THE DAILY STUDENT NEWSPAPER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH

Could your University be full of spooky spirits?

GREG HELLER-LaBELLE | May 11, 2006    

This week’s Stupid Question is actually a response to a vast number of questions, all about… This week’s Stupid Question is actually a response to a vast number of questions, all about ghosts and Pitt. Apparently, the Halloween season has some people looking for some thrills on the cheap. So, the question arises — is Pitt haunted?

The two main ghost stories I’ve heard take place in the Cathedral of Learning’s Early American Room and the 12th floor of Bruce Hall, the current home of the Office of Special Events.

The Cathedral haunting is allegedly done by the grandmother of Maxine Bruhns. Bruhns is now in charge of the nationality rooms. Her grandmother, Martha Jane Poe, was a relative of the famed suspense writer Edgar Allen Poe, so there’s spookiness all over the story.

Martha Jane’s wedding quilt, which is from West Virginia and is the better part of a century old, currently resides on a bed in the upstairs part of the Early American Room, which isn’t open most days of the year.

A few years ago, a custodian by the name of John Carter was cleaning the upstairs part of the Early American Room. He swept up and pulled the quilt over the pillows on the bed. As he turned to leave, he heard a loud thumping noise behind him. When he turned around, there was an indentation in the pillow, as if someone had lain there, and the quilt was turned down. Fearing that people might think he was nuts, Carter didn’t tell anyone.

But then, on tours, people started reporting smells of freshly baked bread in the room, and there was no explanation for the aroma. And, finally, when one tour guide stopped upstairs to check on the room, she found the cradle in that room rocking steadily, when no person had been up there.

These reports prompted Carter to sell — err, tell — his story. Local media picked it up,making Carter something of a celebrity. A radio station eventually arranged to spend the night in the room, which Bruhns allowed only on the condition that she be there to ensure security.

Before Bruhns had arrived to meet the crew, they were waiting in the downstairs portion of the haunted room. Suddenly, the door slammed behind them, locking them in the room. By the time Bruhns got there, the crew was in the process of trying to throw the latch with a credit card. They were also freaked out.

Spiritual mediums have made several trips to the room and described presences as a little woman with her hair pulled back and wearing an apron, a description Bruhns said matches her grandmother exactly.

But maybe the best story is that of Bruhns herself in the room, deciding to see if it really was her grandmother. On her grandmother’s wedding day, Feb. 28, Bruhns said she went into the room for the night carrying a candle, a flashlight, a bottle of water and her grandmother’s wedding ring.

As she lay down for the night in her sleeping bag and was about to nod off, Bruhns said, she heard a swishing noise above her head and felt something fly by. Then there was a loud thumping noise. Bruhns said she waited a few minutes, paralyzed, before turning on her flashlight to see what had landed nearby.

It was a human head.

Just kidding.

It was her water bottle, which had somehow made its way across the room from her bag.

Bruhns said she reached a conclusion after that evening, regarding her grandmother’s haunting of the room.

“Grandma,” she said. “You can have this damn room.”

There are other theories about the room that tend to involve a German carpenter searching for his wife. Bruhns said, though, that she does have an ancestor who was a carpenter in Germany, so it may fit together after all.

The 12th floor of Bruce Hall, on the other hand, is a little less specifically haunted. The story is that a woman, who was the mistress or wife of the builder of the Bruce apartments, hung herself in a dead-end stairway on the top floor of the building. Following the suicide, there were reports of strange things happening to the catering staff.

One day, all of the napkins on a banquet table were mysteriously knocked to the floor. Another time, all of the cabinets in the kitchen started banging so fiercely that one member of the staff had to lock herself in the bathroom out of fear. Indeed, to this day, the special events staff is reluctant to even talk about the hauntings.

There are, no doubt, many other ghost stories involving Pitt. Mary Schenley has been said to walk the floors of the Cathedral late at night. The first floor of Alumni Hall has experienced inexplicable phenomena. Even here, in The Pitt News office, we have a ghost who is reported to inhabit 437 William Pitt Union, the LillianRussellRoom.

Of course, they’re all just stories. No one actually believes that Lillian is wandering around our office after we leave at night.

Butt that portrait is creepy.

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