Is Smith College Haunted?

Some years ago I knew a woman who worked in the kitchen and dining hall of Sessions House, a dormitory for women attending Smith College in Northampton, MA. It wasn’t long after she started working there that she noticed odd things happening. Glasses would be tipped over, things disappeared or moved, and noises could be heard when no one else was there to make them. Eventually, it seemed she had company in the kitchen. One late afternoon as she was preparing dinner she felt as though someone was standing close by watching her. The hair on the back of her neck stood up. As she slowly turned around to look, she saw someone standing there staring at her. As soon as their glances met, the woman faded away. Not knowing what to do next, I guess, she finished preparing the meal. She never felt freightened, but she never felt alone again, either.

Turns out this wasn’t the first time this woman has been seen and it probably wasn’t the last. But, who is she?

Northampton Massachusetts was first inhabited around 1654. Dwellings went up and strong stockades were erected for protection from possible Native American uprisings. Around 1710 Capt. Jonathan Hunt decided to leave the confines of the encampment and built a large, three-story colonial home just outside the stockade. Realizing that attacks from local tribes were probable, Hunt had a secret passageway built that led down to the Connecticut River as an escape route for the household.

As the house changed hands from family to family over time,the house has had additions and renovations, but the secret staircase still exists. The last family to occupy the house was that of Mrs. Ruth Huntington Sessions. She used to rent rooms there to students attending Smith College. In 1921 she sold what has become known as Sessions House to Smith College and it remains a dormatory for women living on campus.

There are a number of theories about who the ghost could be, but no one has any kind of conclusive evidence as of yet. British General John Burgoyne is said to have been detained at Sessions House during the Revolutionary War. It is rumored that during that time he and Jonathan Hunt’s oldest daughter, Lucy, fell in love and met in the secret tunnel to escape her parents disdaining glance. It was during one of those secret trysts that Lucy fell to her death sneaking from her room to meet her love. Is she still there waiting to see her beloved, “Johnny”, once again?

Although this is a wonderfully romantic story, I have not been able to find any solid information supporting the hypothesis that Burgoyne had ever been near Sessions House after his defeat at Saratoga.

Another theory is that a woman once living in the house with her family awoke one night to noises. She went to explore with ax in hand. Thinking she had stumbled across home invaders she struck out only to find she had killed her children. Could she still be there stuck in the emotion of the terrible act she committed?

And one other story relates to Halloween eve festivities at the dorm. Girls have an hour to try and find the secret passageway. It is rumored that one of these celebrations led to the death of two young women who were found beneath a hidden staircase. Could it be one of them?

Whatever the true story turns out to be, someone is still walking the halls of Sessions House keeping an eye on things and the people who reside and work there.

         –  ashanta

Strange Company

We live in a house in Holyoke MA that was built in the late 1880’s and will remain unidentified for obvious reasons.  It’s a humble eight room place with garage and old carriage house.  When it was built the city looked much different from the way it does today. Many landmarks have recessed into history and are almost forgotten.   There used to be a small pond at the bottom of the hill where a street full of houses now stands.  Not far away was the old slaughterhouse – from the time before the city crept away from its start further downtown.  Holyoke was the first planned industrial city in the United States and during its inception planned the streets around mills that were prevalent in the area at the time.

We’ve only lived here a few years, but it was evident from the start that the house was already occupied by others before we moved in.  We’ve had the usual doors opening and closing by themselves, the sound of footfalls where the living weren’t walking, unusual raps and knocks, and course fickle lighting that goes off and on at will.  Occasionally one can even catch a glimpse of someone walking around that soon vanishes when they realize they, also, are being watched.  These things are all o.k.  It’s the other one that is a bit disturbing….

I think it’s old, it’s definitely strong, and it’s black.  Darker-than-night black.  We didn’t believe it at first, but as time went on it proved itself to be here.  This thing – and I doubt it was ever a person – can emit unusual smells.  That, in and of itself, isn’t so bad, but it can mess with your head, too, if you let it.  Initially we wondered why, all of a sudden, one or another of us would get an encompassing feeling of such grief that crying was inevitable.  For no reason.  Other times, it is overpowering depression – a dark downer.  It can also manifest and share anxiety and anger.

It likes to enter where you’re sleeping and stand beside the bed looking at you until you wake up or turn over.  Its large blob of a self is darker than the night and you can feel its stare.

It took a while to understand what was going on….it was subtle at first.  Getting a handle on this thing has provided some protection against it.  Banishing rituals have also been useful in mitigating its ability to influence your feelings.  But this thing doesn’t like these rites.  I’ve gotten scratches that bleed from something unseen when nothing or no-one else was close enough to me to do it.  Suddenly, it’s just a sharp hot that takes some time to heal.  Hair tugging happens, too, and isn’t as bad as bleeding.


I’ve done a history on the area of the house and there doesn’t seem to be anything here – that I can find – that would contribute to this activity.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t somehow associated with the land.  Many Native American settlements were close and I’m sure there were skirmishes.  I don’t think it was anyone who lived or died here, either…. as I said, don’t think this thing was ever human.

It’s still here and probably always will be.  It’s a matter of who’s will is stronger….  so far – we’re one up.

—  ashanta