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