For many people, ghosts and spirits are generally only thought about around Halloween. But, for the members of Penn State’s Paranormal Research Society, ghosts are consistently the biggest topic of weekly meetings, according to PRS President Sarah Cotter.
Cotter (senior-early childhood development) said PRS goes on a “large investigation” overnight at least once every semester to explore buildings with “histories of hauntings.”
“At the beginning of every school year, we take the club to Gettysburg as an introduction,” Cotter said. “We have equipment that we will give the members of the club to kind of use and just to like, kind of set people free. We tell them, ‘This is how you use it. Go have fun."
Although PRS currently investigates off-campus sites — including locations such as the Ohio State Reformatory and West Virginia Penitentiary — Cotter said she would like to investigate several buildings on campus.
Cotter said one campus location in particular sticks out — Schwab Auditorium — which was built in 1903, according to Penn State’s Center for the Performing Arts’ website.
“It's heavily reported that there's a janitor ghost that people see [at Schwab], or a woman, or there's even reports of a soldier being seen, the chairs moving around, stuff like that,” Cotter said.
Cotter said since Schwab is privately owned, PRS has not been cleared to investigate recently.
However, PRS has investigated Schwab in the past when it was under different ownership, according to former president Rachel Moeser, who graduated in 2015 with a degree in nutritional sciences.
Moeser said one of the strangest occurrences that happened while PRS investigated Schwab involved the ghost of a woman, who previous members referred to as “Marilyn.” She said the ghost seemingly channeled her energy through the female investigators.
Moeser said this happened to two different female members of PRS during two different years. She said the second person affected didn’t previously know about the first member’s similar experience.
“They're sitting in the dressing room and talking. The female investigator got just overwhelmed with how she described a feeling of overwhelming sadness and would start to burst out crying. It came on very suddenly. And as quickly as it came on, it left,” Moeser said.
Moeser said during the second incident, the group had been trying to communicate with Marilyn. The overwhelming feeling left the investigator after they told Marilyn they were going to leave her alone.
Moreover, Schwab is frequently the home of the Penn State Thespian Society.
The Penn State Thespian Society historian Jordan Dawson said she thinks some of the unexplainable phenomena inside of Schwab can be attributed to ordinary causes, but some members of Thespians believe that there is “a little more going on.”
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“When people, at least in my experience, have talked about Marilyn, they often cite that in the women’s dressing room it’s not uncommon for someone to get really overwhelmed and emotional and start crying, but then minutes later feel absolutely fine again,” Dawson (junior-film production) said.
Dawson said some other experiences Thespians had in Schwab included hearing voices in the basement when no one is around and seeing a figure of a man dressed in old-fashioned clothing.
Cotter said another place of interest to PRS is the stacks in Pattee Library where, in 1969, graduate student Betsy Aarsdma died after being stabbed. During Cotter’s time as president, PRS has not had the opportunity to investigate the stacks.
“Penn State is not fond of the idea of a club going in and investigating where a student was murdered,” Cotter said.
Although Cotter has not formally investigated the stacks, Moeser has gone.
While Moeser was in PRS, she said the club would visit the stacks at least once every semester to “try to get in touch with Betsy Aardsma.”
“[The case is] still an unsolved murder. We would try to talk with her to see if she wanted to be known. When I was there, she never really did,” Moeser said. “The founding members said that occasionally they’d get something weird but not much activity in there, despite it being rather creepy.”
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PRS originally gained exposure in 2006 when its investigations turned into a reality show called “Paranormal State,” which aired on A&E. Cotter said the current club is not affiliated with the show, but the show’s legacy continues.
“I still get emails from people asking me from like, all over the country… So people still often associate us with the old TV show and they're asking us like, ‘can you come?’ or sending in security footage from their house that they think might be peculiar,” Cotter said.
Cotter said dorms were also a big hotspot for paranormal activity — specifically Tener Hall, Snyder Hall and Runkle Hall — among other “little things” in different dorm buildings, like reports of witchcraft.
“Runkle was one of the biggest things. There was somebody that had a Ouija board in there, and it's in one room, room 318,” Cotter said. “There’s been claims of 11 malevolent spirits in this single room. It had Poltergeist-like activity, which is essentially aggressive, haunting noisy ghosts.”
When Cotter was a freshman, she said she experienced unexplainable phenomena in Hartranft Hall.
“[The hauntings would] often be in my room, like my bed would shake,” Cotter said. “I'd have my closet doors open and close. Things would move around the room and in the bathrooms, the showers would just turn on randomly.”
Although Cotter has experienced what she thinks may be paranormal, she says she remains unconvinced.
“I’m a huge skeptic,” Cotter said. “My whole thing is, it'd be cool to see something and then believe, but my stance is I need to see something and document it to believe in it.”