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Manning brothers’ Halloween special showcases history of Notre Dame through haunted lens

“Notre Dame’s a university, but it’s also a story,” said Neil Zender, the show runner for “Peyton & Eli’s Spooky Adventure,” a Halloween television special featuring the Super Bowl champion Manning brothers.

The special, which currently streams on ESPN+ and airs on ESPN2 after tonight’s “Monday Night Football” “Manningcast,” tells the story of famed Notre Dame football player George Gipp and the legend that his ghost haunts Washington Hall on campus.

Peyton and Eli headline a cast starring class of 2022 graduate Jerome Bettis, quarterback Drew Pyne, wide receiver Braden Lenzy, former head football coach Lou Holtz, late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, “Sportscenter” host Scott Van Pelt and current head coach Marcus Freeman.

“Peyton & Eli’s Spooky Adventure” uses a “Ghostbusters” theme and showcases the Manning brothers and Bettis breaking into Washington Hall to try to catch the ghost of “the Gipper.”

“When you’re the head coach of Notre Dame, you’re supposed to wake up the echoes. But this is something else,” Marcus Freeman tells Peyton and Eli at the beginning of the episode.

Pyne and Lenzy start the episode by seeing the “Gipp ghost” ride into Washington Hall on a horse. The opening scene is the last viewers see of current players, but the rest of the special contains appearances by students and campus figures — notably Campus Ministry director Fr. Pete McCormick — and scenes from all across the campus.

Students read a copy of The Observer in “Peyton & Eli’s Spooky Adventure” detailing a sighting of the ghost of “The Gipper.” (Courtesy of Neil Zender)

“Whether it be professors on campus, priests that are in our dorms, our students on campus — not just student-athletes — seeing staff members around being able to interact with all these different celebrities like Jerome and Peyton and Eli, it all just comes together and really shows off Notre Dame in a unique way,” senior associate athletics director of media communications Aaron Horvath said.

The trio of Notre Dame ghostbusters travels around campus in the Ectomobile — a replica of the car used in the original “Ghostbusters” — and don jumpsuits modeled after the film’s. Zender, a 1998 Notre Dame graduate and now a coordinating producer for NFL Films, said the special tries to combine different television show genres to tell football stories in the most interesting way possible.

“The shows are sort of one part ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit, one part Anthony Bourdain travel show documentary where you’re going to a place and one part sports history documentary,” he said. 

Zender works on both “Eli’s Places,” which profiles different college football programs, and “Peyton’s Places,” which details historic moments in the NFL. The Halloween special was the first time Peyton and Eli combined their two ESPN+ programs, Zender said.

“We thought it would be neat to get Eli and Peyton together to do something, and the best place to do that was Notre Dame,” he said. “What we’d like to do is make history interesting by doing it instead of just talking about it.”

Peyton and Eli take a deep interest in all the campus landmarks, from the statues around campus to the locker room, Zender explained.

“They love everything about football and everything about quarterbacking, and you could tell it was special to them to be at Notre Dame because it’s such a special place for football,” he said.

The half-hour special was shot in one day in late April, Zender said. The crew set up filming at legendary former head football coach Knute Rockne’s house at about 6:30 a.m. for separate content for “Eli’s Places” before wrapping up filming at around 7 p.m. Zender said most productions of this volume take around a week.

With a cast ranging from students to priests to athletic director Jack Swarbrick, Horvath said the production took a wide-ranging effort from lots of people on campus.

And Peyton sums up the effort at the end of the show, “I think we just tell them we did all we could for the Gipper.”

Contact Ryan Peters at rpeters5@nd.edu

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From the Archives: Creepy tales and cultural traditions

With this week’s edition falling on October 31, we felt obligated to write about Halloween. For those currently imbued with the holiday spirit, the following stories about campus ghosts, ouija sessions and seances will not disappoint.

But we also wanted to look beyond “spooky season” stereotypes. The blurbs below consider the transformation of Halloween from its pagan origins, pondering the lost significance of the original “All Hallows Eve.” We also feature some other holidays occurring in late October. Diwali and Dia de los Muertos represent important ethnic traditions whose cultural depth contrasts with the seemingly-frivolous nature of modern Halloween. While costume parties and ghost stories are always entertaining, it is important to consider the deeper meaning of this season for certain people in the tri-campus community and around the world.

Campus lore and the ghost of Washington Hall

Oct. 31, 1988 | Julie Ryan | Oct. 31, 2006 | Joe Piarulli | Researched by Cade Czarnecki

Over time, there have been many eerie reports of paranormal activity at the building situated between the Dome and LaFortune Student Center. Doors slamming, lights turning off and transparent silhouettes entering the building comprise only a few of the spooky tales about Washington Hall’s ghost.

Campus lore contains numerous possible identities for the supernatural being that haunts Washington Hall. One tale tells of a steeplejack who fell to his death from the roof while helping to construct the hall. Another tells of a cavalry soldier that was killed by Native Americans and buried on the sacred native land that the Notre Dame campus now stands upon.

The most prominent and widely accepted attribution of the haunting of Washington Hall, though, is to the ghost of George Gipp, a football player in the early 1900s under then-head coach Knute Rockne.

The origin of Ghost of the Gipper stems from a commonly echoed story that Gipp would often sneak into Washington Hall when he had missed curfew and could not return to his residence.

On one such night, Gipp could not get inside Washington Hall and resorted to sleeping on its steps. He contracted pneumonia as a result of the harsh conditions of South Bend, Indiana and later succumbed to the disease.

The first reported sighting of the Ghost of the Gipper was in 1925, five years after Gipp’s death. Many more stories followed in subsequent years.

Tom Barkes, Washington Hall’s manager in 1988, saw the stories as both fun and natural to the hall’s lifespan: “No self-respecting 107 year old theater should be without its ghost stories. Theater is magic to begin with, so it is a natural place for stories.”

An illustration depicts students interacting with a ouija board inside Washington Hall, hoping to contact the legendary Ghost of the Gipper. Observer archives, Oct. 31, 1988.

Others take them far more seriously, such as the group of four students who snuck into Washington Hall with an ouija board in 1985. They attempted to contact the Ghost of the Gipper only to have the board spell out “S…G” and then slide the planchette to “Goodbye.” After a second attempt that garnered the same result, the students hurried out of the hall. A security guard (SG) was seen making his rounds as they snuck out.

Such Notre Dame lore has persisted for hundreds of years and is sure to continue into the future. The question now is simply when, not if, the ghost of George “The Gipper” Gipp will next be seen in his old sanctuary, Washington Hall.

Halloween: horrifying or hilarious?

Oct. 31, 1988 | Mark Ridgeway | Oct. 31, 1991 | Paige SmoronOct. 30, 1996 | Dan Cichalski | Researched by Lilyann Gardner

Even as the Ghost of the Gipper captured the imaginations of some students, the spirit of Halloween and its holiday traditions were a topic of debate at Notre Dame throughout the late 1980s and well into the 90s. 

Dan Cichalski (‘98), Assistant Accent Editor, took a strong stance in favor of making Halloween an official national holiday, arguing that it would establish a day in which everyone would be able to celebrate those who have passed away while also allowing themselves to be someone or something else for a short while.  

“With Halloween officially recognized by the government though, people in such positions would be able to let their fun side go wild,” wrote Cichalski. 

Conversely, Mark Ridgeway (‘89), Systems Manager, argued that the meaning of Halloween had been lost. Ridgeway claimed that the celebration of the deceased surrounding All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints Day had been overrun by a dark side of violence, gore and evil. 

Morbid curiosity and the thrill of adrenaline that stemmed from watching horror films and attempting to commune with ghosts have cast the origins of Halloween into the shadows, according to Ridgeway. 

“As an adult, looking at the way Halloween is today, I feel the true meaning of the night has been lost, but that the fun of the celebration has not been lost,” Ridgeway wrote.

Mark Ridgeway’s column criticized the evolution of Halloween from its roots as “All Hallows Eve,” a pagan celebration of the deceased. Observer archives, Oct. 31, 1988.

The Observer and the University of Notre Dame were sure to maintain the playful nature of Halloween with dorm decorations, pumpkin carving competitions and hypothetical seances. 

Paige Smoron (‘92), Assistant Accent Writer, interviewed students and faculty in 1991 to see which famous spirits should be conjured up at a Halloween seance.

Elvis was at the top of the list, and other notable figures included Marilyn Monroe, Knute Rockne, Nikola Tesla, Caspar the friendly ghost and Jesus Christ. However, some students refused to entertain the notion of a seance at all due to its pagan origins. 

The moral meaning behind these Halloween traditions at Notre Dame may still be up in the air, but there is no denying that remembering the dead plays a role in more ways than one. 

 Beyond Halloween: Diwali and Dia De Los Muertos at Notre Dame

 Oct. 30, 1997 | Bernadette Pampuch | Nov. 10, 2014 | Paul Stevenson | Researched by Thomas Dobbs

Halloween may garner the most on-campus attention this season, but autumn also marks a time to consider celebrations that hold deeper spiritual and religious significance.

In order to emphasize global religious events on campus, in 2004 Campus Ministry began the Prayer from Around the World series to offer “the opportunity for various faith traditions to share their forms of praying with the campus communities.”

One such holiday, Diwali, is a major five-day Hindu festival occurring in October or November that celebrates the “triumph of good over evil, light over dark and knowledge over darkness.”

Nishant Singh (‘17) recalled eating candies and sweets during the Diwali festival as a child but emphasized that “Diwali is much bigger than Halloween. It is like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years combined into one.”

As evidence of Diwali’s broad significance, Priscilla Wong, senior advisor at the graduate and multicultural student ministry, shared that she felt connected to Diwali despite not practicing Hinduism. Wong described celebrations of Diwali at friends’ houses and with her daughter’s Hindu spouse.

A member of the Indian Association of Notre Dame celebrates Diwali, an ancient Hindu festival “like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years combined into one.” Observer archives, Nov. 10, 2014.

While the sense of community is clear in Diwali celebrations, familial connections form the foundation of another autumnal holiday: Dia de los Muertos. Celebrated on the first and second of November, Dia de los Muertos may at first resemble Halloween with its elaborate displays of skulls or candy offerings.

But unlike Halloween, Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican holiday centered on reflection and the remembrance of “departed ancestors whose spirits visit the earth once each year.” Some celebrate by setting up altars in their homes to welcome their ancestors, while entire families can “spend the day cleaning and repainting graves, decorating tombstones with flowers.”

Although fire precautions, untrustworthy roommates or engineering shortcomings may limit the construction of an altar here on campus, one can celebrate Dia de los Muertos with a simple “prayer [or moment of remembrance] for a deceased family member.”

While Halloween parties and costume contests provide for an uncomplicated and amusing holiday, the concurrent celebrations of Diwali and Dia de los Muertos elicit meaningful celebrations of family and renewal that are closely connected to the rituals themselves.

Contact Spencer Kelly at skelly25@nd.edu

Cade Czarnecki at cczarne3@nd.edu

Lilyann Gardner at lgardne2@nd.edu

Thomas Dobbs at tdobbs@nd.edu