Mary's Ghost

January 04, 2013


It’s around 2 a.m. The library has already closed, and you have four more pages to go on a paper about sentimentality in the fiction of Mary Wollstonecraft. So you set up your laptop and a veritable tower of books in

the living room of Mears Cottage on the south side of campus. The Victorian-style, English and history house has a comfortable feeling, with glowing incandescent lights and couches for when four o’clock rolls around and sleep becomes nothing short of inevitable.

“I really should have started this essay sooner,” you think to yourself, right before the elevator doors in the hallway open of their own accord.

And there’s no one inside.

Of course there’s no one inside. There’s no one in the building. Only the emergency lights had been on when you pulled open the door, slouched down the hall, and plopped your backpack down in the living room. Of course there’s no one in the building. Some wires must have tripped.

You go back to your paper.

A noise makes you stop.

Even a building this old shouldn’t creak that loud in the wind.

Named after Mary Grinnell Mears, Grinnell class of 1881 and daughter of J.B. Grinnell, Mears Cottage housed the College’s female students back when it was originally built in 1888. Within these walls, the women lived and learned and walked — yes, those are definitely footsteps above you. Quiet creaks, but definitely footsteps. The glass doors to the academic support office begin rattling and then the elevator door opens again.


“If I were Mary Mears,” you decide, staring determinedly at your computer screen and trying hard not to look into the bright compact-fluorescent emptiness glaring from that spot in the hallway as the doors ding closed, “and if an elevator were installed in my cottage years after I died, I’d probably let my ghost play with it, too.” At least, late at night after all the professors went home.

Somehow that thought doesn’t help you focus on your paper. You flip idly through the Mary Wollstonecraft biography on the top of your book pile, but that’s not the Mary you’re thinking about. J.B. Grinnell is buried in the town’s cemetery, but what about his daughter? You don’t know anything about how his daughter died.

Is that the sound of fabric swishing? Like, petticoat fabric?

Maybe you should go upstairs, just walk around, you know, to check it out. As a study break. Stretch your legs. See if anyone’s studying in that classroom above you. Maybe they turned the lights off to take a quick nap.

The creaking and the swishing falls into an oppressive silence as you climb the stairs, clicking your pen nervously to create some sort of sound. Click (silence) click-click (silence) click (silence). As you pass the elevator shaft on the second floor landing, it dings open once again. You could have touched the ceiling, you jumped so high. It takes you a while to retrieve your pen from where it flew behind the chair outside of Professor Lobban-Viravong’s office.

The door to the classroom is locked, and when you knock, no one answers. Even when you pound on the door and yell something about this not being funny. But let’s admit, it kind of is. As you descend the steps once more, your hands are shaking, probably from the frappachinos you drank around 11 p.m. Definitely not from anything else.

When you return to the living room, all of your books have been spread out around your chair, the covers systematically opened to the title page. Someone’s underlined the same word on each of the white pages: Mary … Mary … Mary …

Your computer’s crashed — the blue screen of death.

Molly Rideout '10 is an English major and Gender and Women's Studies concentrator from Madison, Wisconsin.

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