by Josephine Jablons
“I never believed in that ghost stuff before I started working here. But now…I’m not so sure.”
– Brittany Residence Hall engineer
I grew up in an old Victorian house that had survived major Bay Area earthquakes and entered cinematic history; the 1990 thriller film Pacific Heights features my home, my living room, and my eerie basement. I thought that moving to New York would be a reprieve from years of ridiculous nightmares and fear.
Instead, here I am, living with four roommates in NYU’s most haunted building: Brittany Hall. As if freshman year wasn’t terrifying enough.
Before it belonged to NYU, Brittany was a luxury hotel built in 1929. Rumor has it, an eight-year-old girl named Molly tragically fell down an elevator shaft during the hotel’s construction and has continued to haunt the building ever since. In 2005, Paranormal NYC, a group dedicated to debunking paranormal activity, concluded that any suspicious noise was probably due to the building’s age: old wiring, piping, and thin walls.
When one building engineer first began working at NYU in 1997, he remembered one summer when the residence was entirely empty. The rooms had been stripped of furniture and all 17 floors were deserted. One afternoon, he was performing a routine check of the building: examining windows, sinks, and other amenities. It was on the 8th floor that he saw the chair: a large and unfamiliar chair, obstructing his entrance into a dorm room.
Strangely, it was not the standard university-provided chair. He remembered staring at it for a moment and then running. He ran down all eight flights of stairs until he reached the lobby. After he confirmed with the security guard that no other person was in the building, he stopped for a moment to regain his composure and returned to the room. The chair was gone.
Another Brittany engineer recalls talking to a coworker in the building’s basement when a face peered into the hallway and then disappeared. The two men, both sure of what they had seen, went to investigate, but found nothing.
Maria Molina, Residence Hall Resource Manager said she remembers feeling “a cold sensation” when the door to the busy first-floor bathroom mysteriously opened and closed during this past term. She also hears strange noises coming from her office closet, “like the sound of mice.”
Molina has worked in Brittany for the past four years, and I asked how she manages her encounters with the ghost.
She responded calmly, “You have to be playful with Molly, not afraid. Say, ‘Don’t play with me, Molly!’ and you’ll be fine.”
In the laundry room, students trade eerie stories or blame their missing socks on our Brittany ghost. On a Monday afternoon, a handful of NYU freshman went about the basement, doing their laundry in silence. When I mentioned Molly, everyone quickly became engaged.
CAS freshman Saroj Gourkanti removed his headphones to chime in about phantom knocking on a door on the 16th floor.
“It was late, maybe around midnight, and there was a knock at the door. But the hallway was empty. It happened a few times,” Gourkanti recalled.
GLS freshman Mélissa Godin nodded in agreement.
“I’ve heard strange noises, too. Not knocking, but weird ticks in the walls,” she commented while transferring her clothes from the washer to the drier.
The laundry room was now filled with conversation. We were no longer strangers, reaching into machines, using headphones as barriers, passing by like ghosts. Molly may be invisible, but her presence in the dorm community is not. A strange sort of camaraderie has developed because of her.
Our laundry room chat, which began about Molly, quickly evolved into a discussion of much larger fears. College is scary, especially freshman year. The future seems to stretch out like the entrance of a haunted house: tangled, dark, and full of unknowns. New York, in all of its competitiveness and fervor, is scary, too.
While studying here, it is impossible not to feel your imminent failure. But we forget that there is a common ground in fear.
I am afraid of the future, afraid of failing, and afraid of Molly. Until I remember: “You have to be playful.”
Talking to adults about Molly, listening to their stories of panic and anxiety, was as much a relief as it was amusing. It was a reminder that these accomplished, mature, professional people have moments of absurd vulnerability, too.
Talking to students about Molly was even more reassuring; it was a chance to temporarily remove this composed freshman façade. It was a reminder that no one can be fearless all the time.