MTSU’s campus: you know it by day. It’s a sunny, wide-open space, with lush trees, grassy knolls and a general breezy aura that invites someone to sit and relax. There’s not a day that goes by that students aren’t sitting outside in the Quad, hanging hammocks in The Grove or studying in the various grassy areas of campus.
But do you know campus at night?
Sure, it might look innocent: MTSU has well-lit paths for the late-night wanderer, and with how open campus is, there’s hardly anywhere something scary could hide.
But if you wait long enough, you’ll notice how deep the shadows that are cast by the Victorian-style lampposts really are. You’ll notice the eerie fog that often rolls through the trees of The Grove in the midnight hours, settling in behind you without you even noticing—until you’re surrounded by gray. Inside historic buildings that were teeming with life just hours ago, you’ll feel like you’re being watched as you quicken your step down the silent halls of empty buildings. Were those footsteps in the distance? Who knows.
MTSU’s campus may be safe from the living, but the dead are a completely different matter. And according to campus lore, there are quite a few ghosts lurking about. Here are some of MTSU’s favorite ghost stories:
1. The Bell Witch strikes again
The Bell Witch story is one of the most popular ghost stories in Tennessee: around 1817, the Bell family of Robertson County, Tennessee, started experiencing terrifying paranormal activities—weird noises in the night, unseen hands pulling at hair and bedsheets, strange creatures following the family, pins getting stuck into their arms while they slept, and much more. After months of tormenting, the Bell family tried to move out, but not before the Witch poisoned John Bell Sr. to death. The witch seemed to disappear for a time, but regularly reappeared to residents of the surrounding area with varying levels of terror.
To this day, people still swear they hear unexplainable voices near the property, hear children giggling, and see a bobbing candle moving through the trees. Her supposed cave home has grown into a popular tourist attraction, and multiple prophecies suggest that the Bell witch will strike again in the future.
But what most people don’t know is that the Bell Witch did strike again- according to MTSU campus lore (and a previous Sidelines newspaper.)
Reportedly around the 1970s, a female student who lived in Lyon Hall decided she was going write her English final paper over the Bell Witch. As she was researching the paper, she went to the library and took notes on notecards. After returning to her dorm, she organized all of her notecards and went to bed.
Apparently, she had terrible dreams all night, but decided to ignore them and go to class the next morning. After returning, she found her notes scattered around the room and coated in ink, with a strange smell filling her room, and a single, red rose lying on her pillow. She questioned her roommate, but the roommate swore she didn’t do it. So she re-did her notes, and continued researching—only for the same thing to happen again the next day. Her dreams got worse, and her cards were getting ruined, and another rose left, but she thought nothing of it. This continued for weeks, until Thanksgiving break when the roommate went home for the weekend, leaving her alone with her ruined cards.
When the roommate got back, the girl was dead, surrounded by ruined cards, wilting roses and the smell of sulphur. According to legend, the room was sealed off and covered up, never to be used again. To this day, residents of Lyon Hall still talk about the “dead girl’s room,” and wonder where its hidden away in the depths of the old building.
2. The Mystery body
Another popular ghost story was once reported in a 1999 Sidelines newspaper: the story of the mystery man haunting the land behind the James Union Building. According to the rumor, there was a homeless man who was once murdered by two men in Murfreesboro and buried close to the JUB. According to the Sidelines article, Professor Charles Wolfe, a former MTSU English professor and a member of the Tennessee Folklore Society, spoke to University police about the incident. According to Wolfe, officers said that they would often get calls from the emergency call boxes in the area, but when they got there, there would be no one in sight. Officers would ask people walking by if they saw anyone, but students would say that they had not passed anyone along the way.
3. A Horse, of course
There is one confirmed body on campus, but it is not human: the body of Wilson’s Allen, possibly Tennessee’s most famous horse. Born in Coffee County, Tennessee in 1914, Wilson’s Allen sired a stunning 482 foals. Among this large family were five of the first ten horses of the World Grand Champions: Strolling Jim, Haynes Peacock, Melody Maid, City Girl, and Midnight Sun. Of the 70 horses who have won the World Grand Championship, it is thought that only three are not directly related to Wilson’s Allen.
But what on earth does this have to do with MTSU, or ghosts?
Well, after Wilson’s Allen died, he was buried in Coffee County on a trainer’s stable grounds. He was later exhumed, thanks to MTSU Agriculture Professor Dr. Jerry Williams, and buried on MTSU’s campus, before he was re-reburied in front of the Stark Agricultural building. People have often reported hearing horse hooves beating down the sidewalk when there is no one—and, obviously, no horses—around.
4. Jessie Pauline Alsup
A lesser-known spirit that possibly haunts this campus is that of Jessie Pauline Alsup, the first student (and one of the only students) to ever die on MTSU’s—then MTSC’s—campus. Alsup was the president of the campus Young Women’s Christian Association, an association for the empowerment of women and the ending of racism, and “one of the most popular co-eds of the 1920-1921 school year,” according to a 1950 edition of Sidelines. She tragically died following a mastoid infection that was a complication of influenza, possibly related to the smallpox epidemic that occurred on campus that very year. There is small stone memorial dedicated to her in front of the JUB, if you go ghost-hunting that direction. People often attribute much of the spookier happenings around The Grove to her—a flash of movement here, a whisper there. You know, the ghostly things.
5. The Ghosts of Tucker Theatre
Theatres aren’t complete without a little ghostly activity—how to you think the Phantom of the Opera got started? However, there aren’t strange men lurking inside Tucker theatre in half-masks—just ghosts. Whether that’s better or not is up to you.
There are at least two ghosts rumored to haunt Tucker theatre’s halls: the first is of a former MTSU theatre professor who died while driving to Nashville many years ago.
Dr. Jette Halladay, a current MTSU theatre professor, said in another Sidelines interview on the subject that a lighting designer named Hunter often had encounters with this professor’s spirit.
“When he was here at night, (Hunter) felt cigarette ashes on his arm,” Halladay said. Hunter and his friend Patrick would hear movement, and then see a seat lower in the rows as if someone was sitting in it. Then the smell cigarette smoke would hit them. A little while later, the seat would always go back up and the smell would go away.
According to Halladay, many students had similar experiences.
The second ghost was that of a young woman who, according to rumors, hung herself in the theatre. It was also poor Hunter who, as a lighting technician that spends a great deal of time in the theatre, had an encounter with her.
“One night, when Hunter was working on a show here and I was working on the same show, he turned and he thought he saw a young woman going up the aisle. Sometimes this young woman would actually touch him. Other time she would do things to make him look at her. And then he would be surprised he looked and then she’d disappear,” Halladay said. “One time, a girl at one of our cast kept feeling like she was being poked. The feeling even went home with her. When she came back, she said ‘Tell your ghost girlfriend…’ (and) he said, ‘She’s not my girlfriend!’ and then she got poked again. And so Hunter said, ‘I’m not….she’s not my girlfriend.’ because the ghost girl kinda had a crush on him.”
Ladies, beware. Avoid Hunters in Tucker theatre.
6. The Davis Science and Wiser-Patten Science Hall ghost
This ghostly figure, spotted by MTSU Class of 2020 student Nathan Igot on February 16, 2018 caused quite a commotion online. Apparently, as Igot was skating across campus, he paused for break between the Wiser-Patten building and the observatory. Igot spotted what he thought was a person and snapped these photos—but it was 9:40 p.m., the building lights were off and the doors were locked. Was it a ghost? An illusion? No one knows. But considering the building originally opened in 1932 and was just recently remodeled in 2017, there’s no telling what got stirred up.
So are there ghosts on MTSU’s campus? Probably. Should that stop you from having an awesome time, whether in daylight or nighttime? Of course not.
Just maybe avoid writing about the Bell Witch. Or being around smallpox epidemics. Or guys named Hunter.
Just to be on the safe side.
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