Graphic by Abigail Potter / MTSU Sidelines
Principal John E. Ash works in his East Main Street office on a chilly September afternoon. Like nearly any principal’s office, photos, artwork and merchandise brandishing the school logo occupy the shelves. However, the Central Magnet School principal’s office is also home to fading leather-bound yearbooks from former incarnations of the school, the campus of which has been in use for 175 years. The school’s long history combined with numerous unexplainable occurrences contribute to the belief of some that its hallways may be haunted.
The campus was first home to Union University in 1848. It closed between 1861 and 1865 due to the Civil War and again in 1873 because of a cholera outbreak. In the early 20th century the school was replaced by the Tennessee College for Women which stayed there until the ‘40s. The original Central High School was built on a different part of the campus, according to Ash. However, that structure burned to the ground in 1944. Today’s building has stood since 1950 and housed the high school and a middle school before converting to Central Magnet in 2010.
“It’s an old building,” Ash said. He said that the elevator doors have been known to open and close without any known cause in the middle of the night. He added that people have reported seeing people and hearing noises in the school when it is empty. Despite these claims, he said he has never experienced anything out of the ordinary since he started work there in 2010.
Sergeant Scott Culp, a school resource officer , said he he knows some who have had a different experience. Culp described a night when he and another SRO worked security during a basketball game. During the game his SRO went outside to grab something from his vehicle. The SRO reported seeing a ball of light inside a second-story classroom above the cafeteria, moving across the darkened classroom.
“When it got in front of the dry erase board, the light stayed the same, but there was the shadow of a person on the dry erase board,” Culp said. Culp said that at night all the classroom doors are locked. He also explained that motion sensors will usually turn on the lights when a person enters a classroom.
“We tried to debunk it,” Culp said. The officers tried to see if reflections from headlights on the road behind the school may have caused an optical illusion, according to Culp. He said they could never recreate what the SRO saw that night.
This wasn’t the first time that somebody working at the school had been spooked. According to Ash, a custodian at Central Middle School quit her job because “she kept seeing a figure that couldn’t be explained.”
Another night shift custodian will not go to the auditorium by himself..
“The first time he worked, he walked (into the auditorium) and someone said his name over his shoulder,” Culp said.
Culp also mentioned video surveillance from the school that appears to show a shadowy figure briefly moving through a stairwell.
“The cameras are set to only record when there’s movement, and the school had just opened,” Culp said.” I was just going back to make sure that the cameras were recording right, and for some reason that one camera recorded at three in the morning.
After watching the surveillance footage, Culp said he felt unsettled. “I have no explanation for it. Kinda creeped me out,” Culp said.
Despite the stories and reports, few said that they had first-hand experience with the paranormal at Central. Several teachers had heard similar reports to those shared by Ash and Culp.
Band Director John Mears said that he has noticed some strange happenings in his annex classroom.
“The air conditioner could be off,” Mears said. “There could be not a person in here, and all of a sudden a random door will just start to creak open after being closed for hours.”
Mears also mentioned a “haunted music stand” that, if left alone, will lift itself up without a user.
“We’ll push it down and leave it there, but when we come back the next day, it’s taller than the rest of the stands,” Mears said.
Mears said he is unsure of whether or not hydraulics in the stand could potentially cause this phenomenon, but he said that it happens consistently overnight.
“Something creepy is happening. It’s an old building,” Mears said.
Mears said with regard to Central’s long history, “A lot of stuff has gone on. I think the confluence of all those things has existed for a long time at this place. It’s created a little bit of a shaky atmosphere.”
Many are skeptics of the paranormal at Central, and among them is Ash. However he had this to say in closing: “It’s haunted by intelligent kids.”