Holman Hall is haunted because it was built on an Indian burial ground — at least, it is according to campus legend. This may sound ridiculous to some and plausible to others, but the truth is not exactly cut and dry.
The campus we know today was built on what used to be farmland, but even before that it was Native American territory. The Lenni Lenape, an Algonquin people of the Northeast, resided along the Delaware River, and records show that groups of them lived in what is present-day Ewing and Trenton. In fact, the Trenton Times reported the finding of various Lenape artifacts in Ewing earlier this year.
None of this, of course, is proof that there was a burial ground at the College, but if I’ve learned anything from writing these History Mysteries each week, it’s that most legends are at least partially based on fact.
In his book, “The Land Along the Shabakunks,” Robert Reeder Green chronicles the transformation of the land along the Shabakunk creeks (where Lake Ceva and Lake Sylva are now) into Ewingville and then the College’s campus. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, the College’s original campus was on North Clinton Avenue in Trenton until the early 1930s.
According to Green, who wrote the book primarily from his personal experience of living in the area his entire life, Holman Hall was in fact constructed on what all of the local residents referred to as “the Indian graves.”
There were three of them — “no stone markers of any sort; just three moldering heaps six inches high, eighteen inches wide by five feet long,” Green wrote. They were located near the edge of a wooded area that had been a lot bigger before the area had been settled, and although nobody knew exactly “who the folks were or when they were buried,” the mounds had been referred to as Indian graves from as far back as any of the locals could remember.
Green’s description fits that of Lenni Lenape burial techniques: Multiple sources on this subject describe the Lenape as having placed their dead in shallow graves close to the surface and then piling the earth over them. An 1877 issue of Popular Science magazine told readers that at the time, Lenape burial mounds and artifacts were still being found throughout New Jersey and other states in the Northeast.
Nevertheless, Green’s book appears to be the only detailed written account (at least, the only surviving one) of an Indian burial ground on campus. In more recent years however, Weird N.J. featured the haunting of Holman Hall, which included one student’s tale of hearing voices and later sounds of “splashing water” there late one night when the building was empty. The student’s tale concludes with his learning of a Native American burial ground having been under the southern end of Holman, which was where he had been working that night.
Regardless of whether they were actually the graves of Native Americans, this section of the woods was destroyed by excavators in preparation for the construction of Holman Hall. Green’s book says the graves were obliterated along with the woods, and the spot where they supposedly had been is now where the southwestern corner of Holman Hall stands.
That was in 1973 however, long before the passing of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Passed on Nov. 16, 1990, NAGPRA protects Native American ownership and preservation of all tribal artifacts and remains.
Still, there is not enough evidence that the mounds described by Green actually were graves, and their destruction unfortunately makes it impossible to determine.
As for whether or not Holman Hall is haunted, the truth is therefore what we choose to believe.