Haunted Finlay Hall: Chilling urban legends and ghost stories from people who lived in an old medical school building, which featured a morgue and a large operating theater.

From 1905-1921, Fordham University had a medical school. After its short, troubled existence, the medical school was mostly forgotten. One of the few reminders of the school is Finlay Hall, the old medical school building that was converted into a dorm in the 1980s.

Since students have begun living there, haunting stories have emerged: some people claim to see ghostly students looking down on them during the night, as if they’re a cadaver being dissected. Others wake to being choked by cold hands. This episode looks at the stories and seeks to sort out urban legend from credible paranormal experiences, and to corroborate or debunk popular stories.

Highlights include:
• Carl Jung giving lectures at the medical school
• Cadavers being kept in the basement
• Secret tunnels

Episode Script for Haunted Finlay Hall

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. 

Note: For this version of the script, I tried to censor students’ names. Everyone I mention by name was quoted and named on the record in publicly accessible articles, but many of the articles exist in PDF form in the university’s archives and are not indexed by search engines. I don’t want to screw up the SEO on anyone’s name, so if you want to see full names, check out the sources or listen to the episode. 

  • Last time, I said that I wanted to talk about some of my own paranormal experiences in Finlay Hall, my most hated building on Fordham’s campus, where I lived my sophomore year of college. But I realized that that would have been too long of an episode, so I split this into 2 sections: in this episode, I’ll talk about the history of the building and Fordham’s doomed medical school, and I’ll talk about some of the most common ghost stories and urban legends associated with the building. I’ll also share some of the research I did when trying to verify or debunk some claims and urban legends tied to what different parts of the building were used for. And I’ll also talk about Fordham’s infamous tunnels, which go between different buildings on campus.
  • Fordham had a short-lived, ill-fated Medical School.
  • I think that Thomas J. Shelley, author of Fordham: A History of the Jesuit University of New York: 1841-2003, said it best when he described the Medical School thusly:
    • Fordham Medical School was like a corpse that had been buried in quicksand and periodically threatened to make an unwelcome appearance by bubbling to the surface.
  • I won’t talk much about the attempts to revive the medical school after it closed, but once it closed, it closed for good, and Fordham still doesn’t have a medical school

 

Thebaud Hall (previously called the Science Building) (1886)

  • The medical school was housed in a building called Thebaud Hall when it first opened in 1905.
  • There was also a pharmacy school that opened in 1912, and moved to Thebaud Hall in 1914 (the pharmacy school would close in 1972).

 

Finlay Hall, also previously known as Old Chem, the Old Chemistry Building, and New Hall (1911)

  • The medical school at Fordham operated from 1905-1921.
  • In 1911, a new medical-school building was built, and the med school moved there in 1913.
    • One notable thing about the new medical school building was that it was built right on the edge of campus, by what’s now the Bathgate entrance, and that was supposedly to facilitate discrete delivery of cadavers. More on cadavers later.
  • When the medical school first opened, it operated in Collins Hall, and then it moved to the Science building, or Thebaud Hall.
    • Thebaud Hall was built in 1886.
    • There was also a pharmacy school that opened in 1912, and moved to Thebaud Hall in 1914 (the pharmacy school would close in 1972).
    • I’ve found some vague mentions of hauntings in Thebaud Hall, but nothing super concrete.
  • Also notable about the Fordham medical school, for those of us interested in the paranormal: Carl Jung did a lecture series at the Fordham medical school in 1912.
    • I believe the lecture series was part of a conference called “The International Extension Course in Medical and Nervous Diseases,” which was held Sept. 9 through 28, 1912
    • Jung’s Fordham lecture series was notable because it was where he publicly broke with Freud, who was his friend, and who he’d used to agree with more.
    • Jung also got an honorary degree from Fordham.
  • The medical school grew pretty quickly: it started with 6 students in 1905, and but 1916, it had 259 students and 111 faculty members. Students were getting experience at 10 different hospitals in the area, including Fordham hospital.
    • One interesting thing about the Fordham Medical School was that unlike many schools at the time, there was no quota system for Jewish students, so a lot of the student body was Jewish. (Same went for the Pharmacy school.)
  • However, things were not fated to go well for Fordham’s medical school. I don’t quite understand why, but for whatever reason, the medical school just doesn’t seem like it was a priority.
    • The first dean of the medical school didn’t want to leave his private practice, so the next year, he was replaced.
    • The medical school always had money problems, and it lost its class A status from the AMA in 1911, only 6 years after the school opened. (The school was downgraded to a class B by the AMA because when they inspected, they felt that Fordham fell short in clinical training and in full time faculty members. Fordham declined to fix the issue, so that’s why they got the downgrade. Getting a class B status basically meant that Fordham had a third-rate medical school.)
    • After the AMA downgrade, the next med school dean resigned, and then the next dean that came in apparently tried to save the school, but didn’t get financial support from the administration, so he resigned in 1917.
    • A new dean started after that, but by 1919, it was clear that Fordham couldn’t afford to make the changes that the AMA said they needed, and the school shuttered in 1921. Apparently the school had a deficit of $342,863. In today’s dollars, that’s $5.2 million.
  • As a sidenote: There was once a hospital called Fordham Hospital. It was a public hospital that opened in 1892, but in 1907, it moved to a 4-acre location northwest of the intersection of Southern Boulevard and Crotona Avenue, right next to Fordham’s campus, on an area that is now part of Fordham’s Campus.
    • While the Fordham medical school was open, med students would intern at the hospital.
    • For at least a bit in the 19teens, the hospital president was also the dean of Fordham medical school, so there were some connections between the school and the hospital.
    • IN 1976, NYC Heath + Hospitals decided to close the hospital. The community protested, there were sit ins, even the borough president and the community board were opposed. Obviously, having a hospital is really important in a community.
    • However, the city closed the hospital anyway, and tore down the building.
    • Fordham University bought the 4 acres that Fordham Hospital had been on in 1978, and that is now the campus parking lot.
  • Once the med school closed, the med school building became the chemistry building.
  • Ram Newspaper – 05/25/1980
  • It went by several names: Old Chemistry Building (or Old Chem), New Hall, and then, in 1990, it was renamed Finlay Hall, which is what it was called when I lived there.
  • In my opinion, Finlay Hall is the creepiest building on all of Fordham’s campus. It was definitely the place where I experienced the most unsettling things.
  • But first, lets get to other people’s ghost stories, and urban legends about the hall.
    • The biggest ghost story about Finlay Hall has to do with cadavers, of course.
    • It’s said that cadavers were kept in the basement for dissection.
      • For the record, I believe that this is true. The laundry room was in the basement, which tbh, was one of the most unpleasant places I’ve ever been in my life. Unbelievably, there are actually a few rooms down there where students live, in addition to a lounge and some other mysterious off limits rooms. But anyway, I remember walking down the hallway in the basement and seeing at least one, but I think several, tall narrow doors that were always locked. And I remember thinking, “ah, yes, this must be where the cadavers were,” because they seemed like the perfect height and width for a stack of shelves to hold bodies. I could be wrong, but that’s my impression.
      • Also, one important thing to know here is that Finlay dorm rooms are extremely strange: each one has a loft with a spiral staircase leading up to it. Typically, one student would sleep in the loft, and two would sleep down below.
    • So, anyway, cadavers were kept in the basement, and cadaver dissections were said to have happened upstairs.
    • It’s said that the students would stand upstairs, in the lofted area, and watch as cadaver dissections would happen down below.
  • I’m going to read a bit from the Fordham library website, which has a bit about paranormal happenings on campus:
    • “Finlay, before becoming a dorm, was the location of Fordham’s Medical School. In the lofted rooms students could observe dissections of cadavers and the basement served as the holding place for the lifeless bodies.
    • “More than once students have woken up in the middle of the night, feeling as though someone is grabbing at their throat making it difficult for them to breathe or feel a tugging on their toe as if they were a cadaver being tagged.
    • “They also sometimes see what looks like students peering down on them from the loft”
  • Okay, so while I had paranormal experiences at Finlay, and, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a dark and bad place, I’ve been trying for YEARS to substantiate the claim that the rooms were set up as operating theaters, etc. YEARS, literally since I lived in Finlay in the late 2000s. I’ve gone through the Fordham library’s photo archives maybe 5-6 times looking for any photographic evidence of this setup. And maybe just no one took a picture of it? Since the library website claims that the medical school was set up that way, they’re may be right. But if you’ve been listening for a while, you’re probably familiar with how urban legends form and get echoed and repeated etc., and the Finlay paranormal stories are so delightful and chilling and morbid.
    • But here’s what I have been able to glean from looking at medical school photos and other sources:
      • First I wanted to read this bit from the Fordham website; this is from the page about student housing and what Finlay’s like to live in, etc.
        • It then became a residence hall, adding lofted apartments where classrooms and offices had once been and a fourth floor with copper-clad roof and facade. The five-sided eastern face of the building at one time housed an operating theater. Finlay Hall’s facade features beautiful examples of cut stone ornamentation and lower floors terrazo from the era of its design and construction.
      • So this operating theater thing was new to me. Idk how I hadn’t heard of that before or not, but I went to the google maps satellite view, and sure enough, Finlay is a rectangular building with this over obvious bit jutting out. Don’t know why I never wondered about that, but maybe that was just cause I was thinking of it from inside, rather than from a bird’s eye view.
        • I wasn’t in the part of Finlay that had the operating theatre; I was right next to that part so I could see the jutting out part from my window, but never really thought to wonder why it was there.
      • I had found a picture of an operating theater, with either a cadaver dissection or operation going on.
        • I hadn’t read about the operating theater in Finlay before, so for years I thought it couldn’t be Finlay Hall, because the windows behind the assembled students don’t really look like the Finlay windows to me. But maybe the windows in that part of Finlay are just different.
        • Tbh, now that I think of it, I can’t imagine that there was another room on campus set up to house an operating amphitheater.
        • The picture I’m thinking of is captioned “Amphitheater at Fordham Medical School” and it really does look like a purpose built room.
      • Also, I found a picture of a bunch of students in a class with telescopes and textbooks and stuff, and I think that picture was definitely taken in Finlay Hall. The windows are correct, and you can see a spiral staircase on the far right of the picture. That being said, there isn’t a loft arrangement to the room. The floor goes from wall to wall, and there’s basically a small cutout for just the staircase. So maybe later on they converted this room by cutting out part of the floor to make a loft, and the subdividing it into a few different rooms?
    • However, this does suggest an inaccuracy with the story that students stood in the lofts of what are now dorm rooms and looked down at cadaver dissections below. I would imagine that would happen in the amphitheater, whereas the other rooms were regular classrooms and offices, just like the Fordham housing website says.
      • So if you lived in Finlay in the five-sided protrusion where the amphitheater was, then maybe students really did look down at operations and cadaver dissections there, though it wasn’t from a loft with a spiral staircase, it would have been from a more lecture hall/stadium seating type vantage point.
      • And if they had an operating theater, they may not have done dissections in the other rooms? Though I could be wrong about that.
  • So, there are some creepy stories attached to Finlay’s basement, so I wanted to pause and talk about the Fordham tunnels, one of which connects to the Finlay basement
    • When I was a student, I remember lots of stories about the tunnels. Some people said they were used for transporting cadavers (some websites still claim this) while others say that the Jesuits used the tunnels to get between buildings during particularly cold weather.
    • After doing some research, I don’t really think I believe these stories. It seems that these tunnels were used for steam/electricity and were dug sometime in the 1880s.
    • I read about that in the book Fordham: A History of the Jesuit University of New York: 1841-2003 by Thomas J. Shelley (2016), and confirmed it in a story on the Fordham website, which had some interesting information about the electrification of Fordham:
    • https://news.fordham.edu/science/fordham-brightened-the-bronx-with-early-electric-light/
    • “Nearby, lower Manhattan was lighting up with a new kind of illumination powered by electricity. But electrical lines ended below 59th Street, and it would be more than a decade before they reached the Bronx, where the tenebrous 19th-century night was lit only by the feeble glow of oil lamps, gas lights, and candles.
    • So the college’s Jesuits made their own power instead. With the installation of a generating plant on the site (then named St. John’s College), they powered light bulbs across the campus and quite possibly inaugurated the Electric Age in their rural region, according to research by two Fordham professors.
    • “It could be this is the first electrification in the Bronx. We don’t know that anybody else beat us to it,” said Allan Gilbert, PhD, professor of anthropology and coauthor of an article on the project . . .
    • Its appeal was evident at Fordham. Candles and fuel-burning lamps provided only a dim, flickering light and emitted heat, smoke, haze, or particulates, which made for hard studying during the long nights of fall and winter.. . . Most simply did without and spent the evening in shadows.
    • . . . Finished in 1886, Science Hall would later be named Thebaud Hall; today, it houses administrative offices. It had a generating plant in the basement where Freeman installed a Weston dynamo, bought from the United States Electric Lighting Company for $3,154. It was powered by a steam boiler, which heated campus buildings via newly dug tunnels that were also used to extend electric wires across campus.
    • By November 1889, electric lights were installed in most outdoor areas and in all the principal campus buildings, where they usually hung from the ceiling. They were turned on for about six hours a day, ending at 9:15 p.m.
    • It was seen as wondrous. “The whole campus was lit up, and you could see your way from building to building,” said Wines. He said one student quipped “‘It’s even easier to study Greek with electric light.’”
    • The college generated its own power until connecting to the city’s expanding power grid in 1908.”
  • When I was a student, I was told that the tunnels connected the older buildings on campus, including Queens Court, Alpha House, Hughes Hall, I think Dealy, and Finlay. (Can’t remember if Keating was on the list or not.) Since Fordham was connected to the power grid in 1908, it seems strange that the electric tunnels would be built for those buildings, but it seems possible that maybe the tunnels were still used for steam.
    • I do remember that when I was at student, there were weird patterns of melted snow, for example I could see a large, long patch of melted snow from my window in Queen’s Court, down into the courtyard, and the theory was that the stretches of melted snow were there because the ground was warmer in the tunnels so melted the snow from below. Especially if those were steam tunnels, and if it’s possible that Fordham still generates its own steam, that makes sense to me.
    • https://fupaper.blog/2018/10/14/what-is-fordham-hiding-in-those-underground-tunnels/amp/
  • I found some other Finlay ghost stories in The Ram, The Haunted History of Fordham’s School Spirits, October 25, 2017 by Julia B—– (https://thefordhamram.com/58141/culture/haunted-history-fordhams-school-spirits/):
    • “Last, but certainly not least, is Finlay. Before Finlay became known for its cool lofts with the spiral staircases, it was home to Fordham’s Medical School. Up in the lofts, students could observe dissections of cadavers, and the basement was home to these lifeless bodies. One student, Mike C—- . . .  had a great uncle who allegedly died in the building. “Keep your eye out for a man named Jack G—-,” he said.
    • Students have reported waking up in the middle of the night feeling as though someone is grabbing at their throat or they feel tugging on their toes as if they were a cadaver being tagged. Erin F—–. . . , has had her own scary encounter. “I felt a hand gently resting on my shoulder twice while I was sitting at my desk. I was freaked out because it happened so close to my bed.”
    • Also, I just have to share this because it’s delightful, but my favorite part of this article is that it closes with a warning:
      • With all this knowledge, please use your discretion, folks. Try to not to disrupt any ghosts. Let us all hope that, if Fordham does have ghosts, they are friendly.”
    • The other famous Finlay story claims that a security guard was taking a break in the basement of Finlay, where there’s a lounge, when suddenly all of the doors slammed shut by themselves, and the chairs started banging themselves against the walls. The story goes that he ran out of there and quit on the spot. Some people say that this happened in another building on campus, Keating Hall, though my guess is that it was Finlay because that basement is just awful.
    • A commenter on college confidential told this story about their Finlay experience:
      • “Finlay, I lived on first floor and friend lived in basement. Actually I was going to write this to essentially say, I went [to Fordham], lived in various buildings, heard the stories, its all talk. I think my friend in the basement did sleep with the light on occasionally. As I’m typing this, I now do remember this ONE time, my roommate was with me in our room on the first floor. We were on our laptops. It was evening time and we heard running/stomping right above us. The weird thing was that we were friends with the people right above us and knew they had gone away for the weekend. We called them and asked if anyone was in their room and they verified no. Needless to say, we were a little scared and slept with a lamp on.”

Sources consulted RE: Haunted Finlay Hall

See sources page for the full source list for the series

Books consulted

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