Beyond the University of Idaho’s Hello Walk, there’s a more timeless quality in the air. The trees are bigger. The buildings are older. The ivy grows thicker. The campus is quieter–but , no matter what, you can always count on hearing a few stray threads of wandering sheet music meander down from Ridenbaugh Hall — regardless of whether it’s to a mid-afternoon class, or 2 a.m. The music, the building and the whole aura–it is charming, if not a little eerie.
The grand, stoic brick building has served as UI’s practice hall for music majors, has been left in want of more than just a little care over the years — Ridenbaugh has, after all, had over a century to fall into disrepair.
Constructed in 1902 as the university’s women’s dormitory, Ridenbaugh Hall is the oldest standing building on campus.
All things considered, it’s no wonder the ghost stories started to circulate.
“I’d heard the ghost stories,” UI music professor Alan Gemberling said. “Don’t ask me if they’re in my head. It could be the plumbing, for all I know, and buildings have personalities sometimes, (but) spending many a late night working there I can tell you I was not always alone — and it was not only the music majors practicing that was scary.”
No one is entirely sure what, if anything, happened in Ridenbaugh. Rumors say a little girl was killed in the basement, a cellist died on the third floor or that a young woman hung herself in room 225, sometime in the 30s, when the hall was still a dorm.
“I’ve actually heard it’s a false rumor, the woman killed herself here — because there’s no record of it,” UI custodian Dianna Waskow said.
Both Waskow and Dale Amsbaugh, another custodian who spends most nights in the Ridenbaugh, agree there’s something other-worldly about the building after dark.
“We clean the windows as part of the job,” Amsbaugh said. “It’s kind of a matter of pride — nice, clean and all pristine and everything — and you know there’s nobody else in the building but you, but you turn around, and there’s fingerprints on them again. So you go clean them again but where did they come from?”
According to Amsbaugh, it’s not uncommon to hear footsteps running up and down the stairs, doors shutting and the occasional pianist who disappears as soon as someone goes looking for them.
Waskow, however, recalls a more startling experience.
It happened just around the corner from room 225. Waskow said, in one of the rooms, there’s a beautiful tiger wood piano which she always spoke aloud about how much she loved it and how she hoped to have one like it someday.
“I was up on the third floor, and I kind of got confused,” Waskow said. “I was around the corner and I went into the room where I thought this piano would be and said openly, ‘Where’s my piano?'”
Waskow said she and her colleague then went to clean the second floor without thinking anything of it, when they heard furniture moving down the hall. They went to investigate and found the noises coming from the room with the tigerwood piano. According to Waskow, the lights were off inside and the door was locked, but they could hear the furniture moving across the floor.
“So we unlocked it,” Waskow said. “We go to push on the door to get into the room. It’s pitch black, and we can’t get in. My first thought is, oh my gosh, a student’s lying in there, hurt in the dark, you know, and we couldn’t get in the room. Finally (my colleague) said, ‘Just shove it really hard!’ So I shoved it, and a chair had been shoved up beneath the door. No way to get in the room and can’t get out through the window, and there was my piano in that room. Immediately, I was like, oh my gosh, whoever was in the building or whatever was in the building, they’re like, ‘That is not your piano!'”
Amsbaugh said these occurrences seem to happen more frequently when stress is running high for the students, like around midterms or Christmas, when many music students are swamped with concerts.
“If you’re expecting to see something out of Hollywood — things floating around, apparitions, getting vomited on with ectoplasm — that doesn’t happen,” Amsbaugh said. “It’s pretty chill. This is an artists’ building. If there are, were, entities still haunting the building, they’re pretty chill. Nothing really evil or scary. Just, you know, we tend to be here pretty late at night. Just the atmosphere and the age of the building, and the reputation all combined — just odd things that puzzle you and don’t really add up all the time.”
Hannah Shirley can be reached at email@example.com