From the Archives: The Ghost of Washington Hall
Sarah Kikel, Evan McKenna, Erin Fennessy and Jim Moster | Monday, October 14, 2019
The tale of Notre Dame’s first All-American football player George Gipp is one of the University’s most storied legends.
The story goes that Gipp contracted a strep throat infection and pneumonia after falling asleep outside of Washington Hall. He died Dec. 14, 1920.
Following the death of the Gipper, many students claim to have experienced supernatural phenomena in Washington Hall. As Halloween draws near, From the Archives takes a look at one of Notre Dame’s oldest ghost stories.
Encounters with the “Other Side” in Washington Hall
March 17, 1970 | T. C. Treanor | Researched by Sarah Kikel
In an Observer column published March 17, 1970, T. C. Treanor (’73) recounted mysterious phenomena in Washington Hall — “pianos playing, curtains rustling, people fainting, shoulders being tapped [and] people being knocked out,” to name a few. The plausible cause? The Gipper, Treanor wrote.
Treanor pointed to a recent supernatural stakeout as evidence. Jim E. Brogan (’70), a self-described skeptic, brought three believer friends to ghost hunt in Washington Hall. The group set up camp in the theater and tried to summon the ghost until 3:30 a.m., when the sound of footsteps suddenly echoed from the balcony stairs. Brogan and his friends immediately fled.
Brogan later returned with a new group. “It all started out as a prank,” the ghost hunters said in an Oct. 4, 1968 Observer article. “We planned to stage a facial ghost hunt as an Observer feature. But it’s no prank now. The ghost, or something, does exist.”
The group heard “creaking footsteps” and a “muffled moan” and saw a light flash before fleeing once again.
The “wildest story,” Treanor wrote, comes from when a group of students gathered in Washington Hall to hold a seance. The ghost hunters held hands in a circle and attempted to summon the Gipper. Suddenly, the ringleader — apparently possessed — began reciting poetry. After extensive research, the group realized the poetry they heard was from 1921 edition of the Dome.
Though Treanor acknowledged the hauntings might be staged, he believed an investigation was in order. It would be “an even more fascinating story” if someone “desperately wanted [others] to believe there [was] a ghost” in Washington Hall, he wrote.
“There’s something there. And I mean to find out what it is,” he wrote.
Students stake out Washington Hall in search of ghost
May 7, 1971 | Bill Eiler | Researched by Evan McKenna
Determined to discover what sort of presence lurks within the dark corridors of Washington Hall, two friends — then-junior Bill Eiler and Jim E. Brogan (’70) — paid four late-night visits to the building. The two also brought along sophomore Don Morrison, who lived in the hall.
The first night of the stakeout, April 30, 1971, was a short one. Morrison gave a tour to the two friends, highlighting corners of the building that were said to be ghost hotspots, including the infamous “green room,” known for its history of “moving furniture and flashing lights.”
For night two, the trio enlisted the help of sophomore Observer and Dome photographer Jim Hunt (’73) in hopes of snapping a photo of the ghost. For two hours, the team sat on the theater balcony and waited. Nights two and three were largely uneventful; the group was “rewarded only with several squeaking sounds from the rafters,” Eiler said.
The real action, however, began Monday night. Low on morale, the group decided it would be their last stakeout (“THE final attempt,” Eiler wrote.) While sitting in the theater, an unnamed Saint Mary’s student “came into the hall and struck up a conversation,” revealing she had been part of a group of nine students that held a seance in Washington Hall just a few weeks before. The group found out via ouija board the building was “inhabited by 10 ghosts.”
“She said that because of what happened to some of the people in the seance they vowed never again to try to contact any of the ghosts,” Eiler wrote. “She warned us that some very dangerous things could happen if we weren’t sure of contacting the supernatural level.”
About a half hour after the girl’s departure, the group saw its first sign of supernatural activity — “[a] waving light-greenish figure” above the balcony. Brogan and Eiler both fled the building immediate, but Hunt captured a photo of the spirit before exiting via the side door:
Team of supernatural gurus ventures into Washington Hall
July 17, 1975 | Andy Praschak | Researched by Erin Fennessy
On a July night in 1975, Associate Observer Editor Andy Praschak (’77) accompanied a team of “experts in religion metaphysics and witchcraft” into the belly of Washington Hall. Their goal? To find evidence of the ghost of the Gipper among the cushioned seats. Although the team walked away from the night empty-handed, Praschak shared a host of interesting anecdotes from his evening.
Praschak’s team included three ordained ministers of pagan faiths, a psychic investigator and a reporter for WSND radio, plus Praschak himself.
The group started by recounting their previous encounters with the Gipper’s ghost — “the kind [of stories] we had in high school when no hard drugs were available,” as Praschak put it.
Afterwards, one of the pagan ministers led the group in a summoning ritual. Everyone gathered in a circle, closed their eyes and sat still. No apparitions appeared.
Eventually, the team resigned themselves to taking pictures of random areas of the building in desperate hope that something — or someone — would appear when the prints were developed.
After several hours of little success, the group threw in the towel. As Praschak left the building, he thought he heard faint laughter from the back of the hall.
“Oh, forget it,” Praschak remarked. “Goodnight, Gipp.”