Halloween spawns spooky memories of haunted halls and Gipper's ghost
By CHRISTINA MARTINI
A student wanders through the darkness in the middle of the night and makes his way to the outdoor hand-pump outside Washington Hall to quench his thirst. He glances up from his drink and his blood freezes as he sees a ghostly white form immerse from a dark cluster of trees.
The misty shape heads for the steps of Washington Hall and as it inched closer, the student believes he can make something out.
It's none other than football great George Gipp atop a white horse riding up the steps of Washington Hall. When the student looks again, the image has vanished.
The ghostly ride of Gipp is just one of the many ghost stories surrounding Washington Hall.
Hair-rising rumors of ghosts in Washington Hall have been attributed to a number of sources, though the legend that the ghost of All-American football player George Gipp is a favorite of most Domers.
After returning home late from a night at the bars, Gipp allegedly slept on the steps of the hall to avoid problems with his rector. Unfortunately the extreme cold caused him to contract a fatal illness. He died only a short time later on Dec. 13, 1920.
Only a week after his death, the eerie incidents began. According to a 1977 article in the South Bend Tribune, a student was writing his thesis late one night in Washington Hall when he was distracted by a rustling noise from under his door. He quickly locked it and grabbed his rosary beads.
The following week the sighting of the Gipp on the white horse occurred on the lawn of Washington Hall. When this story was recounted, some students laughed, but more began to wonder.
Though the ghost of the Gipper was the first thing that came to mind, many other theories began to surface. In 1919, one year before the death of Gipp, a student professor and very talented trumpet player, Jim Minaui, died in his room. His death was not given much afterthought, until the events that followed the sighting of the night-riding Gipp.
Around 3 a.m. one night, Joe Cassanta, one of the most famous Irish band directors and a resident of Washington Hall in 1920, was awakened by the sound of a trumpet. The music was followed by the sound of pattering feet next to his bed.
Feeling the presence of someone in the room, fear came over Cassanta and he froze in his bed. Two nights later, another young man was awakened in the same manner. He was so afraid that he could not muster up the courage to call on his roommate.
There has been much dispute as to what the musical sounds may have actually been, but it is said that they continued in the hall for six months. Some say the music note was distinctly that of an E flat tuba.
In addition to the story of Minaui, the tale of Brother Cajetan, who had played fourth alto horn in the hall surfaced. It had been said, "When he's dead and buried his spirit will return and play the peck-horn."
Others had their own suspicious speculations. It is rumored that one student confessed on graduation day that he had been behind this elaborate scheme and was creating the trumpet sounds for the past six months. He said he connected a rubber hose to a trumpet mouthpiece in the band room and then threaded the hose through a hole in the wall all the way to outside. He was able to blow into the hose and create the notes.
Many do not believe that this confession is enough to dismiss the uncanny events of that year. In 1978, Clarence Manion, a `21 graduate told The Observer his version of the ghost stories.
Manion did not feel that the confession on graduation day was a valid explanation of the freaky episodes.
"He couldn't have done it; it wouldn't add up," Manion said. "Nothing was piped through the wall. We had janitors and plumbers check through the building."
Manion insisted that as far as he knew, almost all the incidents were real.
"We couldn't exaggerate; there were too many witnesses to the thing," he said.
He continued to say that they were never able to explain the door slamming and the walking down the stairs since the door was always locked.
Manion also believes that the noise he heard was "a perfect B flat on something maybe a clarinet" that could be heard anywhere in the hall.
"The horn blowing became so commonplace that no one thought anything of it. It was just like a squeaking door," he said.
Brother Maurilius, a resident of Washington Hall in 1920 was once awoken in the middle of the night by "enough noise to wake the dead," according to Manion. After the loud banging sounds, Maurilius heard the loud sounding of a horn. Maurilius jumped from bed in hysterics. He refused to go back to sleep for the entire night and spent the wee hours of the morning praying in the chapel.
Maurilius rushed to Provincial Charles O'Donnell's office the next morning and demanded an exorcism of the entire hall.
"Somebody came over there with holy water one day," Manion said.
Though Maurilius was scared out of his wits, Manion is quick to admit that this episode did not happen exactly the way Maurilius remembers it.
According to Manion, Maurilius used to answer the ghost claims with, "These people drink too much coffee. I've lived here for five years and I've never heard the scratch of a pin." It was the disbelief of Brother Maurilius that sparked what Manion calls "the only feature about the whole thing that was fake."
The students were tired of the Maurilius' skeptical attitude and were frustrated that the ghost was not making his presence known to him.
"We couldn't depend on the ghost; he wouldn't cooperate. We knew we had to do it in our own way," he said.
The students in Washington Hall brought iron dumbbells back to the dorm and stored them in the dorm room right above Maurilius' bedroom. Late one night the guys strategically placed the dumbbells on the top bunk bed and at just the right moment pushed them onto the floor. Joe Cassanta planned to play the clarinet at just the right time.
"Maurilius was in bed snoring," Manion laughed.
Though Maurilius was duped Manion did claim that after the exorcism, the frightening ghost visits promptly ended.
Claims of daunting visions and noises in the hall are not only limited to the 20th Century. Until today spooky sightings have startled many.
Roger Allee, a member of the nighttime custodial staff in Washington Hall has had his own experience with the ghost. Around July 15 this summer, Allee was resting in the worker break room located backstage in the hall and he claims to have felt a presence. He quickly turned around the doorway and saw a transparent older man with a big grin. Allee asked him how he was doing and the man disappeared.
Rumor is that most of the nighttime workers in Washington Hall have had some spooky experiences. As Allee was cleaning a few years ago, he saw a shadow on the wall.
"I looked back and there was no one there but the shadow kept getting bigger and when I looked at the shoulders I knew it had to be a football player," he said.
He said to the ghost: "I'm just doing my job. This is your building and I'm just keeping it clean." The ghost did not bother him anymore that night.
Though these ghost stories can never truly be explained, Father Robert Austgen, the chaplain of health services at Notre Dame is on the trail of the ghouls and spirits that have been sited.
Austgen began collecting ghost stories this summer and has already accumulated approximately 20 anecdotes.
He has even discovered the identities of some of the ghosts. He has shown pictures to the people who have sighted the ghosts and they have identified the image in the picture and their ghostly visitor as one in the same on two separate occasions.
The most he would reveal is that the ghosts are people who have been here before, such as graduates and faculty, who are now dead.
Austgen does not believe that it is the Gipper who haunts Washington Hall.
"I know he isn't the ghost. There are many stories about the students just playing around," he said.
Perhaps Manion summed up the idea of the haunted halls of Notre Dame the best when he described what he felt about his experience in Washington Hall.
He said, "It was just an unexplained phenomenon. We could never explain the door slamming and the walking down the hall, they were just occurrences that we heard, as real as anything."
Information for this story was collected from the Notre Dame Archives, The Observer and the South Bend Tribune.
All Scene Stories for Monday, October 30, 2000