Is Gilman House Haunted?

Gilman House - circa 1909
Gilman House - circa 1909

[Halloween is almost here, so we thought we’d share a brief article from the fall 2002 Bulletin on the supposed ghost who haunts Gilman House, the current home of the Alumni Affairs and Development office. We’ve also included a couple of creepy images from the Academy Archives.]

The Gilman Ghost:
I Wanna Hold Your Hand

Alums who return to campus usually begin their visit at the historic Nathaniel Gilman House. Built in 1735, it is the oldest building on the campus and was home to generations of Exeter families, served as a dormitory and is now headquarters of Alumni/ae Affairs and Development.

Here, handshakes and hugs reunite classmates and teammates, teachers and students, and humans and ghosts. You heard right-at least according to reports of those who have had their hands firmly grasped by the ghostly hand of Gilman House.

An early experience was reported by Jacquelyn Thomas, James H. Ottaway Jr. ’55 Professor and [former] Academy Librarian. Exonians of the mid-1960s may also remember that she and her husband, classics instructor emeritus David Thomas, were dorm faculty in Gilman House, then home to 15 boys.

The Thomases were asleep one night when Jackie awoke to feel a cold hand clutching hers. “I couldn’t get loose,” she recalls. “It just wouldn’t let go.” This, combined with a few other strange incidents has convinced Thomas that she was “living in the midst of something.”

There was the night of a vicious ice storm when she heard footsteps roaming the downstairs and descending to the basement. Thinking it was David inspecting the furnace, she went to check on her children in their room. There she saw her husband asleep with one of the kids. A thorough search by the Exeter Police found no one in the house.

The March 1906 issue of The Bulletin of Phillips Exeter Academy reported on the trustees acquisition of Gilman House and bid the boys who would live there to “turn at times to catch the faint footsteps of departed Gilmans.” Was this what the editors had in mind?

A former upstairs bedroom is now the office of Wayne Loosigian ’41, ’51 (Hon.), P’99, ’01, ’05, director of annual giving. If Loosigian has work to finish up in the evening, he brings it home. No more late nights in Gilman House for him. Not after a series of skirmishes with light switches that flip off and on, a copier that did the same and finding papers from his desk strewn over the floor. “There was something else there,” he reports. “It actually made the hair on my neck stand up.”

Custodian Lynda Young knows there is something else there. She saw it. Cleaning the building at night during the mid-1990s, she had several hair-raising encounters. Most memorable was the sight of “a man in military garb, who reminded me of pictures you see of Confederate soldiers. He stood in front of me for a moment then glided away,” she relates. Young also recalls hearing footsteps on the second floor while working alone at night and smelling coffee brewing in an empty kitchen. She too was subject to the ghostly handshake. Hers came as she reached around the corner to turn the light on in a deserted Gillespie Room, “I felt a cold hand grip mine. I left the building and didn’t go back,” she says.

During renovations this spring, an electrical contractor put his hand inside a wall and received the cold grasp of the Gilman hand. This renewed activity has come as the building is being reconfigured: A new entryway has been added from the back parking lot and the building is now more accessible for the handicapped. The Alumni/ae Affairs and Development staff invite alums and friends to visit the new space in Gilman House. If they dare.


Gilman House sitting room - c.1909