Old Kenyon

The Truth, Part I: Death on the Trestle

This story made national headlines, and made Kenyon notorious. In the autumn of 1905, Stuart Lathrop Pierson was pledging the DKE fraternity. His father, a Kenyon alumnus and a DKE himself, had come up from Cincinnati for his son's initiation. He said good-bye to Stuart around 9:00 p.m. and waited in the West Wing Bullseye for the initiation ceremony later that night. Meanwhile, Stuart's fraternity brothers took him down to a nearby trestle bridge on the Kokosing (now part of the Kokosing Gap Bike Trail). Confident that no train was scheduled that night, they left him there, with a note pinned to his chest: "This will do for this time, but if we come again it will be worse."

When the fraternity brothers returned for him about an hour later, they discovered Stuart's mangled body, which had been dragged twenty yards from where they'd left him. Still on his chest was the now gruesomely ironic note. An unscheduled train, headed to Mount Vernon for repairs, had come through after all. Not realizing it had hit someone, the train never stopped.

Lurid newspaper stories claimed that Stuart had been tied to the tracks, an assertion denied by everyone involved and refuted by an investigation. The fraternity brothers and College officials surmised that Stuart had fallen asleep. But Kenyon's enrollment plummeted, and rumors persisted for years. There are unanswered questions to this day.

The Tales

Many report seeing a specter in the back West Wing Bullseye, often on the night of October 28, the anniversary of Stuart Pierson's death. It is said that Stuart--now affectionately called "Stewie"--returns to the fourth-floor window, where his father waited, and looks out at the train tracks below.

According to John Hepp '04, who lived in the room during his junior year, "the legend is so powerful that many residents of that room will opt to sleep on a friend's couch or in their girlfriend's room" on the fateful night. But Hepp decided to spend the night there.

Earlier in the evening, he went out. Before leaving, he carefully locked the bullseye window tightly, and then the door, to prevent his friends from playing any sort of trick on him. When he returned to his room at 2:00 a.m., he found the door still locked. But when he opened it, he saw that the bullseye window was swung wide open. "That rusty lock could never be pried loose, from even the strongest gust of wind," says Hepp. "I chalked it up to Stewie, and shamefully decided to sleep at my girlfriend's apartment on the north end of campus."

On another night, Hepp was falling off to sleep with his girlfriend beside him when he felt an ice-cold hand touch the back of his neck. Thinking his girlfriend wanted his attention, he opened his eyes. But his girlfriend was fast asleep, her warm hands accounted for. He jumped out of bed to turn on the light. In the suddenly bright room, he noticed, next to his closet, a "mini-door" with a recently installed lock that had inexplicably come unhinged. Picking up a flashlight and climbing inside, he found a narrow crawl space, about ten feet long and two feet wide, which led to an opening. There, he says, "My flashlight revealed countless signatures on the walls, pledge books, DKE pins, and other souvenirs from the past."

One inscription stood out, a set of initials and a date: SLP 1905.

The Truth, Part II: Nine Perish in Fire

The tragic story of the Old Kenyon Fire is still painful to retell. The saddest event in the College's history took place on a cold night in February 1949, after the biggest dance of the year. By 4:00 a.m., the men's dates had gone home and the last revelers had gone to bed in Old Kenyon. But as the security guard on duty that night walked away from the building, he noticed a glow. The top floor of the middle section was on fire. Within minutes, the building was ablaze.

Nine students lost their lives: six, trapped by the fire, were asphyxiated; two perished after leaping from their second-floor windows; and one died in the hospital of severe burns. In a poignant, Titanic-like twist, the boys sang as they waited for death, according to some firsthand accounts. Many of the students lost were Jewish, since, at that time, they weren't invited to join the fraternities housed in the west and east wings. There were rumors that women spending the nights in the rooms had also died but that their deaths were hushed up. However, there is no evidence to support this claim.

The Tales

Years ago, on the anniversary of the fire, it is said that a student went into his room and found a 1949 yearbook flipped open to the page on which the fire victims were listed. And yet he'd seen nobody going in or out of the room. Another student, who was living in a room where one of the victims had been trapped, heard someone pounding on his door, shouting: "Get out!" When he went to the door, no one was there. Still another student claims he was shaken awake one night and heard someone screaming, "Ed, wake up, fire!" One of the boys who died in the fire had lived in that room and was named Edward Brout.

A Peep who was living in Old Kenyon once told professor and Kenyon ghost-story raconteur Tim Shutt about seeing ghostly figures, but the student wondered about something peculiar. On the fourth floor, the figures were visible from only the knees up, whereas on the third floor he saw only suspended feet. He went to the College archives to learn more about the history of the building and discovered that when Old Kenyon was rebuilt, the new floors were built eighteen inches higher than in the original. The ghosts, it seems, continue to live in the building they remember.

When the Collegian invited "paranormal investigator" Lori Schillig to campus in 1999, and took her to Old Kenyon, she "picked up a strong intuitive impression of a person falling or jumping from a window" near rooms 403 and 404. Near a second-floor room, she "received an extremely strong impression of two people somewhere in the room, huddling together near death."

On a sultry July night, safety officers Dan Turner and Renee Joris were called to an uninhabited Old Kenyon because a light was seen on in the West Wing Bullseye. It had been in the nineties that day, and on the fourth floor it felt even hotter (the building does not have air conditioning). They turned the light off and started down the hall. But as they pushed open the fire door that leads from the West Wing to the middle section of Old Kenyon, they were suddenly covered in goose bumps. They saw each other's breath. It was inexplicably freezing.

They hurried down through the building and stepped outside. They didn't say a word to each other until four cigarettes later. Later, a message came over their walkie-talkies telling them that the Bullseye light was back on. Turner said to his partner, "I don't care." Joris replied, "I don't either." They refused to return to the building that night.

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