For years, students and faculty in Western Illinois University’s Simpkins Hall have told stories about phantom children. Many other odd occurrences are attributed to “Harold,” a former janitor or graduate assistant who lurks among the classrooms on the third floor. After classes finish for the day, the disembodied sound of keys jingling, doors opening and closing, or a typewriter clicking, rattle the nerves of even the most seasoned educator. In addition to Simpkins Hall, several of the campus dorms—Bayliss just to name one—are also rumored to be haunted.
Nestled in the small town of Macomb, Western Illinois University began as a teacher’s college. Originally called Western Illinois State Normal School, its classes were confined to one building, now known as Sherman Hall. Sherman Hall was originally known as “Main Building.” In 1937, the university built a new training school adjacent to Main Building. Local children enrolled in the Training School and were taught by the students at the college.
In the 1960s, as Western Illinois State Normal School became Western Illinois University, the Training School building was given to the Department of English and Journalism. The children went elsewhere to accommodate the deluge of incoming college freshmen from the baby boom generation, but closets with tape still bearing the names of the last occupants, rows of green lockers, tiny desks, and wooden loudspeakers remained.
With such a unique past, Simpkins Hall, as it was christened in 1968, was a natural incubator for ghost stories. Compared to Simpkins Hall’s phantom child, Harold is a relatively recent ghost. Randy Smith and Judi Hardin, who have both been at the university for decades, told Western Courier reporter Sarah Cash that they first heard the Harold stories in the 1980s. Miss Cash believed the story might have its origins in the experience of a former teaching assistant who heard typing early one morning as she lay down to rest her eyes in the Writing Center. Exasperated, she yelled, “Harold, knock it off!” She did not hear the mysterious sounds again that morning.
Bayliss Hall is haunted by the ghosts of two suicide victims. The first, a freshman girl, allegedly became pregnant and delivered the baby in her dorm room. In a panic, she threw the baby—along with any evidence of the delivery—down the garbage chute. She then hung herself in the closet. Some students claim that the cries of both the girl and the baby echo through the hall. In the second story, the roommate of a young woman suffering from severe depression left her alone over the weekend and she ended her life in the closet. Today, residents of that particular room report strange noises and electrical disturbances.
The tale of the roommate’s suicide in Bayliss Hall serves as a dramatic morality play, warning students to look after their fellow classmates. There are lessons in all of these stories, and such events are the dark underside to the culture at our universities, a culture (and history) that is reflected in contemporary campus folklore.
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.