It's Halloween all year at Saint Vincent College

Saint Vincent

At Saint Vincent College, centered among fields of corn and stands of trees in Latrobe, the dead outnumber the living.

Beyond the looming steeples of the basilica and the monastery, beyond the nests of ancient brick buildings where just over a thousand students live and work, thousands more lie buried in the hill behind the Gerard Hall dormitory.

Two rows of identical metal crosses vanish over the hillsides, each marking the grave of a priest or monk who affirmed his spirituality on the grounds where the small college now thrives.

Beyond those rows jut the tombstones marking thousands of parishioners, some centuries old. Among these graves, the blind-eyed statues of saints and angels stare forever back at the college, a place many of its students claim is haunted.

Almost four years ago, freshman Tony Morocco woke to the sound of screaming. His dorm roommate, Chuck Wigle, thrashed in the bunk below him, crying, "Look! Do you see it?"

A nebulous white face was hovering over him, Wigle says, but as he cried out it dissolved. "For a couple of days before that you'd feel like something was in the room with you when you were alone," says Morocco. "It was watching."

The roommates say they were terrorized by a spirit named "Henry" which was summoned with a Ouija board by girls on the sixth floor of the building -- Aurelius Hall. "We'd visit [the girls] and play with the ghost, saying stuff like, "Okay, Hank, if you're so real, blow out this candle."

On the Ouija board, the spirit began reciting the pair's actions during the day -- things they swear the girls would not have known about. "So we said, 'If you're so real, give us a real sign,'" Morocco said.

"Henry" obliged.

That night, Wigle and Morocco's screams woke their floor. Friends rushed into the room while the pair cried for help, too terrified to move. Only moments before, the floor-length mirror hung near their door shot off the wall and shattered across the room.

Upon returning with friends, they say an unexplained rotting smell had filled the room.

"The next day we apologized to it, and it was gone," Morocco said. "But we slept in friends' rooms for a couple days."

It's hard to find students who have not heard or seen something unusual since they came to Saint Vincent. Even the student government president, Chad Fularz, saw a television set click to life on its own in an empty Aurelius lounge late one night. "It wasn't much, but I can't explain it," he said. "It didn't have a remote control."

Fularz said most unexplained stories focus on Aurelius and the graveyard. He said students regularly hear shuffling and pounding from the abandoned seventh floor attic of the building, often as loud as "someone playing basketball." But after climbing the stairs and peering into the attic -- it is empty.

The student newspaper regularly reports that strange individuals spotted in the graveyard by security guards vanish without a trace.

Some students even claim they've seen a tiny ghost sitting in a tree trunk that has been carved into a mysterious high-backed throne, its roots rippling around the tiny, limestone grave of a child who died in the early part of the century.

Matt Comer, a senior living in Gerard Hall, said students routinely feel cold spots and hear footsteps in the building's third floor hall when no one else is around.

Outside the third floor lounge, Comer points to where the hill crests and massive oak trees sprinkle brittle brown leaves on the ancient graves. Comer claims spirits from the graveyard pass through the hallway on their way from the grave to the outside world.

The most famous of these spirits, Comer says, is Saint Vincent's founder -- Abbot Boniface Wimmer, who rises from the grave each year on the anniversary of his death to finish his masses for the souls of the departed.

"Before he died on Dec. 8 in 1881, he also told the monks that he wanted to remain with the campus to oversee its growth," said Phyllis Riddle, a sociology professor who recently compiled a collection of campus legends.

On that anniversary, many at Saint Vincent believe Boniface Wimmer observes the changes in the school as his spirit passes through every red door on campus on the way to the crypt below the basilica.

Why every red door?

"The doors to the crypt are red," said Riddle. "The story is that Boniface Wimmer always wanted to be buried under the basilica and returns there to say his masses."

Security guards locking up the basilica have even heard strange sounds after midnight mass on Christmas Eve., according to Fr. Paul Taylor, the college's director of admissions and financial aid.

"They don't like to go in there alone that night, because they hear kneelers going down, and pews squeak as though people are sitting in them. They hear faint music and singing and the smell of incense long after the incense from midnight mass has dissipated," he said.

"The atmosphere and spirituality make Saint Vincent the kind of place where students can imagine these kinds of things," Riddle said. "But you have to remember they're just stories. They're all made up."

But Jeana Wright and Valerie Winter, who lived in Aurelius two years ago, are positive their fifth floor room was haunted.

"Anyone who says it's not is lying," said Winter.

It began in October of 1995, when Wright repeatedly heard the sound of dragging footsteps in her room at night.

"At first it was scary, then it felt very comfortable," she said. "I started to talk to him when he walked around. I felt he protected me."

Winter, a neighbor of Wright's, soon heard the shuffling in her room. "Sometimes I'd come back and all the dresser drawers and windows would be wide open. Lights would go on and off. My roommates were really scared," she said. "But I wasn't."

Winter said that the spirit returned one of her favorite rings a month after she lost it at a gym across campus."I heard the ping of metal click down on the dresser behind me, and there it was," she said. "From thin air."

Soon after a roommate of Winter's moved out, an empty black leather bag appeared in her room. Since no one claimed it, Winter gave it to her mother.

"The next day, my winter coat disappeared from my room," she said.

Using a Ouija board, Winter and Wright claim they contacted the spirit -- who called himself "T.E."

"When we used the board he'd run around us so fast you could feel the wind surrounding you," Winter said. "He told us the black bag was his and that he'd give my coat back when I returned the bag." He made good on his promise.

"T.E." told them that, since their other roommate moved out, he wanted to move in.

"It was weird because after that my old roommate's voice mail light would blink each morning even though there were no messages and the system was shut off."

Then one night Winter's roommate, Christy, woke to a blinding white light and thought she heard Winter crawl out of the top bunk.

"But I was still sleeping," Winter said. "Then she saw a burst of light in the closet and an old man with a long white beard was standing there. When he saw her looking at him, he faded away. She looked at the telephone, and the voice mail was blinking."

On a tour of Aurelius's fifth floor, both Winter and Wright said they still feel "a sense of tranquillity and protection" in the room.

The room's current resident said he has never seen anything.

Descending the stairwell, Winter pointed out how strange it was that the door to every floor hallway facing the graveyard was painted orange except for the fifth floor.

"It's red," she said. "Do you think that means something?"