Cooperstown Confidential: The Hauntings of the Hall of Fame

The Hall of Fame’s Art Gallery, which may or may not be haunted. (Courtesy of The Hall of Fame)

Baseball is not immune to the world of ghosts and the supernatural. As Ken Burns said in his 1994 documentary, Baseball: “It is a haunted game, in which every player is measured against the ghosts of all who have gone before.”

Of course, Burns was speaking metaphorically, but over the years, baseball has produced stories of more tangible connections to the beyond: alleged hauntings, eerie events and superstitions. The Hall of Fame is no exception to this history of ghosts and spirits.

Baseball has a clear connection to the world of ghosts, monsters, and horror. Let’s present a few examples, some of which have been extensively detailed in this space in previous years.

  • Boris Karloff, generally acclaimed as the “King of Horror,” was an accomplished cricket player and fan of the British game. He also made a celebrated appearance in a charity softball game while wearing his full Frankenstein Monster’s regalia.
  • Bela Lugosi, forever known for his portrayal of Dracula, became good friends with Babe Ruth. Although Lugosi was not truly a fan of baseball, he apparently attended a few games at Yankee Stadium on Ruth’s invitation. Another icon of horror, Vincent Price, regularly attended Dodgers games. Price was a diehard fan of the game and once took time to serve as a celebrity vendor at Dodger Stadium.
  • The Haunt of Fear, a popular horror comic book of 1950s vintage, once ran a controversial comic strip about a ghastly game of baseball played with human body parts. The strip, known as “Foul Play,” became one of the rallying cries of critics who opposed horror comics and believed they needed to be banned from the American mainstream culture.
  • The Twilight Zone, the 1960s era show specializing in science fiction and horror, once featured an episode of a robot doubling as a ballplayer. The show’s creator and inspirational force, Rod Serling, was an avid fan of the game.
  • An episode of The Munsters, the beloved comedy about a ghoulish family, featured an appearance by Hall of Fame manager Leo Durocher, who at the time was working as a coach with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In the 1965 episode, Durocher oversees a tryout for Herman Munster, who does so much damage to the field and the ballpark that the Dodgers decide to take a pass on Herman’s talents.

Vincent Price plays the role of vendor at Dodger Stadium. (Courtesy of Victoria Price)

And then there is the village of Cooperstown, New York, more specifically the address 25 Main Street. That is location of the most famous building in the village – the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum – and there are those who say that it is haunted.

A three-story brick building featuring a wide-ranging array of exhibits, the Hall of Fame also houses two theaters and a library. The Hall has several exhibits that feature a history of haunting, including the Plaque Gallery, the Ted Williams strike zone display, and the records room.

For those who believe in ghosts, the presence of spirits at the Hall of Fame should not be surprising, given the reverence for history and past accomplishment that is always on display. Of the 323 Hall of Fame members, well over 200 are deceased. Many of these Hall of Famers have personal items—bats, balls, gloves, uniforms, helmets and other assorted items—featured in the Museum’s collection of 40,000 artifacts. Given the strong attraction between these players and their personal items, why wouldn’t they haunt a place like the Hall of Fame?

A good starting point to a ghostly tour of the Hall is the centerpiece to the institution: the Plaque Gallery. That brings us to the saga of Ty Cobb, who was part of the Hall’s inaugural class of electees in 1936 and whose plaque is housed in the rotunda, at the far end of the gallery. Though a recent book by Charles Leerhsen has seemingly shed new light on Cobb’s controversial life, it’s indisputable that Cobb had a temper and a strong personality. There are those paranormal researchers who believe that people with stronger personalities are more likely to come back as ghosts or spirits in their next incarnation. Some visitors to the Hall of Fame rotunda have claimed to have heard a whispered voice coming from the plaque. Though there are skeptics, some visitors wonder if the whispers are a sign of ghostly activity—and some kind of connection to Cobb.

The Plaque Gallery Rotunda, featuring the first class of Hall of Famers, including Ty Cobb. (Courtesy of The Hall of Fame)

There has also been speculation that a non-Hall of Famer, Shoeless Joe Jackson, may be haunting the Plaque Gallery. In 1919, Jackson and seven of his Chicago White Sox teammates took money from gamblers in exchange for losing the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. They were eventually found out, and while they were acquitted in court, they were nonetheless banned from baseball by the commissioner, Judge Landis. Later, after the Hall of Fame was created, Jackson and his compatriots were barred from ever being elected to the Cooperstown shrine.

Some claim Jackson’s ghost manifests through a strange voice that has sometimes been heard, particularly during the summer months, when the Hall of Fame stays open later in the evening. While the reasons behind Cobb’s haunting of the Hall of Fame Gallery remain a bit more nebulous, some have speculated he haunts the gallery because of his longing to be honored with a bronze plaque. Yet it does not appear that Jackson’s ghost will have any reason to cease haunting the gallery anytime soon. In 2015, Commissioner Rob Manfred formally ruled against an appeal for Jackson’s reinstatement to the game.

In 2010, the TV show Ghost Hunters looked into some of baseball’s ghost stories during an investigation that lasted four late nights in the Hall of Fame and Museum. Using modern day technology, such as heat detectors, thermal imaging, and both visual and audio recordings, the Ghost Hunters did turn up some evidence. They recorded a voice in the Plaque Gallery, which they then played back for the Hall’s president, Jeff Idelson.

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Unfortunately, the voice was not clear enough to determine what was actually said nor who might have spoken. Due to the vague nature of the recording, the Ghost Hunters were unable to conclude definitively whether or not a haunting had taken place in the gallery.

Not far from the gallery, the Hall houses an exhibit of fine art, including paintings and sculptures, highlighted by works from Andy Warhol and LeRoy Niemann. During the summer of 2016, a member of the Hall’s visitor services staff was clearing out the galleries just before the 9 p.m. closing time. She walked into the art gallery on the first floor. Seeing that it was empty, she jokingly said out loud, “Good night, paintings.” Then, as she began to walk out of the art gallery, she clearly heard a voice say, “Goodnight, Christina.”

At first, she suspected she was the victim of a prank by a co-worker and began looking through the adjacent rooms. The Learning Center, located next door, was empty. So was the adjacent hallway. There was no one to be found in any direction. Rather quickly, Christina went from thinking that a prank had taken place to believing that some kind of entity knew her name and was trying to communicate with her. She remains convinced that she heard the voice of a ghostly force.

That same summer, Christina and another staff member had the same odd experience. Again, it was late at night, just before closing. While checking the “Pride and Passion” exhibit, which details the history of African Americans in the game, Christina noticed a man standing near the Mexican League jersey  in the back of the exhibit. She informed the visitor, “We are closing in five minutes.” She turned away for a moment, and then looked back into the gallery. The man was gone; the entire exhibit was empty. Another staff members had a similar experience that same year.

Just around the corner from “Pride and Passion,” another popular exhibit has twice become the site of a paranormal event. It’s the area of the museum that features the Ted Williams strike zone, complete with colored baseballs and the suggested batting averages that come with hitting certain pitches in certain areas. Right next to the strike zone is a large cardboard cutout of Williams, surrounded by text panels that detail his career and life, including his extensive military service in both World War II and the Korean War.

The Ted Williams Exhibit. (Courtesy of The Hall of Fame)

Williams died of natural causes in 2002. Four years later, a young boy and his family were on the second floor of the museum. As they stood in front of the large Williams cardboard cutout and read about him, they heard a voice speaking to them, seemingly coming directly from the cutout. The voice said discernibly, “Always keep trying. It will be OK.” It was as if the voice was giving some soothing advice to the young boy. It was the kind of thing Williams might have said to a child in his later years, when he had mellowed and become one of the most beloved of the Hall of Famers.

There is just one problem with all of this. This exhibit does not have a recording of Williams, or anyone else’s voice for that matter. Back in 2006, there were no recordings within earshot of this area on the second floor. The young boy and his family believe that they were being spoken to by the ghost of someone—perhaps the ghost of the great Williams himself.

Four years after this incident, the Ghost Hunters team spent some time in this area during their four-night long investigation of the Museum. One night, two of the investigators were standing a short distance from the large cardboard cutout of Williams. They looked a few feet down the hall and saw a shadowy figure moving in front of them. Being investigators of ghostly things, they began to chase the shadow figure, pursuing it down the long second floor corridor. They saw the figure turn right, into the 19th century gallery. But when the two investigators also made that turn, the shadow figure had disappeared. After having seen it for a good 10 to 12 seconds, they completely lost sight of it. Was this again an indication of spirit activity by Williams, or perhaps by someone else? For those who believe in ghosts, either scenario would seem to be a possibility.

A shadow figure, perhaps the same one, has also been seen on the third floor. Within its recesses is an exhibit called “One for the Books,” the room where the Hall keeps track of record holders and those who have achieved milestones in baseball history. The room features the Atlanta Braves uniform belonging to Hank Aaron, the onetime home run king; the Yankee Stadium locker belonging to Joe DiMaggio, the owner of the record-setting 56-game hitting streak; and the “asterisk” ball that Barry Bonds hit to break Aaron’s record.

During the Ghost Hunters’ visit, two of the show’s investigators were walking through the adjacent Hank Aaron Room when they heard the noise of a door opening and closing—an interesting development given that they were alone. They had been assured that no one else would be allowed on the third floor during the period of investigation, including security.

The investigators began to move in the direction of the sound and came around the corner near the DiMaggio locker. Off to the left, they noticed the doors to the men’s and women’s restrooms. The investigators opened and closed the two doors repeatedly, attempting to recreate the sound they had heard earlier. The opening and closing of the door to the men’s room matched the earlier sound, allowing them to conclude that the sound had indeed come from that same door. With no one else on the floor, and with no breeze inside the museum strong enough to move the door, it seems possible a ghostly entity might have been involved once again.

Other reported haunted happenings take place at the Hall on a regular basis. Overnight security guards have reported elevators that open and close despite no one being on them—and no one else being in the building. They have also heard whispering voices in the Plaque Gallery, seen strange flashes of light, and heard sounds of disembodied footsteps.

All of this leaves us with the following question: Is the Hall of Fame haunted? It’s a (sort of) legitimate question, but the point of this article is not to prove to you that it is, or that ghosts exist at all; I’ll leave those conclusions up to the reader. What is more pertinent is this: As we approach the night of Halloween, even a place like the Hall of Fame can carry an atmosphere that stirs up feelings of the spooky side, a place where it at least feels like ghosts and spirits might roam free and share some space with the game’s history.

References and Resources

  • Mickey Bradley and Dan Gordon, Field of Screams: Haunted Tales from the Baseball Diamond, the Locker Room, and Beyond, The Lyons Press, 2010

Bruce Markusen has authored seven baseball books, including biographies of Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda and Ted Williams, and A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, which was awarded SABR's Seymour Medal.
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Tim Hagerty

Great article. I’ve heard players say the visiting team hotels in Milwaukee and Scranton are haunted.

Spa City
Spa City

I get the logic… If ghosts can be seen then they must reflect or emit light, so they must have mass and/or energy, so they must be measurable. If ghosts can be heard then they must cause vibrations in the air, so they must have mass and/or energy. If ghosts could cause harm to people, then there would be injuries or deaths attributable to ghosts. If ghosts are tied to specific places like the H of F, then they must be subject to gravity (else they would be floating in space) and therefore must be measurable. Yet no measurable evidence… Read more »