Some time ago, I wrote two posts (here and here) featuring discussions on Lambertville High School and the legends associated with it. This was an ordinary high school up until its closure in the late-1950s, but it had become famous by way of a few unfounded ghost stories that were so colorful and intriguing they inspired several documentaries, a number of articles, a high ranking on paranormal investigation lists, a movie and a wiki page. The site also became a favorite travel destination for people all over North America.
The particularly interesting aspect regarding Lambertville has been its historical significance. For years, Lambertville held the distinction of being one of the oldest standing high schools in the United States (built in 1854). This impressive status understandably tends to excuse the fact that half of the present structure came as a result of a fire that broke out in 1926 (curiously, the date over the front and rear doors to the newer west wing read ‘1924’). As time went on, the so-called mysterious history of the school spurred on many stories and legends. The most famous one is that of “Buckeye Billy,” the ghostly football player who allegedly died in a freak accident during a football game in the 1930s. These stories have endured and captured the imaginations of many for decades and still do.
Now, a new development has occurred.
As of 5 October of 2012, Lambertville High School is no more—the owner Merrick Wilson finally razed it after authorities applied legal pressure to have the dangerous structure removed.
Many fans, however, are saddened by this, including local teens and a host of paranormal investigators. I am too, but only because we have lost a piece of history. Still, I understand and agree with the reasons behind this necessary action; I would have felt extremely disappointed by the news of injuries or deaths in the deathtrap. Residents who live near there feel relieved as well.
One lingering question is. .. Will this be the end of “Buckeye Billy” and the various other legends indigenous to this place? Probably not; such lore has become ingrained in the psyches of many who will not let these stories go so easily, even though testimony by city authority and previous students have debunked them over the years. Old legends die hard. For this reason, the memory of Lambertville will live on.
As for me, I never bought into the ghost stories as much as the history and how that history could have generated so much lore. High schools generally do not do that.
That does not mean I do not believe in spirits or a spiritual world; some places, in my view, are conceivably haunted. I acknowledged before that my mind is open to such possibilities, but that I am not one to jump to conclusions based on stories passed down. Any serious research requires evidence; constant objectivity is a sign of responsible behavior for any researcher who yearns for concrete findings or facts. Although the “spooky” or “creepy” appearance of an abandoned structure might be indicative of paranormal involvement, it is far from being absolute or conclusive evidence of it.
What is an Abandoned Building?
I make no pretense or excuses regarding my belief in spirits and a spirit world, along with haunting events, nor do I feel the need to; I have my reasons for believing the way I do. I find the subject tremendously fascinating and intriguing.
That said, I find it interesting that many people automatically jump to the conclusion that an abandoned building is or must be haunted. I scrutinize anyone who submits or adheres to such untried or unproven expectations.
There are many reasons why a building might be abandoned, among them fire, lack of a buyer, structural damage and other dangerous circumstances. Abandoned buildings are merely structures that are unoccupied and unused. Could one viable reason be a haunting? Yes, but that is not the ONLY reason.
The mayor and police commissioner have said the same thing about the old Lambertville High School, that it is merely a dilapidated structure, nothing else. The old legends tend to get in the way and create manifestations where they likely do not exist. Reasons behind the eerie effects were attributed to creatures (rats, squirrels, raccoons, etc.) scuttling across dirty, debris-cluttered floors; wind blowing through creaky boards, lights from vehicles passing by on Interstate-129; and the voices, movements and flashlight blades of other explorers in another part of the school. These same authorities have asserted that no deaths ever occurred on the property, and have explained the circumstances behind the school’s abandonment: the consolidation of the school system back in 1959 and the subsequent transfer of the students from Lambertville to Hunterdon for the following year. The community held a picnic on the site after graduation to commemorate the school. The city was to reuse the building, but that objective never materialized. Demolition expenses were too high, and so the building sat unattended—that is it. In light of this, one should question the ghost stories.
“Are the naysayers trying to cover something up?” some might conjecture. My response to that would be: Do you have evidence of that? If not, then your conspiracy theory is just as questionable as the ghost stories.
In order to determine if a structure is truly haunted, one thing a researcher should do is to conduct a background check on said facility. Has anyone died in it, especially in a violent nature? Was it erected on a cemetery or other burial ground? Do any manifestations have a rational or natural explanation? Is there any kind of energy generator situated nearby? . . .
Researchers reach their conclusions through this process. In addition, everything—including the background information—should remain dubious until confirmed. Yes, this is not as fun as going with the imagination, but it ensures that beliefs reflect some aspect of reality and other reasonable factors and are therefore rational and respectable in nature.
Quite often, researchers acquire much of this evidence by going to a location and gaining insight through personal exposure. This is, to an extent, ironic, considering many people who do this misconceive the nature of their encounters by allowing their imaginations to lead their way. This is why one’s frame-of-mind is important when conducting research; if the investigator’s mindset is not open to multiple possibilities, the research is faulty if not questionable.
Under the current circumstances regarding the old Lambertville High School, however, all of this seems moot, but it is not the end as far as viable research is concerned.
Other Avenues . . .
Another regret I have is that I will never have the chance to explore the site myself, not for ghosts, but for the sake of claiming I was there and have captured the essence of what the place was like. That can only happen through field research. I would have also liked to gain further insight on its layout, but I can always seek out the structure’s various blueprints when the time comes (yes, more than one variation likely exists, considering the school’s redesign in the 1920s). I would never trespass and would have attempted to get permission first. As a writer and researcher, I have various [serious] projects in the works that revolve around this sort of thing. Details and accumulation of information are relevant for several reasons. I do have other avenues to take, however, so not all is lost—and these options are far safer.
One option, which I have already started, is to collect data from a variety of sources, including websites and videos, and organize them for future use. Many online sources, a few of them reputable, offer a plethora of information that has helped me learn the basics on Lambertville, its history, its architecture and its multitude of stories. Information should always be double-checked to ensure it is trustworthy and its source(s) reliable.
Other options involve seeking out and interviewing key people, such as those with some knowledge of the school and those who once attended it. Many of the latter are easy to find through old school records. Those students who graduated during the second half of the nineteenth century are out of consideration because of the fact that they are dead. Still, digging for information unearths interesting tidbits. This is one of the great things about conducting research. Researchers should never seek out specifics; those interested in learning about something need to keep their minds open and follow through to seek whatever they can find. The journey is much more fruitful and exciting that way. Why? Researchers never know what they will find—they might stumble across something even more beneficial than what they had expected at the onset.
As I explained in my previous posts on this blog, images, though limited in their ability to permit spectators the multi-sensual perspectives that on-site research will allow, can provide insight through close and ongoing study. Although these images cover years of change due vandalism and deterioration, the use of scrutiny and deductive reasoning can help me fit together several pieces of the puzzle. In fact, such changes offer insight into the deterioration process itself brought about through various contributory factors. Still photographs and videos alike can disclose a lot of valuable information to use in various ways. I like this process; it is time-consuming, but it is intellectually stimulating and exciting. I would rather work at creating my own knowledge than have it simply handed to me. The former is much more rewarding.
An example of the above is something culled from my growing collection of pictures of the old Lambertville High School. By looking at and comparing the details apparent in the images, I am able to situate certain rooms on certain floors in certain areas, and I am able to scale the floors that way. I have done that to some extent, at least for the west wing; the east wing was essentially nothing more than a pile of rubble inside a brick shell. In this way, I can get an idea what the school layout was once like.
The graffiti also added to the overall feel of the school and alluded to the character of those people who frequented the place. Many individuals, including a host of paranormal investigators, somehow deemed the chalkboard drawings mysterious in nature because they apparently mirrored children who, according to legend, died there. Their existence gave the theory of the children a sense of legitimacy because viewers could actually see them. Still, the likelihood some talented unknown drew these depictions to create a stir renders that theory questionable. Nevertheless, explorers and thrill-seekers alike took the images seriously; long before the razing of the building, they tore out every chalkboard. These particular drawings were among the first to disappear.
In the end, whatever means of research one conducts, that person can extrapolate information in a way that makes the resulting knowledge her or his own.
The provable aspect was its architecture. This I found quite interesting on many levels, with regard to not only style and layout, but also nineteenth-century construction. When gazing upon the structure in present-day, we cannot help but consider the fact that staff and students from an era long-passed actually conducted educational affairs here. Some sections of the east wing stood since before the American Civil War. This was truly a treasure trove of historical knowledge reflected through the item itself.
“How can this be?” you might ask.
The answer lies in the fact that the genuine article rests before us to study fully through all the relevant senses—visual, olfactory, auditory and tactual. This opportunity is not restricted to simply viewing a video, but in physically interacting with it. Many explorers to Lambertville High School, though breaking trespassing laws and risking their safety, knew this very well. They touched the crumbling brick and old chipped plaster, strolled down the musty hallways, passed through the actual doorways and witnessed the sunset from the classroom windows just as students and staff had eighty years ago. In essence, these explorers learned by transporting back into time and having the same relative experiences as those who had lived far in the past.
When it comes to the architecture, we also see the style: the small, slender windows on each staircase landing and in each room’s recess chamber, and the trim, which bore little-to-no relief, offering a sense of simplicity that avoided ostentation without sacrificing elegance or attractiveness. Pasty sea green doors featured three rows of near-square glass panes under which were stenciled identifiers, such as teacher’s names and class subjects, that gave us a feel for the interior design common in the early twentieth century (and even earlier). In addition, time left behind a number of desks and chairs upon which sat many teachers and students long forgotten. An old faceless clock, which wound up in the woods, bore testimony to a particular someone’s office tastes. Perhaps that person was a principal from years ago. These design features are non-contestable because they are real and therefore speak to us about the physical appearance and consistency of the school without receiving any objection or challenge to that effect.
The razing of the old Lambertville High School was to protect the well-being of future trespassers, but with it went an equally valuable piece of human history.
Final Thoughts on Lambertville
Lambertville High School was nothing more than a simple decrepit building deteriorating over the passage of time, but it was also unique. The legends created a world that, much like that of Disney, inspired and fired the imagination. The “What if . . .” factor was and still is a guiding force for those who believe, or want to believe, in something more . . .
In the end, Lambertville is physically gone, but it will always remain in our collective consciousness, perhaps because of her legends, perhaps because of her history. Whatever the case, she will live on in all of those who remember, and that is really all we can ask.
By the way, I DO enjoy ghost stories; they intrigue and enthrall me. My primary question is: What spurred them on? They couldn’t have appeared out of thin air; something must have inspired them. In this sense, ghost legends are based on some reality, otherwise they wouldn’t exist. My goal is to investigate these cases and see where they originated and what basis they have.
Maybe, just maybe, the stories reflect an actual haunting; perhaps they are true. I am always excited to find out . . .
Sources and References
Abclocal.com: “Haunted” NJ High School Being Torn Down.”
Beacon, The: “Lambertville: Officials Happy School Is Gone.”
Frank E. Burd. “Education,” Hunterdon Schools.
“History of the City of Lambertville. Hunterdon County, New Jersey”
Kiriluk-Hill, Renee. NJ.com: “Couple Recalled Lambertville High School Before It Closed”
Kiriluk-Hill, Renee. NJ.com: “’Haunted’ High School’s Demolition Draws Near in Lambertville.”
Kiriluk-Hill, Renee. NJ.com: “’Haunted’ High School Reduced to Rubble in Lambertville.”
Wiki Page: Lambertville High School.
Blogs and Websites
Abandoned New Jersey
Amazon.com: Only Go There at Night
Flickr Images: Lambertville High School.
Kitty the Dreamer Hub Pages
Lambertville High School, The.
Lost in Jersey
My Abandoned Buildings.
North Jersey Exploration: Lambertville High School.
Super Goop, The.
Surreal New Jersey.
WeirdNJ: Lambertville High School.
WeirdNJ: Lambertville High School, The: Chalkboards.
Wikimapia: Lambertville High School.
Documentaries and Videos
Best Records: Lambertville High School.
Lambertville School: Videos from Around the Local Hunterdon Area.
YouTube: Lambertville High School (part I).
YouTube: Lambertville High School: a Documentary.
YouTube: Old Lambertville High School Documentary.
Veengle.com: Abandoned Lambertville High School.
Zomobo: Lambertville High School.