Sandlapper Society

Grade 8: College Legends

Grade Level: Grade 8

Subject Areas Addressed: History, Language Arts, Social Studies

To download the complete lesson plan, click here.

Legendary Landmarks

A Spine-tingling Tour of College Campuses

by Heather Dawkins Stalker
lesson plan by Lisa Ray, NBCT • 8th Grade SC History, Chapin Middle School

Many things I didn’t know about Furman University’s famed Bell Tower during my undergrad days there a decade ago. I didn’t know that the tower is 88 feet tall. That it was built in 1962 as an exact replica of one on Furman’s former downtown Greenville campus. That pieces of the original structure are embedded in the base of the new one. I didn’t know about the tower’s 60-bell carillon instrument, one of the largest in the nation.

But I did know this: I had better kiss carefully beneath those 60 bells, because the person you kiss under the Bell Tower is the person you will marry. At least that was the legend then. It still is, according to Theresa Cureton in the student services division at Furman, who says the story is “talked about every year at orientation.”Although I did marry one of the boys I kissed under that tower, Furman students are not alone in propagating such silly superstitions. Many of South Carolina’s college campuses—rich in the history of centuries-old buildings, towers, fountains and other landmarks—also are rich in legend, cooked up by the creative minds of our state’s young scholars. Here is a sampling.

College of Charleston: Cisterns & Long-Lost Orphans

“If you walk across the cistern before graduation, then you won’t graduate,” declares Mary Frances Whitaker, a junior at the College of Charleston.

At the heart of a campus dating to the 18th Century, the cistern “was built to hold water in the days before pumps and wells,” says Mike Robertson in the Office of Media Relations. With only about three feet of its brick wall now visible above ground, the rest of the structure is buried under a grassy area called Cistern Yard. During orientation, entering freshmen parade to Cistern Yard and through an arch.

“That’s their formal entrance into the college,” Robertson explains. Graduation is held on a ceremonial stage built over the yard, and “when students graduate, they walk out that way.”It’s easy to see, then, how a person might jinx herself walking over the cistern before time for the formal exit from college. “Or I guess you could walk backwards across it to counteract it,” Whitaker says, laughing.

A spookier story at the college concerns Berry Hall, an all-girl dormitory. The legend goes that it was an orphanage that burned. Anxious residents report hearing sounds of children running through the upper floors.While Berry Hall is a modern six-story building that never housed orphans, Robertson says the story likely emerged from Berry’s location—only blocks from what was the site of the historic Jenkins Orphanage. Founded in 1892 by former slave-turned minister Daniel Joseph Jenkins, the home was located in the Old Marine Hospital, which indeed was badly damaged by fire in the 1930s.

The orphanage later reopened at its current location in North Charleston. But tenants of the former building apparently stayed behind, at least in spirit. Or so says Lacey Stanfield, a senior at the College of Charleston and former Berry Hall resident. “We would be lying in our beds at night and hear footsteps above us and sounds like moving furniture. We’d see kids running around.”

Newberry College: The Legend of Madeline

Ghost stories are a common tradition on college campuses and often are only loosely based on history and fact, if at all. Hence, Newberry College’s resident ghost: Madeline.

There are many versions of the story. One goes that Madeline fell in love with a Union soldier who was stationed at Newberry College during a Civil War troop occupation. When the troops withdrew, Madeline was inconsolable. “She would wander around the campus looking for her long, lost lover,” says Newberry College archivist Gordon Henry.

Eventually, Madeline’s grief became so great that she reputedly killed herself by jumping from the belfry of Keller Hall. Keller, the second-oldest building on the Newberry College campus, was not the site of such an event, Henry asserts. “The building wasn’t built until 1895, so I don’t know what [Madeline] was doing for 30 years wandering around the campus.”

University of South Carolina: Longstreet Theatre

Perhaps a more plausible ghost legend is the one attached to USC’s Longstreet Theatre. Built in 1855, this distinctive building, resembling a Roman temple, survived the Civil War and was used as a military hospital. The theatre’s Green Room, where actors wait to go onstage, is located where the hospital morgue was, and it often has been the scene of ghostly sightings and supposed paranormal activity.

“It gets cold and creepy down there at night,” says Dr. Thorne Compton, an academic dean at USC and former chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance. “A number of people have had experiences when they saw a person sitting in the hall close to the theatre, but there was, in fact, no one there. Others have heard weird noises late at night.”

Winthrop University: A Founder Who Cannot Rest

Winthrop University in Rock Hill has so many ghost legends that the Student Alumni Council sponsors an annual ghost tour. “They do it every Halloween to feed the folklore,” says Debbie Garrick, a graduate who directs Winthrop’s Alumni Relations.
The most popular legend involves two of the school’s oldest landmarks, the Little Chapel (1823) and Tillman Hall (1894). The Little Chapel, designed by Robert Mills as a stable and carriage house for the Ainsley Hall mansion in Columbia, was the original classroom building for Winthrop when it was founded in Columbia by David Bancroft Johnson. Moved to the current campus in 1936, it became Johnson’s final resting place.

The legend springs from the fact that the chapel was not Johnson’s initial resting place. Johnson died in 1928 and was buried in front of Bancroft Hall, which bears his middle name. Thinking the Little Chapel a more appropriate resting spot for her husband, Mai Johnson had his body exhumed and moved there after the chapel’s relocation.“The story goes that he is confused about where he should be because he spent all his time in Tillman Hall as an administrator,” Garrick says. “So he wanders the campus, watching over students and searching for his final resting place.”

Tillman Hall, constructed in 1894 using convict labor, is the perfect place for a good ghost story. Remnants of the stocks used to hold prison laborers can be seen in the basement. “It’s an especially creepy building at night,” says recent Winthrop grad Erin Curran, who often has witnessed lights flickering off for no reason.Garrick, who works in Tillman, says with a laugh, “Whenever we see a ghost or experience any kind of ghost activity, we just assume it’s [Johnson].

Columbia College: A Haunted Gymnasium & Jinxed Doors

Like Winthrop, Columbia College has a ghost inspired by an important figure in the school’s history. Lucille Godbold was a celebrated athlete who medaled in numerous sports at the International Team Tour, forerunner of the Olympics. She taught for 58 years at Columbia College, and the physical education building is named for her. “The legend is that she haunts that building,” says Amy Long, a 2007 alum and former senior class president.

Asked about other superstitions on campus, Long says, “We don’t go through the middle doors of any of the buildings on campus. There’s a superstition that you won’t ever marry if you walk through the middle doors, so we always walk through the doors to the left or the right.”

Clemson University: Be Careful What You Read and Where You Step

While Clemson University students have no qualms about walking through middle doorways, they are careful about where they step. Angela Nixon, a 1999 graduate who works in the University’s Public Affairs Office, says when she was a student, she was extra vigilant while walking on the campus’ “senior sidewalks”—sidewalks with the names of graduates etched into them. “If you stepped on somebody with your last name, you wouldn’t graduate, or maybe wouldn’t graduate on time.”

A similar legend has been circulating among students since 1908, Nixon says. It concerns Fort Hill, the historic home of John C. Calhoun located at the center of campus. The home, on the National Register of Historic Places, has been carefully restored to look as it did in the days when Calhoun lived there. Many students miss the experience of touring the mansion, though, because of the long-standing legend that if you enter Fort Hill while a student, you won’t graduate on time. “If you hear it when you’re a freshman, you really believe it,” says student body president Callie Boyd. “But it’s fun to keep the tradition going. Once I had a meeting in Calhoun Mansion, and I was so disappointed to have to break the tradition. But I still think I’ll graduate on time.”Boyd says students also are warned not to read the plaque on the Thomas Green Clemson statue in front of Clemson’s Tillman Hall—again, for fear they won’t graduate on time. She says the statue and the Calhoun mansion are “popular picture spots” on graduation day. “A lot of people will go to the mansion and go read the plaque that day [before graduating]. It’s just kind of fun to say, ‘Ha! Ha! I beat the legend.’”

Wofford College: The Misplaced ‘i’

Visitors to Wofford College’s Main Building may notice strange behavior near a plaque that also is imbued with superstition. Far from avoiding this plaque, though, students and alums walk right up and touch it. Everyone rubs the same spot—a letter “i,” shiny and worn from years of this unusual polishing.

This tradition goes back to the true story of Dr. Herman Baer, a German native who graduated from Wofford in 1857 and taught foreign languages there before becoming a successful Spartanburg businessman and trustee of the school. In 1900, he had the plaque made to honor the school’s founder, Benjamin Wofford. But Baer was dismayed when the plaque came back with the glaring word “benificent”—a misspelling of the word “beneficent.”

Angered, Baer refused to allow the plaque to be recast, insisting it remain as a warning to Wofford students to avoid shoddy work. Students have taken his warning seriously and to this day often rub the misplaced “i” when they enter the building—for good luck on a test, or to ward off carelessness in general.

So the next time you find yourself enjoying the fountains, statues and historic buildings on one of South Carolina’s beautiful college campuses, mind your Ps and Qs and look out for ghosts who may be lurking close by. And don’t ask for a tour from superstitious students. Their fears of a fifth year of studies may cause them to lead you right past some of the best spots on campus.


Back to the top