Seances and Spiritualism in Alumni Hall

Alumni Hall at dusk.

In a building as old and large and looming as Alumni Hall, ghost stories are bound to circulate. And, from what we know, spooky speculations have surrounded Alumni Hall since early in the building’s history. These ghostly rumors sparked certain student activities, like séances.

Spiritualism rose in popularity during the Civil War, and people’s interest in it continued until the late 1920s.

The giant theatre in the middle of the building, which at the time was being transitioned from the library to a performance theatre, had poor acoustics before a remodeling in the 1960s. The poor acoustics were what caused students to hear things, explains Lance Factor, George Appleton Lawrence Distinguished Service Professor of Philosophy and a campus expert on Alumni Hall as well as Old Main.

“If we were to spend some time sitting here in silence, we might share that experience. I don’t know what we’d hear,” Factor says, standing on the stage during a tour of the building this summer.

Factor shares the same view of Professor Raub, a professor of philosophy, physics and psychology from the early 20th century, who spoke out against the student séances. Their stance: There’s nothing there.

“[Professor Raub's] remark was, ‘Why don’t they ever tell us what life is like on the other side? They never report,’” Factor said.

Students keep searching. Factor reports he has received requests for ghost tours of Old Main and the Old Jail.

“They’ve heard there’s haunts or spirits or whatever,” Factor said. “but I think the séances were more of a social experiment. It was trendy.”

Still, there are those among us who do get a little spooked by the empty building glowing at night and wonder about the many spirits who have come and gone in the 122-year history of Alumni Hall. To those folks, Happy Halloween!

Supporting Exterior Walls

Alumni Hall Renovation
The renovation of Alumni Hall will involve complete removal and replacement of interior floors. Because the floors are tied into the walls, temporary steel structures — not unlike the “flying buttresses” in Gothic cathedrals — will support the east and west walls for the time between removal and replacement of the floors. Above, footings were excavated for concrete bases of the steel buttresses.
Alumni Hall Renovation - Exterior Wall Support
Alumni Hall Renovation - Exterior Wall SupportBelow, an ironworker welds the exterior beams.Alumni Hall Renovation - Exterior Wall Support

Second Floor — Welcoming the Community

Alumni Hall Renovation: September 2013The second floor of Alumni Hall will welcome prospective students and their families and visitors to the Knox campus. As you enter the floor from South Street, it will open into an atrium that is open to the third floor.

This floor will include the Office of Admission, Bastian Family Center for Career and Pre-Professional Development, Gerald and Carol Vovis Center for Research and Advanced Study, Eleanor Stellyes Center for Global Studies, and the Mark and Jeannette Kleine Center for Community Service.

Presidential Visit to Knox, 1890 Edition

Alumni Hall CornerstoneYou probably heard about President Barack Obama’s recent appearance at Knox, but he isn’t the only sitting U.S. president to ever set foot on campus. Did you know that President Benjamin Harrison was here in 1890 to lay the cornerstone for Alumni Hall?

At least, he laid one of its three cornerstones. What we know today as Alumni Hall originally was three separate buildings. Each got a cornerstone and a cornerstone-laying ceremony. Alumni Hall actually is just the middle part of the structure.

The west wing is Adelphi, and the east wing is Gnothautii — both names of men’s literary societies on campus. The societies helped pay for the construction of what we now call Alumni Hall. The three parts of the building (Adelphi, Alumni Hall, and Gnothautii) were completely separate, and you couldn’t get from one to the other unless you stepped outside.

Of the three cornerstone-laying ceremonies, the most well-known, and probably the most popular, involved Harrison. He already was in town for a military reunion with men from the brigade he’d commanded in the Civil War, so it was easy for him to stop by Knox, too. While in Galesburg, he also met up with his Phi Delta Theta fraternity brothers from Knox and Lombard colleges — the Delta and Zeta chapters — and told them that a person’s college days “are the days that affect the whole future.”

Harrison laid the Alumni Hall cornerstone on October 8, 1890, and a tremendous group of veterans, Knox students and faculty, Galesburg residents, and other folks showed up. In all, the crowd numbered about 10,000!