Herb Juliano

In Herb's Archive this month, there is a short excerpt from his book Notre Dame Odyssey about the Ghost of Washington Hall and a fascinating account of the phantom from The Dome of 1926.

It certainly looks like a good home for a ghost....

The following excerpt is from Herb Juliano's Notre Dame Odyssey. Following that is a description of the Ghost of Washington Hall from the 1926 Dome.

I guess as long as I am here at Notre Dame I will continue to hear of the legend of the ghost of Washington Hall. Since the tales began in the 1920's, this theater spook has become another Notre Dame tradition. The legend survives through believers who pass on their experiences in hushed whispers and the skeptics who laugh, but still enjoy a good ghost story.

The most popular rumors relate that the ghost is George Gipp, Notre Dame's famed football great, who slept outside in the cold on the steps of Washington Hall the night before he contracted the illness that took his life. Others say it is a steeplejack who fell to his death from the fly loft of the Hall in 1886. Still others claim it is a Cavalry soldier killed by Indians on hallowed Indian burial grounds where the campus is today.

Whoever the ghost may be, it has made Washington Hall its home, at least in the annals of Notre Dame history. According to those who work or perform in Washington Hall now, there have been strange and unexplained occurrences, voices and figures who are not there, even in recent years, that support the stories of the past.

Back in the 1920's, student professors who lived in Washington Hall reported doors slamming, on windless nights, footsteps creaking up the stairs when no one was there, and toilets flushing all at once after the building was locked and residents were in bed. John Buckley, working on a philosophy paper early in the morning, heard papers rustling under his door. He flung it open, with a baseball bat in one hand and a rosary in the other, only to find the hall deserted and quiet.

Through the years there have been reports of locked doors opening to slam, footsteps on the roof, even the sighting of a ghostly figure on a phantom horse. Professor Fred Syburg of the communications theater department lived in Washington Hall as a student, and confirms reports of toilets flushing after the doors were locked and footsteps creaking on the steps even as he stood at the top of the staircase. Syburg explained that the building is old and does creak a lot, but there was another strange thing he couldn't explain. He would leave his keys hanging in the lock on his door and all of a sudden they would start swinging by themselves, and then suddenly stop.

In the 1960's, a member of a student theater group who became Father Garrick, former rector of Keenan Hall, was spending the night in what was, before the Hall was renovated, called the "black box," a room painted totally black inside. One night, he awoke with a feeling that there was someone else in the room with him. He opened his eyes and saw moonlight shining through the big window. But when he shut his eyes again, he saw the outline of an image on the back of his eyelids, of a figure about ten feet tall standing hunched over with his hands on his knees by the window.

The ghost stories will undoubtedly continue, to be added to those of Bibles appearing and disappearing from the nightstands of students who didn't even own one, of voices whispering "GET OUT!" They are part of the mystery and the folklore of the place. In the meantime, rumor has it that if you sit on the edge of center stage with the theater totally darkened, even without the Exit lights, and look up into the balcony, you will see a shadow of a figure sitting in the center of the very last row ... Notre Dame's very own "Phantom of the Opera."

And from the 1926 Dome...

It was not long after the death of the immortal George Gipp that the series of inexplicable events occurred which gave rise to the tale of the Ghost of Washington Hall. Many stories of the visitations of the spirit are told; some persons closely connected with events of that time express themselves as skeptical; nevertheless, the story has been passed down-from student to student during the last half-decade and has gained steadily, both in credibility and in imaginative ramifications. It is significant that the men who heard or saw the ghost believe to this day that spirit it was.

On New Year's Eve, 1920, shortly after the death of George Gipp had shocked and saddened the entire campus, Harry Stevenson, who lived in Cadillac Hall at the time, was visiting friends in Washington Hall. At midnight he left the room, which was on the third floor of the hall, and descended to the second floor, intending to return to his room. As he was about to descend the final flight of stairs, the notes of a bugle, masterfully played, floated through the hall, seeming to come through the corridor at the foot of the stairs. The music was accompanied by a wierd howling. So startling were the sounds that Stevenson collapsed in hysterics, and was found unconscious by his friends who came in answer to his cries.

Such was the first appearance of the famed Washington Hall ghost. Little credence was given Stevenson's story at the time, but the manifestations were encountered by other men shortly after, consisting each time of the beautifully modulated notes of a bugle, accompanied by the weird howling. Up to this time, no one had seen the ghost, nor felt it. So persistent. however, was the spirit in appearing
that several students of Brownson Hall determined to ferret out the secret. Led by "Doc" Connell, these students camped in Washington Hall one night, taking turns at watching and listening. They were rewarded by hearing the usual noises, and according to their own story, being thrown from bed by invisible hands. After the experiences of these men, no further attempts to find the ghost were made. The manifestations continued for nearly a month.

To one man only was it given to see the Ghost of Washington Hall. At the time of the ghost's almost nightly visits to the music hall, Pio Montenegro, '22, of Brazil, lived in Science Hall, his window overlooking the entrance to Washington Hall. On several occasions, according to his account, upon glancing from his window at night, he saw a stalwart figure mounted upon a beautiful white charger galloping up the steps of the hall and through the entrance. He insisted that the figure which he had seen upon the white horse was that of George Gipp.

The last appearance of the spirit which had caused such a furor upon the campus was heard by Brother Maurilius, who lived in Washington Hall at the time. He tells of being awakened from sleep during the night by the notes of a bugle, accompanied by heavy thumps like the sound of a heavy wardrobe falling to the floor. It was three o'clock in the morning when this occurred. Brother Maurilius dressed and made the rounds of the hall, inspecting everything thoroughly, but could find no evidence of anything unusual. After this occurrence, the ghost was never again heard.

Such is the story of the ghost of Washington Hall, as gleaned from conversations , with men who came in contact with it at one time or another during its periodical appearances. Many persons profess to believe that the entire affair was the product of the efforts of some practical joker, while others argue that if such were the case, the joke would long ago have come to light, along with the jokers. Such an accomplishment, say the defenders of the ghost, would have been "too good to keep." Living in the hall at the time of the ghostly visitations were John Mangan, Joseph Casasanta, Joseph Corona, Frank Kolars, John Buckley, Brother Maurilius, and others, and none of these men have been able to throw any light upon the occurrences which have been related. This much they agree upon: if the appearances of the ghost was arranged by practical jokers, one of them must have been a musician of the finest ability, for the notes of the ghostly bugle were always perfectly muted and beautifully modulated.

Whatever the truth concerning the origin of the ghostly visitations may be, the fact remains that the Ghost of Washington Hall has become the character about which many fanciful tales have been woven during many time-honored "chin-fests," and the tale of the Spirit of Gipp will go down to student posterity as long as one stone of Notre Dame remains upon another.

To read previous installments of Herb's archive please click below:

September 1998
October 1998
November 1998
January 1999
March 1999
May 1999
July 1999
August 1999
October 1999
December 1999
January 2000

February 2000

March 2000