Tales of the supernatural have enthralled generations of IWU students.
By Anna Deters ’05 (shown in above photo)
Photos by Marc Featherly
The stairwell directly adjacent to my room in Kemp Hall/ International House is haunted.
Late at night, as I creep up the former service stairs of the mansion-turned-residence
hall, I listen to the creaks and groans of the winding structure beneath my feet.
I near the first landing and see in the porthole window the reflection of not only
my own pale face, but the ghostly image of the house’s former mistress, candle in
hand, following me up the stairs.
To be honest, no such thing has ever happened — to me, at least. It is true that I
live in International House (more commonly known as I-House), and I do often take
those stairs on my way to the basement to do my laundry. But, as yet, I have seen
no ghostly apparitions of any kind.
Nonetheless, when I heard that I-House was the subject of persistent legends regarding
ghosts, I was intrigued. After all, a good ghost story is part of the pleasure of
living in an old house. And such tales, however far-fetched, give stressed-out college
students a chance to let off some steam and allow their imaginations to run wild.
So I wasn’t too surprised to learn that eerie tales have become associated with several
campus buildings over the years. Some are genuinely creepy, others laughable, but
all provide that same kind of giddy amusement one feels when telling spooky stories
on a cold, dark night, gathered around a warm campfire. The following are among the
most well-known campus ghost stories.
Encounters with the Lady in Red
Located at 1207 N. Main Street, I-House was finished in 1907 as the residence of one
of Bloomington’s most prosperous citizens, A. E. DeMange, and his wife. The classical-revivalist
mansion featured imported woods, servants’ quarters, a library, and even a ballroom
on the third floor.
Tragically, after only a year of living in the house, Mrs. DeMange died of natural
causes, leaving Mr. DeMange grief-stricken and alone. He left the house vacant but
fully furnished for three years and then sold it to the University in 1911, when it
was established as a women’s dormitory. But the lavish furniture might not have been
all the DeManges left behind. Some might say that 1207 N. Main continues to be Mrs.
DeMange’s current — if not eternal — address.
I first learned of I-House’s supposed haunting when I happened to glance through a
scrapbook compiled by residents over the years. The mention of the ghost was brief,
but enough to spark my interest in further research.
Old issues of The Argus proved to be a rewarding resource. Poring over past Halloween issues, I soon realized
that the various stories of I-House’s alleged hauntings twisted and turned like the
many creaking stairwells and winding corridors of the house itself.
One article from 1979 states: “In the master bedroom, just off the top of the stairs
on the second floor, stands a full length mirror, which has remained there for 80
years. Late at night, on certain evenings of the year, the mistress of the house appears
again before the mirror, dressed in her favorite red dress, preparing herself for
the elaborate ball to be held upstairs. Although she herself cannot be seen, so they
say, her reflection is clear in the moonlight shining on the mirror.”
A variation of this story, given in a 1981 Argus
feature, is that “a lover’s quarrel at a ball in the 1880s led to the woman’s spirit
remaining in the ballroom. Late at night, she reputedly dances alone, through the
walls.” The statement that this alleged “lover’s quarrel” reportedly occurred two
decades before the house was built does place a strain on the narrative’s credibility.
International House residents Ajeet Bajaj (left) and Amer Kahn ’04 pick up some of
the old mansion's supernatural vibes.
The most enduring story associated with I-House is that the ghostly spirit of a woman
haunts the service stairwell adjoining the former servants’ quarters. As a resident
assistant explained to the Bloomington Pantagraph
in 1993, “You feel something follow you up the stairs, and you can see something
from the corner of your eye reflected in the glass, but if you turn around and face
it, you won’t see anything.”
While a few of I-House’s current residents have heard such stories, they have very
little substance, or spirit, to add to them. Aside from reports of the main floor
T.V. being mysteriously turned on when no one seems to be around and offhand remarks
from nocturnal pool sharks about late-night creaks, murmurs, and scurrying sounds
(usually attributed to mice), no one who now lives in the house feels particularly
disturbed by its alleged haunt.
One resident assistant did recount an incident that took place one Halloween. “I walked
into the house and heard classical piano music, but when I strolled by the grand piano
to see who was playing, no one was there. I was kind of freaked out,” he chuckled,
“but then I remembered that WESN, the student radio station, is located in the basement
of the house and that sometimes they play their music loud enough for us to hear it
A Mystery on Chestnut Street
A more profound brand of spookiness is associated with another long-standing campus
building, as related by my friend and fellow ghost-story aficionado Chris Weber ’04.
Chris is a member of Phi Mu Alpha, a music fraternity, and their house at 303 E. Chestnut
Street is loaded with supernatural folklore. Built in 1898 for a doctor and his family
and located in historic Franklin Park, the Victorian home harbors a legend, related
by Chris, that is definitely not for the squeamish.
The physician’s daughter — who, out of respect for any living descendants of the family
in question, we’ll simply refer to as “Eva” — fell in love with a young sailor in
town and became pregnant. When her father found out, he tried to surgically end the
pregnancy in his home office to prevent a potential scandal. However, the procedure
failed, so the story goes, causing Eva’s death. Horrified and mentally unhinged, the
father then dismembered her body, carried the parts to the dumbwaiter, and lowered
it into the basement, where he buried her remains in the floor.
As one would expect from such a tale, the ghost of Eva supposedly roams the house
to remind residents of her tragedy, and the bricks placed above her grave are said
to sink into the ground no matter how many times they are replaced.
While it may have had antecedent variations, the main legend of Eva and her macabre
end seems to have surfaced in the mid- to late 1960s. The first account Chris and
I were able to trace in The Argus was from October 1971. This article quotes a Phi Mu Alpha brother who claimed that
the dead girl’s ghost appeared in his room frequently, dressed in a heavy white veil,
as “though for a wedding she never got to.”
In the Phi Mu Alpha basement, Philip Montesinos ’04 and Scott Priniski ’05 remove
a plywood panel covering the house’s mysterious sinkhole.
Other Phi Mu Alphas from that era report similarly strange encounters. According to
one witness, a sance using a then-fashionable Ouija board was even held in the house.
The witness claims that the pointer spelled out the dead woman’s first and last names
before the board was put away when the participants became too spooked to continue.
Apparently less frightening were visions of Eva herself, for residents from that era
describe encounters with her as being rather casual. “The clearest sighting of (Eva)
in our room,” said one, “was of a humanoid ethereal form sitting on a couch. ... (She)
was never threatening, or even frightening.”
Although accustomed to her ghostly presence, the fraternity brothers have made efforts
to rid Eva’s spirit from their house. A kind of “burial service” was said to have
been performed around the sinkhole in the basement that is rumored to be her grave,
probably with the intent of bringing her tormented soul to eternal rest. There are
reports that the house was even blessed. Indeed, at some point someone whitewashed
the symbol of a cross on a door near the “grave.” Legend has it that as long as this
cross is maintained and doesn’t fade, the Phi Mu Alpha house will be “protected.”
To borrow a familiar quote, the truth is out there, and the truth as it relates to
Phi Mu Alpha’s ghost is a bit of a letdown. The original owner of 303 E. Chestnut
was, in fact, a physician and he did have a daughter, who, according to our research,
was born in l878 — making her 20 years old by the time the house was completed, not
a teenager, as reported in the stories. She was married in 1903 and later had several
While the Phi Mu Alpha brothers will concede to the ambiguity of the “Eva” legend,
many remain convinced that supernatural phenomena have occurred in the house. As one
alumnus states, “Only one thing was certain, and that was that something was there,
did frighten some people, and seemed to be comfortable enough around some of us to
manifest its presence on repeated occasions.”
Phi Mu Alphas still refer to a section of the basement as the “grave room,” and are
familiar with the story’s gruesome details. A current resident even claims that “happenings”
still occur. The most rational explanation for the persistence of this belief is that
it is simply a fraternal tradition unifying brothers across the generations.
One eerie physical fact does contradict such rational explanations, however: the basement’s
mysterious sinkhole. The fraternity has finally given up trying to pave over this
alleged “grave.” Now only a simple panel of plywood rests atop the legendary final
resting place of a girl whose ghostly existence lives on at the house on Chestnut
Not just one, but three spirits are said to haunt another campus residence. Adams
Hall, at 1401 N. Main Street, was acquired by the University in 1965 and is currently
the home of the Acacia fraternity. Legend has it that three women, each named Frances,
haunt the house. As the story goes, the first Frances was hit by a carriage and carried
into the house, where she died. Although the circumstances of their deaths are less
clear, two more Franceses — a young girl and an older woman — are also said to have
perished in the house.
I spoke with Darcy Greder, associate dean of student affairs, about the Adams hauntings.
As a hall director, Greder lived in an apartment on Adams’ first floor from August
1977 up until about five years ago. While Greder admits she doesn’t know quite what
to make of her experiences, she did describe some unusual phenomena that occurred
while she lived in the house.
She remembers hearing footsteps go up the stairs and the sound of a rocking chair
coming from the unoccupied room above hers. Greder also recalls returning from an
evening out and finding lights switched on in the upper-floor rooms, which were also
unoccupied at the time. Such strange activity supposedly prompted two students to
move out of Adams to different campus residences.
Greder also told me that “Frances” seemed most active when the Adams Hall residents
weren’t taking care of the house. “I admit I’d use this to my advantage,” Greder confesses,
explaining how she would warn students of Frances’ displeasure if they failed to keep
the hall in shape.
A story from The Argus further details paranormal experiences at Adams Hall, such as when a resident was
staying alone in the house in August 1970 and experienced a series of phone calls
that he assumed were pranks. Frustrated with the constant ringing, he removed all
the phones from their hooks and then took a nap. Awakened by more ringing, he was
startled by the realization that all the house’s phones had been disconnected for
the summer. Others relayed stories of stereos being turned on and off in unoccupied
rooms, cold blasts of air coming from the guest bathroom, and, of course, the proverbial
footsteps on the stairs.
The antique ambience of an old house can materialize into ghostly apparitions. Katie
Campbell ’05 catches a glimpse of the “Lady in Red' reflected in the mirror of her
former room in Kemp Hall.
Maybe the most interesting aspect of all these stories is how, with the exception
of the Phi Mu Alpha residents, they seem to draw so little interest among current
students. In researching the I-House ghost, I asked the men living in the former ballroom
if they ever encountered phantom dancers waltzing in and out of their rooms. The idea
struck them as being more than ridiculous, and they laughed at me for even asking.
The reaction is understandable, but nonetheless a bit disappointing. Mrs. DeMange,
Eva, and Frances are now novelties instead of the real presences they were in decades
past, when supernatural fodder such as Poltergeist captured the public’s imagination
and The Argus devoted detailed articles to chilling campus legends.
In this less mystical age, residents seem determined to find a rational explanation
for any strange occurrence they may experience. Visions of ghostly specters are quickly
recognized as white bath towels hanging from door hooks. And yet the pull of the irrational
is still with us, as I saw when I spoke to one former I-House resident who lived in
the room where Mrs. DeMange’s ghost was said to appear in the mirror. I asked her
if she had seen anything strange in the room. “Not really,” was the unromantic, post-modern
reply I was expecting, but instead she shrieked, covered her ears, and insisted that
I stop my line of questioning.
That the mere suggestion of ghosts in the mirror can feel as terrifying as the presence
of an actual ghost reveals that, despite our scorn for superstition, we haven’t been
able to fully reject its allure. Whenever there is a strange glint in the mirror,
looming shadows in the stairwell, displaced bricks in the basement, or footsteps on
the ceiling, our first reaction gives us away — that, deep down, we really do sense
that Mrs. DeMange is following us up the stairs.
Anna Deters is an English major from Kenosha, Wis. She is a writer and reporter for
the Office of University Communications.