As Halloween approaches and the nights get spookier, the spirit world draws closer to our own. It’s especially obvious on campus, where tales of spirit dogs and ghost classes are told year-round.
The University Theater, Jeannette Rankin Hall and Brantley Hall are infamous for their spooky spirits. But what about the most prominent building of all? The very symbol of UM?
What ghoulish specters are hiding under the teal spire of University Hall?
Also known as Main Hall, University Hall is the oldest building on campus. Built in 1898 by famed architect A.J. Gibson, the building has steadily gained a reputation as one of UM’s most haunted. Faculty and staff report hearing footsteps when no one is around, finding lights switching on and off by themselves and seeing apparitions in basement bathroom mirrors and upstairs classrooms.
So the Kaimin decided to investigate. That’s what journalists do, right? I’m sure this qualifies somehow.
We did a deep-dive, overnight investigation, using the latest ghost-hunting technology available to us — meaning our nice journalism equipment like cameras, GoPros and boom mics — to seek the truth and answer a simple question: is Main Hall haunted?
So, for this Halloween issue, we’re going to attempt to document an entire night of Kaimin Ghost Adventures (no copyright infringement intended). Buckle up, because we found some real spooky stuff.
Lively folk music played through the speaker of a rollaway boombox in front of Main Hall as a group of students stood swing-dancing in a circle. Their laughter filtered over the song. My team and I snaked through the dancers and climbed the concrete steps under the shadow of the belltower, into the belly of the beast.
Main Hall primarily consists of offices. The office of the provost and president both occupy the first floor, and the upper floors are home to more organizations like the Office of Student Affairs, the Office of Research and Development and the Office of Administration and Finance. The basement is mostly conference rooms, and there is a second-floor classroom that occasionally hosts classes.
Most of these offices and rooms were closed and dark when we first walked in. The front door closed on the music, and we were left with the sound of our own footsteps as we headed downstairs.
The first person we met in University Hall was Cheryl Krudop, a custodian who peeked around the corner as we went downstairs. Krudop had just been told we were coming a few hours ago.
“I heard people come do these things sometimes,” she told me, referencing our ghost-hunting expedition. “It’s all pretty exciting.”
Krudop, who has been on the UM custodial staff since February 2011, has worked in University Hall for the last three years. In her time here, she told me she has had many run-ins with spirit activity. “Oh, I feel things when I’m here alone,” she said.
She said she has heard footsteps and her name being called when she was cleaning at night, when no one else was in the building. She has seen lights switching on and off on their own in the first-floor copy room. “Coworkers are so scared to work here. It cracks me up,” Krudop said.
Krudop carried this lighthearted energy as we spoke. Ghosts don’t scare her in the slightest. In fact, she runs something of a paranormal investigation business herself, she told us.
“I’ve always believed in spirits,” she said. When Krudop moved to Montana in 2004, she met a woman from Ovando, and together they conducted numerous paranormal investigations of ranches and bars. She has debunked several hauntings, she said, but there have been findings she cannot explain as well.
So we asked her, “Any advice for beginning ghost hunters?”
“It works better when you have people who are serious about it,” she said.
There is no one more serious than the Kaimin Paranormal Investigative Team (KPIT) comprised of me, Addie Slanger, videographer Quinn Corcoran and photographer Hunter Wiggins. The team was formed when I pitched the idea in late September. The name came a bit later, like, as-we-walked-up-the-steps-of-Main-Hall later. But we meant business. We went into the experience as serious and open-minded as possible.
Krudop left us with a final warning, urging us to remain level-headed. “If you get somebody who’s all wiggy and scared and stuff, it just messes it up. Because the spirits want to pick on — ” she cut herself off. “It just messes it up.”
Being the fresh-faced beginners we were, I thought it would be best to invite some seasoned professionals along for the ride, at least for part of the night.
So, one hour into our investigation, after we set up shop and the boys got some b-roll footage, three Dark Mountain Paranormal (DMP) investigators joined the KPIT team.
Nakia Bird King, Erin Toole and Chris Haines claim the title of professional paranormal investigators, which I think is the coolest thing ever. They are all part of the DMP team, Missoula’s only paranormal investigative group, which was founded by Bird King three years ago.
Toole, 29, and Haines, 37, have both recently joined the team. Toole heard about DMP through Facebook and jumped on the opportunity to join; Haines is a family friend and was stepping in for another member for the night. Main Hall was their first DMP hunt.
Toole recently graduated from UM with a criminology degree, and Haines works as a patient service representative at Partnership Health Center in Missoula.
Both have experienced paranormal encounters in their pasts and, as a result, are very passionate about ghost hunting.
“I love getting answers,” Toole said. “Finding the truth and being a part of something unique. And a lot of people don’t have the guts to do it, but I think it’s something really special. It’s a lot of fun.”
The group has done more than 100 investigations in the Missoula area, Bird King told us. Bird King, 17, is the head paranormal investigator. He’s a tall, serious guy who speaks and acts like he means business. You would never guess he’s younger than 20.
Bird King is a senior at Hellgate High School, where he’ll graduate in 2020. He said he plans to continue paranormal investigation and wants travel more in the future. Right now, investigating takes up a lot of his time. As the head of DMP, he has many responsibilities, including deciding which locations the team will explore.
“I’m always the one who initiates our investigations,” Bird King said. “I find the locations and I’m responsible for securing them.”
His family is heavily involved with DMP. His aunt, Sharon Pantoja, uncle Pablo Pantoja and brother Devon Bird are all members, he said, and often help him with investigations.
He said he’s been interested in the paranormal since he was a child, when the show “Ghost Adventures” inspired him to undertake his own investigations. He bought his first piece of equipment at the age of 9 or 10.
We quickly understood that a paranormal investigation revolves heavily around the equipment. We took the ghost hunters downstairs to the conference room to unload. And unload they did.
Electromagnetic field meters (EMFs) and spirit boxes and laser lights and motion sensors and a plethora of cameras and recorders all made up the conglomerate of technology spread out on the conference room table. I noticed lots of antenna-like structures, dials and buttons, but aside from that, I couldn’t distinguish much between different pieces of equipment.
One thing was certain: each piece of equipment served the express purpose of hunting ghosts.
For the first time, it really hit me. We were about to go ghost hunting. My 10-year-old self would never believe it. My Kaimin colleagues seemed to be having the same realization.
As the clock ticked closer to 11, we planned our next moves with DMP. We were all huddled together in the conference room when the most surprising part of the night happened.
Seth Bodnar walked in the door.
Not the apparition of Seth Bodnar, but Seth himself. In the flesh. He and his wife, Chelsea, came in the door with a flurry of energy, dressed to the nines in a suit and gown. They were coming from the President’s Ball, they explained as they walked into the room, and wanted to wish us luck on the investigation.
I was pleasantly surprised that the Bodnars were supportive of our endeavor, and maybe it showed on my face. Both the president and first lady jumped to encourage the investigation.
“It’s for a good cause,” Seth said.
“It’s for truth,” Chelsea added.
Hell yeah! That’s how we felt, too.
This is basically Seth’s home. His office is right next to the haunted copy room and underneath the creepy second-floor classroom. We wanted to know, has he had any paranormal experiences?
“I have never seen anything in this building that’s paranormal, per se,” he told me. “But you do sometimes get that feel.”
“You know … paranormal.”
Well, say no more, Seth Bodnar. I’ve been getting that feel also.
Both Seth and Chelsea encouraged us to stay together and to stay safe. They weren’t super excited when I told them about our solo lock-in plans; 30 minutes alone in the men’s and women’s bathroom for Hunter and me, respectively, and subtly voiced their concerns.
“We want you to be cautious,” Chelsea said. “Stick together.”
“Safety in numbers,” Seth continued. “Always have a battle buddy. That’s the rule.”
Pretty solid logic. I was all for it.
The Bodnars left us just as the clock struck 11, and we began to do a sweep of the building with the DMP team. The lights were all off, and University Hall seemed a lot more foreboding than it did when Krudop first showed us to our conference room headquarters.
We walked through the building with the paranormal investigators and all the equipment, beginning in the men’s and women’s basement bathrooms.
The women’s bathroom was pretty quiet, in terms of paranormal activity. No EMF spikes or noticable electronic voice phenomenon (EVP) readings.
The men’s was slightly more active, with energy bursts along the whole back wall. We ruled it as a technical spike, however, probably caused by electric wiring or machines behind the wall, since the spike was constant and consistent in level and location.
EMF equipment detects the presence of electromagnetic frequency through AC or DC currents. The correlation between the spirit world and EMF technology is a simple assumption that when we die, the electromagnetic field that exists in the conscious mind does not disappear. So spikes on the EMF could indicate ghost activity.
The problem is, the technology was really designed to diagnose issues with electrical wiring. So, since the EMF spike was only along the back wall and doesn’t change location, we write that off as the boiler room behind the bathroom causing the reading.
The upper floors proved to be pretty uneventful as well. We didn’t stay long in any of the rooms, but none of our equipment displayed any abnormal readings.
Before we could go much more in depth, Krudop came to find us. She told us her friend, Gail Harrison, had just arrived to speak with us. Krudop called Harrison as soon as she heard what we were doing.
“Gail will have some stories for you,” said Krudop. “She’s terrified of this stuff.”
We sat down in the conference room with Harrison to do an interview. Harrison, a vivacious woman with a contagious laugh, seemed excited to speak with us. Within a few minutes, we were all laughing together as we listened to Harrison tell her story.
Harrison, 56, has worked on and off as a night custodian at UM for the past 31 years. She told us she started as early as 12-years-old, helping out her mom who worked as a night custodian in Main Hall.
She said she’s had many paranormal experiences here, from lights turning on and off to doors slamming and voices echoing in hallways. The earliest encounter she remembers involved a door opening and closing on her vacuum cord. She propped the door open with a chair, but it slammed shut anyway, leaving the chair still standing in front of it.
“I hollered at my partner, ‘We’re just getting the trash and getting out of here, man,’” she told us, explaining how she responded to the situation. “So that’s left a lasting impression. I was 16 for crying out loud.”
So we asked, are there definitely ghosts here, then?
“I believe so,” she said. “There’s got to be more than one. There’s lots.”
She said this with a certainty that was hard to argue.
Harrison mentioned a student custodian who worked with her for some time named Sal. She said Sal was training to be a shaman for his tribe and could see the many spirits who lived in University Hall.
“He said that he could just look at the building and see the ghosts,” she said. “He said that there was an older woman and a younger woman and something else that was way evil.
“He thinks there are lots of spirits here. You should be able to find something.”
I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing.
Feeling significantly less lighthearted than we were when the conversation began, we thanked Harrison for her testimony. She and Krudop left, and the KPIT and DMP continued our investigation.
We went back to the men’s bathroom, and that’s when things started to get pretty interesting. The farthest right stall started to give out strong EMF spikes where it hadn’t before, spiking in different locations around the bathroom.
“Oh, this is a poltergeist,” Haines said nonchalantly. “That makes sense.”
A poltergeist is a spirit known for being loud and mischievous, according to Merriam-Webster and my extensive horror movie knowledge.
Thrown off by this casual conclusion and unsure how it clarified anything, we watched silently as Haines began to talk to the room.
“Are we in your favorite stall?” he asked. “Can you move over to the next stall to let us know you’re here?”
We all shuffled over to the next stall, and sure enough, the EMF went off. Freaky.
The pattern continued, with the EMF spiking in each stall Haines asked the spirit to move to. None of the DMP ghost hunters seemed too phased with this development, but the KPIT was intrigued — intrigued is a good synonym for “scared shitless,” right?
And it kept happening. The readings jumped around the room in the vague direction of Haines. I’m sure there’s some way to debunk EMF readings, but when it’s almost midnight and you’re alone in a huge, scary building, debunking isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind.
We moved upstairs to the second-floor classroom, where Bird King set up his electromagnetic energy pump. The pump is a big, speaker-like object that emits, essentially, constant static. It cycles through radio frequencies at a sonic pace, which means it’s mostly broadcasting the buzz of a frequency not occupied by a station. The occasional radio station comes through every so often, offering a shocking half-second interuption between the bouts of loud fuzz.
The energy pump is alleged to encourage spirit activity, Bird King told us. The ghosts are supposedly able to use certain frequencies to communicate, and by cycling through every available frequency so rapidly, our chances of hearing a spirit’s voice are enhanced.
But when you are cycling through constant static with the occasional radio station interruption, you tend to hear lots of stray words, and I concluded that my brain wanted them to fit somehow.
So yeah, it did seem, in moments, like I could hear a guy’s voice through the speaker. And I’m not discounting that. I definitely was on edge, and I kept looking at Quinn and Hunter to see if they were hearing the same things. I just want to cover all my bases here.
We thought we heard a voice answer “I am,” when we asked if anyone was in the room with us. And something asked us, “How’s school?” in the middle of a period of silence.
Or at least, I thought I heard that.
And you know what? School could be better.
We finished up our stakeouts, and before I knew it, it was time for the DMP to head out. I was not excited for our new friends to leave (and for the safety-in-numbers ratio to weaken), but I was excited to continue our investigation.
From here on out, it was just going to be myself, Hunter and Quinn. The KPIT, baby.
Haines, Toole and Bird King gathered up all their equipment with a promise to report back any findings. They also planned to upload their footage to their YouTube channel.
The door closed with some sort of finality as the DMP hunters headed home, and we found ourselves in the suffocating silence of Main Hall. Alone.
And then, all of a sudden, it was not so quiet anymore. That was the first thing I noticed after a few minutes alone in the building. Pipes rattled and radiators popped. Vending machines hummed loudly. It was trippy, and definitely contributed to the uneasy feeling that had been building all night.
We chilled for awhile, hanging in the conference room and trying to work up the courage to do the activities we tentatively planned. The first? A Ouija board in the haunted classroom.
I know we’ll get shit for this, one way or another. I’m not going to try to defend us. It’s fun, o.k.? This was for science.
Before I get into it, let’s take a second to talk about the psychology behind a Ouija board. It’s fascinating.
There’s this thing called the “ideomotor effect,” which essentially refers to subconscious (or unconscious) body movement. It’s disputed some, but in most explanations, the process entails a subconscious mental image that triggers an automatic physical movement. For example, if you see the letter “A” in your mind, you’d point to the letter “A” on paper without realizing.
It’s been linked to things like automatic writing, divination and, yes, Ouija boards.
The real connection lies in the subconscious. As explained in a Vox article, the phenomenon works in a paradoxical way: the less control of the conscious mind (your neocortex), the more the effect comes into play. It’s all tied to the subconscious mind.
“The less control you think you have, the more control your subconscious mind is actually exerting,” the article explains. “The effect is maximized when the subject believes he has no control of his movements.”
That said, Ouija boards are scary-weird. No matter the science behind them, involuntary movement is a strange, unfamiliar anomaly.
So, when we sat down and the planchette slid to the letter “E” when we asked, “Who’s there?” we were still freaked. We asked if there was more than one spirit present, and the planchette answered “Yes.” We asked how old this spirit was, and the planchette slid to the number seven.
At one point, all three of us clearly heard a deep sigh from right behind us. That was around the time we decided to stop.
What did this experiment tell us? Absolutely nothing. Nothing concrete anyway.
The Ouija got us through the hour, and then the time I had been dreading the most arrived.
The bathrooms in the basement were just freaky. I’m not sure how else to explain it. And at this point, we had only been getting increasingly scared, playing off each others fear. So 30 solitary minutes in a pitch-black, creepy-ass room did not sound like an ideal way to spend my time. Hunter felt similarly.
But we bucked up, and before I knew it, I was sitting in a chair in the corner of the bathroom and Quinn was turning off the lights and closing the door.
I quite honestly have never felt a more potent sense of dread than sitting in that chair completely in the dark. There were mirrors straight in front of me and in every peripheral direction. I was just waiting for Bloody Mary to pop up and crawl out, a la “The Ring.”
My watch showed my heart rate climbing from 50 to 80 to 100 bpm.
Nothing even really happened. I tried to talk to any present spirits, asked them to make a noise or touch me, but I heard and felt nothing. At one point, I thought I saw something in the mirror to my right, but when I turned and looked, I just saw my own dark reflection staring back.
Hunter had a similar experience. No concrete evidence, but lots of fear.
“More like playdough evidence, I would say,” Hunter explained, upon reflection. “Not concrete, but playdough. You know?”
By the time the clock struck three, we were tired, scared and ready to be done. We had not seen any ghosts and at this point, I was starting to feel drowsiness override fear. We may or may not have sat in a circle in the men’s bathroom and tried to summon a demon with a salt pentagram and an incantation. You’ll never know. But when nothing happened, and we made it well into the witching hour, we decided it was time to go home.
University Hall was quiet when we left. There was no folk music to accompany us on this trip. It felt surreal to be out at this hour on a Thursday night — Friday morning?
As we walked briskly away, I looked up to the towering spires and moonlit clouds above them. The bell tower, presently pumpkinless but soon, I was sure, to be adorned, stood ominously. It really did look like a scene from “Ghost Adventures.”
So, to answer the final question, is University Hall haunted?
I don’t know. Based on the evidence (or lack of), I think it’s safe to say “no.” Hunter and Quinn both lean toward “no.” But sometimes numbers and readings aren’t enough to convey truth.
I guess we have to keep on hunting.