Hauntings in Carlisle

Pennsylvania consistently ranks as one of the most haunted states in America. The whole state is teeming with supernatural legends and mysterious histories. Such prominent paranormal activity is not limited to the bigger cities, but is in the town of Carlisle and even on Dickinson’s campus.  

As many students at Dickinson are aware, Old West, the first building built on Dickinson’s campus in 1803, is haunted. It served as a temporary hospital during the Civil War and it is said that at times people see the silhouettes of soldiers walking around the building, turning on lights, and looking out the windows during the night. According to a 1980 issue of the Dickinsonian, other haunted places on campus include Biddle House, the basement of which is rumored to be where Judge Edward Biddle hung himself (this, unfortunately, is untrue, he died of old age in 1931). Either way, next time you stop in for an advising appointment, keep an eye out for the ghost of Edward Biddle slamming doors and windows.  

Many students seem to be surprised about the number of deaths on campus, any number of which could have resulted in mischievous spirits. Any college that is 238 years old is bound to have some skeletons in its closet. One does not need to look much further than the Dickinson Archives to learn about our historic peers’ early demise. There are several incidents of students dying from typhoid fever and pneumonia in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Unsurprisingly there are several deaths by automobile accidents sprinkled throughout Dickinson’s history. In 1989, a student died falling out of a 3rd story window at the Alpha Chi Rho fraternity house. Drayer Hall, which primarily houses first years, is also known for paranormal activity after a student died falling off the balcony in 2003. Ghosts often manifest when they have unfinished business in the land of the living, which makes students who untimely pass away the perfect candidates to become ghostly specters.  

Whether you enjoy haunted stories or just want to learn about the history of Carlisle, Timekeeper Tours is a fantastic way to get into the Halloween spirit. They offer ghost tours of the East Side of town on Friday nights, ghost tours of the West Side on Saturdays, graveyard tours, and more, which allow both visitors and longtime residents of Carlisle to learn about the town. The East Side ghost tour tells stories about hauntings in the old court house and the old Cumberland County Prison. It also tells tales of the town lore known as the “Tall Man”. When he was most prominent, the townspeople thought Dickinson students were pulling pranks and allegedly began to test this theory by shooting at the 8-foot-tall figure.  

Not every aspect of Dickinson’s spooky past is related to hauntings. According to the Archives, on the evening of October 31, 1888, a fight broke out between Dickinson students and the Carlisle fire department, which was coined the “Halloween Riot.” Students had gotten permission from Dr. Charles Francis Himes, the acting college president, to hold a bonfire. Students claimed that they got permission from the Carlisle police chief (he later claimed they did not) to do this. That night the fire began at about 11 p.m. and shortly after the Carlisle fire department arrived to put out the blaze. Students fought back and it resulted in several injuries for both parties. What makes the College so eerie during the fall is not just the number of ghosts and student deaths throughout its history, but its long history that echoes through each stone building. 

Both the town of Carlisle and Dickinson College are bursting with haunting pasts that makes Autumn the perfect time to learn a little about the history of the area.