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The haunting of Muhlenberg College

By Matthew Pearson
On October 29, 2009

Urban legends have been dramatized and sensationalized across the world for centuries. Here at Muhlenberg, rumors run wild of haunted attics and dorm rooms. Other major campuses have been immortalized for their own legends, and numerous Internet sites and books are published to document them. The Lehigh Valley itself is no stranger to a good ghost story. At Cedar Crest College it is common lore that the ghost of a student named Wanda haunts Butz Hall. According to legend, Wanda committed suicide in the same dormitory in 1956 and has been a permanent resident ever since. The Lehigh University has a mischievous male poltergeist that haunts the library stacks at night.

The King George Inn & Restaurant is one of Allentown's most visited haunted attractions. It has been widely reported that employees and customers have spotted a woman and a small child dressed in 1700's clothing. These apparitions have been seen in both the entrance hall and the dining area.

The most infamous haunting on the Muhlenberg campus is that of Oscar Bernheim. Differing versions of the tale state that Bernheim was either a former registrar or treasurer at Muhlenberg. All accounts agree that he left his estate to the college and that the house was on the south side of campus. Before the college demolished the residence, it was reported that Bernheim's ghost haunted the residence's attic, basement, rear garden, and the third floor bedroom where he died.

Interestingly enough, two tales have come from the Oscar Bernheim haunting depending on where one believes the home was built. According to campus administrators, the house was originally closer to the Trexler Pavillion. Most students, however, choose to believe the home was removed to make way for South Hall.

In this second version, the focus of the story turns to the importance of Bernheim's home garden. It is said that in his will he left specific instructions for the college to take care of his garden. Many students believe that the source of the ghost's frustration is that the college did not follow through with his wishes. According to campus legend, the only way to ward off the ghost is to keep a healthy plant in your room to pacify him.

"My television has randomly turned on several times this semester," claims Dave Schutzbank '12, a current resident of South Hall. An anonymous resident reports "hearing strange noises" emanating from the cement walls of the lower floors. An entire suite of students, who wish to remain nameless, has had many of their belongings moved mysteriously around the room. "We used to think it was one of us," said one of the suite mates, "but I guess now we know the truth."

Students in South have all had their share of scares and apparently find it easy to blame the Bernheim ghost, but what about the administration? In 2002, it was reported to the Office of Residential Services (ORS) that one of the dorm rooms was being haunted. According to an investigation previously done by The Weekly, the complaints were taken very seriously. Members of ORS even went so far as to contact the on campus religious authorities to remedy the situation.

So while the facts seem to conclude that the haunting of South Hall is nothing more than the power of imagination and suggestion, the experiences of its residences tend to disagree. The only way to find out the truth is to walk the halls of South and see if the Bernheim ghost is willing to play.

Don't forget to bring a potted plant, just in case.

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