The Ghost of Washington Hall

In 1886, a steeplejack working on the fly loft of Washington Hall plummeted to his death. Did his spirit never leave the hall?

In 1919, Jim Minavi, a student professor residing in Washington Hall, became ill and died. Did Jim, who used to regale his peers with trumpeted versions of popular tunes of the day, continue to blow his horn from “the other side”?

In 1920, returning late to campus and having been locked out of his dorm, George Gipp, Notre Dame’s legendary gridiron All-American, allegedly slept on the front steps of Washington Hall, contracting the pneumonia that would take his life on December 14, 1920. On his death bed, he made this famous plea to Coach Knute Rockne: “Some time, Rock, when the team is up against it, when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go in there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock. But I’ll know about it, and I’ll be happy." Is the Gipper keeping tabs on the team from Washington Hall -- his old “haunt”?

“Shortly before Christmas, the residents of Washington hall began to be bothered by night-time visits from a ghost who, though he did not beat a drum, blew a French horn with much violence. At the dead of night he would wake the hall’s eight intellectuals from slumber with a prodigious blast, and when they went fearfully to investigate he would be gone.... The ghost became a most-talked-about thing on the campus.” (Excerpted from the 1921 Dome)

“To one man only was it given to see the ghost of Washington Hall. At the time of the ghost’s almost nightly visits to the music hall, Pio Montenegro, ‘22, of Brazil, lived in Science Hall, his window overlooking the entrance to Washington Hall. On several occasions, according to his account, upon glancing from his window at night, he saw a stalwart figure mounted upon a beautiful white charger galloping up the steps of the hall and through the entrance. He insisted that the figure which he had seen upon the white horse was that of George Gipp.” (Excerpted from the 1926 Dome)

A possible explanation...

On October 23, 1977, an artricle by Charles Davis appeared in the South Bend Tribune in which Davis credited himself with inventing the Washington Hall ghost. Davis suggested that he resided in Washington Hall, his bedroom wall serving as the back of the instrument cupboard from which the supernatural horn allegedly sounded. Davis removed a knot from the wall and used the hose from an enema bag to blow into one of the horns in the cupboard. In a 1978 interview, however, Clarence “Pat” Manion,1 Dean of the Law School and a resident of the third floor of Washington Hall in 1920, argued that Davis “couldn’t have done that because the horn blew at midnight and Charles lived over at Sorin Hall or something. It just doesn’t add up.”

Furthermore, Manion responded to the subtle suggestion in the Notre Dame Alumnus of January 1932 that the University's music master, Joe Casasanta, who had lived on the second floor of Washington Hall in 1920, was behind the perfect B-flat note that echoed through the hall just after midnight on many nights. Manion recalled hearing the note on at least one occasion while with Casasanta in his room. He admitted, however, that Casasanta did blow his coronet on one occasion to convert the hall's last remaining skeptic, Brother Maurilius.2 Maurilius, who lived on the second floor of Wahington Hall, thought the superstitious lads on the third floor were drinking too much coffee. Nevertheless, he was so convinced by Casasanta's performance that he demanded an exorcism be performed in Washington Hall posthaste. This exorcism, according to Manion, was the end of the ghost.

While reluctant to eschew rational explanations for the disturbances in Washington Hall, Manion ended his tale (filed in the Notre Dame Archives’ oral history collection) as all good ghost stories conclude -- on a note of ambivalence (a perfect B-flat?):

“I’m not ready to say that we all thought it was some sort of spiritual or other kind of exotic manifestation. We felt it must be a door, it must be something, something logical that could account for it and the consistency of its sound. But we could never explain the door slamming and the walking up the stairs, because I had lain in bed and listened. The door would slam, but the door was always locked. I didn’t know what was causing it, but I never attributed it to the Devil or the spirit of George Gipp or that steeplejack or any of those things. But then when you heard the horn itself, there was no way to connect it with anything except that sustained, clear note....”

Over the years, numerous students have attempted to rendezvous with the ghost in Washington Hall even though the building is officially closed after 11 PM. While most of these stake-outs have been uneventful, one incident suggests that the ghost of the hall is still sensitive to University policies (Is that you, Gipp?):

In 1986, a group of theatre students sneaked into Washington Hall and tried to contact the ghost using a Ouija board on center stage. They asked the ghost to identify itself; the board spelled out “S...G” and then the planchette slid to “GOODBYE.” They asked again, hoping for more information. Again, the board spelled out “S...G” and “GOODBYE.” Another query prompted an abrupt “GOODBYE.” Realizing the urgency of the message, the students fled the hall and paused to regroup in the parking lot outside. Nervous laughter dissipated into the calm of the evening until the door they had just exited suddenly exploded open. Hearts and breathing stopped at once as a security guard (S...G) emerged from the hall, having just completed an inspection.

Books which discuss the ghost of Washington Hall:

Brad Steiger, Gods of Aquarius, 1976.
Mark Marimen, Haunted Indiana, 1997.

1. The Dome of 1921 indicates that Manion and Dan Carr were behind the ghost of Washington Hall, but the tight-lipped duo never came clean. (Back to text)

2. Suposedly, Brother Maurilius is the proper who cracked down on George Gipp”s flouting of the Universitry curfew. The Gipper allegedly opted to sleep on the steps of Washington Hall on that cool November night rather than risk waking Brother Maurilius by trying to sneak into the hall and back to his room. (Back to text)

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