Song Portrait #17: Mary Hawkins


Mary Hawkins is based on a ghost story from my home state of Illinois.  I actually wrote another song about this legend in the late 90s.  I was still in the infancy of my songwriting and it has long since been dumped from my repertoire.  Last October I was invited to participate in a ghost themed songwriting challenge hosted by Songwriters in Seattle.  I knew it was time to take another stab at telling this haunting tale.

This story takes place in Pemberton Hall, the dormitory I lived in my freshman year at Eastern Illinois University.  Opened in 1909, it is the oldest women’s residence hall in Illinois.   The building, particularly the third floor, is known for being haunted.  Generations of residents have reported doors locking themselves, strange scraping noises, and objects and furniture being moved.  It is believed that these mysterious occurrences can be attributed to Mary Hawkins, a young woman who worked as a Dorm Mother around 1917.   Late one night one of the residents, unable to fall asleep, went up to the music room on the 4th floor to play the piano.  It was there that she was brutally raped, beaten, and left for dead by a man believed to be the building’s custodian.  Mary managed to crawl down the stairs to the third floor.  She tried to get the attention of the sleeping residents as she dragged herself down the hallway of the third floor.  She was not able to make enough noise to get anyone’s attention until she reached the final door at the end of the hall.  It was the door belonging to Mary Hawkins.  When Mary opened the door she was horrified to find the girl’s battered, lifeless body strewn in front of her.

Prior to this incident, Mary had been known as a cheerful woman.  After that night everything changed.  She became depressed and paranoid.  She felt that it had been her job to protect the girls in the dormitory.  She never forgave herself.  She ended up going mad and was committed to a mental institution nearby.  She ultimately committed suicide.  After Mary’s death the strange occurrences started and have never stopped.

Did I see any of this?  Nope.  I lived on the first floor in an addition that was added on in the 1960s.   But I do feel haunted by this building nonetheless.   My Pemberton Hall sounds like Tori Amos’ “Under The Pink” and it smells like peach schnapps and whiskey.  It feels like glory and confusion of being in love for the first time.  It is lonely.  It is as vast and confusing as having your whole life ahead of you and endless choices…. a blessing and a curse.

For more on this legend check out Prairie Ghosts.

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