Is ChiArts Haunted?

The basement of Lawang Sewu, a school in Semarang. It is said to be haunted by a kuntilanak. Could ChiArts be next? (This image is licensed by Creative Commons.)

by Katie Malate

“Ohana means —”

Mr.Lewandowski, a Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts) English teacher, was looking for an answer in his busy advisory class. No one responded to his call and response and he sat down, defeated.

I was interviewing Lewandowski at the time and was sitting right next to him, so I could see his defeat clearly.

“Mr.L, do you believe ChiArts is haunted?” I asked.

He looked at me and down at my phone that was recording our impromptu talk, one of his brows quirked in confusion.

“No,” he said.


“While I don’t have any proof that it’s not haunted, I have no proof either that it is,” Lewandowski said.

Well I beg to differ.

Did you know that the building that currently holds ChiArts is 120 years old? I learned this just about a week and a half ago when my Spanish teacher, Chris Cashman, told my class while explaining why the heating in our building nearly baked us alive in the winter.

Can you imagine it? One hundred and twenty years of history crammed into an L-shaped elementary school, just barely big enough to hold just fewer than 600 students.

Thinking about this reminded me of something else entirely, though: a memory coming straight out of left field and hitting me hard.

It was freshman year on the day of Halloween (yeah, I know this is already campy, but please bear with me) and I was just finishing washing my hands on the first-floor bathroom. When I had walked in just a few minutes earlier there was absolutely no one else there — the usual thumps of feet and slamming of stall doors were completely non-existent.

But as I left, I clearly remember turning around to see two standing feet poking out from under one of the stall doors. This, of course, sent me running faster than I did during the laps my gym teacher made me do. 

But to assume that ChiArts was haunted because of one experience I had when I was 14 seemed like I was jumping to paranormal conclusions. So I decided to talk to some people who I knew might have something spooky to share.

“I have a confession to make. I AM the ghost of ChiArts,” senior Creative Writer Nick Joy said, gravitas in every syllable.

After a good laugh and a wink, he leaned forward with a more serious expression.

“But if we’re being honest I have heard a few things. Lots of musicians and actors have told me that they feel eyes on them when they perform. Plus a few years ago when those theater major seniors made that Winter Wonderland thing, they reported lights flickering and cold spots,” he said.

But unfortunately, when asked to provide names for the students who had had these experiences, Joy told me that all of them had graduated. This was followed by a comment about how creepy the basement bathroom was.

So I was stuck at a roadblock.

If all of the people that had felt paranormal activity in this school had graduated, I would have to find people who knew the theater intimately.

Damayanti Wallace, another creative writing senior, has been the stage manager for three plays (“Les Miserables,” “Airline Highway,” and the upcoming “Bring It On”) during her time here at ChiArts. She was more than happy to tell me about some of the things she’s heard.

“Some stuff does just randomly happen here. I come here on weekends sometimes and there will be new stuff written on the walls or a table will be moved that wasn’t supposed to be moved. The shop room too, I had to go in there when I worked on Airline Highway and when I was alone I felt a cold chill over the space,” Wallace said.

Then she leaned in as though any ghosts in the murals of the basement hallway could hear us.

“But ALSO, the bathroom stinks so much all the time! I think there could be a ghost because a bathroom cannot smell like that! There has to be a reason and the reason has to be a ghost,” Wallace said.

So with talk of bathroom ghosts and some supernatural connection to the bygone theater kids, I think I’m left with more questions than answers. But maybe I’m not supposed to find the answers to these questions. Maybe it’s the mystery that keeps me insatiable for truth.

I started a new project recently where I will take a picture of me jumping up in front of the bathroom mirror every single day until I graduate. A part of me is doing this out of boredom and a weird obsession with “The Breakfast Club.”

But another part of me hopes to one day catch the eye of a lonely theater apparition who will jump in the picture with me.


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