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Professor debunks ghost story

By NICOLE McALEE | Friday, September 13, 2013



News Writer

Although George Gipp, an All-American football player for the Irish, died almost 100 years ago, local lore holds that the Gipper never quite left Notre Dame and his ghost remains in Washington Hall. In “Washington Hall at Notre Dame: Crossroads of the University, 1864-2004,” professor of Film, Television and Theatre Mark Pilkinton dedicated an entire chapter to tracing the conflicting stories of the alleged phantom. 

The story of Gipp’s death is still told around campus, although it is probably apocryphal: Coming back to campus after curfew on a cold December night, Gipp found himself locked out of his residence hall and ventured to Washington Hall, where the door was often unlocked. Finding the door locked, however, Gipp slept on the building’s steps, contracting pneumonia or strep throat and dying soon after. 

“The chapter in the book, of course, is the history of the ghost stories, so naturally there is conflict because the stories are all over the place,” Pilkinton said. 

 According to the book, the first mention of a ghost in Washington Hall was published during the 1920-1921 school year in Scholastic Magazine.

However, the connection between a ghost in the building and the late George Gipp didn’t appear until the 1926 edition of The Dome, in which a student, Pio Montenegro, charged that he saw Gipp’s ghost riding up the steps of Washington Hall on a white horse. 

“We don’t hear anything about George Gipp until five years after he died, and then it is on a white horse charging up the (now gone) south steps,” Pilkinton said. “Much later, the ‘locked out of his dorm’ story emerges.” 

Pilkinton said he believes the “ghost” of Washington Hall was nothing more than a prank a few students played on their classmates.

Ron Grisoli, programs coordinator for Washington Hall, said he appreciates the addition of the ghost story to Notre Dame lore. 

“I certainly welcome the tradition of his ghost here and all the amusing stories of his hauntings,” Grisoli said. “It’s funny to sit here in my office and listen to the tour guides as they pass the building. Each time, the ghost story is a bit different. One thing is for sure – the legend of the ghost is alive and well.”

Grisoli said he thinks if the ghost of Gipp were to haunt any location on campus, it would be Notre Dame Stadium, where Gipp still holds a handful of records. 

“I’ve seen the player’s locker room,” Grisoli said. “It’s a beautiful place, perfectly suited for a ghost.”  Pilkinton and Grisoli said Washington Hall’s age and eccentricities in design may help perpetuate the ghost story. 

“Old buildings always have things that go creak in the night,” Pilkinton said. 

Grisoli, for his part, said he doesn’t believe in ghosts, either. 

“Well, I believe in the Holy Spirit, but he is usually next door in the Basilica [of the Sacred Heart],” he said. “Does that count?” 

Contact Nicole McAlee at [email protected]