Any college worth its salt has a ghost story or two – it’s a long-standing part of college lore. College ghost stories are one of the best ways for upperclassmen to mess around with the freshmen, making sure they sleep with the lights on in their “haunted” dorm for the first few weeks. (Don’t worry – there are no ghosts in our ranking of the best college dorms, although a select few students might prefer them.) And as for Greek initiations – well, nothing puts the newbies in their place like an urban legend about the pledge whose ghost stalks the frat house searching for his head. In fact, if a school is too young to have any respectable Colonial or Victorian-era ghosts to claim, there are plenty of more recent college urban legends to draw on.
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College Ghost Stories: Creating Community the Creepy Way
But some haunted colleges and universities go the extra mile, with a whole fright of ghosts (one of the most on-the-nose collective nouns out there) and timeless stories to go with them. They may be broken-hearted ghosts who haunt the dorms where they took their lives, or mischievous poltergeists re-arranging books in the library; they may be lost soldiers from the the Revolutionary War, or freaked-out acid casualties from the 1970s. Some of the best college ghost stories come from before the college even existed – the old mansions, churches, hospitals, and asylums that were incorporated into campuses along with their resident spooks. And if a college has a creepy, centuries-old graveyard – that’s solid ghostly gold.
Being a haunted college isn’t just about creepy stories told in late-night bull sessions – it’s about ghost tours and paranormal researchers with their EVP recorders, dogged historians digging up the facts and loud-mouthed skeptics who can’t shut down the rumors, try as they might. It’s about home-grown stories that give students, faculty, and alumni a sense of belonging, and a sense of history a little different from the important milestones and influential figures that make up the dry, “real” story.
Ranking the Most Haunted Colleges in America
There’s no way for a ranking like this to be authoritative or objective, and would you really want it to be? We’re not looking for “real” ghost stories – College Consensus editors built this ranking by looking for colleges that not only have a substantial history of ghost stories attached to them, but for those that embrace their status as the most haunted colleges in America. While there are some large research universities with compelling ghost stories, nothing breeds a tradition like a tight, insular community, so the Most Haunted Colleges ranking includes many of the best small colleges and the best national liberal arts colleges in the US.
Colleges and universities are ranked according to their Consensus Score. For more information about College Consensus’ methodology, check out the About page.
The largest women’s college in America, and one of the prestigious Seven Sisters, Smith College has been one of the most dominant institutions in women’s education since 1871, with alumnae that include some of the most influential leaders, artists, and scholars of the 20th century – people like Sylvia Plath, Gloria Steinem, and Betty Friedan. Of course, a century and a half is plenty of time to develop some home-grown college ghost stories, and with buildings dating back to the Colonial Era (it is Massachusetts, after all), Smith has centuries of accidents, murders, and epidemics to draw from. Smith might be known to College Consensus as the top-ranked Women’s College in the US, but it’s also one of the most haunted colleges in New England.
Smith’s website even features a continually-updated listing of all of the campus ghosts that have been reported, and their respective stories, and there are some doozies. The most famous story – and most heartbreaking – centers around the Sessions House, built in 1751, where star-crossed lovers would meet in a hidden stair: one, a British soldier, the other, an American girl. Their ghosts reportedly still haunt the house, and naturally, the hidden staircase is real – new residents are traditionally tasked with finding it on Halloween. Other ghosts include a senior who died after forgetting to turn off the gas oven, a little boy who died after being locked in an attic, and a broken-hearted mother (dating back to the days before Smith, when the building was a boarding house), who walks the floors with the crying baby she murdered in life. So sleep well, Smith students! That scratching you hear in the attic isn’t a mouse.
Few universities in the US (outside of the Ivy Leagues) are as storied a the University of Notre Dame, home of the Fighting Irish, football legend Knute Rockne, and the original collegiate marching band. Founded in 1842, Notre Dame is not only the definitive football school, but one of the most prominent Catholic universities in American history, and that long history also has its share of college ghost stories. While other of the most haunted colleges in America have ghosts all over campus, Notre Dame’s seem to center around Washington Hall, the theater built in 1881. The theater is thought to be haunted by a steeplejack who fell off the roof during construction, and also by a music student who still practices his French horn in the night.
But the most famous, by far, of Notre Dame’s ghosts is George Gipp, the legendary All-American football star who died of pneumonia during his senior year, in 1920. Having just won one of the biggest victories of his career, Gipp fell sick under disputed circumstances; traditionally, the story is told that The Gipper came back to campus after curfew, tried to sneak in the back door of Washington Hall to escape the freezing December night, and fell asleep after finding it locked. More probably, he simply got sick after a long, cold practice in the era before widespread antibiotics. While he passed into history through Coach Knute Rockne’s famed “Win one for the Gipper” halftime speech (immortalized in film by Pat O’Brien and a young Ronald Reagan as Gipp), the Gipper himself doesn’t seem too settled – he’s been said to ride a spectral white horse up the stairs and through the halls of Washington Hall.
One of the oldest and most prestigious colleges in the Midwest, Kenyon College was founded in 1821 by Ohio’s first Episcopal Bishop, Philander Chase. Kenyon has long been ranked one of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges, and has been named a Hidden Ivy for its excellence and relative obscurity. In addition to one of the most beautiful campuses in the US, Kenyon boasts another distinction – it’s one of the most haunted colleges in America as well. Kenyon College doesn’t keep its college ghost stories under wraps, either – in fact, professor Tim Shutt has long led a ghost tour of the college, taking lovers of the spooky and dark to the campus’ most haunted locations.
These include the Old Kenyon residence hall, which has a couple of prominent ghost stories based in fact. The oldest ghost, Stuart Pierson, died in a fraternity hazing gone wrong in 1905; fraternity brothers left him on a trestle, promising to return for him later, but in the night he was struck and killed by a train. The members of the DKE fraternity still pay tribute each year, carrying a coffin to the trestle and reading the coroner’s report. In 1949, a tragic fire in Old Kenyon killed nine students, who are said to occasionally wake up current residents with their shouted warnings to get out. The Caples residence hall also hosts the spirit of a young man who fell down the shaft trying to escape a stuck elevator in 1979; residents have reported being woken up at night by an invisible person stinking of alcohol and sitting on their bed – which, honestly, sounds par for the course at most colleges. And don’t forget the Gates of Hell, the stone pillars at the entrance to South Campus, where, according to legend, anyone passing through at midnight will be transported straight to – well, you know.
If any college has a right to be haunted, it’s Gettysburg College. After all, the prestigious liberal arts college – regularly ranked one of the best in the nation – sits beside the Gettysburg Battlefield, where the bloodiest, most brutal battle of the Civil War was fought. With as many as 8000 men killed during the three-day battle, and total numbers of casualties (wounded and missing/captured) reaching as high as 50,000, Gettysburg has claim to being one of the most haunted places anywhere – that’s enough bad energy for any town. Not surprisingly, a lot of those ghost stories take place at Gettysburg College’s Penn Hall, which was pressed into service as a hospital and morgue during the battle.
The oldest building on campus (dating back to the college’s founding in 1832), Penn Hall has an impressive number of ghost stories attached to it; more than one administrator has taken the elevator down to the basement, only to find an entire ghostly field hospital in operation when the doors opened. The ghosts don’t stay confined to Penn Hall, either; students have been visited in residence halls, including Stevens Hall and Huber Hall, and have encountered the lost and wandering spirits of dead soldiers all around campus and in excursions to the battlefield. While Gettysburg’s reputation keeps some students away, others come looking for a little visitation at one of the most haunted colleges in America.
Founded in 1968, you might think Flagler College doesn’t have the history to support any good old-fashioned college ghost stories, but you’d be wrong. For one thing, Flagler might only be 50 years old, but the Ponce de Leon Hotel, the centerpiece of Flagler’s campus, was built in 1888 by eccentric entrepreneur Henry Morrison Flagler, the man who almost single-handedly turned Florida into a tourist magnet. Furthermore, Flagler is located in St. Augustine, FL – the oldest city in the United States, founded in 1565 by Spanish conquistadors. There’s enough restless spirits and bad juju in St. Augustine to fill a whole library of books on the paranormal, and Flagler College is no exception.
Flagler College may be our #2 best regional college in the South, but it’s also a place where students may wake up in their dorm room to find a ghostly woman dressed all in black standing at the foot of their bed, or a little boy who stomps through the hallways eternally playing. Those are just a couple of the ghosts who are said to haunt the Ponce de Leon – a pregnant woman who fell down the stairs, distraught when her lover returned to his wife, and a boy who fell from a balcony. But Henry Flagler himself is known to be a guest of honor in the hotel he built, his spirit trapped in the Flagler Room, while both his wife, and one of his mistresses, haunt the historic building as well. There’s also reportedly a ghostly handyman who will whistle while he works on the showers, but don’t let that stop you from keeping clean – apparently, he can’t see you either.
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Huntingdon College, in Montgomery, AL, doesn’t have the most ghosts out of the most haunted colleges in America, but it does have a claim on two of the most iconic – the college’s two long-residing Red Ladies. Founded in 1854 in Tuskegee as a women’s college, Huntingdon acquired its first Red Lady when it was still in Tuskegee: a young woman wearing a red dress, carrying a red parasol, who walked up and down the halls and stairs of the original residence hall, Sky Alley. Emanating a bright red light, the first Red Lady was only ever seen once, and the college moved in 1909 to the state capital of Montgomery, to be more accessible to students. The fact that the college’s first building in Montgomery promptly burned down is probably a coincidence. Probably.
The second Red Lady is a ghost named Margaret or Martha, depending on the teller, who committed suicide in Pratt Hall. According to this popular college urban legend, the girl came from New York because her grandmother had been an alumnus of Huntingdon, but she hated life in Alabama almost as much as she loved the color red. Soon after she died (cutting her wrists in the bathtub), the second Red Lady began appearing in Pratt, and this time, she stuck around. Today, the annual Red Lady Run finds sorority members painting their faces red, dressing in black, and racing around campus in honor (?) of the campus’ favorite ghost. With a college ghost story like that, it’s no wonder Frank the Library Poltergeist and the Ghost on the Green (who likes to grab ankles of students walking through the grass) get no respect.
The oldest Catholic college in Indiana, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College was founded in 1840 by a contingent of French nuns who settled in what was then still wilderness outside of Terre Haute. SMWC was a trailblazer in more ways than one – it was Indiana’s first college for women, and one of the first women’s colleges in the US to focus on professional and business education, rather than “refinement,” for women. It also happens to be one of the most haunted colleges in America. Both Le Fer and Foley buildings have a long tradition of college ghost stories, from invisible figures grabbing at residents’ feet, to haunting piano music coming from the Conservatory next door to Foley (which was demolished in 1989, forcing its ghosts to find new environs). There’s even a famous story about the exorcism of Foley, but it’s not true – it was a special Mass offered to “calm the spirits” in the building. Nothing sinister about that at all.
By far, though, the most popular and memorable story is that of the Faceless Nun. As the story goes (and like all college urban legends, it has its variations), the Faceless Nun is the ghost of a Sister who taught in the art department and painted portraits of people on campus for fun. She had begun a self-portrait, but sadly died of an illness before finishing her own portrait. The Faceless Nun haunted the art room of Foley searching for her portrait to finish it and set herself free. While it makes for a fantastic college ghost story, there’s apparently no record of such a nun – meaning no one really knows who the ghost is. While it originally haunted Foley, since the infamous Mass, and the destruction of the building, the Faceless Nun appears to have moved to the church, where she presumably has even less chance of finishing her portrait.
The only public liberal arts college in Alabama, the University of Montevallo has long been ranked one of the top regional colleges in the South, and one of the best colleges for veterans. Montevallo was officially founded as a technical school for women in 1896, but its history goes back much farther, with numerous buildings such as King House and Reynolds Hall standing as some of the oldest in Alabama. And with old buildings, of course, comes old ghost stories, and truly, the University of Montevallo is one of the most haunted colleges in America – 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. Reynolds Hall is said to be haunted by the ghost of its namesake, Captain Henry Reynolds, who watches over the building out of guilt. In charge of protecting the building, which was being used as a hospital during the Civil War, Reynolds abandoned his post, drawn away by a Union attack at another location, only to return to find the hospital overrun and the patients taken prisoner. Less tragically, the ghost of Dr. William Trumbauer cheerfully annoys people in the theater at Palmer Hall, bitter that the building wasn’t named for him.
Montevallo’s two most famous ghosts are Edmund King, who built King House in 1823, and the tragic Ghost of Main Hall. King, an old, wealthy man at the start of the Civil War, supposedly buried his fortune in the fruit orchard behind his house to save it from Union troops, if they should ever take the town. Unfortunately for King, he died before the end of the War, and still haunts the house and its grounds; at times he wanders around the orchard with a shovel and lantern trying to remember where the gold is buried, while at other times he can be seen in his office brooding over his money. Sadly, the Ghost of Main Hall is said to be that of a student, Condie Cunningham, who died accidentally in 1909 when the alcohol stove she was using to make hot chocolate spilled, catching her dress on fire. Residents in Main Hall have been known to hear a woman screaming in the night, and sometimes running down the hallway in flames.
Founded in 1867, Drew University began as one of the oldest Methodist seminaries in the nation, and is regularly ranked as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the US, as well as one of the most beautiful colleges in the fall. But that’s not what’s really important about Drew, at least not for our purposes. What really matters is that Drew is absolutely lousy with ghosts, building a reputation as one of the most haunted colleges in America and proudly making that reputation known far and wide. Drew’s history goes back to 1832, when Southern aristocrat William Gibbons built the estate he called The Forest for his family’s Northern summer home. After his heirs sold the estate to college founder Daniel Drew in 1867 (most likely due to the post-Civil War financial crisis), Drew University’s creepy occurrences began.
The most famous ghost is that of Drew’s wife, Roxanna Mead Drew, who walks the halls of Mead Hall, the building named in her honor; she has been frequently spotted and heard by maintenance workers and security guards, who keep a respectful distance. But Mrs Drew is by no means the only spectral resident of the college; the Chapel is also host to an organ-playing ghost, who likes to rock the house with church tunes in the middle of the night, while a melancholy, dark-haired woman appears in the windows of Hoyt-Bowne Hall, sometimes stealing items from students living in the dorms. Another ghost, nicknamed Reggie, wreaks havoc on productions at the Kirby Shakespeare Theater, from minor annoyances to setting an actress’ costume on fire during a show. And don’t forget the Official Houdini Seance, which selected Drew for its 82nd attempt to raise the magician’s spirit in 2008; it might not have attracted the famous skeptic’s attention, but maybe Harry found Drew just a little too crowded.
Ghost hunters and lovers of the paranormal are quick to call Ohio University one of the most haunted colleges in America. It’s to be expected that a university more than 200 years old would have plenty of time to turn old college ghost stories and urban legends into a national reputation. Founded in 1804, and accepting its first students in 1809, Ohio University is one of the oldest public universities in the nation, and Athens, OH, is famous as one of the most beloved college towns. According to believers, however, the university sits between five cemeteries, forming a pentacle, and this college urban legend places Wilson Hall at the very center. Or, maybe, it was built on an Indian burial ground – or the unsanctified graves of patients from the Athens Lunatic Asylum. At any rate, no one lives in room 428, where two students supposedly died mysterious deaths.
Ah, the Athens Lunatic Asylum – now a section of campus known as The Ridges. If Wilson Hall is haunted, The Ridges is a ghost convention, filled with the unquiet spirits of the asylum’s former residents. Built in 1874 as a state-of-the-art, progressive (for the time) hospital for the mentally ill, The Ridges is famous for its cemetery, where historians and spiritualists alike look for clues as to the hospital’s history. While The Ridges is currently the home of the Kennedy Museum of Art, administrative offices, classrooms, and storage spaces, it is one of the nation’s most-visited spaces for paranormal researchers. While the most infamous of the buildings, the former tuberculosis wing, was torn down in 2013 (due to the high number of college students and troublemakers breaking into the “haunted hospital”), it didn’t keep the ghosts away. If you’re ever there, say hi to Margaret Schilling, who died in 1979. She’s still hanging around.
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