Recollecting Conwell

When Matt Flocco set out to find the ghost of Temple’s founder, he found more facts than spirits.

When Matt Flocco set out to find the ghost of Temple’s founder, he found more facts than spirits.

COLIN KERRIGAN TTN Conwell’s body is buried with his wife’s in the Founder’s Garden at Berks Mall and Liacouras Walk.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to encounter the spirit of Russell Conwell, Temple’s founder. Tape recorder and camera in hand, my roommates and I ventured to Founder’s Garden at 1 a.m. to see if we could find any sort of paranormal activity.

As we strode into the park and up to the statue that marks Conwell’s grave, we tried to communicate with Russell and his wife, Sarah. (If it works for those guys on Syfy, why wouldn’t it for us?)

Unfortunately, all we got were a couple (presumably) freshman girls cackling at the top of their lungs in the distance and the sound of a V6 engine roaring down 13th Street.

What we did find, however, was a slightly overgrown stone slab under which Russell and Sarah Conwell are buried. As I looked from the grave to the campus around me, what became a ghost hunt turned into a quest for knowledge about the legacy of Temple’s founder.

While researching, I found Conwell was born in Massachusetts in 1843, attended Yale University in 1860 and fought for the Union in the Civil War in 1862.

When he returned from war, without realizing it, Conwell became the epitome of the modern-day student at Temple. His interests and professions varied greatly: He became an editor, a journalist, a lawyer, minister and public speaker.

In his famous lecture “Acres of Diamonds,” Conwell talked about a story he heard during his travels along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

The story tells the tale of a man who walks the earth in search of diamonds. After traveling for years and finding nothing, he throws himself into the ocean off the coast of Spain. Not long after his death, diamonds are found in the earth of his own land. Conwell said:

“The diamond is inside us, waiting to be discovered, shaped and polished. Happiness is the experience is of living every minute with love grace and gratitude. The gift of life is not a treasure hunt … The Acres of diamonds story involves perspective, how you see life from within.”

The speech is said to have been orated more than 6,000 times before his death. Conwell, a public speaker and minister, began to tutor others in his ways. As he tutored more and more, his following grew, and what we now know as Temple University was founded in 1884.

And now, here you are reading your copy of The Temple News, 126 years later, perhaps eating at Maxi’s, sitting at the Bell Tower or even strolling through Founder’s Garden – taking many of the same steps Conwell and his students did.

Russell Conwell died in 1825 and since then, has been moved four times along with his wife Sarah, who died 15 years earlier.

In 1968, the couple was placed in Founder’s Garden. Some might see this as heavily disrespectful, moving a body so many times, but perhaps Conwell would have wanted it that way. He wasn’t a permanent man: He was always on the move, whether it was traveling the world or switching careers. He embraced all that life had offered him and shared it with his students for generations to come.

The word “Halloween” has many roots but is known by many as “All Hallows Eve,” a phrase associated with All Saints Day, as well as “el Día de los Muertos,” or the Day of the Dead. Beyond the scrumptious candy corn and overpriced haunted houses, lies the true spirit of the holiday. Halloween is a time to celebrate and remember the dead.

Matt Flocco can be reached at

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