Around Campus

Carolina’s spectral side

Halloween is right around the corner. Do you dare visit some of these campus haunts?

Gimghoul Castle
Ghost Stories Gimghoul Castle

Creaking floors where no human walks, a dapper phantom fond of performing arts, two lovers wandering the woods forever in search of one another. With more than 200 years of history, Carolina is bound to have ghost stories – and they take many forms. Halloween is right around the corner. Do you dare visit some of these campus haunts?

  • Caldwell Hall ­– Several ghosts may roam this creaky building, which was built as a medical school and housed the Department of Philosophy after 1938. Some say bespectacled department founder Horace Williams visits, sauntering along with a caring demeanor. Caldwell’s spooky ambiance comes from talk of footsteps overhead when no one else is in the building, a winding ramshackle staircase called “the Tower” and a condemned third floor.
  • Memorial Hall – In what can be a dark place full of muted noises, Evan the ghost has been seen by many people. Named by student production workers two decades ago, Evan wears 1940s style clothes and a fedora. He’s usually seen from across the auditorium, fixing his icy stare on people as if trying to get their attention. Prior to Evan’s appearances, a “clanking” ghost was heard with some frequency in 1934, according to The Daily Tar Heel.
  • Abernethy Hall – Students and staff working in this building, which was built in 1907 as a student infirmary, have heard weird noises at night. Students sometimes died in the infirmary, most notably during the Spanish Flu pandemic/epidemic during 1917 and 1918. Complete with a front stairwell just made for a ghostly entrance, this one gets the Poltergeist award as most likely to be haunted.
  • Carolina Inn – Among the Inn’s reported ghosts, longtime resident of suite 252 William Jacocks is said to haunt the Inn as a fun-loving presence, moving things around and locking out guests. Jacocks lived there from 1948 until his death in 1965.  Staff and guests since then say pillows, rugs, curtains and other items are unaccountably re-arranged. They also report hearing someone whistling classical music or seeing a finely attired spectre lingering or moving quickly around a corner.  The Inn’s website states: “He wanders the halls apparently seeking an unlocked door. He tries the knobs, rattles them to see if they are locked, then moves onto the next door. When guests from within the rooms open the door, he often gets scared and runs away.” If you see Dr. Jacocks, tell him that he’s not the one who should be frightened….
  • Forest Theatre – On any evening, one can easily envision this stone amphitheatre as a stage for paranormal activity. “Ghosts of the Triangle” by Richard and William Jackson reports passersby hearing “sounds of passionate acting,” only to find the stage empty. The book also says that a glowing green figure has also been seen on stage there.
  • Horace Williams House – Philosophy professor Horace Williams died in 1940, but many believe his ghost has moved through the house he bequeathed to Carolina. People think Williams moves milk bottles, turns on water spigots, re-arranges chairs and slams doors; The Daily Tar Heel mentions such accounts from the local newspaper in 1944. Families that rented the house at times apparently had visits from the friendly ghost. A 1998 DTH article quotes a former resident of the house: “It was not a scary presence . . . but we all felt it.”  That family included a daughter who said Williams talked with her at night.
  • Gimghoul Castle – The castle sits outside Carolina’s eastern boundary and is intertwined with the legend of Peter Dromgoole. The son of a prominent Methodist minister, Dromgoole came to Chapel Hill seeking entry to the University. Although later research by descendant Bruce Cotten proves otherwise, Dromgoole’s rowdy reputation and disappearance from Chapel Hill in 1833 combined to shape a ghost story. The story includes Dromgoole’s death in a duel near Gimghoul Castle, a blood-stained rock, and the ghosts of Dromgoole and his sweetheart Fanny wandering at night in search of each other. Don’t look for them by yourself, folks!

To learn more about Carolina’s ghosts, take the Oct. 28 “Thrills n’ Chills Moonlight Tour,” by the Visitors’ Center.

Information for this story came from interviews with personnel at the Carolina Inn and numerous University departments, materials at the North Carolina Collection, Daily Tar Heel archives on newspapers.com and other sources cited in the story.

Keep Reading Emily Chávez