of Milwaukee (the local ghost hunting group) it’s the difficulty of proving these stories one way or another that keeps people perpetually fascinated with the supernatural.
Confirming a story based solely on personal experience is something Leigh tries to avoid when investigating a claim, instead opting for physical evidence.
“Personal experiences are just that, they are not quantifiable. You can’t prove that they occurred,” says Leigh. “When we’re doing an investigation, what we want to do is capture that personal experience on video or audio so that we can look at it, critically, more than once.”
When hunting for a ghost, personal experiences lead investigators like Leigh to physical evidence, but the trail goes cold when there are no personal experiences to begin with.
In the Rec Plex, local legend says that a young boy drowned in the pool when the facility was a YMCA, and now his ghost haunts the area. His spirit has been attributed to everything from flickering lights and whispering voices near the pool, to missing blankets in the dorm rooms above, but Dan Biemann, the Maintenance Service Supervisor for the Department of Recreational Sports and Straz Tower employee since 1993, has never encountered the ghost known as “Whispering Willie.”
“I’ve heard something about a youth that drowned in the pool and the things that boy might do–showers left on or that sort of thing,” says Biemann. “But it’s all second hand to me. I’ve had no occurrences that were essentially unexplainable to me.”
And that is exactly what keeps these stories going. Liegh says: “The unknown is something people have always been interested in. Because there’s no rules, you can fit almost any answer to what you believe, or want to believe.”
Humphrey Hall- A children’s hospital until 1988, the ghosts of former patients are rumored to have been caught on security cameras throughout the building. Footsteps and the voices of children are said to be heard up and down the hallways.
Straz Tower- A young boy supposedly drowned in the pool of the former YMCA, and now his spirit, known as “Whispering Willie,” is said to be responsible for a number of strange occurrences in and around the pool area.
Cobeen Hall- The ghost of an art critic is frequently blamed for posters falling off the walls of Cobeen Hall dorm rooms.
Johnston Hall- One or more priests allegedly committed suicide by jumping out of a fifth floor window. Visitors to the fifth floor have reported strange lights and sounds, temperature changes and mysterious figures appearing in windows late at night.
Carpenter Tower- A ghost boy—the victim of a fire many decades ago—is said to be seen looking out of the upper windows of the building.
Varsity Theater- Lights turning on and off and doors opening and closing have for a long time been attributed to the ghost of a projector operator who was killed when he fell into a large metal fan.