Student writes of haunted campus, NU ghost stories

He sat and listened to a student recount his journey from South Hall to Crawford one night. What seemed like an average journey was anything but that, the student was terrified, out of breath, having sprinted back to Crawford Hall. He had just seen a ghost.

He sits calmly taking notes as he hears of a white specter standing in a cadet dress uniform guarding the ship cannons perched on the hill of Harmon Drive by the chow hall. The investigation is taking in every detail in the student’s account of his cross-campus journey.

As the student finishes describing his tale, the investigator thanks him as he leaves and begins to break it down to the details. The writer however, is no school official or police officer, but Saul Costa, 20, sophomore computer securities major from Websterville, Vt, Costas has just finished up another interview for his book detailing the experiences of Norwich students and faculty and their experiences with the supernatural.

Saul Costa. (Jordan Silverman Photo)

Saul Costa. (Jordan Silverman Photo)

“You can’t walk into a room with 10 people and say ‘Who’s got a ghost story?’ without someone saying ‘OH I DO!’ and I think there definitely have been some credible events here – not saying that there are such things as ghosts,” said Costa.

Costa’s idea for his book detailing the experiences of Norwich students and the macabre came from a public speaking course that he took last semester, where in an open discussion, the students in his class talked about their ghost stories while at Norwich.

“People have seen things and had things happen to them and that puts the entire student body into a mindset of “Oh Norwich University is haunted.” From that point it creates a breeding ground for new stories, which is great for a book like this,” he said.

“I wondered who has written a book about Norwich, because there are so many stories and I did a bit of research and it turned out no one had,” he said. “There had been a lot of mentions in articles written in the paper, like in the Guidon, but no one really had explored them in depth.”

“All the stories are going to be  fiction, but all have some element of fact behind them, not saying that the stories are true, but they are based off of stories that I have heard and research that I have done,” said Costa.

After going through university archives as well as online sources, including some interviews with students as well as professors from the university, Saul moved on to talking to students to get their experiences in dealing with the unearthly here on college campus.

“I don’t think there are lot of ghosts at Norwich, but they make a lot of appearances and kind of throughout the book, it’s going to show subtly that there are reoccurring instances with the same ghosts,” said Costa.

Everyone has heard the stories of the Sabine sentry, the ghost of the lone cadet who guards the football field or the ghost horses that are galloping and whinny on the UP late at night.  Everyone has heard a different variation of the stories.

“Everyone has heard the one’s about Alumni Hall and the ghost in there, and the weird stuff that goes on in Chaplin all the time. I like those stories, but the ones I’m after are the ones that haven’t been told before, the stories that no one has heard,” he said.

The most recent interview he had described such a story :“for example, one person I talked to told me this white figure dressed in B’s from some time ago standing guard by the chow hall,” Saul recounted, “they saw that and they bolted back to Crawford.”

To get more stories that were out of the ordinary, Costa started a Kick-starter campaign through Facebook, which helped him get in touch with the likes of professors, students and even alumni.

“After the press releases, I’ve had a lot of students, also lots of alumni send me messages through Facebook and say ‘Hey, I’ve got this story that I’d really like to tell you about,’  he said. “I like ghost stories, so you know I’m all ears.”

However, the idea of just putting all the stories together into one tome did not sit well with the aspiring author. As he explains, “the stories by themselves don’t have the right amount of detail to make them terrifying, this isn’t just a journalism piece, but a work of fiction, I’m using firsthand  accounts and research as my jumping point.”

“My mind starts, looks at all the recurring details in the story to build up the characteristics behind it, not just for the people but also for the ghost, because they are characters too,” he said.

“When you write a book you have to have the characters grow in a sense, with a short story you don’t get know your characters very well, but in this case, I do get to understand the ghosts.”

For example, there is a story of a ghost that haunts Alumni Hall, whose preferred method of getting attention is picking up alarm clocks and throwing them across the room. Another is the Sabine sentry, where a ghost of a cadet on guard duty drags a sabre through the sand track near the football field.

“So I hear that and say well that’s kind of interesting, but what can I do in a fictional way to make that even more scary?” said Costa.

“Basically what I do when I listen to a story is know where they were, what building it was, what they say happened to them and what exactly they saw. Then, because I’m writing fiction, I can extrapolate and fill in the blanks.”

To Saul Costa, seeing a ghost can be scary and downright frightening. As an author, he is out to create stories that are really going to stick in the minds of the readers. “In a story you can’t just say ‘oh they saw a ghost and they ran.’ What if you saw a ghost going into Wise and tried to go up the stairs and the doors were locked and you heard creepy noises behind you?”

Besides writing about Norwich and bringing in readers to experience the feel and the atmosphere of campus, Costa is also trying to play on the fundamental fears of people, modeling such greats as Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King.

“If you look at like H.P. Lovecraft, he took an element that ordinarily wouldn’t be scary to a person, then examine it through a lens and address it and look at a fundamental, individual mental fear that people have and make it really scary.”

The fundamental fear, Costa said, on this campus is “being alone and lack of control of a situation, Once they have that sense of, ‘Oh this isn’t normal,’ and I would say also, you know psychologically, one of the things that people are afraid of is not being in control.”

To Costa, it’s all about the fundamental principle of horror and fright that he is going after, as opposed  instead to what he called “here’s some terrifying, ugly looking thing, that type of horror which is applied in a lot of movies these days”

“If they’re walking along and something happens and they are alone and suddenly it throws this wrench into things and the goal is through the stories, to have readers get this feeling of nothing can be done sort of thing,” said Costa.

“I think my biggest audience is the students because when you have a place like Norwich that’s has traditions, this is a step beyond that and in a different direction for sure, but I really want to give everyone a good chill,” he said.

Hoping to finish the book by the end of this year, Costa, with funds of about $600, is going to self-publish the book and get an ISBN for it.

“I don’t know exactly how much the book will appeal to people who haven’t gone to Norwich but I’m trying to write it in a way that it’s a good read regardless whether or not you’ve come here and come to the school or you are an alumni,” said Costa.


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