Fall of the house of Francis


   And travelers now within that valley,
   Through the red-litten windows, see
   Vast forms that move fantastically
   To a discordant melody;
   While, like a rapid ghastly river,
   Through the pale door,
   A hideous throng rush out forever,
   And laugh –but smile no more.

To celebrate All Hallows Eve, I would like to share with you a true story. It’s one of those “just plain creepy” stories, and it took place near Halloween of 1987.

I was a junior in college at St. Bonaventure University (Go Bonas!), and that semester I was taking a course in American Literature. It was the later half of October, and the class was doing a unit on Edgar Allan Poe. (I strongly suspect the professor did that deliberately.) That semester I was fortunate enough to not have any early morning classes, so I tended to study until around 2 AM. Even now I’m a bit of a night owl.

This was during one of those late night study sessions. Picture one of those hopelessly cliched “dark and stormy nights,” with liberal amounts of sheet lighting and thunderclaps. That’s a perfect atmosphere for reading Poe, wouldn’t you say?


It gets better. The dormitory I lived in for most of my college years was at one time a seminary, so it had a lot of character. Like some other buildings on campus, Francis Hall was rumored to be haunted. Stories spoke of the spirits of long deceased friars still lurking around the old place, and the ghosts of seminarians who died before completing their studies. I don’t know about ghosts or poltergeists, but one thing that Francis Hall did have, at the time, was an outdated furnace that would periodically make very obnoxious noises. On this particular night the furnace was acting up, which resulted in loud, echoing, banging sounds traversing the pipes and air ducts of the old building. Truth be told, I rarely noticed it, but on this night I certainly did.

Upon this backdrop of rain, lightning, thunder, and irregular banging sounds from the bowels of the building, I was in my dimly lit room reading the words of Baltimore’s master of the macabre. Specifically The fall of the house of Usher. Think about that for just a moment. After a few perfectly timed thunderclaps (nice touch…) I was certifiably creeped out. When another perfectly timed thunderclap and lightning strike hit just as Roderick and Madeline relieved each other of their mortal coils, punctuated with a bang and shimmy from the basement, I decided enough was enough.

It was time to switch from American Literature to something far less scary: calculus.

One of the other dorms on campus, Devereux Hall, the oldest and wildest one on campus, was also rumored to be haunted. The fifth floor of Devereux had an especially colorful reputation, given the crazy stuff that was supposed to have taken place up there. That floor was known to have shimmering lights on at strange hours of the night, even when the campus was experiencing a blackout! According to campus legend, at least three students were reported to have died there, all under suspicious or extraordinary circumstances. Personally, I attended many social events in Devereux, but I never encountered any ghosts.

I encountered plenty of spirits, though, and typically regretted it the next morning.

Happy Halloween everyone, and beware of ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night!

But if you really want some more of that stuff…

The image of a common raven is a stock image, while the photo of Francis Hall was pilfered from a slideshow. It’s a better photograph than the one at the University’s official site!