The horror! The horror!

By The Beacon | October 28, 2009 9:00pm

In over 100 years of history, UP has a long list of otherworldly happenings

By Rosemary Peters

Tragic deaths. Disembodied voices. Pots and pans flying off the walls. A mysterious little girl watching from afar. A piano playing from a dark, empty room. These are all the recipes for a great Hollywood horror film and they also happen to be based on real life experiences of UP students, faculty and staff.

The Commons

"You old black crows!"

Frank Houston has shouted these words at many UP priests since the early 1900s. The only problem is that Frank Houston died in the 1920s.

"Frank Houston was a crusty old Protestant who didn't like the priests," James Covert said. Covert was once a professor of history and political science at UP and during his time on the campus he also became UP's resident "ghost expert."

Covert earned this designation while he was researching the school's history for his book "A Point of Pride: The University of Portland."

During this research, Covert unearthed many chilling tales of Houston's campus appearances.

Houston owned the property the Commons was built on according to Covert, and he didn't want to sell it to the university unless he was paid his incredibly high asking price of $30,000.

When Houston died, his wife sold the property to the university for $9,000. When the Commons was built in the 1950s, people immediately began experiencing odd things.

"One food service director left because he heard footprints, and others would see dish carts start to move and run down the hall," Covert said.

Over the years, other Commons workers have also complained of pots and pans flying off the walls, food and utensils being thrown to the ground and unmanned carts roll around the kitchen area.

Some people have even heard a voice yelling in their ear while ascending the stairs from the Terrace Room.

According to Marc Covert, assistant director of periodicals and James Covert's son, Houston's angry spirit has scared many Common's workers over the years.

The ghost frightened an assistant manager who worked for Saga Foodservice, a precursor to Bon Appetit. In 1977 he was working late one night, all by himself, catching up on paperwork when he decided to go get a drink. As he was going to the main dining room, he saw a big stainless steel foodservice carts rolling around the corner all by itself.

"Mike was a no-nonsense kind of guy who didn't believe in ghosts," Marc Covert said. "But he couldn't explain how that could have happened."

According to James Covert, other frightening things have happened in the Commons. The Terrace Room of the Commons has seen the death of a beloved UP priest the Rev. Charles C. Miltner, C.S.C.

Miltner was in the Terrace Room, celebrating his retirement with several friends and guests. As Miltner was giving his farewell speech something horrible happened.

"When God calls me, that's when I'll go," Miltner announced to the room at large. Just moments later, he slumped over and died.


James Covert has heard the stories of many UP staffers who have led him to believe that Waldschmidt Hall is potentially haunted by Paul Hillgens. When Hillgens attended the university in 1923, he was a high-school student attending boarding school, and it was a tradition in those days to go below the Bluff to Willamette River and swim. After dropping his bags off on the fifth floor, he ran to the river and accidentally drowned.

His bags were sent back to his parents unopened.

Since then, many people have claimed to see Hillgens' ghost, a young boy dressed in an old-fashioned bathing suit with a baseball hat and sometimes sandals, walking the floors of his would-be home, Waldschmidt. The people who have experienced the apparition said they were not particularly scared at the time, and they didn't feel threatened.

"Two security people told me when the renovation was going on that they were in there late at night and they saw the young kid and they told him to get out," James Covert said. "They walked toward him and he disappeared."

According to Covert, Paul (sometimes called Peter) is very playful and he had a special attraction to Zulema Blizinsky, who used to be a secretary in Waldschmidt.

"Paul would infect her computer and play with her typewriter," James Covert said. "She eventually cut out a heart and wrote 'Please don't interrupt my work.'"

According to James Covert, Hillgens was so attached to Blizinsky that when she moved to work in Chiles Center, Hillgens followed her and was up to the same antics. She ended up leaving another note and Hillgens respected her possessions.

Hillgens is not the only purported ghost to be heard in Waldschmidt. According to Karl Mitts, a Physical Plant foreman in charge of housekeeping, about 13 years ago as a janitor was cleaning the fourth floor on Halloween night she started to hear some noises from the fifth floor.

"At first, she said she didn't really think too much of it," Mitts said. "But as it got closer to midnight she started to hear a lot of noise from the fifth floor like there was a dance party going on."

After that, the woman left the building and vowed never to come back to work out of fear the building was haunted.

"The fifth floor of Waldschmidt is where they had dances and ate their food a long time ago, so it could be possible," Mitts said.

Mitts has also had his own personal experience with a paranormal event in Waldschmidt almost nine years ago. Mitts had been called by a co-worker asking if he was in the building. The woman who was alone in the building was trying to figure out who had pushed her cart all the way down to the other end of the hall.

"The cart would have had to go over a rubber carpet strip and travel about 12 to 15 feet before it could end up where it did," Mitts said.

As Mitts and the housekeeper were talking about the incident, they both looked up to see the silhouette of a man walking across the open doors at the other end of the hallway.

"He was wearing a large horizontal stripped shirt and khaki pants. The shirt was, if I remember right, kind of green with a pale yellow color, and the pants were a medium to dark tan color," Mitts said.

Mitts later told other people of his experience and was informed that the spirit might have been that of former University of Portland President Rev. Thomas C. Oddo, C.S.C.

According to James Covert, this is a possibility.

"President Oddo died in 1989 in a tragic accident while going out to the airport. He was so revered and loved," Covert said. "I wouldn't be surprised if it was him. If he could come back, he probably would try to."

Mago Hunt

Another ghost UP students and staff have encountered is that of a little girl who haunts Mago Hunt theater.

Performing and fine arts professor Larry Larsen, although he has never seen it himself, has talked to many students who claim to have seen a ghostly little girl.

"She plays on the stage, but the next time you look she is gone. She has also been seen down in the bottom of the vom stairways," Larsen said. "Students claim to see her when working on shows just out of the corner of their vision when working downstairs or backstage."

But where did the little girl come from?

According to sophomore Katy Portell, the identity of the little girl is a mystery.

"The ghost is a little girl thought to have either died in the fire when the original Mago Hunt burnt down several years ago or have been a daughter of a professor," Portell said.

Acting professor Mindi Logan also thinks she has had a run-in with the little girl. One day while she was teaching a class in the theater, she was on the stage and her students were sitting in the audience. She looked up to say something to the class and saw a little girl in the audience. When she looked back the girl was gone.

After this experience, Logan has refused to hold class in the theater.

On top of th ese sightings, students have heard piano music coming from one of the practice rooms, only to find the music coming from a dark, empty room.

The sudden appearance of a mysterious doll's dress in a bucket of muslin in the shop has also mystified stage crew members. According to Portell, no one put it there, and there was not a doll in any of the shows.

"No one knew how it got there or why it was there," Portell said.