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Notre Dame, ghost breeding ground

Anna Boarini | Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ghost stories, narratives of university legends roaming campus with unfinished business and student-spun tall tales all add mystique to university campuses across the United States.

Matthew Swayne, author of the new book “America’s Haunted Universities: Ghosts that Roam Hallowed Halls,” became intrigued by such stories while researching a Halloween-themed newspaper piece.

“The actual idea took shape … trying to find some material for a Halloween issue, I found some stories about a nearby university, Penn State,” he said. “I was born on Halloween, so I suppose that has something to do with [writing the book].”

Swayne said he was struck by the number of eerie stories he dug up while researching what would become his book, especially because people usually think of universities as havens of science and reason, not the supernatural.

“Why are there so many ghost stories on campus? It fascinated me so much that I started collecting stories from other universities,” he said. “I also read a lot about the folklore and what role that plays into the creation and spread of ghost stories.”

The University of Notre Dame and its host of ghost stories caught Swayne’s attention.

“I visited the Notre Dame campus a few years ago and it just had that historic, spiritual aura that I knew was going to make fertile ground for haunted tales,” he said.

Swayne said campus is very active in terms of folklore and myth but also in a supernatural sense, according to some students he met during his visits to Notre Dame.

“There are some wild tales, spirits of Native Americans roaming around looking for their burial grounds,” he said. “There are ghost horses – a bit unusual for college campuses.”

Two of Notre Dame’s most famous ghosts, “The Gipper” and University founder Fr. Edward Sorin, play central roles in both fact and legend as well as in the supernatural history of campus, Swayne said.

“If I were taking a ghost tour on campus, I would want to see Washington Hall where George “The Gipper” Gipp has reportedly been seen … I’d also check out Main Building where Fr. Sorin is said to hang out,” he said. “On the creepier side, a few students have reported their interaction with the spirit world … a couple accounts of anomalous activity, like being pushed by an unseen hand or hearing odd sounds or voices when they were alone.”

Swayne said he believes Notre Dame’s strong Catholic identity also contributes to the traditions of campus mythology.

“One thing I found is that universities with an extremely rich history and a well-developed sense of culture have a rich supernatural legacy,” he said. “I also wonder whether the heightened sense of spirituality at Notre Dame doesn’t play a role in the University’s ghost lore.”

While some students might find haunted tales at their college disconcerting, Swayne said such supernatural legends set schools apart from the rest.

“Overall it adds to what I call the aura of a school,” he said. “Only great schools have ghosts.”