September 12, 2017

Bradford College: The Necronomicon, Strange Lights, and Ghosts

What is it about colleges and ghost stories? It seems like most colleges have at least one restless spirit wandering their hallowed halls. Maybe it's because young people are more perceptive of the supernatural, or maybe it's just that young people like a good scary story. Either way, if you want to find a ghost college campuses are a good place to look.

I grew up in Haverhill, Massachusetts. When I lived there it was home to two colleges: Northern Essex Community College (NECCO to the locals) and Bradford College. I've never heard any ghost stories about NECCO, and Renee Mallett, author Haunted Colleges and Universities of Massachusetts, writes that "'s not haunted in the slightest, at least as far as anyone has come forward to say." It's not a residential campus so that might be the reason why.

Bradford College, on the other hand, is the setting for many ghostly encounters and paranormal legends. Perhaps this is because it was home to thousands of young people for nearly two centuries. Bradford was founded as an academy for girls back in 1803, became a junior college in 1932 and then a four-year co-ed college in 1971. Bradford College closed in 2000 for financial reasons, and it's campus is now home to Northpoint Bible College.

Photo by Stephen Muise (my brother!)
My favorite story about Bradford College is that the Necronomicon, a legendary book of malevolent magic, is hidden somewhere in the tunnels beneath the campus. The tunnels are quite real, and a colleague of mine who attended Bradford said they were originally built so the wealthy young ladies of Bradford Academy didn't need to go outside in inclement weather. According to the legend, horror author H.P. Lovecraft was dating one of these young ladies in the 1920s and decided to hide the Necronomicon below the campus to keep it safely hidden away.

There are a couple reasons why this story is almost certainly just a legend. First, the fabled Necronomicon is not real. This mythical book was a fictional creation  Lovecraft used in many of his tales but it did not exist outside the pages of his stories. After his death several authors published their own versions of the Necronomicon, which you can still buy from Amazon or your local bookstore. I can't vouch for their magical efficacy, but they certainly aren't hidden under Bradford College.

The second reason this is just a legend? Lovecraft never dated anyone. There's no record of him having romantic feelings for anyone until he met his wife, and even then she talked him into their short-lived marriage. Lovecraft dating someone is more unbelievable than the Necronomicon.

Photo: Stephen Muise
A weirder and somehow more believable ghost story about Bradford was sent to me by someone who reads my blog. I'll call him Greg for the sake of anonymity. Greg was a freshman at Bradford College in 1980. One night in late September or early October of that year, Greg and some other freshmen were carrying a case of beer into their dorm when a sophomore named Larry stopped them in the hall. He explained that he didn't want to be alone that night. It was the one-year anniversary of something strange that happened.

He told them the following story. One year ago, Larry, his roommate Ray, and a couple other students decided to take LSD on a Friday afternoon after class. They had planned to take it outside on the beautiful campus, but rainy weather confined them to Larry and Ray's room. Things went poorly. As the acid kicked in Ray became extremely paranoid, and began to rant about a flashing red light in the corner of the room. No one else could see it. Ray started to scream accusingly at his friends so they left him alone (and tripping) in his room. Hours later Ray was still screaming about the flashing red light and was taken to the school medical facility. He never came back to his room, and several days later his father came and collected his belongings. No one ever learned what happened to Ray.

That was the end of Larry's story. Greg and the other freshmen kind of laughed at it, but a few weeks later Greg experienced something that made him reconsider the story. Greg had been hanging out in Larry's room and as he left he saw the words "WELCOME BACK RAY" appear on the door. They vanished as soon as he read them. This freaked Greg out but he didn't say anything.

The appearance of those words was the start of some weird occurrences in the dormitory. One night Greg was awakened by someone screaming in the room next to him. He listened through the wall but couldn't make out what was causing the commotion. Several days later he learned that one of the boys in that room had left Bradford College and gone back to live at his parents' house. The boy was upset because he kept seeing a flashing red light.

Greg also started to see a flashing red light, often out of the corner of his eye. Greg wrote, "I thought that either it was just my imagination or this dorm was really haunted and I was going to be its victim in some way." He had trouble concentrating and his grades began to fall. During this time Greg learned that another student had also supposedly seen a red flashing light, this time in the bathroom while he was drunk.

Hearing this did nothing to settle Greg's nerves. He continued to see the red light, his grades continued to fall, and he became deeply depressed. In the spring of 1981 he finally hitchhiked home and never returned to Bradford.

That's the end of Greg's story. I find it really fascinating and don't quite know what to make of it. Greg seems to think that "WELCOME BACK RAY" was a premonition that like Ray he too would eventually drop out of Bradford. If that's the case it came true. And did Ray's initial bad acid trip accidentally open a doorway for something uncanny to come through?

Photo: Stephen Muise
That story about the flashing red light is just one of many told about Bradford College. The most famous ghost story is that the campus is haunted by a spirit called Amy, who was a young woman who had an affair with a priest. When she became pregnant she either killed herself or was murdered by the priest. The college is also said to be haunted by the ghost of a drama professor who was murdered by student who impregnated her. Yikes! That's a lot of sex and violence for such a small college.

Are any of these stories true? I can't really say, but the folks at Ghost Encounters have investigated Bradford College and you can read their results here. Sometimes when you to college you learn things you didn't expect.


Wade Tarzia said...

Interesting. I too grew up in Haverhill (Crystal St., Ayers Village, near the Methuen and NH line), yet I never even saw Bradford College, perhaps because that side of the city seemed like another world compared to our fields and woods.

Terry O'Malley said...

Hi Peter, nice job making something out of so little. Disregarding Lovecraft and his dating history, the buildings that the tunnels connect were not constructed until the late 1930s.

Anonymous said...

I was there in the fall of 1980. I never heard any of the stories. However, people did have to leave school for lots of reasons .There were a couple of freshmen who had to leave,that fall, because their financial aide did not come through, or the check did not clear. Dropping acid ,and other violations of the student conduct code, like buying and selling drugs, or having a drug overdose, might also be a reason not to come back.My roommate, from my first semester, did not return, because she flunked out, and had to leave. It would be interesting to know who these people's real names were, but it simply may not be everyone's business ,as to why they left, in the middle of the semester.I remember, one girl left school because a family member was in a terrible car accident. I left, after my third semester, to transfer to the University of Ky. At that time, there were three former Bradford College students attending U.K. I left to study Therepeutic Recreation, and get my B. A. In education. it seems reasonable to look at these myths wth the analytical eye of a well rounded Libral Arts education.

Dave Goudsward said...

The only young lady in the Merrimack Valley who had a possible romantic connection to Lovecraft was Myrta Little of Hampstead, NH, who had graduated Colby years before she met HPL (Lovecraft was oblivious to her overtures). As Terry notes, by the time the tunnels were constructed in the 1930s, Myrta was married and Lovecraft was back in Providence suffering terminal cancer.

The walled-off tunnel, where the Necronomicon is allegedly hidden, never existed. Had it existed, if I recall the tunnel layout from my time at Bradford, would have led directly into the steam furnace.

Peter Muise said...

Thanks for all the comments! I should probably just start a blog to promulgate myths about H.P. Lovecraft's life!

Special thanks to all the Bradford College alumni who read this post!

Anonymous said...

I attended Bradford from 1999-2000. I had an encounter with the priest - woke up one morning to see an older man dressed in black with late 1800s-style mutton chops lying next to me, he looked stunned (like he was thinking "you can see me?") and disappeared. Also had my bed punched by something when I was lying in it, wide awake, and no one else was in the room at the time but me. I had known absolutely nothing about the Amy/priest story when these incidents happened - it wasn't until a few weeks afterward that I heard the Amy/priest tale. Very creepy, 0/10 would not recommend encounter.

Other than that, I didn't see anything else. But it was a horrible atmosphere - most of the buildings had a really nasty vibe to them, like something there was lurking unseen. I was so happy to get out of there!

Peter Muise said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences. They definitely sound creepy!

Anonymous said...

I was a guard there after the college closed down. I worked on day, eve and overnight shifts. The newest buildings I never saw or felt anything odd in them. at the pond I often felt like someone was watching me both day and night. it was the oldest building where weird stuff happened and yes you could see orbs outside at night. In the oldest building I heard voices and foot steps. Lights would be turned on after I shut them off last round. water would be running a number of times on my shifts and yes I had already shut it off on other rounds. and finally YES I did see a woman in a dress in the celler of the oldest building disappear into a wall.

Carl said...

Seeing a ghost disappear into a wall is pretty scary and it would be interesting to find out exactly what is / was behind the spot where the ghost lady disappeared. could you make a guess as to what era the ghost was from by the style of the dress ?

Carl said...

In the basement of a brick building that's attached to the "academy building" (the largest old brick building on the campus) by an enclosed "bridge" (and most likely a tunnel) a small inground swimming pool was built in the 1930's to the 1940's (I'm guessing from a picture that I saw of some female students sitting on the edge of it). eventually it was "covered over" to keep the unknowing students (or anyone else) from falling into it. maybe it's haunted by a ghost of someone who drowned in it when it was in use ?

Les yuno said...

Not sure how you can say he didn’t date anyone from there. There was definitely an Esther Forbes connection. She graduated from there and was an author as well. In fact one of her book was in his private library and he used the name Esther Forbes in some of his stories. I personally don’t know of any relationship, but how can you rule it out?

Les yuno said...

Not sure how you can say he didn’t date anyone from there. There was definitely an Esther Forbes connection. She graduated from there and was an author as well. In fact one of her book was in his private library and he used the name Esther Forbes in some of his stories. I personally don’t know of any relationship, but how can you rule it out?

Anonymous said...

I was a student at Bradford College from 1982 to 1984. I can't say I saw a ghost or an orb during my two years there, although the "Amy" ghost story was certainly alive and well at the time. Our iteration was that Amy had been a dormitory maid in the early 20th century. She hated her life waiting on rich girls and cleaning up after them. She had a romance with a boy (not a priest) who might have saved her from her servitude through marriage, but the relationship ended in heartbreak and she hanged herself in what was then a servants' quarters wing called "Old South." I never once heard any of the Lovecraft stories while there.

I should probably explain the culture of the campus during the early 80s. Most students were from affluent families, and many were not especially motivated by academics (I include myself in the later). It was a party school, to be sure. Drugs of every kind were very easy to come by, and that was aided by the school's proximity to cities like Lawrence and Lynn (which we called "the drug drive-thru"). One high-profile student ran a literal beer store out of his dorm room, and the RAs turned a blind eye. There were a lot of unplanned pregnancies. Non-wealthy students could find themselves socially excluded. The overarching vibe was not a very safe one, and in hindsight, I'm glad may parents pulled me out because of my bad grades. Maybe there were ghosts; I won't ever know. But the living did plenty of haunting on their own.