She had heard that the American army doctors were coming. And so she waited.
The temperature rose to 115 degrees. Buses dropped off patients dressed in party clothes and flip-flops. They joined the line.
And still, Vasquez waited.
By late morning, it was finally her turn to talk to the medical team. She was weighed, then questioned.
“What types of problems are you having?” a translator asked in Spanish.
“I can’t see very well,” she said. “And sometimes I have aches.”
Her problems were noted, and she moved through the line to see a doctor.
Vasquez was among more than 5,000 patients the New Hampshire National Guard Medical Command treated during a medical readiness exercise in rural El Salvador in late April. Stories like hers were central to the team’s experience.
“You know what’s amazing?” asked 1st Lt. Jim Piro, 46, a nurse from New Boston. “For people to spend hours waiting in the hot sun for Tylenol and Motrin and things that we can just go to the store and buy at home. People are coming in with bare feet and mud and waiting. It chokes me up.”
At a time when New Hampshire soldiers are serving and dying in controversial missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond, the medical command was on a peaceful goodwill trip. Its goals were simple and straightforward: to help people in a poor, rural environment, to train for future missions, to work together as a group and to strengthen ties with El Salvador.
Along with the satisfaction of helping thousands of people with medical needs great and small came the frustration of knowing that some of their fixes were temporary – and that some patients who needed help most desperately were beyond their reach.
The work was hard, and the hours were long.
“You have to have a very selfless attitude – the kind of person that feels that doing their job is more important than enjoying a high quality of life while they’re out here,” said Sgt. Jen LaClaire of Concord.
‘Level one’ care
The medical team met Vasquez and her neighbors in Chilanga, a brightly painted town with cobbled streets surrounded by ancient volcanic hills. Their two-week mission had already taken them through Tablon, Quatajiagua and Chapeltique. This was the fourth and final destination for the doctors, dentists, nurses and other medical personnel.
Their mission: “level one” care – medical and dental screenings and treatment of basic concerns.
“We can’t do any major surgeries or anything serious, but we can identify issues, provide some prescription drugs and refer treatment to hospitals as needed,” said Capt. Mike Moranti, 32, of Manchester.
The 30-member team pulled 446 teeth, fitted 241 pairs of eyeglasses, treated thousands of aches and pains, and saw, among other things, a goiter the size of a cantaloupe, an infected toenail and injuries from an attempted suicide.
“We can kind of be like a Doctors Without Borders,” said Moranti, the medical command operations officer. “Most medical professionals want to help people, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
The group’s primary function is to support the National Guard at home.
Members provide medical screenings for soldiers and track those who are deploying or returning from active duty. They can be deployed themselves but are generally sent overseas individually, attached to other units.
“This gave us an opportunity to train as a group . . . doing a mission together, getting used to wearing the uniform, sleeping in tents and stuff like that – in a more relaxed atmosphere than going straight to Iraq and not knowing anybody and not even knowing how to put your Kevlar on,” Moranti said.
Many members have done tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia. Some, like LaClaire, 34, a former Russian linguist for the Navy, have never been on a field mission.
“This is a completely different universe,” said LaClaire, a patient administration sergeant. “I was not aware of just how much I was taking for granted. Until you live the experience and see people face to face, you don’t know how much luxury you have had in your life.”
Base camp basics
For nearly two weeks, the team slept co-ed style in canvas tents on an old runway in the Morazon province, in the northwest corner of El Salvador.
They rose before dawn to hearty egg-and-meat breakfasts shipped in boxes from the United States, served cafeteria-style in a trailer and eaten in the open air. For lunch, they picked up Meals Ready to Eat or Salvadoran pupusas, fried cornmeal tortillas filled with beans, cheese or pork. They drank plenty of water.
Surrounded by razor wire and filled with heavy equipment, the base camp was shipped from the United States in pieces for the Army’s New Horizons exercise.
There were Humvees, trailers for a mess hall, showers, generators, tents and a gargantuan washer and dryer system, all to support humanitarian objectives, which included building schools, wells and clinics and running medical readiness exercises.
The Army’s work was focused near former rebel territory, pieces of which were once held by a former guerrilla group, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front. The area is also home to the city of El Mozote, where, in 1981, Salvadoran soldiers killed an estimated 900 civilians in an anti-guerrilla campaign, one of the worst massacres in Latin American history.
The country’s civil war has passed, and today, El Salvador, roughly the size of Massachusetts, is home to more than 6 million people.
Agriculture is an important industry, but recently there has been a decline in the export of coffee and a rise in clothing manufacturing. According to embassy personnel, about 17 percent of the country’s gross domestic product comes from money that people working in the United States send back to their families.
Rashes, dizziness, foot pain
The Chilanga medical mission was set up in an elementary school, an open-air cement block building brightly painted in blue and white, the national colors.
Piro sat at an intake table; next to him was a Salvadoran Army interpreter translating medical complaints. Piro held a cheat sheet of ailments listed in Spanish – rash, dizziness, foot pain, low appetite, fever, fungus, sweating, stomach ache, vomiting, chicken pox. By Day 8, he knew most of them by heart.
First Lt. Lezli Clark, a nurse from Rochester, worked next to Piro, shuttling people through the line. Last year, Clark won the Army Nurse Corps excellence award for her work with soldiers returning from war.
She and Piro have both been part of a team of New Hampshire soldiers in charge of case management for troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. They tracked injuries and managed care for nearly 400 people. When soldiers came home, Clark gave them her cell phone number.
“I’m a nurse,” she said. “That’s what nurses do.”
Inside the medical area, Capt. Jen Moranti, 30, a nurse from Manchester, gave out hundreds of bags of pills, took temperatures and blood pressure and saw people with aches and pains, lice and dehydration.
“You want to do so much for them,” Moranti said, “but you can really only do so much without follow-up care.”
Lt. Col. Robin DeLeon, 41, a doctor from Boise, Idaho, called a group over to listen to a young girl’s heart. Instead of the normal glub, glub, her heart whooshed – a sign of trouble.
DeLeon told the family she needed to go to the hospital. Her condition would require a more serious operation than the mission could handle.
Situations like that were not easy for the team. The short duration of the trip, the extent of the need and the level of care they were able to provide could be frustrating.
“Not being able to do the things that I can do back home is hard,” said Lt. Col. Susan Caprio, 59, a nurse practitioner from Goffstown.
Chronic disease was the most difficult problem she wrestled with.
“I’m worried about the women (having a stroke),” she said. “We tell them to go to the clinic, but if they could do that, they wouldn’t have come here.”
While the team treated and bandaged and shared smiles with people again and again, it was the people they couldn’t help that some remembered most.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said LaClaire.
The team had been up since around 5:30 a.m. At the end of the day, as members waited to get on the buses in the stifling heat, the soldiers’ sleeves were rolled down to show solidarity with the troops in Iraq.
“I’m tired. It’s hot. It would be nice to sleep in a bed again,” said Caprio.
‘Dentists can be fun’
Inside the dental room, a four member team prepared for an extraction – with a little levity.
“Dentists can be fun,” said Col. Ralph Ergas, 46, a pediatric specialist from Manchester.
Maj. Patrick Racz, 38, a dentist from Bristol, added, “Yesterday, we were joking about how we don’t have repeat customers, and then we had a woman come back for more.”
A line outside the door attested to the popularity of their services. Roborto Porg, 55, asked Ergas to remove eight teeth so he could be fitted for partials. After anesthetic, Porg sat stoically, calloused hands folded on his lap, as his teeth were pulled one by one.
“Let’s say he goes to the clinic,” said Ergas. “He pays his bus fare and he misses work, which costs him money.” Local dentists charge $5 a tooth to be pulled, Ergas said; having eight pulled could cost nearly a month’s salary.
“That’s a big deal to him,” said Ergas.
As the last tooth for the day was removed, Porg stood, shook Ergas’s hand and said, “Gracias.”
“They have so much disease here that they have a higher pain tolerance and don’t take as much anesthetic,” Ergas said.
Ergas learned how to say, “no crying” in Spanish – “no llores” – and when he said it to children, the crying stopped.
“They don’t need as much coddling,” Ergas said. “The Salvadoran children are a little more independent (than their American counterparts). They are tougher, and they listen to their parents.”
They also had more tooth decay.
The dental team saw case after case of baby bottle tooth decay, a condition that destroys a child’s upper front teeth because of prolonged contact with sugary liquids.
A fine line
Members of a military medical team walk a fine line between soldiering and healing. In fact, the Geneva Convention gives them their own category in the rules of war. Medical and religious personnel are considered noncombatants even though they wear uniforms and can carry small arms.
That doesn’t mean they haven’t tasted danger.
While riding the buses home to the Salvadoran base camp one night, fireworks exploded in the roadway ahead of the team.
“My heart stopped,” said Staff Sgt. Roy Lowes, 44, a medic from Wolfeboro who spent time in Afghanistan advising a medical company.
Loud noises surprise him and take him back to his tour.
“In Afghanistan, I had to straddle both positions,” he said. “I’m a pretty compassionate person, but at the same time, you have to watch your ass.”
What the Americans learned in El Salvador about teamwork and sacrifice will quickly be put to the test halfway around the world. The youngest member of the group, Pfc. Ashley Philibert, 19, of Weare will leave for Iraq this summer. Philibert, who joined the Army at 17, describes her time in El Salvador as “awesome.” She knows Iraq, where she will be working in security rather than dentistry, will be tougher.
“Normally I’m very cautious, but lately, I’ve been like this is my only opportunity to do this,” she said.
“When else am I going to have a chance to come help people?”
Philibert volunteered for the tour in Iraq. She’s excited, but when she watches the news, she’s scared too.
“I have no idea what to expect.”
Making life better
Inside the eye exam room, Rebecca Calles, 25, the first female pilot in the Salvadoran Air Force, worked alongside Senior Airman Lindsay Lassonde, 21, of Rochester, helping fit residents with eyeglasses.
Petronilo Lopez, 81, had such poor vision he couldn’t read any letters on the chart in front of him.
“Can you see this?” Calles asked in Spanish.
“No,” he answered.
“How about this?” she asked again.
Lassonde sighed. Hundreds of people needed glasses. There was only one Lassonde.
The team told about a young boy who came in. He couldn’t read. He couldn’t see. He couldn’t read because he couldn’t see.
Groups had donated glasses for the trip, but there were not enough exact prescriptions to go around.
Lassonde did the best she could. When she was through, amid hugs and handshakes, her Salvadoran patients smiled and said, “Gracias, gracias, gracias.”
“I can’t get them to see 100 percent, and I can’t fix all their problems, but I can help them,” she said. “And to see their gratitude makes it all worthwhile.”
LaClaire said later: “It’s the most personally satisfying thing that I’ve ever done – because you know what you are doing is making a difference.“It’s not a symbol. You are really making their quality of life better.”
Steve Cratty, 37, was still wearing his hospital ID bracelet as he and the other members of “The Pennsylvania 4” sloughed their way against the current on the slimy, rocky Upper Ammonoosuc River in New Hampshire.
The team of four through-paddlers, on a quest to conquer the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail, had been on the water for several weeks when Cratty fell and broke two ribs on the rocks. It was a small setback in a string of misfortune that included wrapping their canoe around a boulder, a week of nonstop rain and food poisoning.
“In it to win it” had become the team motto by the time they reached this midpoint through New Hampshire. And still, what they really wanted to talk about was the people they met on the journey and the places they’d seen.
“Being out here is probably changing my thoughts on life,” said Brad Kohler, 30, of Pittsburgh, Pa. “Living in the city makes me doubt people. I used to think that there were only a few good people out there, but now I think there are millions.”
The crew can’t remember what day of the week it is, but they all remember the couple in a fishing boat who led them during a lightning storm to their camp where they made them a fire and offered them hot food.
“They didn’t know us from nothing. We could have been serial killers,” Kohler said.
Long Distance Trail
Not everyone who travels the Northern Forest Canoe Trail needs to experience such extremes. The path, which traces Native American trade routes through New York, Vermont, Quebec, New Hampshire and Maine, has many shorter, quieter sections.
Finished in the spring of 2006, the trail consists of a string of interconnected rivers and lakes linked by portages (which require the canoe to be carried) from one waterway to the next. Sometimes called the Appalachian Trail for canoeists, it passes through some of the most renowned waters of the East, including Lake Champlain and the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.
The trail is divided into 13 mapped sections, which include campsites, trail signs, local information and access points. To complete the entire journey, paddlers must possess a variety of skills. They must be able to travel upstream by poling, a technique that uses a long, usually wooden, setting pole to push the boat forward against the current. They also must have the endurance to portage 55 miles, carrying the canoe up and around obstructions. Paddlers must descend rapids up to a class IV, which is defined by the Safety Code of American Whitewater as “Advanced. Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water.” They also must fight through large bodies of water where wind and waves batter their small crafts.
Unlike hiking however, the trail is not always considered backcountry as it passes both developed and natural areas. In some areas paddlers can canoe from inn to inn.
Typically, people who want to paddle the length of the trail begin in the west and move toward Maine. In that direction, the New Hampshire section becomes tricky. The four bodies of water that make up the more than 72 miles of the trail that cross the state – the Connecticut, the Androscoggin, the Upper Ammonoosuc and Lake Umbagog – flow in different directions. (For shorter trips, section paddling in the direction of the current can make things more enjoyable.) But taken piece by piece, each of the New Hampshire waterways has its own character and adventure to offer.
Connecticut River Section
The largest river in New England, the Connecticut curves its way along an ancient tract. Wide and meandering, sandy beaches grace its oxbow loops. Above its banks rise fertile agricultural valleys. In the distance, mountains and hills emerge.
It’s the kind of river that defines a “float trip,” as its gentle, clear current makes for a leisurely day. On Sunday, it’s also the kind of river that brings out locals and their coolers.
Five boats, full of good-natured North Stratford natives, wind their way down the river on a lazy afternoon. They argue and joke about who can catch more fish. Challenges are issued. Taunts are hurled. Everybody knows everybody. They speculate that the largest graduating class in town was 25 people. Then, at a nondescript bend in the river, they raise their drinks to salute a friend who died there. Their arrival at the abandoned railroad trestle is ritualistic. Several people disembark onto the island of driftwood and stone to light debris on fire.
Past another bend, David Curtis, 42, a teacher from Burlington, Vt., fights his way upstream like Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier. His face is stubbly, but there is a smile below his Green Mountain Club hat.
Curtis decided to paddle the New Hampshire and Vermont sections of the trail a week into his summer vacation. “I haven’t been in a canoe since high school,” Curtis says. “My only preparation for canoeing was a book, something like Canoeing in the Wild by some master canoeist who has me doing the c-stroke.” (The stroke traces the letter “c” underwater and keeps the solo canoeist moving forward in a straight line. It’s easier said than done.)
He admits to a penchant for checking things off a list. (He’s also working to finish the Long Trail, a 270-mile hiking trail that runs the length of Vermont.) In his boat is a large, old gardening cart for portages, an external frame pack, dry bags, food (kale, noodles, carrots) and a fishing rod. He’s already done one 3.8-mile portage from the Androscoggin to the Upper Ammonoosuc by himself. The road is hilly, windy and narrow. He’s feeling cranky and over-packed.
Some of the portages are rough. Steep banks greet paddlers trying to make their way around dams or carrying their canoes to the next waterway. Supplies must be unloaded, moved up and down, then reloaded while the canoeist scrambles through thorny bushes with wet shoes, mosquitoes feasting on fleshy legs.
Curtis is doing the trip all by himself and says he feels more solitude in the water than on land.
“When you are hiking, even if you are alone on the trail, you are running into somebody,” Curtis says. “But here you are all alone.”
Umbagog Lake and Androscoggin River Section
Umbagog Lake is a destination in itself. Wide, shallow and protected, it’s more than 10 miles long. The haunting call of the loon echoes from its shores.
Then as the waterway approaches Errol, the peace is interrupted. Here, the Androscoggin River begins with menace. Trees, staked like spears along the banks, point at the sky and a set of Class III rapids await. Once a superhighway for the logging industry, the river now serves a variety of recreational purposes.
Coming through the crashing water, Kay Henry, the founding president of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, executes a perfect eddy turn near the boat ramp with Todd Papianou, owner of Northern Waters Outfitters in Errol. In whitewater boating, an eddy turn is used to extricate the boat from the current and halt its downstream motion. It’s an advanced maneuver. They make it look easy.
Henry and her husband, Rob Center, former chief executives of Mad River Canoe, formed the nonprofit NFCT in 2000 to develop and manage the trail. It was first envisioned in the late 1970s by a trio of men interested in tracing Native American routes through New England. More than 30 years later, the trail officially opened.
“From a historical perspective, rivers were really what joined the community,” Henry says. Today, she hopes that communities will embrace the idea of a water trail as both a recreational/cultural outlet and an economic driver.
The vision is that the trail becomes part of the fabric of the northern forest communities, encouraging conservation and keeping the water pristine.
The New Hampshire river section is a cultural byway to different chapters of the region’s past. It runs next to both Brunswick Springs, an Abenaki area used for its purported healing powers, and the town of Stark, where a former World War II German prisoner of war camp was located.
Papianou’s business and other local country stores and campgrounds may also benefit from an increase in river tourism. Some of them don’t even know it yet.
Pam Feldhouse at the Cedar Pond Campground near Milan didn’t realize that her campground was central on NFCT map No. 7 and smack dab in the middle of a tough 3.8-mile portage on Route 110A between the Androscoggin and Upper Ammonoosuc River. It was advertising, she says, that she didn’t even have to pay for.
As the whitewater of Errol fades off into the Pontook Reservoir, remnants of logging days sit neatly below the water. In the 1930s, river drivers worked from large boats called “bateau,” directing logs down the chutes of this river. Stone islands, underwater timbers, and coils of metal rope sunken to the bottom are the only remnants. Soon though, the river is churned up once again by the power of the Pontook Dam. Class II and III rapids follow rocky and fast.
Upper Ammonoosuc River Section
The slender and shallow Upper Ammonoosuc River snakes its way through the heart of northern New Hampshire. It’s the smallest and least traveled of the rivers. Low water levels in late summer cause many of the rapids to become a minefield of boulders difficult to navigate – but also create an assurance of isolation.
The winding stream abounds with wildlife. A young moose bathes in a deep eddy, shaking flies off his growing antlers. He lumbers to the shore, knees bending backward awkwardly. It is quiet.
Northern Forest Canoe Trail campsites along all the rivers are new and relatively unused. They offer designated places to stop and camp for the night. In the morning, it rains fog, leaving a layer of condensation on tent roofs. Campers sleep under thick river mist, while canoes sit idle.
It’s possible to kayak the trail, but canoes, with their extra storage capacity, provide a more versatile way of completing it.
“A canoe is a vehicle to go exploring with,” Henry says.
In a way, the trail is an ode to the transportation of the past. Long before roads were built through the thick North Woods, Native Americans navigated through a series of well-known river systems in traditional canoes.
Although the exploration of uncharted territory might be complete, the essence of the journey remains. There is a beginning and an ending, and in between, teamwork is paramount. The power of the paddler in the bow must be matched by the skill and guidance of the paddler in the stern. It’s the partnership involved in canoeing, Henry says, that makes it so satisfying.
For “The Pennsylvania 4,” teamwork seems to move them along the trail. In their blog from Saturday, July 28, they write “WE ALL GOT TO SHOWER TODAY!!! Today was a good day for all of us, but I’m sure that Sara (Maits) enjoyed today the most. She no longer has to hang around three smelly guys all day. Today was our third shower of the trip. After our showers, we got to line up our canoes and walk through the water most of the day.”
A few days later, they write, “We were very excited about finally reaching Maine. We took advantage of the emotional high and paddled 20 miles.”
In the latest report, dated Wednesday, Aug. 15, the group writes, “The last couple of days have been rough. I can now see why so many paddlers average less than 15 miles per day. Lake Champlain seems like it happened so long ago. The good news is that we have less than 100 miles to go. Once we finish, we will start planning our trip for next summer.”
For Steve Cratty and Sara Maits, two of “The Pennsylvania 4,” the teamwork that keeps them on schedule is vital. Their goal: make it to Fort Kent, Maine, by Aug. 25. If they arrive in one piece, there will be a bridal shower, their own, to attend.
In April 1978, flames began licking the rare books in the basement of Chaplin Library. A fire—the second on campus that year—was alight. As smoke rose through the joints of the 1907 structure, leaking from the windows above, the alarm was raised. By the faint last light of day, the Norwich Student Fire Brigade sprang into action.
By the time Jim O’Brien ’79 arrived on the scene, smoke clouded the hallways, making it impossible to enter without oxygen tanks. Brigade Fire Chief Ken Morton ’78 (now fire chief of Williston, Vt.) remembers working frantically to set up the portable ponds as tanker trucks rolled onto the UP.
Finally a hose line was established, and several NU cadets entered the building. As they moved cautiously down into the basement, they saw a blur—a shadowy figure dressed in 19th-century breeches and a Hussar coat—valiantly attempting to bat out the flames with his overcoat. Then, in the blink of an eye, he disappeared.
Was it Captain Alden Partridge back from the grave to save his beloved university? Or was it one of the many nameless ghosts rumored to haunt his venerable institution? Is it fact or is it fiction? Or possibly a little of both?
A university with a history that goes back nearly 200 years harbors an abundance of shadowy corners to investigate, legendary figures to unearth, and clandestine organizations to explore. Students of all generations find themselves wondering about the cadets who lived on the hill of yore. And many claim to have been visited by a spirit or two from the past.
“Something happens after the Dog River Run. You’ve been baptized and all of sudden you really dig Norwich history and want to know its secrets,” says Randall Miller ’93, author of the recently self-published book, Norwich Matters.
Norwich University librarians are quick to point out that one of the most popular searches in the archives is the topic of ghosts. And there is no shortage of material to pore over. Personal accounts of paranormal activity on the Hill abound—unexplained rapping on walls and doors, footsteps in empty hallways, and, out of nowhere, sudden cold drafts. Disembodied spirits have been “seen” marching in step with cadets, peering out from windows, even levitating Christmas trees.
Or so they say …
Miller defines Norwich rumor as “information shared as a matter of historical record, often supported by crystal-clear memories of events that never happened.”
The incidents told here may just be Norwich rumor, or they may be more than that. But whether they truly took place or exist only in people’s minds, they remain an integral part of Norwich lore—as real today as mortar between the bricks of buildings that no longer cast their shadows on the Hill.
Throughout the University’s long and storied past, many Norwich souls have been taken prematurely. On October 26, 1821, the Norwich Corps of Cadets lined up for the funeral of Cadet Thomas Hurlbut, the first student to die at the “Academy.” Reverend Rufus William Bailey, the school’s first chaplain, delivered Hurlbut’s eulogy at the parish church in Norwich, Vt. Under the white steeple, its Paul Revere bell gleaming, a somber procession formed.
Carefully organized and scripted by Partridge himself, the procession wound through town, ending at the young man’s grave. As cadets, professors, militia, and townspeople solemnly walked down the street, the band played a “dead march.” The dirge continued as the body was lowered deep into the earth and honored with the firing of three volleys.
History books mention three cadets dying in the early years: the second, Ralph A. Wikoff at only 19 years old, caused the Corps to wear black crepe on their arms and draw up resolutions upon his death.
Do young Hurlbut and Wikoff continue to march, drill, and rise at dawn to the call of reveille? Is it possible that they and other cadets who passed through Norwich’s gates in life still frequent the familiar stomping grounds of their youth?
Whether perishing in defense of country in one of its many wars, succumbing to illness (the 1918 influenza epidemic took five), dying from sports-related injuries (football claimed two in 1913), accidents (beloved Cadet Henry Way cut his finger in 1887 and developed tetanus), or from self-inflicted injury, is it too far-fetched to suppose that these once vibrant youths remain among us? Do they still feel that this is where they belong?
In 2003 and 2006, John Zaffis from the Paranormal Research Society of New England visited Norwich to speak about his ghost-hunting career and to search for spirits. On both occasions he toured the campus to sense the energy in various buildings. What he found was “activity”—lots of it. He felt it on the top floor of Dewey, where he sensed “two spirits that had been killed.” He felt it in Ransom, Hawkins, and Goodyear. And he felt it in the basement of Alumni Hall.
Built in 1905, Alumni Hall is the oldest building still extant on campus. (Dewey was erected in 1902 but was rebuilt in 1925 following a fire.) The granddaddy of Norwich buildings, Alumni has spawned its fair share of haunting tales—but none so infamous as the “bricked-off room.”
There is hardly an alumnus alive today that hasn’t heard the tale of a young cadet who supposedly hung himself from his wardrobe in a windowless room on the south end of the basement. As the story goes, his brother came to Norwich the following year, was given the same room, and he too hung himself.
The hangings were viewed as tragic but unrelated coincidences until (relates Jeff McGowan ’96, who heard the tale from an older alum) one fateful day, when a cadet walked into the same basement room and saw his buddy standing on a chair getting ready to hang himself. Quickly a group gathered round to stop him. As they talked him down off the chair, they asked, “Why?” He replied, “The people in the mirror told me to do it.” The cadet then explained that the woebegone victims had each appeared in the mirror, coaxing him to join them.
Apparently, the administration at the time was so disturbed by this incident that they sealed off the room permanently, and from that day forward it has never been used.
Today if you knock on the east wall in the basement of Alumni, you can hear the echo of an open space where a door once was. Behind it, two rooms have been joined together to house the dorm’s heating, electrical, and plumbing facilities.
But despite the sealing off of the cursed room, custodian Todd LaValley says creepy things still go on there. Former residents recount tales of disembodied voices, mysterious knocking on doors, and loud banging in bathroom stalls. And if you talk to the students who live there today, they will tell you the ghosts are still around.
Perhaps from the beginning a pall was cast over the building.
At Alumni Hall’s dedication in 1906, the keynote speaker was Colonel Henry Oakes Kent, an 1854 graduate, Civil War veteran, longtime NU trustee, poet, and former member of Norwich’s earliest secret society, the University Regulators. Begun in 1852, the cloaked and hooded group was created to maintain student discipline and “regulate” the University. They achieved this by enforcing strict standards of behavior among the cadets, using whatever means they deemed appropriate.
The Regulators went “underground” in 1856 when Theta Chi fraternity was founded by two former Regulators: Arthur Chase ’56 and Frederick Freeman ’57. Some say that when Alumni Hall was being constructed, Colonel Kent, in a symbolic gesture, placed relics from the Regulators in the foundation of the building to preserve for future generations.
Another building purported to harbor spirits is Chaplin Hall, now home to the School of Art & Architecture. Financed by steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, the brick and stone edifice opened in 1907 as Carnegie Library.
In the early days, students were greeted by a life-sized oil painting of women serving tea, above a blazing fireplace. Gentlemanly cadets sat in leather armchairs in the main reading room, studying, smoking, and speaking in hushed whispers. The basement, on the other hand, was a dark, dusty tomb. It is here that alumni and staff witnessed books flying off shelves, heard the eerie echoes of footsteps, and saw lights flicking on after the building was closed.
Or so they say …
One often-told ghost story is of a librarian who repeatedly found a book lying open on the circulation table as if someone were in the middle of reading it. Each night she would put the book away, and each morning it would reappear—open to a page further along in the text. Another version of the story claims how the book, locked inside a glass case, had pages that would mysteriously “turn” on their own.
Ann Turner worked in the library for 25 years, most of them as head librarian until she was granted emeritus status in 1990. Although Turner has never refuted the rumors of hauntings (because she believes in good fun), she herself never experienced the sensations that her fellow librarian Margaret Partlow. Partlow routinely reported hearing voices and moaning, and felt the coldness in the air.
“She firmly believed,” says Turner.
So do many others who have seen a shadowy figure staring out onto the UP from a window above the building’s arched entryway.
Who is that specter dressed in 19th-century garb? Some wonder if it could be the illustrious Alonzo Jackman, Class of 1836, longtime member of the faculty, and the man for whom Jackman Hall is named.
General Jackman briefly worked as a librarian when the University was still located on the Norwich, Vt., campus. Inventor of the ocean telegraph and a United States Army general who trained dozens of Civil War officers, Jackman taught mathematics, natural philosophy, and civil engineering at the University until his death in 1879. On that day as he stood at his window, dressed in uniform, “he suddenly fell dead, dropped like a soldier at his post,” according to William Arba Ellis’s History of Norwich University.
Jackman was not one to be absent from the University—ever. Some conjecture he still isn’t—even now.
So great was the respect of Norwich librarians for whomever was haunting Chaplin that, in 1993, when the book collection was moved from the old library to the new, they left behind a cart labeled “GHOST” on the last night, so that, in the morning, if the spirit wanted to make the journey to the new library, it would know it was welcome.
Apparently at least one spirit did indeed cross over from the old structure to the new, as a number of ghostly occurrences have taken place in the new library. In 2003, Athletics Administrative Assistant Cathy Diego and Archives Librarian Krista Ainsworth were frantically trying to locate a photograph. The old black-and-white portrait—taken by longtime University photographer Homer Smith—was needed for the Athletics Hall of Fame program, and Diego was convinced it had to be in one of the dozens of archival boxes stored in the basement of the library. After searching in vain for over an hour, Ainsworth spotted Homer Smith’s chair sitting in a dark corner of the room. In desperation she walked over, grabbed the chair, and, invoking the dead man’s spirit, said, “Okay, Homer, we need your help. Where is that photo?” A strange feeling came over the women, and in the next box they opened, lying directly on top, was the very photograph they sought.
DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES
Dorms and libraries are not the only structures that have historically sparked the imagination.
Arguments over the existence of underground tunnels connecting buildings on the UP have been going on for decades. Alumni and students alike swear they exist. Facilities/Operations personnel swear they don’t.
Many of these subterranean rumors harken back to Norwich’s erstwhile secret societies and the tale of a cadet who died as the result of an obligatory beating or an initiation rite gone awry. Even though former society members have been sworn to secrecy, versions of the supposed student’s untimely demise have provided grist for the rumor mill for generations of Norwich students.
His tragic tale takes place at the Norwich of a bygone era. During this period, the “breaking in” of rooks was a common and accepted practice. Yearbooks from the 1920s show upperclassmen sporting masks and wielding paddles, looming menacingly over rooks cowering in their bunks.
According to one version, the ill-fated cadet was taken into the tunnels near Chaplin Hall for initiation into Skull and Swords—one of two secret societies then at Norwich—and died from injuries sustained there. Another possible clue to the existence of the tunnels is the mysterious mention in the 1926 War Whoop of an incident in which the Royal Order of Night Riders—the other secret society—sneak back onto campus via “a means known only to them.”
As for whether tunnels have ever existed, most old-timers concede that between the time old Jackman first opened in 1868 (duly commemorated with full Masonic ceremonies, a parade, and an assembly of 3,000 people) and the first Dodge Hall was built (1892), followed by Dewey Hall ten years later, there were indeed underground passageways connecting at least two of the buildings. However, it is generally accepted that when Jackman and Dodge were demolished to make way for the new Jackman Hall in 1964, the tunnels were filled in.
But this doesn’t explain why what looks like the entrance to a small passageway in the basement of Gerard is cemented over. Nor does it dispel the persistent rumor that one entrance to the tunnels still remains open “somewhere” beneath one of the dorms on the UP, or why to this day students say with absolute certainty that they have been inside them. If tunnels do exist in one form or another, those who know the truth, aren’t talking.
BIDDEN AND UNBIDDEN
Given every generation’s fascination with the occult, it is not surprising that many Norwich students have actually encouraged visits from spirits. Ouija BoardsTM, invented in 1890, are no less popular today than they were a hundred years ago, when students would descend the stairs to the basement of Chaplin Hall to conjure up a good scare. It is documented that the late Bill Wilson ’18, World War I artillery officer and cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, was a notable user.
So it was hardly unusual that around Christmastime 1978, David Carter ’80 and four of his buddies decided to hold a séance. Their intent was to make contact with a former cadet who had died several years earlier. They entered the student’s old room in Wilson Hall, joined hands, and attempted to get in touch with his spirit.
After a period of silence, things suddenly started happening. A radio, which was unplugged and held no batteries, began playing; a Christmas stocking hanging on the wall turned upside down; and outside the window, one cadet saw the reflection of a ghostly face staring back at him. Terrified, the students fled the room.
Other spirits have made their existence known in the absence of such beckoning. Reports of being woken from a dead sleep to a feeling of being “held down” in bed in a sort of “night paralysis,” such that they can’t breathe or move, are commonplace.
But not all Norwich spirits manifest a menacing presence. It appears some stick around because this is where they feel most “at home.” (Paranormal experts agree that the unifying characteristic of ghosts is that they are unaware they have died. Stuck between this world and the next, they remain behind to haunt the living.)
A former NU security guard was closing up White Chapel one night when he heard the strains of piano music. By the dim glow of the exit sign he could see the figure of a man seated at the grand piano. The patrolman let his presence be known, but the piano player ignored him. A second time he identified himself. This time, the figure turned his head and asked, “Can I still play?” It was then that the security guard saw he had no face.
THE GUARDIAN OF SABINE FIELD?
Students and staff aren’t the only ones who have experienced paranormal activity on the Hill. In December 2009, NU parent Kristi Sjoholm-Sierchio had left Plumley Armory and was walking past the Sabine Field gates to her car when she sensed someone following her. Turning quickly around, she saw the head and left shoulder of a uniformed female cadet, walking behind her.
Students past and present similarly report being “followed” by a spirit marching in time with their steps near the North entrance to campus. But occasionally the ghost carries out his (or her) watch on horseback, and no wonder, considering the school’s revered cavalry tradition. Tory Decker Hook ’00 remembers crossing the UP one foggy night and hearing the sound of a galloping horse. And several alums from the ’60s recall hearing the whinney of a horse in Alumni Hall.
Could this riderless horse be the steed of Moses Taylor, Jr.—a member of the Class of 1920 loved for his “empathy, sense of humor, bigheartedness, honesty, fearlessness, and loyalty to his men?” Wounded while leading his platoon against the Germans in the trenches of WWI in France, First Lieutenant Taylor later died and was buried at Vigneulles, the local cemetery.
Soon after, his father donated funds to build an indoor riding hall—a welcome asset for a school where horsemanship was a requisite component of military training. But after the army transitioned from cavalry to armor in the 1940s, Moses Taylor Arena was converted into Norwich’s first enclosed hockey rink—only to be demolished and replaced with Kreitzberg Arena in 1998.
The 1951 yearbook is dedicated to the memory of Moses Jr., who “died with his face to the enemy and gave his life to his country.”
Perhaps this young hero, laid to rest on a distant shore, still rides home to Norwich, the beating of his horse’s hooves echoing through the valley. Perhaps he’s come back to remind us of the unstoppable passage of time and our own inevitable mortality. Or perhaps he’s admonishing us to wrap our loved ones close, hold tight to the fleeting moments of our numbered days, and remember to always, always be faithful to the past.
– by Lori Duff
Concord, New Hampshire,
Sunday, June 3d, 185
To the Cadets of N.U.
I sympathize with you in the recent melancholy death
o’ poor George*, and ever bear in lively remembrance,
“The old grey walls, the well known halls, and the cherished
friends of N.U.”
Henry O. Kent
Hearken ye not for the well known tread;
Call ye not after the name of the dead;
Sadden ye not in the wonted room
That he changed for the damps of the chilly land.
No more shall ye greet neath the barrack’s walls;
No more shall awake him the reveille’s call.
The drooping flag and the booming gun,
Telleth for aye that his course is run,
Telleth for aye of a death stroke fast—
Of a shattered sail, of a broken mast—
Of a manly heart and a friendly hand,
That has left forever our earthly band—
Of a form that looks from a realm afar,
Beyond the world’s contentions jar,
On the band that stands as brothers true
Within thy cherished wall, N.U.
*Cadet William George, who died in a hunting accident in 1855.
Cadet Henry Oaks Kent, Class of 1854. He became a colonel and served as a University trustee.