Five years ago, Rebecca Schneidereit of Dal News reported on the elusive, ethereal sprit of Penelope, a young woman in a flowing blue dress who haunts Shirreff Hall.
I thought it was time to check in.
Shirreff’s facilities manager, Mateo Yorke, filled me in. Although there are no historical records of Penelope, the tale is well known: “Most students who have lived here over the last 91 years have heard a story of a ghost in Shirreff Hall.”
When Shirreff Hall opened in 1923, staff used to live in the annex, a residence space above the kitchen, also known as the “servants’ quarters.” Penelope — a student in some versions of the tale and a worker in others — fell in love with a professor, and when she became pregnant and he refused to help her, she hanged herself in the bell tower. And as the story goes, she’s been there ever since.
Yorke told me a more recent tale: “One night, a former residence life manager who lived in Sherriff not too long ago saw a set of footprints in the hallway that went straight into a wall and just kept going. Wet footsteps along a fresh hallway that just disappeared. There were no other footsteps moving away from that area or anything.”
Yorke assures me he’s a “science person,” but this story is undeniably creepy.
Thankfully, “there’s never been any hauntings in the sense that someone’s being terrorized by noise or banging or anything like that,” says Yorke. “Anything that comes across those lines is usually something I have to deal with in terms of a ventilation problem or a plumbing problem.”
All work and no play...
Steve Vernon — Nova Scotia storyteller, author of Halifax Haunts, and master of the booga-booga — knows about another ghost, one who lurks in The Pit underneath King’s College Chapel. It’s the ghost of a janitor who Vernon thinks has unfinished business, as he’s generally seen still working and cleaning and still wearing his bright yellow work jacket.
“Every story that I’ve encountered seems to be that it’s more a tale of either a little bit of regret, little bit of unfinished business,” says Vernon. “Sometimes it’s like habit. The ghost of the janitor, he’s just there by habit — that’s where he frequented, it was his life’s pattern, he probably always felt like ‘OK, I better clean up just a little bit more.’ If his spirit has lingered on, it’s just trying to get his work done.”
Vernon tells me a local team of paranormal researchers spent an entire October night in 2007 in The Pit. However, their investigations were inconclusive except for having a video camera stolen and not being able to turn off a light. The lead investigator, Rob Fader, reported that no strange data was captured on the team’s digital camera, video camera, or audio records, and there were no fluctuations in EMS or temperature.
“I’m not really a ghost hunter,” admits Vernon. “I’m a storyteller.”
He explains that ghost stories often provide solace. “In a way, a ghost story is great therapy,” he says. “People know the janitor didn’t just disappear; he’s still around.”
In terms of Penelope’s tale, Vernon says it’s sort of like an oral orientation. “It’s almost become a tradition. It’s less of ghost story and a more of a tradition and initiation.”
Since Sherriff Hall went co-ed eight years ago and a generator was installed, there have been fewer sightings of Penelope. “Even when we do have our dark and stormy nights, the building doesn’t go into total darkness,” says Yorke.
This may be a reason why Penelope has been quiet lately, but there’s no way to be certain. Perhaps Penelope still has some unfinished business. What do you think? Have you had any ghostly encounters of your own on campus?
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