Sunday, January 8, 2012
A Welly ghost - Erskine College
I had a wonderful wet and windy run this morning. It was such a bleak day that even the Kiwis driving along Island Bay gave me disapproving looks. With a bit of time to spare, I took a turn up a road I'd never been before. Soon I saw a large, dark old building hovering over the community as if from another time, looking like a bat with outstretched wings.
The building was obviously abandoned and a sense of melancholy washed over me. Here was a grand dame pushed aside. Here were better days now gone. Here were a million memories disrespected.
Even though I was dripping wet, this demanded a bit of exploration.
The gate beckoned. The rain pattered on the leaves and the wind bent the trees to its will. It was dark and early on a Sunday and, yes, it was a little creepy. There was nobody about. So I crept through the gate and up the steps, a warning chorus singing happily in my head.
The old Gothic building towered above me, silent, wet and utterly forbidding. It soon became apparent that not a soul was around. The place was as silent as the grave, its windows staring blankly at me and its walls graffitied by neglect. Though empty, the place is solid and, despite the pounding of the Wellington elements, has stood the test of time.
It turns out this used to be a Catholic girls' boarding school. It doesn't take a large leap of imagination to conjur up the sights and sounds of uniformed girls making a menace of themselves around the grounds. Nor is it difficult to think how hurt the old girls would be if they returned here, the site of their youth, to see this, the tumbledown version of their memories.
Built in 1905-06 by the Society of the Sacred Heart, it closed as a girls' school in 1985. It is listed as a historic place by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, merely a designation, rather than a promise, it seems.
A couple of proposals for a second act have been briefly entertained. But the building is not only out of the way, it poses an earthquake risk and that is a death knell these days.
That's a dire shame. As I've said, the buildings are solid and the chapel, long since deconsecrated, is said to be gorgeous. (It was used in Peter Jackson's movie The Frighteners.) The company that hosts weddings and receptions at the old school, desribes the chapel as "an example of French Gothic architecture with German stained glass windows, an Italian marble altar, and valuated ceiling." They say it provides a truly special atmosphere for any wedding ceremony. Having wandered around the grounds this morning, I can only say that's a jarring contrast to the vibe of the rest of the campus. But more power to them if they can pull it off.
Like another haunting old relic I recently discovered, the Fever Hospital, Erskine College seems to be a source of great fascination for ghosters. Apparently they've heard rumors that it's haunted and take to staking the place out at night. The resulting ghosts, it seems, have proven to be more vagrant than otherworldly. Disappointing voice recorder pick-ups, too, seem to be a leitmotif running through their narratives.
Oh dear, not even a future as a ghost factory beckons. The old girl appears to be of no use to anyone.