Classic Columbus Ghost Stories: Creepy Campus

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
Thompson Library on the Ohio State University campus

With a campus as large and old as Ohio State's, strange stories and legends are sure to abound. There are underground tunnels galore, an elephant is reportedly buried somewhere on West Campus and the Medical Heritage Library has a collection of curious eyeglasses.

Up for a little collegiate ghost hunting? Creep around these sites.

Orton Hall | Dr. Orton and the Caveman

Named for the university's first president and geology professor Edward Orton, Orton Hall is said to be haunted by Orton himself. He was known to read late into the night in the building's bell tower, and multiple people have reported seeing lights flickering at night. The other ghost reported in Orton Hall is that of a prehistoric man, perhaps tied to the 54,000 specimens in the Orton Geological Museum. Staff hear him banging around and grunting in the halls.

Thompson Library| The LibrarianWho Never Left

The university's first full-time librarian, Olive Branch Jones, served for 34 years and apparently she's not too keen to leave her post. Several witnesses report mysterious footsteps and a woman in black, matching photos of Jones, rustling past the basement stacks.

Dr. Snook andTheora Hix

Dr. James Snookdoesn't so much haunt a building, but he leaves a lurid legacy of murder. Snook, a 1920 Olympic gold medalist for the pistol team, was a professor of veterinary medicine. He became involved with a graduate assistant, Theora Hix; the two rendezvoused regularly at a rented apartment on Hubbard Avenue in the Short North. Eventually they had a falling out, and on June 13, 1929, he murdered her with a hammer and a knife. Convicted and executed at the Ohio Penitentiary, he was buried in an unmarked gravestone in Greenlawn Cemetery.

Pomerene Hall | Dr. Clark and the Pink Lady

Clark, an economics professor, lost all his money in bad mining investments in Alaska. His colleagues and the university refused to help him, and he shot himself on the hill where Pomerene now stands on Sept. 19, 1903. His distraught wife swore never to leave him. She may well be the Pink Lady or the Lady of the Lake, an apparition seen wandering around or skating over Mirror Lake and occasionally gazing from the windows of Pomerene Hall.

Hopkins Hall| The Girl in the Elevator

In the 1960s, a student got stuck in an elevator overnight, had a breakdown and started scrawling words over the elevator walls. Years later, she supposedly still writes angry notes in the elevators. Other stories say that in her struggle to escape, she left her handprints all over the elevator doors. On the west side of the building, there's supposedly a handprint that-despite repeated attempts at scrubbing-cannot be removed.

Your Brain on Fear

Is belief in ghosts a faith, a psychological phenomenon or something else? Trisha Van Zandt-a quantitative psychologist who has been teaching on the psychology of extraordinary belief at Ohio State University for 10 years-breaks open our brains on fear.

Beliefs (whether in ghosts or Bigfoot) require an attitude about the truth of something, and are influenced by childhood, experiences, or reasoned arguments. "There's nothing pathological about this," says Van Zandt. "There's no type of brain or type of person who believes in things more than others. I have a friend who believes in ghosts because his parents always told him they existed."

Fear accelerates beliefs. "When you're threatened, your attentional focus narrows. You're physically incapable of thinking about things other than how you're getting out of the situation," she says, "You're not going to be able to think through alternate explanations." Therefore, creaky floors and cold breezes become-for those with confirmation bias-ghosts.

There is one more reason people believe in ghosts, Van Zandt adds: the business of pranks, a la haunted houses. "When you pay to be afraid," she suggests, "someone is highly motivated to make people believe in such things." -- By Jill Moorhead