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Firsthand account: Chronicling a night in a haunted Utah building

First Published      Last Updated Mar 15 2016 05:41 pm


Legends » What is it like to spend a night in a place known for ghostly lore? Here’s a firsthand account.

Some call her The Lady in White, or The Lady in the Creek. To others, she's the Ghost Bride. A former student even calls her Nune (pronounced noon-ee).

She's the alleged ghost of Nunemaker Place, a chapel-turned-honors student center at Westminster College. The building has won its fair share of architecture awards — and a reputation for being haunted. Full disclosure: I'm a graduate student at Westminster, and a Christian, so my belief in ghosts is generally limited to the Holy variety. But it's Halloween, that time of year when we indulge our imaginations and our sweet tooth. I'm not much of a candy guy, but I do love a legend.



So on Tuesday, I spent the afternoon hearing people's stories about the old place, then spent the night locked inside it, alone. Here's how that went:

9:15 p.m.

The story goes that a bride was on her way to Nunemaker Place for her wedding when she died in a car crash. Another version of the story has the bride ending her own life. As with most ghost stories, variations abound.

All you can see of Nunemaker Place, from much of the campus, is what appears to be a stone tower, peeking up out of a grove of pines and golden aspens. To reach it, you have to cross a wooden bridge that spans a ravine and the creek that gurgles through it. (People say a boy drowned in the creek and haunts an old dormitory.) Bear right on the other end of the bridge, and the tall door to the hall reveals itself. Even facing it, the hall is still mostly shrouded in trees.

Once inside, Nunemaker Place reminds you of a 1970s ski lodge. It's not surprising, then, to find out that the architects were the same ones who built several buildings at Snowbird ski resort. What appeared to be a tower rising out of its pointed roof is actually a "light scoop," designed to spread sunlight into the building, illuminating its angled cedar walls and stonework façades.

So here I am, spending the next 10 dark hours locked inside a reportedly haunted building. I spent the first part of it watching this week's episode of "Gotham," which happened to feature a supposed spirit. How … coincidental.

10:40 p.m.

A couple of campus patrol officers have come by to check that the building is all locked up. Now seems a good a time as any to tell you about the ghost, since the first story comes from a former officer I spoke to earlier today.

About 18 years ago, Joe Ferrari was making his rounds during his graveyard shift when, about 2 a.m., he noticed that all of the lights were still on in the building. They weren't supposed to be, and the custodial crew would have left for the evening a long while ago.

"So I radioed my partner … to say that I'm noticing the lights are on in the building, can we go in and do a sweep, make sure it's locked," Ferrari said. They unlocked the door, relocked it behind them and made sure the building was empty.

"We know that we're the only ones in that building. We're standing right in the middle of the room, and the lights are all still on. And all of the lights in the building turned off at the same time."

Then they turned back on. Then off again, then on again. Then they "turned off and stayed off," Ferrari said. "So I was like, 'This building is secure, let's get out of here.' "

A year later, Ferrari learned that the building had some wiring problems. But short or crossed wires wouldn't do that, he said. "It wasn't flickering on and off, or buzzing, or anything. It was like a gradual on, gradual off. … So it's one of those things where yeah, you can chalk it up to faulty wiring, but at the same time, it sure didn't feel like faulty wiring, you know?"

When Ferrari tells the story, he still gets goose bumps.

11:15 p.m.

Two custodians come in and go about their work. It's nice to have some company.

11:30 p.m.

Now that I am once again alone — and in a darker building, since the custodians switched off all of the lights except the ones around me — I've cracked into one of my two Red Bulls. Want another story?

Ten years ago, a maintenance technician was checking on the building in the early morning when he heard what sounded like a door being shut. Students had left for the summer, so he went around the building to check. On the third floor, he felt a wind brush the side of his head. He looked around with a flashlight, thinking it might have been a bat, but he couldn't find anything. He spent the next 15 minutes searching the building but didn't find anyone.

"[Then] the hair stood up on my neck," the technician said in a phone interview. "It felt … [like] somebody watching you, but it felt wrong."

He was out of there like lightning. It was a month and a half before he went back in.

Midnight

Sound really carries in here. With acoustics like this, it's no wonder that the building used to be used for recitals, poetry readings and other performing arts.

1:40 a.m.

I have to say, there are creaks throughout this building (probably from the shifting temperatures) that are louder than I would expect them to be. The air turns off and on fairly frequently, and I'm guessing that couples with the constant cooling outside to create the steady symphony of popping and creaking sounds around the building. A couple of pops in the glass even sound vaguely like knocking.

I must confess, I've spent about an hour listening to a couple of podcasts. It's been a long night.

2:45 a.m.

You know, I think we have time for one more story about someone's experience in Nunemaker Place.

About nine years ago, an economics undergraduate student was in the building and concentrating on homework when it felt as if someone was standing right in front of him. When he looked up, he heard someone call his name, which freaked him out. On another occasion, he was doing homework in the building when he decided to take a nap on a couch on the third floor. When he woke up, he described feeling as if someone — or something — was hostile toward him. From then on, he tended to avoid the third floor.

Whatever spiritual beliefs people hold, Nunemaker Place is a strange building, the alumnus said.

3:45 a.m.

We're entering the latter half of my stay, since I'm leaving a little after 7 a.m. The creaks have lessened, though when the air comes on (which, again, happens fairly frequently), a couple of the window blinds and papers tacked to the wall sway a bit. Though I know why they do, it's still just a bit eerie to sit in a closed-off environment and watch things move as though there's a breeze.

4:30 a.m.

Those still-occasional creaks and pops do sometimes sound like a tapping, as if someone is gently rapping, rapping at Nunemaker's door, to paraphrase the late Mr. Poe. Come to think of it, a variation on the Ghost Bride story has her wandering the creek outside Nunemaker, still trying to reach the chapel.

The college holds an annual ghost tour of its campus for alumni, a program overseen by Alumni Director Michelle Barber. At least a couple of residence halls are said to be haunted, but Nunemaker Place has the added bonus of the atmospheric Emigration Creek running alongside it — a slithering stream slipping over rocks and under a canopy of gold leaves. Barber described Tuesday afternoon how the spot "is naturally beautiful, but at night? It's a little spooky." Students have even reported hearing the Ghost Bride crying in that quiet, remote corner of campus, she said.

6 a.m.

I've talked a lot about The Lady in the Creek, or the Ghost Bride, or whatever name you know the legend by. Before I go, let me tell you about another woman: the building's namesake and benefactor, Irene Nunemaker. Though originally from Kansas, the Avon cosmetics executive lived in Salt Lake City for a time. A plaque in the building mentions that she was a dedicated Christian, though the building's origin as a spiritual and cultural center was meant to accommodate people of all faiths.

"She wanted a space that could be used for any number of things, including just to 'be' in," James Christopher, one of the building's architects, said in a 2003 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune. "She wanted the building to provide a sense of quiet and reflection and contemplation."

This place has given a few people goose bumps throughout the years. But I have to say, for me, Nunemaker Place was the kind of quiet, serene place that the late Presbyterian woman would have wanted.

7:15 a.m.

Well, it's been fun, gals and ghouls, but I'm calling it a night — or morning, since the night sky is turning a soft and welcoming blue. I have no story to add to the legend of the Ghost Bride, except to say that her allegedly haunted abode is a pleasantly relaxing corner of campus.

 

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Rio Grande Depot » 300 S. Rio Grande St., Salt Lake City

The depot’s famous rumored ethereal resident is The Purple Lady, a woman who chased a thrown engagement ring into the path of a train. Like Salt Lake’s own Moaning Myrtle, she’s said to haunt the women’s restroom. But people say she’s not alone. A man who died while building the depot’s tunnel is said to haunt the basement.

Ben Lomond Hotel » 2510 Washington Blvd., Ogden

It’s not The Overlook Hotel, but some say downtown Ogden’s Ben Lomond contains the traces of lives lost. The hotel’s ghost stories include — as the website Haunted Rooms tells it — one about a woman who drowned in the tub on her honeymoon. Guests reported unusual occurrences in the tub, including water running by itself and a feeling of being pushed, according to Haunted Rooms.

Southern Utah University » 351 W. Center St., Cedar City

SUU is reportedly full of otherworldly music. According to the school, the spirit of a pianist occasionally fills Braithwaite Fine Arts Gallery with a rendition of “Deep Purple,” a tune she was going to play at junior prom before she died. Over in Old Main, the ghost of a murdered woman known as Virginia is rumored to play “unnerving flute music.” Some say she set the 1948 fire in the building, 50 years after her death, according to an SUU news release.

Moon Lake » High Uintas in Duchesne County

Campers say they’ve seen a girl — who looks dripping wet — asking for help before suddenly vanishing, according to Andy Weeks’ book “Haunted Utah.” He also describes the legend of a giant serpent lurking in the depths of the lake.

Mercur Cemetery » About 10 miles south of Tooele

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