News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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May 3, 2011

Tracking ghosts: Legend, mystery, folklore part of ‘Ghost Walk’ at ISU

TERRE HAUTE — Ghostly legends and superstitions are part of the educational experience at Indiana State University.

Mysterious footsteps, slamming doors and eerie happenings make up the rich folklore surrounding the longtime institution of higher education.

Nan McEntire, an associate professor in the English Department at ISU, entertained a group of 30 local ghost enthusiasts recently with an evening campus “ghost walk,” part of the Vigo County Public Library’s “Big Read” program.

One of the most recent ghostly tales to emerge at ISU involves unexplained noises in Condit House, the residence of President Dan Bradley and his wife, Cheri.

Condit House is the traditional home for ISU presidents. However, for about 16 years — during the presidencies of John Moore and Lloyd Benjamin — Condit House was simply the president’s office, not an actual home. It was during those years that secretaries working in the stately structure, which dates back to 1860, reported hearing unexplained footsteps on the stairs and also found the home’s basement door would open and slam shut by itself — despite having been bolted.

The slamming door and ghostly footsteps continued during the 16 years that the home was not a residence between 1993 and 2008.

Cheri Bradley, who welcomed the “ghost walk” group into her home, said she has had no supernatural experiences in the home. The Bradleys moved in to Condit House, near the south edge of the ISU campus, in November 2008 after residence restoration work was completed.

Another campus ghost reportedly haunted the old theater in Dreiser Hall. Legend has it that a woman who worked as a lighting specialist in the theater died at a young age. Her ghost, however, stayed behind to adjust the old theater’s lighting when she felt it was necessary. McEntire, who teaches folklore at ISU, was in attendance at the final performance in the theater and recalls the lights suddenly going out.

“It was something nobody could explain,” she said.

There is also a mystery at ISU surrounding a large mark in the shape of a cross visible below a top-story window at Cromwell Hall, a residence building at ISU. Legend has it that a young girl fell to her death from that window and, after that, the mysterious cross appeared.

“Nobody knows how it got there,” McEntire said, looking up at the mark under the 12th-floor window, which is visible from North Fourth Street. Some people believe it indicates there was foul play involved in the girl’s death, she said.

Another legend from the ISU campus involves “barfing Barb,” a specter who reportedly haunts the restrooms of Burford Hall, another residence building. The story goes that Barb was a female student who died of alcohol poisoning many decades ago. Her ghost, which makes the sound of someone vomiting, is believed to be urging students not to drink too much.

“Her spirit remains as a warning to the living,” McEntire said.

McEntire, who said ISU has a rich collection of such tales, also told the “ghost walk” audience the legend surrounding a statue near Tirey Hall and a “good luck” plaque that marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of Indiana State Normal School in 1888. Many of the stories exist in the “wonderful world between fact and fiction,” she said.

“The Condit House was probably our favorite,” said Sean Patrick Feeney of Terre Haute, who participated in the walk with his wife, Brittany. The 2009 Rose-Hulman graduate has an interest in paranormal phenomena and founded anomalyresponse.org while in high school in 2001.

Feeney said he liked that McEntire “drilled down” into each legend to find the traditional “motif” of each one, such as a ghost apparently having “unfinished business” or wanting to leave a warning to the living.

The “ghost walk” was the final event for the library’s 2011 Big Read, which celebrated mystery, suspense and horror author Edgar Allan Poe. The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest.

Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

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