Back in 1972, a series of unusual sightings stirred a great deal of interest in West Point’s haunted history. The sightings were considered so credible that a psychic was brought in… and one barracks room remains empty to this day as a result.
If you’re anything like me, you’re always on board for a good ghost story and would love nothing more than to prove the existence of afterlife entities once and for all. If you’re not like me, you’re probably reading this article with a raised eyebrow and a boatload of skepticism. Both schools of thought are valid, and if nothing else, this is just an interesting history surrounding one of the country’s oldest military installations.
Founded in 1802, West Point has long been one of the most well-known and prestigious military academies in the United States. While the majority of its history revolves around high standards and military excellence, the early 70s brought about quite a bit of supernatural speculation.
Everything started in 1972, when freshman Jim O’Connor, during a late-night trip to the latrine, had his first encounter with… something. O’Connor recalls a series of events, from the toilet paper unrolling itself, to water turning on and off, to actually seeing a full-bodied apparition within a matter of minutes.
In an interview, he was able to offer specific details about its appearance, sharing that it wore, in his own words, “an 1823 cavalry uniform” and wielded a Civil War-era musket complete with bayonet. What stood out to him the most were the eyes, or I should say, lack of eyes.
“I was caught up with the eyes. They were white… they glowed and they had no discernible color.”-Jim O’Connor
During this instance, the apparition dissipated and eventually disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared.
Being a first-year, or plebe, at the time this all happened, O’Connor wasn’t looking to bring any perceivably off-kilter attention to himself and his roommate, who by now had experienced some sightings of his own. Yet, he didn’t need to wait long for others to back up his story, with at least five additional reports of this entity over just the next few days.
Then one night in October 1972, in Room 4714 of the North Barracks’ 47th Division, another cadet, John Feeley, woke up one morning with a crushing feeling, as though someone was sitting on his chest. When he looked, that’s when he too saw the white-eyed entity right on top of him. He even tried more than once to sit up but was unable to until it had disappeared. His roommate didn’t see anything but said that he felt an “otherwordly coldness” in the room.
“Do you know. I believe the cadets with all my heart. I believe they think they saw something. It just doesn’t fit into my theology.”-West Point’s Protestant chaplain, quoted in the New York Times in 1972.
By this time, word had gotten out, and it was well-known by everyone that something was happening in the 47th Division Barracks. According to articles and O’Connor himself, there was even an attempt to exorcise the room.
Jeane Dixon, the psychic who became known nationwide for predicting the assassination of John F. Kennedy, visited West Point in order to try and spiritually cleanse room 4714. Dixon’s visit was cut short when, according to eyewitness accounts, she was unexplainably lifted off of the floor, thrown from the room, and never visited the academy again.
Following these events, room 4714 was no longer allowed to be used as a barracks room, and was said to have been converted into a small study area. Throughout the 1970s, reports of this entity continued and picked back up again when former West Point professor Lt. Col Timothy O’Neill published Shades of Gray (no, not that one) in 1987.
Shades of Gray recounted the events of the early 70s and O’Neill went on to speculate as to what he thinks is going on, especially when the sightings increased. He’s a firm believer in (apparently collective) sleep paralysis being the explanation.
In an article he wrote for West Points alumni magazine in 1990, O’Neill stated that “The dream will mix the objective sensations of the real environment. This event, called hypnagogic hallucination, can be frighteningly real, and terrifyingly so if the dream content is ‘nightmarelike’ to begin with. Even more alarming is the possibility that in such a condition the dream material going on in REM may briefly carry over into wakefulness.”
Essentially, since everyone in and around the barracks had ghosts on the brain at the time, it stands to reason many of them may “see” things in a dreamstate, even if they’re not really there.
To this day, there have been sightings of the ghost on and off, with some healthy debate from those who attend the academy as to just how haunted the now-converted barracks room is.
As for O’Conner, he still stands by everything he’s said, but you’ll never catch him using the G word.
“I honestly don’t believe there are such a thing as ghosts” O’Conner shared in a more recent interview. How does he explain it? Well, even he doesn’t really know.
However, the soldier in room 4714 isn’t the only otherworldly guest at West Point, but that’s another story for another day.