It seems every college and university has its own folklore that is passed down through the students, helping to create an interesting aspect of campus life. Examining the stories I’ve heard and collected over the years, there are two buildings that almost always seem to have ghost stories associated with them: the library and the theater. It should come as no surprise that one of Lock Haven University’s theaters has a ghost story or two associated with it.
As a student on the Lock Haven Campus in the 1990s, I heard stories whispered among my classmates about the ghosts roaming the campus grounds. Returning to campus many years later to finish a degree, I listened for rumors of ghost stories among my classmates. I quickly discovered some of the same stories were still being shared, having been passed down through word of mouth from one class to the next. While a number of buildings supposedly house a spirit or two, the one building often mentioned in those whispers was the Sloan Fine Arts Center.
The building is no different than any other campus theater providing entertainment for the students, faculty and town residents while serving as an educational facility. It is named in honor of John Sloan, a painter born in 1871 in Lock Haven who was a part of the Ashcan Movement; however, he does not roam the building named in his honor.
The most popular story people talk about is the ghost of a woman dressed in white. While the identity of the ghost is unknown, students claim a peaceful feeling floods the area when the spirit appears. Although the lady in white is usually spotted within Sloan Auditorium, she has also been known to roam the corridors of that building.
One of the more interesting stories that went around the student body in the 1990s involved a music professor who claimed he did not believe in ghosts and he dared the ghostly lady to show herself. According to word of mouth, that very evening as he was leaving for the day, he entered the lobby area to discover a woman dressed in white staring at a painting on the wall. Thinking one of his students was pulling a prank, he approached the woman and demanded her to stop making a fool of herself. Imagine his surprise when she disappeared into the wall. Unfortunately, which professor this supposedly happened to remains a mystery, but the story lingers among the student body.
Another ghost haunting the building is a black, human-like mass whose presence is “threatening” to those who are rehearsing on stage. During my time at Lock Haven University, it was commonly know that this presence was feared by those who had to stay late. Often the shadowy thing was blamed for bad things that happened to those practicing in the auditorium.
A third ghost that calls the Sloan Fine Arts Building home is the spirit of a little boy. He is supposedly seen playing throughout the building, but is mostly spotted on the third floor. While in the 1990s, stories of the little boy were common among students. He was blamed for objects moving, things disappearing to reappear later, elevators moving on their own, and the sound of footsteps in empty hallways.
While going through Lock Haven’s educational programs in the 1990s and again in the 2010s, I can say I never experienced the lady in white, nor the black mass thing, nor the little boy. However, I was part of a group who was treated one evening to a most enjoyable mystery during my time at Lock Haven University in the late 1990s.
I was taking a theater class that semester and we were required to attend at least three plays and do a write-up on them. One of the plays that I attended was being performed at The Countdown Theater, which got its name for being in Room 321 of the Sloan Fine Arts Center. When I arrived, I joined the small group sitting in the hall waiting for the theater to open.
As we sat there waiting, the hall was suddenly filled with the sound of a piano being played. The music instantly caught our attention. Whoever was playing it was a master – it sounded so beautiful as it echoed down the hall.
The music played for a couple of minutes before one of the girls stated she was going to go see who was playing. She walked down the hall looking into every practice room. When she got to the end of the hall, she yelled back to us that “there was nobody there.”
She rejoined us saying that every room on the third floor was empty. As loud as the music was, there had to be somebody playing the piano. A number of us walked down the hall, opening every door to double check, going as far as opening the stairwell doors to see if the music was coming from a different floor. A handful of the group went to check the second floor for the source of the piano music, but returned saying they could not find the source. Those who went to check the other floors claimed the moment the door in the stairwell closed behind them, they could no longer hear the music.
We listened to the phantom music for roughly ten minutes without finding the source. As quickly as it started, it stopped, leaving a group of us confused to what we had heard. At no time were we able to determine where the music was coming from, despite the search.
In the aftermath of the phantom performance, we came to two conclusions. First, we could not find a piano being played in the building by a living person. The second was the music seemed to be the loudest at the far end of the hall, the farthest from The Countdown Theater. Interestingly, the girl who first walked down the hall to search for the source of the music, claimed the music sounded like it was coming through the wall at the end of the hall.
While my experience might not have been as exciting as those who have witnessed the woman in white, the black mass, or the little boy, it definitely made the night. The identity of the phantom piano player still remains a mystery hidden in the halls of the Sloan Fine Arts Building.