The hauntings of Willamette University
Salem is a city steeped in history, and its rich tapestry includes a significant presence of ghostly legends and haunted locations. From the State Capitol to the Reed Opera House, the city is home to numerous spots believed to be inhabited by spirits. These hauntings range from tales of tragic history, as seen in the Oregon State Hospital, to stories of benevolent entities, such as those associated with the Elsinore. One notable aspect of Salem's haunted culture is Willamette University, where ghost stories have circulated among students for decades.
The Collegian has reported on allegedly haunted campus locations since the 1920s. One of the most infamous haunted locations on campus was Haseldorf, a Willamette-owned apartment near campus from 1985 to 2016. The building had a reputation for eerie occurrences, including rumors of an exorcism conducted in the 1970s to banish a ghost. Students living there reported strange phenomena, such as television sets turning on randomly. Odd sightings and noises tended to be attributed to spirits coming from a burial site that students believed the dorm was built on. These legends were so ingrained in the experience of living in Haseldorf that the exorcized ghost rumor was included in a Willamette article about the closing of the building in 2016.
Today, Lausanne Hall is one of the university's most reputedly haunted dorms. Aubrey Tuttle (‘26), a resident of Lausanne, stated, “The third floor and the basement are definitely haunted.” He described the experience of living in a haunted dorm room: “My door opens all the time of its own accord, and my roommate's closet is haunted; the light in there never turns off no matter what we do.” As the oldest residence building on campus, Lausanne has been reportedly haunted since at least 1924, when the November issue of The Collegian that year described apparitions that only appeared once every year living in the attic. In 1994, on page 6 of the April issue of The Collegian, two third-floor Lausanne residents described being haunted by the ghost of a woman who had died in their closet.
Baxter Hall's fourth floor is another location that has garnered a reputation for being haunted. It was closed and used for storage by the university — and occasionally for suspicious activities by students — until this term when it was reopened. The smallest, darkest and least furnished hall in Baxter, many believe it to be haunted by a ghost that breaks the lights. The female-identifying floor is regularly lit by only a few of the hallway lights, as they continue to go out despite being fixed nearly bi-weekly by maintenance. Between this and the lack of windows, the fourth floor of Baxter gets very dark and becomes a breeding ground for ghostly suspicions. One of the Resident Advisors for this hall, Sarah Henry (‘24), shared, “The bathroom up there is haunted. There’s a toilet up there that will just be perpetually refilling with water but never overflowing — no matter the time of day and when no one has used it. Every time someone puts in a maintenance request they go fix the toilet and a few days later it’s still filling with water.”
A lot of Willamette’s ghosts live where the students do, in the dorms. However, haunted stories at Willamette extend beyond housing and into academic buildings. Smullin is believed to be haunted in a much more chilling way than most of the dorms. Student Katrina Bowyer (‘26) stated, “I’ve heard the basement of Smullin is haunted by the ghost of a serial killer.” When describing their experiences in the basement, they said, “I believe it[‘s haunted] because whenever you’re down there it feels like you’re in your own personal horror movie. Like someone is three steps behind you, waiting.” The mazelike structure of Smullin’s basement contributes to its spooky aura.
Gatke Hall, originally a post office, also has rumors of lingering spirits from its days as a cadaver lab, even though the lab has since been relocated to Collins Hall. Multiple professors who teach in Eaton, including Mike Chasar, chair of the English department, have heard rumors of a haunted fourth floor from students. Eaton’s position as one of the oldest buildings on campus makes it a prime target for paranormal tales, with students reporting unexplained footsteps and other eerie occurrences. Students have attributed these noises and activities to ghosts since at least 2002 when The Collegian’s October issue reported on it on page 8.
These stories of hauntings at Willamette University not only add to the city's spooky culture but also provide a unique and lasting element to the university's history. Whether one believes in the supernatural or not, these tales of ghosts and spirits continue to be an integral part of the campus lore, passed down through generations of students and contributing to the unique character of this historic institution.