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Tomb room

10/06/05 12:00AM By Joe Citro
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(HOST) As Halloween approaches, commentator Joe Citro has a scary story about that staple of the season - a haunted mansion.


(CITRO) It is only proper to launch the Hallowe'en month with a ghostly tale. But where to find one?

Colleges are usually hotspots for spirits. Yale has their invisible organist. Harvard has a veritable troupe of Victorian phantoms. Even UVM has no fewer than 17 allegedly haunted buildings.

Recently the editor of the Dartmouth alumni magazine asked me to track down Dartmouth's ghosts. You'd think such a venerable institution would be overcrowded with phantoms. Imagine my surprise when my queries yielded responses like:

Ghosts? Not at Dartmouth. I don't know why, but we don't seem to have any.

But when I started hearing: Well, I'm not sure my boss would want me talking about it and Please don't use my name . . . I knew I was getting closer. It was as if a campus-wide gag order were in place.

After a while, I ferreted out a couple of interesting tales, one of which I'll share today.

It takes place at the dramatic columned mansion at 9 School Street. Older alumni remember it as Phi Sigma Psi, but today
the 1835 edifice houses Panarchy, an undergraduate society.

Two explanations account for inexplicable disturbances there.

When it was a private residence, its owner, a wealthy physician, harbored a dark secret: he kept his crazed daughter locked in the attic. Ill-treatment, loneliness, and anguish eventually pushed her to suicide. But she never completed the job: something of her lingers. . .

Certain house members swear they've heard or seen an ethereal female presence in the attic. One man sensed an odd hostility whenever his girlfriend visited. The sensation was so intense she refused to stay alone up there. Indeed, some members won't live on that floor.

Panarchy holds another disturbing secret, this one in the base- ment. Perhaps it's the oddest site you'll ever find anywhere on campus - the so-called "Tomb Room."

This secret subterranean chamber, rimmed with concrete thrones, could be the setting for a horror film about satanic invocations.

Noting the names etched on these seats and the years (from 1897 to the 1940s), one might guess the Tomb Room was for fraternal rites or initiations, but somehow it seems too elaborate, too expensive, too secret for that.

The altar, a free-standing stone sarcophagus near the front, suggests darker applications.

No one knows why the secret room is there, but the blood-colored candle wax splattered all over sets the imagination racing.

Could the ghosts upstairs have been conjured by unholy activities in the Tomb Room? It is but one of Dartmouth's closely guarded secrets.

This is Joe Citro.

Novelist Joe Citro is a native Vermonter who lives in Burlington. His new book is titled, "Weird New England."
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