Ghosts of the PA Wilds: Paranormal Activity at the University
Just about every college has ghost stories. Universities almost always have their legends of students who passed on. Some of these stories are verifiable, and others are certainly invented and fictional.
Clarion University is the biggest employer in Clarion County. The university, which stands basically on the border between Cook Forest & the Ancients and the I-80 Frontier of the Pennsylvania Wilds, was founded in 1867 as the Carrier Methodist Seminary, its purpose to train new ministers. That turned out to not be a sustainable business plan, so the school changed to the Normal School in 1887. It became Clarion State Teachers’ College in 1927, and then Clarion University in 1982. And in recent years, the school that was founded to teach religion delves into the paranormal as well, with an annual haunted tour created by Dr. Todd Pfannestiel, former professor.
The oldest and most historic building on campus is Becht Hall, one of the dorms. It is also considered the most haunted building on campus, with students routinely reporting activity there. The ghost is known as Martha and is said to have been one of the dorm moms back in the 1930s and 1940s. Legend has it she’s still there, lurking around the building.
At one point, Becht Hall, a women’s dorm, had two males as security guards. Reportedly, Martha wasn’t happy with this arrangement, turning lights on and off, repeatedly making the coffee machine malfunction, and slamming doors until they left. Over the years, she seems to have been happier with the female students, attempting to take care of them. But it’s possible that her efforts have gone awry over the past several years as students have found burn marks on their carpets from Martha’s attempts to iron them.
Other stories about Becht involve students who were kidnapped or murdered, but it is important to note that these cannot be documented. A search of old records, however, does turn up several students and staff named Martha, which means that there may be some truth to the story of a dorm mom still taking care of the kids.
Another one of the legends centers on Hart Chapel, once the religious spot for the university. The legends vary, though they all seem to involve an actor who died there. In one version, his name was William and he came from Ohio, excited about putting on his show. When it did badly, he hung himself from the rafters. Another telling of the story has the actor arriving with the woman he loved, who offered him a job with her father, on the condition that he would leave acting forever. The actor refused, and she left him, and he hanged himself afterward.
In Hart, students report equipment turning off and on without provocation, sounds and voices occurring without reason, and items moving around. An overnight investigation, led by Pfannestiel, turned up a photograph of a shadowy figure on the stage, and EVPs that had ghostly voices whispering. An EVP is an Electronic Voice Phenomena, a digital recording that may turn up voices.
Pfannestiel held a very scientific view of the paranormal, attempting to find provable evidence for it. According to some sources, the ghost of the actor becomes upset and reacts when the wrong story is told, which does occasionally happen, given all the different versions. Putting this to the test one night, Pfannestiel deliberately told an incorrect version, and felt himself shoved by an unseen force.
Not every legend turns out to have some historical background; many of them turn out to be flatly untrue. But Clarion University has a few interesting stories that may have some truth to them. If you visit Clarion, be sure to keep an eye out for the students — both living and dead.
“Ghosts of the PA Wilds” describes a series of ghost stories from the region written by historian Lou Bernard, who also revels in folklore and the paranormal. Each Thursday of October, and leading right to Halloween, the PA Wilds Are Calling blog will feature a new ghost story to celebrate the spooktacular season upon us.
Know of another good PA Wilds ghost story worth investigating and sharing? Let us know in the comment section below!
More From Our Blog