Mysterious America

‘The Gipper’ Still Roams the University of Notre Dame

The University of Notre Dame was founded in 1842 by Father Edward Sorin, a Catholic priest, and was an all-male institution until 1972. Its motto is, “Vita Dulcedo Spes” or “Life, Sweetness, Hope,” a reference to the Marian hymn Salve Regina. In honor of the Virgin Mary, the university is home to the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. Built in 1896, is a replica of the original in Lourdes, France. Other famous religious buildings on campus include the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, a neo-gothic church built in 1888.

Notre Dame is famous for its football team, the Fighting Irish. It was this athletic legacy that gave birth to the university’s most enduring legends. In 1920, George “The Gipper” Gipp, from Laurium, Michigan, was selected as Notre Dame’s first All-American football player. Unfortunately, he died of a streptococcal throat infection at the age of 25 on December 14, 1920. Ronald Reagan famously portrayed George Gipp in the 1940 film Knute Rockne, All American.

Students say the ghost of Gipp still haunts the modern-Gothic style Washington Hall, where he spent the night before he contracted the illness that ultimately killed him. Architect Wiloughby J. Edbrooke designed the building as a theater and music hall, and performances began there with the 1882 production of Oedipus Tyrannus.

George “The Gipper” Gipp
George “The Gipper” Gipp

Ghostly occurrences began shortly after Gipp’s death. In 1921, the campus newspaper reported, “Shortly before Christmas, the residents of Washington hall began to be bothered by night-time visits from a ghost who… blew a French horn with much violence. At the dead of night he would wake the hall’s eight intellectuals from slumber with a prodigious blast, and when they went fearfully to investigate he would be gone.”

According to the Division of Student Affairs history of Washington Hall, “While they may not all agree on the ghost’s identity, few students scoff at stories of doors slamming on windless nights, footsteps heard on the roof, or inexplicable noises heard during late-night play preparations. To them, the ghost of Washington Hall is very real and very much a part of the respect for the tradition that makes Notre Dame, Notre Dame.”

Poltergeist activity has also been encountered there. In addition to props falling and music playing on its own, one janitor saw an elderly, balding man who asked him to help open a window before vanishing. Others have heard unexplained music, phantom footsteps, and slamming doors. Students report being shoved on the stairway by unseen hands and seeing something unknown walking around on the roof.

According to one report, the ghosts of American Indians roam the grounds of Columba Hall, which was allegedly built on land formerly owned by the Potawatomi. This may be a distortion of a story from 1922 in which a student named Pio Montenegro reported witnessing a ghostly white horse galloping up the steps of Washington Hall. Whatever the origin of that particular tale, there is no doubt that the history and beauty of the University of Notre Dame has inspired many legends.


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