A new book from Elizabeth Tucker, Haunted Halls: Ghostlore of American College Campuses, presents a broad spectrum of college ghost stories. Tucker explains anecdotally why academic buildings and residence halls lend themselves to paranormal activity as well as how and why these ghost stories passed on.
What follows is a brief excerpt from Haunted Halls.
When students have shared their thoughts about ghost stories with me I have listened carefully, trying to perceive the stories on the students’ own terms. After many conversations and archive visits, I have found that ghost stories entertain and educate students, offering a unique blend of excitement, mystery, and danger. When students gather to tell ghost stories, they get to know one another better.
Although ghost stories have more than one kind of meaning in a college setting, they primarily initiate entering students into a new community and a new stage of life. This process works best for students of the traditional age range, between seventeen and twenty-two.
The anthropology professor Rebekah Nathan, author of My Freshman Year (2005), discovered how complex and difficult college life can be for contemporary young people while going “undercover” as an entering freshman at the university where she taught. My own study examines the challenges of college life through narratives told by students, especially those who have recently started college in a place that is new to them. Away from home, struggling to handle academic and social pressures, freshmen of the traditional age range listen closely to legends of past tragedies.
Many college ghost stories offer explanations about what happened to murder, suicide, and accident victims and to persecuted minority group members, including African American slaves and American Indians. Hearing such narratives, freshmen gain a deeper understanding of historical and psychological horrors in relation to current social problems. They also learn that worst-case scenarios, such as lovelorn women hanging themselves and all-night studiers overdosing on drugs, need not apply to themselves. The subtleties of such stories reveal much about the dangers and delights of college life
College students pursue much the same quest: to experience fear and to understand danger. Their setting is a residence hall or another building that is supposed to be haunted. With long corridors, mirrors, locked rooms, towers, tunnels, and spooky basements, many college halls resemble the buildings found in nineteenth-century literary ghost stories and Gothic novels.
It is not surprising, then, that students make these buildings the settings for legends highlighting fearful confrontations. By telling ghost stories, students transform their college buildings into mysterious and magical places. Within these structures, amazing things can happen.