[Note: Some of this story comes from urban legend passed on over the years, but the bulk of it can be confirmed by historical record. The names of the four college students have been changed to respect their privacy.]
Ghosts haunt history. That’s just how it works. You never hear stories of specters and ghouls terrorizing newly built grocery stores. No, they lurk in the remains of the past: crumbling houses, closed-down theaters, ancient castles… but modern American history began comparatively recently. We have no medieval castles or cathedrals to speak of, so where do our ghosts find a home? The answer might surprise you, but one hotbed of spectral activity is college campuses.
Universities are some of the oldest, most venerable institutions in the country, and they’ve accumulated decades and centuries of life, loss, and memory. That’s what brings us to Portland, Oregon and the campus of Lewis & Clark College. The school was voted the second most beautiful college in the nation by the Princeton Review in 2011, and for good reason. Its sweeping, forested walkways provide a serene atmosphere, but some of its pleasant brick structures hide chilling secrets.
Two of the buildings on campus were once elegant manors housing Portland’s elite: the Presbyterian Corbett household and the Jewish Frank family (the Frank Manor is pictured below). Naturally, the youngest Corbett daughter Harriet (nicknamed “Sunny” after her long blonde hair) fell in love with one of the Frank sons, much to the chagrin of their respective families. However, much like Romeo and Juliet, their romance was tragically short-lived. The Frank boy was sent to become a military pilot, but he perished in an accident during a training exercise at the age of 20. Harriet never fully recovered from her heartbreak. She was sent to a Pennsylvania institution for recovery, and when she died she was buried in Portland’s Riverview Cemetery.
The Corbett House was sold to the Sisters of St. Francis in 1942, whereupon it was converted into a dormitory for nuns. It didn’t become an official part of the Lewis & Clark campus until 2000, when it was bought by the college with a grant from the estate of Sunny Corbett herself. And though her life had long since ended, her involvement in the house was far from over…
Although the College made an attempt to convert the Corbett house into classrooms, it quickly fell into disrepair, becoming a hotbed for ghost stories among the student population. One day in 2013, four students thought it would be fun to spend the night in the Corbett House during a break in Finals Week. Guess what? That was a bad idea.
Apparently the group (two boys: Tyler and Paul, and two girls: Angela and Dawn) hadn’t seen quite enough horror movies. They got permission to spend the night in the house, on the condition that they not open any of the exterior doors or windows, which would set off the house’s alarm system. Campus police would arrive to unhook the alarm in the morning and let them out. Yes, this cliché-as-hell horror movie premise actually happened to real people.
The four students were faced with the prospect of spending the night in the cavernous three-story manor (the main floor had the dining areas and a grand ballroom, upstairs small bedrooms dotted a long corridor, and downstairs lay a massive, dank basement). Even worse, the only light switch that worked in the entire house was in the main banquet room.
Almost immediately, Tyler and Paul smelled a foul stench of rotten eggs wafting up the basement steps. The girls had no idea what they were talking about. They didn’t smell anything at all. In the first wise decision of the night, they opted not to go downstairs and investigate. Instead, they went upstairs, the girls ignoring the sudden sharp pains that simultaneously hit their stomachs, as if in warning. As they traveled down that long upstairs hallway, the boys ahead of her, Angela felt a hand lift a strand of her long, blonde hair and let it fall. Positive that Dawn was just trying to freak her out, she turned around to yell at her, but Dawn wasn’t there. She was ten feet behind Angela, mouth agape, white as a sheet. She had seen Angela’s hair lifted into the air by an invisible force.
Needless to say, the quartet rushed back downstairs and called campus police, begging to be let out as soon as possible. The police agreed to swing by, but said it would take about twenty minutes – there was an emergency medical call across campus. That’s when the noises started, emanating from all around them. Crash! Thud! The keys on a nearby piano plinked as if played by a phantom hand, startling them even further. They edged closer to the piano and one of the boys tentatively lifted up the lid. Nothing. Until…
VRMMM! A vacuum in the nearby powder room switched on of its own accord. Frightened, Paul ran in and switched it off. They huddled in a circle in the banquet hall, facing out, nervously scanning the empty room. The police finally arrived, but that wasn’t quite the end of their night. The second the door opened, every light in the house flared into brilliant life, lighting every room with an amber glow, spiting every broken switch. They ran into the night, escorted by the officer, who told them that they weren’t the first students to have caught Sunny in a playful mood.
Every now and then, when tours used to run through the house, the spirit of Sunny Corbett would see a girl around the age she was when she lost her love and latch onto her. She especially loved girls who had long blonde hair, just like her… Just like Angela.
The four got out of the Corbett house and never went back. In fact, no one has. Mere days after their nocturnal excursion, the sound system in the house switched on and wouldn’t go off, leading the campus to bar the house from visitors ever again. It now sits on the grad campus, dusty and disused. At night students still see shadowy figures in the windows and hear mysterious sounds emanating from the property.
This particular story happened in Portland, but this stuff is going on everywhere. College campuses are rife with historic buildings with dark pasts, so why not give your local university a deeper look?