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An Interview with Matthew L. Swayne

1. Your new book, America's Haunted Universities, has stories of some of the most haunted locations in the country—college campuses. What inspiration led you to write a book about these locations?

That's an interesting question. I guess you could say I was born to write this book. I was born on Halloween, so, while other kids had balloons and clowns at their birthday parties, my party featured a full-sized monster mannequin with glowing red eyes.

I've been weird ever since.

But, the real idea for this book started when I worked for a local newspaper in central Pennsylvania. When you have a Halloween birthday, you tend to gravitate toward Halloween assignments. One year I decided to research local ghost stories for a feature article, but came up short. However, I found a lot of material at nearby Penn State and its branch campuses.

Over time, I continued to research university ghost stories and found that just about every campus has its share of creepy tales; the book really germinated from this interest and research.


2. Do you think there is a certain reason (or reasons) that college campuses tend to be more haunted than other locations?

There are a few reasons why universities attract ghost stories. Folklorists will tell you that colleges and universities have a transitory population—a new class of students start and another class graduates each semester. Campus legends (like ghost stories) provide quick and efficient ways to transfer knowledge about the school's history and moral code. The tales also build a sense of community.

Paranormal investigators and ghost hunters have another explanation. Many believe that such a concentrated, creative pool of minds create a lot of psychic energy. This can, they say, be released in the form of paranormal activity, like spirits and poltergeists.

I try to present both sides and let the reader decide.


3. Have you personally encountered any of these paranormal entities through your research?

I have never had an encounter on campus, even though my current office is in the building that was once used as the student dispensary and—I'm told—was the site of its share of misery and misfortune. It's a perfect place for a ghostly encounter, most would say. But, it seems pretty quiet. As I researched and wrote America's Haunted Universities, however, I have talked to a few folks who have had encounters that are pretty hard to explain, at least in my opinion.


4. In your opinion, what was the most haunted campus you encountered?

If I were to place bets on the most haunted campuses in the country, I would put the University of Ohio on the top of the list. There are just reams and reams of material about this campus—and a lot of these accounts go beyond the typical campus ghost story material. Penn State, my alma mater, would come a close second. (But, then again, maybe I'm a little biased.) My favorite haunted campuses, though, are the southern ones, like the University of Alabama and the University of Tennessee. I don't know whether it's the spiritual activity spawned by the Civil War, or the exquisite literary tradition of the South that is responsible for the formulation of these stories and legends, but they are perhaps the most interesting haunted campuses.


5. Do you have any advice for students and faculty at these and other haunted learning institutions?

Some schools really promote their haunted credibility, and others seem to shy away from discussing these stories. My advice for students and faculty would be to treasure your campus ghost stories. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, these stories are evidence of a rich oral literary tradition and, without question, a creative student body. They're not something to be ashamed of, or quashed like a bad reputation.

And, obviously, my other piece of advice would be that if you encounter something a little strange on campus—well, maybe I should say, "something a little paranormal on campus," because there's always something strange happening on campus—please, please let me know about it! I'd love to work on a follow-up to this book with more first-hand accounts.

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About Matthew L. Swayne

Matthew L. Swayne (State College, PA) is a journalist who currently works as a research writer at Penn State. He has also worked on writing projects with Paranormal State's Eilfie Music. Matthew is the author of five books, ...

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