27 Oct 2011
Is West Point's Room 4714 haunted?
Published: October 25, 2011
It’s late October. The weather is cold and crisp, and that means it’s time for The Rumor Doctor to make his yearly metamorphosis into The Ghost Doctor, expert on all things paranormal or otherwise just plain weird.
This year’s tale of unexplained phenomena comes from West Point, nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley, not too far from Sleepy Hollow. In 1972, cadets sleeping in Room 4714 of the 47th Division Barracks reported seeing an apparition that looked like a 19th century soldier.
Jim O’Connor, a plebe at the time, first saw the ghost while making a trip to the bathroom early one Sunday morning, according to The Pointer, West Point’s command newspaper.
“As he turned to leave, he noticed someone sitting on the toilet seat: this figure was about 5’6” tall and ‘dressed in a worn full dress gray coat,’” the newspaper reported in 1972. “It sat as one would sit on a bench, holding in its right hand an old musket with a Civil War vintage bayonet on it. O’Connor ‘was caught up with the eyes. They were white.’ They glowed and they had no discernable color.”
The ghost eventually stood and faded away, but five people reported seeing it over the ensuing days. One was cadet John Feeley, who awoke one morning very cold with the feeling that something was sitting on his chest, The Pointer reported. He looked at the wall and saw an image of an older man wearing a coat and hat.
“I did not notice anything besides its lack of eyes,” he told the newspaper. “Rather than eyes, it had two white spots. I tried to sit up in bed twice but could not. I made an effort to scream, but the sound was cut off in the middle of my throat.”
Creepy stuff, but a West Point professor later proposed a scientific explanation for this supposedly supernatural phenomenon.
Retired Lt. Col. Timothy O’Neill, a former professor at West Point, wrote the novel “Shades of Gray” based on the haunting in the 1980s. After its publication, cadets reported seeing the apparition again.
O’Neill interviewed some of the witnesses and came to the conclusion that the phantom was a hallucination.
Humans typically dream during REM sleep, so named because our eyes are rapidly moving back and forth, O’Neill wrote in a 1990 article for West Point’s alumni magazine. During this time, our muscles are paralyzed to keep us from walking or otherwise moving during the dream.
Sometimes, we do wake up during REM sleep, but the muscles are still paralyzed, he wrote. Those who experience the sensation, known as “sleep paralysis,” feel helpless and a sense that something is pressing down on them.
“Even more alarming is the possibility that in such a condition the dream material going on in REM may briefly carry over into wakefulness,” Neill wrote in the article. “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.”
In recent years, there have been no official reports of paranormal activity in Room 4714, which is no longer a sleeping area, said West Point spokeswoman Theresa Brinkerhoff.
Brinkerhoff had little to else to say about the reported ghost sightings, writing in an email, “As a federally funded institution, our efforts today remain focused on the education and development of preparing our cadets to become future leaders for the Army and the nation.”
THE GHOST DOCTOR’S DIAGNOSIS: If we have learned nothing from movies, it is that we should not anger forces we neither understand nor control. Therefore, The Ghost Doctor declares the Room 4714 ghost to be real, benevolent and dashingly handsome.