The Legends of the Hartwell Hall Ghost
Nearly 130 years after a workman’s death, supernatural tales and mysteries persist.
It can be hard to sort out fact from fiction when dealing with decades of hearsay, especially regarding tales of the paranormal. But at least two pieces of the folklore of haunted Hartwell Hall are known to be true:
In 1888, a workman named Edward B. Rowley drowned in a cistern outside the Normal School building, where Hartwell now stands. The tragedy was reported in the Village newspaper of the time, The Brockport Republic.
And in the early 1990s, Natale Glick fell from a six-foot ladder while cleaning a dance studio in Hartwell and landed without injury.
“As she fell, she felt as if someone had ‘set’ her down. She landed with one arm hung over the dance bar. However, she felt no pain,” wrote Jennifer Martin (Valaitis) ’94 in a February 1993 interview with Glick and Florence Miller, who at that time were members of the Hartwell custodial staff. They both spoke of continual supernatural experiences in the building.
Their experiences match many of the common reports: unexplained voices and shadows, lights turning on and off unassisted, bathroom stall doors slamming and toilets flushing when no one is there.
Most people who claim to have seen the spirit describe a man dressed all in black.
“He would be standing in the door way, with his hands on his hips, just a looking….He was always dressed in black and you could never see a head,” Miller said in Martin’s interview.
The alleged ghost is most commonly believed to be Rowley. There also are stories of a man who died in a boiler room and a girl who drowned in a pool, both in Hartwell. Those incidents are unsubstantiated; however, tales persist of seeing the specter of a young woman and hearing unexplained female voices.
Sarah Blencowe ’02 was surprised to discover what appears to be a woman in white in this photo she took of the Special Olympics fountain next to Drake Memorial Library, when she had not seen anyone there at the time.
“I am positive I would have noticed the woman if she was there when I took the picture,” Blencowe said. “It was a really hot day for April, and seeing a woman in a long white dress randomly on our campus would have been weird to begin with!”
Could it be the young woman who allegedly drowned?
“As far as I know, no one ever died in the swimming pool, which was in the basement in Hartwell in the old days,” said College Archivist Charlie Cowling. “I think that’s an intriguing conflation of Rowley’s drowning in 1888, with a more modern setting.”
“Actually, I don’t know of any deaths in Hartwell Hall,” Cowling added. “In the earlier building complex, which stood in approximately the same spot, a principal of the building, Julius Bates, died in his apartment there, c1843.” Bates also is sometimes named as the suspected spirit.
Twenty-three years after Martin published her interviews, Contessa Blosenhauer ’17 put some of Miller’s and Glick’s experiences to the test with an overnight stay in Hartwell in March 2016. She was accompanied by the Monroe County Paranormal Investigation Team (MCPI) and her boyfriend, Erik Payne.
They explored Studio 64, believed to be the site of the former pool, where they encountered unexplained pockets of cooler air. In Hartwell Dance Theater, Payne saw a shadowy figure that left quickly as the group entered the room; closer inspection found that the seat where the figure had been was the only one folded down for sitting. The crew also attempted to visit room 239, where Miller said a colleague had seen mysterious shadows pass through, but it no longer exists.
By the night’s end, though they had encountered some unexplained sights and sounds, the group left without any comprehensive evidence.
“The team said the results were inconclusive as the audio and video footage was unclear,” Blosenhauer wrote.
Martin’s and Blosenhauer’s complete research papers are available together for download on Digital Commons.
In addition to MCPI’s investigation alongside Blosenhauer, the folklore has garnered other external attention:
- The Orleans County–based Center for Paranormal Investigation Association, accompanied by four former Stylus editors, filmed an episode of its documentary series Exploring: Weird New York in an overnight visit to Hartwell. They experienced several unexplained spikes on their meter measuring electromagnetic fields.
- The Syfy network considered Hartwell for an episode of its documentary series School Spirits, though those discussions did not come to fruition.
- The Long Island Paranormal Investigators came to Mortimer Hall regarding reports of residents’ items disappearing and turning up elsewhere without explanation, and of lights turning on by themselves during the night — the latter of which their investigation confirmed.
Mortimer Hall is among a few other buildings on campus that occasionally come up in conversations of supernatural phenomena, along with Morgan Hall and the Alumni House, but those stories are less established.
Miller acknowledged that her family thought the stories were crazy: “They said we don’t believe in ghosts. And I said come to Hartwell and you will.”
Looking back now on that interview she conducted in 1993, Martin said, “I do believe the accounts to be true. The woman who told the story of the ladder was very vivid in her retelling. You could tell that she really did experience something that had made a true impact on her. Years later, I can still see her face as she recounted the story.”