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Haunted Halls

Haunted Halls: Ghostlore of American College Campuses

Elizabeth Tucker
Copyright Date: 2007
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    Haunted Halls
    Book Description:

    Why do so many American college students tell stories about encounters with ghosts? In Haunted Halls, the first book-length interpretive study of college ghostlore, Elizabeth Tucker takes the reader back to school to get acquainted with a wide range of college spirits. Some of the best-known ghosts that she discusses are Emory University\'s Dooley, who can disband classes by shooting professors with his water pistol; Mansfield Uni-versity\'s Sara, who threw herself down a flight of stairs after being rejected by her boyfriend; and Huntingdon College\'s Red Lady, who slit her wrists while dressed in a red robe. Gettysburg College students have collided with ghosts of soldiers, while students at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College have reported frightening glimpses of the Faceless Nun.

    Tucker presents campus ghostlore from the mid-1960s to 2006, with special attention to stories told by twenty-first-century students through e-mail and instant messages. Her approach combines social, psychological, and cultural analysis, with close attention to students\' own explanations of the significance of spectral phenomena. As metaphors of disorder, insanity, and school spirit, college ghosts convey multiple meanings. Their colorful stories warn students about the dangers of overindulgence, as well as the pitfalls of potentially horrifying relationships.

    Besides offering insight into students\' initiation into campus life, college ghost stories make important statements about injustices suffered by Native Americans, African Americans, and others.

    Elizabeth Tucker is associate professor of English at Binghamton University. She is the author of Campus Legends: A Handbook and has published widely in folklore journals.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-317-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-2)
    (pp. 3-42)

    Two weeks after Halloween in the millennial year 2000, I found a desperate e-mail message that had been posted on a national housing listserv. A director of Residential Life at a small liberal arts college in New York City had sent the following plea:

    My students swear that one of our residence halls is haunted. The building is very old and does have a lot of history (fires, suicides, etc). At first, I thought that students were playing jokes on each other but now it is at the point where some of them aren’t sleeping and hate being in the...

    (pp. 43-72)

    How do college students learn about the supernatural? In many cases, something that happens late at night demands attention and interpretation. All alone (or at least without anyone else nearby to verify what happens), a student hears, sees, feels, or smells something unusual. The next day, this student shares what happened with friends, either in person or on e-mail or Instant Messenger. Some friends support the idea of a ghost’s presence, while others insist on a rational explanation. Both kinds of responses fuel further storytelling. Sensory evidence has a powerful impact.

    Linda Dégh, whose studyLegend and Beliefexplicates the...

  6. Chapter Three GHOSTLY WARNINGS
    (pp. 73-93)

    When freshmen arrive on campus, they learn to handle everyday life without parents nearby to guide, warn, and help with crises. Conversations by telephone, e-mail, and Instant Messenger give parents some opportunities to advise their children, but friends, resident assistants, and other peer-group members take over as day-to-day advisors. During the first weeks of their freshman year, students must figure out how to conduct their lives safely and independently: a big change from living at home as a member of a family.

    Learning how to stay safe is a complex process in which ghost stories play a part. Some ghost...

    (pp. 94-114)

    While warnings comprise one important aspect of college storytelling, students’ stories have other kinds of meaning. One of these is recognition, through confrontation with a supernatural figure, of growing self-awareness. By telling legends about gender transformations, ghostly lovers, suicide, and violent death, college students undergo a quasi-initiatory experience that facilitates their development of a more complex sense of self.

    Students’ supernatural experiences tend to focus sharply on one kind of sensory input: sight, sound, touch, or smell. This sudden influx of sensory data shows the perceiver that he or she is not alone. Someone else—the ghost of a student...

  8. Chapter Five DESPERATE LOVERS
    (pp. 115-133)

    Some of the saddest ghosts that roam college buildings are the spirits of young women whose romantic relationships have ended tragically (Motif E334.2.3, “Ghost of tragic lover”). Like most of the ghosts discussed in chapter 4, these miserable lovers have killed themselves in a fit of despair. But unlike those spirits, these are all women who have been rejected, forced into an impossible marriage, or left alone because of a lover’s sudden death. Overwhelmed by tumultuous feelings, these ghosts seek current students who will pay attention to their stories. Why are unhappy female lovers’ ghosts so prominent at colleges and...

  9. Chapter Six WAILING WOMEN
    (pp. 134-152)

    Some of the eeriest ghost stories on college campuses describe women who wail, weep, scream, or make other mournful sounds. The female figure who laments killing her own children—“la llorona,” the weeping woman—is well known in the southwestern United States.¹ Another important female legend character is the ghost who cries or screams because she has been sexually assaulted, brutally murdered, or both. Under the foundation of a building or in a basement, attic, elevator, or other liminal space, she makes so much noise that it is impossible for students to ignore her. Since the mid-1960s, probably earlier as...

  10. Chapter Seven SPECTRAL INDIANS
    (pp. 153-181)

    On some American college campuses, students have perceived the presence of Indian ghosts, whose behavior is related to their ethnic identity (Motif E425.2.4, “Revenant as American Indian”). Some of these ghosts stand silently, affirming their connection to ancestral lands and burial grounds. Others run away, evading the people who have suddenly spotted them. Whether they stay for a short time or a longer one, ghosts of the United States’ original inhabitants make people reassess historical and cultural issues.

    When Indian ghosts come to a campus, they engage in what Kathleen Brogan identifies as “cultural haunting”: representation of a communal, ethnically...

  11. Chapter Eight LEGEND QUESTS
    (pp. 182-210)

    As college students listen to each other’s ghost stories, they learn about long-ago tragedies and recent encounters with the supernatural. Imagining what happens in stories sends shivers down the spine, but feeling the presence of the supernatural oneself goes beyond momentary thrills. In his essay on the world of magic that he calls Faërie, J. R. R. Tolkien notes that Faërie cannot be “caught in a net of words”; it is “indescribable but not imperceptible” (1965: 10). Difficult though it is to describe such a place, people have tried to put their extraordinary experiences into words. College students have eloquently...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 211-218)
    (pp. 219-232)
    (pp. 233-234)
    (pp. 235-241)