Ghost encounters of the Whittie kind

Keathley Pinney Brown, Feature Writer

It’s October — time for ghosts, ghouls and spirits to capture our minds and dwell in our stories once again. For some, the spooky season is nothing more than an excuse to dress up. For others, it carries greater significance: ancient cultural traditions, personal experiences with ghosts or connections to ancestors.  

Wherever your opinions on the supernatural sit, Whitties have plenty of ghost stories to share. It turns out there’s a lot to learn from the paranormal. 

Some of Whitman’s most well-known ghost stories come from our very own North Hall. We’ve all heard the rumors — ghosts run amok in the halls of the hospital-turned-dorm, sending chills down students’ spines. Junior Chihiro Sasayama, one of North’s RAs, shared some of the tales he’s heard. 

His reports included unidentified footsteps in the early morning hours, a room filled with hundreds of old landlines, a cordoned-off morgue with a constant chill even in the summer and an elevator that goes up when you press the down button and opens its doors without prompting. 

Illustration by M Hu.

If that wasn’t enough, some students claim that, if you venture into the former operating room late at night and stare into the massive windows, sometimes “you see someone else behind you or something else that’s not supposed to be in the reflection,” Sasayama said. 

He admitted that these stories can make his RA rounds frightening, and it’s easy to see why. Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, there’s something eerie about walking in dark and quiet halls, especially in a former hospital.

While North Hall may be Whitman’s most recognizable haunted site, it’s not the only one.

For years, Prentiss Hall residents have reported haunted activity, courtesy of the dorm’s namesake, Narcissa Prentiss Whitman. Numerous stories about Narcissa’s ghost circulate Prentiss’ halls, holding common themes. 

One of these themes is water, which is a surefire way to summon Narcissa. If you ever find yourself turning on the taps in Prentiss, whether it be in the shower or the laundry room, you may want to brace yourself for a spectral visitor. Students theorize that water calls to Narcissa because her only child drowned in the Walla Walla River in 1839. Whether Narcissa’s reaction to Prentiss’ water is vengeful, mournful or confused, Prentiss residents concur that water inspires her to show herself. 

Another way to conjure Narcissa’s ghost? Invite a man over. Residents have claimed that visiting men infuriate Narcissa, who was a missionary in her past life. 

Residents who have caught Narcissa’s attention have described showers shutting off without warning, eerie whispers, rattling blinds and belongings that move without explanation. 

For those hoping to escape hauntings by moving off-campus, don’t get your hopes up. Junior Soleil Ponce De Leon has already had strange, hair-raising experiences in her new off-campus home. She described hearing a voice calling her name, things tugging at her roommates’ blankets at night and doors opening of their own accord. At first, she brushed the occurrences off as coincidences, but they kept happening.

“I hear[d], once again, a small girl voice, and I know it sounds absolutely insane, but I freak[ed] out. I just started screaming, and I literally went into freeze,” Ponce De Leon said. 

Living in a haunted house can put her on edge, but she does what she can to live with the spirit. Ponce De Leon and her roommates “have this inside joke that there’s a small ghost that’s a child in our house that’s just fucking with us.” Turning unsettling experiences into something more humorous helps them move forward day-to-day.

Ghosts roam the world outside of Whitman, as well, and first-year Ella Shropshire has had her own spooky encounters. Years ago, her aunt took her to Ireland where they boated to an island that housed an ancient monastery and abandoned town. Shropshire toured one of the churches where she saw an altar filled with stones. Entranced by the rocks, she decided to take one. Minutes after removing the stone from the altar, dread began to pool in her stomach. She regretted taking the stone, but wasn’t able to return it to its rightful place. 

As the day progressed, Shropshire developed a fever and rash. She attributed her symptoms to taking the stone and angering a spirit.

“I think whatever was on the island, I only minorly offended it, but I do believe it was a punishment for my presumption that I could take something from a holy site as a souvenir,” Shropshire said. 

Her experience in Ireland speaks to a larger theme when it comes to spirits: it’s best not to mess with them. 

Like spirits, faeries and druids, Samhain is an integral part of Celtic folklore, marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. It revolves around the winter and summer faerie courts as they battle for power. Each year, the winter court emerges victorious, explaining the changing seasons. Understanding Samhain is important, as it inspired modern-day Halloween. Despite Halloween’s popularity, not everyone knows its history.

Shropshire and fellow first-year Noelle Jekel both grew up celebrating Samhain. During the festival, people dress up to hide themselves from the fae, participate in parades, carve turnips, play music and engage in cultural dances. 

Jekel is grateful that her family raised her in such rich traditions, as they offer a fun perspective. These traditions also imparted important lessons on Jekel related to the fae.

“My mom was like, ‘Don’t give your name away to strangers. If you do, they’ll spirit you away,’” Jekel said. 

Faeries are agents of mischief and often hold dark intentions. If spirits gain a person’s name — one of the most important things a person has — they will use it against them. 

This is one of the reasons why people began dressing up on Oct. 31; costumes help disguise us from spirits as they cross over a thinning barrier into our realm. 

Every October, Shropshire’s family celebrates their ancestors who have passed on. Shropshire spoke about honoring her family during this time of year.

“[Oct. 31] might be a night when we can be a family despite the time that lies between us, and … that’s something that really comforts me,” Shropshire said.

This year, Shropshire is not able to celebrate in the same ways she typically would with her family, but she still intends on setting up photos of her family in her dorm to connect with them. The dead don’t have to be scary; we can find solace and love when we take the time to remember those who came before us. 

No matter our opinions or beliefs on spirits, we may find ourselves drawn to ghost stories. Part of this is because these stories are fun. They serve as a way to open our minds to what could be out there. Whitties pass lore from class to class, keeping history alive and creating shared ties between generations of students. 

On a broader scale, customs such as Samhain and Halloween offer us a day during which we don costumes, share treats and good food, party and transform our world into something more magical for a night. It’s hard to deny the appeal.

North Hall’s annual haunted house event brings the residents together as they collaborate on set design, costumes and acting. Students exercise their creativity and bring stories to life for the entire campus. 

Ghost stories can be a way to start conversations and meet new people and places that we might not have otherwise encountered. Other students don’t often venture to North, but the haunted house brings the community to its halls and helps us appreciate North for its history and for what it truly is: “a quite warm place [with] lots of laughter,” Sasayama said.

Jekel agrees, emphasizing the enjoyment she gets out of participating in traditions and engaging with ancient lore. However, she acknowledges that these traditions have darker roots and that we should not take spirits lightly. 

Shropshire also speaks to the darker elements of the season. 

“As humans … we’ve always feared the night, dark and death, but I also think the idea of spirits coming back kind of hits us in the face because of how much we fear our own mortality,” Shropshire said. “What is scarier to the person who’s terrified of dying than the dead?”

It’s up to us to develop our own relationships with spirits. We can seek comfort in them, entertain ourselves with horror stories, use them to ponder big questions and face our fears or simply disregard them altogether. No matter what we choose to believe, the spooky season is upon us. So, prepare your costumes, steer clear of Prentiss’ faucets and embrace this season in all its shapes and forms.