Norwich’s supernatural underbelly
provides fodder for book project © Jan. 25, 2013, Norwich University Office of Communications

Student Saul Costa is crafting a collection of scary stories based on the haunted history of Norwich.

photo by Jordan Silverman, staffStudent Saul Costa is crafting a collection of scary stories based on the haunted history of Norwich.

A couple of Norwich students, as the story goes, once climbed to the fourth floor of Jackman Hall after dark and performed a ritual designed to call forth a legendary demon living in its recesses.

The building, which houses Norwich University's administrative services, is on the site of one of the oldest buildings on Norwich's campus, and one of the locations of the Vermont military college long rumored to be haunted. As the ritual started, the students heard something moving around in the ceiling, and a loud crash directly above. They made it out of the building, but afterwards a strange presence—manifesting itself in slashed tires and dark figures glimpsed in the nearby woods—seemed to follow them.

Second-year student Saul Costa has never seen a ghost on campus, but he absorbed this relatively new ghostly tale along with many others from almost 200 years of Norwich lore of mysterious happenings and hauntings. Taking the story to heart, he ventured up to Jackman’s empty halls late at night to try and imagine what it would feel like to be in those dark corridors when they suddenly came to life. Nothing happened, but he considers it the scariest place he’s ever been.

“When I came out of there, I was pouring sweat,” said Costa, who is earning degrees in both Computer Science and Computer Security and Information Assurance.

Superstitious fear and the tricks our minds play on us are what prompt real chills, he said, not blood and gore. He believes students still have an appetite for creepy tales about their University, and a need to be scared. With that in mind, Costa is crafting some of the stories and rumors passed around Norwich’s halls for centuries into a fictionalized chronicle of the school’s haunted history.

“Here’s what everyone says,” said Costa, of Websterville, Vt. “Now, let’s create a story that they can get lost in.”

Once you have them to the point where they’re living and breathing your story, then you start to scare them.

Saul Costa,
Computer science student
and writer

Norwich, which was founded in 1819 and has occupied its Northfield campus since 1866, has a long history featuring ghostly figures, underground tunnels and a room walled off because it seemed to attract hangings. These are great stories, Costa said, but don’t give him a lot of real information to work with. For research, he has been interviewing people who have heard these word-of-mouth stories, listening to them multiple times and trying to figure out what makes them stick in people’s imaginations.

Costa, who came up with the idea in an English class, had no trouble finding people who wanted to talk with him. Now, he can approach the tales as a storyteller.

“I want to immerse myself ... to truly scare people, I have to be scared myself,” he said. “Once you have them to the point where they’re living and breathing your story, then you start to scare them.”

After creating a video and successful Kickstarter campaign, he began writing late in the fall 2012 semester. Costa, a civilian student, expects to complete a 150-page book containing 10 stories and photographs some time during the spring 2013 semester. Using an online publishing service that prints books in small quantities at modest cost, he expects the softcover book to sell for about $20. He will also provide a version for e-readers.

A writer since he was 14 and a big fan of the supernatural, Costa doesn’t like much modern horror. He prefers a focus on subconscious fear and character embodied in the stories of classic chill writers like H.P. Lovecraft. A scary story should be just long enough to evoke a mood, he said. Once you have scared the reader you should end things quickly, which makes it a real challenge for the writer.

“Kind of like sugar, it burns out really fast,” he said.