Diamond Lil and the Ghosts of the University of Arizona
Founded in 1885, the University of Arizona is the oldest university in Arizona, predating the state itself by 27 years. It is a large school with a total enrollment of around 40,000 students and is known for its research in astronomy. The aesthetically appealing campus occupies 380 acres in the heart of Tucson, Arizona. While attending class and strolling its park-like paths and sidewalks, students have occasionally reported startling encounters with the unknown. Although scientific pursuits have led many to dismiss these sightings, rumors of ghosts in several campus buildings persist. Old Main, Maricopa Hall, and Centennial Hall are just the most prominent places believed to be haunted.
Built in the late-1880s when the University of Arizona was known as Territorial University of Arizona College of Mines, Old Main is the oldest building on campus. It is rumored to be haunted by Carlos Maldenado, who supervised its construction and lived in Tucson from 1841 until his murder in 1888. One dark night, startled construction workers found Maldenado sitting in a chair in the unfinished building with a large buffalo skinners knife sticking out of his throat. It was believed that he had been murdered by locals angry over Tucson losing its position as territorial capitol in favor of becoming home to the college. The historic building fell out of use in the early 1900s and was in serious need of repair when the United States War Department took it over to train officers at the outbreak of World War 2.
During renovation in the winter of 1941/42, construction workers began to report strange experiences. Since then, Maldenado’s ghost, described as a shadowy figure, has been spotted around the building by students and faculty. While working on more repairs to Old Main in 2013, Sundt Construction foreman Tomás Avilez told University of Arizona News that he had twice seen Maldenado’s ghost. “He doesn’t stand still long enough to take a picture,” he said. “He kind of hides. I’m not afraid of him, because I’m not afraid of stuff like that, but if you sit in the attic long enough, he might appear.”
Another tragic specter supposedly haunts Maricopa Hall, a female dormitory. According to uofamystery.org, the haunting stems from an incident that occurred before the dorm was built or the university even existed. Diamond Lil and Two Tooth Gertie, two Tucson-based dance hall girls, became bitter rivals in the 1860s. Near an abandoned Spanish Cattle Rancho, on what would become the campus of University of Arizona, Two Tooth Gertie wounded Diamond Lil with a knife. Lil returned the compliment with her Pearl Handled Smith & Wesson .32 caliber Derringer pistol and shot Gertie in the face. With her dying breath, the saloon girl cursed Diamond Lil and the desert on which she lay. Later, Diamond Lil collaborated with many townsfolk to purchase a tract of land for the new college. Since that day, Two Tooth Gertie’s curse has hung over the university.
Maricopa Hall was constructed between 1918 and 1921. According to legend, it was originally a mansion for the college president. While attending a party at the mansion, a young woman found her fiance in bed with another woman (or man, in some versions). She was so distraught over the discovery that she ended her life in the bathroom. Maricopa Hall, however, was never a mansion. That has not stopped many students from retelling the tale or describing eerie encounters with the ghost of a sorrowful young woman.
Two ghosts are believed to inhabit Centennial Hall: that of a young man and a female. The male phantom is known for appearing in black clothes and for his loud, obnoxious laughter. It is rumored that he was killed in a duel when the territory still belonged to Spain. The female dresses in dark colored Victorian garb and always seems to be in a hurry–pushing her way past theater patrons on her way to see classical performances. Centennial Hall was built over the university’s original auditorium, and so the ghost stories may have carried over from that bygone era.
History is often deposited in layers, and the ghost stories and legends at the University of Arizona illustrate that characteristic. Most of its tales date from before its founding or to events that occurred during construction of its buildings, opening a window to the university’s eclectic history. These tales have kept the memory of colorful characters like Diamond Lil and Two Tooth Gertie alive. If you are ever in southern Arizona, take the time to visit this beautiful campus. You never know what you may encounter.