History - Ghosts and Legends
Haunted legends, ghostly sightings, and unexplained events have been associated with Hobart Manor for many decades.
Who are the ghosts? Some speculate one spirit is Mary, a servant or cleaning person who once occupied the castle-like mansion. Others say they have seen the ghost of an old woman resembling its former owner, Jennie, wife of Vice President Garret A. Hobart. Over the years, many have reported hearing footsteps, the sounds of a baby crying, or actually seeing an old woman in a long dress or a mysterious cloaked man in a top hat and cape.
Sondra Brown, of custodial services, became aware of a spirit she called Mary shortly after starting her job. "She's here and she's friendly," reports Brown, who has worked the 4:00 p.m. to midnight shift in Hobart Manor since 1988.
Brown remembers working alone late one evening when the elevator suddenly began moving up to the second floor. She investigated and confirmed that no one else was in the building, but a window she had just opened upstairs was now shut tight. The incident unnerved her, but unlike previous custodians who refused to work in the building, Brown stayed on and made peace with the spirit. "She (the ghost) watches over her home," she believes. "She will walk the halls, use the elevator, and close doors and windows."
"The building is creepy to begin with," says Sergeant Robert MacFarlane, campus police. "It's old, so the pipes rattle and as the heat comes up, the wood creaks, and it's very eerie at night." While working the midnight shift years ago, MacFarlane recalls opening the door to the basement, only to have "the door pull shut." There was no draft, and no reason for this to happen, he says. On a second try, the door pulled shut again. The third time, the officer yanked hard and opened the door. But when he reached up to pull an old light string that hung at the top of the stairs, the bulb exploded. "I left the building," says MacFarlane. "I wasn't going any further that night."
On another evening, a security officer brought her German shepherd with her as she and MacFarlane attempted to enter the mechanical room. "The dog would not let her go in the room," says MacFarlane. "All the hair on his back stood up and he grabbed the woman by the sleeve and pulled her back from going any further." According to legend, a baby once died in that room.
One campus police officer, now retired, refused to enter the building alone after he saw the ghostly figure of an old woman he believed was really Jennie Hobart. Another campus officer felt an unseen force push him against the wall as he climbed the main spiral staircase of the Manor.
Security Officer Robert Baker remembers seeing a man in an old-fashioned coachman's uniform standing in front of the Manor, but as he approached the figure, it disappeared in front of his eyes. "It was the weirdest thing in the world," admits Baker, who says other people told him they saw the same thing.
Stories about a disappearing man are not new. In 1979, a Paterson News reporter who was a part-time student at William Paterson spotted the mysterious cloaked figure while looking out a second floor window in Raubinger Hall. An article appeared in the News about her ghostly experience. "I thought my eyes were deceiving me," she said. "I saw a man prancing about the protruding roof structures. He had a black cape and top hat and carried a walking stick. To make sure I wasn't seeing things, I nudged the student next to me. She saw it too. In a matter of minutes, the figure disappeared."
People who've worked in the building's administrative and alumni offices also report strange things happening. Lysa Martinelli '85, former director of alumni affairs, remembers stopping by the empty building during its renovation period a few years ago to pick up some paperwork. Martinelli, accompanied by her then three-year-old son, was startled when the toddler looked upward and seemed to be having a conversation with someone. When she asked the child what he was doing, he said he was talking with "the grandma, an old lady wearing a long dress. She's standing right here," he said.
"I asked him to describe the woman in more detail," says Martinelli, wondering if she was short or tall. "Mommy, her feet weren't on the ground," he replied. "She was floating!" During subsequent visits, while rooms were being ripped apart, the child said that the old woman was angry about what they were doing. "She has to go away until they're done," the young boy said.
The Manor has undergone several renovations and, according to ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren, spirits are often stirred up during a building's remodeling. The Warrens, among the best-known spirit hunters in the country, visited the Manor on several occasions. Elaine Warren, a clairvoyant, said she could feel the spirits as she walked through the rooms.
"A number of students said they've seen the ghost," says Debra Spina, of campus activities, who helped arrange the Warren's ghost tour in 1991. Students who worked on the Beacon newspaper staff reportedly stayed in the building overnight one spooky Halloween night back in the 1970s, but whatever they heard or saw remains a mystery.
During the last couple of years, few if any supernatural sightings or strange events have occurred. The most recent events happened before or during the historic mansion's latest renovation in the mid-1990s. As the grandmother ghost told the little boy, she had to "go away until they're done." Perhaps she will never return...only time will tell.
By Terry E. Ross, William Paterson University