The Ghosts of UNC

a ghost of unc

The make-believe ghost of Edith, one of the most popular of the ghost stories retold on campus, was created by photographer Barry Gutierrez. He used his imagination to create scenes of Edith (aka Jamie Mills, a School of Theatre Arts and Dance student) flitting about in this timed exposure.

UNC is not unique when it comes to haunted dorms or ghosts in the basement and things that go bump in the night. There are stories on every campus across the country, and UNC has its share.

As with most ghost stories, the UNC ghosts have been passed from person to person through the years, a friend telling a friend about something that happened to another student on a dark night, of shadows and visions and voices in an empty building.

Some are just rumors or tales or urban legends. Like the story of the art sculpting class in the Art Annex on the old campus. It was years ago, they'll tell you, that a few students had just brought in their fresh clay and placed it on the potter's wheels. Then they left the room. When they came back, they found a face imprinted in the clay. Storytellers say no one came into the room while the students were gone.

Just a short distance from the Art Annex, at Gray Hall where drama students have small productions on campus, one employee years ago arranged chairs for the audience, left the building for a few minutes and returned. She found the chairs stacked high in the room, one on top of the other, "like a poltergeist had been there," said one student.

At Belford Hall on central campus, the ghost is named George, and he appears friendly. Several students say they have seen George, but he just appears then disappears again without harm. Coincidentally (maybe) the most haunted building on campus, Frasier Hall, was named after George Frasier, who served as president from 1924-1947.

Actually, on the UNC campus, you can get a ghost story for almost every building.

Turner Hall
For Brad Shade, now the director of UNC Housing Operations, it was the slamming doors that made him think again about the ghost. It was May 1988, and Shade was a summer assistant at Turner Hall; his job was to check the rooms on every floor to make sure the students were gone for the summer. It was nearly midnight, and Shade was on the 10th floor, alone.

"While inside room 1005," Shade said, "one of the other apartment doors slammed shut." He stepped into the hallway to check. "I called out to see if anyone was there. No one was present."

As he stepped back into Room 1005, Shade heard five more doors slam shut: "Bam-bam-bam-bam-bam!" He checked again. No one was there. The windows on the floor wouldn't open, so there was no wind to slam the doors. There was just no reason five doors would slam shut, one after the other.

"With the hairs on my neck raised and goose bumps on my arms," Shade said, "I called it a night and immediately left the floor."

Shade insists to this day that he doesn't believe in ghosts. But he still can't explain what happened that midnight on the 10th floor of Turner Hall.

An even odder story is told about a room one floor up, 1105 on the 11th floor of Turner: Stoney Ghosty may just be a good excuse. Do you smell that strange, sweet-tobacco odor, coming from room 1105 in Turner Hall? Could it be marijuana?

No, according to some students, it's the spirit of Stoney Ghosty, a student long ago who died from drugs, and left behind the odor.

Stoney Ghosty is recounted in the book "Haunted Halls" by Elizabeth Tucker. Former UNC Professor Rosemary Hathaway had a student who wrote about Stoney Ghosty in her folklore class several years ago. It was that story that made it into the "Haunted Halls" book. Now, Stoney Ghosty has gained a wide audience.

The student interviewed others who could smell the burning marijuana in the room, although they claimed nothing was happening there. Now the room is a student lounge, the walls and furniture replaced; the odor has vanished. Yet for some, the smell of marijuana coming from a dorm room could mean something else.

"It sounds like a good excuse," said a resident assistant at Turner.

There is also the story of a student who jumped out of an 11th floor window of Turner to escape a fire. There's no historical record of the student's death, but some say his ghost can be heard on the 11th floor.

Haunted Harrison
Because of the janitor-in-the-basement story, Harrison Hall hosts a haunted house every Halloween.

The story of the janitor hasn't been proven, although students believe it: the janitor was working in the basement one night, and went to the trash bin which sits at the end of long trash chute that extends to all the floors of the building.

As the janitor was leaning over the trash bin, a student dropped a brick into the chute from one of the high floors. It hit the janitor in the head, killing him. And that's why the janitor's ghost still lingers in the basement of Harrison.

Last year, said RA Charlie Charbonneau, one of the students took a Ouija Board down there and tried to contact the ghost.

With the other students present and their hands on the Ouija Board, they asked the ghost: "Are you the dead janitor?"

"Y-e-s" came the answer.

Another question: "Do you have a message for us?"

Answer: "OUT!"

The students left.

The trash chute at Harrison has been closed down now, "But not because of ghost stories," Brad Shade was quick to explain. "It just became too dangerous for the students to use."

She's probably the most famous ghost on campus, maybe because she haunts two dormitories: Wiebking and Wilson.

They'll tell you the story of Edith, a shy, awkward resident assistant, who became the butt of many jokes at the dorm. One April Fools' Day, the students removed all the furniture from her room. It was devastating for Edith.

For some reason no one knows, she would go into the attic and play with marbles, dropping and rolling them across the floor. On spring break that year, when all of the students were gone, Edith became more depressed and she went to the attic and hanged herself.

There is no historical proof of Edith's death, but students say they hear the marbles, that she changes the channels on their TV sets and moves their furniture while they sleep.

Katy Harris, a student living at Wiebking, has heard "something in the ceiling ... it sounds sort of like marbles. When others were asked about it, one of them said, "Oh my God, yes, it's the ghost!"

Another student at Wiebking, Hilare Ashworth, hasn't heard the marbles, but she's seen suspicious shadows in her room. "I can feel a presence there sometimes," she said. "Something you can't see, but you can feel it is there."

For the record, Wiebking Hall was named for an Edith. Edith Gale Wiebking was an emeritus faculty member, associate dean of women, and director of student housing, who died in 1968. She never lived in Wiebking or Wilson Hall and was never an RA there. The ghost was named Edith by someone, years ago, and every student in Wiebking and Wilson knows of Edith.

Dr. Sabin's picture
Just to the north of Wiebking, at Sabin Hall, another ghost supposedly lingers and leaves students wondering about the namesake for the hall.

As long as the painting of Dr. Florence Sabin hung in the dormitory, all was well. Then, one day when nobody noticed, the painting disappeared. And the hauntings began.

Dr. Sabin never taught at UNC, but received an honorary doctorate because of her contributions to medicine. She was the first woman to graduate from Johns Hopkins University. Her research into medicine gained her nationwide fame, and she received numerous national awards. A statue of her resides in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.

Christina Pilz, a 1989 graduate of UNC, now lives in Longmont, but for two years she lived in Sabin Hall.

"The story about the ghost was someone who hanged themselves in the dorm," Pilz said. "I'm not sure how it was supposed to have happened." In that way, the Sabin story ties into its neighboring dorms, Wilson and Wiebking.

But there are other stories from Sabin Hall - noises in the night, doors opening, creaking, rattling. "I remember one night there was a football player visiting and we all heard the noises downstairs," Pilz said. "So the football player took a baseball bat and said he'd take care of the problem. We never found what was making the noises."

Frasier's Ghosts
Maybe it's the high, dark ceilings above the stage that create the ghostly atmosphere in theaters. Maybe it's the heavy, shadowy curtains that close on the stage. Or maybe it's the active and creative imaginations of actors, but every theater has some type of spirit.

Frasier Hall was named for former UNC President George Frasier. He died in 1958 while on vacation in Phoenix.

And now, Frasier Hall may have more than one ghostly presence.

In the basement of the building, where the costume creators can be found and thousands of articles of clothing await their turn on stage, Patty Cleary has worked for 24 years.

"We have a ghost who stays down here," Cleary said with a slight smile. "We call him ‘Poltertailor,' like a poltergeist who sews. Every once in a while, a sewing machine down here will just start up, sewing, all by itself."

There are also stories of a longtime drama faculty member who has been seen in the theater from time to time, but he is considered a "friendly" ghost.

"There are strange noises in this building all the time," said Cleary. "Whether it's a ghost or not, who can tell? When you have the personalities of people whose spirit was here all those years when they were alive, who knows if they left something behind?"

Andi Davis, a musical theater major at UNC, said possibly the play or presentation might determine the presence of a spirit. "I was in ‘Elephant Man,' which has an odd sense about it anyway, when I'd feel the cold," Davis said.

"It was just as I would wait to come on stage, it would suddenly get very cold. I couldn't explain that."

There is also a name for the main ghost at Frasier but he has a definite origin. Lloyd Norton admits to inventing "Oliver" for an English paper he was writing as a student in the 1950s as a student at Colorado State College (now UNC).

"I had to write an essay for my English professor," Norton said. "So I made up a ghost story and named him Oliver A.B. Twiddle."

That was the beginning. Norton, an emeritus faculty member at UNC, taught more than 40 years at the university. Norton Theatre in Gray Hall was named in his honor. He and his wife live in Greeley.

And Norton laughs when he talks about Oliver. After he wrote the story and handed it in, the professor had an accident and broke his ankle. Norton joked that it was the ghost of Oliver who caused it.

"After I graduated in 1955, I went away to the Army," Norton said. "When I came back to the college, Oliver was everywhere in the theater."

All those things that go bump in the night, the doors swinging open, and the lights turning off and on, all were attributed to the ghost of Frasier.

"Oliver took on an ectoplasmic life of his own," Norton said. "Anything that happened, someone would say, ‘It must be Oliver.'"

Norton contends that theaters promote their own ghosts, because of the actors, the imagination and the theater life.

"If someone asks us how the show was, we tell them ‘We killed,' or if the show was bad, we say it was a ‘turkey,' which indicates a dead, belly-up bird. Our language promotes that type of thinking."

Norton enjoys hearing the stories of Oliver and the mischief his ghost has brought to the stage.

"You know how theater people are," Norton said, "If they didn't have a ghost in the theater, they'd create one."

There are stories of a murder in this dining hall on central campus, a building where thousands of students have dined through the years. The "murder" was supposed to have taken place in the basement, although there are no historical records of such a deed.

Students have said there was blood on the floor of the building, and it couldn't be washed off or painted over. That was before the late 1990s, when the building, constructed in 1936, was completely remodeled. There is no blood there now, and some have said it was only red paint in the first place.

Some say the old TK building just creaks and moans from its age; others say the dishwashers and other kitchen appliances make the odd noises. And yet that doesn't mean there isn't a ghostly presence.

"Maybe I'm the ghost," jokes director of UNC Dining Services Hal Brown, who's been at TK for 23 years. "But when things get quiet and you're alone in the building at night, there are an amazing number of noises you hear. Sometimes, when we're sure the building is empty, we can hear the noises upstairs and it sounds like a big party is going on ... when we go up, there's nobody there."

There are others on this campus, other spirits of the night, such as the child's whispering voice counting numbers at Crabbe Hall or the moving, dark shadows and noises that custodian DeAnn Oliver sees and hears while she works at Michener Library late at night, alone in the building.

There are supposedly ghosts at Gunter Hall, at the outside Garden Theater, among the red bricks at Kepner, in the halls of Guggenheim, even in the steam tunnels under the old campus.

And isn't it odd, that wherever you find the students, you'll find the ghosts?

- Mike Peters

Editor's Note: This story also is available in Northern Vision alumni magazine along with more photos by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Barry Gutierrez.