On February 17th the Chronicle (p. 60) published a thought-provoking essay on the phenomenon of “ghosting” in academia. Coincidentally, this article appeared on the 70th anniversary of one of the most notorious instances of the other “G” word — “gaslighting” — in the history of higher education: Dartmouth’s Dark Night.
Read and weep.
On Monday, February 16, 1953, Gabriel “Gabe” Mussum, a freshly minted Stanford PhD, arrived at the Hanover Inn on the campus of Dartmouth College. On Tuesday he would begin two days of interviews for an assistant-professor position in the school’s Department of History. He checked in without incident.
By midday on Tuesday the 17th it had become clear to both the History Department Chair and the Dean of Arts and Sciences that Mussum was not a good fit. Most egregiously, he combed his hair straight back in an era when virtually all male faculty members at Dartmouth parted their hair on the right.
When Gabe returned to the Hanover Inn on Monday evening, he discovered that his room key did not work. He went downstairs to the front desk, where he was told that no one named “Mussum” was registered at the Inn. This information came from Bernice, the same woman who had checked him in the night before. Bernice now claimed that she had never encountered Gabe on Monday.
Bewildered, Gabe scurried across Dartmouth College Green to the building where the Dean’s office was located, hoping to find him still there despite the late hour. Indeed, the Dean had not yet left, but he simply stared blankly at Gabe and declared, “I have no idea who you are, young man.”
Gabe returned to the Inn, only to find out that it was fully booked for the night. Bernice suggested that he walk to a nearby Motel 6, which was a little over a mile away. He departed just as it began to snow heavily. It turned out to be the biggest snowstorm of the season: 26 inches in 4 hours.
Gabe never arrived at the Motel 6. On February 22nd a cross-country skier noticed a frozen human leg sticking out of a snowbank on the edge of the Dartmouth campus. The leg was attached to Gabe Mussum.
The case remained unsolved until 1997, when the long-retired Dean of Arts and Sciences was receiving last rites on his deathbed from a Catholic priest. The Dean confessed: “I’ve carried this horrible secret with me for 44 years. We were just trying to save a little money on hotel expenses, that’s all. Dartmouth’s endowment was a lot smaller back then. I authorized the entire deception, including the changing of the lock on the door. Am I going to Hell, Father?”
“I’m afraid so, my son. I’ll be recommending it.”
Legend has it that the ghost of Gabe Mussum can be seen walking slowly across the Dartmouth College Green every February 17th at midnight. He wears a tweed jacket and carries a doctoral dissertation. His hair is parted on the right.