Sunday, May 10, 2009

Porter College, University of California, Santa Cruz

The Santa Cruz campus of the University of California is divided into multiple residential colleges - individual semi-autonomous units where the students live and where administrative duties relevant to the students are taken care of. Each college has a specialty, and Porter College, on the western side of the campus, is primarily dedicated to the arts.

Porter is also home to some of the most ominous-looking buildings on the UCSC campus - grim concrete structures that loom more than stand. The residential halls (AKA the dorms) have basements in which students are allowed to live (or were allowed to live as of the time I graduated in 1998), an unusual feature for student housing buildings in California in general and Santa Cruz in particular.

Most of the stories concerning this place involve two buildings - Residence Hall A (aka Building A) and Residence Hall B (AKA Building B). In late 1998, a student killed himself in Building A. The suicide took place at a time and place that resulted in a large number of his fellow students witnessing his death - whether that was intentional or not I have not been able to determine. Since then, people have reported seeing this student wandering Building A, dressed as he was on the day that he killed himself.

Building B hosts two different stories. The first concerns a trio of rooms on the first floor known collectively as "the Bermuda Triangle." Reports from these rooms include objects moving on their own (sometimes as if they are being thrown violently), strange noises, and voices from unseen sources. All of this is accompanied by a general feeling of dread that permeates the rooms and their surroundings.

The other story for Building B concerns the third floor, where people report waking up and feeling as if they are being strangled and/or held down on the bed.

The Meadow - a large...well...meadow located in Porter College is also home to a ghost named Lily, the spirit of a transient woman who stayed there during the 1970s. She is usually seen dressed in rags or completely naked which, well, wouldn't really have differentiated her from many of the students at UCSC back when I was there.

I have heard these stories, and many others concerning generic feelings of dread, strange voices, briefly glimpsed apparitions, and the like from many of the Porter residents that I knew when I was a student at Crown College, across the Campus. Most of these stories were either clearly being told for entertainment purposes, or were told by rather overly-dramatic people who wanted solely to be the center of attention, and as such I was interested in the stories purely as entertainment and thought little else of them.

However, there is one exception. A woman who attended Porter, and has , eleven years later, become one of my closest friends, had some rather odd experiences. She is generally level-headed, and not given to fantasy-prone episodes, and so her stories are weightier to my mind than most of the others that I heard about Porter College.

She told me of numerous different happenings, most of them subtle, and most of them based either on perceived objects moving or sounds, or on general feelings of fear or malevolence experienced when in the residence halls. On one occasion, she opened the door to her room, and was left with a feeling that she describes as "being as if I had walked in on something, like a wolf had been breathing heavily, but suddenly became silent when the door opened and prey appeared."

On another occasion, she reports waking up in her bed with her arms stretched straight at her sides, and a general rigor-mortis-type feeling throughout her body.

Commentary: As stated above, Porter College is primarily dedicated to the arts, and as such it has the expected assortment of legitimate and talented young artists mixed in with overly-dramatic wannabes. Colleges in general are breeding grounds for ghost stories, and a place such as this even more so.

Porter's ghost stories are unusual in that the most famous undead resident, the student who killed himself, was a real person and not simply a fictitious construct. Stories of suicides-turned-ghosts are as common as college dormitory buildings, and usually are based on nothing but imagination. However, in this case, there really was a suicide, and it really was as public and disturbing as is usually described. Whether this occasioned new stories, or was simply meshed with previous stories of the ghost of a suicidal student, I do not know.

The experiences of my friend are somewhat difficult to explain. On the one hand, if I did not know the person, I would be quick to dismiss it as an overactive imagination. Certainly, some of the experiences she described to me (only two of many are described above) are consistent with well-known phenomenon such as sleep paralysis and waking dreams. Others, though, are more difficult to explain. Which is not to say that they can't be explained, but rather that I personally have not been able to do so, nor has anyone else provided a suitable explanation insofar as I know.

Porter is also host to many non-supernatural legends. It is rumored that the architect who designed had as his primary occupation the design of prisons, thus explaining the concrete blocks that stand-in for buildings at the college. This is, in fact, not true. The architect was attempting (and failing) to imitate traditional Japanese architecture, but did so using materials that resulted on one butt-ugly set of structures.

Also, it is rumored that Porter college was nearly named after Alfred Hitchcock, who had a home in Santa Cruz during the 1970s, but this is probably not true.

Also, general to UCSC and not just Porter, it is rumored that UCSC's non-centralized design (the various colleges are spread throughout a set of ridges in the forest) was intended to prevent student gatherings such as those at UC Berkeley. Given that the University was planned and built throughout the 1960s and 1970s, this seems reasonable. However, as someone who has gone through alot of the founding documents because of a job that I had while a student, I can tell you that there is no real truth to this rumor, and that the campus was designed as it is primarily for aesthetic reasons. Also, I can tell you from experience that the design of the campus has never prevented student protests.

All-in-all, Porter is one of the stranger parts of a very strange campus, even if you leave all ghost stories aside. However, the ghost stories give it that added element that just makes it particularly special.

SOURCES: Personal Accounts, Internet, Internet


  1. Lily was a real person, not a ghost. She lived in the woods, and didn't really wear clothes. I saw her naked a couple of times, or wearing a sundress. She (reportedly) had two kids, and a friend's friend let them stay with her in the hollow tree she lived in.
    That sounds crazier than a ghost story, but the living are a lot weirder.

  2. Thank you for the information. Yep, the livign frequently are crazier than the ghost stories, expecially 'round these parts, which is one of the reasons I love living here.

  3. I was there (not present though) when the kid killed himself. My friend, who lived in the dorms and was a Freshman, saw his body though as did a number of other students because he hung himself out the window in a courtyard type area. Messed my friend up for awhile. Let's just say a lot of people needed counseling after that.

    1. I had friends who were there at the time, as well. It seemed to really mess with them, which is to be expected, unfortunately.

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