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Do ghosts mix with students at
 Mount St. Mary's College?

Linton Weeks

Music kicks on for no apparent reason in an empty dorm room. Mysterious mist moves across sacred ground. Students speak of unspeakable visitations. It's just another day at Mount St. Mary's College and Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., near the Mason-Dixon Line.

Emmitsburg is a charming place. This time of year, the landscape around the town is alive with hay bales, pumpkin pyramids and cider stands. Folks have laced cornstalks to porch pillars and placed scarecrows in rocking chairs.

Emmitsburg is a ghostful town. Time, Interstate 270 and just about everything else have passed it by, which may explain why the past is so present. Especially at Mount Saint Mary's, the haunting, and haunted, academic grove on the south side of town.

"I was amazed at how many ghost stories circulate around campus," says the Rev. Dan Nusbaum, campus historian. ""I think there is such a thing as a poltergeist. I''ve experienced that on campus.""

Billing itself as the second-oldest Catholic institution in the country behind Georgetown University the 1,400-acre college was founded in 1808. It's a great place hard against the Catoctin Mountains for picnic lunches and short hikes.

Spend a day on campus, among the gravestone-gray buildings, holy statuary, bell towers, hillside grotto and mountainside flora, and you might be aghast at the ghost stories that abound.

ROOM 252

Stand in the quadrangle facing Brute Hall and you're smack in the center of supernatural action. Watch out! You may bump into the ghost of the Rev. Simon Brute, an early president of the college who died in 1839.

Legend has it that Brute still glides about the campus wearing long black robes. People who have seen his ghost describe the same sunken cheeks and other particular features. He usually smiles and nods and moves on.

Glance up at the second floor and you'll see the window of Room 252. Each year, the spirit of Father Brute shares that dorm room with the lucky resident.

Nusbaum tells of a priest who lived in Room 252 about 30 years ago. One night the priest straightened his room, stepped out for a few minutes, then returned to find everything bedclothes, furniture, books and papers in total disarray. The priest discovered that his lights and television flashed on and off at random times. He moved out.

Another priest took the room. But when his pet cat began hissing at odd times and scurrying under the bed to hide, that priest, too, asked for a change of venue.

Room 252 remained empty for years, Nusbaum says. In 1997, three students moved in. They noticed inexplicable occurrences a falling mirror and a flushing toilet.

Brendan McMahon, 21, a senior business major from Reading, Pa., who lived in 252 last year, tells of strange occurrences. He and some students were watching TV in the room and several times, for no reason and with all remotes accounted for, the signal began jumping from channel to channel to channel. "There''s no mistake that something was happening," McMahon says.

He also says the school put a bookshelf on the spot where Father Brute died. Glasses will fall off the shelves for no reason in the middle of the night.

Adjacent to Brute Hall, McCaffrey Hall is another high-spirited building. According to Nusbaum, a slave named Leander who worked for the college in the mid-1800s lived on the first floor of McCaffrey. He was accused of stealing and, as punishment, his left hand was cut off and buried in the quadrangle.

Near where you're standing.

Eventually, Leander was freed. He stayed at the college. When he died, he was interred in the school's cemetery.

To this day, residents of McCaffrey report seeing a severed hand here and there, or hearing fingers scratching on dorm windows. Nusbaum believes that the ghostly hand might be looking for reconciliation with the rest of the man's body.

Take a walk around campus. There have been sightings of ghosts almost everywhere you turn. On Echo Field. At Sheridan Hall. In fact, there may be more spirits on campus than students. Sort of like "The Others Go to College."

One of the college's most famous ghosts is a Civil War soldier who promised his beloved that he would think of her while in battle. The two lovers looked to the heavens and agreed to gaze upon the same star every night.

When the soldier was killed a few miles away at Gettysburg, he was buried face down in an old well.

Now his spirit, people say, roams Mount Saint Mary's, tapping folks on their shoulders and beseeching them to ""turn me over."" He wants to see the star.


Why is Mount Saint Mary's so haunted? After all, it's not that far from Washington, which prides itself on being the most rational, real-life city on Earth.

For one thing, there is an air of otherworldliness here. People come to meditate and pray and look for answers to life's mysteries. In all probability, more often than not, the mysteries only deepen.

For another, it has a history of hauntings. Ghosts are part of the school's tradition. Way up above the college, beyond the carillon and the chapel, you will find a rhododendron-lined path to the National Shrine Grotto of Lourdes, a strange and lovely sight.

A plaque there explains: In 1862 ecclesiastical authorities issued a decree saying Mary, mother of God, had indeed appeared more than 18 times in 1858 to believers in Lourdes, France. This holy spot was created 13 years after the decree as an American response to the famous French shrine.

For the people of Mount Saint Mary's, apparitions have long been a part of life and of death.

Watching over the Grotto is a statue of Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first native-born American to be canonized. She is austerely dressed in a floor-length cloak and bonnet. She holds a Bible in one hand and rosary beads in another. She has a sweet face.

The ghost of Mother Seton, as she is known, frequents the halls of the college. She moved to Emmitsburg in 1809 to establish the nation's first parochial school and died in 1821. Her spirit is often spotted walking beside a man who looks like a doctor. Some say that her vision appeared to wounded soldiers during the Civil War, when the school was used as a hospital and she joined forces with a doctor to heal the sick. Others believe that the man is her father, a physician.

Every Halloween, students build a towering bonfire on Echo Field and people gather round to tell stories of Father Brute, Mother Seton and all the other spirits. Some of the tales are spooky and spine-tingling, but many of the Mount Saint Mary's ghost stories tell of helpful spirits and friendly visions.

Nusbaum may tell this one: In 1805, a circuit-riding preacher named John DuBois became weary while on a bridle path between Frederick and Emmitsburg. He saw a light on a mountain and, thinking it was a farmhouse, rode toward it. When he couldn't find the house, he lay down and went to sleep. When he woke, he discovered a breathtaking vista of rolling hills and fields unfurling. He decided to stay there and build a church and a school.

The school, founded on a ghostly light, was Mount Saint Mary's.

Other Emmitsburg Ghost tails:
The Christmas Legend of the Flute Playing Larry Dielmand