Story and Photos by Lauren Harwood | Contributing Writer
Walking through the halls of historic buildings like Rutledge Hall, the James E. Walker Library or the Wiser-Patten Science Hall – you can almost feel a presence.
There’s a certain wind in the air that, when it hits you, compels you to imagine Middle Tennessee State University as it once was, and the stories left untold.
Maybe it’s the pale-yellow tiles, the smell of old heating units, the brass door handles, or the black-and-white class photos. Maybe its, your Halloween-frenzied, true-crime obsessed buddy would say, “It was a ghost!”
We’ve all been there – feeling the chilly wind gusts, ignoring the distant knocks and turning around to make sure no one was following us.
There are, however, said to be certain tales of paranormal activity that exceed one’s comprehension on the old campus of MTSU.
The ghost stories that have hounded MTSU students and faculty for years still exist today – as myths, as exciting tall tales and as Halloween traditions: like the annual campus ghost tour.
MTSU’s history club met Wednesday, Oct. 26 to share some of MTSU’s best paranormal stories and highlighted several of the tales below, in addition to many more.
As a 1997 student Sidelines reporter wrote, “These things simply don’t happen. Or do they?”
Here are some of the best ghost tales from MTSU’s campus.
The Lyon Hall Legend
Legend has it, a female student was working on a research project on the infamous local Bell Witch sometime in the early 1980s according to the History Club.
She left her project notes laying around her dorm room and came back from class to find the notes torn and strewn across the room, in addition to a strong sulfur smell and a singular rose on the pillow.
She also supposedly was experiencing nightmares about the Bell Witch that caused her to wake up screaming, and some even say she had uncovered a familial connection to the witch.
The student’s roommate denied any involvement, so she redid the notes. But, it kept happening for about two weeks.
Until, supposedly one day the student’s roommate returned from Thanksgiving break to find her deceased body, with a red rose laying atop…
Some others say she hung herself, but the verdict seems to be that the Bell Witch drove the girl mad.
MTSU officials were said to have sealed off her dorm room and covered the doors with plaster shortly after, and the specific location inside is unknown.
“I don’t want to know if it’s true. That’s part of the fun of legends,” former professor Charles Wolfe said in a 1999 Sidelines article about the occurence.
The Friendly Fraternity Ghost
Another one comes from a 1984 issue of Sidelines that details the hauntings of a frat house owned by Alpha Tau Omega.
The house was built in the 1800s and was rumored to have been used as a speakeasy throughout prohibition in addition to a place for prostitution.
Mrs. Freeman, as residents called her, allegedly died alone in the house in the 1950s, but her body was not discovered for three days.
She is said to be friendly and pulled many harmless pranks on the fraternity brothers.
The spirit frequently walked loudly in unoccupied rooms and turned on lights right after someone turned them off.
A brother also reported experiencing his mattress and pillow sinking down beside him when no one else was around, and even regularly ran bathwater for one student whenever he came home from work.
“The friendly female ghost, like the Greeks she haunts, apparently likes activity. When there is none, she makes some,” the reporter wrote.
The most frightening tale comes from the theater department’s Boutwell Dramatic Arts building.
Many people have experienced mysterious sounds, footsteps, and even the ghost of a supposed former student.
One story goes, a group of students were working late at night on the third floor, when their curiosities got the best of them and they decided to trek around to search for paranormal evidence, as told by theatre education sophomore Wren Miller from the History Club.
They exited the language lab and began walking down the hall, and suddenly the door popped open.
They slowly stepped into the room, didn’t see anything, and then began leaving until they noticed one member of the group stood standstill against the far wall, looking extremely pale.
As they approached him, he eerily whispered, “Touch my chest,” to which he felt burning hot.
The student supposedly then began hysterically bawling, unable to control his tears and said he had no idea why.
He quickly snapped out of it, regained his composure, and petrifyingly whispered, “She left me.”
They began to exit until his friend stopped and said he heard footsteps that went into the girls bathroom.
The unlucky solo girl of the group entered the restroom to find one of the two stalls closed. She peered underneath to reportedly see a pair of white tennis shoes and pale white ankles.
She left and returned to the group, to which they speculated, “It’s two in the morning, who could be in there?”
The previously affected student then touched the door to the bathroom, and suddenly experienced a flash of a mental image.
The image was of a young asian woman with long, black, straight hair wearing a red and white polka dot dress with white tennis shoes. He didn’t share this with anyone and they quickly left the building.
They then decided to drive by the bathroom windows where they saw her figure standing in the window, staring down directly at them.
The female companion also was suddenly jolted with a vision that was eerily described the same way the other student’s was.
A few nights later, the brave soul that touched the door returned with a different friend after they saw a mysterious black mass flash across the front of their car.
They drove around to the other side of the building to see the window again, and there she was – standing, scowling, waiting.
The student supposedly said this was when he finally felt afraid because, “She’s very upset. And now, I know she can get out,” according to Dr. Jette Halladay from a video on MTSU’s Facebook.
It’s been said the figure belonged to a former student who died in the middle of a theater production long ago, but not much else is known.
Maybe this was just a tall-tale spun by an old theater student, or maybe there is some truth behind the unexplained siting.
Tragedy at the JUB
If you’ve ever sworn you heard footsteps around the James Union building but saw no one there, there may be an unnerving explanation.
MTSU History Club member and senior, Zack Hopson, explained the tragically haunting tale that originated at the JUB.
As the story goes, a long time ago a homeless man sat resting on the stairs outside the building late at night.
Supposedly, some non-student visitors on campus then beat the man to death for no apparent reason and were never caught.
Students have reported ghostly presences and footsteps around this area, as well as MTSU Public Safety officers experiencing calls from the emergency stations across campus, but no one answered or was seen on the footage.
It’s speculated these belong to the poor soul, still wandering and pleading for help all these years later.
Reportedly the spirit won’t bother any students or alumni but will often make his presence known around non-student visitors, because his assailants years ago were non-student visitors.
So, next time you’re on your way to a tailgate, maybe throw an invite to the lonely spirit tramping along Old Main Circle.
Phantom of Tucker Theatre
The Tucker Theater is said to be one of the most haunted locations on campus.
For decades, students and faculty have reported footsteps, distant laughter and doors shutting when no one’s around in the many stories that pass through the building.
Department Production Manager John Underwood said he’s heard plenty of such stories in his years at MTSU but remained unconvinced until about a month ago.
Underwood said he was adjusting equipment alone in the theater balcony late one night.
He suddenly heard little footsteps walking through the theater below him, but when he looked around the dark theater, he didn’t see a thing.
“Up until about 30 days ago, I thought it was so funny to hear but never really bought in. I don’t know what the pitter patter was that I heard but it was pretty interesting and definitely gave me a little bit of a, ‘Oh, well maybe…’” Underwood said.
Students and faculty have also reported seats folding down when no one’s there and clouds of cigarette smoke billowing up above it.
Legend has it, the spirit of a former theater director hangs out in the theater, observing from the great beyond and enjoying the shows.
Many theater students and faculty swear by the smoke smell and are now used to the benevolent presence.
One student reportedly even experienced the feeling of ash burning his arm, and additionally sometimes could hear tools jingling.
That same student also reported seeing the ghost of a young woman walking the aisles working late one night in 2019 with a professor.
The ghost is thought to have been a former student who died in the theater by hanging herself and is also heard to poke people and do things to get attention.
So next time you see a performance here, remember at might be all part of the act, or perhaps not.
Ghosts in the Library
The library’s rumors of ghosts on the third and fourth floors seem to be some of the most rumored, but it’s hard to pin down the origins.
Still, it’s hard to shake that indescribable sinister feeling invading the third floor around midnight…is it a ghost or the impending doom of final exams?
One student library employee, Kirsten Osborne, said she hadn’t experienced anything definitive, but had been spooked while working there.
She said that in 2021, she was asked about the ghost by another curious student but didn’t know anything about it at the time.
Late that very night, she ventured up to the third floor to clear the floor of students before closing.
She volunteered to do that floor because it was nearly Halloween and wanted to get her own paranormal experience.
“I was like ‘this is funny’ but as soon as I got on the floor, it felt weird…” Osborne said.
Osborne then described how she heard a lot of creaking sounds and other random, bizarre noises that left her perplexed and frightened.
Hopson also said there’s a ghost that can be seen wandering around the top floor.
The ghost is rumored to be a female student, in a black dress with long dark hair but not much else is known of the origins.
This is one of the more recent stories, surely because of the library’s age, but one wonders what else lies between the shelves of old dusty books from MTSU’s history.
We may never know the truths and origins from these tales from long ago at MTSU, but remains of the past still show through on certain dark, late nights. So, if you’re ever caught on campus after dark, you might run into some otherworldly characters.
To contact Lifestyles Editor Ethan Pickering, email email@example.com.
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