Things that go bump in the night

Popular culture is filled with haunted stories, but are you a skeptic or a spirit-seeker?

Some say the ghost of Theresa has been haunting the dark alleyway behind the Toucan since the 1800s.
Some say the ghost of Theresa has been haunting the dark alleyway behind the Toucan since the 1800s.
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Rumour has it Nurse Betty’s ghost has been lingering around Waldron Tower ever since she plummented from the top of the 11th-floor staircase.
Rumour has it Nurse Betty’s ghost has been lingering around Waldron Tower ever since she plummented from the top of the 11th-floor staircase.
Photo: 

It’s October, which means only one thing: ’tis the season to be scared. From Banquo’s ghost in Shakespeare’s Macbeth to Casper the friendly ghost to Ghostwriter, paranormal phenomena have held a secure place in popular culture for centuries.

According to the American Parapsychology Association, the definition of a ghost is “the apparition of a deceased person.” Whether you believe in ghosts or not, there’s no denying we have a public fascination with the idea that the undead may be living among us.

The Haunted Walk of Kingston thrives on the public’s interest in ghost stories. Founded in 1995 by Queen’s alumnus Glen Shackleton, ArtSci ’96, the Haunted Walk is now in its 13th season and continues to scare willing tourists, thrill-seekers and skeptics in Kingston and Ottawa.

Stephanie Robinson, operations manager and ArtSci ’05, is in her sixth season working for the Haunted Walk. Her experience working with ghosts has led her to form her own conclusions regarding public interest in the paranormal.

“I think it’s just people’s fascination with the unknown and they want to catch a glimpse of that,” she said.

For those who aren’t believers, Robinson said the tour can change their point of view.

“We have some people come to the tours just for purely the historical side of it and then they usually end up leaving feeling a little bit of doubt.”

Robinson said Kingston is a good place for haunting because it’s so old and has so much history attached to it.

“The process of finding ghost stories for the tours involves a lot of research. We look through old newspapers and find out stories that we can possibly look into,” she said, adding, “We also talk to a lot of believers and eye witnesses who have personally seen the ghosts.”

Robinson said the most famous ghost in Kingston is Theresa, a woman supposedly killed in the early 1800s by a man named John Napier—the father of the child she was carrying.

But there are also haunts in Kingston where more than one ghostly presence can be found.

“The most haunted spot in Kingston is by far Fort Henry because it is so old and so many people have died there. Last summer I had a tour guide quit because all of the experiences she had at Fort Henry were too traumatic. For example, she would keep on hearing footsteps when there was no one around.”

As for whether she believes in ghosts, Robinson is still unsure.

“I guess I don’t have a definite yes or no answer for that question. After six seasons working here, I haven’t experienced any concrete ghost sightings. But after hearing all the stories it’s hard not to believe.”

Glenn Best, ArtSci ’07 and a tour guide for Haunted Walk, considers himself a ghost skeptic.

“No, I don’t believe in ghosts,” Best said. “However, I do find the stories so fascinating and interesting that the tour is still highly entertaining whether you believe in ghosts or not.”

William Morrow, religious studies department head, wonders why people really experience these ghostly encounters.

“There is no doubt that people feel haunted by memories of the past. The question is what is the substance of these experiences?”

Morrow said a belief in ghosts is separate from other beliefs, such as religious beliefs.

“Levels of education and economic status have roles to play as far as believing in the paranormal is concerned,” he said.

A 2006 study at the University of Oklahoma found a correlation between levels of education and belief in ghosts.

“As people attain higher college-education levels, the likelihood of believing in paranormal dimensions increases,” said researchers Bryan Farha and Gary Steward Jr.

For Morrow, the relationship between paranormal and religious beliefs is complex.

“I don’t think the relationship between believing in ghosts and the teachings of organized religion is a straightforward situation,” he said.

“There are many types of paranormal activity that might be frowned upon by organized religion.”

Morrow said people have to make the distinction between their experiences and explanations for them.

“It’s quite possible for someone to experience something that is supernatural, but what kind of explanatory grid can you use to explain this?” he asked.

“From the perspective of the department of religious studies, ghosts are a hypothesis. So are gods, so are angels.”

Queen’s students have their own hypothesis about events at Waldron Tower. Waldron is also known as the home of Queen’s most famous paranormal resident, Nurse Betty.

Brent Lyons, 11th-floor don in Waldron, heard a Queen’s legend that says Betty, formally known as Gertrude, was a resident when Wally was exclusively an all-nurses residence for Kingston General Hospital before Queen’s purchased the building and turned it into a co-ed residence in 1988. The legend says Betty killed herself by jumping off of the 11th floor of Waldron Tower.

Lyons said the reasons behind her suicide are unclear, but some theories suggest she failed a test or broke up with her boyfriend.

Betty’s legacy still lives on in Wally. In fact, Lyons and several other residents of Waldron said her suicide is believed to be the reason there are cages in the stairwell, in order to prevent such an incident from happening again.

“I really didn’t know anything about Betty until I began my position as a don in Waldron Tower this year,” Lyons said. “Several other dons had mentioned it to me during training week and people I had met in my travels around campus also confirmed their stories.”

Lyons said he has had few personal experiences with Betty, but there are some unsettling occurrences that come with living on the 11th floor.

“Beside my room is an empty storage closet that no one seems to use. However, at night time I hear noises of shuffling and moving coming from within the closet all the time,” he said.

“Also, me and my neighbour’s doors suspiciously seem to rattle during the night. Even when our windows are closed, the rattling still happens. It’s loud and it keeps me up sometimes.”

Lyons doesn’t believe in ghosts, but is confused by the events he has experienced during his short time in Wally.

“I personally don’t believe in ghosts, but I’m struggling to rationally explain these strange occurrences.”

Chantal Valkenborg, ArtSci ’08, was a don on the 10th floor of Waldron Tower last year.

“I moved in two days early for training week and the place felt really creepy and had a weird vibe,” she said.

Valkenborg also noticed some abnormal activity in the building.

“During training week, the elevator refused to go all the way up to the 10th floor, so I always had to get off at the ninth floor and walk up the stairs. … During the school year you would hear the elevator roaming up and down all the time. Near the end of the year when anyone called for floor nine, the elevator would always go up to the 10th floor instead,” she said.

Erin Leonard, ArtSci ’11, also has a hard time understanding the seemingly paranormal phenomena at Waldron.

“The elevator always wants to come up to the 11th floor for no reason,” Leonard said.

Evan Hal, ArtSci ’11, said his floor’s TV acts strangely.

“We’ll be watching it and out of nowhere it’ll randomly start shaking,” he said.

Parham Esfahani, ArtSci ’11, moved in with a warning carved into his desk drawer. The inscription read: “This room is not to be fucked with, anyone caught trying to do school work in this room will be haunted by the Floor 11 ghost.” But not all Waldron Tower residents feel uneasy about the idea of living with a ghost. Clément Tang, ArtSci ’11, chooses to take the attitude of fascination rather than fear.

“We get a lot of drafts here. The doors rattle a lot. I’m open to it. It would be cool if there was a ghost living amongst us.”

Believe it or not

  • According to a poll done by Ipsos Reid in 2006, nearly half of all Canadians—48 per cent—said they believe in ghosts and 18 per cent said they have experienced a “ghostly encounter.”
  • Famous celebrities who claim to have seen ghosts include Nicolas Cage, Keanu Reeves, Hugh Grant, Matthew McConaughey, Sting, Paul McCartney and Kingston’s most famous Ghostbuster, Dan Aykroyd.
  • A study done in 2006 by researchers at the University of Oklahoma found those with higher academic backgrounds such as fourth-years and grad students were more likely to believe in ghosts than first-years.

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