Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Power outage rocks campus
Power outage rocks campus
Jack Brandt September 13, 2023

Augie horror story: Ghost stories from Augustana College

Apollonia Weyerhaeuser Davis, pictured here in 1914, lived in House on the Hill for her entire life until her death in 1953. She is rumored to still haunt its halls. Photo courtesy of Augustana Special Collections

Women in Bergendoff singing in the middle of the night. Shadows staring back at you. Steps following right behind you. Though the seniors may be leaving this month, some entities never seem to leave Augustana College.
You don’t have to look too hard to find someone who’s had an odd encounter during their time here. There have been deaths on campus as well as professors who have passed away while still teaching.
Whether or not you believe in spirits, Kai Swanson, special assistant to the president and amateur historian of college lore, offers author Tim Green’s definition of truth: “if the answer to that question matters, then it’s true.”
Here are Augustana students and staff’s accounts of the unexplained at Augustana.

Bergendoff: Home of fine arts, the rocking man and the singing woman

Unbeknownst to most of the student body besides those who spend an obscene amount of time practicing in Bergendoff, two spirits stalk the home of fine arts on campus.
Senior Cayle Higgins believes he had an encounter with one walking home late at night during his first year at Augustana. He passed by a man rocking back and forth, who was either crying or laughing, on the concrete bench right outside Bergendoff.
When he went to investigate, he witnessed that as the entity rocked back and forth, the front door of the building would open and close with it. This entity had dark clothes, very dark skin and long, swaying hair. He said it barely looked human. As he got closer, the crying laugh became louder, until he decided to run away. He hasn’t seen this figure since.
“I also don’t go by Bergendoff at three in morning anymore, either,” said Higgins.
Higgins said though he doesn’t know of anyone else seeing the ghost, he heard about the story of the rocking man who haunts Bergie when he pledged the national theatre fraternity, Alpha Psi Omega.

Reenactment of the rocking entity outside of Bergendoff. Illustration by Ryan Silvola.

Senior Corbin Delgado had an unexplained encounter in the practice rooms in Bergendoff. During his first year, when he was performing in a play and an opera at the same time, he ended up working until midnight in a practice room. He still had more work to do, so he decided to take a nap under a piano. When he woke up around 2 a.m. and went to use the restroom, he realized all of the lights were on in the practice rooms, though they were not on when he went in.
“This could’ve been me being asleep, or groggy or whatever, but I was positive they were on,” said Delgado.
When he returned from the restrooms, all of the lights were still on, and he heard singing.
“It’s 2:15 a.m.,” said Delgado. “There’s going to be no one in there singing, and the only reason I’m in there is because public security didn’t get me out of there.”
He followed the increasingly loud voice to a practice room, where he opened the door.
“There’s a blonde woman in a white dress, and she is singing the most beautiful Soprano Aria I’ve heard,” said Delgado. “I couldn’t place it if I wanted to.”
Delgado said they looked at each other, he waved and then went back under the piano to sleep, thinking in the moment he had dreamed of the encounter.
“I’m convinced it was the ghost, or it could’ve been me being really sleepy,” said Delgado. “Though, I don’t think I would’ve hallucinated that vividly for that.”
His phone alarm is piano music, so when he woke up the next morning, he went to grab for his phone. Instead, he grabbed the foot of a person playing the piano. They screamed and ran out.
“I’d like to think that I’m someone’s Bergie ghost,” said Delgado.
Delgado, also a member of Alpha Psi Omega, has heard some of his fellow members share their experiences with a similar apparition during the group’s ghost stories night.

Andreen: A violent prank gone wrong

Photo of Andreen Hall. Date unknown. Photo courtesy of Augustana Special Collections.

If you hear strange noises or encounter a shadow staring back at you in Andreen, it might be Chauncey Morton.
The first year was shot in the temple with a .22 caliber target pistol slug on Oct. 24, 1958 in Andreen and died en route to the hospital, according to the Augustana Observer archives.
“He was a young African American student here when there weren’t really a lot of African American students,” said Swanson.
Until about 1962, Andreen was a men’s only dorm, while the women lived in Evald. Without cell phones, the Internet or TV to entertain them, the fad in 1958 was to get starter pistols or blanks and fire them off due in the dorm, said Swanson. The fun came from how loud the sound was when the pistols were fired in doors.
Swanson said the way Richard Buchholtz, the shooter, claimed his roommate replaced the blanks with a .22 caliber bullet. The Observer reported that during the court case, Buchholtz told three different stories: that they were roughhousing, that he did put the gun to his head with blank bullets and that the gun was not loaded.
“These guys were playing around with the guns, and they were going to, I don’t know, surprise Chauncey or something, snuck up behind him and pulled the trigger,” said Swanson.
According to the Quad City Times archives, The City Times reported Nov. 11, 1958, that a Rock Island County Grand Jury chose to not indict Buchholtz.
Swanson said there were stories in the Observer about Morton’s parents coming up from Chicago at a time when it was a “major move for the family.”
Swanson said the tragedy of the story is only furthered by the fact that in the 1950’s, if the roles had been reversed, the African American student would be jailed immediately if he shot a white person, and his safety would be compromised.
“It’s atrocious. He very likely wouldn’t have had due process in the court of law, and here this guy gets off with basically nothing,” said Swanson. “It’s just tragic that if there is a reason for A: a spirit to be traumatically severed from his body in such a way that people say that ghosts are around, because they don’t know they’re dead, and B: have a right to be pissed off, it would be Chauncey.”
Swanson said he has heard reports of people hearing noises mostly in one specific room, even people who have never heard the story of Chauncey. However, Swanson wasn’t sure what room Chauncey might possibly be haunting.
“I don’t know that there’s anybody who feels creeped out to the extent that they run away from the building and never come back,” said Swanson.
However, Higgins said he dealt with two students who ran away from their room when he was a Community Advisor in Andreen two years ago.
Junior Alexis Hutson said one night when she was at the library during her first year, her roommate started texting her, saying there was a ghost in their room.
Hutson said when she got back to her room, her roommate was on the verge of tears with two unidentified male friends. She told Hutson there was the shadow of an entity sitting with its knees bent in the corner of the wall above Hutson’s bed whenever she turned off the lights. So they all decided to look for themselves.
“We turned off the light, and she’s already screaming, because she already sees it, and I had my eyes closed, because I didn’t want to see it, and then I opened them, and it was just there,” said Hutson. “Like, a perfect silhouette sitting over by bed, and I have never ran so fast in my life.”
She said they woke up the entire floor at 1 a.m. with their screams.
“There was nothing by my bed that would’ve made a light like that,” said Hutson.
Hutson said they stayed in a friend’s room for two nights, because they were both so terrified. When Higgins went into the room, he didn’t see anything.
Hutson never saw the spirit in her room again.
Though Hutson said she never felt threatened, she did sleep with the lights on for a while and bought plug-in lights.

House on the Hill: A ghostly caregiver

Photo taken of House on the Hill. Date unknown. Photo courtesy of Augustana Special Collections,
Photo taken of House on the Hill. Date unknown.
Photo courtesy of Augustana Special Collections,

Those who have experienced unexplained phenomena in House on the Hill describe an entity that appears in the form of cool, calming breezes, though occasionally playing some mischievous pranks involving resident’s faucets.
Swanson said if there’s a ghost in House on the Hill, it has to be Apollonia Weyerhaeuser Davis, who grew up and passed away in the house as an elderly woman in 1953. The Weyerhaeuser family owned House on the Hill, and Apollonia was the last Weyerhaeuser to live in the house.
Frederick Weyerhaeuser (Apollonia’s father) sitting with eight family members during the 1890’s. Photo courtesy of Augustana Special Collections

Swanson said students report their water taps or a shower coming on in the middle of the night and the go off on their own. He said he didn’t think that was odd until he read the diaries of the seven Weyerhaeuser children.
The male children’s least favorite job was having to pump water up from a well in the basement into a water receptacle, a system Swanson said was unheard of in the 1860s.
“Now the story starts to make a little bit of sense,” said Swanson. “If you are a typical sister, and you want to really irritate the hell out of your brothers, make them do the job they most hate doing.”
Swanson said if Apollonia opened all the taps and let the water out, then her brothers would have to go fill the receptacle back up.
When Swanson told this story during a Halloween tour last fall, he said a student who lived in the house said when she came back from class her bathtub was filled with water but not to the point that it was overflowing.
“I should say that I’ve never had anybody who’s told me a ghost story say ‘and I felt really creeped out,’” said Swanson. “Nobody’s ever felt intimidated, threatened, harmed, you know, anything like that, which I find extraordinary.”
When the Weyerhaeuser family donated House on the Hill in 1954, Betsy Brodahl moved in and lived in the house for 50 years, along with other students. Swanson said Brodahl believed the spirit was a welcome, caring and protecting one.
Students have also felt that sense of protection. Swanson had a woman on a tour eight or nine years ago tell him a story about how she was sitting in her apartment in House on the Hill in the fall, upset about the loss of her boyfriend, and then she felt a cool breeze wash over her.
“With it comes this recognition that everything’s going to be alright,” said Swanson. “She was overcome with this feeling that everything’s going to be OK, and that’s when she realized all the windows were closed.”
When senior Laura Behymer lived in the house last year, she developed a fever but didn’t want to go to the hospital. Then she started hearing knocking on her door, but when she would get the door, no one would be there. Behymer stated this happened two or three times. She would then hear her phone ring but have no missed calls.
She stated she eventually had her boyfriend drive her to the hospital, where she discovered she had a 103.5 degree fever due to a kidney infection.
“I don’t know if those were just auditory hallucinations, but part of me feels like the ghost of House on the Hill was trying to tell me to get out of bed and get help,” stated Behymer.
The ghost of House on the Hill also doesn’t forget. When paranormal investigators came to House on the Hill in 2012, Apollonia didn’t forget Swanson’s late night visits to House on the Hill when he was a student.
Swanson said the investigators had a box about the size of cell phone that measured the electromagnetic energy in the house, and if it senses a pattern within this energy, a word will appear on the screen.
After some words showed up that had no meaning to the house, the word “Petra” appears on the screen.
Though it didn’t mean anything to the investigators, Swanson dated a woman named Petra during his senior year, who lived in House on the Hill. Back in those days, Swanson said he would scale a tree on the west side of the house to get into her apartment.
“I assure you, I would only do this for late night study sessions,” said Swanson.
At the time, House on the Hill was an all girl’s dorm back when Swanson was a student, and Brodahl still lived in the house and would lock it up.
“It was like from beyond the grave, Apollonia was doing one of these: I remember you, and I’m still watching you, dude,” said Swanson.
Photo courtesy of Augustana Special Collections, circa 1927. Front row: Elise Denkmann Marshall, Marie Antoinette Denkmann Reimers, Apollonia Weyerhaeuser Davis and Sue. Back row: Mrs. McGowen, Anna Richardson and Mrs. SS Davis

Tom Phillis, Augustana police chief, has also felt like he wasn’t alone in House on the Hill.
Phillis said in an email that when he was making rounds during the summer of 1990 as an Augustana security officer, he went to the house around midnight, because someone who had been working on the house during the day had left either a light on or a window open. He heard a noise in the lobby when he was upstairs.
“When I went down, there was a rocking chair in the lobby, and it was rocking,” said Phillis. “Now, the thing is ,I locked the door behind me after I entered, and no one else was in the building.”

Old Main: Watch your step

When walking around Old Main at night, watch out, because there might be someone right behind you.
The same summer as his House on the Hill encounter, Phillis was doing a building check in Old Main. He was on the second floor, and he heard footsteps behind him.
“I stopped walking and heard three or four additional footsteps before they stopped,” stated Phillis. “I was the only one in the building, and I was wearing tennis shoes that didn’t make any noise.”

A séance in Swanson gone wrong

Though it’s unlikely Augustana’s newest dorm complex has spirits lurking the halls, that doesn’t mean students can’t summon them.
Junior Nate Wendt said he had been sleeping in his dorm room when he was jolted awake by an object slamming to the ground. He and his roommate Dan Herrera then realized Herrera’s Bible had fallen open to page 666.
Wendt said the Bible was placed on the bookshelf securely, so something must have knocked it over.
“So Dan grabbed the cross that he had by his bed, and I grabbed my cross necklace, and we both slept with them within arm’s reach,” said Wendt. “It was one of the most bizarre things to happen in my Augie career.”
Wendt said they discovered later from their Community Advisor that students were holding a séance on the first floor that same night.
Nate Wendt and Cayle Higgins are both editors for the Augustana Observer.

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Augie horror story: Ghost stories from Augustana College