herring-cole interior

Haunting Herring-Cole

A remote learner’s love letter to campus


Hannah Rutkowski ’22

I wish I was the ghost that haunts Herring-Cole. It is a nice ghost, moping around, rattling basement fixtures and causing stairs to creak. I do not know how long the ghost has been there, but I am sure that if you’ve ever heard strange noises in the building while studying, ones that made you recheck your surroundings, it was probably this ghost’s lingering presence. There is a certain longing that I believe connects the ghost and me: my year apart from campus as I studied remotely under the restrictions of the 2020-2021 academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If I were the Herring-Cole ghost, I think I’d have the same appreciation for the charm of the small, old building that I have had every day since my first visit to campus. Rather than spend random hours between classes there, I could spend days on end visiting each gift Herring-Cole has to give. I could figure out how to free the spider from the basement fire alarm and would hide reassuring notes behind the mirror in the bathroom for students to read. I would be the sudden creak that makes you take out your earbuds, wondering if anyone else heard the harmless sounds. 

If I were the Herring-Cole ghost, would I have to fight off heavy eyelids like the students around me often do? Would the comfort that wrapped me up from the building’s heat and soft lighting on dismal afternoons make a ghost sleepy? Would I be able to look out at the trees and stone pathways of campus as snowflakes float lazily across the sky and be lulled by the gentle wind whose whispers sound like a lullaby? When I was physically there, sleep was always more enticing than the laptop demanding my attention. 

If I were the Herring-Cole ghost, I could traipse through the dark basement, which is not as ominous as many believe. I would watch as students and faculty notice the green blinking lights from the boiler and control panels in the darkness before jumping into the bathroom, a chill crawling up their spines, not realizing those lights are simply the machinery signaling that all systems are functioning. 

If I were the Herring-Cole ghost, I would also see the wonder the building inspires in students. I would hear the gasps when visitors enter and hear the whispers of those saying, “The building looks like something at Hogwarts.” Although I can picture the ghost of Herring-Cole wishing for more people to notice its presence, the real me hopes to keep the building a secret so that I can continue studying early in the morning, alone, surrounded by the sunlit warm wood details and old books that transport me back in time. 

I am not sure I could fully commit to being the Herring-Cole ghost—something about the present me considers that my time in remote learning exile from campus makes Herring-Cole’s welcome feel even more loving. I can’t wait to trudge through the snow with a breakfast sandwich in hand, plop down in a large wooden chair, and feel the seat’s worn and concave shape from years of use. I wonder if those chairs would be as comfortable to sit on today if not for the presence of those before me who wore them out? These are things I question as time and distance away from campus has enhanced the small details of my experience at St. Lawrence. I miss hearing tour guides share the story of a hockey puck shattering the stained-glass crest, miss hearing snow piles fall off the roof, and miss the groans and creaks. I especially miss the friendly ghosts who dedicate their lives to the building. In a few months, the ghosts and I will meet again, and this time, I will understand them a little more.