A Campus Ghost Tour with Bex Deck and Cait Foster of the UMass History Club
Warning: This story contains mentions of death which could be triggering to some readers.
Bex Deck and Cait Foster are pretty convinced that Morril 131 is haunted. It’s not a destination on the UMass History Club’s ghost tour of campus, and there’s no gruesome tale outlined in the tour’s script. But there’s something eerie about the building, maybe the endless stairwells or the bizarrely cold temperature, that just doesn’t sit right with them.
Bex is the history club’s president, and she is a sophomore political science and history major. Cait, a senior history major with a classics minor, is the secretary of the club. Neither of them have formally led a spooky expedition, as the history club hasn’t hosted its ghost tour of campus in three years, but they have still encountered the university’s supernatural oddities.
The pair recently flipped through a copy of the ghost tour’s script, last edited in 2014, to explore some of the most chilling legends of the UMass Amherst campus.
Here are three of their favorites.
Mary Lyon Hall
If you venture into this building and detect an unequivocally foul odor (beyond the typical reek of unkempt college students), you’re not alone.
Back in the 1980s, a girl died in Mary Lyon in one of the stairwells. She was not discovered for several days, and it was the scent of her decomposing body that alerted maintainers to the situation. To this day, it’s been said that freshmen can still smell her body’s putrid scent lingering in the stairwell. There have also been reports of a figure opening doors and appearing in mirrors.
But the story doesn’t end there.
As it turns out, there are buildings named after Mary Lyon at Plymouth State University and Wheaton College that have experienced similar hauntings. Mary Lyon herself, who died in 1849, was very much rooted in Massachusetts, being born in Buckland and founding Mount Holyoke College. Supposedly, gravediggers have stirred her resting spirit, provoking her ghostly presence to be felt across the state.
In 1929, John B. Howard (a UMass student and editor for the Collegian) and a friend were picking apples in the orchard that was present on the hill at the time. Howard fell from the tree that he was climbing. He told his friend that he was fine, but that he just couldn’t open his eyes.
But his friend saw his eyes. And they were open.
The friend rushed him to the infirmary, which was in Northeast. Unfortunately, due to his injuries, he died on the way there.
On a dark night, it's been said that you can still see Howard and his pure white eyes walking down the path to the hill.
“Personally, when I’ve walked up the hill at night, I’ve definitely felt a spooky presence,” Cait said. “Or walking down it in the morning when it’s foggy. It very much feels haunted. I’ve never seen a figure, but every once in a while I feel watched, especially walking up the stairs next to UHS.”
In hindsight, she’s unsure if this feeling is caused by an actual ghost or the security cameras.
Before UMass Amherst was a co-ed institution, there were housemothers who lived in dormitories to supervise the male residents. Around the turn of the century, there was a housemother who lived with her young son in Greenough. The son, who was constantly seen playing with a bouncy ball, was adored by the students.
On a frigid winter night, the boy stayed out too late. He contracted a sickness that would lead to his death. The loss was devastating to both his mother and the students.
Years later, an RA reported hearing students playing with a ball in the hallway during quiet hours. When they went into the hall to address the situation, there was no one there. After a few more similar instances, the RA noticed a small boy with a red ball who disappeared when they approached him.
Residents have named this spirit “Jimmy,” and he is a primary culprit for window shades shooting up unexpectedly or windows slamming shut without apparent cause.
Bex and Cait are unsure if tours will run this year, but they are optimistic for the future of the history club as a whole, especially since they are now meeting in person and able to host bonding events, like game nights.
“I think it would be good fun to try to bring [the ghost tours] back,” Bex said. “But we’ll see. Stay tuned!”
Interested in the UMass History Club? The group meets every Monday in Herter Hall 601 at 7 p.m. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions!