October 30, 2006
Legend Has It, School Spirits Stir in Universities’ Oldest Buildings
By Susan Simpson, The Daily Oklahoman
Oct. 30--Glowing portraits, creaky noises, shadowy figures. Signs of ghosts or the overactive imagination of college students?
Spooky stories haunt university campuses across Oklahoma, where old buildings, historical lore and generations of impressionable young adults combine to spin tales of otherworldly phenomena.
At East Central University in Ada, Kate Knight's portrait -- and some say her ghost -- resides in a dormitory named after Knight, one of the school's first faculty members.
The framed photograph shows an older woman looking intently into the camera, her hair pulled back into a bun.
She is wearing a conservative black dress and looks more like a dour grandmother than a spooky spirit.
But according to student newspaper archives, dorm residents in the 1950s began hearing thumping noises throughout the building. In the 1960s, some residents swore they saw a ghostly aura around Knight's portrait.
Students petitioned to have the portrait removed, and it was taken to the library in the 1970s, where librarians also reported unexplained noises during the years.
The stories have continued through the generations, although no recent sightings have been reported. Knight's photo now hangs in a meeting room adjacent to Knight Hall.
"I've lived there for several years and never noticed anything," student Adam Milligan said. "I think it's just a story that's been passed down."
Old Central, the oldest building at Oklahoma State University, would seem a playground for the paranormal.
The three-story structure now is a museum, and most rooms are restored to turn-of-the century classrooms.
This time of year, the building is decorated with cobwebs and other ghoulish decorations.
But year-round, the wooden floors creak, cold drafts whisper down halls and radiator pipes ping and groan.
Museum Director Linda Lea Smith said the 112-year-old building is a popular site for Halloween parties and haunted houses -- events that reinforce decades-old stories of the spooktacular.
The night watchman's room is said to be haunted by the specter of a guard who hung himself from the rafters. No recorded history documents that tale, but it remains a popular story.
A team of ghost investigators from Oklahoma City explored the building last year and found an unexplained "cold spot" in one classroom and reported hearing faint whispering in the hallways.
Smith said she's skeptical. She works in the building full time and has never experienced anything paranormal.
"This building does make creepy noises," she said. "I used to get up and look, but then I realized it was just the radiator."
The ghost of Nellie Sparks is said to haunt a dorm building named in her honor at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.
While Sparks never lived on the Chickasha campus, it was her death that led to its founding.
At age 19, Sparks died of tuberculosis while at a college in Missouri. In her honor, her father, Buck Sparks, donated her Chickasaw Indian land allotment to the state, which founded its first women's college on the 20 acres in 1908.
A few years later, a dorm was erected in her memory.
"She was long dead before this college was founded, but the truth in history has not prevented circulation of the story that she died on campus, roams the halls of Sparks Hall and keeps students up at night with her singing or talking," university spokesman Randy Talley said.
"Great stories. I hear them in the cafeteria repeated by freshmen every year."
There's a reason such stories get passed along, building momentum over the years, said Bryan Farha, a professor of behavioral studies in education at Oklahoma City University.
Some people seem to abandon common sense when it comes to the paranormal.
"Younger college students tend to live in the dorms where much of the legends and myths are passed down from previous residents. Group settings are prime for telling ghost stories around Halloween time, and people love to be scared."
At Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, former custodian George Boehme is said to walk the floors of Wilkin Hall, spokeswoman Marjilea Smithheisler said.
"His apparition has never been seen, but sounds -- footsteps, strange noises, music -- are supposed to be heard late at night."
While no recent sightings have been reported, she said some university employees have refused to enter the building late at night.
"Boehme himself was a very talented, benevolent man who was extremely helpful to students," Smithheisler said. "As a custodian, he was around Wilkin a lot and that may be why he was associated with a ghost."
In life and death, Florence Wilson has been the guardian angel of Seminary Hall, said Bridget Cowlishaw, professor of language and literature at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah.
At the turn of the century, Wilson was principal of the Cherokee Nation Female Seminary.
When the first building burned, she led students safely from the flames. She kept watch again in the rebuilt structure, now an NSU classroom building.
But does she still hover there?
Cowlishaw thinks so. Alone in the building, she's heard footsteps running along the third floor hallway outside her office. Others have seen images of a woman in a long black dress.
"The lore is that she's still watching over the building," she said. "I have the feeling of Flo being here, but it's not a frightening feeling at all."
NSU students are even capitalizing on the legend by hosting a haunted house on weekends this month.
Proceeds will pay for students to attend conferences.
Copyright (c) 2006, The Daily Oklahoman
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.
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