Lights turning on and off. Objects moving seemingly on their own. Door locks messing up. This might sound like the beginning of a horror movie, but it was the experience of recent Drake University graduate Anne Furman during her time working in the Drake Municipal Observatory.
Like any other historic place, Drake has its fair share of legends and ghost stories. Two of the most common are the alleged hauntings of the Drake Observatory and Herriot Residence Hall.
According to English professor Megan Brown, the legend behind the observatory traces its route back to the founder, former Drake President Daniel Morehouse.
“The ghost allegedly in residence there is the ghost of Daniel Morehouse,” Brown said. “You may recognize that name from Morehouse dorm. He was the president of Drake from, I want to say, 1922 until he died which was in 1941. He loved the observatory and pretty much lived there. He had a bed in the basement in his lab and his remains were cremated and his ashes are interred in the wall in the lobby area, behind a bronze plaque.”
Furman said she was first told about the rumors when she began working in the observatory her freshman year, and began having experiences shortly after.
“I first heard about the Drake Observatory ghost when I first began working there my freshman year at Drake,” Furman said. “I have had some experiences with the ghost of Dr. Daniel Morehouse; however, there was nothing life changing. I’ve seen a few things move places, lights turning on and off and door locks acting up.”
Even before her experiences in the observatory, Furman said she has always believed in ghosts.
“I do not think I have ever believed in the type of ghost that could hurt me or do anything harmful to me, but I have always believed in ghosts in general,” Furman said. “There have been stories that have been passed down from when the observatory opened that have been told to me by Drake staff and professors.”
Furman does believe that it is the ghost of Morehouse who inhabits the observatory; however, she said she has always felt that he is a friendly spirit.
“I do believe that Dr. Daniel Morehouse watches over the observatory,” Furman said. “He was our founder and was known to love the building and astronomy very much. It has always been said that he is trying to be helpful to us and would only be haunting to those who came to the observatory with ill intent. I believe that as a staff member, he always looked over us.”
Brown agreed that the ghost of Morehouse seems to have good intentions.
“I know of the story that the ghost of Daniel Morehouse, if indeed he is in residence at the observatory, is a friendly ghost,” Brown said.
The other notable alleged ghost at Drake is one that lives in Herriot Hall, one of the first-year residence halls.
“I know that there have been some students in the past two decades or so that have said that the showers go on and off randomly, lights go on and off, there’s the usual cold spot kind of thing,” Brown said. “Another thing is the accounts of voices, mysterious voices in the building and they seem to be very bossy apparently.”
One story Brown has heard, which posts on the Internet appear to support, is that a ghost hunting team once explored Herriot and got unusual readings on some of their equipment.
“I am not able to confirm, but apparently the Iowa Paranormal Research Team went in there over a spring break to try to do some EMF readings. Electromagnetic fields (EMF), which would not otherwise be explained by say, plugged-in appliances, can sometimes be a sign of a ghost,” Brown said. “Apparently they checked around some guy’s bed and they found fields using their device that they could not otherwise explain.”
One of the popular theories behind the unexplained occurrences in Herriot is that it is the ghost of a student who committed suicide in Room Two in 1999. Following his death, the wall between Room Two and the room next door was torn down to create one big room; that room is now used for facilities and maintenance.
“I think people appreciate ghost stories sometimes when something inexplicable happens; when somebody decides to kill themselves, I mean it’s a heartbreaking thing, it leaves so many open questions left behind,” Brown said. “I personally am not particularly comfortable with the notion of the ghost being of a student who committed suicide because I just worry about the sensitivity factor there, but on the other hand, I appreciate the idea that people sometimes need to invent closure when closure can’t happen.”
Brown believes that ghost stories tend to be prevalent on college campuses because of their historical nature.
“I mean, there’s so many old college campuses around the nation, so it doesn’t surprise me that ghost stories accrue in these more antique and historical places,” Brown said.
Though Brown teaches a first year seminar class about ghost stories, she said that she does not definitively believe in ghosts.
“Sometimes a lot of people are excited about ghost stories, and we see this in our most famous ghost stories. We see a lot of the attempts to explain the unbelievable pain and sorrow that sometimes people have to go through,” Brown said. “Let’s just say that I am certainly open-minded about the idea that there are things in this world that we have yet to know how to explain, like the idea of ghosts.”
However, Brown does believe that ghost stories carry with them an important cultural significance.
“I think those stories are really important in cultures around the world,” Brown said. “Every culture has got at least one ghost story, and I think there’s a reason for that. I think a lot of people need ghost stories.”