The Geography of Campus Ghostlore

Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities by Michael Kleen is now available on and! Just in time for the fall, you can own a copy of the first book exclusively devoted to Illinois college folklore and ghost stories. Published by Crossroad Press, Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities is 166 pages and retails for $12.99. Please enjoy this excerpt from Chapter 2: Hallowed Halls: The Geography of Campus Ghostlore

Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges & UniversitiesUniversities are centers of learning where young adults devote two to four years (or more) of their lives to academic study. In addition to attending class, students must also have places to eat, sleep, study, socialize, and find entertainment. To facilitate this activity, a university needs professors, administrators, secretaries, custodians and maintenance, security personnel, and a whole support network operating largely behind the scenes.

All this activity takes place in a physical environment that includes classroom buildings, towering residence halls, libraries, theaters, gymnasiums, open spaces, gardens, and walking paths. Off campus, fraternity and sorority houses, apartments, and other rental properties provide additional student housing. On weekends, students looking for a scare might venture into the wilderness away from the perceived safety of campus to seek out the scene of a local legend. These places are often decorated with curious messages, remnants, and monuments left behind by previous students. Together, these places set the stage for campus lore.

Because every university contains these essential features, it is their architecture and arrangement that makes each one unique. More than physical features, however, it is the invisible landscape of tradition, reputation, history, stories, and other human associations that gives each university its identity. Campus folklore and ghost stories are an important part of this invisible landscape, connecting the present generation to the past.

Some ghost stories, such as the ghosts of Ange Milner at Illinois State University and Mary Hawkins at Eastern Illinois University, have become an essential part of campus tradition, as much as the university mascot. These stories occupy particular places and settings, breathing life into cold granite, brick, wood, and mortar. In the words of folklorist Kent C. Ryden, “The meaning of a place for the people who live there is best captured by the stories they tell about it.”

Therefore, campus lore helps create an attachment for students to unfamiliar surroundings. Not everyone gets to experience going away to college, but for the tens of thousands of young people who experience it every year, it can be very disconcerting. Leaving behind loved ones, friends, coworkers, and familiar surroundings to attend a four-year university can be an anxiety-provoking experience. Some students cannot handle it, and drop out in the first or second semester. For those who remain, they are tasked with forming new friendships, new relationships, and acclimating to a new environment very different from home.

Stories told by veteran students to incoming freshmen help introduce them to the campus culture. Organizations like fraternities and sororities, with their own traditions and lore, help create additional social bonds. Storytelling is an important part of this process, and ghost stories play a role by expressing anxieties, teaching lessons, and reminding students of the past.

With all these abstract concepts, however, we cannot forget it is places that are haunted—particular buildings made of steel, brick, stone, glass, and tile. They are buildings in which students walk the halls every day, learn, congregate, talk, eat, and sleep. Nearly every type of building imaginable on a college campus has been said to be haunted at one time or another. This chapter will look at some of the more popular of these: dorms and residence halls, theaters, libraries, administrative buildings, classroom buildings, and fraternity and sorority houses. Finally, we will examine legend-tripping destinations. [Read more in Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities by Michael Kleen]

Author: Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

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