Two legends, many different stories and remarkably, a minimal amount of documentation found on the forever-truthful Internet. How can the stories of “Gwendolyn” and “The Lily Room” live on through the current students and alumni of Grove City College but not among the rest of the world? Even if they are not true, the tales are worthy of attention.
MY CONNECTION TO GROVE CITY COLLEGE
My wife and I moved north of Pittsburgh in 2006 so she could attain her doctorate from Slippery Rock University (Yes, I know, that school name is AWESOME). We were to be there until the summer of 2008 for the classroom portion of her studies, so I left my job in Pittsburgh to find work near her school. We rented a house in Grove City, which was seven miles from “The Rock” and about an hour away from Pittsburgh. I was lucky to find work as a campus safety officer for Grove City College (GCC), which remarkably was a 1.2 mile round-trip commute for me. Needless to say when we got a lot of snow, I would “accumulate” many hours of overtime since I was able to walk to work if necessary.
I was worried I wouldn’t last long at GCC since I have always been more liberal-minded and GCC is arguably the most strict, straight-arrow, conservative Christian college in the United States. Based on the student code of conduct, more than half of the major violations in the student handbook were common non-offenses at probably ninety percent of colleges and universities. The only places of higher education that could be deemed as strict are all of the service/military academies and Brigham Young University.
As I became acclimated to campus life, I actually liked the job. My wife and I lived in Grove City for 23 months, and I worked at GCC for 23 months. In the beginning I was an unarmed patrol officer on the weekend nights (Friday, Saturday & Sunday) and I worked as a dispatcher for two nights. The patrol officer secured all of the campus buildings when they closed and entered them after-hours to check for any building maintenance problems (or any intruders). Eventually I worked as a dispatcher all five days, but during my 14 months as a weekend patrolman, I walked inside all of the non-dormitory buildings alone between the hours of 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. over 150 times.
I walked the exteriors of the dormitories as well as the female dorm lobbies, but the only time I entered those buildings alone was during student breaks and when campus was completely closed. I used to walk all of the floors in the men’s and women’s dorms when possible to chart the dorm room numbers in case I had an emergency called into the dispatch center. I needed to know where to send my officers and outside personnel when they would navigate the steps since many of the dorms had over seventy-five rooms.
In all of my travels at GCC–inside/outside, old building/new building, lower campus/main campus, there were two buildings which I considered haunted. One building will not be a surprise but the other haunted building will certainly shock any “Grover” that might read this.
HAUNTED BUILDING #1: PEW FINE ARTS CENTER–AUDITORIUM BUILDING
The PFAC was constructed in two phases. The original part that houses the auditorium, band room and art gallery was built in 1976. The smaller music rooms and the 100-seat recital room on the north end of the building was added on in 2002. The PFAC replaced the still classy, still functional Crawford Hall (built in 1931) as the main building for the arts at GCC. The urban legend of “Gwendolyn” was born from the PFAC shortly after its original construction.
The stories I was told at GCC and from what I’ve read on the Internet are the same: Girl falls off catwalk above stage, girl breaks neck and dies, girl haunts building, girl is sometime seen on the catwalk and in the costume room.
There are some stories that revolve around a female custodian that helped out the theater department with her skills as a seamstress, died and then hung out at the PFAC after death because she loved being around the arts.
Nine years after I left GCC and I have yet to obtain concrete proof that either of these stories actually happened. Regardless, all of the custodians that worked with me during my time at GCC referred to the spirit inside PFAC as “Gwendolyn”. We never had a sighting of Gwendolyn during my time there, but the custodians would often find items moved around or broken inside PFAC when nobody else was inside of the building. They had no other option but to put things back in order and acknowledge Gwendolyn’s presence by speaking to her like she was standing nearby:
“I know you’re here with me Gwendolyn. I’ll be out of the building shortly. I am just cleaning up after tonight’s event.”
I talked out loud to Gwendolyn as well. Items did not have to be moved for me to know of her presence at PFAC; I knew it by the weight of the building. The air inside PFAC was heavy on many occasions while I walked around in there after-hours. Even though the building creeped me out, I made two total rounds inside and outside PFAC between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. every night I walked.
The newer side of the building on the north end did not give me the feeling that I was being watched. The catwalk and the costume room–the central focus of all the ghost stories I heard about the PFAC, did not cause me concern when I roamed the building in the dark. Two areas that are never discussed caused the greatest distress and provided an overwhelming sense that I was not alone: The back hallway behind the auditorium and the rear stairwell that leads from the back hallway to the second floor of PFAC.
There are so many grand old buildings at GCC, it stunned me that a structure built in 1976 would completely scare people out of it. Before I worked at GCC, there was a patrol officer that wouldn’t go in PFAC alone. When I worked the dispatch desk, I could tell that other officers would avoid going into the building based on the duration of time they spent over there. No other officers confessed to me that the building caused them concern, but it was evident they were avoiding its contents as well.
The only way I can describe my feelings in that back hallway/stairwell of PFAC is this way: There were dozens of times I would be walking through that area knowing I was alone in there, and yet I got the sense that somebody was either walking or standing behind me. I would reluctantly turn and find nobody there, but I stopped and kept my eyes on the back hallway or looking down the stairwell after I made my way upstairs. Frozen in fear, it was as if my sixth sense was staring right at Gwendolyn, acknowledging her without saying anything at all. The PFAC has a spirit, and I guess if Gwendolyn likes you, she will come down from the catwalk to let you know she is there.
HAUNTED BUILDING #2: HENRY BUHL LIBRARY
Buhl Library was completed in 1954 and consists of two main floors and a basement. The finished basement has a rare book room (which is sometimes used for events) and a study area with a resource desk. It is connected to the Weir C. Ketler Technological Learning Center, and I used to secure both buildings at the same time by using the rear basement hallway. The hallway was the main access point between the “Tech Center” and the library.
Buhl is not as heavy as PFAC, but on occasion I would get the sense that somebody was in the building with me, even though I was alone. I didn’t have the same feelings as I did with Gwendolyn, but the occurrences happened in the same locations throughout my time at GCC: The second floor in the book stacks and the study area in the basement.
When I entered the basement study area on occasion, it felt like somebody was in there quietly studying while I walked through the room. It never felt like a dark presence but it scared me enough that I continued on my rounds. Upon my arrival in “The Stacks” on the second floor, I would sporadically come across a student sitting at a desk reading or studying, even though I couldn’t see them. When I got the sense of someone being there, I felt the overwhelming urge to make my way through Buhl as I normally would but leave as soon as I was finished.
The majority of the nights I walked around Buhl were quiet. I was comfortable enough to stop and take books out of the book stacks, sit down on one of the couches in the lobby, read the newspapers and go to the restroom if needed. The building is centrally located on GCC’s campus so it was a good place to rest in case I got an emergency call. Every night wasn’t scary inside Buhl but when I felt somebody there, I got out of there as soon as possible.
“THE LILY ROOM”: GROVE CITY’S ULTIMATE URBAN LEGEND
When somebody brought up “The Lily Room” at GCC, the stories all began the same. “Legend has it….”, “It is said that….”, “I heard that….”. Nobody I came into contact with at GCC knew of anyone who came across the ghost that supposedly haunts the small bottom floor of Mary Anderson Pew (MAP) Hall, the largest and oldest women’s dormitory, built between 1937 and 1961. Numerous campus safety officers and custodians I worked with were employed at GCC since the 1980’s, including one woman who started working at the college in 1963. If “The Lily Room” was real, I would have been taken straight to the site by all of my co-workers.
The stories found and heard on the Internet are usually the same: Girl moves into dorm room, has perfume that smells like lilies, hangs herself in dorm room, dorm room is sealed off for (x amount of) years, room is reopened and the scent of lilies is as strong as it was years ago.
The other version is this: Girl moves into dorm room, has perfume that smells like lilies, becomes possessed by demons, commits suicide, dorm room is sealed off, etc.
Ever further, some people state the girl that became possessed was a different girl than the one that haunts “The Lily Room”; that she roams the halls, drags her fingernails along the walls and floors, crying out at night. Based on my observations during my time in MAP Hall, I did not feel like the building was haunted, and I certainly did not discover the whereabouts of “The Lily Room”.
When the students were away on break, I had many nights at the desk where I would study the MAP Hall building drawings on the fire detection screen and inside the building card access monitoring system. I was searching for the once-again sealed off “Lily Room” inside of MAP. Each time I had an opportunity to walk the halls alone, I looked for modified walls on the bottom floors, listened for any cries coming from a female’s voice, watched for flickering lights and tried to keep my sense of smell aware of any flowery scents. It took about ninety minutes to inspect the building since a dining hall is attached to it. After about six slow, thorough midnight walks around the inside of MAP, I never felt a presence in the building.
FICTION: IT’S MORE FUN THAN THE FACTS
Despite my belief that there is no truth to “The Lily Room”, I hope the legend lives on. It can inspire writers and filmmakers into creating their very own version of the events that supposedly took place nearly seventy years ago. If these future artists need suggestions on how to capture the sense of fear for their potential project, I recommend walking to the back southeast corner of GCC, enter PFAC, lock the doors and shut off all of the regular lighting inside the building. Head to the back hallway and roam around alone, and walk up and down the back stairwell a few times.
And while you’re there, tell Gwendolyn I said hello.