Unlucky day revives urban legends at University

A depression in the basement of Noyes Laboratory appearing to be a grave of Edward Morley, a notable physicist, turned out to be a hoax. But are other urban legends true? Trevor Greene

A depression in the basement of Noyes Laboratory appearing to be a grave of Edward Morley, a notable physicist, turned out to be a hoax. But are other urban legends true? Trevor Greene

By Jill Disis

Friday the 13th is infamously known as one of the most unlucky days of the year. For the superstitious, any number of omens or signs can be cause for worry, especially on this day.

Crossing black cats, walking under ladders or opening an umbrella indoors are considered examples of such unlucky behavior.

The University is no stranger to odd and superstitious sights. Like many college campuses, urban legends and unusual places abound all over campus.

One of the lesser-known finds is that of a mysterious “grave site” hidden in room 19C of Noyes Laboratory.

“It’s kind of an urban legend,” said Vera Mainz, laboratory director.

Curious explorers who have made the spooky trek into the hidden room have come across a covered pit, a framed portrait of chemist Edward Williams Morley and a white cross leaning against the wall.

Mainz said the site, located in a dank room in the basement of Noyes, houses nothing more than an elaborate hoax.

“It’s certainly a creepy site,” Mainz said.

The picture is an addition; until recently it had been hanging in the conference room of Noyes, she said.

“The photograph of Edward Morley is definitely the work of someone trying to pull a joke,” said Gregory Girolami, professor of chemistry.

Girolami said the photograph had been found by another professor in the 1990s who wanted to have it framed and displayed.

“My wife and I volunteered to have it framed here in town,” Girolami said.

Girolami said that after a few years, the room was remodeled and he lost track of the picture.

“Evidently, someone took the picture and added it for additional ‘ambience,'” he said.

Professor Edward Morley was a famous chemist from the year 1800 who specialized in physics, but he had “absolutely nothing to do with the University of Illinois,” Girolami said. Morley was instead a prominent professor at Case Western Reserve University.

Mainz said the last time the room had been brought up was in 2006, when a student e-mailed a librarian wondering if the site was real or possibly just a prank.

“We get contacted about it every two to three years,” she added.

Still, the room does not escape suspicion.

During the early 20th century, the large lecture hall at 100 Noyes was originally part of central storage on campus, Mainz said.

“The room itself was acting as a loading dock originally,” she added.

While it is possible the “grave” room was used for storage, it does not have an official label on the original plans, she said.

“I don’t know what’s underneath that ground,” Girolami said.

Many other stories have more elevated statuses among students as urban legends at the University.

The famous ghost of the English building still chills students to this day. The story tells of a young woman who drowned in a swimming pool while the building was still a dormitory.

“It was a big deal around Halloween,” said McKenna Hennelly, freshman in Business.

Many variations on the story exist in local lore.

Some say it was an accident, while others believe it may have been a suicide fueled by an unplanned pregnancy, according to the University library’s urban legends Web site.

“That gave me the chills,” said Elizabeth Lerner, sophomore in ACES. “That stuff freaks me out.”

Chris Prom, assistant University archivist, said it is possible the urban legend has been in existence since at least the 1970s.

“There might be a ghost somewhere, but it’s not documented in the archives,” Prom said.

“There’s a pretty small amount of truth to that.”

Prom said many other strange rumors have been spread around campus over the years, including the erroneous existence of supercomputers in the Foreign Language Building.

Stranger still, the library has oddities of its own.

The Mandeville Collection in the Occult Sciences, a large assortment of books and journals with strengths in astrology and witchcraft, is currently being housed in the Education and Social Science Library.

“There was an exhibit for it last summer,” said Cindy Ingold, librarian in women’s studies. “It was actually funded by a faculty member here.”

The collection contains articles and books on a large variety of topics, including paranormal phenomena, crop circles, divination and cryptozoology, the study of mythical and legendary creatures.

“It’s, I guess, what you’d say is a creepy collection,” Prom said.