Through years of research, former Professor of Philosophy Lance Factor discovered various stories of hauntings and supernatural experiences that uncovered a history plagued by gender inequality and segregation.
During the late 1800s, Whiting Hall was an all-female dorm and was said to be haunted by the head matron and founder of the building, Maria Whiting herself. As Factor described, Whiting Hall was a large, penitentiary style building with long hallways and cavernous ceilings. At the top of the building was a large water tank that made ‘croaking’ sounds, which became the source of rumors throughout the college.
“That was always a big thing, these sounds. The idea was that men were supposed to leave, but human beings being what they are and romanticism being what it is, they’d hang out or try to spend the night in the room or the closet,” Factor said.
At the time, Knox administration enforced a strict curfew, meaning men would have to leave the female-exclusive dorm by 10 p.m., which was of course broken by men who wanted to stay in a woman’s room for the night.
This strictly enforced segregation of sexes became a source of resentment for the men as well as the women, who often tried to break the double standard imposed by administration. Forbidden from leaving their dorms past curfew, women in Whiting Hall often used the fire escape to break free and roam the campus, according to Factor. They’d walk to the fire escape, climb down the ladder and some would forgo the ladder and jump the last 12 feet. Fearing the danger of this jump and seeing no other way to prevent women from jumping, the matrons of Whiting Hall installed a bell on the ladder, which would sound whenever a woman tried to escape. Upon hearing the bell, matrons would run to the fire escape and stop the woman from climbing down.
“It’s just funny to think, there were two bells,” Factor said. “There was the bell ringing in Old Main and then at night, the Whiting Hall bell would ring as women escaped.”
Factor mentioned that, aside from rumors of hauntings, the separation of genders led to men forming theories and making up stories about the women, more specifically those living in Whiting Hall. Men often likened women to Mary, Queen of Scots who seduced the guards where she was imprisoned.
“They were supposed to have mysterious powers. And this is another kind of male fantasy, that women [are] the preservers of virtue,” Factor said. “But they’re very seductive too. So they have this dual personality.”
While these rumors were rampant among the campus, the administration frowned upon such activity. Being a largely Protestant school at the time, many were wary of letting these tales deter from legitimate religious views.
“If you start to talk about alien powers and Halloween it detracts from the sovereignty of God, and [the administration] were against it,” Factor said. “Many churches were against Harry Potter when all of that started because, if you believe in that, where’s the sovereignty of God? It’s no different from a magic potion.”
Factor noted that most of the hearsay regarding supernatural experiences stemmed from intent to warn or deter, mostly in the case of men. Whether they were created to deter men from women, or created by men to “explain” women, the tales have an undertone stemming from gender segregation.
“They pop up always in a sense of control or frightening is what I’ve found. It isn’t entertaining, and if it is, it’s a joke about a man getting in trouble because he broke rules or a woman having some kind of power over men, who both wanted and didn’t want it,” he said. “You know, they wanted to be seduced, but they didn’t want to be under any control.”
Containing 127 years of history, the Knox College Tri Delta chapter has an extensive past, some of which has been left behind and some has remained close to the organization. Current members of Tri Delta believe that some of the history may suggest a supernatural presence in chapter houses.
The Tri Delta house was originally located where the new SMC building was built and was moved across the street to its current location. According to senior Vice President of Membership Bailey Musselman, a man named Jessie lived and died in the house prior to it becoming the headquarters of Tri Delta. Musselman noted that legends point the cause of his death towards a shooting outside of the house where, upon being caught in the crossfire, Jessie crawled into the house and into the bathtub, where he died.
The Tri Deltas have experienced seemingly unexplainable incidents in the house that they jokingly blame “Jessie’s ghost” for when they happen. While Musselman believes in supernatural forces, she primarily views Jessie as a joke among the organization.
Junior Vice President of Recruitment Sam Arrez mentions that in efforts to lower electricity bills, the chapter members make a conscious effort to turn the lights off upon leaving the house, but are sometimes perplexed to see the lights still on when nobody is inside the house.
“Every-time someone drives by, they’ll be like, ‘Why is that light turned on?’ or you’ll walk in and, if you see in our living room, we have these candle lights that are on the wall and you pull the strings of them or whatever and there’ll always be the one on the right on when you come in sometimes,” she said.
In addition, the members are also instructed to turn off the heat to conserve energy. The legend of ‘Jessie’ is often used to explain incidents of the heat being left on.
“Somehow we’ll come back and the heat will be on and everyone will make jokes like, ‘Oh Jessie is doing it because he wants to kick us out of his house, he wants us to pay like $1,000 dollars a month for heating bills,’” Musselman said.
Other than what the members believe could be the presence of a supernatural entity, they feel unsafe in the original Tri Delta house. They cite raccoons, citizen and fraternity break-ins and frequent catcalls to be sources of their discomfort.
“It’s actually scary to be on this side of campus,” Musselman said.
In the house the Tri-Deltas currently use, a woman named Martha Piggie previously resided and died during in 2008. Piggie was fired from her position as a Professor of Cosmetology at Carl Sandburg College due to harassment of homosexual students and constant slander during class.
Though Piggie died in the master bedroom of the Delta Palace, many of her possessions still remain in the attic and basement. Cameras, photographs, shoes, clothing, a handwritten resume and an organ have not yet been removed from the attic.
Remains in the basement also include old sinks and curtains, which serve as evidence of an illegal salon Piggie ran prior to her death. Members of the sorority feel discomforted knowing that these items remain in the house.
“Even if she isn’t actually in the house, it’s still very creepy,” Musselman said.
Though she feels skeptical towards the existence of ghosts, Musselman feels that she would never stay in the palace alone. Musselman recounted an instance where she and a previous member had been joking about Ms. Piggie, only to see an item fall unprovoked moments later. Arrez mentioned her fear of the Old Jail due to the legend of the runaway slave tunnels still underneath.
Members of Tri-Delta conclude that, whether or not the house is haunted, the extensive history at Knox gives rise to feelings of discomfort in the house.
“I think it’s the fact that there is so much history at Knox that makes it creepy,” Musselman said.