16 min read

Haunted Hughes Hall (Haunted Fordham University)

After a scene in The Exorcist was filmed in Hughes Hall, a former dorm at Fordham University, urban legends began to spring up about the building being haunted.
Haunted Hughes Hall (Haunted Fordham University)

Haunted Hughes Hall: After a scene in The Exorcist was filmed in Hughes Hall, a former dorm at Fordham University, urban legends began to spring up about the building being haunted.

Rumors of “cultish” graffiti, tales of a young boy’s ghost, stories of a mysterious black dog, and more weird urban legends circulated about the building. This episode seeks to tease out why some of these legends may have grown up around the building, which began as the old prep school, was turned into a dorm as a “stopgap” measure that lasted for decades, and has since been completely gutted and turned back into an academic building.

Plus, a look at some of the weird connections that The Exorcist had to Fordham.

Highlights include:
• The Fordham University professor who was an influence on The Exorcist
• What it was like to be one of the last people to live in Hughes Hall (spoiler: it was bad)
• The ghost of a prep school student
• Satanic Panic-type urban legends

Episode Script

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

Note: For this version of the script, I tried to censor students’ names. Everyone I mention by name was quoted and named on the record in publicly accessible articles, but many of the articles exist in PDF form in the university’s archives and are not indexed by search engines. I don’t want to screw up the SEO on anyone’s name, so if you want to see full names, check out the sources or listen to the episode. 

Hughes Hall (used to be called the Second Division Building or Junior Hall, because it was the prep school, until it was renamed in 1935) (built 1891)
  • So, before I get into the haunted stuff there, I want to talk a bit about what the living conditions were like there, since when it comes to haunted dorms, that has such a big impact on what kind of stories were told there.
  • I lived in this building for two summers; it was considered the worst or second-worst dorm on campus, and it was where students who were taking classes or working on campus over the summer were offered housing.
    • So I mentioned that this was an undesirable place to live. It was also known as the party dorm for freshmen, because everyone lived at such close quarters.
    • Each of the (pretty small) rooms housed 4 students, who slept on two sets of bunk beds. I remember when I lived there, the bunk beds were very tall and had no ladder or rails, so every night, I had to climb up the side beams of the bed, and every morning, before my roommate woke up, I had to climb down and collect the stuff from my bed that had fallen into her bed. (Usually my phone and book would have fallen down to her bed during the night, I don’t know why.)
      • It was a grim place to live.
      • Each student had a desk, and there were no closets, because the building was never meant to be a dorm, so each student had a wardrobe. The rooms were so small that the beds would usually be pushed up toward the windows, and the desks would be pushed together in an area between the wardrobes and the door.
    • Each floor had a communal bathroom down the hall, and there was a single kitchen, down in the basement, but I think the first summer I lived there, there was something wrong with it so we didn’t have full use of it, so I remember my roommate had a contraband microwave in our room, and we only really ate things you could make in the microwave.
    • The idea was that students living there had to be on the meal plan, but during the summer, that wasn’t really a thing, I think I worked something out where I could eat in the cafeteria maybe 3-5 times a week for the first summer. And then the second summer, I found myself walking down 4+ flights of stairs just to use the microwave. I have lots of memories of me carrying my pan and spatula and ingredients up and down the stairs, to use the stove, it was awful.
    • When I lived there, they’d stopped maintaining the building, because they’d made plans to gut it and turn it into a shiny new business school building (which is what it is now.) So I remember the second summer, they started cutting holes in the walls in the stairwell and common areas, so everything was covered in a fine white powder from the paint and drywall debris. And the water pressure was screwed up in the showers, so it was painfully strong, to the point where it hurt my skin. So every time I took a shower, I had to bring a washcloth and rubber band, and I had to secure the washcloth over the shower head using the rubber band, to diffuse the water pressure enough so that I could shower. But also the ceiling over the shower had been cut open, so debris would fall on you in the shower, so often I’d get out and have to clean this gross dark stuff from the ceiling off my skin.
    • The first summer, we possibly had bedbugs in the room we were assigned; my one roommate was covered in these huge bug bites all around her stomach and waist that ended up taking months to heal. They were like huge welts. The university sent exterminators, that didn’t seem to help, so then they moved us to a bigger, better room, because it looked pretty bad. And there weren’t that many students who lived there during the summer, so the 4th and 5th floors were empty (and I think there were also empty rooms on the occupied floors.)
      • So the room they moved us to was on a completely empty floor, the 4th floor. At the time, I remembered that part of The Exorcist had been filmed in the building, so I looked it up, and saw that the scene had been filmed on the 4th floor. At the time, I didn’t know what room the filming happened it, though while doing the research for this episode, I’ve seen that it was apparently filmed in room 417. I can’t remember what room they moved us to on the 4th floor, but it was a huge corner room on the far west side of the building (I believe it would have been the room on the far southwest corner of the 4th floor.)
      • The room was so big that we actually didn’t even have bunk beds; there was enough floor space to have all the beds standing on their own, which was wild. Also, remember this is NYC, so when I say the room was huge, I’d guess, from memory and comparing it to places I’ve lived since, that it was maybe 300 square feet?
      • Anyway, while we lived on the otherwise empty floor, I don’t think we had any paranormal stuff happen.
        • The vibe was very bad there, obviously, and usually I’d spent evenings reading outside on the quad and would just go back to the dorm to sleep.
        • Once I woke up during the night, hearing screams, but it was just my roommates trying to chase a rat out of our room and down the hall.
        • Most mornings I woke up and had spider bites on me, but that may have just been from being out on the quad the evening before (though my roommates often had bug bites, just not as bad as the scary ones my roommate had in our old room.)
        • Since there were four of us and we were always going in and out to use the restroom down the hall, as long as someone was home, we usually kept the door unlocked, so once someone came into our room. But I think it was just a drunk person, not a ghost. I remember my roommate got up and shoved them out.
      • The second summer that I lived in the building was less eventful. I think I lived on the 3rd floor, but can’t remember for sure.
        • I do remember that second summer, I once went up to the 5th floor and I remember at least some of the doors of the rooms were unlocked or open, and the rooms were full of weird old furniture? It didn’t really make sense to me, but maybe because we were the last people to live there, they’d just started using it for storage? I remember that floor creeped me out a LOT and if I recall correctly, it was in the mansard roof, so it had a real attic/garret vibe, with sloping exterior walls with windows. I only went up to the 5th floor once and then never went back.
    • So it wasn’t a pleasant place to live, not at all. I know I lived there under extraordinary circumstances, being in the final cohort of people living there, but even under regular times, it was unpleasant and crowded with too many people.
  • Hughes Hall was originally called the Second Division Building; it was basically a boarding school/high school.
    • From an article in the Ram, written in 1990, as well as Raymond Schroth’s book, Fordham: A History and Memoir, which I mentioned in previous episodes, apparently the building was completed and occupied by September 1890. Here’s what each floor was originally used for:
      • 1st floor: gymnasium (had an extra tall ceiling). There was also a billiard room, reading room, and restrooms
      • 2nd floor: VP’s office, study hall with a slanted floor that led to stage, and classrooms
      • 3rd floor: 8 large classrooms (which could hold 50 students each)
      • 4th floor: dorm (apparently it was one huge room with a sliding door that could divide it in half
      • 5th floor: wardrobe (later, it was converted into individual rooms for students to board in, who called it “Madison Avenue”
    • According to Fordham’s website, the Second Division Building was renamed Hughes Hall, after the school’s founder, Archbishop John Hughes, who I’ve talked about enough already, listen to past episodes of you want to hear more about that guy.
      • The new prep school building was opened in 1972. So in June 1973, Hughes was turned into “into a multidisciplinary building, housing faculty offices, athletic facilities and conference rooms.”
      • And then by 1978, the building was mostly used for storage. In 1982, the “the first three floors are converted into a temporary dormitory for 180 freshmen.”
      • Then in summer of 1984, they converted the 4th and 5th floor to dorm rooms and added an elevator.
      • Their timeline of the building’s history and renovation doesn’t mention any additional changes to the building until 2012, when it opened as the new business school.
      • So The Exorcist came out in 1973. Principal photography started in August 1972 and went on for 200 days. I’m not sure when the parts that were filmed at Fordham happened, but it sounds like it probably happened between the building being vacated and it being turned into a “multidisciplinary building.” So much like the summers I spent there, the building would’ve been mostly empty then. Apparently, since the building didn’t have an elevator yet, they had to remove the windows so they could bring up the camera on a crane.
      • As far as I’m concerned, even before we get to the paranormal elements, the place is cursed and awful.
  • I found a reminiscence of Hughes Hall written by someone who went to Fordham Prep, a man named Joe B—-. Seems like he may have attended during the 1960s? This blog post was written in 2009, on his blog, warofyesterday.blogspot.com, but I thought it had a nice description of what the building used to be like:
    • “Huge Hall was our name for the building Fordham Prep was in, Hughes Hall. It wasn’t that big. That’s why we called it Huge. We noticed that the steam radiators had a date in the 1880s cast into them, and being the youngsters we were, with our minds on the present, that seemed too impossibly old to be true. But it was. It was less than a hundred years ago at the time. Some of the classrooms still had the old iron desks attached to the floor, the wooden desktop equipped with a pencil groove and a hole for the ink bottle, the wood worn beautifully smooth by generations of boys. The walls had real slate blackboards. It was a great atmosphere. It reeked of tradition.
    • “Hughes was too old to be a steel building. The support system was the external stone walls and a single row of iron columns down the center on the long axis, visible only on the ground floor where space was opened up for a gym. Yes, a gym with padded iron columns within it! Oof! The stone wall on the ground floor was three feet thick, making for nice window seats.”
  • So that was the building was like it’s prep school days.
  • The book, Fordham: A History of the Jesuit University of New York: 1841-2003 by Thomas J. Shelley (2016) describes how Hughes Hall became a dorm:
    • “Finlay [the university president at the time] sent a panic-stricken letter to the Jesuit community at the beginning of the summer, warning them that the university could not provide housing for more than 200 incoming freshmen. As an emergency measure, Finlay converted three floors of Hughes Hall (the former site of Fordham Prep) into student housing, but he admitted that it was only a stopgap solution.”
    • While the university would build more housing, it seems like housing was always an issue, because that stopgap solution was still in place in the early 2010s.
    • Also, while a bunch of new dorms have been built since the early 1980s, Loyola Hall and Faber are now both used for student housing.
    • In terms of how they converted the building, they obviously just cut the classrooms in half (possibly thirds) and turned them into dorm rooms which slept four people each, in two bunk beds that were about 3 feet apart. And I guess they added showers to the existing restrooms. It was known as the party dorm, which is no surprise, because just entering your own tiny dorm room was basically like walking into a party.
    • So enough background, let’s get into some ghost stories.
    • In the October 14, 1982, issue of the Ram, an article mentions that: “The top floor of Hughes Hall is reputed to be haunted by an eerie unknown specter.”
      • I’ve also read that this ghost on the top floor seemed to potentially be a young boy’s ghost, which makes sense, since this was the prep school.
    • An article that was printed in  The Ram in 1983 (and reprinted a few times) has a very silly anecdote about Hughes Hall:
      • Before its renovation as a new form, Hughes Hall sparked several rumors of being haunted. Reportedly, bizarre Satan-worship ceremonies occurred on the fourth floor and strange “cultish” wall paintings, which depict burning flames against a heavenly sky, still survive to this day.
    • To me, that just seems like typical 80s satanic panic stuff to me. To continue reading from the article:
      • While ‘The Exorcist’ was being filmed at Fordham, specifically in Hughes Hall, it’s said that a large, black dog came to set every day without fail. The animal didn’t bother anyone, but the crew could not chase it away, no matter how hard they tried.. It never returned after the film sequence was completed.
    • The black dog is really interesting to me, since that’s something that comes up in lots of accounts of paranormal encounters.
      • I’m gonna read a bit from wikipedia about black dogs in folklore (I’m sorry to be that way, it just has a good summary):
        • “The black dog is a supernatural, spectral or demonic entity from English folklore. It is usually unnaturally large with glowing red or yellow eyes, is often connected with the Devil (as an English incarnation of the Hellhound), and is sometimes an omen of death. It is sometimes associated with electrical storms . . . and also with crossroads, barrows (as a type of fairy hound), places of execution and ancient pathways.
        • “Black dogs are generally regarded as sinister or malevolent, and a few . . . are said to be directly harmful. Some black dogs, however, . . . are said to behave benevolently as guardian black dogs, guiding travellers at night onto the right path or protecting them from danger.”
  • And because I feel guilty about quoting from wikipedia, I also went over to my bookshelf a cracked open some paper books that mention Black Dogs.
    • The book Where the Footprints End: Hight Strangeness and the Bigfoot Phenomenon Volume1: Folklore by Joshua Cutchin and Timothy Renner, one of my favorite books about the paranormal, talks about familiar spirits that worked with witches and cunning men. To quote from the book: “Large black dogs are closely associated with witches and faeries, both as a guise for Satan and as familiars.” The book goes on to talk about black dogs that have been sighted near bigfoot, etc.
    • And The Encyclopedia of Demons & Demonology by Rosemary Ellen Guiley talks about black dogs, and also says they’re often considered demons or the devil in shapeshifted form. Apparently in European witch hunts, people would claim that witches would “be visited by their master, the devil, in the shape of a black dog.” Also, this next fact isn’t relevant, but it is interesting: apparently in Arabian lore, djinn like to take the form of a black dog, in order to stay close to a person they’re attached to. So basically, the idea is that magical creatures like to masquerade as black dogs.
  • It sounds like black dog lore in the US is more prevalent in New England, which makes sense, since it came over with English colonizers. In particular, Meriden, Connecticut, has had black dog legends associated with an area called the Hanging Hills.
  • A ton of people at Fordham (at least while I was there) are from CT, since it’s so close, so it makes sense that the black dog story made its way to Fordham. Now the question is: Is it just an urban legend that came about because CT people were familiar with the myth, or did CT people just NOTICE the black dog and find it worthy of note bc they were familiar with the legend.
  • It is interesting to me that the Fordham legend doesn’t mention glowing red or yellow eyes, or the dog emitting creepy howls, which are parts of the black dog lore.
    • I tried to figure out if a black dog was sighted elsewhere during the Exorcist’s production, but couldn’t find anything. I wonder if the black dog was some supernatural entity (friendly or not friendly) who had come to keep an eye on the production. A lot of weird lore is attached to The Exorcist so maybe some sort of entity in the area wanted to check it out while it was around. I haven’t heard of other black dog sightings in the area, though.
  • There’s one last line from this article I wanted to read:
    • Hughes is also home for a deceased Jesuit novitiate who had perpetually haunted the top floors of the building after his death there several years ago.
    • When I searched “novitiate dead hughes hall” in the Ram’s archives, I only found this article that I’m reading from. So while I’m not saying it’s false, I hadn’t really seen stuff about Jesuits living in Hughes (though I guess it’s possible) and I can’t find this story. Make of this what you will.
  • So let’s talk more about the filming of The Exorcist at Fordham:
  • Part of The Exorcist was filmed in Hughes Hall, and a Fordham-affiliated Jesuit, Father Bermingham, was involved in the production (he was a technical advisor, and had a bit part in the movie)
  • We need to pause on Bermingham real quick. He taught at both Brooklyn Prep and Georgetown, and coincidentally, he taught Exorcist author William Peter Blatty both places. In fact, while teaching Blatty at Georgetown, he suggested that Blatty do an oration project on demonic possession, and pointed him toward an article about Roland Doe, the case that inspired The Exorcist.
  • The fact that Blatty was close with a Jesuit suggests to me that maybe Blatty did know a bit about how the Catholic church handled exorcisms, and how Fordham may have been connected to exorcisms.
    • This is complete hearsay, so take it with whatever sized grain of salt you want, but: When I was in school, I knew a couple guys who were considering becoming priests and were pretty close with the Jesuits.
    • One of these guys told me that a Jesuit had told him that, from time to time, priests who were recovering from doing an exorcism would be housed in the Jesuit infirmary residences.
    • Exorcisms are very emotionally draining, and it’s understood that priests are often in bad shape afterwards and need somewhere to recover in safety. Apparently Fordham is one of those places.
    • It was definitely common to see different Jesuits appearing on campus: I have so many clear memories of walking around campus and seeing Jesuits I didn’t recognize sitting on benches  around campus, relaxing.
  • Underscoring this for me is the fact that in 1969, Bermingham joined the Classics department of Fordham University. He lived and taught on campus until his death. He died in 1998 at the Jesuit residence where he lived, which I believe was Loyola Hall.
  • In the acknowledgements of The Exorcist, Blatty wrote: “I would also like to thank the Rev. Thomas V. Bermingham, S. J., Vice-Provincial for Formation of the New York Province of the Society of Jesus, for suggesting the subject matter of this novel.”
  • Blatty was the film’s producer, so approached Bermingham to work on the film as well.
  • Also, worth noting, that there was another Fordham Jesuit who was involved in the production of The Exorcist: William O’Malley, who played Father Dyer in The Exorcist. He was an adjunct professor at Fordham University until 2003, and he taught at Fordham Prep until 2012. He continued living on campus after retiring from teaching until 2019, when allegations of sexual abuse against him came to light.
  • A November 4, 1993, article in the Fordham Ram lists a few other suspicious events that I hadn’t really seen elsewhere:
    • “The director  wanted actress Linda Blair to say the Our Father in Latin. To help her memorize it, Bermingham asked a female Fordham student to record her voice. However, before she could do this, she slipped on the ice and broke her jaw.
    • Another freaky event involved Bermingham.  During a routine medical  check-up,  a lump was discovered  under  his arm. He claims  that  the tumor  was  not present before that appointment, even  that  very morning.  Luckily, the tumor was benign, but the doctors kept  it for further  observation because its consistency was so strange;  they had never  seen anything  like it before. In addition to these problems, there  were  two deaths  around the  set.  Also, the son of Jason Miller,  the leading  actor, was seriously  injured.   The accident happened while Miller was about to  reshoot  the scene  that was filmed  in Hughes  Hall.”
  • Things were so unpleasant on set that at one point, Friedkin asked Father Thomas Bermingham, a Jesuit who was a technical advisor on the film and who had a bit part in the movie, to exorcise the set. Bermingham declined, saying that there wasn’t enough evidence of demonic activity, and he didn’t want to cause even more anxiety on set. 
  • Some people claim that the set burned to the ground the next day, though other people said it just caught fire. At any rate, afterwards, Bermingham blessed the set with the entire cast and crew present.

Sources consulted RE: Haunted Hughes Hall

See sources page for the full source list for the series

Books consulted

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