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.
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.