By Tom Carter
Nora Jackson was in Chalmers with only half a dozen other RC students. The semester hadn’t started, so the dorms were still mostly empty, but a few people had arrived early for jobs and other activities.
Jackson was putting on makeup, getting ready to go out with her friends, when she heard one of her friends walk down the hall, her heels clacking loudly on the floor, come into the room and stop.
“Just a second,” Jackson called out.
A few last touches took less than two minutes, and then Jackson walked into the room already talking to her friend.
But she wasn’t there. No one was.
Jackson (not her real name) is one of several students and faculty members (and even one former member of the RC Board of Trustees) who have reported ghostly events on campus. Obviously, any old institution will accumulate its share of legends and lore. Because I teach the INQ 110 Ghosts and Human Perception class, I get to hear many of these stories.
At Roanoke College, these ghostly tales seem to pop up particularly between the Administration Building and Monterey. This makes some sense – it’s the oldest part of campus, and many of the buildings around having once been residences.
At some point during the Civil War, a Confederate militia garrison encamped in Salem. Several of those soldiers are now buried in East Hill Cemetery (the Confederate national flag over their graves is fairly prominent). And after the Battle of Hanging Rock on June 21, 1864, the college’s Administration Building was used as a hospital.
Given that history, the Admin Building has plenty of ghostly rumors spread about it, but I have heard only one definite story, although at third hand. An alum’s wife said her husband’s roommate came in late one evening and said he had a short conversation with a Confederate soldier in front of the Admin Building.
Until the college bought Monterey, the center of ghostly activity on campus seems to have been Chalmers, the site of the last on-campus death of a student. Many of these tales circulate as rumors – windows opening on their own, whiffs of perfume, that sort of thing. Jackson’s account of the footsteps coming into her room suggests that those rumors may be more than urban legends.
One professor, still here, reported a chilling night on campus when she was here for her job interview. She remembered the events as happening in Monterey, but the timing (2001) and her description of the floor arrangements convinces me that this likely happened in the college’s previous guest facility in the old Faculty House (now the chaplain’s offices).
She said she got to bed late after her flight in and dinner and chats with members of the department. After she had been asleep an hour or so, she awoke to the sensation of someone sitting down on the bed. She jumped up and turned on the light, but no one was there. She went back to bed, but a short time later she heard the door handle rattle. Again, she jumped out of bed, opened the door, and saw no one around. This time she read a bit and finally got sleepy enough to turn off the light. But about 3 a.m. she awoke to the sensation of someone beside her in the bed – and this time it was snoring.
Only one story I’ve heard involves a building away from the front quad. A resident of Catawba in 2007 woke up in the middle of the night, around 3 or so, and saw something that looked like a big, white, fuzzy-looking shape between her bed and the door. She said it was about the size of a man (height wise) but seemed to have “a womanly feel.” It came at her very fast, so she screamed and it was gone.
About five minutes later she heard her roommate scream. But after she didn’t hear anything else, she went back to sleep without saying anything to her. The next morning she asked, “Did you scream last night?”
The roommate replied “Yes! It was so weird! I was sleeping and then I woke up and saw this light or white thing over on your side by the door, and then it came at me really fast, so then I screamed!”
“Well that’s strange because I saw the same thing! Didn’t you hear me scream?”
“You screamed? I didn’t hear you at all!”
Of course, it’s Monterey that gets all the attention at Roanoke College, not least because of the annual ghost hunts with my INQ 110 Ghosts and Human Perception class.
Its reputation started with a member of the board of trustees staying in the house in 2005, soon after the college bought it and renovated it as a guest house. She said she was staying alone in the house and awoke to see the shape of a woman standing at the foot of her bed and making a casting motion over her, as if casting a net. She screamed and began praying.
As soon as she reasonably could, she called a friend, who immediately asked, “Did you scream last night?” When the trustee told her story, the friend suggested she stay in the house another night – perhaps the spirit needed help.
That second night, another guest was in the house – a woman from California here on a job interview. Nothing happened to the trustee that night, but the next morning in the kitchen, she chatted with the woman from California.
“How did you sleep last night?”
The trustee decided to push a bit. “What do you think about the house?”
“Oh,” said the other woman. “You mean the spirits. Yes, the house is full of them. And they aren’t happy.”
Since I heard that story in 2006, I have been taking the Ghosts and Human Perception students into the house every fall to check these reports of a house full of spirits. None of us have yet seen the net-casting woman, but we have noted flitting shadows (cars going by shine lights upon the walls), footsteps, cooking smells, sudden chills, sudden changes in moods (even nausea), an occasional touch on an arm or neck (I once just “knew” a spider was crawling across the back of my hand, but when I clicked on my flashlight – nothing), and very rarely hearing a note or two of music (not the courthouse chimes – and one librarian famously heard a whole Monterey House pianoforte concerto).
One pattern that has emerged (we’re still trying to figure out whether this is only a coincidence) is that nights that we experience higher than normal activity are also nights that have higher than normal geomagnetic activity. In 2013, the students reported particularly lively dowsing rod activity, lots of noises, many physiological reactions (chills, headaches, nausea and general “unease”) and even a touch or two. The next day we checked Spaceweather.com and found that during the investigation, a G2-class geomagnetic storm had been raging.
We have also captured several EVPs – that staple of the television paranormal shows where recorded voices pop up in recordings. In 2008, after all the students had gone and the house was very quiet, I left a recorder going in one of the rooms and went downstairs to catch up on notes. After half an hour or more, I went upstairs to fetch the recorder.
When I played it back, I got mostly static, until the end. The recorder caught the sound of my footsteps coming upstairs, and I say, “It’s me, coming to get the recorder.”
And then a raspy woman’s voice says, “Hey!”