Hampden-Sydney College is a small all male liberal arts college steeped in history and tradition. It was founded in 1776 and is nestled away outside of the rural town of Farmville, Virginia.
The school grounds are filled with old brick dorms and school buildings that are surrounded by the thick woods commonly found in central Virginia. I graduated from Hampden-Sydney in 1997, and in my four years there heard quite a few ghost stories based on the school’s history. What follows is my only fist hand experience with the bizarre events that have been reported there for over 200 years.
In late Fall of my senior year I was stuck on campus over a weekend, working on a paper due first thing Monday morning. The grounds were quiet, as there were no big events planned and most of the students had headed off to other Virginia colleges. Around 11:30 p.m. on Saturday evening I quit working and headed out to see if any friends had stayed on campus. Hampden-Sydney has a small "walking campus" with black-topped trails running between all of the buildings. Within 10 minutes I’d caught up with a few friends who were bored and planning to walk down to an abandoned school building just outside of campus. With nothing better to do and after having stared at a computer for most of the day, I agreed to go.
The building to which we headed was an old four bedroom house built in the mid 1800’s that had only been abandoned within the last ten years or so. The house had served various uses for the college over the years and was listed in the national registry of historical buildings. The college has a large endowment and I found it strange that such a historical building had been boarded up and left to rot. We walked through the woods and arrived at the house just after 12:30 a.m.
The house was set about a quarter mile off from the main campus. The windows and doors had been boarded up, but a little prying to some of the plywood over a downstairs window allowed us to slip indoors. It was immediately obvious that no one had been inside for a very long time.
We crawled into what had been a living room with a few beat down pieces of furniture and dust covering everything. Having only one flashlight held by my friend, our exploration of the house was a group activity. We walked around the foyer and living room, making a good bit of noise on the old wood flooring. Everything about the house had the same abandoned appearance. After about five minutes, we decided to go upstairs and look for evidence of previous occupants.
The stairs up were even creakier than the first level floorboards. We reached the top of the stairs and walked into the first bedroom on the right. The second story windows were not boarded up and so the room was partially lit from moonlight. My friend turned off the flashlight and we were quietly poking around when we heard footsteps downstairs. We each froze and listened to the floorboards as they creaked under someone’s weight below. Despite being in this eerie old house, I remember being less scared about a ghost and more scarred that campus security was about to catch us. The college had made it very clear that any trespass in the building would be severely punished.
The noise from downstairs was quiet momentarily and then we heard the stairs up to us begin to creak. The old wood made a distinctive sound and we could clearly hear one person slowly approaching step by step. I stood there hardly breathing with a sinking feeling from my throat to stomach. I didn’t know what to think, other than a security guard probably would have called out if he suspected we were in the house. After the creaking reached the top of the stairs all noises stopped. We, of course, stood perfectly still. Not even looking at each other, but standing in the exact position we were in when we first heard the noise down stairs.
Seconds and then minutes went by, but still no noise since the creaking reached the top of the stairs. I began to wonder if the noises had been in my head, but the other two guys were also frozen in silence and we hadn’t said a word to each other. After a long few minutes, we each walked to the doorway and at the top of the stairs. No one. Walking around the top of the stairs we realized there was no direction anyone could walk without making some noise. Something had come to the top of the stairs a disappeared.
There was no real conversation at this point. The sinking feeling in my stomach had turned to a sharp chill and adrenaline pulsed through my body as I quietly whispered "We need to leave!" Two serious nods were the only response, but no one wanted to walk down into the dark from where the noise had originated. I walked along the second floor hallway and found a narrow set of stairs leading to the back of the house. It seemed like a better idea to go down those stairs, so I headed down first with the flashlight.
The narrow back stairway spiraled and as I reached the halfway mark a sharp "Crack!" rang out from below. The claustrophobia of being stuck in that awful stairway with who know what at the bottom and two guys blocking my path to the top almost paralyzed me with fear. I simply turned and pointed back up. There really was no need to have done so, as we scrambled to the top.
Getting out of the house was the only thought pulsing through my head. We went back to the main staircase and quickly descended with no interruption. At the bottom we be-lined for window from which we’d entered and crawled out one at a time.
Climbing out of the window head first, falling onto the grass and breathing the cool night air was an enormous release. But there was one final surprise for the night, which has always been the strangest part for me. Standing in front of us - barefoot, in boxer shorts and a bathrobe - was a student whom I recognized, but whose name I couldn’t place. As the last guy crawled from the window he just stared at us and we stared back.
Of course our first question we asked was "Did you just go in that house?" He looked at us with almost no expression on his face and said "No. There’s no way I’d go in that house." One of my friends who knew him as an acquaintance asked him what he was doing out at 1:00 am on a cold night barefoot and in his bathrobe. His response gives me chills even as I write this. He told us in a very calm voice that he had been sound asleep in his bed all the way on the other side of campus. He had awoken knowing that someone was in this house and that they needed to get out. He couldn’t really explain it. It wasn’t a dream as much as he just woke up and knew that he had to come over immediately.
The entire situation was overwhelming and we all quickly parted ways down separate paths. The house itself was severely damaged in a fire less than two months later. The county fire department listed the fire as electrical, which is absurd because there couldn’t have been electricity running to the house. In a controversial move the college bulldozed the remains of the building to make room for two new dorms. I would love to know the history of the building as it provided my only brush with the paranormal.