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Ghostly Doings at Magdalen College Since Excavation

February 17, 1987 GMT

OXFORD, England (AP) _ A clergyman said a blessing Tuesday at a college where reports of ghostly doings have accompanied an archaeological dig at a hospital built in 1231 for ″poore scholars and other miserable persons.″

Magdalen, an Oxford University college founded in 1458, has the reputation of being haunted. But many strange experiences have been reported since the dig began six months ago in the foundations of the 13th century Hospital of St. John the Baptist beneath the college.

″There is some fear that the excavations may have unleashed spirits which are returning to haunt us and it’s been much talked about,″ said the Rev. Jeffrey John, Anglican Dean of Divinity at Magdalen.

He blessed the room of language student Catriona Oliphant, 26, who said she ran out screaming after seeing a group of figures.

″I went there and said prayers for the peace of lost souls,″ John said. ″These things happen from time to time and it’s important to calm the presences down. You have to stand up to whatever they are, spiritually and physically.″

The Magdalen College history says St. John the Baptist was built for ″poore scholars and other miserable persons.″

Figures have been reported seen, ghostly presences felt and footsteps and singing heard from empty rooms.

Miss Oliphant lives under the eaves at the top of what is known as chaplain’s staircase in the oldest part of the building.

She told a reporter she stayed in bed last Friday, feeling unwell.

″I heard someone come through the door and I thought it was my scout (college servant) coming in to clean,″ she said.

″I felt a strong physical presence leaning over me. I wanted to scream but I couldn’t. Then I sensed other figures whispering and then everything stopped for a minute before starting again.

″It happened three times before I felt able to run out and scream.″

Edward Shaw, 20, and Mark Aldwinkle, 21, have rooms below Miss Oliphant and said they sensed something strange minutes earlier. They also reported seeing a darkly clad figure crawling across the carpet in their rooms at night.

Paul Sinclair, 20, said he has heard singing, loud footsteps and furniture being moved in the room above him when its occupant was asleep.

Gordon Hallam, a porter who has worked at the college six months, said he had heard heavy footsteps above while he on night duty in the ″lodge,″ the porter’s room just inside the main entrance.

″At first I thought there were students up there, but then I realized the rooms were locked,″ he said. ″Sometimes I hear noises a couple of times a week and then I don’t hear anything for a month or so.″

Head porter Michael Strutt said there were reports of ghosts before the hospital dig.

″On Christmas Day 1978, I was doing a security check when the college was empty and I saw sombody in the cloisters,″ he said. ″I crept up behind it and I felt a strange presence but there was nothing there.″

Ian Burrow, director of the Oxford Archaeological Unit, was given the chance to dig before a new kitchen is built at Magdalen in June.

″These ghost reports came as a great surprise,″ he said.

″We haven’t found any burials, although there must have been some in the hospital complex. We have found the usual things like bits of pottery, belt buckles and a piece of a dagger.″

The Rev. Brian Findlay, Magdalen’s former dean of divinity and now at Manchester College, Oxford, said the University and his old college at Cambridge University are ″full of ghosts.″

″I just don’t understand it at all,″ he said.