One of the creepiest things that students on the Campus of Gettyburg College are likely to encounter is the apparition of a Civil War soldier standing guard on top of the Cupola at Pennsylvania Hall. The ghost, who is thought to be a signalman from the time when the Confederates held the college, often aims his rifle at students on the ground, and over the years a number of alarming reports of a gunman on the tower have been investigated by the campus security only to find that the locks were secure and the tower was in fact, empty.
In the paranormal world these kind of intelligent hauntings are extremely rare and make up only about five percent of all the hauntings in the U.S.. (but strangely up to seventy five percent of the ghost encounters reported on Gettysburg College Campus!) No one knows why this is, but most explanations attributing them to the crisis of 1863 do not factor in all the ghosts which have sprung up in the years since. Stevens Hall for example (a sorority house) was built in 1911 and was used as a prep school for middle school aged girls that would later enter the college. It was during this period that the famous “blue boy” story came into existence.
The legend goes that on one particularly cold winter night some girls at the dorm smuggled a homeless orphan into their room. But with no closets to hide him in, an unexpected visit by the house mother forced the girls to push him back out onto the freezing, third story window ledge. After a very long scolding, the house mother left, and the girls opened the window to let the boy back inside. Unfortunately by then a good hour had passed and he was nowhere to be seen. It was never clear what happened to the boy but but shortly after his strange disapearance an apparition started to appear on the ledge where he had vanished. The sight of a ghostly young face pressed against the third story window looking in at them, his skin and lips tinged blue from the cold, is a sight that has terrified girls staying at Stevens Hall ever since.
Many students have also encountered the lifelike apparition of a young girl who they think may have been from this same time period. The phantom is well known for her fascination with modern clothing, and has been caught time and time by the Students of Stevens Hall, looking threw their closets and perhaps marvelling at how much styles have changed since the Victorian era.
In one case a student walked into her room to see the mysterious ghost girl standing in front of a full length mirror admiring one of her dresses. At first she seemed oblivious to the students presense. The student then shouted “who are you and what are you doing in my room?! at which point the ghost became startled, dropped the dress she was holding, and ran into the closet where she vanished.
Similar stories are told all over campus. In Brua hall for instance, the ghost of an aging military officer is said to entertain himself playing practical jokes on students and walking along the catwalk behind the stage in the form of a shadow. Nearby the belltower on Glatfelter Hall is haunted by the ghost of a woman who tookher own life, and Sigma Nu fraternity House has been plagued with poltergeist activity. But it’s not just student life on campus that is overshadowed by the ghosts of the past. This is also the case for faculty members who work on campus as well. In fact some of the strangest ghost encounters have been had in Penn Hall, which is used to house the schools administrative offices.
During the Civil War the basement of Penn Hall was used (simultenously) as both an operating room and a morgue, but it was too poorly ventillated to allow for the safe usage of anasthesia, which at that time was very flammable. As a result soldiers were subjected to the almost unimaginable horror of having limbs amputated while they were fully conscious. In such small quarters, with operations performed openly and in full view of the other patients, one can only imagine the fear experienced there by soldiers awaiting their turn on the operating table.
In his book, Haunted Pennsylvania, the author Mark Nesbit wrote of a terrifying encounter that was reported in the mid 1980’s by two college administrators who allegedly stumbled upon such a scene in the basement of Penn Hall, after working late one night on the building’s fourth floor. Only minutes after escaping from what appeared to be a bloody civil war operating room, the two faculty members ran to get the building’s security guard (today the head of security at the college) and described what they had seen. Not only had they been approached by one of the bloodsplattered orderlies, but were called inside to help hold down a phantom patient who’s leg was being removed! Thinking they had been the victims of a prank, the security guard led them back down to the basement where he expected to find a huge mess with fake blood smeared all over the floors and walls (as the women had described). Needless to say they were quite shocked to find all traces of the strange encounter had completely disapeared.