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Halloween 2019: Ghosts of EMU

Happy Halloween from The Eastern Echo! Listen as host Liz Hornyak shares the stories of Ypsilanti’s ghosts and EMU’s past.

Liz Hornyak: They say that truth is stranger than fiction and that real life is scarier than anything imagined. But what if that truth has to do with ghosts? What if the things that go bump in the night are real?

Every October, everyone is primed and ready to be spooked. With horror movies and haunted houses waiting for avid thrill-seekers, there is no shortage of fear in October. But sometimes, those haunted sites are the places where the very-much living tend to linger in their daily lives. Sometimes, the horrors waiting for us aren’t directed by Wes Craven.

Here at Eastern, students, staff and faculty alike are well-acquainted with the ghosts of years passed. Several buildings on campus stand empty, grim edifices to changing times.

I’m your host, Liz Hornyak. In this edition of the Eastern Echo Podcast, we take a step away from the black and white newsprint to really dive into grey areas of life. Is there a life after death? Is Ypsilanti playing host to things scarier than Ypsi the Klown?

Lock your doors, keep the lights on and try not to scream because this is the Halloween edition of the Eastern Echo podcast.

Everyone knows that Starkweather Hall, former home to the Honors College, is haunted. Built in 1896, the oldest building on campus now sits empty. But long before it housed the Honors College, Starkweather housed the Students’ Christian Association, as donor Mary Ann Starkweather had stipulated. 

According to legends, Mary had decreed that the building be used only for religious purposes for a hundred years. After that, the university could do whatever it wanted with the place. But the university forgot, and all religious programs were moved from Starkweather in 1973, 23 years short of the required hundred years. Since then, it is said that Mary now wanders the halls of Starkweather, unsettled and unhappy that her words were not heeded. While the hall was still open, there were reports of invisible hands touching custodians in the hall’s basement, and bathroom lights in the basement with a habit of turning itself on and off.

Not too far away from Starkweather is Pease Auditorium, which is allegedly haunted as well – but no one is quite sure who or what is doing the haunting. Some say that Frederic H. Pease, the music professor that the building is named for, walks the corridors, the dressing rooms and the stage. Some say you might catch him lurking overhead in the catwalks. However, that brand of legend may have come from the Echo itself.

Student reporter Timothy Harrower published his own story of a generic Pease Auditorium ghost in 1980. We know now that Harrower was only kidding – our check into the archives confirms that the editors filed it under “Historical Fiction” and that Harrower himself made sure to clear the air in a subsequent article. Plus, it certainly doesn’t explain alternative legends about Pease, like the one found in author Tom Ogden’s book “Haunted Colleges and Universities.” 

The story goes like this:

In the early 1900s, two music students fell in love. The man was a trumpet player, and his girlfriend was a soprano in the choir. Pease was their meeting place, so it came as a shock when one day, the man found his girlfriend speaking with another man in their spot. In the following weeks, jealousy built up inside the trumpeter as he watched this stranger woo away the woman – until one day, he had enough. He found them onstage together – the woman singing to the stranger like she had once done just for him. In a moment, gunshots rang out instead of her voice, and there were three bodies to be found that day – the soprano, the stranger and the trumpeter – all dead by the latter’s hand. To this day, one can supposedly hear the trumpeter’s footsteps approaching the stage and can see a front-row seat drop open, as if he wants to watch the soprano perform one last time.

Of course, the hauntings that scare us the most are the ones that are too close to home – or in many students’ cases – their home away from home. While these stories are hearsay and vague, there have been some reports of EMU’s residence halls housing a few spirits from beyond. 

One of these stories came from a pair of roommates by the names of Brittany and Kat, who allege that while living at EMU in 2007, their dorm was haunted. During their time in the freshman dorms, the girls encountered the spirit of a man, who would often manifest to glare at them. They also claim that they were subjected to disembodied voices, finding belongings not where they should be and a radio clock that would blare music when it wasn’t plugged in. While there is no way to confirm this story (in part because neither roommate disclosed which hall the haunting happened in), for an institution as old as Eastern, this is just par for the course.

Finally, we come to the haunting that haunt us still because of the tragedy tied up with it: the alleged haunting of Geddes and LeForge Roads by a victim of John Norman Collins, better known as the Co-Ed Killer, the Ypsilanti Ripper and the Michigan Murderer. In the late ’60s, Collins allegedly killed six young women from the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area, including several EMU students. Though he was only convicted of one of the murders (that of Karen Sue Beineman, an 18-year-old EMU student), Collins is believed to have been responsible for each of the murders, as well as the death of a girl in California.

No one is sure which young woman haunts the farmhouse near the intersection of Geddes and LeForge. Only that you can see the farm’s silo, which has long since gone, and that if you drive by the crossroads, the trunk of your car pops open by itself.

From stories that can’t quite be explained away to legends passed from student to student, the question still remains: Are ghosts real? As with many things, we don’t have the answer. We only know what we’ve seen, what we’ve heard and what we believe. 

In the end, the question really is: Are ghosts real to you?

Happy Halloween, Eagles. Remember: You don’t have to be afraid of the dark – only what’s lurking in it. This is Liz Hornyak, signing off.

Ronia-Isabel Cabansag: The Eastern Echo Podcast is directed by Ronia-Isabel Cabansag and produced by Rylee Barnsdale. This episode was written and researched by Arica Frisbey. Though briefly mentioned, it’s the 50th anniversary of John Norman Collins being caught, and the Echo podcast will be covering the Michigan Murders with more detail in a later special edition. Stay tuned for our future Thursday editions, and be sure to listen in our Monday news briefings.