Hidden Rooms, Eerie Typewriters, and Chapel Ghosts

Although nowadays, many Lawrentians rarely raise the topic of urban legends, there are still parts of our campus that most of us, if not all, avoid because of these myths.

Although nowadays, many Lawrentians rarely raise the topic of urban legends, there are still parts of our campus that most of us, if not all, avoid because of these myths. These stories of haunted buildings and superstitions can influence our lives on campus, and there are certain places where we certainly would not go on a regular basis, such as the Woods Memorial Hall basement or some parts of the Chapel.

Many of us have heard rumors about the ghost living in the graffiti-smothered basement of Woods Memorial Hall, but there are also other areas of that building that seem downright eerie, one of them being the cellar that directly connects to a rusted chimney. According to English Master Champ Atlee ’62 H’74 ’75 ’79 ’83 ’84 ’87 ’89 ’06 P’92, some believe that the ghost of a former Lawrentian, who attended the School in the 1970s, still climbs up and down the smokestack. The boy, who belonged to the Woodhull House, where Atlee served as a former Housemaster from 1969 to 1978, “was very much a loner and didn’t have much friends,” Atlee said. On occasional days, he would visit the chimney by himself just to scale the chute; although he was lonesome, nobody suspected anything askew in his life. However, when a set of electrical scales was stolen from the chemistry lab—which costs around $1,500 to $2,000—and the Lawrence Township Police investigated the case, they discovered that the boy not only had possession of the scales but was also an active “participant in the drug trade on campus,” Atlee said. He was soon asked to withdraw from the School and when he passed away, some believed that his ghost started lurking around the corners of Woods Memorial Hall.

While some Lawrenceville legends concern campus buildings, others concern the lives of faculty members. In 1970, former Dean of Students and History Master Frank Heyniger mysteriously passed away at his summer home in South Dartmouth at the age of 53. He, along with his wife Adelaide Cole, their two children, and his mother, were all victims of a terrible incident in which he was the only non-survivor. Prior to his death, one aspect he loved about Lawrenceville was his house on campus—the Heyniger House, the official residence of the Dean of Students. The legend goes that sounds of his typewriter still echoes throughout the halls at night. The children of preceding Deans tell “convincing stories of having seen [his] jolly, spectacled ghost,” current Dean of Students Blake Eldridge ’96 said. Although he himself has not witnessed the apparition, he “has, on a number of occasions, heard what sounds like a typewriter in use.”

Another ghost story tells the tale of the return of a Housemaster who died of a rather pitiful death. According to the 1939 summer issue of The Lawrentian, Guy Ramsey ’1917 recounts the story of seeing the spirit of former Kennedy Housemaster Percy Robert Colwell after revisiting campus to attend his funeral in 1919. Colwell supposedly “slipped in his bath, fell, and died” after only recently assuming his role as the new Housemaster. Ramsey, who called up a friend living near campus, was met with an “astonishing sight” when he walked past the Kennedy House after leaving his companion’s house that evening. Looking into the window of the dorm, “with the same crooked stance [Ramsey] had always known, and with the same dirty white flannels he had always worn on winter afternoons, stood Percy Colwell, whose grave had yawned beneath [Ramsey’s] feet but six hours before,” Ramsey wrote in the magazine. He later added that “on his face was a wry, sad smile, as if to say, ‘Isn’t that tough? I’ve just been given this House, and now, darn it, I’ve got to leave it.’” Before Ramsey could say anything, the ghost vanished and he bolted back to his room “in a minute under world record time.”

Undoubtedly, there are a multitude of ghost stories circulating around campus, but Lawrenceville is also a remarkably historic school that has experienced many significant events in history, such as the American Civil War, the World Wars, and the Cold War. Myths of gathering spots for secret societies underneath buildings during these war-torn times, sunken tunnels linking the Lawrence Township Presbytarian Church with taverns across the street, and spine-tingling cisterns in mysterious locations have all roamed from one person to the next. According to the 2017 Issue of The Lawrentian, author Owen Johnson alluded to a hidden chamber called the “Holy of Holies” in the northeast corner of the Hamill House in his 1911 book The Tennessee Shad, a volume that belonged to his larger series called “The Lawrenceville Stories.” Johnson, who was a former Lawrentian, wrote many literary pieces about a fictional character Dink Stover and his adventures at the Lawrenceville. Apparently, the room served as the secret destination where boys “used to smoke,” and there were “several chairs, some cushions, and hanging lamps inside” the lounging zone, a 1939 issue of The Lawrence wrote. His tale remained unverified for many years until the 1963 summer issue of The Lawrentian published an image of “an ancient bottle of sherry and two packs of equally aged cigarettes dating to the 1890s” whose owner was unknown, and former Hamill House resident R. Norman Caine ’38 claimed to have rediscovered the room where these items belonged. Caine apparently scrutinized the House’s architecture and, along with the help of two housemates, broke through a wall that was “heavily reinforced with solid wood, sheet metal, and wooden slats” to discover the “Holy of Holies,” Caine recalled. Evidence of the room had seemingly been overlooked when a stairway was installed in 1914.

Similarly, former Lawrentians Mike O ’Neill, Pete Criswell, and Bob McEwan discovered an attic-like room in the Kennedy House dating back to the 1920s. According to a 1964 issue of The Lawrence, the secret club, known as “The Hole,” was a designated “smoking club.” The walls of the isolated room were draped with banners and the floor was scattered with empty packs of cigarettes and film magazines when it was rediscovered in 1927. After “The Hole” marked the second finding of a private room on campus, many groups began to search for similar places at other locations. However, while these seekers may or may not find anything, The Lawrence warns them to “beware!” These student archaeologists may have a great chance of discovering something terrifying that’s unknown to the public. No further context was given to this statement.

Although the truth behind these myths may be obscure and it is certainly hard to distinctly prove the existence of ghosts, these urban legends undoubtedly contribute to Lawrenceville’s unique culture and traditions on campus. Whether an individual believes them or not is a personal choice, but these stories will surely remain an integral part of Lawrenceville's history.

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