Spirits, specters, storytelling at RPI
“Colleges are great places to find ghost stories. They are old, and are places with lots of extreme emotion,” said Maeve McEneny, our tour guide. That set the stage for a cold, chilly, and spooky night of ghost stories. McEneny is part of The Original Albany Ghost Tour and has been doing the Spirits of Rensselaer Ghost Tour since 2015.
The tour started off behind the Russell Sage Dining Hall, where McEneny explained Russell Sage’s spirit, who haunts Sage Dining Hall and Laboratory, McEneny explained his history. Sage started off with a limited education, but worked his way up and eventually became a millionaire who enjoyed a lavish, extravagant life as a bachelor. However, he was also a man with deep prejudice: a misogynist who hated education because he himself wasn’t educated past primary school.
When he died in 1906, he left all his wealth to his wife, Olivia Sage. Olivia then provided the funds for building RPI’s Russell Sage Dining Hall and Laboratory. She also used his money to fund an all-women liberal arts college named after him: Russell Sage College. In doing this, she supported women and education, the two things he hated. Therefore, since 1906, the spirit of Russell Sage hasn’t been able to rest in peace and continues to haunt the buildings named after him.
But there’s more to Sage Laboratory. In the 1970s, there was an experiment going on in the basement involving testing the pollution levels in the Hudson River. According to alumni, there was a spill which caused the Laboratory to temporarily shut down. Horrifyingly, there was a story of a woman who came into contact with the spill and contracted a disease that resulted in her death, according to one article that McEneny had read.
Since then, there was a report of a professor seeing a woman staring at him while he was doing some paperwork in Russell Sage Lab. One woman also received an eerie voicemail at 10:13:13 on October 13. Creepily, when she asked Public Safety (who has a record of all calls going in and out of campus) if there was a record of this call, they came up with nothing. This message essentially came from nowhere.
Next, we moved onto West Hall, which is allegedly the most haunted place on campus. West Hall has a disturbing history. From 1869 to 1914, it was the Troy Hospital, then in 1923 it was converted to a Catholic school. RPI purchased it in 1953 and did renovations in 1991 and 2004. We were told a story about a patient being beaten to death by the night-watchman at RPI. Obviously, his spirit isn’t going anywhere.
Then, there’s Nurse Betsy. She reportedly tortured insane patients in the basement. Later, she perished in a fire in this same basement. It is believed that the walls absorbed so much pain and suffering that their cries can still be heard.
During this tour, we were also introduced to stories of hauntings in the ’87 Gymnasium and the spooky lore behind the tradition of leaving “the ghost light” on in theaters. Finally, we were told about the mysterious paranormal events that happen to anyone who sets foot in the Forest Park Cemetery—including one story of a young woman and her friends who went out exploring and were left vomiting black liquid for three days after.
The Spirits of Rensselaer Ghost Tour left me intrigued and with a newfound fascination for RPI history. Nonetheless, I’ll be a bit more cautious when I go to West Hall…just to be safe.