Built between 1854 and 1856 to accommodate the merger between the Franklin and Marshall colleges, the new “Old Main” building is allegedly the most haunted location on campus. Over the years, Old Main has served various purposes at the college, including a chapel, classrooms, and administrative offices.
The Gothic Revival style structure is a three-story, T-shaped building with three-story lateral wings. It features a four-story, square entrance tower with five-story octagonal turrets. The chapel was enlarged in 1874. Flanking Old Main is the Goethean Hall and Diagnothian Hall. Both were constructed in 1857. They are 2.5 stories tall, with steeply pitched gable roofs and stepped gables. These three buildings are the original academic buildings of F&M.
In addition to being allegedly haunted, the tower has also been the subject of college pranks. For example, members of the Class of 1916 stole the bell’s clapper one rainy Saturday night so it couldn’t ring for mandatory Sunday chapel the following day.
Over the years, numerous reports of paranormal activity inside the building have been made. The most common is the building’s bell ringing by itself in the dead of night.
However, it isn’t the imposing antebellum structure that’s haunted but rather its location. It was here that Lancaster’s convicted criminals hung by the neck until dead. Giving the mound the ominous name “Gallows Hill.”
In most towns, the hangman’s scaffold was typically erected at the highest point to allow for the maximum number of spectators. Lancaster was no different. Gallows Hill sits at 438-feet, making it the highest point in the city.
Until 1834 executions were public events in Pennsylvania, and 15 Lancastrians, including one woman, greeted eternity at the end of the rope in front of huge crowds. In a macabre twist, it was common for these occasions to turn into an impromptu holiday, drawing thousands of spectators.
So perhaps Old Main’s nocturnal ghostly chimes are merely the death rattle of those 15 hung criminals from long ago. What do you think?
You can find F&M’s Old Main on College Avenue. Here are the GPS coordinates: 40°02’42.8″N 76°19’11.9″W.