Terrible Things Happen on Floor 15
Colleges are like bubbles. Glancing out from this sphere and looking upon the world, their students have much to say and speculate and comment on. But it operates as a one-way mirror. The outside world often has very little interest in the goings on of these academic institutions. We see that disinterest come in the form of sexual assaults by athletes swept under the rug, hate crimes against all races gone unreported, and student loans with interest rates comparative to extortion.
There exists no greater, or more obscure, example of this than the situation in Lewis Hall.
Having worked as a maintenance man for longer than the majority of the students here have been alive, I know the ins and outs of building better than most people know their spouse’s bodies. I’ve lived through much of the building’s history, acquired even more through hearsay, and gone out of my way to fill in the gaps with records from the university library.
People with less knowledge than myself have spoken up about the issue. Another faculty member I once worked with, a man named Gary Amato, approached the Residence Board and eventually administration over his concerns. He was fired not long after. Students file complaints every year. The smartest ones just move. Me? As for myself, I’m just Joe Shmo. No reason to mind me. I’m just the guy who scrubbed the toilets for the past decade or two and will continue until either me or my scrubbing hand give out. That’s what they want to think and that’s what I’ve let them think for a long time.
It’s time the lid came off. People will know about the terrible things that’ve happened on Floor 15.
To rewind back to the very beginning, as most stories do, I need to you to indulge a brief history lesson. Being a public university, the school that would eventually harbor Lewis Hall was funded in part by independent donors. Among the largest of these donors was a man named Hanes Lewis, a private investor whose name and details have largely been lost to time and, again, disinterest.
In 1951 a local office building was purchased by the university as college admission grew and was eventually christened Lewis Hall, in honor of the early funder. Standing out at six stories, it was capable of housing near 700 students. Not until the remodeling in ’75 would the current state of affairs begin, until that point its history was precisely standard.
From the very conception matters went awry. A slightly botched demolition, resultant from a charge misfiring during the detonation, lead to thousands of additional dollars and hundreds of manhours in clean up.
Delayed by the mishap, the construction was sped up and finished in 1978. Lewis Hall was sparkling and new, a full nine stories taller than its predecessor, putting it at fifteen levels. Well over double the previous capacity, the university deemed the effort more than worth it. Unbeknownst to them, the first seeds of misfortune had been planted, literally, beneath the building.
In their haste to complete the building on schedule, the newly excavated hole from the demolition presented the contractor with problems. Without the expenses to afford more concrete, they used a more readily available and much cheaper alternative to fill the space: sand. From this decision springs a very unsettling trait of Lewis Hall. It’s sinking.
Roughly a fifth of an inch per year, Lewis Hall is sinking into the earth. The effect is minor and non-intrusive, except, according to my theory, the residents of the upper floors. Namely, Floor 15. This glacial descent isn’t evenly spread out across the whole of Lewis Hall. The process seems to favor the eastern side of the building, placing the descent at a tilt instead of directly downwards. While the angle is mild to the point of practically not existing on the ground floor, the severity increases with each subsequent floor. Farther from the ground, the more extreme the difference becomes.
Bear in mind that this difference is still phenomenally small, to the point of only unconsciously noticing upon landing on Floor 15. But it’s my belief, my only explanation, that this slight imbalance is responsible for increased aggression in the residents of the floor. I know that it sounds absurd, but listen to the list of events isolated to the topmost floor of Lewis and then try to tell me that there can’t be something else responsible.
In 1982 a fraternity party taking place on Floor 15 began innocently as far as college celebrations go. Alcohol, smoking, and dancing suddenly shifted, for a reason no student afterwards could explain, into a hazing ritual. Freshmen were set upon, told to strip and dance for the other members. More than one claimed they were threatened with violence if they resisted. The hazing escalated to making the pledges binge drink, quickly becoming too intense too fast for many of the boys. Alone in speaking out against the treatment was a freshman boy from Wisconsin, Patrick Vasiliak.
Patrick was pushed, prodded, and eventually beaten by the senior members. Culminating in a final groupthink act of insanity, four of the members hoisted Patrick up and brought him against his will to the garbage chute. Perhaps forgetting that they were over a dozen stories high, or perhaps not caring in their stupor, the men forced Patrick into the chute where he would plummet all the way to his death.
In 1984, less than two years after Vasiliak’s death, rumors of his haunting were used to explain the lights going off in the bathrooms. Continuing over the span of three years, many students complained that while using the stalls or showers someone would reach in and shut off the lights. University committee would chalk it up to nothing more than pranksters, and threatened discipline to those repeating the behavior. Only when a student slipped and fractured their jaw on a door handle due to the darkness did they actually take action by uninstalling the switch.
Student reports continued of lights going out and coming back on, and finally the University Committee’s eyes swung to the structure itself, just barely too late to avoid what would happen in 1988. This was the same year I began working on campus.
In 1988 the water main on Floor 15 snapped clean in two, as a symptom from the building’s slight tilt. Thoroughly flooding the top floor in near a foot of water, the leakage continued down to Floor 13 before being stopped. Thousands of dollars in damages and repairs.
In 1990, my first year of servicing the dorm, I took note of the putrid odor the bathrooms emitted once Winter hit. Students claimed the smell persisted since the flood in ’86, but was especially bad in December. I gambled a guess that it was the heating systems thawing out old water damage, setting the filth it sponged up through the year back in to the air. Not that I cared much, as it wasn’t my department.
In 1993 I did care though, when another tragedy struck that Winter, when the smell was ripest. Three drunk students, two guys and a girl, had snuck from Floor 15 to the roof, presumably to continue their drinking. Unequipped for the cold, much less the snowstorm that set upon the town that night, the three sophomores would freeze to death when the door locked behind them. It took police a week to find their bodies up there, petrified into swollen purple corpses.
The door would be locked from then on after, but prior to that it had almost never been. This meant that either by some fluke the latch jimmied just right when the door shut or someone had deliberately turned it behind them. Not only this – I’d been cleaning away, walking around not more than ten feet below three dead kids.
In 1994 the phenomenon that I’ve heard cross the lips of each and every Floor 15 resident began. Using the elevator from the top floor became a gamble. Multiple students claimed they’d dropped what felt like ten feet before stalling, trapped in the dark carriage until the power unceremoniously returned after a minute or two and continued their journey. The only answer I could muster is damage from the flood, but by then even I’d tired of hearing it come out of my mouth.
From 1995 on the violence has increased, and only seemed to worsen each year. Initially it was fights every semester, then fights every quarter, then once a month. Occasionally, on the really bad years, like 1998, we’d sometimes have more than one in a week. Screaming matches. Fistfights. One girl had a glass plate thrown at her head by her roommate. I cleaned up enough blood to look like a murder scene that day.
In 2000 we had the case of Bill Dogen. He was a senior who’d lived on Floor 15 for the entirety of his college career, and we were on a first name basis by that time. On a normal May afternoon I completed my rounds, replacing toilet paper and wiping everything down. One of the showers was running, and instead of tell them to get out so I could clean, as it was the male bathroom, I opted to wait until tomorrow.
Next afternoon comes, and the same shower is running when I enter. I gave them until I finished with rest before calling out that they needed to leave. My increasingly louder demands got no response. A creeping anxiousness crawled into me, and I stood there for much longer than I’d like to admit. Finally, unable to maintain modesty any longer, I quickly risked a peak past the curtain. Though only lasting a moment, the exact image is branded into my mind. A crystal-clear picture always ready for reference.
Pruny, pale, and naked flesh, soaked bone deep by a steady stream of water. A single long, thin pink line from wrist to elbow, streaks of red still barely trailing from it, swirling in an artful curve before slinking into the gurgling drain. Bill Dogen’s lifeless eyes staring straight ahead, into the curtain. Red splatters, just out of reach of the water, hardened and dry on the tile behind him.
Bill had been dead in that shower for nearly 48 hours before he was noticed. He left no note.
Terrible as it is to say, I think Bill’s suicide cleared the air. The atmosphere on Floor 15 was one of solemn sobriety for a while after that, not intensity. But the academic cycle continues, and eventually those who knew firsthand of the event moved out and fresh new faces moved in. Violence picked back up.
In 2005 I came the closest I ever did to quitting and never setting foot on Floor 15 again. Rebecca Naderacker was a freshman that year, which, as far as the floor went, was a peaceful semester. The girl’s roommate, Clara, was gone for the weekend and Rebecca had the room to herself for a few days. According to information filtered by police and a few of Rebecca’s friends whom she confided in, the incident happened shortly after midnight.
Rebecca woke to use the bathroom. Not wanting to bring the key with her, she left the door unlocked. Using the bathroom for no more than a minute or two, she returned to her room. Only having woke up shortly before, she didn’t note initially that when she’d exited the light had been on, and upon re-entering it was off. Before she could return to her bed, a man struck her hard from behind, sending her to the floor. Then getting on top of her, the attacker muffled her cries as he sexually assaulted Rebecca. The attack is believed to have lasted one hour. Unconscious by that time, Rebecca never saw the man’s face or him leave. Officers were unable to get DNA evidence from Rebecca, but the damage was there. They believed he’d been wearing a condom.
With Floor 15 being coed, the first suspects were rightfully the male students. No convincing argument could be made against any of them however, and I don’t believe it was one of them either. If I had to guess it wasn’t a person living on the floor, perhaps not even a student.
2008 was one of the bad years. Fights, parties, noise complaints, absolutely filthy bathrooms. As it stood, it would’ve already been a bad floor, but being situated on 15 always seemed to worsen the case. What would stand out however was the death of Samuel Browne, a sophomore who’d been responsible for more than one of those said fights and noise complaints.
Browne had been absent for classes a few days by the time of the discovery, not that professors noted that fact much. Further investigation was only prompted by students and eventually myself, when Room 1508 began emitting a horrible odor. The sinking sensation that came over me, much like the one constantly overcoming Lewis Hall itself, was powerful and dizzying. Browne had overdosed Sunday of the previous week in his bed from Heroin. His roommate apparently spent nights in his girlfriend’s dorm, not “liking the vibe on 15”, allowing him to begin decaying before being found. Death hid from us behind closed doors once again.
In 2011 another accidental suicide. A girl, Jessica Mandel, was goofing around and waving to her friends crossing the street below from the top floor. The screen separating her from the outside gave way and she fell with it. Her body landed in a tree, and when responders arrived she was still breathing. She died later the same day from the injuries.
The university’s response was to replace the screen with glass that could only slide open six inches.
All of this chaos, bloodshed, and destruction cannot be coincidental. Other campuses, other buildings across the entire country have their horror stories, but none so many isolated to a single floor. I’m sure that some would ask, “After all this time of silence, why speak out now?” Truthfully, and I’m not proud to admit it, I’ve been waiting for someone else to notice and start making headway before piping up. A former employee could be pitching into a controversy to muddy the university’s name, but a current employee? What reason would he have to put his job in jeopardy unless something was truly happening. If I attempted to speak out on my own I’d end up like Gary Amato.
But the lid had to come off. I had to know I tried. Because it’s been nearly six years since the last major incident, the longest ever. And I have an awful, aching feeling. Any day now something terrible is going to happen on Floor 15.
Strangely enough, I have an even stronger feeling it’s going to happen to me.