Mysterious America

Millikin University’s Rail Girl and Other Tales

Like many colleges, Decatur’s Millikin University is home to a bevvy of campus legends, some of which are based on historic tragedies.

Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois began its career with great fanfare. Named after the man who bankrolled the school, James Millikin, it opened in 1903 and was dedicated by Teddy Roosevelt. Classes begin on September 15 of that year. Its numerous ghost stories have their origins early in its history.

One story, involving the light of a long-deceased railroad crossing watchman named Tommy, has been told on campus since the 1930s. The old gymnasium, now used primarily as a storage area, is the scene of echoes from days gone by. According to Troy Taylor, students have heard the sounds of sports being played while alone in the abandoned gym.

Many students believe the ghost of a woman named Bernice Richardson haunts Ashton Hall, Millikin University’s oldest all-female dorm. Richardson killed herself by drinking carbonic acid in her bedroom on February 1, 1927.

According to author Tom Ogden, “Her ghost appears only from the waist up. The apparition moves slowly from one end of the third floor to the other, going from room to room by passing through the walls. She also moves objects, makes belongings disappear and reappear, raps on the walls, and messes with the lights and doors.”

The ghost of an adolescent girl who appears along a railing in the upper level of the auditorium (leading some to call her the “Rail Girl”) allegedly haunts Albert Taylor Theater, which is located in Schilling Hall. Schilling Hall is one of the oldest buildings on campus, and its auditorium has been a center of cultural life on campus for more than a century.

Albert Reynolds Taylor was president of Millikin University during the early 1900s. When he died in 1929, family and former colleagues held his funeral in the auditorium that would eventually bear his name.

The presence of the “Rail Girl” in Albert Taylor Theater is a longstanding tradition. Students claim they can hear her crying, running, or making other noises. Before each performance, thespians leave three pieces of candy backstage. If not, they say, the girl’s ghost will snatch objects, make lights flicker, damage props, or commit other mischief.

The most famously haunted Greek residence at Millikin is the Delta Delta Delta sorority house. For generations, young women have reportedly encountered the ghost of a translucent, pale or gray-colored woman dressed in a simple pioneer dress. Storytellers say she was disturbed when the Tri-Delta sorority house was accidentally built over a small private cemetery in 1913. The cemetery, which belonged to the John Miller family, had been forgotten until construction workers stumbled upon it.

To this day, sorority sisters report encountering unexplained temperature drops and hearing whispers on the top floor. More alarmingly, the ghost is said to “check up on” the young ladies as they sleep, and more than one has awoken to see the face of a strange woman staring down on them.

Further Reading

  • Tom Ogden, Haunted Colleges and Universities: Creepy Campuses, Scary Scholars, and Deadly Dorms (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 2014).
  • Troy Taylor, Haunted Decatur Revisited: Ghostly Tales from the Haunted Heartland of Illinois (Alton: Whitechapel Productions Press, 2000).

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