Wednesday, March 21, 2007

USF's Ghostly Past

One might never have guessed that the grounds upon which we devoutly study and pursue our developing futures were once catacombs of tombstones and a myriad of skeletons. During the visit with USF’S archivist Father Kotlanger, the haunted past of the University slowly began to unravel, revealing the somewhat startling truth that our University is built on top of very old and large burial grounds dating back to the 1800's.

In the 1800’s four massive cemeteries spanned over the entire distance of what is now the campus of USF. They were called Calvary, Masonic, Lauryl Hill, and Odd Fellows cemeteries. Nearing the 1900’s all four fell into tremendous disrepair, creeping ivy and shrubbery slowly consumed grave plots and homeless inhabitants haunted the tombs, looking for a warm place to sleep. The Jesuits bought these cemeteries in the mid 1800’s and in 1855 St. Ignatius Academy became the first building to be established for the University. However, the cemeteries continued to lie near by and the founding fathers of USF began to evaluate the grounds during a time where the University and city itself needed expansion.

In 1900 the Board of Supervisors prohibited further burials in any of the four cemeteries and just twelve years later, the board ordered a mandate to have them vacated.

But according to Father Kotlinger, “these bodies stayed on and on and finally the fathers ordered that they be removed by the state.”

The final resting grounds of the adventurous souls and skeletons of Lauryl, Masonic, Calvary, and Odd Fellows cemeteries came to be Colma (a small city located just miles out of San Francisco). Colma, also referred to as “The City of The Dead” does the ancient bodies justice with its beautiful white marble and 18th century setting. The tombstones were broken up and reused as founding stones for some of San Francisco’s sea walls. Today one can still go down to Sloat on Ocean Beach and when the tide is sucked out, grave stone debris become visible, allowing a brief glimpse of our past.

Roughly forty years later, the growth of USF became imminent and in 1940, excavations for further buildings began to occur. In that time, just a young ROTC student, Kotlanger can recall the day a memorabilia was dug up from the past by construction workers who were forging Gillson Hall. “They suddenly threw down their shovels and picks,” reminisced Kotlanger, “they walked straight up to the foreman and said, “we’ll work for you anywhere and anytime but we don’t do cemeteries.”
You see, the workers had stumbled across an old corpse, one that had perhaps rotted through its wooden casket, swallowed by the earth until recently.
Supposedly, all the bodies from the four cemeteries were successfully extracted from USF’s land years ago. But there is still a chance that to this day, we walk on the final resting grounds of many dead who were left behind. Who knows, perhaps in the digging for Kalmanovitz hall there remains a corpse or two to be turned over and maybe, just maybe we will be lucky enough to find yet another departed.


Christina Kho said...

I like the ground shots of campus. Very interesting blog, I heard about the cemeteries my first semester here when I lived in Loyola Village. I'll definitely check out the sea wall down at the beach. When they moved the bodies were they just mixed up and anonymous? How did they know who was who? I've been to Colma, since its a few towns from my house and the description "The City of the Dead" is right on. Save for a few stores, it's generally just cemeteries.

Carly Perez said...

nice post eva! you are a very interesting writer and i've noticed that you have a very nice vocabulary.

Anonymous said...

My ghost story…

Main Campus: During my freshman year in 1988, I attended a class in the Mclaren Business Center. This was an area located below Phelan Hall. I finished up class and was walking out with two other students. As we walked towards the exit, a woman walking in caught my eye. She was dressed in all white attire from the 1920-40s time period. She wore a white hat, flapper style, white gloves and dress. Her face was white. She walked straight in and did not make eye contact. I thought her appearance was odd and asked my friends to check her out. They looked, but did not see her. I dismissed the incident and did not think anything more of it. Two years later, on a sunny mid afternoon, I sat in the quad, outside of the science building, talking to friends. I saw the woman and white walking the same path towards Phelan Hall. She was dressed in her all white attire, looked straight ahead. I interrupted my friends and asked them to look towards her direction. They did not see her or anything unusual. I asked them to look again, but received the same response, I knew what I saw and remember these two incidents vividly 25+ years later.

Lone Mountain: I lived at Lone Mountain, for two years, in the front section near the old chapel. I received free boarding in exchange for locking up the conference rooms at night as well as checking in hotel guests who arrived after hours. The University had hotel rooms and was known as the Lone Mountain Conference Center. During the two year period, I walked the halls at all hours of the night into the early morning hours, often coming back from late night parties or having to study for exams in the library or empty classrooms. I've heard a few strange noises, but never a sighting. I had access to most of the rooms at Lone Mountain and theater. I've known about the story of the nun who hung herself. A fellow classmate persuaded me to climb the bell tower at Lone Mountain. She knew I had the keys and wanted to check out the place where the nun hung herself. The tower was dirty, lots of pigeon droppings. Unfortunately, no ghostly sightings or strange feelings. During my two years at Lone Mountain, I've walked every plank and opened every door in the building hundreds of times. I knew every sound the old wooden floors and doors made when you opened it, as well as the sounds of the boiler pipes made which ran throughout the building. Beyond these explainable noises, I did not hear anything unusual. However...

I recall a story that one of the cleaning staff shared with me. She worked at Lone Mountain for many years. One day, I asked her if she ever experienced any ghost sightings. She mentioned there was an area behind or below the LM library. This section of the building was closed to the public. She mentioned they stored furniture in this section. On several occasions, the furniture would be arranged and/or stacked really high by some unknown person(s) a day or two after they were brought in to the room, which was locked. She believed it was the ghost. The exterior windows of this section were dark, both day and night. I would often have a weird feeling that someone was watching me from the window of this closed section of the building when I walked from the main campus to the main entrance of LM. I would often look up thinking I would make eye contact with someone looking out at me. Shortly after graduation I was told by someone who worked at the University that this section of LM was being renovated into classrooms, I think it was called the Arthur Anderson center. I was told this area had been exorcised by members of the Church, possibly some from the Vatican, before construction took place. Whether it's true or not, I don't know.

Main Campus Theater: AI've heard from several friends who participated in theater that they definitely felt the presence of a ghost and had strange things occur during rehearsals.

Alex Borji...(class '92)

Anonymous said...

I'm shook...! Great post, very informative. My sister is a freshman at USF while I go to SFSU. I visited Lone Mountain with her and for someone who doesn't believe in ghosts, I felt shit... Can't be jealous at all... p.s. your writing is great!