Castleton University: Old Chapel

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Why did you take my head?

Memories are wonderful here!

I still love education. What are they doing now?



The Old Chapel building is the oldest building on campus. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places; (NRHP) in 1971.

According to NRHP’s application form, The Old Chapel is “a two-story wooden structure, with timber framing enclosed by wooden clapboards, and a gabled roof. A projecting vestibule has a lower roof line than the main block, with a fully pedimented gable end, and the main entrance in a recess flanked by pilasters and topped by an entablature. At the front of the main roof a two-stage tower rises, square in the first stage, and with an open octagonal cupola above.”

The space within this structure has been used for many things throughout the years. Two wings were added to the original structure, probably around 1823-1830, to provide class space, perhaps offices and whatever else was needed.

It has been restored to its original design as the two wings were removed. Although it is still a place where people can host their weddings, The Old Chapel building is now mainly a venue for events, art classes and seminars. The Commencement tradition of Candle Lighting is still held here. Ghost Hunter John Zaffis recently gave a presentation and lead an investigation to meet the spirits, and The Annual Holiday Concert also takes place in this much loved campus building.



The original building was constructed in 1821, making it the oldest structure on campus. It was used as a dormitory, a classroom space, and a chapel, as well as the Castleton Medical School. In fact, it was the first private degree-granting medical school in the United States. At some point, probably 1823-1830, two wings were added to offer more room for classes or for dorm space.

A member of the first graduating class of the private Castleton Medical College was quoted in the NRHP application form describing this building;

“The first floor contains a spacious lecture room with ascending seats, a chemical laboratory and apparatus, and a study and library room. In the second story is the anatomical theater and lecture room directly under the skylight, with ascending circular seats which are entered by two avenues, the one horizontally, the other by descending stairs toward the center. It also contains a dissecting room, and another room which is occupied by a valuable anatomical museum, various minerals, and natural curiosities.”


In 1823, “female branches of education” were added to the curriculum, creating the Women’s Seminary, allowing women to attend here as well; perhaps in nursing but mostly I bet as teachers. Eventually a Castleton Normal School was added to provide education for teachers. Although Castleton Medical College and Castleton Seminary were separate institutions, they often shared faculty.

The Castleton Medical School closed in 1862, after graduating a total 1400 students. “It is noted for the large number of its graduates who distinguished themselves as professors at other medical schools, founders of medical colleges, and officers of medical associations.” At a much later date, a Pre-Med Program was re-established, and is going strong today.

In the 1860s, Harriet Haskell, later a nationally known feminist, served as Castleton’s first female principal. Most of the students now attending were women by the 1860s, probably because most of the men were fighting in the Civil War.

After the Civil War, Abel Leavenworth and his son Philip Leavenworth were principals of the Teacher’s Normal School for 30 years.

In 1912, the State of Vermont purchased the property, and it officially became the State of Vermont Castleton Normal Seminary.

The first floor of the old medical building was still used as a chapel for church services for students who preferred to go to church on campus. I bet the second floor and the wings were used for other purposes, such as education and support services. During the week, the chapel was probably also used as a big lecture hall as well.

Castleton entered a Golden Age in the 1920s and ’30s under the leadership of Principal Caroline Woodruff; a true mover and shaker. In 1924, the great fire burned down most of the old school buildings. Fortunately, this old medical building turned part-time chapel and classsroom was spare, making it the lone survivor of the buildings built in the early 19th century.

Fortunately, Castleton Normal Seminary had Principal Caroline Woodruff., who helped save the school after the Old Seminary building burned in January 1924. Caroline Woodruff did a lot to improve the education here by modernizing the curriculum, hiring the most gifted staff she could find, and exposing her students to a wider world view by bringing in speakers such as Robert Frost, Helen Keller, and Norman Rockwell. She also served as President of The National Education Association.

In 1947, the Normal School became Castleton Teachers College, attracting men as well as women. Soon, they had enough men to have an intercollegiate athletics.

In 1962, Castleton became a state college, and a member of the newly formed Vermont State College system, which really boosted its growth during the 1960s, and allowed it to invest $75 million in infrastructure improvements. This large investment increased research opportunities for both staff and students, and fostered growth in the athletic and arts programs, all of which added up to a “decade of unprecedented growth and improvements. In 2015, “the Vermont State Colleges Board of Trustees unanimously approved modernizing Castleton’s name to Castleton University.”

In 1971, the university wisely listed all their historical buildings on NRHP. They have restored the old medical building now known as The Old Chapel to its original structure, taking down the wings that were added to the chapel structure so long ago. Although so much has changed in 228 years, Castleton retains its historic commitment to students and to Vermont.


The Mission Of Castleton University:

“Castleton University has been dedicated to educating future leaders of Vermont and beyond since 1787. Today, Castleton sits on a foundation of more than 230 years of providing cutting-edge education through a highly personalized approach.”

“The graduate programs at Castleton University recognize their responsibilities to students within an increasingly global society. Their mission is to promote the knowledge, competence, and character necessary for the professional application of skills within their chosen fields. ”



Disturbed, disrespected graves can cause restless spirits to be upset with the living dolts who did the deed.

El Campo Santo Cemetery, CA (Roads were built over graves in this cemetery).

Cincinnati Music Hall, OH (This building was built over the Pauper’s and Disease Cemeteries).

The Easton Library, PA (Graves were removed, and the remaining bodies were put in one mass grave at the entrance of the new library’s parking lot, so cars continuously roll over it).

Castleton University Old Chapel, VT (Apparently, the spirit of the wife of the school’s trustee didn’t like having her grave dug up and her remains desecrated; cut up!).


People who lost their heads in death or after death, sometimes literally try to find this vital body part in this world or, worse, carry their heads around while in spirit form. Bad hangings that cause heads to pop off, an unlucky hit by a cannon ball on the battlefield, gruesome murders/executions, or aircraft carrier accidents can explain why some spirits carry their heads or look for them as spirits.

The Old Faithful Inn, WY (A new bride in love was beheaded by the man she married).

Walker House, WI (A man suffered a bad hanging that popped off his head).

The USS Hornet, CA (Flight deck Navy men were beheaded by loose air plane cables).

Castleton University Old Chapel, VT (Part of medical training in an 1830 medical course of study was to practice on and observe how a cadaver was put together. There was a cadaver dissection room on the second floor. The story told is that because body donations were rare back then, students sometimes resorted to grave robbing from the local cemetery, and simply discarding the remains. No one would be the wiser, they thought).

(According to the Rutland Herald newspaper, in 1830 students were caught with the corpse of a trustee’s wife who had recently died. The students had tried to make the corpse unidentifiable by removing her head. Uh Oh!).


When people die suddenly after failing to meet their goals in life, they can stick around and keep trying. If it can’t be done, sometime they enjoy watching the living achieve their goals.

Moravian College, PA (A former student died in war, but apparently re-enrolled).

USS The Sullivans, NY (Five brothers thought by serving together they were invincible).

Maysville Opera House, KY (A performer died before she could finish her gig there).

Castleton University Old Chapel, VT (In 1924, the old college buildings burned to the ground, perhaps killing a few people. Perhaps some students died in the French and Indian Wars and were unable to graduate, and fulfill their life’s dreams. Perhaps some Castleton students or employees died suddenly from accidents or illness. Spirits of legally obtained cadavers may still be here as well).


When people love what they do in life, they may decide to continue doing it in their afterlife.

Mission Santa Barbara, CA (A Franciscan Priest still helps the living).

The USS Hornet, CA (Spirits of sailors still serve).

Mantorville Opera House, MN (Former thespians now in spirit form abound and interact).

Castleton University Old Chapel, VT (Perhaps instructors and students in spirit form still like to relive their good times here, and entertain themselves watching the living learn).



The Spirit of the Deceased Wife of a Trustee

Not only was her grave disturbed, but her remains were hauled back to the dissecting room, and her head was removed, obviously without her consent.

Usually, people make the decision to donate their body to science, but this spirit person had no say in the matter! She was disrespected and desecrated.

She has been seen searching inside, probably on the second floor where the cadaver dissection room once was located, and probably outside for her missing head.

She could make herself known in solid form or as a transparent, headless woman’s body because she was recognized and identified by those who were treated to this full paranormal “sports package.”

Seven Other Spirits

Not much has been reported about their paranormal activity. We can make an educated guess, from other stories found on haunted

Perhaps they sit in on classes, seminars and events held here. They were present for Ghost Hunter John Zaffis’s presentation, mentioned below.

Perhaps they are fascinated by the electrical gadgets, lights and other goodies that fascinate spirits.

Perhaps disembodied voices are heard by the living who use this place.

Perhaps disembodied footsteps are heard as well.

Paranormal Findings

The only personal experiences I could find report sightings of the agitated female spirit still looking for her head.

Ghost Hunter, John Zaffis who has had 42 years of experience doing paranormal investigations, as well as starring in the television show, “The Haunted Collector” came to Castleton on October 27th, 2019 for a presentation and hands-on ghost hunt of the Old Chapel building.

About the Old Chapel: While he didn’t mention the spirit of the trustee’s wife, he did lead an investigation, with students participating.

Using EVP recorders and other investigation gadgets, John Zaffis did catch some hard proof of spirit people. Apparently, they are sociable and cooperative; answering questions posed by John and student participants.

An article written by Ellie Adams in the university’s newspaper, The Spartan, recounts to the reader what happened, as she attended this event.

Miss Ellie reports, “He spoke with the ghosts and some people asked questions. He said that there were seven ghosts in the room with us. One of them was named Ed and another was Peter, he said. They said something about a fire, but it was hard to understand.”

The Old Chapel seems to draw other paranormal investigators like Chris Moon as well.


Still Haunted?

Most probably so!

We only know the names of two spirits here; Ed and Peter, who perhaps died in the 1924 fire that destroyed most of the old buildings, or 1971 fire at Leavenworth Hall; (See the Ellis Hall story). The other five spirits are a mystery as to who they were in life. They have some connection to the history of Castleton University, and/or this historical building where so much learning has happened. As spirits, they still find learning and earthly events very interesting.

Part of me thinks this story about the cadaver-stealing incident is campus legend, if not for the referenced article in the Rutland Herald newspaper. Perhaps, the wife of the college trustee is there also. She may have been too busy searching for her head to remember her manners and say hello to John Zaffis.

Or, she may have been persuaded by her spectral loved ones to give up her search and go to the spirit world where it doesn’t matter anymore.



Castleton University: Old Chapel is located on campus between Seminary and Elm Streets on South Street. It was moved two hundred yards during 1965 from its original site on Main Street to make room for the construction of a new campus building, the Castleton University Library.

The university’s 160‐acre campus is situated in the village of Castleton. One of Vermont’s largest cities, Rutland, lies 12 miles to the east; New York State is six miles to the west. Montreal, Boston, Hartford, Albany, and New York City are all within easy driving distance on major highways and are accessible by air, bus, and/or train service.


  • Wikipedia
  • Castleton University and Castleton Medical College Building web pages
  • castletonspartan website
  • “Ghost Hunter Visits Old Chapel,” by Ellie Adams, October 31, 2019
    National Register of Historic Places Inventory: Nomination form: Castleton Medical College Building
    November 23rd, 1970.- Approved
    State Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings: History and Statement of Significance
  • Facebook: Haunted History
    This information will be moved to facebook account:HistoryFolklore Ghost Legend Superstition of Our World.
  • Haunted History Post
    History & Haunting of Castleton State College, Old Chapel, Castleton, Vermont ,U.S.A
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