NORTON — By the end of their first week at college, Wheaton freshmen know who Aunt Mary is.
Mary Anderson, a Wheaton librarian, enjoys reading for leisure, arranges books, wanders the aisles to make sure things are in place, and makes a point to get to know the college students.
She also died in 1929.
Aunt Mary is just one of several Wheaton ghosts rumored to haunt various older buildings on campus. During freshman orientation, upperclassmen gather all first-year students in the Chapel to pass down the ancient ghost stories at the annual Candlelight Ceremony.
"It's fun to keep the tradition alive," says Student Government Association President JR Wallace. "But it's also so that Wheaton students are all cognizant of the history of the buildings and people of the college."
While some of the stories told are admittedly fictitious, others are rooted, many say, in fact. And many Wheaties believe in them, including freshman Meredith Barrette.
"The school has so much history," says Barrette, "It's hard to believe we don't have a few (ghosts) hanging around."
Marian Doro, a former Wheaton professor of government, claims she saw Aunt Mary during the 1950s. Doro stopped by one night over Thanksgiving break when the library was closed and headed down to the stacks, when the sound of swinging doors stopped her in her tracks. Doro says she saw what appeared to be the ghost of Aunt Mary - a woman dressed in old-fashioned clothes standing in the doorway.
Legend has it that Aunt Mary makes her presence known to students and library staff by leaving an appropriate message in the stacks - the book "Between Life and Death" by Nathalie Sarraute is said to be found off its shelf and in the middle of its aisle every morning.
Whether or not the rumored ritual is just a hoax is unknown, but it does serve as a springboard for some frightful fun.
Seniors John Campopiano and Nick Mrozowski thought they had a close encounter with Aunt Mary a few weeks ago. Mrozowski, whose senior thesis is based on New England ghosts, was researching Wheaton ghost stories in the college archives. After reading about Aunt Mary's habit of "un-shelving" the book, he and Campopiano decided to hunt down "Between Life and Death." When they turned down the aisle, they found the book lying on the floor, exactly as the story promised.
"(Nick) looks at me and he's like, 'You did that,'" said Campopiano, "and I'm like, 'No, you did that!'"
It turns out another friend had pulled the prank, but the story goes to show that Aunt Mary's spirit lives on regardless of its legitimacy.
Eve, another Wheaton ghost, is said to haunt the fourth floor of the old dormitory Everett Hall.
As the story goes, Eve and her boyfriend - whom she was forbidden to see due to the female seminary's strict rules - would sneak up the tower on the top of the dorm for late night meetings. But one night, the two young lovers got into a fight, and Eve was pushed down the stairs to her death.
Campopiano also lived on Everett's fourth floor last year, and says he believes it's possible that Eve roams the halls at night. "I would be in the shower and no one would be there, and the lights in the bathroom would always go off."
But he is still a little apprehensive. "They talk about your imagination and you wanting to believe there's something there, so I don't know."
Mary Lyon Hall, one of the oldest buildings on campus, is also said to be home to a multitude of ghosts.
"This building is haunted," Mary Lyon staff member and Wheaton alum Sharon Howard says confidently. "We know at least one ghost is here We've never had a name for (the ghost) but we know she's old because she dresses sort of in the period of this building. You can hear her skirt (rustling)."
Howard says staff members frequently notice elevators opening and closing inexplicably, strange noises, and windows slamming shut by themselves.
Wheaton's archivist, Zephorene Stickney, keeps a file of any and all information pertaining to the ghosts, with documents dating back to the 1960s. She even gives a "ghost tour" occasionally, taking visitors around campus to various "haunted" spots.
Stickney, who works in the library, believes especially in Aunt Mary. "I never let students work here at night - my student assistants - because they would be here all alone, and I just don't think that's a good idea in a building like this."
True or not, Wheaton's ghost stories live on as a vital part of the campus lifestyle.
"Even if there aren't ghosts, I think it's a great tradition and I'm happy they keep pulling it off," said freshman Barrette. "I think it adds character to the school."