Rachel Johnson sits down with Colorado College students and staff to discuss their paranormal experiences in many of the major buildings around campus. Whether or not you buy into this compelling anecdotal evidence for the existence of ghosts, this article engages with figures of CC’s past, and suggests that they might endure in its present. Bemis Hall residents especially should give this one a read.
Gossip Issue, 2006
The darkness made me feel incredibly uneasy as I sat alone in Bemis Great Hall. The moonlight through the trees formed flickering silhouettes above the empty fireplace. Although many residents were sleeping upstairs, it felt as if not a living soul had ever entered the building. It was past midnight, and I had been waiting over two hours for someone I had never met to appear. I knew Debbie A. Dewitt, a nighttime custodian, would have to show up eventually, but as I sat in silence, I began to lose faith. Once I heard noises coming from the walls. I decided it would be better to try to contact Dewitt in the safety of daylight. As I stood up to leave, a shadow suddenly stretched across the hallway as Dewitt opened the door. Even though we had scheduled no meeting and I was basically waiting for a stranger, Dewitt walked toward me as if she knew why I was there. Tucking her long, black hair behind her ears, she placed her bags on the floor. I knew I was in for some good ghost stories.
“Where to begin…?” Dewitt leaned up against the brick wall next to me. Her voice grew raspier with every word, as she told me tales from the dark side of Colorado College.
Dewitt remembers her first ghost encounter well. She was cleaning the second floor of the Tutt Science Center sometime past midnight when, “Outta nowhere, bare female footprints appeared on the newly mopped floor.” She said, “They showed up one at a time, as if someone was walking down the hall after me—but there wasn’t anyone else in the building.”
Dewitt has had innumerable supernatural encounters while working at CC. She has seen footprints appear more than once in Tutt. “I am up on the second floor of the Tutt Science Center a lot, mopping the tile floor, it gets all shiny and slick, ya know?” Dewitt said. “Every single time, I will be mopping and footprints will appear in the shiny mopped area, one at a time. Sometimes you can hear a girl giggling.”
Throughout her years working at CC, Dewitt has gotten to see and speak with ghosts from all ages and eras. She claims that almost every building on campus is haunted.
Dewitt is not alone in her experiences. Many professors, students, and guests have witnessed the lively paranormal community on campus. Two of the most social ghosts, Lady Bemis and Dorothea Cornick, were once in fact active members of the Colorado College community while alive. Although dead, the commitment they gave in life has been more than enough to bind them to the school from beyond the grave.
Many women in Bemis can’t blame a roommate for any strange noises or feelings of being watched late at night—most rooms are singles. Yet, many residents do speak of such aberrations. Most often, those anomalies take the form of the building’s spectral overseer, Lady Bemis.
Alice Cogswell Bemis was the wife of Judson Moss Bemis, who founded Bemis Hall in 1908. For many years it was the social center for women on campus. When the building was first created, 83 women lived there in total and men were not allowed to live in the building.
Lady Bemis died in 1942 and was buried next to her daughter Marjorie Delight. Although the cause of Marjorie’s death is unknown, local rumor states that a man snuck into her room at night and murdered her. Because of this, the Bemis family donated the all-female dorm in order to provide a safe haven for the women on campus. Apparently, the ghosts feel secure here too. Marjorie Delight is often heard by Bemis residents skipping down the halls and laughing late at night.
Despite her daughter’s playful specter, Lady Bemis is the dorm’s truly constant companion, prowling the hallways and keeping watch over the building at all times. “I worked here over Christmas break last year. For the first week, Old Lady Bemis would be sitting right there on the piano every day,” said Dewitt. “Sometimes she would be sitting over there on that one couch in the corner, but she was always here.”
“She wears the same dress as in that picture,” Dewitt continued, looking across the room at the large oil painting of Lady Bemis in a white dress. “I’ve seen her in a darker dress too. Sometimes I would say ‘Hi’ so not to offend her.”
The painting of Alice Cogswell Bemis and Marjorie Delight hangs above the mantel in Bemis Hall. The lights that illuminate her face and eyes never turn off. “I could feel her watching me. She had been watching me for awhile.” Dewitt said as she nodded her head, wide-eyed.
Tom Lindblade, professor of drama and a CC ghost aficionado, notes that “Bemis is very weird—lots of strange things happen there.”
The answer is simple: it’s Alice.
The ghosts of Bemis Hall aren’t limited to physical manifestations; their haunting is largely electrical. “Go in the back by where the head resident lives. If you touch anything metal you get shocked,” Lindblade said, “There is a very large electrical current through the whole south side of Bemis. You can’t avoid it.”
Whenever former RLC of Old Town and Bemis head resident, Renee Estes, grabbed the doorknob to the first floor HR apartment, “I, along with anyone who walks in this back hallway, gets shocked.”
Like former HR Addison Diehl, who constantly experienced strange phenomena in the apartment, Estes had many brushes with the paranormal. Two years ago in late fall, Estes and her boyfriend were alone in the residence, packing up to leave for the weekend. “I went to turn off my stereo and the electrical message, ‘Goodbye’ appeared as it always does when you turn it off. It also says ‘Hello’ when you turn it on,” Estes said.
Although off, the stereo clicked back on as Estes went to leave. Standing in the doorway, feet from the appliance, she could only watch as the stereo turned on and off incessantly, only saying ‘Goodbye’ and never ‘Hello’. After battling the stubborn radio for several minutes, Estes finally had to unplug it.
The following spring, Estes had some friends over. It was late in the evening. “Everyone was hanging out in the living room. The bedroom, where the stereo was, was completely empty.”
“I think Mrs. Bemis really likes The Who” Estes laughed. “Because all of a sudden, The Who was blaring so loudly that I could physically walk into the room to turn it down.”
Estes shared feelings of being under surveillance with many of her Bemis residents. “I felt like I had been watched for awhile,” said sophomore Franny Frischkorn about her freshman year spent in Bemis.
One night, before falling asleep, Frischkorn felt a very strong presence emanating from her closet. “I couldn’t close my eyes, no matter how hard I tried,” she said.
Although paralyzed by the energy in the room, Frischkorn eventually freed herself and ran into the bathroom down the hall. There was a girl there that Frischkorn had never met before.
“I did not know the girl. She did not introduce herself to me: she just looked at me. She asked if I felt a spiritual energy in the room.” Frischkorn said, “She asked me if the paralyzing energy was coming from the closet.”
Frischkorn later found out that the girl in the bathroom that night had previously lived in her room. One year earlier, she had experienced the same thing.
Although the basement of Cossitt Hall hosts a cadaver lab, the bodies are not the only departed inhabitants of the building. Late at night, some dancers say they can see Dorothea Cornick’s ghost quietly watching them from the balcony as they move across her studio.
In the early 1950s, Dorothea Cornick attended a summer dance session at CC. There, she met her husband and fellow dancer, Norman Cornick. Dorothea eventually took a position as a seamstress and company dancer. For nearly 30 years, until her death in the 1980s, Dorothea was a department fixture, floating about the studio in her characteristic long, white dress. The Cossitt dance studio was dedicated in her memory.
Until 12 years ago, Dorothea’s ghost was a minor nuisance, occasioning strange sounds and the rare appearance. Then, one night, two construction workers were staying late, removing asbestos from a basement crawl space. As the late evening approached, they heard drums in the distance. The dance studios were completely empty; the students had left for break. The drumbeats grew closer and closer when, suddenly, the dark crawlspace grew light, and the stairwell above them was illuminated. There, at the top, a woman loomed overhead. She was wearing a dress with a full flowing skirt. Her long, red hair covered her face. The workers glanced away, thinking it was a freakish trick of the light. When they looked back, the woman was hovering above them. As she slowly turned towards the workers, her face was dark and sunken in, the skull easily revealed.
“Both of the workers had seen her. Both were chilled to the bone,” said Lindblade, whose personal curiosity about Dorothea’s ghost led him to investigate the story.
The following morning, Lindblade said, the workers told the CC staff that they could no longer work in Cossitt for personal reasons. As they were leaving, a member of the janitorial staff approached them, describing their encounter exactly despite never having met them.
The workers were astonished that other people had experienced the same thing they had: the drums and especially the woman with the long red hair and skeletal face. “Some members of the janitorial staff still refuse to work there,” Lindblade said. Lindblade is convinced that Dorothea haunts Cossitt because she wants to maintain the studio as strictly a space for artists. She appears to intruders such as construction workers in order to ensure that Cossitt is used for nothing outside of her beloved dance.
“When I heard the story, I wanted to find out more about Dorothea and her spirit,” said Lindblade. When Lindblade talked with some of her previous students, he learned that Dorothea had died of sinus cancer that ate away at her face, desiccating the skin and revealing the bones underneath.
Lindblade claims that she still walks the studio. “When I am in the dance studio at night, I feel her around. You feel someone’s watching you,” he said. A construction worker quit this year because of his encounter with a ghost in Cossitt. Although security guard Jason Goss has had numerous encounters with poltergeists in the studio, he has chosen to remain at his job, collecting audio recordings and photos of Dorothea or one of her friends. Goss has even had physical encounters with the ghosts. “I was in the room with the old spiral staircase as it was being renovated,” he said. “As I was on my way out, I felt a shove in the mid-lower back of me. It was enough force to knock me on my tiptoes and push me forward.”
My eyes trailed Dewitt as she collected her things and disappeared down the stairs and into the shadowy basement. I found myself sitting straight up, my clammy hands tightly clenched around my pen, the hair on my arms stiff with fear. As I got up to make the long, cold walk home, I looked over my shoulder to make sure no one was following me. Just as I was turning my head back in the state of relief, Lady Bemis’ portrait caught my eye and I knew that although I was the only person in the room, I was not the only one listening to Dewitt’s stories.
Archival Issue | March 2019