Stepping Inside Boston College's Legendary House of Mystery

Stepping Inside Boston College's Legendary House of Mystery

Haunted or not, there is more to O'Connell House than a bunch of ghost stories

By Stephen Gawlik
Staff Writer

Halloween may come on Oct. 31 for everyone else, but it's a yearlong phenomenon for Boston College students living in O'Connell House, which some say might be BC's very own haunted mansion.

O'Connell House resident student managers like (front, left to right) graduate students Lisa Ackerman and Emily Roper, Feven Teklu '04 and (back, left to right) graduate student Kate Nash and Zachry Barber '04 say they have observed unusual phenomena in the student activity center. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Feven Teklu '04, one of the five O'Connell student managers who live on the premises, knew all about the Upper Campus house's reputation before she moved in. If she wasn't sure what to believe then, Teklu has by now joined a generation of O'Connell residents who have become convinced that something supernatural exists in the house.

"Every now and then I'll be lying in bed and see this little dog sitting under my desk looking at me," said Teklu, who points out that neither she nor any of her fellow residents owns a dog. "It's there and then it disappears. It's kind of eerie and definitely a mystery."

O'Connell's other managers have their own anecdotes of inexplicable events in the house: a hair dryer that mysteriously turned on in the middle of the night, blinds drawing themselves closed and lights that seem to switch on and off on their own.

Many people on the BC campus claim they have never seen or heard anything unusual at O'Connell, however, and administrators say there has been no official University investigation or statement on the matter.

"It's your quintessential fictitious ghost story," said Director of Public Affairs Jack Dunn. "But then again, what would Halloween be without a good ghost story?"

Over the years, said Assistant Dean for Student Development Christopher Darcy, "the O'Connell House mystery has been something students have laughed about and it's definitely something people ask about, but that's the extent of it. I don't think anyone would officially acknowledge that there are ghosts in the house, because who really knows for sure?"

But while its house-of-mystery legend is especially pertinent at Halloween, there is far more to O'Connell, which this fall marks its 30th anniversary as a student activity center. The history of the house dates to the turn of the 20th century and includes many decades of service to Boston College in a number of different roles.

O'Connell House offers study areas, workout equipment, a big-screen television lounge, free movie rentals, board games, pool and ping pong tables, and also houses the offices for First Year Experience and the Alcohol and Drug Education Program.

The 32,007-square foot building is the venue for major annual campus events such as the Middlemarch Ball, the Breaking the Barriers Ball and Harvest Night, and hosts band concerts, coffeehouses, student talent nights, lectures and other activities.

"The staff really puts a lot of effort into making O'Connell House work, both in terms of the great events and programs that are offered and as a place for students to come and relax," said Darcy.

O'Connell House was built in 1895 by the Storey Family and later became part of the estate of drug store baron Louis K. Liggett, who occupied the house until 1937.

The property was donated to Boston Archbishop Cardinal William O'Connell, a member of the class of 1881, who gave Boston College the house, plus nine acres, in 1941.

Before it became a student activity center in 1972, O'Connell House served as a Jesuit residence, the home of BC's management school and athletic department, an academic facility, and a residence hall for the football team.

O'Connell House also had its 15 minutes of fame to a world-wide audience. Scenes from the 1946 James Cagney film "13 Rue Madeleine" were filmed in the house because the directors loved its Tudor architecture and the sprawling garden that once surrounded the house.

No one knows exactly how or when the stories began about O'Connell House's supposed supernatural events, according to administrators and students interviewed by Chronicle.

Last fall, students invited psychic and clairvoyant Lorraine Warren to examine the house and shed some light on the years of reported apparition sightings.

"She said she could really sense something here," said student manager Zachry Barber '04. "She said it was a lot of positive energy."

According to a report in BC's student newspaper The Heights, Warren said she had an encounter with several spirits occupying the house: the ghosts of two women and a baby, as well as the spirit of a dog.

Not everyone is so convinced, however.

Rev. Edward Hanrahan, SJ, the former dean of men who is now a special assistant in the Development Office, worked in O'Connell House for 22 years and could not recall seeing ghosts.

"They never conferred with me," he said. "But maybe I was too busy to notice."

"We've had crews working in that house for years," said Vice President for Facilities Management Thomas Devine. "No one has ever reported anything out of the ordinary. This is just one of those urban legends."

Assoc. Prof. Joseph Tecce (Psychology) said that while supernatural phenomena can occur, it is only after a careful investigation that they can be dubbed inexplicable.

"The O'Connell House mystery should be treated as such - a mystery without a definitive explanation and a mystery that can be discussed and investigated," said Tecce. "Many phenomena occur in our lives for which we don't have a clear explanation. To accept extrasensory phenomena as feasible, we should exhaust all the possible natural and logical explanations and then entertain possible reasons that go beyond the natural and scientific levels of discourse."

Another current O'Connell resident, Lynch School of Education graduate student Emily Roper, can appreciate Tecce's view.

"I am probably more likely to look for other explanations. It's a really old house, and it's going to make noises."

She said the fact that the house has the reputation helps people assume that otherworldly forces cause natural occurrences. Based on the trust and admiration she has for her believing housemates, Roper is reserving judgement.

"I'm a skeptic, but there are times when I think they may be on to something."

For more non-supernatural information on O'Connell House see http://www.


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