Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

When I began teaching swimming classes at ...

When I began teaching swimming classes at Christian College, my supervisor, Grace Mitchell, said, “Be sure and come to the all-school Halloween Party in the gym tomorrow night.” The main attraction was the crowning of the Halloween Queen but the talk in the dressing rooms, between swimming classes, was mostly about the spook tunnel. Second-year students converted an underground concrete tunnel into a spook tunnel to be “enjoyed” by the juniors.

The concrete tunnel was about 4 feet wide and 4 feet tall. It housed the pipes that transported steam heat from the power plant to St. Clair Hall via the gym and was built large enough for plumbers to make repairs when needed. Each year, on the day of the Halloween Party, the heat was turned off so the tunnel could be cooled and transformed into a scary habitat for witches, black cats and goblins.

Electric lights were on, of course, when I accompanied Miss Mitchell on her usual safety inspection. I could plainly see that the students were in for a Halloween experience they’d never forget. They’d have to stoop or crawl for the entire 75 feet and would encounter witches, spooks and black cats, as well as several ghosts with long hair, flowing gowns and false faces. The whole trip was accompanied by screechy noises and weird music. A dance student wore her black leotard with a glow-in-the-dark skeleton on the front.

Yes, it was awesome!

The next day there was dressing room talk about the tunnel and its ghosts and one girl said, “I guess everybody knows that a gray lady’s ghost lives in the attic of St. Clair Hall.” Nobody prompted her t~o tell more. Later I heard the legend of a long-ago student who committed suicide following the death of her lover, a Confederate soldier. The bereaved girl reportedly vowed to always wear Confederate gray in memory of her lover.

The idea of a ghost in St. Clair’s attic slipped from my mind for years until the morning, in the sixties, when all of the students were excited ~about what happened the night before.

Dozens of first-year students were on the front campus, serenading their “big sisters,” when one of them screamed, “Gray Lady.” The others~, too, screamed when they saw a lighted candle moving from window to window in a row of vacant dorm rooms on the third floor of St. Clair Hall. Who, but a ghost, could walk through solid walls? The dim light revealed little except the hand that held the candle. One observant student told dean Elizabeth Kirkman, “The candlelight revealed a bit of a red sleeve, under the ghost’s garment.” The excitement soon died down but no one explained the “ghost”*’s passage through solid walls!

When my writer friend, Joan Gilbert, asked if I knew any Missouri ghost stories, I replied, “None, except the one about Christian College’s Gray Lady, in the attic of the oldest dormitory on campus.” Careful researcher that she is, Joan interviewed former students and the dean. The complete story is included in her new book, “Missouri Ghosts, Spirits, Haunts, and Related Lore.” Just released from Pebble Publishing Co., it’s illustrated and has quotes from many sources, including the Bible.

The book is now available in several Columbia book stores and at Friends Together Antiques.

Christian’s Gray Lady was not the only such legendary character in this area. Stephens College and some other institutions mention similar characters in their pasts.

Are the stories myth or fact? I like Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s attitude: “...Are we so advanced in our knowledge that we can prove the impossibility of ghosts?”

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