The “Dormitory Ghost” prank, 1911

Last Thursday, October 28th, Special Collections held a Halloween Open House featuring some of the scariest, wiliest, or most festive items in our collections. While there, participants were encouraged to vote for their favorite item on display. The winning item, by a landslide, was “The Dormitory Ghost,” an anecdote from the 1 November 1911 issue of the Augustana Observer, written by then-student Frederic H. Cesander.

In this article, Cesander aims to put to rest speculations of a mysterious haunting rumored to have occurred on Augustana’s campus. He tells of a plan concocted by himself and two other students, “Eric” and “Shorty,” to prey upon the fears of their terrified friend, “Swante.” About a week prior to the prank, Cesander and his friends invented a story about the ghosts of several suicide victims who haunted the dorm, one of whom had taken up residence in Swante’s room. The tale left Swante so afraid that he slept with the lamp on in his room for several nights before finally giving up and moving in with his friend “Curly” down the hall. Late one Saturday night, Cesander, Eric, and Shorty worked together to construct a life-size ghost from a white gown and a cardboard skull. Then, while Shorty stood at the end of the hall wailing and moaning, Cesander held the ghost outside the door to Curly’s room. When Curly and Swante opened the door to investigate the commotion, they were met by a grisly specter seemingly waiting to attack them.

Rest easy, students. The site of this “haunting” is no longer standing on Augustana’s campus. In 1911, Augustana’s male students would have lived in the dormitory space of the First College Building. The First College Building was (as its name suggests) the first building built on Augustana’s campus after the college moved to Rock Island from Paxton, IL. The building contained a dining room, chapel, museum, library, music rehearsal space, classrooms, and dormitory space.

A hand-colored photograph of the First Building on Augustana's Rock Island campus, Special Collections C-L00022

A hand-colored photograph of the First Building on Augustana’s Rock Island campus, Special Collections C-L00022

The First College Building was razed in 1935, and its occupants were transferred to the newly-constructed Andreen Hall. To read more about the changing nature of Augustana’s campus, including images of many of its early buildings, see An Augustana Campus History.

Frederic H. Cesander appears to have graduated from Augustana College in 1914. While in college, he was active in the Augustana’s Prohibition League and the Lyceum. After graduation, he pursued his interests in music, composing a piece entitled Freedom’s Call in 1918 and applying for a patent on a new musical instrument in 1929. A copy of Freedom’s Call can be found in Special Collections’ local history collection.

Little is known about Cesander’s victims and co-conspirators, including their true identities. “Swante” is undoubtedly Svante Anderson, a member of Cesander’s graduating class who probably knew Cesander from his involvement in the Prohibition League or Wennerberg Chorus. “Curly” is most likely Julius Larson, another member of the class of 1914 hailing from Sweden, who likely got his nickname from his curly locks. The identities of the other two fellows are less clear; “Shorty” might be class of ’14 member Elmer Nicholson, whose senior profile reads, “Just as an elongated piece of humanity is called ‘Shorty’ and the opposite called ‘lengthy,’ so the same principle has been used in naming this large part of our illustrious class.” “Eric” could be Eric Anderson, member of Augustana’s Special College in the early 1910s and star forward for the basketball team. Profiles of each of these men can be found in the 1914 Rockety-I. The Rockety-I and Augustana Observer are fully digitized and keyword searchable on the Special Collections website.

This prank is an early one in a long line of pranks and shenanigans on campus. During the decades immediately following World War II, Augustana was immersed in a culture of “phrigging,” or playing practical jokes on students, faculty members, and campus buildings. Among the more well-known phrigs was the infamous Teapot Dome prank conceived by Roald Fryxell in 1955.

Old Main decorated as a teapot, 1955. Special Collections C-F02138

Other phrigs included carrying cars up the steps of Old Main or into its basement and setting up a fake used car lot called “Crazy Connie’s Used Cars” in front of the building, among others. For more information, come to the Special Collections Reading Room and ask for the Phrigs subject file.

Although this ghost story turned out to be a hoax, Augustana is no stranger to real hauntings. Andreen Hall is believed to be haunted by the ghost of a former student, Chauncey Morton, who was shot and killed in his dorm room by his roommate in 1958. You can read more about Morton’s death in the 27 October 1958 edition of the Observer. Similarly, Augustana’s House on the Hill is believed to be haunted by the ghost of a former resident, Appolonia Weyerhaeuser. To find out more about ghosts on campus, come to Special Collections and check out our Ghost Story file.

You can read the full text of “The Dormitory Ghost” below. Thanks to everyone who came out for Special Collections’ Halloween Open House!

Dormitory Ghost article 1 Dormitory Ghost article 2 copy

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