Talk to any student who’s set foot in one of Rensselaer’s iconic buildings like West Hall, Sage Lab, or the Ricketts Building and it’s likely they’ll agree there is just something “creepy” about them. It is that air of paranormal activity that brought Paul Nooney and Maeve McEneny to campus this October. The pair, known as The Original Albany Ghost Tour, has been giving haunted historic tours of the city of Albany for seven years. When Nooney, who works in Rensselaer’s First-Year Experience Office, and McEneny, education coordinator for the Albany County Convention and Visitors Bureau, were approached in the spring by the Rensselaer Union to write a ghost tour to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Union, they jumped at the opportunity.
“The combination of the age of the campus and the fact that colleges are known for being areas of extreme emotion are why we think this campus is a magnet for the paranormal,” said Nooney.
During the summer of 2015, the pair spent time researching stories of Rensselaer’s history as well as the numerous “encounters” that members of the Rensselaer community reportedly had had with the supernatural. “The first place we looked was West Hall,” said McEneny. The building, perched on the western edge of campus, was originally opened as the Troy Hospital in 1869 and was operated for 45 years by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul. One spirit in particular, dubbed Nurse Betsy, is said to still inhabit the building today. “Some people hear moaning or wailing, others report the sounds of piano music or the smell of baking cookies,” said McEneny, noting that Betsy is reported to have perished in a fire that took place in the hospital.
On top of the research, many of the stories on the tour came from employees and students who reported personal experiences in some of the older buildings. “The best story came from a voicemail that was played for me by someone who works in Russell Sage Lab,” said Nooney. The eerie sounds, recorded at 10:13 a.m. on 10/13/13, sound like they could simply be a wrong number or a “pocket dial.”
“The creepy part,” said Nooney, “is that Public Safety has no record of a call coming to that extension on that date and time.”
The tour, titled “The Spirits of Rensselaer,” ran on Friday and Saturday nights during the month of October and was open to members of the Rensselaer community and the general public. “It’s part ghost tour and part history lesson,” said McEneny. “We like to tell the stories of these buildings through their history and the people who worked in them.” Names like Russell Sage, Olivia Sage, Amos Eaton, and Stephen Van Rensselaer are mentioned alongside stories of theatrical ghosts, haunted labs, and mischievous spirits.
Stories of off-campus hauntings were also part of the tour, including a “monster” that is said to inhabit nearby Frear Park.
Ghost tours have become wildly popular in recent years and The Spirits of Rensselaer was no exception. Over 350 people enjoyed the 90-minute walking tours of the lower campus. Though the Halloween season is over, Nooney and McEneny say they will continue “digging up” Troy’s haunted history and are looking forward to visiting the Collar City next year.