GHOSTS OF THE PRAIRIE
EAST TENNESSEE STATE
Johnson City, Tennessee
If there is an award for the most haunted school in Tennessee, then without a doubt, that award would go to the East Tennessee State University. There may be more ghosts here than in any other college in the south. One of the most famous ghosts resides in Gilbreath Hall, named for Sidney Gilbreath, the founding president of the University in 191 1 and the resident specter of the building. Gilbreath's ghost apparently watches over the place, closing doors and windows left open by mistake and turning off unnecessary lights. One student even claimed that she saw an apparition of the former president framed in an upper window of the hall one night.
Mathes Hall is another reportedly haunted spot on the campus. The spirit here, whoever it might be, tends to follow around the maintenance workers while they are cleaning at night. Many of them have reported being followed by disembodied footsteps that stop whenever the staff member does. Another worker claimed that she heard mysterious crashing sounds from an upper floor while she was otherwise alone in the building.
The ghost of Burleson Hall seems to be connected to Christine Burleson, a popular professor who taught Shakespeare for decades. Late in life, she came down with a debilitating disease that ran in her family. She ended up in a wheelchair and in the early 1970's committed suicide.
Her ghost has been blamed for a variety of phenomena in the building from a woman's moaning, to voices and other strange sounds. Many believe though that her ghost has inhabited a portrait of her father, David Sinclair Burleson. It has eyes that seem to follow you when you look at it and according to campus tradition, the eyes in the photo are not David Burleson's at all..... but Christine's!
Of all of the hauntings on the campus though, none is as well remembered as the "screaming ghost" of Cooper Hall. The ghost was said to be a very sad young woman, the daughter of wealthy businessman George Carter, who had donated the land on which ETSU was built. Alice, as the students call her, fell in love with a young man but her parents refused to let them marry and she committed suicide by ingesting a lethal dose of rat poison.
Carter was grief-stricken over the loss of this daughter and he immortalized her image in a stained glass window that was installed in the family home. When Carter died in 1936, the college purchased the house and named it Cooper Hall. It was then opened as a dormitory for senior women. It was then that the haunting began.
A female voice was heard singing in the halls and unearthly screams sometimes filled the night. Objects disappeared, turning up in other places. Some of the girls complained that they felt as if they were being watched. Most of these strange events took place in the vicinity of the stained glass window. Later,
When the house was abandoned, the window was removed. It has since been lost. The stories of the haunting of Cooper Hall continued for years and even after the building was no longer used, the strange tales continued. A Johnson City historian named Ray Stahl was writing a story about the haunting and made an amazing discovery about the history of the house and the Carter family.... George Carter had no daughter!
The only child of the Carter's had been James Walter Carter, although from photos of the time, he was a beautiful child with long, flowing hair like a girl's. Apparently, his parents had never gotten over the fact that he had been a boy. Stahl believes that Jimmy was the model for the stained glass window...but he cannot argue the fact that generations of students and maintenance workers have had contact with some sort of spirit in the building.
After Cooper Hall was closed as a dormitory, the building became office space and a campus radio station. Several students and janitors encountered the ghost during this time period also.
The building was finally torn down in 1984 and while university officials claimed that it was because the old building would cost too much to renovate.... many of the staff believed that knew the real reason the building was destroyed. According to them, they could find no one who was brave enough to inhabit the place with the ghosts.
Johnson City, Tennessee is in the extreme eastern region of the state, not far from
the North Carolina border.
Copyright 2001 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.
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