David Francis, a programmer in Bowdoin’s Information Technology department, has given The Haunted Bowdoin Tour in person about 15 times in the past five years. In 2006, Student Activities asked him to lead many tours during Parents Weekend, but he just didn’t have the time to do all of them. That was when he first thought there might be a way to make a self-guided version of the tour. He toyed with the idea of putting something on an iPod, but he wasn’t sure that was the right platform. We’re all glad he waited. Now that the Bowdoin campus is blanketed in wireless Internet access and smart phones are capable of handling rich Internet content, David was able to build one generic mobile-based site with images and interesting design features that anyone can use.
The idea for a Haunted Bowdoin Tour originated in 2002 when the College posted a news item online about the book Ghosts of the Northeast, which featured a chapter on Adams Hall and some unexplained “activity.” Halloween has always been one of David’s favorite holidays, so that story stuck in his mind. One day in 2005, while David was having lunch in Thorne Hall with 40+ year Bowdoin veteran Mark Nelsen, the conversation turned to buildings that were allegedly haunted. Mark mentioned 85 Federal Street and the ghost of Edith Sills, and that’s when David first realized that Bowdoin might have enough stories to come up with some kind of collection.
He started sending e-mails to people who he thought might have been around long enough to have heard scary Bowdoin stories or even experienced something unusual on campus themselves. He also requested a copy of Ghosts of the Northeast from Interlibrary Loan and pretty soon he had a decent set of data!
David was pretty nervous when he gave his first haunted tour in October 2005 even though it was just for friends. He wasn’t sure if people would find the stories as fun as he did, but the reaction was very positive. He was even more nervous when a group of students asked him to give the tour. If he was unsure that his peers would find it interesting, he was even more skeptical that people half his age would like it! Again, the response was very positive, and on all the tours he has given since, students have been very appreciative.
Whatever formats the tour takes on in the future, David’s hope is that he will still be able to take people on the tour in person. He loves to watch the reactions to the stories, and he still asks people to let him know if they hear about any new stories that might fit on his tour. He assures them that he has a rigorous fact-checking process for any new story, It goes like this: “Someone says: ‘I heard once…,’ and I say: ‘Good enough for me! I’ll add it!’”