Suzanne McDonald shares about the Halloween happenings at East Carolina University (ECU) and poses the question of whether or not they have a haunted campus.
Ghosts, goblins, and witches, oh my! Halloween is a fun time to share stories about the supernatural and other strange occurrences that people have experienced. Like most universities, ECU has its fair share of haunted happenings and one such tale is the Ghost in McGinnis Theater. Legend has it that in the 1960s the lead actress for a play died in a car accident on opening night of the show. Twenty years later when the show was set to run again, the girl playing the lead stayed alone late one night to record an accompaniment on the piano. While recording, a folding chair collapsed on the stage and word is that when she played back her recording a woman could be heard singing along to the melody. Even today, set designers who work late into the night have heard voices in unlikely places.
One of the creepiest and oldest buildings on campus is Christenbury Gym. Walking into Christenbury is like walking into a time warp from the 50s. Rumor has it a student drowned in the pool and after that, the pool was shut down and the university then began requiring all students take a swimming class if they couldn’t pass their swim test in PE. Constructed in 1952, a decent amount of the building is still operational today. However, many rooms such as the empty pool, spiral staircases and spine-chilling locker rooms remain sealed off from the public eye.
Today, the pool is used as a storage area and the building, in general, is used by the ROTC. Just walking into the basement is eerie and folks have had experiences with the door shutting and mysterious sounds when no one was around. Another haunted campus story surrounding the old gymnasium involves a man who maintained the building, and after experiencing a domestic issue, he hung himself from the rafters. At certain times of the day, especially around twilight, his shadow can be seen through the upper window of the gym.
With all these great tales to share, ECU’s Exercise is Medicine-On Campus (EIM-OC) committee — which includes members from Campus Recreation and Wellness, Student Health Services and the Department of Kinesiology — decided to hold a Ghost Walk last fall to promote physical activity and have a little fun. Unbeknownst to the committee, at that time, there was a supernatural and folklore academic course taught by Dr. Andrea Kitta in the Department of English. For the past several years, this class has hosted a Ghost Walk on ECU’s campus as a class project.
The English students researched the urban legends around campus and the walk consisted of a campus tour where the students shared the haunted campus story of McGinnis Auditorium, the spooky happenings in Christenbury, the mysterious soldier who has been seen near West End, as well as several ghostly appearances in Cotton and Fleming Halls and Joyner Library. The students also hosted various activities such as tarot card readings and a photo booth while people waited for their tour to start. Plus, they provided a sage cleansing at the close of the walk.
Let me tell you, this girl wish she knew the Department of English was hosting a Ghost Walk, because I certainly would have reached out about a collaboration. I learned about their walk a few days prior to the event, so my colleagues and I attended to do a little reconnaissance. I am so glad I did as it allowed us to tweak some things for the EIM-OC walk, such as using glow necklaces to break walkers into groups and to really think through the walk route logistics. I also realized if we were to host this walk in the future, combining efforts would be the way to go and would also be an excellent student affairs and academic affairs collaboration.
For the EIM-OC Ghost Walk, we had to research all the legends and then we worked with students from the Department of Theater and Dance to provide monologues at each tour stop. The Theater and Dance students naturally became involved when one of our group fitness instructors majoring in theater offered to recruit classmates as storytellers. However, as a program planner, not personally knowing the students or having a direct connection with them was a little unnerving as I worried if they would actually show the night of the event.
Fortunately, they all showed, the walk went off without a hitch and we had around 150 walkers that night. I believe the Department of English had about the same amount, so again, combined forces in the future would be a no-brainer. The bonus is if your storytellers had to do the research and tell the stories for their grade then there was not a lot of worry they wouldn’t show.
After the event we identified a few things we would do differently, such as starting the walk more central to campus, having better lighting at each story telling location and adding more theatrical effects such as having the story tellers wear black robes like the grim reaper. The biggest change would be to partner with Dr. Kitta and the students in her class. The idea was presented to Dr. Kitta over coffee early last spring and she was on board and then, COVID struck.
While contact was maintained with Dr. Kitta, a move to online classes and block scheduling this fall put a damper on this year’s Ghost Walk. However, Dr. Kitta and the Department of English’s show must go on. This semester, students wrote stories of haunted happenings locally, regionally and even globally. The stories have been embedded as pins into a google map and while EIM-OC couldn’t partner as planned, we worked with the Campus Recreation and Wellness communication and promotions team to help push word out about the Google Map through social media with a call to action for students to take their own personal ghost walk.
If the supernatural is your jam, open this map to the supernatural world and enjoy the tour. Each pin on the map takes you to a different story and be sure to look carefully as some stories have a video attached.
McGinnis and Christenbury are only two of the many ECU haunted campus stories. Dive a little deeper into the tales of the haunted happenings at ECU by watching this spine-tingling video for all the details on various campus buildings, including some eyewitness accounts.