Punahou Ghost Stories

The Old Woman and Her Nightly Lullabies

By Zoey Duan ’22
(from interview with faculty Alex Selarque)

Pauahi Hall Basement

Over its long history, Pauahi Hall had undergone extensive renovation. But it wasn’t until 1990 that the basement was finally remodeled to create a long and straight vista of small offices and classrooms that flanked a single hallway.

One late night, several years after the renovation, photography teacher Alex Selarque was working in his office, a small room located at the mauka end of the basement hallway. Directly upstairs was the yearbook room, a classroom dedicated to hosting weekly meetings for the club that worked year-round to create the Oahuan. The day had been particularly long, draining Mr. Selarque of his typically energetic demeanor – so much so that he had been jealous when the custodians departed a few hours earlier.

Just as he was about to doze off into a short nap, he heard a soft humming. The humming began slowly, but it gradually grew steadier, like an eerie song gently echoing through the empty hall. It sounded like the lullaby of an old, crying woman with a high, melodic voice and subtle rasp.

Although only seconds from slipping into a dream, the song rang loudly in Mr. Selarque’s ears. “I was puzzled,” he said. “I am a very logical person who has a deep fascination with science, so I had always believed that all things magical were simply elaborate illusions. I knew there must have been a reasonable explanation for the singing, like maybe one of the janitors had come back to retrieve something they had forgotten. But when I walked out of the basement and up the staircases that led to the upper levels of Pauahi, I could tell that all of the lights were turned off inside. This immediately sent my skin crawling, because I knew that if the janitors were in the building, they would at least turn one of the lights on. But there were no lights. There was no one.

“Since then, I’ve heard the old woman again and again, on multiple different nights, until I could no longer convince myself that the woman was not something otherworldly. Each time, she’d sing her song, and I’d walk out to check the lights; and, each time, I’d see that there were no lights on. As time passed, the more I heard her, the more peaceful her voice seemed to sound. Eventually, I learned to be less frightened by her lullabies and more grateful for the fact that she found my presence to be acceptable.”

But just when Mr. Selarque became accustomed to the nightly serenades, they came to an abrupt halt. It was around the same time he had learned of another ghostly encounter that his colleagues, Tibby Lynch and Scott Herzer, had experienced. Dr. Lynch and Mr. Herzer were English teachers who also had offices in the basement of Pauahi, down the hall from Mr. Selarque’s. Their encounter had occurred one evening, while they were both working in their offices late into the night. Instead of hearing the soft lullaby that Mr. Selarque heard, they were met with a sudden, thundering screech that violently ripped through the basement hall.

The voice, one that resembled the old woman’s, dripped with unadulterated rage as it repeatedly screamed, “Get out! Get out of here!” The incident was so terrifying that both teachers moved their offices to another building by the end of the week. “I was perplexed when they told me this,” Mr. Selarque said. “The voice that they had described seemed to come from someone so furious and so evil that I couldn’t imagine it to be the sad, pitiful woman that I’d hear. After all, I had never heard the old woman angry, never felt threatened by her existence in any way. On the other hand, the Dr. Lynch that I knew was as tough as nails, and Mr. Herzer was the type of teacher who’d scare you when he got into a particularly foul mood, not the other way around. In the end, I did not know what to think, and I did not know what to believe. The only thing that I did know was that the old woman never sang here again, at least not when I was around.”

The Shadow of Dillingham Hall

By Zoey Duan ’22
(from interview with Punahou Technical Director Travis Flazer)

Dillingham Hall basement

Since it was built in 1929, Dillingham Hall has been a gathering place for art and music, filled with celebration and laughter. However, to Punahou’s Travis Flazer, it’s much more than that; it’s his second home.

“I love the hall,” he said, “As a tech director, not only do I spend a ridiculous amount of time here in this hall, even after school hours, but I also get to work with all the equipment and rooms available, both on and off stage. So, naturally, I know every crook and cranny of every room and door. I know which door or stair squeaks and which lights flicker twice. I know which windows are supposed to be open when, and who is supposed to be in which room at what time, all the time. I think that’s why I was so spooked when I began to hear things and see things that I had never encountered before.

“One night, I was working in my office as I had been for hours, and I needed to go to the restroom. I stood up and headed downstairs to the basement bathroom. I didn’t bother to turn on any of the lights, nor my flashlight on my phone. This was a grave mistake, because now the entire hallway that led up to the restrooms was dark.

“As I was walking back from the bathroom, I saw this blurry, slender figure on the wall right in front of me, near the women’s bathroom, and I froze. I stared at the shadow and saw that it was so dark and so black. It was darker than dark. It was smoky, but also so thick and palpable, almost as if it was something I could reach out and grasp with my hands. I stared at it, because I didn’t know what to do, because my entire body was frozen and I couldn’t move, even though my brain was telling me to run for my life. I was just stuck in place.

“And slowly, while I’m still stuck in place, the shadow begins to move. It gradually slithered down the wall, inching towards the ground. For a second, I’m thinking that it’s trying to slide onto the ground towards me, that it’s trying to get me, but then it turned and glided into the darkness that led into the women’s bathroom.

“Seeing this, I instantly let out a breath of relief. But then, I realized that I had to walk past where the shadow was, and past the women’s bathroom, to get back to my office. I walked really fast past where the ghost was, and, for a moment, I was relieved that nothing happened. As I turned away from the women’s bathroom, however, I suddenly got a cold chill running along my back. I was too scared to turn around, because my brain was screaming at me that there was something behind me. My body was so cold, but my hands were sweating profusely.

“I finally reached the door, where it led to the stairway back upstairs. There was light there, and I felt as though all the air that had disappeared from my lungs had returned. I remember stumbling up the stairs before locking myself back into my office, where I was safe from the haunting shadow.”

Locker Room Rascal

By Kavita Jain ’00
(from the Punahou Archives, with new details by faculty Holly Greenwell ’86)

Shawn Akina ’86

Shawn Akina, a 1986 Punahou alumnus, was the quarterback for the Buff ‘n Blue varsity football team and a basketball player. After graduation, he went to the University of Utah, but died the same year of a heart attack. Not long after his death, mysterious things started to happen in the Punahou locker rooms. As a child, Akina spent a lot of time in the locker rooms, creating mischief. The young Akina would run through the locker room and slam the locker doors or run into the laundry room and take the laundry out of the washing machine and throw it on the floor. Shortly after his death, similar occurrences took place in the locker room. Custodians would hear locker doors slamming when no one else was around, and there are accounts of washing machines opening on their own and laundry landing on the floor.

Sam Alterado, a mail distributor for Punahou, had crossed paths with Akina’s ghost. One Sunday in 1995, Alterado came to Punahou at around 2:30 a.m. He parked his car between the girls’ and boys’ locker rooms and sat in the car to get some rest. All of a sudden, he heard a basketball bounce. However, when he went up to check the gym floor, he didn’t see anyone bouncing the ball. Fifteen minutes later, he heard the basketball bounce again, this time much louder. He came out of the car and checked the gym, but he still could not see anyone. The third time, he heard the basketball bounce so loud that it seemed as if it was next to him. “I sat in my car, closed all the windows and I started getting scared,” he said. These events led the School to call on then Chaplain John Heidel to bless the locker rooms and gym. After Heidel did the blessing, there were never any encounters … until 2017.

Hemmeter Gym

“I created and ran a course called ‘Haunted Honolulu’ in January of 2017 for our special terms event called “G Term,” faculty Holly Greenwell ’86 said. “That year, unlike other years, over half of my students were 11th and 12th grade boys, and all of these were athletes on both football and basketball teams at Punahou. I didn’t put it together at first, but when I took them on the campus ghost tour and we arrived at Hemmeter Gym, I realized this particular story might hit close to home for them. And it sure did – Shawn made sure of it!

“I took the class of about 16 kids into the gym area to tell them the story from the Archives. I told them about Shawn, his glorious athletic legacy, and shared with them my own memories of him as someone who had a fantastic sense of humor, who was kind to everyone, and who we admired for his courage, stamina, as well as for his small kine kolohe side. He did things that were considered naughty at the time, I told them, but he was so beloved by the aunties in the locker room, and the custodians all knew of his prowess on the football field, so they mostly laughed along with him and his good-natured pranks. The kids in my class suddenly perked up and were clearly more interested in this story than in most of the others. They asked questions about Shawn, which I answered as best I could, and they told me that they had heard of him and of the Shawn Akina Classic.

“I took them all into the basketball gym to tell the part about the bouncing basketball that Sam Alterado had told in his version of the story. They all sat on the court floor, and I began to tell the story. So far that day the weather had been typical for January, with clear blue skies, not too hot, except that it had been unusually still. The tradewinds had been in a deep lull all day, so it was very quiet in the gym. Once the kids were seated for the story, things got even quieter. The kids were totally attentive, their eyes wide and heads turning to look around as I spoke.

“After the story, I took a breath to prepare to say my last words, which were, “and that is the story of the spirit of Shawn Akina.” But before I could say it, it was like the stillness got even stiller, and the air felt heavier. I felt a slight ringing in my ears as the silence in the gym became too quiet for such a big space in the middle of the school day. Then all of a sudden, a huge swooping gust of wind swept through the gym. It seemed to come straight down from the ceiling to the tops of our heads. I could see the students’ hair flattening. Then, out of the silence, there was a huge bang as one of the huge heavy gym doors, which had been locked when we came in and carefully shut behind us, flew all the way open. It stayed open for a few seconds and then ‘bam,’ it shut fast and hard with a sound that was intensified by the voices of my students, all of whom gasped or shouted out loud as it happened. Then the gym was perfectly still again, exactly as it had been moments before. We all were totally still for a few moments, feeling that something truly magical had just happened, until two of the boys broke the silence, simultaneously, and in quiet, solemn voices said, “Hi, Uncle Shawn.” We sat for a bit longer, and then my class, which was normally a noisy, joking group, walked back to our classroom in the Roundhouse in total silence.”

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