Finlay Hall Ghosts: A look at my own paranormal experiences living in Fordham University’s former medical school building.

My time in Finlay Hall was uneasy, permeated by the feeling that I was always being watched. Though there were reasonable explanations for why I may have felt that way, I don’t think that’s all that was afoot. I tell the stories of an uneasy possible encounter with an entity in the laundry room in the basement (near where cadavers were once kept), a mysterious bell that seemed to ring throughout the building, and an unusual, regularly occurring gibbering sound that only my roommate and I seemed to be able to hear.

Highlights include:
• Conspiracy theories and the paranormal
• A primal scream
• My attempts to debunk my own experiences
• A bizarre experimental college

Episode Script for Finlay Hall Ghosts

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

 

  • So I’ve been thinking a lot about how to present the personal stories in this episode. That’s, in part, because I’ve been thinking about sort of philosophical things about how we talk and think about the paranormal.
  • I listen to a podcast about conspiracy theories (link with info about that podcast) It’s an extremely popular podcast, you may have heard of it.
    • They mostly focus on the one particular conspiracy theory, covering it in detail, analyzing it from a sociological and political perspective, and disproving elements of the theory, but in their patreon episodes, they branch out more, and they cover a lot of paranormal topics. They’ve done topics on Atlantis, the Mothman, Ed and Lorraine Warren, etc.
    • Of course, as someone who’s into the paranormal, I naturally bristled at first when I started listening to the paranormal topics, but the episodes are really good and really well done, and I think it’s extremely valuable to look at the paranormal through the lens of not just skeptics, but people who have made a living out of studying conspiracy theories. They come at it from a really different POV than just a regular paranormal believer OR skeptic.
    • And one thing that really struck me is that the way we tend to think in the paranormal–looking for patterns, following our feelings, connecting disparate but potentially linked things, searching for hidden knowledge–has a LOT in common with the way that conspiracy theorists view reality.
    • That being said, I obviously believe in paranormal phenomena, and I don’t think that all conspiracy theories are false, so I am definitely not trying to paint folks who are interested in the paranormal with the same brush as someone who believes in a harmful conspiracy theory, for example.
    • But I think it’s really, really important to use critical thinking when talking about the paranormal. I mean, obviously that’s a big part of what I’m doing with this podcast, and that’s why this Fordham series is so darn long–because I’m really trying to dive into the paranormal stories and urban legends and sift through what sort of supporting information, etc, I can find about them.
    • But I wanted to take this time to explicitly say all of this, and say why I look at the paranormal from such an analytical and non-dogmatic POV, because I think it’s really important to take any source about the paranormal–including me–with a grain of salt.
    • I never want you to believe that an experience is paranormal because I said it is, or because I said I think it is. And I’ve been trying to tease out how that works philosophically.
    • Take, for example, my experiences in Finlay Hall.
      • I genuinely believe that I was experiencing something paranormal, and I don’t really imagine being able to come across something that would convince me otherwise, no matter how logical that explanation might be. I feel less sure about some of my other paranormal experiences, but my experiences in Finlay feel more solid to me. And that’s just a feeling that I have.
      • However, like I said, I don’t really want you to take my word for it. Or, rather, I’d of course be happy if you also thought I experienced something paranormal, but as always, I wouldn’t blame someone for disagreeing.
      • The worst case scenario, for me, is for someone to believe something just because I said it, if that makes sense.
      • Like I said, I hate dogma and I favor ambiguity when thinking about the paranormal.
      • So if you believe me, in this episode or any other, I hope that’s because when I’ve talked about something, examined it from different angles and looked at possible debunkings and complicating factors–I hope that once I’ve done all that, and you’ve thought through it all, you came to either a logical or emotional/intuitive conclusion, whether you think it’s something paranormal, or something ordinary, or you just aren’t sure.
      • It’s true that in the paranormal, not everything is logical and rational; it’s normal to come to conclusions based on a more emotional or intuitive sense. And that’s okay. But I want to take this time to caution you against believing things just because someone you like or trust said it.
      • And please do periodic reality checks. In the paranormal, it’s common (and . . . I think fine?) to make some weird connections, follow synchronicities, etc.
      • But if you start to find yourself doing that in the mundane areas of your life, you might want to pull back and question some things, think more deeply on them, etc.
      • I know this is a digression, but listening to stories about the paranormal from that other lens, really was a wake up call for me.
      • I don’t think that I tend toward conspiratorial thinking, but I suddenly could see how that could potentially happen very easily. So for myself, I’m trying to find a way to separate the really great habits that I’ve developed doing paranormal research and investigation–this sense of wonder, feeling like the world has hidden meanings and messages, etc–and  making sure that doesn’t seep into other areas of my life, belief system, etc.
  • I’ve really struggled with how personal to get in this episode, because there are some things that were going on in my personal life that I do think had a bearing on my feelings about Finlay Hall, and which may have even influenced, to some degree, my experience of the place as being full of dread and ominous intention
  • I mentioned this a couple times before, but I was very sick when I was living in Finlay Hall (swine flu hit while I was living there, which colored the experience for sure), and I also I think that between getting swine flu + being extremely worn down, that caused what seems like a recurrence of mono (b/c once you get it, you can get it more than once if your immune system is compromised etc.)

    • A lot of my memories of that place are through a sort of unpleasant, feverish, and very gothic haze of illness.
  • There were also a few other things going on.
    • There was a bad situation with my roommate who lived in the loft, she was doing some pretty creepy stuff that included eavesdropping on me and passing off things I’d said to our other roommate as her own ideas in class, and starting to dress like me. Also, I mentioned this last time but the room was arranged so that I couldn’t tell if she was in the loft by looking up, but she could see everything that our other roommate and I were doing downstairs, so there was a feeling of being surveilled by this person who was being pretty creepy.
  • I was closeted because I didn’t feel safe coming out at Fordham. Hopefully stuff has gotten better there since the 2000s, though I don’t really know. I did find a 2016 article in the Fordham Ram about how some roommates in Finlay Hall, who were all queer, got a homophobic comment written in sharpie on the door on their whiteboard, so I don’t have super high hopes for what it’s like these days: https://fordhamram.com/2016/09/07/students-in-finlay-hall-find-harassing-comment-on-door/
      • But there was a girl I liked a lot, but I couldn’t ask her out without coming out, so I was doing a lot of sort of pathetic, silent pining.
    • I was also very depressed.
  • So I think that whole situation was a perfect storm for weird paranormal stuff, for me. College is already this really liminal time, but being extremely sick, feeling watched and imitated constantly by my bad roommate, being closeted and having an unrequited love situation, and being really depressed, really heightened everything.
  • My Finlay experiences

    • Finlay general creepiness
      • I always felt like I was being watched
    • Entity behind me + tunnel entrances
      • I mentioned last time that Finlay Hall is right next to an entrance to campus. It was supposedly placed there to make it easier to subtly transport cadavers to be dissected when Finlay was still the medical school building.
      • Back when I was a student, its proximity to the edge of campus made it ideal for students who lived off campus to bring their laundry to the building to do it there. Laundry was included in room and board, so sneaking into FInlay was a way for students living off campus to get free laundry.
      • The university didn’t like that people were doing that, even though from my POV it wasn’t an issue, so they decided that they were going to require that the laundry room, in the basement, be closed and locked at all times.
      • That didn’t prevent people from off campus doing their laundry there; I had a friend who I still let in, I just unlocked the door for him so he could get into the laundry room and do his laundry there.
      • But the door to the laundry room was very sturdy and heavy, and having it closed and locked the whole time weirded me out while I was doing my laundry.
      • Think about it: you’re down there in this really creepy basement, which doesn’t have cell service, doing laundry in a room next to areas where cadavers used to be stored. There’s also an entrance to Fordham’s tunnels nearby in the basement, so it’s just generally an uneasy place to be.
      • Also, the machines were industrial washers and dryers so they were really loud, so I always felt like someone could easily sneak up on me or something. But, and this is kind of weird, the university apparantly had thought of that, because in the corner of the room there was one of those big, round mirrors that you usually see around tight corners in the subway or on bike paths or by ATMs or whatever; the idea is that it’s like a fisheye mirror so no one can sneak up on you from any direction.
      • Why on earth did a laundry room need that? I have no idea. And I never felt great about it being there, like, that’s just weird. (For the record, I can’t remember if any other laundry rooms at Fordham had those mirrors, I can only remember the Finlay one.)
      • So, one afternoon I was doing my laundry.
        • I was in there alone, and I felt kind of uneasy and unsettled, so I was rushing a little bit as I put a load into the washer, choose the cycle, and started it.
        • When I finished, I remember feeling so relieved, like an unusual amount of relieved, that my clothes was in there and I could go back upstairs.
        • And right before I hurried out of there, I had this thought, “thank god I can get out of here, it would have been terrible if I had selected the wrong cycle and then had to stand here and advance the cycle to fix it.”
        • And right as I was thinking it, I looked at the washer and saw that I had, in fact, accidentally chosen the wrong cycle, which was weird. I’d selected the really hot setting, which would damage my clothes if I left it in. (I’d had a problem with my clothes shrinking in the wash at Fordham, jeans in particular, which of course are relatively expensive to replace, so I was careful about the settings.)
        • The way the washing machines worked there was you couldn’t just stop or switch a cycle once you started it. Instead, there was this button or switch that you had to hold in that would advance the cycle. Basically it would speed through the cycle in somewhere between 30-120 seconds, instead of 30 mins, and then you could start a new cycle once it was done. But you had to be standing there pressing it the whole time for it to work.
        • So I start advancing the cycle, and suddenly I started smelling a sort of weird sulfur smell.
        • This was weird, because I’d never smelled sulfur before down in the laundry room, and I spent a time down there every week.
          • And I will say that while I was typing out my notes for this, I had to ask myself whether it’s possible that I was smelling natural gas.
          • I definitely knew what natural gas smelled like and I didn’t think that I was smelling natural gas.
          • But to be totally honest, I don’t know how I would differentiate the rotten egg/sulfur smell of natural gas vs. a sulfur smell. Something about it just smelled somehow different from natural gas to me, but I don’t know how to explain how.
          • However, PSA: If you ever smell a rotten egg or sulfur smell indoors, it’s way more likely to be a natural gas leak than something paranormal. Do not assume it’s a ghost. If you smell natural gas in a room where you are, get out of there immediately. And don’t do anything with anything electronic, don’t even turn lights on or off, just go outside and call 911 and tell them you think you have a gas leak. Natural gas leaks are extremely dangerous and can cause explosions and fires really easily.
          • In the interest of being thorough, in case you’re wondering, I did look up side effects of exposure to natural gas, and there are no side effects related to paranoia or hallucination etc.
        • I remember looking over at some of the pipes along the wall and ceiling and I was kind of wondering if the smell was coming from one of those pipes. But I thought about it and realized they were probably only steam pipes for heating, and water and exhaust for the washers and dryers, so it didn’t really make sense for any of that to smell like sulfur.
        • As I’m standing there, advancing the cycle and looking at the pipes, I suddenly get the sense that someone is standing right behind me. Like someone’s standing really close, almost close enough to be pressed against my back, but not quite.
        • I tried not to panic, and told myself I was just freaking myself out. I look up at the fisheye type mirror and confirm that I’m definitely alone in the laundry room. There’s no one behind me.
        • But then I start thinking about lore about demons (and sulfur and brimstone smells) and I start thinking about creatures like vampires (who can’t be seen in mirrors.)
        • So, still pressing the advance cycle button, I turn around, and of course, I don’t see anything. There’s no one there.
        • I turn back around and face the washing machine, though really I’m just looking at the mirror, watching it, and of course there’s nothing in the mirror, just me standing in an empty room.
        • But I’m still feeling someone right behind me. I look again, and of course no one’s there.
        • At this point, I’m thinking maybe I should just run and go upstairs, but then I thought about how the washer would probably damage my clothes if I did that. And I tell myself it won’t be long, maybe a couple minutes, and I just need to get through the cycle and restart it.
        • But the whole time, I’m just aware of someone very close to me, behind me.
        • I had this really strong mental image of this male entity who was much shorter than me, but which was hovering several feet over the ground so that his face was either level with my shoulders, or slightly above that. And I had a strong sense of this entity’s face being distorted by this huge, creepy, almost gloating smile. And I felt like this entity was just staring and me smiling like some sort of deranged clown.
        • Now, that could have just been my imagination. But I’d been intentionally trying not to think about it, and this image kept popping into my head.
        • After what felt like forever, but was just a few minutes, I finished advancing the cycle, started it again on the right setting, and got out of there.
        • I went back upstairs to my room, and when I returned to the laundry room half an hour later to put the wash in the dryer, I didn’t smell sulfur at all (that’s another reason why I really don’t think it was natural gas–I didn’t smell it at all before this experience, and I didn’t smell it again, even 30 mins later.) I was obviously still shaken from earlier, and I felt like I was being watched, but nothing new happened.
        • I never felt comfortable in that basement, but nothing like that happened to me in the laundry room again.
      • I didn’t totally know what to make of this.
        • At the time, my sense of the paranormal was less nuanced, so I kind of jokingly referred to it as a demon when I told other people the story.
        • But I don’t really know what this entity was.
        • This story relies a lot on my own feeling about things, so I definitely don’t blame folks if they disagree with me and think that I didn’t experience anything, but my own opinion is definitely that something paranormal occurred there. This wasn’t an instance where I was like, “oh, maybe something happened, maybe I was just freaking myself out.”
        • No, I definitely felt like there was a threatening presence in there with me. And I did feel legitimately afraid, it was not a good experience.
        • I haven’t heard other stories like this in finlay, though.
    • Bell ringing in Finlay
      • My nice roommate and I both noticed that we’d hear what sounded almost like a bell ringing.
      • We heard it all over the building: in our room, on the ground floor by the dorm entrance, in the hallways, in the basement.
      • It wasn’t a loud bell, but it always sounded close.
      • It definitely didn’t sound like a ringtone chime, or like a radiator banging or anything, it sounded like a fairly thick metal bell being rung.
      • This really weirded me out, because it always sounded like it was the same volume, no matter where I was. But if it was something like, say, an elevator chime or a phone’s ringtone (which it wasn’t, but that’s just an example,) it would have been louder or quieter depending on how close or far we were away from it.
      • But it always sounded like the same volume to me, which doesn’t make sense.
      • I asked around to other people I knew in the building but never found anyone aside from me and my good roommate who heard this bell.
      • I haven’t found anything in the dorm’s history to suggest a reason why I might have been haunted by a phantom bell, and I also haven’t thought of a way to debunk the sound.
    • Gibbering sound in Finlay (and how it relates to primal scream, looking for residual explanations for this)
      • My nice roommate and I started to hear, on a regular basis, a really loud noise from outside of Finlay Hall. I would call it almost a gibbering sound. It was extremely loud, and echo-y. The school was next to the Bronx Zoo, and I remember the first time I heard it, I wondered if a bunch of monkeys had escaped and were howling through the streets, until I realized that was highly unlikely, and also I didn’t think monkeys were that loud.
      • We asked other people in the building if they could hear it, and like with the bell, everyone we asked said no.
      • I wish I had written down all of the details, but like I said it was a regular occurrence. It seems to me that it may have been weekly, and it always happened at the same time at night (in the evening, but well before I would have gone to bed.) But I can’t say for sure what the day of the week or time was.
      • Now, there may very well be a mundane explanation for this. If you’ve never lived in that part of the Bronx, it’s worth keeping in mind that the neighborhood is very loud.
        • When I lived off campus, during the summer when everyone had their windows open, it was normal for me to hear a bunch of different people’s radios blaring, and usually it was so loud that there wasn’t much point in me listening to my own music in my room, unless I was wearing noise cancelling headphones, because it’d just be overpowered by the music from outside. It sounds annoying, maybe, but it was actually kind of nice, especially in the summer, when everyone’s outside, hanging out with friends and family, etc. It just felt really wholesome and comforting.
        • And even while living on campus, I spent a couple years living in some buildings along a different edge of campus, and it was really normal to hear music blasting from a car repair shop that was right off campus.
        • So all of this to say that it’s possible that the sound I heard was noise from off campus. But the thing is, when things were loud, you could usually identify what it was: like it was music, or a noisy car, or a preacher at Fordham Plaza with a megaphone.
        • But this didn’t sound like anything I could identify, and it was always weird to me that I couldn’t find anyone aside from my roommate who heard the noise, when it was such a regular occurrence. People usually noticed and remarked upon loud noises.
        • So, while there may be a perfectly reasonable mundane explanation for this sound, I haven’t really been able to identify anything stronger than “well, the Bronx is loud sometimes.”
          • So I’ve also looked for potentially paranormal explanations.
          • I haven’t got anything super super clear, but I have found some instances of loud noises that would have happened in the past in the area.
          • You may have heard of residual hauntings before; I’ve talked about them, and explained stone tape theory earlier in this series. It’s this idea that things from the past can be recorded into the environment and replayed in the future. Most of the time, this is tied to ghosts, the ghosts of past inhabitants of an area leave behind traces of their emotions, forms, etc, to be replayed in the area where it’s been “recorded.”
          • So I’ve been thinking, why wouldn’t a noise, or screams, from the past be able to be recorded somewhere (in the “stone tape” if that’s a real thing) and replayed? It’s a long shot, but I found three things: two more plausible, and one that’s more of a wild card, that are potential candidates for something residual that could have been hanging on around the area.
        • Primal Scream: This is something that an alumni told me about when I was at Fordham, but during the 1980s, the Primal Scream was a tradition on campus. Every Thursday night at 10 pm, people in a number of dorms, including Finlay, would stick their heads out of the window and scream. Some of the Jesuit scholastics who lived on campus would also participate.
        • The Observer, November 17, 1982:
          • “On Fordham’s uptown campus in the Bronx, however,  the  flow of  student  energy is not always so  productive.  Instead of politics and human rights, the most  popular and organized  student  movement  at  Rose Hill is the Thursday night  “Primal  Scream.” At 10 pm each Thursday,  about one-fourth  of the dormitory  residents (including some people who attend the College at Lincoln Center) drop what they’re doing to crane their necks out  their windows  and yell themselves silly.
          • The overall effect  sounds something like the Bronx Zoo  at  feeding time,  but the happy students have,  as they say,  “a good time.”
          • https://www.library.fordham.edu/digital/item/collection/OBVR/id/159
        • To read from a September 4, 1983, story in The Ram (https://www.library.fordham.edu/digital/item/collection/RAM/id/16247/itemsearch/primal%20scream):
          • Faced   with   these   problems   and   academic pressures, students  initiated a  ‘primal scream’ on Thursday  nights at  10 p.m.  to relieve their  frustrations  by  yelling  simultaneously   out  dormitory windows. One boarder described  the weekly  event as the “most  extreme  form  of  relief  a  student  can  experience  after a day  of diligent study.  It expresses a    feeling    of    solidarity    between    Fordham students.”
        • And you might wonder what sorts of things students were upset about. Let me read a bit more from that article:
          • “For  some  Rose  Hill  residents,  however,  Fordham was falling  apart.  Although  no one was injured,  a ceiling collapse  forced  the evacuation of the  campus’  oldest  dormitory,  St.  Johns’  Hall.
          • Sewage  backups,  elevator   failures,  a  water main break,  and a  lack  of heat and  hot water caused  problems  in  others.  A  steadily  deteriorating brick  facade  on Walsh  Hall  is forcing  the  University to  bring the  building  in  line  with  New  York City’s  local  law #10.
          • Maintenance  problems seemed to contradict administrators’  view  that  Fordham  had  one  of  the”most  well-maintained  campuses  in  the  country,”  a view put  forth  in an advertisement  on the editorial  page  of  the  New   York  Times  entitled “Husbandry.”
          • “They  said  they’d  clean it,”  said one  resident concerning  a  sewage  backup  in  her  bathroom. “There  are  maggots  and  it  leaked  out  into  the closet.  After  what  we  saw  I can’t  imagine  even taking  a  shower  in  there.”
          • “Much  of  my  property  has  been  damaged,” said another when a ceiling collapsed  in his room. “The  room  is filled  with dust and debris.  It has covered  books,  desks  and  shelves.”
          • “By   the  middle  of  the  night,  it’s  absolutely freezing,”  stated  a  Walsh  resident  whose  floor did  not  receive  heat  in  December  and  January. Problems  extended  beyond  the  dormitories, also.  Between  October  and  April,   18  students were  mugged both  on and  off  the  Bronx  campus at  gunpoint  or  knifepoint. Although  no one  was seriously  injured,  students wanted  to  know how  campus security  had  let  intruders  into  its gates,  including  a  mental  patient from  Bronx  State  Hospital  who  created  a  commotion  on  the  roof  of  a  Jesuit  resident  hall.”

        Walsh Hall/555 noise, September 22, 1972:

        • I also find a 1972 article about how upon the opening of the dorm next to Finlay Hall, Walsh Hall, or 555 as it was called then, there was an issue with students behaving badly. They were making noise, throwing stuff out of dorm windows, and creating a real disturbance/disruption. It was so bad that local residents had to stand outside the dorm, which was right at the edge of campus, at 9:30 am on a Sunday and bang on garbage cans to wake up the students and show them what it was like to be woken up when sleeping. It sounds like after that, things got a little quieter, though to be honest, I didn’t do a lot of legwork tracking down this story and seeing what the resolution was. I was more focused on the fact that there was this historical disturbance, which to be was a really big act of disrespect toward the community.

        https://www.library.fordham.edu/digital/item/collection/RAM/id/11583/itemsearch/cemetery

Sources consulted RE: Finlay Hall Ghosts

See sources page for the full source list for the series

Books consulted

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