Monday, November 20th, 2017

Digging up the Robie-Andrews ghost

Posted on April 21, 2008 in Arts & Culture
By Laura Fellows

Even before I moved into Robie-Andrews Hall last September, I’d heard it was haunted.

Rumors abounded about a pregnant student, jilted by her boyfriend, who supposedly hung herself there in the early 1900s, and whose ghost continues to haunt the building.

Some say her name is Sarah. At that time, the building was part of the all-women’s Gorham Normal School.

While I haven’t encountered anything ghostly in person (unless you count the old elevator door opening and closing repeatedly, for no apparent reason), I’ve heard several accounts from students, mostly second-hand, about odd but harmless incidents-things falling off the wall, doors closing and opening on their own, sounds of tapping where it shouldn’t be, and cold spots in the building.

Granted, more than a century of use can add a certain ‘character’ to any building (and its wiring), and most likely the interpretation of these events will depend greatly on the viewer’s-or listener’s-preconceived ideas of ghosts.

“I think it’s pretty legit,” says Basil Yu, a student who lived in Andrews last year.

He recounts a time when his roommate listened to a phone message from a friend about an exorcism on TV. Right after the message, their coffee pot suddenly started shaking, and turned around in its spot, so that the handle was facing the opposite direction.

Another student recalled leaving a computer unattended, and returning to see a few random letters typed on the document that was up.

I, however, am no a ghost-hunter-I wanted to take a more historical look, so I dug into the Free Press archives to get some idea of how long this legend has been going on.

As it turns out, I’m far from the first writer to try uncovering it.

In 1978, Peter Davis wrote an article in which he fused several versions of the story into this: a female student in the early 1900s was something of a loner, and very homesick. She would climb up to the Robie-Andrews belfry tower and look out in the direction of her home, calling to her parents.

One night, after long depression and illness, she hung herself from a ceiling beam using her scarf.

Apparently, it turned out that her parents’ house had burned down, which is why they did not answer her letters.

Reading this melodramatic story suggests that either the legend has changed much over the years, or it is based on more than one death in the building, considering how different this is from the current rumors.

In another 1970s article, Rodney Labbe wrote his own sensationalized account of the terrors of fourth-floor Andrews and mentioned seeing a box lid rising on its own.

The letters in response to the article were not favorable, and a friend revealed that Labbe had made up parts of the story.

In the early ’90s, a Free Press journalist reported sighting and attempting to interview the ghost-but was left with nothing but the sound of her own voice on the tape recorder.

Some articles also brought up the possibility that the whole legend was simply concocted to scare incoming freshmen.

Nevertheless, it has caused USM to be listed on ghost-hunting websites, such as StrangeMaine.blogspot.com and TheShadowlands.net.

It has also helped to inspire student creativity, such as the short film “Triple Digit,” which Franklin Kendrick directed for the Husky Film Festival in 2006.

I’m sure any of the local newspapers of the time would have written about this suicide, but the trouble in researching a story as general (and old) as this is that the dates are vague.

On the ‘haunted buildings’ listings, most accounts say this legend dates back to the 1800’s.

That would be a very small window of time, because Robie Hall was only built in 1897.

But the Andrews side of the building (with the uninhabited attic in which the ghost is said to reside) wasn’t built until 1916.

Not only is it impossible to know which date to look for, but it’s hard to know which newspaper to research first.

Scanning hundred-year-old death records from the Eastern Argus on microfilm had me pretty sea-sick, so I gave up my search.

Covering this much media from such a general time period would take weeks, months, and more than one pair of eyes.

Although I don’t believe everything I read, I still have enough faith in newspapers to believe that if something as horrendous as this really did happen in Robie-Andrews, and wasn’t deliberately covered up, it surely must be recorded somewhere.

But I’ll leave that for the next Free Presser to uncover-it’s going to take more than one stressed-out college kid to dig this one up.

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Gorham Normal School, 1908

This isn’t Sarah, the rumored 1900’s suicide who haunts Robie-Andrews, but it’s an interesting, tragic story about a few Gorham Normal School students from the same time period:

Gertrude Lowell, aged 19 years, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Dana P. Lowell; Margaret Hawkes daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hawkes, aged 21 years; Harvey Jaques, aged 19 years, son of Mr. and Mrs. Walter S. Jacques; and Benjamin Larrabbee, aged 29 years, only son of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Larrabee, all of Windham were drowned in Lake Sebago, July 4, 1908.

This sad affair took place near Raymond Cape and was caused by the capsizing of the boat in which they were enjoying an afternoon’s pleasure excursion. Their bodies were recovered in a short time and every means possible for their restoration to life was used by Dr. I. D. Harper, whose summer cottage is near the scene of the accident, aided by Dr. Parker of North Windham who was soon on the spot, but in vain the vital spark was extinct.

Just what caused the overturning of the boat is unknown. Mr. Moses, who was in charge, escaped the fate of his companions, but is unable to assign any reason for the accident.

Miss Lowell and Miss Hawkes were graduates of the Gorham Normal School , class of 1908, and the victims were young people of the highest moral character and the catastrophe has cast a feeling of sadness over the entire community.

From the Windham, Maine, Records of Deaths, courtesy of the Windham Historical Society.

  • Kathrynne Willhoite

    I lived in Robie Andrews a couple of years ago and I am sooooooo glad that I didn’t know this story. I would’ve been scared out of my mind the whole semester 🙁

  • Chelsey Allan

    I lived in Robie on the fourth floor right across from the Attic stairwell. This was in 2006. I was transferred into Robie-Andrews from another dorm (cannot remember the name of dorm)shared by three college classmates so at the time of the move, I was super excited as an eager freshman to get a bigger dormroom with just one roommate. To me it was the artsy fartsy dorm, old, cool woodenfloors so at first I was thinking awesome this is going to be nice! I was sadly mistaken. As the days turned into a few weeks my new roommate whom I’d met only a couple times never came home. I began to feel an incredible sense of dread and loneliness in that room. I never wanted to be in my dorm and I hadn’t ever in my 18 years of living ever experience so much sadness and depression. I do recall one night where I was laying in bed I heard shuffling above me. I didn’t know it was rumored to be haunted in that place at all so I thought it was just janitors cleaning…but so late at night? In the attic? Seems pretty ridiculous now that I think back. I with my own stuff going on and personal regrets of college choice felt some connection with the entity in that building. I cannot reccount ever feeling that depressed and sad ever than I did in that building when I was there. I used any excuse to leave. I ended up going to parties alone avoiding going back to my empty shallow dorm. The weirdest part of it all was at my lowest point while I was there in tears, I opened my dorm window (which was forbidden) hung my head out to smoke (habit I picked up there) and felt a sensation or thought that I could just jump out my window and end it all. Thinking all the sadness would just dissipate. I immediately recanted that thought and was surprised suicide thoughts were even taking place in my head. I truly believe one of those young woman found a connection with me or I with her. I felt that pain and it was the loneliest, saddest, homesick, sense of dread I’ve ever experienced in my life. I dropped out of USM and didn’t last one semester. I was going through culture shock and maybe somehow I was able to sense and feel the same feelings that the spirits felt at one time which were quite similar just taken up a knotch or two. I wont ever forget it. -Chelsey Maine

  • Anonymous

    Well, you sound like a prig. So we’re both even.

  • Martha Stewart

    You sound like a dickhead

  • Martha Stewart

    Interesting story…but I don’t think you should be shacking up with your boyfriend in the dorm, especially after knowing him for only a week! Weren’t you an RA, for heaven’s sake? Some role model!

  • JB

    I was an RA in Robie Andrews for a time, and I have been in the attic. I never had any experiences there, it actually didn’t even seem scary at all really, but several in the dorm had seen a shadowy figure in their room. Usually, she would just look around and look at people’s things. People didn’t report of her moving anything around really. I never saw her, but I often felt a presence, especially when I lived on the fourth floor of Robie for an entire summer completely alone. The really strange thing though, is that I started seeing a non-student who lived in Kennebunk with his Mom and we’d only known each other a little over a week when he was sleeping in bed with me and I felt his arms slide through mine and reach around and give me a tight warm hug…but when I turned my head around to kiss him, he was asleep facing the wall. When I told him about it, he told me he didn’t want to say anything but since I brought it up, he had seen a dark shadowy figure bending over looking at my books and CDs on my desk a couple nights before. He didn’t know ANY of the residents who had seen the ghost, and I’d never told him about her either. As for things moving, I definitely would hear movement in the dorm when it was empty at night when I lived alone on the top floor, but pretty much told the spirit if there was one, out loud that I didn’t have the capacity to handle seeing a ghost and please just go about your business and keep out of sight.

    As for some FAKE ghost trickery, the baseball team moved into the 2nd floor one summer because they were in the finals or something and the old intercom system still worked and we would whisper things into the intercom and scare the hell out of them. Fun times. I miss those days in Robie Andrews. So many great people. But, I don’t miss the 1 or 2 fire alarms a week when I was showering for class because the art department in the basement set off the fire alarms with the kilns. I’d prefer a ghost haunting to that.

  • Yendor1152

    I’m Rod Labbe, who wrote about the Robie-Andrews ghost a few times during my stay as an University of Southern Maine student. My “sensationalized” (I love that word) account of a visit to fourth floor Andrews (a large attic) may have ignifited a firestorm of criticism from Free Press readers…but it also led to the dorm government putting on an annual Halloween “visit to the haunted attic” event, starting in 1979. I graduated in 81, so I have no idea how long the Halloween trips to the attic lasted, but I will say that they were very, very successful. They even hung a dummy from the bell tower and highlighted it with colorful lighting! Did I really see a box opening as I turned for one last look before leaving the attic? Well, shadows and a vivid imagination can weave a magical spell–so, I leave it up to you to decide!