‘Haunted Sewanee’ Recounts Spectral Tales
Thursday, October 5, 2017
by Kevin Cummings, Messenger Staff Writer
A ghost from the past, a former student who knew Annie Armour when she was University of the South archivist, chats with her at Stirling’s Coffee House on a late September afternoon.
The conversation finished, she moves outside to the porch to give an interview about her new book, “Haunted Sewanee,” which recounts tales of ghostly encounters on the Domain. Armour, who was archivist for 28 years, says she did not believe in ghosts until writing the book, but now feels there are specters that haunt Sewanee.
“There are a lot of stories in there that could be coincidental and not really a ghost,” she says. “But then there are some that just seem so unmistakable.”
About 10 year ago, she started collecting stories of hauntings from people in preparation for a Halloween party. The similarities of some of the tales peaked her interest.
“I just collected so many and then I started getting stories that were the same,” she says, “from people of different generations.”
For instance, one woman, a custodian, told her in the late 2000s that she used to clean McCrady Hall, a dorm on campus, but refused to go there now because she saw a ghost of a girl in a purple dress.
“I had gotten a story about a girl in a purple dress from someone who lived there in the 70s,” Armour says, adding that the custodian had not heard the story.
Armour says many of the people who shared their stories are intelligent and level-headed, not prone to making things up, like an English professor who had an encounter when he was a student living in Hodgson Hall, which used to be a hospital.
“He came up to me and said, ‘Have you ever heard the story of a little girl at Hodgson,’ and my daughter was with me and she said, “Yes, was she looking for her doll?”
“He was like, ‘Well, she was rummaging around in my room looking for something and I actually threw a pillow at her.’ The story was that there was a little girl there who had scarlet fever and you burned all your belongings if you had scarlet fever, and she was looking for her doll,” Armour says.
The building on campus that generates the most stories is Tuckaway Hall, a lot of them from one room in particular, she says, including the tale of a student who was mysteriously locked into a room for several hours despite the best efforts of proctors, locksmiths and the fire department.
His story is not in the book, but Vice-Chancellor John McCardell, , has an account of his own. McCardell said there is a tale that “Miss Charlotte” Gailor, daughter of former Vice-Chancellor Thomas Gailor, continues to haunt Chen Hall, where the Gailor house once stood and where the McCardells now live.
“Soon after we moved in, having lost a knob that had been on the top of an antique banjo clock, we asked Leroy McBee to make us a replacement,” McCardell recalled. “We returned from travel, saw the new piece on the clock, assumed Leroy had done it. Several days later, he came by the house, saying he wanted to see the clock before he made the replacement piece—we still do not know how the piece that was there got ‘back’ there and think that Miss Charlotte’s ghost is at least one explanation.”
There are some stories recounted in Armour’s book that actually involve physical contact with a ghost, like a ghoul who pushed someone down the stairs in Johnson Hall, or another where a looming specter appeared ready to attack a student’s sleeping roommate, before appearing over her and holding her down as she struggled to breathe.
Another story involves a student whose bed levitated and then there is even one tale of possession. A priest even tried to calm the spirits at Cleveland Hall.
“In Cleveland dorm they actually had a blessing of a room that was haunted; it didn’t help,” Armour says.
The newest story in “Haunted Sewanee” is from about three years ago, with possibly the oldest tale in the book dating back to the Memorial Cross in the 1950s. Her book also includes stories about the familiar Headless Gownsman, who is said to haunt campus in various incarnations. She includes a poem about the Gownsman from the late 1800s.
Writing the book has made her just a little wary of the dark, but she notes that most of the ghost stories occurred during the day. Indeed, Armour had her own strange experiences at the University Archives building. One day she threw her keys on a table and started doing errands a short distance away in the empty room, but when she turned around to get her keys, the bookshelf keys had been separated from her keychain and perfectly aligned on the table.
“I actually looked around and said, ‘Ok, I know you’re there.’”
Armour will sign copies of her book 1–3 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 7, at the University Book and Supply Store.