The stately old building has been many things, among them a home and a seminary. Within its hallowed hallways and on its grounds, eager young minds thirst for knowledge, seeking the wisdom of the past as they plan for the future. But, here, the voices of the past do not just reach out from books and lesson plans. Within the shadowed corners reach cold hands, seeking not knowledge but justice, or even more of the lives they lost so long ago. The residents never left their home, and their presences are felt even today.
Every school has its legends, and most have their share of ghosts. But few are as steeped in tragedy and intrigue, as well as mystery, as in Bennington. Though the names of the key players are revered and their histories well known, the ends of their lives left questions and, in some cases, hard feelings behind. Despite, or perhaps because of, the passage of years, the stories persist and grow, giving students something new to talk about and lessons that aren’t taught in any classroom.
Edward Everett was a rich man whose fortune began inauspiciously as a salesman of jars for his father, the man who invented the “lightning jar.” He turned his years of experience into innovation and money, becoming the first man to discover, and subsequently get rich from, oil and gas in Ohio. His wealth was estimated at nearly fifty million dollars, which, even by today’s standards, made him one of the wealthiest men in the world.
In 1910 Everett purchased a 500-acre parcel of land from the John S. Holden estate and, along with his wife Amy, built what was to be their dream house. Construction began in 1911 and continued for three years with materials being imported from Italy, England, and even Cuba. They had three children together, all girls, before tragedy struck: Amy died, reputedly by drowning in the upper pond near the mansion.
Everett remarried, to a woman thirty years younger than he named Grace. His daughters took an immediate dislike to their father’s new wife. After she bore him two more daughters, their dislike intensified, leading to a great deal of family friction.
In 1929 Everett died, leaving behind a considerable fortune, but hostilities between the children of Amy and his second wife led to a bitter struggle for the inheritance. The lawyer became famous over the affair, eventually becoming the first U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. However, the battle was soon rendered a moot point as only a few months later the stock market crashed, draining the majority of the accounts. Grace Everett continued to live in the house for nearly thirty years, selling it to the Order of the Holy Cross for use as a seminary in 1952.
For twenty years the estate was used as a home for those seeking spiritual enlightenment and piety. Then in 1974 the property was traded with St. Joseph College, which blossomed into Southern Vermont College.
As with any college of a substantial age, Southern Vermont has its share of ghost stories. Told by students and employees alike, the tales center around the main house and grounds, giving the stately old mansion a slightly darker cast once night falls. Although there are several stories that seem to have no source, there are four apparitions that appear with such frequency that they cannot be ignored.
The most common sighting seems to hearken back to the days of the seminary when monks, not students, roamed the halls. Though his face is never seen, he is recognized by any who have seen him, described in eerie detail prowling the night corridors. Referred to as the Black Hooded Monk, his presence is something accepted by the students and whispered about to those who have not seen him. Yet.
Also seen in the mansion, though less frequently, are a man and a woman, identified as Edward Everett himself and his second wife, Grace. While the reasons behind their continued presences are not known, certain assumptions can be made. Perhaps she roams the hallways of her previous home because she loved the place so much. Edward, however, may roam the halls in despair over the family unrest surrounding his lost fortune. Whatever the reasons, they persist in making themselves known, albeit infrequently.
Though the story of her death by drowning in the upper pond is not verified, there are several reports of sightings of Amy Everett near her watery grave. She is sometimes described as a woman in white, other times as a shade who stands like a shadow in the moonlight. Some accounts place her alone at the site of her demise, while others speak of a second shadow, a child, walking with her. Rumors persist as to the nature of her death, whether it was murder or an accident, but if eyewitness accounts are to be believed, there is no denying that she still walks her beloved home.
Inside the house it is the third floor that seems to be the center of activity. Phenomena in the Abbey room are common with some claiming the room to be virtually alive with energies. Other reports speak of smoke or fog in the hallways as well as lights that go on and off in locked rooms, doors that unlock themselves, and windows found open after previous security sweeps.
In addition, the old carriage house reports curious activity such as doors and windows that lock themselves from the inside and computers that turn themselves off and on at some unseen command.
The 75,000 apple trees, 3,000 plum trees, and 2,000 quince trees (all planted by Edward Everett) are gone now. The land now houses more buildings than it ever did, giving up its isolated visage to a more welcoming face. The wine cellar and food storage rooms in the lower level now house a bookstore and the Moose Cafe. The second floor houses the Dean of Students’ office while the haunted Abbey room, which was once the servants’ quarters in which a maid reputedly hung herself, now serves as a classroom. Even the old carriage house is now a computer lab. But, despite the modern trappings, the past still continues to intrude on the present.
The now coed college is an accredited institute of higher learning, offering twelve bachelor and eight associate degrees.
The ghosts hold to no schedule though the Black Hooded Monk seems to appear more than any other. The best way to experience the life, and afterlife, of the campus is to enroll in a class or two. Baring that, campus tours can be arranged for the college on the hill. Just take care to pay the proper respect because one never knows who, or what, might be guiding them along.
See you in two weeks!