Naperville 1920 Flashback: Built to Be Haunted?
In 1920, North-Western College (now North Central) celebrated its 50th anniversary in Naperville and was making plans to build Pfeiffer Hall. The Halloween season seems a good time to talk about how Pfeiffer is the site of many reported hauntings.
Henry and Gustavus Pfeiffer, who were founders of Pfeiffer Chemical Company, were major donors and named the hall for their mother Barbara. Henry attended North-Western in 1875 and briefly operated a drugstore in Naperville on west Van Buren. In further business dealings, the brothers amassed a very impressive fortune. Henry and his wife, Annie, never had children and were inspired by “The Gospel of Wealth,” an article written by Andrew Carnegie who believed that those blessed with exceptional wealth had a responsibility of philanthropy.
Carnegie built over 2,000 libraries across the country – in fact, there is one on North Central’s campus – and the Pfeiffers also shared their fortune with schools and churches in many states. In total, North Central College received $475,000 from Henry and Annie and were instrumental in providing the $230,000 it cost to build Barbara Pfeiffer Memorial Hall.
North-Western College was associated with the United Methodist Church and Pfeiffer Hall opened in 1926 as the Chapel-Music building with seating for almost a thousand. The auditorium continues to host speakers, plays and musical performances today, despite its haunted reputation.
Among the many ghosts sightings that have been reported are “Charlie Yellow Boots” and “The Lady in White.” Charlie is thought to be a custodian who worked at Pfeiffer until the 1950s and wore distinctive boots. A psychic supposedly described the spirit’s footwear which was recognized by someone who remembered the janitor.
The Lady in White has been seen applauding from her seat in the audience during shows. The most popular candidate for who the Lady might be is Miss Anna Pates of Oak Park and there is considerable evidence to support that theory.
Don Shanower was a professor in the theater department at North Central College from 1955 until 1986 and was also one of the founders of Naperville’s Summer Place Theatre. In the spring of 1966, he directed his students in a brand-new musical based on “The Mutiny on the Bounty.” “Bligh Me” was written by Robert Lewis and John Danyluk and this was a preview of what they hoped would be continuing on to Broadway.
A prolific writer of television scripts as well as advertising copy, Lewis was born in Oak Park, Illinois and his Aunt Anna, age 92, still lived there. She came to Naperville, all excited, to see her nephew’s play on Saturday, March 26, 1966, but, according to the story, she passed away during the first act. Family trees and census records prove the connection between Oak Park, Lewis, and Pates. A Chicago Tribune article announced the debut of “Bligh Me” in the March 24 issue. Pate’s obituary says she passed “suddenly” on March 26. And several family members have even written about the event online.
While it’s interesting to confirm the facts of the story, whether Aunt Anna is actually haunting Pfeiffer Hall as the Lady in White is of course quite another matter! The next time you attend an event there, maybe you can find out for sure…