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Ghosts close to home

Vox tells the tales of some spooky local lore

Courtesy of Columbia College

Launer Auditorium is just one of the buildings at Columbia College where the ghost of the gray lady is known to wander.

October 23, 2008 | 12:00 a.m. CST

It might be easy to believe a ghost story when it happens in the middle of nowhere, but what about when it takes place in your own backyard? With the Halloween season well on its way, these tales might make you laugh, but they also might make you sleep with the light on.

Legend of the gray lady

This legend, which has many versions, is about a young woman attending Columbia College, at that time Christian College, whose fiancé went off to fight in the Civil War. The soldier was killed in battle shortly before he was expected to return.

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So stricken by grief, the young woman jumped from the third story of the red brick, Elizabethan-style St. Clair Hall. The ghost of the woman has been seen wandering the campus and opening windows on hot days

“When the school was originally just a women’s college, this was a story that the second-year students would tell the first-year students to try and scare them,” Columbia College professor emeritus Polly Batterson says.

She adds that the older students would sometimes take elaborate measures at night to scare the more naïve freshmen. “I actually had students who would walk the halls and run candles in front of the windows from one room to another as gullible students were watching outside,” she says. “What makes the story really funny though is the fact that the building, St. Clair Hall, wasn’t actually built until 1900. That was just part of the fun.”

Ghost of Senior Hall

During the Civil War a young woman at Stephens College, Sarah June Wheeler, was hiding and caring for a young Confederate soldier. He had managed to slip through Union lines to safety and secretly lived in the bell tower of Senior Hall. As their fates intertwined, the two fell in love and decided to try and escape Union-occupied Columbia. On their way to safety, the couple drowned in the flooded Missouri River when their small rowboat capsized.

Stephens College Media Relations Manager Sara Fernandez says that is not the only version of the spooky story. “There are some other endings to the story that have him murdered by people who are after him and then have Sarah either throwing herself out the window in the bell tower or hanging herself in the bell tower,” she says. “It is the souls of the two lovers who haunt Senior Hall today.”

If you are looking for a little scare on Halloween, legend has it that at the stroke of midnight, the two young lovers will descend down the stairs of the bell tower.

Haunted fraternity house

One of Columbia’s greatest ghost stories is that of the haunted fraternity house on East Stewart Road. Formerly the home to Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity, the house is now occupied by Acacia Fraternity.

The legend dates back to its Civil War roots. The current house is reported to be built on top of the basement of another house, which burned down in 1907. The original house served as a hospital and a morgue during the Civil War, and according to SAE senior Dan Brady, strange things have taken place.

“There is a legend, we hear it every year, that a pledge class a while back looked out the window during dinner and saw the cavalry marching through the front yard,” Brady says. “I never saw anything, maybe felt like I was being watched a few times, but my roommate still claims to this day that he saw a soldier standing by the door when he woke up one morning. But who knows?”

So go ahead, put on your night vision goggles, and head out into the evening air. Venture into these haunted spots, and you just might stumble onto a restless spirit.

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