Ghosts and goblins and apparitions of all sorts haunt the hallowed halls and dormitories of colleges and universities across the country. In honor of the approaching Halloween season, I’ve gathered a few scary stories including some legends, superstitions, and folklore to share over the next several weeks…or…as the spirit moves me.
Washington and Lee University (W&L), Lexington VA
Buried in a wooden box encased in concrete next to W&L’s Lee Chapel, General Robert E. Lee’s horse Traveller lives on in the form of a friendly spirit watching over the campus. Not long after the Civil War, Traveller accompanied Lee to what was then Washington College, as the General took over the presidency of the rural Virginia school. Lee took great pride in his large “Confederate” gray horse and built an impressive stable connected to the president’s house. A celebrity in his own right, Traveller eventually achieved fame as the author of a ghost-written volume documenting the Civil War through a horse’s eyes, and admirers came from all over the south to pluck hairs from his tail to keep as souvenirs of the general and his famous steed.
At the time of Lee’s death, Traveller was led behind the caisson bearing Lee’s casket. As an unofficial mascot, the horse wandered the campus at will, grazing on lawns and interacting with students. After his death, Traveller’s remains suffered a series of indignities until they finally found a resting place next to Lee Chapel. According to tradition, the doors to Traveller’s stable must remain open to allow his spirit to continue wandering the campus. Bad luck is sure to follow those foolish enough to close them, or so a former university president discovered. Students leave apples and sugar cubes outside the doors of the stable or on Traveller’s grave for good luck. Sometimes pennies are inexplicably left as well.You can visit Traveller’s grave while on tour of the W&L campus. Be sure to bring apples—Traveller’s apple of choice is the Granny Smith.
Flagler College, St. Augustine FL
Central to the Flagler campus, Ponce de Leon Hall is the scene of many college ghost stories. Once the famous Ponce de Leon/Alcazar Hotel, constructed in the 1880’s by Henry Flagler, the hall is used as a freshman girls’ dormitory and dining hall. Its fabulous Spanish Renaissance architecture and Victorian interior including Tiffany stained glass windows inspire active imaginations and much student speculation.
Several of the most frequently told stories involve Flagler’s funeral which took place in the massive front foyer of the hotel. According to one tale, hotel windows were accidently closed during the funeral and Flagler’s trapped spirit found a home in a particular floor tile located to the left of the doors and toward the rear of the hall. Another variation suggests that Flagler’s coffin was dropped while being carried across the grand foyer leaving an illusion of his face and a skull on the tile. Either way, tour groups are encouraged to locate the tile and are reminded that Flagler’s spirit lives on in the building. Other stories involving Flagler’s wife and mistress complete the lore of the Ponce de Leon.