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Monday, June 05, 2006

Ubiquitous Ghosts of Southern Vermont College

Thursday, May 25
BENNINGTON, Vt. - Southern Vermont College is perhaps the most populously haunted spot in southern Vermont.

If even half the accounts that have trickled out of that place are true, at times it almost seems that spectral wanderers on the Bennington campus must be just about tripping over one another, playing out their ancient, eerie pursuits in the aetherial background behind the bustling campus of the living.

The college is housed on what was originally the estate of Edward Hamlin Everett, who purchased 500 acres from the John Holden estate in 1910. Everett lived in Bennington for most of his youth, leaving in 1869 to pursue wealth farther west. He was not disappointed. He gradually purchased up all of the American Bottle Co. - and in the process of trying to cut costs on the glass fires, prospected and became the first person to strike oil in Ohio. In '86 he married Amy King, the daughter of a Newark aristocrat whose glassworks factory Everett had just acquired.

Along with homes in Newark and Washington (not to forget the chateau in Vevy, Switzerland - times were good for Edward), he built himself a marvelous summer mansion in Bennington.

Legend has it that, not long after, Amy drowned there while swimming, quite unexpectedly - some say freak accident, some suicide, some murder. According to her obituary, however, Amy King Everett died at their Washington home, in March of 1917. She had suffered from a prolonged, unnamed illness and died following a "severe operation."

In 1920, Edward remarried, this time to Grace Burnap, originally from Hopkinton, Mass. Tradition has it that the three daughters he had with Amy never cared for their father's second wife. Two of them had already married and moved before their mother's death, the third not long after - and it's believed they resented the way Everett went on to sire two more children with this new, much younger wife. When Edward died in 1929, the stage was set for a venomous and quite public legal battle.

When the will was unveiled, it bequeathed the bulk of his fortune to Grace, leaving only about one tenth of the family's enormous wealth to his three daughters from his first marriage. The daughters sued, arguing that their father had not been in his right mind when the will was signed and that his second wife, who after all was not much older than the oldest of them, had exercised undue influence on him.

What became dubbed "The Battle of Bennington Millions," or "The Second Battle of Bennington," began. It was the largest and most talked about court case in the state, launching to fame the lawyer Warren Austin, who went on to become the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (and they didn't give that job to just any old nut with a moustache, back then). Witnesses included Sen. Arthur Capper of Kansas and Laura Harlan, daughter of former Chief Justice John Harlan. Grace Everett herself was subjected to three continuous days of relentless grilling on the witness stand. As Joseph Citro, Vermont's most esteemed gothic author, put it, the proceedings "left the magnificent Glass and Bottle Baron of the American Industrial Revolution looking like a pitiable weakling, utterly dominated by his Lady Macbeth of a wife." The court sided with Everett's first daughters, awarding them each about a third of the fortune, with the remaining amount going to Grace and her two daughters.

Some say that great dramas and great sorrows of this sort leave a mark behind in certain places - perhaps a kind of shadow radiating in the poorly understood fabric of the physical universe, a wisp of smoke: In short, they are haunted.

Since the college first took up residence on the Everett estate in the mid 1970s, a steady stream of unexplained disturbances and mysterious figures have been sighted. Security guards whisper about doorknobs turning in empty rooms and doors that close by themselves. According to a college administrator, on one occasion in 1982, a security guard called him when he could not identify the source of some strange noises. When they finally tracked the sounds to an office on the third floor, they found that the door, which was locked from the outside and had no other entrance, had somehow been blocked from the inside by a heavy desk. In what was once the old carriage house, there've been numerous reports of doors and windows locking and unlocking by themselves and computers that snap on and off suddenly.

One of the most frequently reported phenomena is the appearance of a woman in white, roaming the main house and grounds, thought by some to be the ghost of Edward's first wife.

There might be other candidates for ghostly representation wandering the environs. In 1956, Bennington witnessed the mysterious double suicide of the Lundoffs, a reclusive older couple living right beside the former Everett estate. Clemons W. Lundoff, and his wife, Hilda, were found sitting in their parked car in the garage, having died of carbon monoxide poisoning only shortly before. Although they'd lived there for a number of years, the Lundoffs had kept to themselves and had no known friends in the area, nor relatives. The city sold their property at auction, and the motive for their suicide pact remained a mystery. However, in 1922, I discovered, he was indicted, along with six others, for war fraud, including some 500 Army contracts. This mark may go some way toward explaining the couple's reclusively - and perhaps their violent end.

There are also rumors of shadowy figures in dark hooded robes lurking around the edges of the campus at night, and students sometimes speak matter-of-factly about the Black Hooded Monk. This has become associated with the fact that before SVC, the estate was the site of St. Joseph's School, a Catholic seminary. But it reminds me of various rumors I've heard of people in hooded black robes in other locations around Bennington County.

Writer Hal Crowther gave an account of a bizarre incident he witnessed 1962, while he was attending Williams College. While in Bennington one night, he and his roommate were approached by some girls who invited them to a spot where they were blindfolded and led into a wooded area. When the blindfolds were taken off, they found themselves near a pond abutting a stone wall, surrounded by dark robed women.

As Crowther described it, "There was some chanting, not in any language I knew - and I had studied Latin. Then one woman got up on the wall, took off her robe and dived into the pond. As if it was very deep. And here's the strangest part: She didn't come up." Crowther later saw the girl alive in Bennington and was never sure what to make of the experience. Some Bennington College girls having a prank at the expense of some buttoned-down Williams boys, perhaps? Such a thing wouldn't exactly have been an historical anomaly. Nonetheless, there are a couple of local informants who've insisted to me that some sort of CULT did or does exist in the Green Mountains, conducting strange rituals in the night. My Wiccan friends don't seem to know anything about it, but who knows?

All in all, the estate is ensconced in history and mystery, a great combination for a full-flavored college experience or a gripping horror novel. Appropriately, some that believes that the Everett Mansion, along with a few other locations around the area, served to inspire Shirley Jackson's nightmarish Hill House, but that is a whole other story, for another week.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

I went to SVC, and I believe the tales I true. I experienced some myself!

Anonymous said...

i went to southern vermont college and i experienced some weird stuff.in my dorm room my stereo would turn on by itself and also turn the volume up on its own. and in the "abby room" in the mansion i heard children laughing.

Anonymous said...

moms friend went to svc not knowing the haunted history of the college and took several pics in the back facing the house. When the pics were developed several orbs were seen but only in that area of the college no other pics had them.

Anonymous said...

i go to SVC currently. i live on the third floor of Aldis house. this morning while i was in the shower, i heard a girl singing ring around the rosie. i looked around, and i was the only girl in the dorm. everyone else was in class or at breakfast. it sounded like it was coming from right next to me. SVC is truly haunted. believe it.

Anonymous said...

I also visited SVC before I knew the history and got really warm and started crying on the second floor..my first feeling was that there was a female presence there..Later when I learned the history I was shocked about the death of the first wife..Also when my friend and I returned at a later time a security guard we passed seemed in shock because there was a door he locked that he found wide open later..

Anonymous said...

I go to svc and i live in c2 west side. Late at night door knobs sound as if they are turning but never actually move, little laugh almost if laughing at us for being scared. my alarm clock that the alarm doesnt work on, goes off randomly but only at night, orbs can be seen also figures in our room and sweet this place is haunted far beyond anything i can describe

Chuck said...

I just hiked up around the college this afternoon and saw some real fascinating stone work that wasn't just done yesterday. Covered in moss, at the furthest point above the main building and courtyard is one gargoyle Lion's Head type of fountain that is not currently spewing any water.

Neither is the second one down the line of pools, an assembly of stonework which truly is a sight to behold. Some folks a long time ago put a LOT of work and time into making this property magnificent, albeit hauntingly so.

I wish I could post some photos here but I don't think that is possible. If so, please email me, as I took some really great ones today from up there. It's tough to get any sunlit shots in this infinitely WET part of the country.

Anyway, thanks for the education on SVC's past (and present).

Chuck

Raymond Canizales said...

I have always been fascinated with the Everett Mansion in Bennington, Vt. I was fortunate to have spent a full year in residence at the mansion when it was owned and operated by the Holy Cross priests in 1968. It served as the Novitiate for the Eastern and Indiana Province of priests. I hold so many wonderful memories of that place and have had the pleasure of visiting the site with my wife in 1998. The staff at the college was so kind and let us roam through the various rooms and grounds. About the only scarry episode(s) that I remember of my stay at the mansion were the bats that used to fly at night in the great lower hall. I hope that I will get a chance to visit that site at least one more time before the Lord takes me home.

Ray Canizales Round Rock, Texas

Anonymous said...

I am a current SVC student. I have worked in the library at night and have had some strange things happen. I was in the way back of the library (the room with all the bookshelves) and I was walking near the table. I wasn't anywhere near the table when I heard a loud bang come from it. There is always this black figure that appears out of the corner of my eye while I sit at the front desk in the library that appears and disappears in that same room. Also, I heard of a tale that a maid had hung herself in the Abby.

Anonymous said...

I attended SVC from fall of 75 thru June of 77. We were the first class to reside in the 3rd floor of the "Abbey" I had one of the "lofted" rooms that I shared with another girl. We had our beds upstairs and our living area downstairs. It was a great dorm room to have. During a cold snowy winter evening, with the window shut and locked I heard a dragging sound in our room downstairs, my roomate and I came downstairs and did not see anything, BUT the window was WIDE open. the only way to open it was from the inside. We had not done this, she did not think anything of it, but I had the MOST uneasy feeling about that night. It never left me after that until I moved. There were other things that happened in the basement, we had our little snack bar, and I had the key to it, we would snaek down there at night for a snack, we always had the feeling that our secruity guard was watching us...and then we would see him up on the 2nd or 3rd floor. As far as the grounds were concerned, does anyone remember one of the statues that was a beautiful woman with what I thought was a ribbon that went around her waist to her back and then discovering the "gargoyle head" on her back? There were also very small alter areas that had a lot of overgrown vegetation on them. My list could go on...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous
It's really a relief to know that others who attended SVC and slept in a third floor loft room heard the dragging sound. It woke me up one night in 1978 and I stayed frozen in my bed....My roommate evengually called out my name and asked if I had heard it - I could barely answer "yes" to her. We also heard foot steps between the dragging sound. It sounded like someone was dragging a chest or piece of furniture across a floor, then would walk back across the room, only to do it again and again and again....too perfectly systematic for humans beings......

Kevy Nova said...

I grew up in Bennington and when I was about 12, my best friend's babysitter told us that there was a secret society of satanists in Bennington and that the second wife of Everett was a member. She told us that they spoke to her at Everett's Mausoleum in Park Lawn Cemetery at night so me and my friends went there one night and waited. Sure enough, a single file line of figures wearing black hooded robes and carrying candles came out of the woods while chanting. We high-tailed it out of there! To this day, most people don't believe us. I'm glad to see that others have seen them too.

Chuck said...

Ahh, the mysteries live on, and are seemingly alive and well still today. SVC is a real neat memory for me, although, sadly, I never was a resident student there but I hiked probably every inch of campus and the far reaching outskirts with my faithful companion girl dog as we traversed the hillside behind SVC every chance we had for two years until we moved back out west.

Thanks to all who participate on this site and please keep posting. I enjoy reading your words. :) Happy learning, good luck, and as Garrison Keillor says: "Be well, do good work, and keep in touch." :)
Chuck

Anonymous said...

I went to svc for a summer program while I was in the main house in one of the class rooms with several other the door handle turned and opened but no one was there.it was a great experience .

Anonymous said...

I was considering starting a new career at SVC.... Not now! :/

Anonymous said...

To the anonymous poster who wrote: "I was considering starting a new career at SVC.... Not now! :/" recently, it's not a bad place. Yes, it most likely is "haunted" but hey, the dead need something to do to, right?

Please don't judge the place before ever actually being there. It is magnificient. Gorgeous area. Nice poeple for the most part. Bennington is pretty depressed economically and socially, but it has a decent hardware store, and there's a GREAT DENTIST named Dr. Tenentes down on the main drag. He's SO much fun and fantastic work he does. Anyway, SVC is amazing. No, I wasn't a student except a student of campus and surrounding environment if you will. I used to hike very frequently up behind the college's main hall where there is an indescribable series of waterfalls ending with gargoyles at the bottom where the main area is in between teh main building and the hillside of which I speak. I couldn't get enough of the place. Incredible. Sure, potentially scary as heck, but all in if anything ever actually happens to YOU. Otherwise, don't worry about it. Enjoy your time there, and move on. Just another experience. A growth opportunity you may not have elsewhere. So do it.

That's my say anyway. Also, Carmody's down in town is a GREAT place on St. Patrick's Day. The owner is really fun too! Tons of law enforcement in that town though, I'll tell ya. amazed me that I ever was able to pull a pop up camper with no lights from Bratt through Benn without being stopped in Benn. ;) Anyway, go there, it's fun.

Anonymous said...

SVC was great. I actually had an internship in the library 2002. The door behind the desk where I sat did close rapidly by itself at times, but with old buildings it could have been a draft just as well as a ghost. Either way, the college is great!

laureng said...
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laureng said...
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Anonymous said...

I am currently a student at svc and if what I am reading here is true then is like to go and explore the campus at night and see what I can find. I've always been into the supernatural

Anonymous said...

I go to SVC and these haunting are still true. Why do I still go here? I don't know.
My girlfriend wakes up with bruises and I've seen shadowy figures in C2. This is a very scary place- save yourself.