Top 10 Most Haunted Colleges in the Midwest

Top 10, Haunted Colleges, Midwest
Photo by Brian Gray on Flickr

Leaving home and going to college for the first time can be a very exciting and scary experience, especially if your college shares its campus with the otherworldly and unseen. Almost every college and university has at least one legend or ghost story, but which can lay claim to the title of most haunted? After much debate, Mysterious Heartland brings you the Top 10 Most Haunted Colleges and Universities in the Midwest! Note: Many of these schools have open campuses, but please be mindful of visiting hours.

10. Northwest Missouri State University

Maryville, Missouri

Northwest Missouri State University was founded in 1905 as a teachers college, and was originally known as Fifth District Normal School. Its Administration Building has suffered several accidents. It was struck by a tornado in 1919 and a fire destroyed most of its west wing, central wing, and auditorium in 1979. It was a different accident, however, that gave rise to Northwest Missouri State’s most enduring legend. On April 28, 1951, a gas tank exploded outside Roberta Hall (then unimaginatively known as Residence Hall). The fireball blew out many windows and injured several students. Roberta Steel received third degree burns over most of her body, and lingered for several months before she died. According to A.S. Mott, in his book Haunted Schools: Ghost Stories & Strange Tales, students began to hear sad piano music coming from an empty room in the basement. Roberta has also physically manifested, appearing as a shadow or a figure in a window. In one incident, she disturbed two coeds as they slept. Roberta Hall is named in her honor.

9. Michigan State University

East Lansing, Michigan

With nearly 48,000 students, Michigan State University is the ninth-largest university in the United States in terms of enrollment and is one of the top public research universities in the country. It is also known for its collegiate sports teams, collectively called the Spartans. While administrators are hesitant to discuss it, for the past several decades students have shared stories of a ghost named “Bill,” who haunts the Wharton Center for the Performing Arts. Bill is considered to be a protective presence, and is rumored to be the ghost of a student who was beaten to death in the early 1980s. Objects move, doors open and close, and lights turn on and off of their own accord. According to Cynthia Thuma and Catherine Lower in their book Creepy Colleges and Haunted Universities, one student who saw “Bill” described him wearing a white button down shirt and black cotton pants.

8. Millikin University

Decatur, Illinois

Millikin University began its career with great fanfare. Named after the man who bankrolled the school, James Millikin, it opened in 1903 and was dedicated by Teddy Roosevelt. Classes begin on September 15 of that year. Its numerous ghost stories have their origins early on it its history. One story, involving the light of a long-deceased railroad crossing watchman named Tommy, has been told on campus since the 1930s. The old gymnasium, now used primarily as a storage area, is the scene of echoes from days gone by. According to Troy Taylor, students have heard the sounds of sports being played while alone in the abandoned gym. Aston Hall, formerly an all-female dorm, is reportedly haunted by the ghost of a young woman named Bernice who committed suicide there in 1927. She roams the third floor, and only her upper body is visible.

7. Marquette University

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Marquette University was founded in 1881 as a Jesuit, Roman Catholic university and named after 17th Century missionary and explorer Father Jacques Marquette. It is situated near the heart of Milwaukee. Johnston Hall is the oldest academic building at Marquette and was reportedly built over an American Indian settlement (some say over a burial ground). It was originally used as a home for Marquette’s Jesuit professors, and a priest allegedly hung himself in his room on the fifth floor. The ghosts of children haunt other parts of campus. Glenn Humphrey Hall, a student apartment complex, was originally the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Marquette University acquired it in 1988, and since that time, students have reportedly heard screaming children. On the fifth floor, the ghost of a young girl has been seen, but she is shy and vanishes when approached. “Whispering Willie,” a boy who drowned in the pool when East Hall was home to the YMCA, haunts that building.

6. St. Olaf College

Northfield, Minnesota

Named after the Patron Saint of Norway, King Olaf II, St. Olaf College was founded in 1874 by Lutheran Norwegian immigrants. Its scenic campus is home to two buildings on the National Register of Historic Places: Old Main and Steensland Library. The college is also known for its scholarship on Danish existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. Throughout its history, St. Olaf College has embraced its otherworldly residents. In 1887, the college newspaper, The Manitou Messenger, even reported that two ghosts were seen gliding through the upper floor of Ladies Hall. Most of the ghostly activity at St. Olaf centers on Ytterboe Hall. Originally called the Boys Dormitory, it was built in 1900 on what was reputed to be sacred Indian land. Professor Halvor Ytterboe died attempting to disinfect the hall with formaldehyde during a scarlet fever outbreak. The hall was later named in his honor, and his ghost is said to dwell there. In Thorson Hall, a young woman awoke one night to hear a child screaming. After checking with the other residents, she learned she was the only one who heard the strange cries.

5. Iowa State University

Ames, Iowa

Founded in 1858 as Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, the college’s name was changed to Iowa State University of Science and Technology in 1959. It is a large public university with a student population of over 33,000. While known for its degree programs in agriculture, engineering, and science, ISU is also home to less rational elements.

Fisher Theater is said to be haunted by the ghost of Frederica Shattuck. Her contributions to the theater department led to Shattuck Theater being named after her. Shattuck Theater was later torn down, and according to Cynthia Thuma and Catherine Lower’s book Creepy Colleges and Haunted Universities, Shattuck’s ghost moved to Fisher Theater. Students hear disembodied voices, and a wheelchair that belonged to Shattuck reportedly moves on its own.

The Farm House Museum is supposed to be haunted by the ghosts of two sisters, while low moans are heard in Gold Star Hall. Gold Star Hall memorializes ISU students who died in service. One woman, Hortense Elizabeth Wind, became a Red Cross nurse in WW1. Now, staff say her ghost is the origin of strange sounds in the memorial.

4. University of Notre Dame

South Bend, Indiana

The University of Notre Dame was founded in 1842 by Father Edward Sorin, a Catholic priest, and was an all-male institution until 1972. Notre Dame is famous for its football team, the Fighting Irish. It was this athletic legacy that gave birth to the university’s most enduring legends. In 1920, George “The Gipper” Gipp was selected as Notre Dame’s first All-American football player. Unfortunately, he died of a streptococcal throat infection at the age of 25 on December 14, 1920.

Students say the ghost of Gipp still haunts his old room in Washington Hall, which is now home to the university’s drama club. Poltergeist activity has also been encountered there. In addition to props falling and music playing on its own, one janitor saw an elderly, balding man who asked him to help open a window before vanishing. According to legend, the ghosts of American Indians roam the ground around Columbus Hall, which was built on land formerly owned by the Potawatomi.

3. Benedictine University

Lisle, Illinois

Benedictine University is a private, Catholic university with a student population of around 5,000. Its current campus was built in 1901 at the beginning of the Edwardian era, after having been located on the Lower West Side of Chicago since 1887. Originally known as St. Procopius College, it changed its name to Illinois Benedictine College in 1971 and then to Benedictine University in 1996. Students at the college believe its imposing halls, woods, and cemetery are haunted by tortured ghosts. They speak of rituals in the woods where a woman’s body was once discovered, and of the death of a student who committed suicide by lying in the street. Lake Saint Benedict, a swampy, kidney-shaped slough next to the cemetery, only adds to this atmosphere.

According to both Ursula Bielski and Dale Kaczmarek, several students have attempted to contact the ghost of a former monk via Ouija Board, with disastrous results. A young lady living in Neuzil Residence Hall, for instance, blamed a séance gone wrong for a fire that started in her room, and several boys were scared witless after they brought a Ouija Board to the cemetery. These events took place during the early 1990s as the school entered its second century in operation.

2. Ripon College

Ripon, Wisconsin

Ripon College is a small liberal arts college with a student population of only 930. It was founded in 1851, and has a number of notable alumni, including Harrison Ford. For such a small school, Ripon has more than its fair share of resident spirits. Oddly enough, most of these ghosts have manifested as auditory phenomenon. On one occasion, an injured football player got an unwelcome interruption as he lay down to rest in Room 104 of Brockway Hall. Phantom knocks brought him to the door three times. Each time, he discovered no one there. Another football player heard his name being called and awoke to see a gray figure.

In Hughes House, a group of freshman girls heard wailing coming from the upper floor and saw shadows moving around. One of the most well-known campus ghosts is that of Raphael. He began to make his presence known after a fire in the Red Barn Theater in 1964. He also manifests with footsteps, wails, and other strange sounds.

1. Kenyon College

Gambier, Ohio

Founded in 1824, Kenyon College in Gambier is the oldest private college in Ohio. In 2010, it was named one of the most beautiful colleges in the world by Forbes Magazine for its stunning Gothic revival architecture and picturesque campus. Kenyon College also has more ghosts per capita than any other school in the Midwest. One of the most notable hauntings occurs at Old Kenyon Dorm, which burned down in 1949. Old Kenyon was originally built in 1827, making it one of the oldest Gothic revival buildings in the United States. The legless ghosts of nine students who died in the fire are said to haunt the first floor, while a Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity pledge who died during his initiation has been seen on the fourth floor. According to legend, that student was struck and killed by a train on October 28, 1905, and appears in a window on the fourth floor on the anniversary of his death.

According to Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard, there are no less than seven other haunted buildings on campus, including Norton Hall, Lewis Hall, Manning Hall, Caples Hall, Werthheimer Hall, Shaffer Hall, and Hill Theater. Hill Theater is thought to be haunted by the ghosts of two people who died in a drunk driving accident. Poltergeist activity has been reported in Lewis Hall, which is blamed on a student who allegedly committed suicide there. Various other ghosts are said to appear throughout campus, making Kenyon College a very haunted place!

Read more about college ghost stories in Michael Kleen’s new book, Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges & Universities! At schools across Illinois, students tell ghostly tales, from beloved librarians who refuse to go home, to sad specters suffering from a broken heart. Join Michael Kleen as he explores the history and mystery behind haunted college dorms, libraries, classrooms, theaters, and more. In this one-of-a-kind book, current and former students and faculty tell their tales of mysterious encounters at their beloved alma maters. Kleen scours every source to bring these stories to light in the first book exclusively devoted to Illinois college lore. Why do ghost stories continue to have such an appeal on college campuses? What are the scariest stories from universities in Illinois? Is there any truth to the tales? These questions and more will be answered.


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