With cooling temperatures, shorter days, and the crunch of fallen leaves, the setting couldn’t be better for a ghost story. MSU is over 160 years old and, as with any old institution, whispers of ghosts and satanic rituals have spread. At the MSU Archives, we don’t have official proof of spirits roaming the halls and dorms. You can believe the tales or not, but we can share with you the stories that have been told about the various spirts that haunt this university.
The most famous ghost story on campus is the ghost of Mayo Hall, who people believe is Mary Mayo herself. Mary Anne Bryant was born in Calhoun County on May 25, 1845 and married Perry Mayo, a Civil War veteran, on April 14, 1865. They had two children together, a son named Nelson and a daughter named Nellie. In 1884, the Mayos were founding members of a chapter of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, also known as the Grange. Within the Grange, Mary advocated for girls and women to better themselves and to receive the same education as the men. Even though women were admitted to MAC in 1870, the classes weren’t tailored to women; women were expected to work the land just like the men. Only a handful of women graduated from MAC during this time. In response, Mary was the main driving force for domestic science classes to be taught at MAC because she thought plowing and crop maintenance weren’t suitable for young women. Her persistence paid off in 1896 when 42 women enrolled in the new Home Economics Program, which was an instant success. Mary continued her work until she became ill in 1902; she died a year later on April 21, 1903. She is buried in the Austin Cemetery that is located in Convis Township, Calhoun County.
Mayo Hall, 1940; A000343
It is said that the ghost of Mary Mayo haunts the dormitory named after her. Students have claimed to see the apparition of a woman, lights which turn off and on randomly, and a piano that plays on its own accord. Additionally they claim that the eyes of the Mary Mayo portrait that hangs on the first floor follow people across the room. As to why Mary Mayo would haunt Mayo Hall, stories range from the theory that she killed herself, was murdered, or otherwise died in Mayo Hall. The fourth floor, referred as the “red
Portrait of Mary Mayo that people claim the eyes will follow you across the room, undated; A003629
room,” is rumored to be sealed off to students because of satanic rituals taking place and rumors of a woman hanging herself. None of these claims are true about Mary since she died at home from her illness in 1903. Also, she died 28 years before Mayo Hall was built in 1931. It seems very highly unlikely that Mary Mayo would haunt the building named after her years after her death, but many students believe that Mayo Hall is haunted.
One of the most famous sites on campus, Beaumont Tower, also has its own ghostly stories to tell. One legend states you aren’t a true Spartan unless you have been kissed in the shadow of the tower. No reference as to how that legend got started has been found in the Archives.
Another story involves the ghost of a student that was killed in World War II. He is said to haunt the tower as he searches for his lost sweetheart. It would make sense that the student was from World War II because Beaumont Tower wasn’t built until 1928, 10 years after World War I. Many students throughout the history of MAC have died in various wars, as far back as the first graduating class when two students died in the Civil War. If there is a ghost of a student haunting the grounds of Beaumont Tower, it would be difficult to know who the student was. Also, if a ghost is haunting Beaumont Tower, it could be a student that used to reside in College Hall, the first building on campus, since Beaumont Tower was built on the same location. Or it could just be people’s eyes playing tricks on them as they kiss in the dark beside Beaumont Tower.
Beaumont Tower, 1969; A000236
The Halloween Massacre at Holden Hall
The most recent urban legend that affected MSU was back in 1998. That October, a rumor spread around campus that a psychic on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” predicated that a mass murder might occur on a college campus. This rumor was told a few different ways. The story that MSU believed was that a serial killer dressed as Little Bo Peep would appear on a Big Ten campus in Michigan on Halloween. The killer would murder around 20 people in a dorm located near railroad tracks with a name beginning with an “H.” Other versions claimed that the killer would be dressed in regular clothes, that the crimes would happen in a dorm shaped like an “H”, or that the building would be located near a cemetery.
Most people believed that the prediction related to MSU because we are located in Michigan, we are a Big Ten University, Holden Hall starts with an “H”, is shaped like an “H,” and is located next to some railroad tracks. Of course, this rumor was just that – a rumor. This rumor has been around since 1968 and has resurfaced other times in various locations since it first appeared, the most recent at Kent State University in 2007. People believe that the rumor resurfaced again in 1998 because the movie Urban Legend was released on September 25 of that year. Some students were worried about staying on campus that weekend with some parents even calling the university. Needless to say, no murders happened that Halloween.
More Haunted Stories
There are many other ghostly and macabre stories about MSU. It is up to the listener to decide if they are real or not. If you do want to learn more about real grisly tales, the MSU Archives has some items in our collections to spark your interest. We have Spirit Communication letters in two different collections where “the dead” would communicate via a person and write out what they wanted to say, information on the real “Burning Bed” incident that was popularized as a TV movie starring Farrah Fawcett, a Halloween play that was performed on campus at the turn of the century, and more. You can read more about some of these grisly tales by reading some of our older blog posts or exhibit pages.
No matter how you celebrate, whether by watching a scary movie, telling a ghost story next to a bonfire, passing out candy, or Trick-or-Treating, have a safe and Happy Halloween! And that rustling of leaves you just heard, it was just the cat…or so you think.
Written by Jennie Russell, Assistant Records Archivist