Musings: Franconia College Reunion 2000
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A note about this: I wrote it before the Reunion. After visiting the town
again, I am asking myself how much was "true" memory and how much was
"created" memory. As it is supposed to be fiction, I guess that doesn't
matter...except to fellow FCers. For example, the plaque is not in front of
Dow, it is in front of the Town hall. Was it always there? Excuse what may
seem to you to be errors, and read for amusement.

The Dow Academy Ghost

Dow Academy was a residential boy's school from the mid 1800's until the
early 1900's in Franconia, New Hampshire. Later, it was part of Franconia
College.  Three stories high with mustard colored walls, it has white
cornices and trim.  It has a classic New England clock tower looking out
over the town. And it has a ghost. 

I don't remember whose idea it was, but someone suggested we sit in the
clock tower as it struck midnight, the bell just inches away as it rang.
There were five of us, three guys and two girls. We'd heard stories of
noises and "bumps in the night" from fellow students who worked in the
building, late at night. But what old building didn't have a story? We
gathered in the attic, and waited.  It was a cold, clear night, and we
didn't want to sit exposed to the wind, up in the slatted tower.  We'd go up
just before the first stroke of midnight. 

The attic was a huge room with large, rough beams extending across it. Above
us was a low ceiling, we had to walk in a crouch. In the middle of the room,
a heavy ladder-staircase led to the trap door of the tower.   In a darkened
corner, we were quiet as we waited, sitting on beams. Among the graffiti.
And among the names.

     As a private school, Dow Academy had been filled with young boys.
They went to school there, lived there, grew up there; it was their home.
It was not too hard to imagine the boys sneaking out of their rooms at night
to get away from strict school administrators, and finding a place of their
own.  They found the attic.

     You could see, on the beams and on the plaster between, dozens of
names, written in chalk or thick pencil, a few carved with penknives.
Nicknames, first names, and a few full names.  Dates going back decades,
some more than seventy years, mixed with candle wax drippings.  We could
picture them, years before our grandparents were born, sitting in a candle's
glow, telling schoolboy lies, laughing, and placing their mark upon the
wood. 

At the front entrance to the Academy there was a bronze plaque with furled
flags.  It listed the names of boys who had grown up and gone off to fight
and die far from home, in World War I.  Some of the names cast in bronze
matched the names scrawled on the beams in the attic, where we sat in the
dark, waiting for the midnight peal.

We heard the sound of a door opening, then closing.  We were certain we were
the only ones in the building, but, as we heard more sounds... another
door?...we became less certain.  Then we became aware of someone climbing
into the attic.  We could hear the footsteps on the staircase.

We called...whispered, actually..."Who is it? Who's there?" and shined our
flashlight toward the staircase. No one was there. The flashlight beam
clicked off, and in a few seconds we heard...very distinctly...footsteps in
the attic.  We didn't whisper; we barely breathed. These footsteps made a
clear, distinctive sound, like leather boots.  Sometimes a scuffling noise,
as if one of the big beams was being stepped over, then heavy footsteps.
Solid.  Real.  And right there.

We aimed the flashlight directly at the sounds, but saw nothing.  The light
clicked off again, and the steps resumed.  They circled us, at a distance of
about thirty feet.  Twice more, during their walk, we aimed the
flashlight...and twice more the sounds stopped.  Each time the light was
switched off, a few seconds passed, and the footsteps resumed.

The steps went completely around us, and then stopped. We felt watched. Were
we sitting in the favorite hiding place - the secret place - of a young boy
who had gone to Dow Academy?  Was his name here, scrawled on a beam?  And
downstairs, on that plaque?

Without word or gesture we rose to leave.  We clung to each other, arms
linked.   I don't remember leaving the building, but I know we must have run
down dark halls and unlit stairwells.  I do remember that we ran across that
grassy field, away from the Academy.  The night-sky was coldly black with
piercing stars.  Our panting breath was visible in the streetlight.  I
remember looking in someone's eyes and thinking, "Did that just happen?" but
none of us spoke. The bell had begun to ring midnight. 
 

 

Musings: Franconia College Reunion 2000
 Return To Main Page