The Ghost Stories of Babson

A nighttime picture of Babson's Knight Auditorium

One night about four years ago, two Babson police officers responded to a call at Knight Auditorium, one of the oldest buildings on campus and the site of countless College events through the decades. The hour was late. At Knight, the officers met two women from Babson’s custodial staff.

The women had been cleaning the building, which had been locked and presumably empty, when something happened—something that was unexplainable and weird. “They were shaken up enough that they called us,” says Sgt. Fred Winslow, one of the officers there that night. “One of them was white as a ghost.”

As they were cleaning in the quiet building, the women had heard a voice call out, breaking the night’s stillness. The voice, that of a woman, spoke a single word four times: “Hello.”

As far as they could tell, the women had been alone. The officers speculated that maybe someone was hiding in the balcony and playing a trick on them, but the women said that wasn’t possible. “They said the voice was pretty close to them,” Winslow says. “It was clear as day, like the person was standing next to them.”

The officers checked the building but didn’t find anyone or anything that could provide an explanation for the voice. In the end, they considered it just one of the strange occurrences that happens from time to time at an institution that is over a century old. To have something unusual occur is not at all unusual. “We just chalked it up to one of the ghosts,” Winslow says. “If you’re around 100 years, things linger.”

Hearing Stories

Ghost stories are common at Babson. They get passed around like tall tales at a campfire, especially if you work at night. When he started at Babson eight years ago, Matt Risitano worked as an overnight custodian. “From the very first night, I was hearing stories,” says Risitano, now a building services supervisor with the Facilities Management and Planning Department.

Babson’s campus teems with history, some of it providing ample fodder for those stories of abnormal events. Woodland Hill, for instance, was once a facility, the Channing Sanitarium, for the treatment of mental illness. Babson bought the buildings and grounds in 1952 with the initial plan of turning it into the site of the graduate school. Forest Hall and the Sullivan Building, meanwhile, were once the Hospital and Convalescent Home for Children, which was purchased by Babson in 1959.

Maybe most notably, College founder Roger Babson, along with his first and second wives, Grace Knight and Nona Dougherty, are buried in a woody family plot not far from MacDowell Field.

“It’s just stories I’ve heard. All this is with a grain of salt, but who knows?”
Matt Risitano, building services supervisor, Facilities Management and Planning Department at Babson

As a new employee at Babson, Risitano was skeptical of the odd stories he heard. “I didn’t believe any of that stuff,” he says, but then he experienced something creepy a few years ago that changed his mind.

One late night, about 4 a.m., he was cleaning in the Horn Computer Center outside a study lounge (today, that lounge is the home of the Writing Center). For only a moment, he walked away to let a student into the building who had forgotten something.

When he returned, he saw that the glass door to the study lounge was smashed. “It happened very quickly,” Risitano says. Keying himself into the lounge, he found a piece of molding by the door on the floor. That molding had come from the wall across the room.

Risitano tried to make sense of what he was seeing. Had that piece of molding, which wasn’t that heavy, been ripped from the wall and then slammed into the door with such force that it cracked the glass? How was that possible?

He called public safety, and the investigating officer checked the record of who had keyed themselves into the lounge recently. Turns out the last person who had been in the room was Risitano himself, hours earlier. Since then, no one had been in the lounge.

“After that, I thought about it for days,” Risitano says. “I still can’t understand what happened.”

Grain of Salt

Many corners of campus have stories attached to them. In the book Haunted Colleges & Universities of Massachusetts, author Renee Mallett relays a weird tale about a student in Bryant Hall woken in the night by the sounds of a raucous card game. He could even smell cigar smoke, but when he went into the hallway, the sounds and smells were gone.

That story took an even stranger turn when the student returned to his room to find a ghostly card game in effect, his room filled with thick smoke. “Through the cigar smoke-induced haze,” Mallett writes, “he could see several indistinct figures sitting around a table and laughing silently.”

Knight Auditorium
While ghost stories originate from many corners of campus, the most seem to center on Knight Auditorium, whether in its main hall pictured here or in its basement, where the Babson Players theater group stores its props. (Photo: Mark Manne)

Risitano has heard a number of late-night tales through the years: In Malloy Hall, a police officer talked of feeling something push him from behind while walking down the steps; in Coleman Hall, students on the third floor reported seeing a weird light in their room; and in Knight Auditorium, custodians talked of chairs banging and lights flashing off and on.

“It’s just stories I’ve heard,” he says. “All this is with a grain of salt, but who knows?”

Of all the buildings on campus, Knight Auditorium seems to have the most stories associated with it. Winslow has been hearing about the unexplainable happenings in Knight ever since he started at Babson 10 years ago. “It is an accepted fact that something weird will be going on in there,” he says.

Late at night, Winslow used to hear a clock ticking in Knight, something rather innocuous except for the fact that the building doesn’t have a clock. On the night of the voice calling out “hello,” as the two custodians went back to work, Winslow and his partner stood outside and watched as every other shade in the building flapped as if in a breeze, though all the windows were shut.

A Friendly Spirit

One student group is particularly familiar with the odd happenings at Knight: the Babson Players. The longtime theater group stores its props in the building’s basement. Maria Herwagen ’23, the group’s president, describes the basement as cluttered and creepy, with lights that flicker at times. “We do sometimes dread going in there,” Herwagen says.

The group’s storage areas are messy, with props from years of performances piled together, and the Babson Players can have difficulty finding things. Often, they seem to locate needed props at the last minute, and they speculate, not entirely jokingly, that they are receiving otherworldly help.

“Props have been known to shift or move over the years, even if we haven’t used something in forever,” Herwagen says. “The props team tends to be busy with many moving pieces, and appreciates any help they can get, even if from a friendly spirit.”

In one often-told story from 2018, when the group put on the Heathers: The Musical, students were once again having trouble finding a prop in the Knight basement. After about a half-hour, they gave up, but as they started going upstairs, they heard a loud crash from the storage area.

Returning to check out what happened, they found, lying on the ground, the missing prop.

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