Friday, October 28, 2005

Something wicked this way comes...

As a nice little gear-up for Halloween, I thought I would write about something eerie (like this) or something downright scary (like “President” Bush’s Administration). Then it hit me like a ton of bricks.

A few weeks ago, after coming home from a wedding in Southern Illinois my family and I decided to make a stop at my wife and mine alma mater Eastern Illinois University (EIU). While my wife goes there every year as part of her job, I had not been back since 2001 (btw, the changes that have been made there are incredible)

As we were walking across campus, my wife started telling our nephew (who was hitching a ride home with us) about the haunting of Pemberton Hall. So I decided, on the eve of Halloween eve eve (huh?) that I would write about the ghost and haunting of EIU’s Pemberton Hall.

Warning: The following has some disturbing imagery and details
How did this tale begin? Oddly enough, it was a dark and stormy (and cold) winter’s night around 1917 when a resident of Pemberton Hall went upstairs to the fourth floor of the building to play the piano. It was very late, the young woman had been unable to sleep and was hoping that playing some music might help her to relax and get tired.

The story continues that the young woman was tragically raped and left dying by a deranged janitor and crawled down the stairs scratching and feebly knocking on doors for help. Finally, she made it to the counselor's door and managed to awaken her… but it was to late. By the time the counselor opened the door the young woman was dead.

As the years passed, residents of Pemberton Hall say they have heard this event from the past repeating itself in the building. They recall the dragging sounds heard near the stairs that lead to the upper floor and the sounds of scratching on doors and walls. Most bewildering though are the bloody footprints that have appeared in the corridor, only to vanish moments later. Many believe the ghost of the murdered young woman has returned to haunt Pemberton Hall, but that’s only half of the haunted tale.

The counselor who discovered the murdered girl was named Mary Hawkins and was a favorite among the residents of Pemberton Hall. The effect of the murder on Mary’s personality was devastating though as she became haunted by the death of the young woman. Students spoke of seeing her pacing the hallways at all hours of the night, unable to sleep and tormented by horrible visions and guilt. Finally, unable to cope with her depression and nightmares, she was institutionalized and later committed suicide.

Shortly after her death, residents of Pemberton Hall started to report some strange occurrences in the building (and these spooky events continue today) Students believe the incidents are the work of Mary Hawkins, still making her rounds and checking in on the young women who live in the building. Many believe that her spirit (unable to rest after losing a woman in her care) still roams the hall and watches out and protects them, locking and unlocking doors, turning radios and televisions off hours, and generally keeping track of things that go on.

For many years, students have spoken of the odd happenings in the building and events that would convince even the most skeptical of residents that perhaps the hall was truly haunted, such as late night door knockings and inexplicable sounds in the hallways. Only to discover an empty hallway when the door is open. Others claim to have seen the apparition of a woman entering their rooms and then vanishing. In other cases, residents who distinctly recall leaving their doors open and unlocked, often find them to be mysteriously locked the next morning, as if someone was checking up on them and worried about their safety.

Could it have been Mary Hawkins?

Even before I attended EIU in the 90’s there were reports of strange events happening in the hall. Throughout the 60’s and 70’s, residents reported hearing the sounds of whispers in the building, and there were a number of reports of apparitions on the stairwell that would appear briefly and then vanish. One student, who lived in Pemberton Hall in 1976, recalled the problems that the resident advisors had with the furniture in one of the lounges. Many times, the furniture in this room was often found to be overturned or rearranged, often during the overnight hours. Rumor has it that an RA walked into a room one morning and discovered the furniture had all been moved around. She went to get some help to straighten the room up again and when she and another resident came back, they found everything had been restored to order.

Most students don’t actually see Mary or the other ghosts, but few doubt the spirit exists. One recurring incident involved the lights on the fourth floor of the building (where the music room is and where the first young woman was attacked) where many students reported seeing the windows open and close and the lights turn on and off, with no logical explanation given. (While I attended Eastern, the fourth floor was locked and off-limits to residents, but, for the last couple of years the fourth floor has been open on Halloween only for a Haunted House, read an article here from The Daily Eastern News to learn more about that)

As you can tell, the majority of weird reports have centered on the fourth floor, ranging from hearing the sound of footsteps pacing overhead and the strains of faint piano music filtering down. Is it true?

Depends on your point of view…