Weekly Features


Campus legends range from sweet to sinister

Oct. 30, 2014

IU Bloomington is known for many things: the Little 500 bicycle race, a legendary basketball team and beautiful, tree-covered grounds.

But there are hidden stories behind the limestone walls of this iconic campus -- some of them sinister, some sweet and some downright creepy.

“It’s such a historical campus,” said Hannah Catt, one of the organizers of the annual Ghost Walk sponsored by the Folklore and Ethnomusicology Student Association. “It’s very beautiful. It looks like what people expect college to look like. But at the same time, you don’t always think about what might be under the surface.”

Campus graveyard

The Dunn Cemetery at Beck Chapel | Photo By Chaz Mottinger, IU Communications

The Woman in Black

One of the most notorious IU Bloomington legends is “The Woman in Black,” who has been spotted around East Third Street since 1911. Wearing all black, the woman is known to sometimes chase students and once made an appearance at a Woman’s League Halloween party.

According to a Daily Student article published in 1911, “Nobody is going to smile incredulously any more when 'The Woman in Black' is mentioned … because ‘seeing is believing,’ and everyone who attended the Woman’s League Party yesterday afternoon saw her. Some of the more daring ones shook hands with her as she stood in the receiving line between two tall white ghosts.”

The Girl in the Yellow Dress

There’s also "The Girl in the Yellow Dress." The story goes back to the 1960s: A student murdered his girlfriend inside Read Residence Center after they returned from a formal dance. The girl was reportedly wearing a yellow dress and still lurks in the halls.

The Hatchet Man

Then there’s “The Hatchet Man.” During a Thanksgiving vacation in the 1960s, two female residents were staying alone in McNutt Residence Center when they decided -- against warnings to stay behind closed doors due to recent crime in the area -- to venture out. Although it is not clear where exactly they were going, story has it that midway through the night, one of the women decided to head home alone.

On her way, she heard heavy breathing behind her and sprinted home in fear. When she awoke the next day, her roommate was dead in a pool of blood in the hallway. Some versions have the woman dying from fright.

Haunted buildings

There’s the Career Development Center, former home to Phi Kappa Tau on North Jordan Avenue. According to legend, a doctor in the pre-World War II era practiced illegal abortions there. Whether it was in an effort not to be found out or guilt over what he was doing, the doctor began hiding the fetuses in the floorboards and walls. After starting to hear crying, the doctor eventually committed suicide.

Numerous documents exist of fraternity brothers reporting sounds of the doctor screaming, a cold hand on their shoulder and the sound of babies crying late in the night.

The IU Auditorium is said to be haunted by a construction worker who fell from scaffolding and died during its construction. People have reported a bloodstain on the stage that keeps coming back even after the flooring has been changed.

Even the campus’s Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology office has its own mysterious haunts. A light pole outside the building -- that has since been removed -- would turn on in the morning and off in the evening. One day when it stopped working, a professor called the campus electricians to take a look. On arrival, the electricians said there was no way the light could have been turning on and off because it hadn’t been connected to any electricity for years. 

Ghost walk group

IU folklore student Shannon Larson leads a ghost walk tour group Oct. 28 outside Ernie Pyle Hall and the IMU. | Photo By Chaz Mottinger, IU Communications

Richard Dorson, one of the founders of the IU Folklore Institute, is also said to haunt the department's building on North Fess Avenue. Staff members have reported inexplicable things happening in the office, and some have reported seeing his profile in an upstairs window. A former student also claimed to see Dorson walking briskly out of the building carrying a stack of books and papers shortly after his death.

Campus legends

But not all IU ghosts aim to scare, and not all campus legends are terrifying.

One of the more silly stories involves Wells Library slowly sinking because the architect failed to take into account the weight of the books when designing the building. There’s also the Showalter Fountain where, according to legend, one of the fish will disappear if a virgin ever graduates from IU.

One of the more romantic legends revolves around young female students and the Well House gazebo. According to legend, a woman is not an official IU student until she is kissed by an upperclassman there at the stroke of midnight.

Although it’s difficult to tell where many legends originate when it comes to college campus stories, Shannon Larson, a doctoral student in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, said many reflect common fears and serve as warnings, especially on college campuses, to steer clear of bad behavior.

“A lot of time ghosts associated with college campuses warn students about dangers, but they are also there to help them -- especially new students, to help them avoid coming to the same fate as they did,” she said. 

Whether it’s the hatchet man haunting McNutt or fish jumping out of Showalter Fountain, Catt said urban legends can both add to a campus’s history and provide a fun story to tell your friends.

“As folklore students, to be able to share these stories with other people, it’s fun,” she said. “They encourage people not to take anything for granted, to take advantage of this campus but also be safe about it.”

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