Lights flicker in a window. A door seems to open on its own. Piano music comes from a dormitory parlor. Is there a natural explanation, or do the ghosts of previous generations of UNC Greensboro students still interact with the students of today?
A University that’s stood for more than 130 years will likely collect a few ghosts along the way. UNCG Libraries’ staff collect these stories in a “ghost file.” Carolyn Shankle, special collections specialist, also shares these stories during ghost tours on campus.
At the start of every tour, she cautions her listeners on the nature of ghost stories. “I always give a little bit of housekeeping,” she says, “Because in order to have a ghost, unfortunately, somebody has to die.” However, in many cases, the stories become a way for students to connect with the history of UNCG or speak about a paranormal experience of their own.
This Halloween, we explore some of UNCG’s famous hauntings:
The Grey Lady Takes a Bow
Shankle says she personally experienced ghostly activity at the UNCG Auditorium. During a tour, while her group was stopped outside the Auditorium, they were surprised by a strong blast of cold air. They looked up at the window and saw a flickering light. Both are common signs of the Grey Lady.
The Grey Lady is said to have once run a boarding house where the Auditorium stood until she took her own life. After her home was demolished, her spirit moved into the Auditorium.
Her most famous encounter involved Raymond Taylor, the professor who started UNCG’s theatre program. He and janitor Junius Ellis were doing work on a backdrop for a show. It was a hot August day, and they were alone in the building, so they took off their outer clothes and left them neatly folded in an office while they worked.
“While they were there, one of those terrific storms came through with lightning and rain lashing against the windows,” Shankle says. “When he went to collect his clothes, which he’d folded neatly, he found them strewn about the room. Someone had also rearranged Taylor’s watch chain in the shape of a cross.”
One Door Closes…Another Opens
UNCG’s ghosts like to carry on as they did in life, and if the theory behind the ghost of the Alumni House is correct, then she remains as particular as ever in the afterlife.
The Alumni House exists in large part due to the fundraising and advocacy of Clara Booth Byrd ’13, UNCG’s former Alumnae Secretary. “She did all the furniture selections and fabric selections in 1936,” says Shankle. “She was very strict about how the house was to be maintained – which doors were to be left open, which doors were to be left shut.”
After her death, facility staff noticed how some doors they had closed would mysteriously reopen, and doors they had opened would be found closed. Some investigation turned up Byrd’s rules. It appears she was ensuring those rules were followed after her death.
Specters of Spencer
Spencer Residence Hall seems to be a magnet for ghosts. It was built in 1904 and resembles some of the earliest buildings on campus. “We think some past students might be continuing their college experience,” says Shankle.
Students and staff have reportedly seen a woman in a long dress from the 19th century. Another plays piano music in the parlor. One of the most famous is the Blue Lady, named for her appearance as a ghostly blue mist on the upper floors. Students named her Annabelle, based on Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee.”
One ghost reportedly makes visits to a specific dorm room. Students say she likes to push around the objects in their closet, but never takes anything. “I think she likes to keep up with the latest student fashions,” says Shankle.
Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary
Mary Foust Residence Hall’s namesake, Mary Foust Armstrong, is believed to have never left campus. The daughter of Woman’s College President Julius Isaac Foust died from complications in childbirth five years after she graduated from the school. Since then, some people have heard unexplained crying. Mary Foust’s portrait would fall off the wall, and for a time in the 1950s, it disappeared altogether.
Shankle, however, is not so sure the ghost is Mary Foust. There is another tragedy linked to the building. Female students used to go up onto the roof to sunbathe. In 1937, one of those students slipped and fell to her death. Shankle says it makes more sense that it is her ghost messing with Mary Foust’s portrait. “I think she would like to get the credit.”
In 2008, Alum Michael Munday told the Chronicle of Higher Education how he and a group of students took down the portrait while giving a presentation. For the next week, bad luck seemed to follow students from Foust: injuries, relationship break-ups, and failed classes. He said, “Once the painting got put up a week later, everything was fine.”
Ghosts of the Infirmary
In late 1899, when UNCG was State Normal and Industrial College, school physician Dr. Anna Gove saw an unusual uptick in severe illnesses among students. The campus, she realized, was gripped by a typhoid outbreak, that would cause the death of 13 students and a staff member.
President Charles McIver closed the college to determine the source of the contamination and sent the students home, an unprecedented move that would not be repeated until the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Forty-eight students were too sick to leave and had to be cared for on campus.
Shankle explains that Campus Activities used to host events with paranormal specialists, who would look for signs of the supernatural. “One of the surprising areas where they would get activity is right around the building that we now call the Faculty Center,” she says. “It was the location of the original infirmary. That’s why the ghost tours are fantastic, because we can teach about UNCG history and how the institution has changed over time.”
Connections Across Generations
The effort to collect and maintain the ghost stories of UNCG began in earnest with Assistant University Archivist Emeritus Hermann Trojanowski, who compiled a great deal of history about UNCG and Greensboro. Ghost stories were a way to relay history in a way that engages students. Shankle assisted him in assembling the ghost file – which can still be viewed on request in Special Collections & University Archives – and conducting ghost tours.
To this day, she still has students come to her describing supernatural encounters. Although the stories deal with death, she says it helps students understand how far society has come about talking openly about issues such as mental health and discrimination.
For some students, ghost stories are fascinating. Others find them comforting. “There are those who just want to hear that not everything ends,” says Shankle. “Others want to hear more about the people who came before them. They want to learn about a different aspect of the campus that they walk around each day.”
Story by Janet Imrick, University Communications
Photography courtesy of University Libraries and Lynn G. Hey
Connect with the past.
Pave the way to the future.