Spotlight: Building houses spooks

Occasionally I get a chill down my back when I walk down the halls of Building XX, junior electronic media major Clark Harding said.

Many faculty members and students believe Building XX, the laboratory for Electronic Media Program at 814 20th street is haunted. The off-white building standing between Tower Video and Building YY of the Electronic Media Program features a large circular stained-glass window and ancient-looking architecture – easily explained by the building’s history.

The unusual academic structure was built in 1854 as a Union Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1862 the church was used as a hospital for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, and a year later as a shelter for the Union army. People who have worked in the building for years say they believe the spirits that fill the old church date back to its days as a hospital.

GW started leasing the building in 1985 and gutted it about 10 years ago to make room for new production facilities, according to Wendy Harmic, chief engineer for the Electronic Media Program. That is when strange things began happening, said Harmic, who believes whatever spirits resided within or beneath the walls of the building were disturbed when GW remodeled it.

Strange apparitions have mysteriously appeared before faculty members and rumors have recently begun circulating among students. Harding said there have been instances of the building’s elevator door opening and closing when no one was around to push the buttons. Rumors of hearing doors open and close when the building is completely locked, smelling a distinct type of tobacco smoke across the hall from room 114 and coughing noises have also surfaced, Harding said.

Pamela O’Brien, assistant professor of electronic media, said she smelled smoke in the back stairwell of the building on different occasions. O’Brien said she also heard a strong, continuous cough behind her while she set up for a morning class in the building’s second-floor production studio. Upon turning around O’Brien said she saw no one behind her. O’Brien said it was then that she realized the rumors of ghosts her colleagues had told her were in fact true.

Harmic said she was grabbed by a spirit while working alone in Building XX at about 11 p.m. one night a few years ago. She said while she was leaning back in her chair she felt a man’s hands grab her shoulders.

I looked back and nobody was there, Harmic said.

Harmic said it then began to feel as if she was sitting on the lap of a person.

The entity then wrapped his arms around me, she said.

Petrified, Harmic tried to get up out of the chair but was held down by the strange force, she said. It was not until Harmic pleaded with the spirit to let her go that she was released, she said. For more than a year after her experience with what Harmic swears was a spirit, she said she would not stay in the building after hours.

One night while Harmic and another co-worker were working on some recordings and joking that ghosts did not want them in the building, Harmic said she heard footsteps and strange things. Harmic said she played back the recording they were dubbing when they heard the sound to discover a strange murmuring in the background. Cranking the play-back to full volume Harmic played the recording again and a forceful voice said, Get out, get out, get out!

That is exactly what Harmic and her co-worker did, as they fled the building as quickly as they could, Harmic said.

Kerric Harvey, associate professor for the School of Media and Public Affairs, said she may have seen an apparition in the building. Also working late at night in her office, Harvey said she was tired but she cannot deny what she saw. Harvey was sitting at her desk when she looked into the hallway to see what appeared to be a tall woman dressed in Mid-19th century garb, she said. The apparition was in a hurry and quickly fled down the stairs by Harvey’s office door, Harvey said.

Faculty members are not the only ones seeing and feeling the presence of unknown beings. According to Harmic, several years ago during a production class an umbrella sitting on one of the tables jumped up off the table and started opening and closing itself.

The electronic media building is moving to the new SMPA building on the corner of 21st and H streets in January. Building XX will once again be turned into a different venue, causing more disruption for the spirits that live there. Who knows what will be awaiting the students who have the opportunity to study in Building XX, or whether they will be studying alone.

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