Hauntings are plentiful, but they’re not always scary
A haunted sphinx lies in Harvard Square, brick upon brick with outstretched paws. Built in 1909, it houses the oldest U.S. humor magazine, The Harvard Lampoon, and has a lot of personality.
Possibly too much.
Curator Joe Hickey will laugh if you ask how many rooms are inside, or if there are any hidden passages. He can’t tell you; it’s a secret. He will say that it’s haunted.
They don’t know who the ghost is – just a male figure, walking the halls, that has been seen by many people.
“It’s the creepiest building to be in when you’re alone at night,” Hickey said.
It’s not the only haunted place in the area. There’s an ongoing dinner party that can be heard around the southwest door of University Hall, a building used as a dining hall in the 19th century, according to a 1982 Harvard University Gazette. The Thayer Hall dormitory, not mentioned in the article, was originally a textile mill and is also rumored to have a spirit. Massachusetts Hall has one student who returns every fall … and has for the better part of a century.
A college magazine reported in 2001 that he is Holbrook Smith, “a tall, respectable-looking older gentleman” who claims to be a member of the Class of 1914. William Clinton Burriss Young, the assistant dean of freshmen at the time, asked him to leave.
“You’ve ruined a perfectly good thing,” the ghost replied, and, with very sad eyes, walked away.
A British soldier haunts Christ Church, also in Harvard Square. He was buried under the church after being thrown from a wagon. The church was considered Tory, sympathetic to the British cause during the American Revolution, and the ghost wanders the pews looking for his regiment.
There are reports of a ghost at Lesley University, too, at one of its Avon Hill buildings. No one at the university has been able to confirm its presence, which is sought by Internet resource Hollow Hill. Cambridge Rindge & Latin School has a ghost, too, that of an old man pushing a book cart along a World War II memorial hallway.
The Hooper-Lee-Nichols House on Brattle Street has five Hessian soldiers who began playing cards in 1915 when a wing was added, apparently unable to sleep through construction. Central Square’s YMCA is believed to have a green ghost.
“He lives in the bowels of the building in what used to be a locker room, using my facility without paying his fees,” said Jeff Seifert, the institution’s president, who would ask the specter to leave but is “afraid a ghostly human-rights group would form and we’d have to find him an apartment.”
It’s a particularly obnoxious ghost, too, turning lights on and off and trying the patients of the maintenance staff – he likes to scare people.
Patricia Sears-Joyce, manager at Verna’s Donut Shop, rolls her eyes when you ask about the resident ghost. Verna’s honey-glazed doughnuts made Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill a regular and may now be drawing someone, or something, else.
Years ago there was a buzzer at Verna’s so when it got busy servers could buzz and other employees would come to help.
“Long after the buzzer was disconnected and the owner was here alone the buzzer would go off,” Sears-Joyce said. But the owner, who works the graveyard shift, isn’t nervous. He comes in to make and hand-cut doughnuts at night despite the buzzer and the occasional appearance of a shadowy figure walking by.
Sears-Joyce is also unimpressed. There’s a customer born in 1918 that walks his poodle every day and sings to Verna’s employees who would be a lot more interesting, she says.
Cambridge takes ghosts in stride. Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors have researched them, the local Horror Writers Association writes about them and the Cambridge Center for Adult Education has a “Haunting Ghost Stories for the Brave at Heart” course. There is even a ghostly tour that offers dinner afterward.