On Tuesday night in the darkened Friel Lounge of Susan B. Anthony Residence Halls, English Professor Sarah Higley brought the Halloween spirit to the “Food 4 Thought” program, sponsored by the Undergraduate English Council, the Sue B. RAs and the Freshman Class Council.
More than 50 students gathered around the room to hear Higley share personal tales of the supernatural. The lounge was transformed into an appropriately spooky setting, and after the dinner provided by the sponsoring groups, students settled in for an hour of intrigue.
Higley discussed beliefs of our culture and raised questions about what is actually there. “What are our belief structures that we have, are we hallucinating, seeing projections of our own mind, or seeing ghosts?” she asked. “But when we try to explain them we come up with zeros all the time. These things are explained away by psychologists, hallucinations, belief.”
She began by asking if any of the students in the room had experienced a paranormal event. A few raised their hands but the majority did not and Higley commented, “So most of us are paranormally challenged,” drawing a laugh from the crowd.
She began with a story about a blind man tormented by a samurai warrior known to haunt the living after death. The victim, after being led through the fog, found a holy man, who wrapped him in Japanese scriptures to ward off the samurai. The wrapping covered everything except his ears. The samurai could see only the man’s ears, and he grabbed at them, rendering the man earless in addition to being blind.
She next talked about a more personal experience, a ghost her sister’s friend had encountered in her own house, which she termed the “malevolent long-haired woman.” Higley claimed this type of ghost was a “threshold ghost” because it would not enter the room, but would remain in the frame of the door, always in the darkness.
The friend performed a Japanese exorcism ritual, putting salt around the perimeter of the bedroom and, after a presence came that night, the ghost disappeared, never to be seen again.
Another “threshold ghost” appeared in her sister’s house, again standing in the doorway, a man her husband had once dealt with, who had been in jail. Higley’s sister called her in the middle of the night to tell of her experience. “These things never happen to me,” Higley said.
She then went on to describe a personal experience of her own, her one paranormal incident. She prefaced her story saying, “I don’t believe in ghosts” but, when in a hotel room in Tucson, Ariz., woke in the middle of the night.
After not being able to locate the bathroom or anything familiar in the room, Higley qsaw a large green square of light on the floor, which disappeared when she turned on the light. She jokingly commented, “The only weird experience I’ve ever had is a trip ? a hallucination.”
She then spoke a little more about the aspects of a ghost story, noting that, “The best haunted stories always happen in completely ordinary places.”
The issue of skepticism was also brought up. “You don’t know if its ever true or if its urban legend,” she said.
The program was then opened up to students, and Professor Higley asked if anyone had personal experiences to share. Some students did share their ghost tales, including stories of mysteriously open windows, apparitions of deceased family members and the like.
Many students demonstrated their experiences, animatedly reenacting their stories to the circle of people in the room. Students were drawn into the discussion and many contributed, bringing up equally frightening personal anecdotes.
Student reaction was positive, with most seeming to enjoy the program. “It was good. I thought [the program] was cool,” Take 5 Scholar Tim Green said.
“It was very entertaining,” senior Anthony DiMattia said. “Sarah Higley has a unique way of telling a story.”
Linden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.