Universities have been rumored to be constructed on top of graveyards, or to have been the sites of suicides or other mysterious deaths. The widespread belief in the paranormal activity on many college campuses is perhaps not surprising.
Haunted college legends are as varied as they are chilling, encompassing everything from possessed paintings to mischievous poltergeists. And while some universities appear to be unconcerned by their associations with supernatural activity, others seem to relish in their associations with the supernatural. Meanwhile, students have elevated the ghost story to the status of a campus institution, with stories being enthusiastically passed down from one year of freshmen to the next.
Which schools have the reputation for being the creepiest in America? We had to know, so we compiled a list of the 50 most haunted universities and colleges in the US. Take a look at your own risk.
Top most haunted colleges in america
Smith College, one of the Seven Sisters and the largest women’s college in the United States, has graduated some of the most important leaders, artists, and scholars of the 20th century, including Sylvia Plath, Gloria Steinem, and Betty Friedan. The college was founded in 1871. With buildings dating back to the Colonial Era (it is Massachusetts, after all), Smith has centuries of accidents, murders, and epidemics to draw from, making for some great material for homegrown college ghost stories. In addition to being one of the most haunted schools in New England, College Consensus ranks Smith as the best women’s college in the United States.
There are some truly terrifying ghost stories floating around the Smith campus, and the school’s website keeps a running tally of them all. The most well-known and tragic tale involves the Sessions House, constructed in 1751, and its secret stairway, which would bring together a British soldier and an American girl who were fated to be together. Their spirits are said to linger in the house to this day, and new tenants have been given the task of discovering the secret staircase every October 31st since the original owners died there. A senior who forgot to turn off the gas oven, a young boy who was trapped in an attic, and a distraught mother who murdered her own baby (dating back to before Smith, when the building was a boarding house) all haunt the premises. So, get some rest, you Smith students! The noise you hear in the attic is most likely not a mouse.
In 1821, Ohio’s first Episcopal Bishop Philander Chase established Kenyon College, making it one of the oldest and most prestigious colleges in the Midwest. Long considered one of the best liberal arts schools in the country, Kenyon has earned the title of “Hidden Ivy” due to its high standards and low profile. Kenyon is not only home to one of the most picturesque college campuses in the United States, but also to one of the most haunted. Professor Tim Shutt has long led a ghost tour of Kenyon College, taking fans of the macabre to the school’s most haunted locations, so the school’s ghost stories aren’t kept under wraps there, either.
A few well-known ghost stories have their origins in events that actually occurred in the Old Kenyon dorm. Stuart Pierson, the oldest ghost, was killed by a train in the middle of the night during a botched hazing ritual in 1905. His fraternity brothers had abandoned him on a trestle, promising to return for him later. Every year, members of the DKE fraternity continue to pay their respects by bringing a coffin to the trestle and reading the coroner’s report. There was a terrible fire in Old Kenyon in 1949, and it is said that the voices of the nine students who perished there can sometimes be heard waking up the current residents with warnings to get out. The ghost of a young man who died in 1979 after falling down the elevator shaft trying to escape a breakdown is said to haunt the Caples dorm, where students have reported being awoken in the night by the odor of alcohol and the presence of an invisible person sitting on their bed. In addition, the stone pillars marking the entrance to South Campus are known as the Gates of Hell, and urban legend has it that anyone walking through them at midnight will be instantly sucked into the abyss.
Among the most haunted universities in the United States, Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama, has two of the most famous ghosts: the Red Ladies. Huntingdon was established in 1854 as a women’s college in the city of Tuskegee, Alabama; while there, it acquired its first Red Lady, a young woman who wore a red dress and carried a red parasol as she walked the halls and stairs of the first dorm, known as Sky Alley. The original Red Lady, which shone a brilliant red light, was only seen once, and the college relocated to Montgomery, the state capital, in 1909 so that more students would have easier access to it. It was probably just a coincidence that the college’s first Montgomery building caught fire soon after it opened. Probably.
The second Red Lady is the spirit of a woman who took her own life in Pratt Hall; her name is Margaret (or Martha, depending on who you ask). The girl moved to Alabama from New York because her grandmother was a Huntingdon graduate, but she hated it almost as much as the color red, as the urban legend goes. As soon as she passed away (by slitting her wrists in the tub), the second Red Lady began making appearances in Pratt, and this time she stayed. Sorority women today still paint their faces red, dress in all black, and race around campus in what is ostensibly her honor (?) during the annual Red Lady Run. No wonder Frank the Library Poltergeist and the Ghost on the Green (who likes to grab ankles of students walking across the grass) aren’t taken seriously with that kind of college ghost story floating around.
University of Montevallo
The University of Montevallo, Alabama’s lone public liberal arts institution, has consistently been ranked among the South’s finest educational institutions and among the best institutions of higher learning for military veterans. The city of Montevallo was established in 1896 as a women’s technical college, but its history dates back much further; the King House and Reynolds Hall are among the oldest structures in the state of Alabama. There are more ghosts in Montevallo than you can shake a stick at, and visitors can see their sites on the annual Montevallo Ghost Walk. With old buildings come old ghost stories, and the University of Montevallo is one of the most haunted colleges in America. It has been said that Captain Henry Reynolds, the building’s namesake, haunts Reynolds Hall. It is believed that Captain Reynolds haunts the building out of guilt. During the Civil War, the building was being used as a hospital, but when Reynolds, who was in charge of protecting the building, was distracted by a Union attack elsewhere, he returned to find the hospital overrun and the patients taken prisoner. Dr. William Trumbauer’s ghost is less tragic; he haunts the theater in Palmer Hall and cheerfully annoys the audience members because he feels snubbed by the building’s naming.
Edmund King, who constructed King House in 1823, and the tragic Ghost of Main Hall are two of Montevallo’s most well-known specters. According to legend, before the Civil War began, a wealthy elderly man named King hid his wealth in the fruit orchard behind his home in case Union troops ever captured the town. King perished before the war’s conclusion, but his ghost is said to still prowl the property, sometimes carrying a shovel and lantern as he searches for the location of his fortune in the orchard, and at other times sitting in his office, brooding. The tragic ghost of Condie Cunningham, a student who died in 1909 when the alcohol stove she was using to make hot chocolate spilled, catching her dress on fire, is said to haunt Main Hall. Women’s screams have been heard in Main Hall, and there have been reports of a woman running down the hall while engulfed in flames.
University of Virginia
Bennett Wood Green, a Confederate surgeon, passed away in 1913, and his library was left to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in his will. The books were then moved to the Rotunda library, which is rumored to be haunted by the doctor’s spirit. Staff and students have reported hearing ghostly footsteps and getting the uneasy feeling that they are being watched since the collection was relocated to the Alderman Library in 1938. The library also features the Garnett Room, named after Muscoe Russell Hunter Garnett, another donor. The ghost of Garnett’s former doctor, who admired his book collection while they were both still alive, is said to linger in this space.
Flagler College-St. Augustine
The former Hotel Ponce de León serves as the impressive centerpiece of Flagler College. The St. Augustine School was built in the late 1880s under the direction of Henry Morrison Flagler, a wealthy industrialist who gave his name to the institution. His first wife died, his second was institutionalized, and one of his mistresses reportedly committed suicide by hanging herself from the hotel’s fourth floor in Florida, despite Flagler’s immense success in the business world. In 1968, the structure was purchased by the university and renamed Ponce de Leon Hall to reflect its new status as an official campus facility. Students claim that the fourth floor was off-limits for a long time, giving rise to rumors of ghosts. In addition, when Flagler passed away in 1913, he specifically requested that all of the hotel’s exits be kept open for his funeral in the lobby. However, a janitor closed all of the exits, and now some people believe that Flagler’s ghost is trapped inside the hotel forever.
Rose Hill Campus, Fordham University
Fordham University in New York City has a Gothic-inspired campus called Rose Hill that features buildings that look like castles, and the campus lives up to its spooky reputation. Keating Hall, the main building on campus, was built in 1936 and may have been built on top of morgue tunnels. In the 1970s, a security guard taking a break in the building’s basement lounge witnessed chairs seemingly knocking themselves into a wall and doors shutting without any help from the guard. A number of movies, including The Exorcist, have been filmed in Keating Hall, possibly inspired by these and other stories, such as the one about the ghostly hand that allegedly contacts unsuspecting shoulders on the third floor. It’s worth noting that the actor who played Father Joe Dyer in the infamous horror film, Father William O’Malley, went on to teach theology at the campus’ Fordham Preparatory School until 2012.
University of Florida
Although the Beaty Towers at the University of Florida look like any other set of student apartments from the 1960s from the outside, they have a reputation for being haunted and mysterious occurrences have been reported there. According to current students, the ghost of a pregnant former resident who jumped to her death from one of the towers can still be seen and heard on a regular basis. Thomas Hall, which has housed University of Florida students since its opening in 1906, is rumored to be haunted by the ghost of “Steve,” a former refectory chef. Even though the cafeteria is no longer standing, “Steve” apparently still makes himself heard by banging pans together. But there is a sadder story to tell about James W. Norman Hall, where a number of kids were killed in an elevator accident. Strangely, people have reported hearing children’s laughter and seeing them play on the third floor.
Everyone is aware that Gettysburg College takes its name from a pivotal Civil War battle that ultimately led to Union victory despite the tens of thousands of casualties on both sides. Pennsylvania University was established in 1832, more than three decades before the battle; during the fierce fighting, its signature Pennsylvania Hall served as a military hospital. Inevitably, great suffering occurred here, and it is believed that this is what the ghosts are reenacting today, a century later. In the mid-1960s, two workers on campus rode the elevator to the first floor; however, it continued to descend, taking them all the way to the basement. The staff was shocked to find a macabre field hospital scene instead of a generic storage room. While bloodied medics struggled to keep up with the chaos, soldiers lay dead or dying on the floor. Perhaps unusually, the entire event described took place without a single word being exchanged.
East Tennessee State University
Sidney Gilbreath, the first president of East Tennessee State University (ETSU), deserves praise for many reasons. While Gilbreath has been gone since 1961, his ghost is said to linger in the Johnson City school’s Gilbreath Hall, not to frighten the living but to turn off lights and close windows that have been forgotten. Lucille Clement Hall, a sorority house, is rumored to be haunted by a spirit who is less concerned with the here and now. When people in the neighborhood hear the sound of marbles rolling around the second floor, they know the ghost known as “Marble Boy” has come to say hello. It is said that Christine Burleson, a beloved English professor at ETSU who passed away in 1967, now resides in the likeness of her father, David Sinclair Burleson, which hangs in Burleson Hall. According to the students, he or she follows the movements of the people around them with his or her eyes.
Kenyon College has such a rich history of ghost stories that it could probably support its own ghost tour.
This most important tale has a solid foundation in reality. Nine students were killed in a fire at the Old Kenyon residence hall in 1949. Even though the structure has been rebuilt, numerous residents claim to have witnessed the presence of ghosts in the building. Some students have reported being awakened by yelling about a fire or being told to evacuate the building.
The Caples House is another supposedly haunted location. There was a tragic death of a student in the elevator shaft in 1979. A large number of former students have reported paranormal activity, including the feeling of having someone sitting on their bed, lights and showers turning on and off, and screams.
It is said that the Red Lady, a particularly vindictive ghost who haunts Pratt Hall at Huntingdon College, lingers there. It has been reported by students that a ghostly woman in a red gown and parasol can be seen floating up the hallways. According to legend, the ghost is actually a lonely ex-student named Martha who had an unhealthy obsession with the color red.
Martha’s strange behavior escalated after her attempts to make friends at school fell flat. She would go around campus at odd hours of the night, letting herself into other students’ dorm rooms. Martha’s body was discovered in her room late one night. It is said that her ghost still walks the halls of Pratt Hall, urging students to treat each other with respect.
Ghostly Frank haunts the Huntingdon University library, and he is a local legend in his own right. Rooms at the Houghton Memorial Library are frequently rearranged by patrons, according to staff members. Occasionally, books will tumble off shelves, and doors you close will magically unlock again.
Some schools have been said to have been built on top of graveyards, while others are said to have been the scene of suicides or unexplained deaths. Therefore, it’s not shocking that many universities have ghost stories.
Colleges have a long history of urban legends about ghosts and the paranormal, and the tales are as varied as they are terrifying. Also, while some universities seem to disregard their supposedly haunted histories, others boast about their notoriety for the paranormal. In the meantime, students have elevated the everyday ghost story to the status symbol it now enjoys on campus, and these stories are passionately passed down from one incoming freshman class to the next.