Monday, 19 September 2011


College landmark: Holmdene Hall, built as a residence in 1908, now serves as an administrative and faculty office building at Aquinas College.
GRAND RAPIDS — Not every college’s administrative offices were slept in by an American president, were visited by another as a young man, and spawned legends of apparitions and hauntings that persist despite all evidence to the contrary.

You might say that Aquinas College, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, has a lot to brag about in its 103-year-old administrative mansion, Holmdene Hall.

“It was constructed at the time to be the finest estate in West Michigan,” said Gary Eberle, an English professor and chairman of the Aquinas Historical Commission who works in the building’s third-floor faculty offices.

Most people entering campus off Robinson Road, past the original ivy-covered brick gatepost, likely don’t realize they are driving through an old dairy farm on the same path the Edward Lowe family used to get home after building their 22-room mansion in 1908.

Architects from Boston were hired to design the family’s red-brick home, on the 69-acre McCoy dairy farm — at the time, still quite rural — as a Tudor-style estate. Local contractors constructed the building.

“It was a wonderful place to grow up,” Susan Quaintance wrote in a 1976 letter.

Quaintance was an extended member of the Lowe family who lived in the house as a young girl during World War I and reminisced about catching turtles in the pond and riding horses around the property.

Little expense was spared on the mansion, and it shows in woodwork and windows.

Radical re-landscaping of the farm, including the planting of trees and gardens, was done. Estimates put the price tag around $250,000.

That was a lot of money back then, but the family could afford it. Edward Lowe was the grandson of Richard E. Butterworth, who helped found the hospital that served Grand Rapids. His wife, Susan, also came from money. Her maiden name was Blodgett, of the Delos Blodgett logging firm where Edward worked.

The couple were socially prominent — enough so that President Theodore Roosevelt stayed the night at their house when he visited Grand Rapids in February 1911.

Roosevelt was in town for the 19th annual Lincoln Day dinner and gave a speech at the Coliseum on Commerce Street about “progressive Republicanism,” emphasizing the need for the party to be forward-looking, according to Grand Rapids Herald archives.

Afterward, Roosevelt spent the evening with the area’s elder statesmen at Holmdene before taking the train to New York in the morning.

It wasn’t until after the Lowes died and the property was sold to the fledgling University of Grand Rapids that Holmdene received a visit from another man who would become president.

Before the college folded, assistant coach Gerald R. Ford posed for a picture with the school’s football team in front of the building in the fall of 1939.

In 1945, the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids bought the estate and moved Aquinas College there from its site downtown. The mansion served as the main offices and classroom building for about 10 years while new construction expanded the college.

The building also has served at the campus library and quarters for the nuns before it was granted Historic Landmark status by the city in 1980 and renovated in 1981.
But it wasn’t until the 1980s that the ghost stories began.

Professor Eberle
Unofficial expert
Eberle, who wrote a now out-of-print book about local haunted houses in 1982, said the stories persist and evolve because of the security and housekeeping staffs, who supposedly have seen strange occurrences.

All bunk, he said, and some stories are particularly ludicrous.

For instance, the ghost of James Lowe, a boy who legend says died in a fall down the dumbwaiter actually moved to San Francisco and died of a heart attack at the age of 65. He had a family and became a successful businessman.
Others have reported phantom elevator riders, doors that slam, knobs that rattle, lights that work on their own and apparitions disappearing into the boardroom.

Legend has it a maintenance worker once heard a woman singing, and a visitor once reported hearing a child crying in one of the rooms. The campus police initiate new recruits by having them make the nightly rounds alone in Holmdene.

“Never let the facts get in the way of a good ghost story,” Eberle said, recalling a psychic who came to the hall once and began sensing spirits supposedly left behind by gruesome murders.

“You’d think somebody would have noticed something like that,” he said.

Eberle, who has since become the unofficial expert on “haunted” Holmdene, will discuss the building’s history and legend at a presentation at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum on Oct. 13, sponsored by the Grand Rapids Historical Society.

Here is an interesting sceptical `argument`. Gary Eberle, an English professor and chairman of the Aquinas Historical Commission says the alleged haunting history is `All bunk`.

To bolster his highly esteemed professional viewpoint he quotes one false legend and some particularly bad mediums to justify his `debunking`. After all, he is a professor, right?

As he says, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good ghost story,” but clearly he hasn`t any facts, just a narrow minded scepticism of the paranormal and a couple of dodgy ghost stories as proof.

If he truly wanted to measure any activity and verify any facts, he would at least have spared some time from his very important roles to have actually checked out the below reports from former students who all claim a contact with the paranormal whilst studying there.

But I daresay these students wouldn`t have dared talk to the esteemed professor about it, as they (I presume) know, he thinks it is all nonsense.

So there the argument must end. The professor has decided. You cannot beat an open mind, eh?

Haunted Aquinas College - Click for testimonials from students who experienced phenomena there.
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