By Molly Hanson
If you are curious as to if your university may be haunted, here are some dead give-aways: Graves on campus, old theaters, a war-laced history, drafty buildings, and towering halls that once housed human cadavers. If that sounds familiar, it’s because UW-Madison happens to have all of these.
A chilling history that makes the university’s campus fertile ground for haunted legends has inspired the local company Madison Ghost Walks, which gives ghost tours in October around Madison’s capital square, to look into expanding their business in the next few years. The new tour would include a separate ghost walk focused solely on the supernatural legends associated with the UW-Madison campus halls, buildings and landscapes.
Mike Huberty, the founder of Madison Ghost Walks, has been in the process of collecting stories for the potential new tour-guide service. Huberty believes a ghost tour would be a way to inform anyone interested about the “weird stuff” on campus in edition to the history of the University.
“I think it would be a fun alternative to the tours at SOAR during student orientation week,” said Huberty. “Eventually when we collect enough stories we can do that.”
Lisa Van Buskirk, a tour guide at Madison Ghost Walks, is passionate about the idea of creating a UW campus-focused ghost tour.
“We have discussed making a campus [tour] because there’s plenty of [ghost stories] around here. It just takes planning and figuring out the route,” Van Buskirk said on the planning of the potential new tour service. “I think that would be so much fun. I would love to do that.”
The collection of ghost stories Van Buskirk refers to are drawn from UW-Madison’s campus folklore. According to several student newspaper articles and the book “America’s Haunted Universities” by Matthew Swayne, spirits have been reported lurking in Science Hall, Memorial Union’s Theater and Bascom Hill and Hall.
Swayne’s book, which explores paranormal occurrences and spooky folklore from college’s across America, draws on student legends associated with several buildings on UW-Madison’s campus. Science Hall, with it’s towering, gothic structure, is not a surprising item on the list of haunted
buildings. The building, which once housed the university’s anatomy department, allegedly held a collection of cadavers and other human remains in its attic, and can expected to be featured in the future campus ghost tour guides.
“There’s like a third-floor ghost that [people always feel they] are being watched up there and that
one’s been reported for years,” said Van Buskirk on the infamously haunted building.
Of the legends associated with the campus, the university’s hallmark, Bascom Hill, stood out the most to Swayne in his research and writing on UW-Madison’s “ghost-lore”.
“I think I could offer a course for universities that don’t want a reputation to be haunted, and one of the key things is not to have graves on campus,” Swayne said during a phone interview. “Bascom Hill has two graves of workers, and those spirits have been seen or talked about in the hill and also in the hall.”
There have been paranormal investigations done on the Bascom Hill area by a research group known as Mad City Paranormal in recent years. Ian MacAllister, a local psychic-medium who assisted the group in several investigations on campus, discovered spirits roaming certain buildings in the area. Of these was South Hall which was once an all-women’s dorm in the late-1800s.
“I picked up intuitively that there were a couple of women,” said MacAllister on what he found in the drafty building on Bascom Hill. “They were in old garb from the turn of the century.”
According to MacAllister, when the group later reviewed their tapes of the investigation, the voice of a woman whispering the name of a group member was heard on audio.
In the grassy area of the hill, between North and South Hall, MacAllister picked up on another presence.
“I was aware of a confederate soldier and then I was told later that Camp Randall was a P.O.W. camp during the civil war where they kept Confederate soldiers,” said MacAllister. “I heard a gun shot. Not physically, but like someone was shot with an old gun in that area.”
If your wondering if you may be in the company of a supernatural entity while on your way to class, there are a few common cues. The most reported sign of a spirit’s presence heard on ghost tours, according Huberty, is the feeling of being watched.
MacAllister provided other tips for how non-mediums can pick up on a prowling ghost.
“Things can go missing or get moved,” MacAllister said. “They could see something in the peripheral and when they look there’s nothing there.”
Whether or not you believe the ghosts said to haunt UW’s campus are the real thing,
Swayne emphasized that ghost stories possess value in connecting students to a collected experience of the school they attend.
“What I think these stories do is they provide a way to teach history lessons, a way to provide guidance to give practical tips on how to live,” said Swayne on the importance of campus ghost stories. “…they are that important and that’s why they’ve been preserved.”
Similarly, Huberty believes the history and folklore education that his ghost tours provide help to fuse a meaningful connection between an individual and a place.
But, if you are a believer, as Huberty, Van Buskirk, MacAllister, and even Swayne claim to be in varying degrees, then a campus ghost-walk might also provide you with a safe community to “get weird” with and open up about your personal spooky experiences. Or, just maybe, share your very own encounter with a solider roaming the leaf-littered grounds of Bascom Hill on a chilly autumn morning.