Chances are if you’ve spent any time on the Iowa State University campus, you’ve likely entered the doors on the north end of the Memorial Union and walked through the Gold Star Hall, a shrine that immortalizes the names of thousands of ISU men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.
But have you ever heard a rushing sound — or is it low moaning — echoing about the limestone walls and stained glass windows?
Is it the wind?
Perhaps some sort of vibration?
What about a person? Or a ghost?
The unexplained mysterious noise apparently occurs at all hours of the day but can best be heard when the Memorial Union has quieted down in the evening.
“It sounds like a rushing wind sound,” says Amanda Hall, an ISU graduate and a self-proclaimed ghost storyteller for the university. “Workers report that engineers have checked everywhere for the source of this sound, and none can be found. It’s speculated that the only woman whose name can be found among the World War I casualties is to blame.”
The woman’s name?
Hortense Elizabeth Wind, a Red Cross nurse during the Great War.
But that’s not the only phenomenon that appears to be going on in the 86-year-old building.
“I’ve also received candid stories from former employees of the hotel upstairs who cite strange figures in the laundry areas and an apparition that stands on the bed in the room where a suicide is said to have occurred,” Hall says.
Mysteries are something Hall has learned much about since the time she first stepped foot on the ISU campus as a student in 2001. Hall has participated in several iterations of the University Museums’ program called “Haunted Iowa State,” and more recently she’s been the facilitator of an October evening of ghost stories in the auditorium of Morrill Hall. This year’s event will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 30.
“Just a note about collecting these stories,” Hall says, “I don’t check any facts in terms of death dates of supposed student deaths, etc. I do think it’s important that the story be in circulation, though, so I make sure I hear it from several different students/faculty members and/or collect it from old campus articles before I pass it on myself. They may just be urban legends, but I want to make sure I’m passing them on in their most widely-recognized iteration.”
Among the collection of other haunted stories circulating on the ISU campus, and perhaps the most familiar, Hall says, has to do with the Farm House Museum, the university’s oldest building, having been built in 1860.
Hall says she has spent many hours giving tours at the museum and has collected stories from other staff members who have worked there since it opened as a museum in 1976.
“Most of these fall into pretty standard categories — student employees experience lights that are on when they’re supposed to be off (and vice versa), furniture will shift, and shadows can be seen out of the corner of your eye as you’re moving throughout the building,” she says.
One particularly odd occurrence, however, happened one summer at the Farm House when Allison Sheridan, collections manager and communications coordinator for ISU Museums, was covering open hours daily for a week.
“One of the first days she was there, she switched out all the tableware on the dining room table,” Hall says. “She was pleased with the result and locked up and alarmed the museum as usual that afternoon. The next day when she arrived, everything on the table was in a different spot. It looked like someone had bumped into the table, and everything had shifted.
“Allison put everything back and checked the security logs and checked in with other staff members to make sure no one had been in. She didn’t think a lot of it, even though she could find no explanation — until the same thing happened the next day. This remains a puzzle, as nothing similar has happened to anyone since that summer, although I believe that was the last summer that Allison spent an entire week on her own at the Farm House.”
On the east edge of campus is the Scheman Center complex with its numerous buildings that include Fisher Theater, which is said to be haunted by the ghost of Frederica Shattuck, who was instrumental in the formation of ISU Theater. According to Hall, doors periodically get locked that were previously open, shadows are seen in the back row of the theater, lights often are never just as they were left, and once a wheelchair formerly owned by Shattuck rolled across the stage and stopped in the center during a rehearsal.
When it comes to all things creepy and scary, no place tends to invoke feelings of fear and dread more than a cemetery. And across campus, on the northwest corner of the university, is the ISU Cemetery. Not surprisingly, it too has a haunted story to go with it.
“There’s only one story that’s officially in circulation, and it falls into a ‘Bloody Mary’ category, in which the haunting is said to only occur if the seeker performs a certain act,” Hall says. “Legend has it that in the years before the cemetery, or ISU for that matter, existed, a toddler from a nearby farmhouse wandered off in the night. By the time he was found the next morning, he had died of exposure. His grave is said to be out in the furthest corner of the cemetery, and the legend says that if you find where he’s buried and cry genuine tears at this spot, the ghost of the little boy’s mother will appear in search of her child.”
Not far from the cemetery on central campus is Morrill Hall, one of the university’s oldest remaining buildings and also recently renovated. It, too, is a place of curious interest.
“They say that changing the outward appearance of a building stirs up ghostly activity,” Hall says. “I’ve heard individuals say that they can hear voices and even screaming coming from Morrill Hall while walking by on a quiet night, but I’d be interested to know if these have continued now that Morrill Hall’s residents have settled into their new surroundings.”
There are other spots of interest on campus, Hall says, including multiple residence halls laying claim to having various haunts. Friley Hall, for example, has had several student deaths, “and there’s a room in the basement that has supposedly been permanently closed after a hall director volunteered to spend the night there to quell rumors of strange nighttime occurrences,” Hall says.
Other highlights of dormitory floor hauntings she’s gathered during her stay on the ISU campus include students claiming to have seen “football players in game-day gear, mirrors that reveal shadow figures, doors that won’t stay closed and water faucets that run at will.”
“As the self-proclaimed ‘ghost story teller,’ I keep my ears open for urban legends and various printed versions of alleged hauntings through the years,” Halls says. “But we are by no means the most haunted campus in the nation. We have a few tales, but since colleges are breeding grounds for tales repeated and changed through time, we really have a comparatively small number of stories that I am aware of, but I’m always looking for more.”
And what does Hall make of all the stories she’s collected in her time at ISU?
“I’m not prepared to say that I believe or disbelieve the stories told at Iowa State,” she says. “Some are older and change over time and therefore have an ‘urban legend’ vibe about them. Others are more specific and personal and have happened to people I know. I feel a little bit like a curator of a living collection, and I think that these ghost stories are fascinating and worth keeping around whether they’re true or not.
“I know an awful lot of strange things happen to people all around the world all the time, and while ISU might not be home to some of the strangest activity, we certainly have enough lore to last us through the upcoming October nights.”