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Mysterious America

Western Illinois University and the Ghosts of Simpkins Hall

For years, students and faculty in Western Illinois University’s Simpkins Hall have told similar stories, but the ghost of an adolescent girl is only one of the apparitions rumored to haunt the 80-year-old building.

Imagine you are a student going off to college for the first time. At home, you gave a sigh of relief as you opened your acceptance letter. Now, you are ready to put childhood behind you as you tuck your English lit textbook under your arm and enter one of the three arched doorways to Simpkins Hall, a stark, neoclassical building rising four stories with rows of windows cut along its face. Your footsteps echo in the foyer as you climb the stairwell to the first floor. Where are the other students? Florescent lights flicker on and off. Without warning, the laughter of a young child echoes down the dark corridor.

For years, students and faculty in Western Illinois University’s Simpkins Hall have told similar stories, but the ghost of an adolescent girl—so seemingly out of place—is only one of the apparitions rumored to haunt the 80-year-old building. Many other odd occurrences at the hall are attributed to “Harold,” a former janitor or graduate assistant who lurks among the classrooms on the third floor.

After classes finish for the day, the disembodied sound of keys jingling, doors opening and closing, or a typewriter clicking, rattle the nerves of even the most seasoned educator. Never-the-less, tales of encounters with the ghost of Harold and the phantom child have made believers of some, but many in this ivory tower remain skeptical.

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Saudade

A Freshman’s Lament

My first semester at EIU at the dawn of the new millennium wasn’t quite what I expected.

As a newly minted 18-year-old at Morehouse College in 1947, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote “…We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.”

That must be why, in the Martin Luther King Jr. University Union at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois, hangs a large portrait of the building’s namesake covering his forehead with one hand in a gesture of either bewilderment or exasperation.

On Orientation Day the summer before my freshman year at Eastern Illinois University, my fellow prefrosh and I nervously and excitedly shuffled into the Martin Luther King Jr. University Union ballroom to watch a video addressing our fears of dorm life and living away from home for the first time. “EIU doesn’t have dorms,” it assured us. “It has residence halls.” The freshman in the video anxiously dreamt of having a nightmare roommate, but when they finally met, they became best friends.

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Mysterious America

Twin Haunted Mansions of Marian University

Since acquiring the Allison and Wheeler-Stokely mansions, rumors persist at this Catholic university that both former estates have an active spiritual life, and not of the religious variety.

Marian University in Indianapolis, Indiana was established in 1851 by the Sisters of St. Francis as St. Francis Normal in Oldenburg, Indiana. In 1936, it merged with Immaculate Conception Junior College to become Marian College. The Sisters of St. Francis purchased Riverdale, the former James A. Allison estate in Indianapolis, and moved in. Marian College officially opened on September 15, 1937. Its name changed to Marian University in 2009. Since occupying the Allison Mansion, and in 1963, the Wheeler-Stokely Mansion, rumors persist that both former estates have an active spiritual life, and not of the religious variety.

Built for automotive mogul James Asbury Allison (1872-1928) between 1911 and 1914, this Art & Crafts Country-style mansion quickly gained a reputation as a “house of wonders”. It was revolutionary at the time for integrating the latest advancements, including intercoms, automatic lighted closets, an indoor swimming pool, and even an electric elevator. Allison co-founded the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, co-founded the Prest-O-Lite Company, and founded the Allison Engineering Company.

Architect Herbert Bass designed the mansion’s exterior, but Allison fired him before completion and hired Philadelphia architect William Price (1861-1916) to design the interior.

The Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenberg purchased Allison’s estate at 3200 Cold Spring Road in 1936 and moved their school there, renaming it Marian College. It served as their main administration building, library, and living quarters for decades. Allison had previously worked with the Sisters of St. Francis to open a hospital in Miami Beach, Florida. After his death in 1928, rumors spread that his ethereal form remained at his beloved Indianapolis estate, which he called “Riverdale”. 

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Mysterious America

Decades-Old Mystery Hangs Over Rush Rhees Library

At least one University of Rochester employee refuses to stay dead, according to this 88-year-old campus legend. But was he–or his accidental death–real?

Established in 1850 as an independent offshoot of Baptist-born Madison University, the University of Rochester grew to become a mid-sized research university along the Genesee River in Rochester, New York. Benjamin Rush Rhees, a Baptist minister and namesake of Rush Rhees Library, was the University of Rochester’s third president, serving from 1900 to 1935. His long and steady leadership oversaw the university’s growth into a modern institution.

Rush Rhees Library was constructed between 1927 and 1930 in neoclassical style, and its tower, which contains a carillon featuring 50 Dutch bells, stands 186 feet high. The library’s impressive collection contains over three million books, as well as beautiful neoclassical artwork and sculptures. But does something otherworldly flicker through its halls?

The ghost story at Rush Rhees Library is as old as the library itself. In 1929, during construction of the central library tower, a Sicilian immigrant and laborer named Pete Nicosia fell 150 feet to his death. James Conroy, his foreman, supposedly signed Nicosia’s death certificate and made burial arrangements, or so the legend goes. Since then, Nicosia’s disembodied spirit has materialized before bewildered and unsuspecting students.

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Mysterious America

University of Delaware – Historically Haunted?

Nearly every college and university can claim a ghost story or two, but if even half its stories are true, the University of Delaware is among the most haunted in the country.

The University of Delaware opened in 1834 as Newark College and has undergone dramatic expansion in the intervening 186 years. It was established by Presbyterians under the auspices of the Academy of Newark, a school which graduated three signers of the Declaration of Independence. It became Delaware College in 1843 and the University of Delaware in 1921. Twenty-four years later, it merged with the Women’s College of Delaware to become a fully coeducational institution. Each change not only expanded its campus and enlarged enrollment, but cultivated stories and legends as well.

Take, for instance, the legend of the “Kissing Arches.” Storytellers say that when the Women’s College of Delaware opened on an adjoining campus in 1914, brick archways near Memorial Hall separated the two campuses. Young lovers rendezvoused under the arches before returning to their respective schools, and to this day, couples that kiss five times beneath the arches will be blessed with marriage.

It’s a romantic tale born from this unique relationship between the formerly distinct colleges, however, a university archivist told UDaily that men were always allowed to escort their dates back to the women’s campus. If they stopped to make out under the arches, it was by choice.

It’s the ghost stories, however, that have most captured students’ imaginations, and the University of Delaware has more than its share. Reportedly haunted locations include the Academy Building, Old College, Mitchell Hall, Smyth Hall, Memorial Hall, Recitation Hall, and Christiana Tower East to name a few.

The Academy Building at 105 East Main Street replaced a Colonial Era structure in 1841 and was originally part of Newark Academy. The University of Delaware acquired it in 1976 and today it is home to the Office of Communications and Marketing. Appropriately, this building is rumored to be home to the college’s oldest legend.

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Video

Tales of Coles County – EIU Sneak Peek

Join me for a look at the section on legends and lore of Eastern Illinois University in the new edition of my book Tales of Coles County, Illinois. Burl Ives, Mary Hawkins and Pemberton Hall, a group of pranksters called The Phantom, and a dog named Napoleon are all detailed like never before.

I’m no longer accepting pre-orders because the book has officially been released! Order it today on Amazon.com, Walmart.com, and GooglePlay.

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Photography

Athena Rising

Athena Rising
Neoclassical statue of the Greek goddess Athena in Rush Rhees Library, University of Rochester in Rochester, New York. Athena was the goddess of wisdom and warfare. It is modeled on descriptions of a statue designed by Phidias in the Parthenon. Athena holds Nike (Victory) in her right hand and a shield in the other.