By Emilie Lewis
At a school as old as Columbia College, there’s no small number of ghost stories and urban legends surrounding campus. We’ve collected a few of the most unnerving tales and oldest traditions. Read on, if you dare.
The Gray Lady
Perhaps the most well-known of all Columbia College stories, the Gray Lady is said to be a student who, during the Civil War, fell in love with a Confederate soldier. Men were not allowed in the dorms, and the city was occupied by Union soldiers, so the paramours could only meet in secret at night. The Gray Lady’s love was shot and killed in the woods when found by Union soldiers as he was leaving St. Clair Hall. Anguished by the loss, she threw herself from the top of the building. Some believe that it was, in fact, Williams Hall from which the Gray Lady met her untimely death. The latter seems a bit more possible as the construction of St. Clair Hall didn’t begin until years after the Civil War ended. Still, students claim to catch sight of a lonely woman wandering the halls and have seen candles move from window to window. The rumor only grew when student Penny Pitman and a friend recreated the Gray Lady’s storied walk in 1965, teaming up to make a candle and silhouette walk through walls in front of a group of flabbergasted students leaving a Halloween party.
Launer Auditorium Swan Dive
The past students of CC seem to have a habit of being where they shouldn’t. Rumor has it that somewhere around 1915 or 1917, a student was viewing a show in Launer Auditorium when the train of her dress caught on the balcony and she fell to her death. She is said to haunt the west turret nearest Hughes Hall.
Caskets and Infant Death
When Annilee St. Clair passed away in 1900 due to inflammatory rheumatism, it is said that her mother, Luella, was inconsolable. The girl lay in state in one of the St. Clair parlors for days, and it is rumored that the wicker casket in the attic of St. Clair was meant for her. And while the thought of children dying on campus is frightening enough, students report hearing the sounds of a bouncing ball in the hallways at night, and some have even heard a childish whisper asking them to play.
10th Street Mortuary
For a time, students well-versed in French were invited to live in La Maison Francaise, a house located where the 10th Street parking lot is today. Before the students, however, the building was home to the undead – it was a mortuary.
During the construction of the Atkins-Holman building, many workers were in and out of the site. However, one worker left the site and never returned, saying that he’d felt a presence while in the building and wanted no part in the construction after that.
Fact or Fiction?
Though many ghost stories and urban legends have been passed down through the years (a ghostly call to campus security at 2:10 in the morning and chilly vibes coming from Hughes Hall), one thing we know for certain is that CC students have always had a penchant for the spooky fall months. Dating back to the turn of the 20th century, Columbia College has hosted an annual Halloween party and numerous fall festivals and pageants with Dorsey Gym or Bass Commons as the locations for the macabre celebrations. Students went all out with costumes and recreated scenes, even stacking bales of straw in Hughes Hall for a bloody deathbed photo-shoot.
No matter the year, the stories of Columbia College’s past always reappear. Traced through photos and yearbooks, upperclassmen tell the tales to incoming students who tell the stories to the next generation and so on. And with a history tracing back more than 150 years and through numerous wars and crises, it’s easy to see why our bright, beautiful campus turns shadowy in the fall.