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Ghostly Tales Offered on University Tours

University archivists Elizabeth McAllister and Anne Turkos at the Rossborough Inn. / Newsline photo by Alan J. McCombs
University assistant archivist Elizabeth McAllister (left) and archivist Anne Turkos offered a blend of history and folklore on their tours. (Newsline photo by Alan J. McCombs; click for enlargement.)
By Alan J. McCombs
Maryland Newsline
Friday, Oct. 27, 2006; additional photos added Oct. 31; audio added Nov. 1

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Night watchmen in the University of Maryland’s Marie Mount Hall claim that on dark and stormy nights, they can hear someone playing the piano.

At night in Morrill Hall, people have reported hearing marching feet outside the building.

And more than one person at the Tawes Fine Arts Building has heard persistent footsteps echoing throughout the theatre when no one appears to be there.

OK, the anecdotes aren’t exactly worthy of a Stephen King novel. But the university, with its 150 years of history, has its fair share of skeletons.

Some say they creak and groan.

On one of the creepiest nights of the year, Friday the thirteenth, the university launched what archivist Anne Turkos would like to see become a new tradition: a tour of the campus' “haunted” locales. The tour groups drew about 60 students and their families, she said.

The groups snaked across campus, starting in one of the university’s oldest buildings, the Rossborough Inn, constructed between 1804 and 1812. At various points in its history the building has served as a way station for stage coaches, a dormitory for faculty and students and a reception hall.

According to folklore, the inn hosts several spirits, Turkos said.

Larry Donnelly, a manager with the university’s dining halls for 30 years, has contributed to that lore. He said he witnessed a ghost when he was working in the inn in the spring of 1981, while working on paperwork in a third floor office.

“All of a sudden a cold, cold breeze went right by my face, and I looked up and there was this faint outline of a face, and then it disappeared,” said Donnelly, 67. 

Donnelly later said he saw the ghost in a hallway. He describes her as a “young lady” in her mid 20s or early 30s wearing an old yellow dress with a white apron.

Other people who have worked in the inn have reported doors closing on their own, echoes of unexplained footsteps and vases appearing out of nowhere, Turkos said.

Larry Donnelly, 67, points to the third-story room in Rossborough Inn where he says he saw a ghost more than 20-years-ago (Newsline photo by Alan J. McCombs)
Larry Donnelly, 67, points to the third-story room in the Rossborough Inn where he says he saw a ghost. (Newsline photo by Alan J. McCombs; click for enlargement.)
Portrait of the former Dean of Home Economics Marie Mount which hangs in Marie Mount Hall. The former dean allegedly haunts the hall. (Newsline photo by Alan J. McCombs)
Portrait of Marie Mount that hangs in Marie Mount Hall. (Newsline photo by Alan J. McCombs; click for enlargement.)

Turkos speaks about the portrait's eyes. (12 seconds, RealPlayer file)

Morril Hall, built in 1898 is one of the older buildings on campus. It stands on the grounds students used to march on when the student body were organized into military companies. People who work inside it say you can hear the sound of marching feet at night (Newsline photo by Alan J. McCombs)
Morrill Hall, built in 1898, stands near the grounds students marched on when they were organized into military companies.  (Newsline photo by Alan J. McCombs; click for enlargement.)

Turkos talks about the student marchers and the lore surrounding them. (18 seconds, RealPlayer file)


“I’m going to tell you the truth; I don’t believe in a ghost,” said Donnelly, who came to the university in 1968 after serving 11 years in the Army in Vietnam. “I’m a Catholic. I do believe we’re going to go somewhere.

"But this, I can’t explain it.”  

Anecdotes such as those are ones the archivist would like to investigate further, said assistant archivist Elizabeth McAllister, who led her own tour group.

On the tours, the archivists' blend of folklore and history seemed to satisfy the crowds.

Tour groups moved from the inn to Marie Mount Hall, constructed in 1940 and later named after the former dean of home economics, who some say still resides in the building.

“Maybe, just because she likes the building, she decided to stay,” said McAllister, 26.

Turkos said some have claimed to see the eyes in Marie Mount’s portrait, still hanging in the hall, track those who pass it.

Others have wondered if she’s playing the piano music they’ve heard at night. There is no piano in the building.

Leave Marie Mount and trek up a hill to Morrill Hall. During the early days of the university, the student body was divided into military companies and required to train as soldiers, Turkos said.

Near the site of Morrill Hall lies the drill ground where students who misbehaved had to march to work off their demerits, Turkos said. People who have worked in the building late at night have reported hearing the sound of marching feet around the building, she said.

The tours, which began at 10:30 p.m. and lasted until just before midnight, were arguably less boo than history.

Gail and Natasha McGee, a mother and daughter team on a tour, found it provocative.

“I guess [it’s] more interesting than scary,” said Natasha McGee, a 21-year-old criminology major.

Added Gail McGee, 47, a 1996 business school graduate: “I think that if you have any kind of spirituality, then you do believe that people leave little pieces of themselves behind in different places.

“I don’t know about marching and all that stuff, but I do believe that you can still feel spirits of people around you,” she said.

The tour had its sadder moments.

Washington Hall, home of University basketball player Len Bias. The former terp basketball star is said to haunt the hall (Newsline photo by Alan J. McCombs)
Washington Hall, home of former university basketball player Len Bias. (Newsline photo by Alan J. McCombs; click for enlargement.)

Turkos speaks on the lore surrounding Len Bias. (12 seconds, RealPlayer file)

In front of Cole Field House, the former home of the university's basketball teams, tour groups learned of Len Bias.

Bias, a former student and university men’s basketball player, overdosed on cocaine in a dorm room in Washington Hall in June 1986, days after being drafted by the Boston Celtics.

Dead for 20 years, Bias’ name lives on at the university.

Some students say that isn’t the only thing that remains of the former basketball star.

“A number of students that have lived in that dorm room since Len’s death report that they have heard the sound of a basketball bouncing in the middle of the night, and they attribute that to that particular tragedy,” Turkos said.


Copyright © 2006 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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