Campus legends, horrors and lore
Human knowledge is rooted in storytelling. Early humans developed the cognitive machinery necessary to make sense of their lives through narrative, and then they began to write these stories down to be passed on to future generations. Our ancestors first told stories orally, then began to paint on cave walls. They tattooed their skin, they carved into tree trunks, they traced lines in the sand, and their tales began to take on lives of their own. Some stories explained natural phenomena, like the weather. Other stories were about people who had really lived and done incredible things, which were then embellished in every subsequent retelling.
Naturally, stories are often rooted in the geographic landscape and culture where they originated. Legends — semi-true stories usually based in historic fact — are different from myths, which are stories based in tradition and symbolism that ‘convey truth’ as opposed to recording true events. Both legends and myths are still passed down today and are continuously revamped to correspond to location and cultural sensitivities. Ohio State, in its 150 year history, has developed its fair share of each.
The Department of English's Student Communications Team researched and compiled the various myths and legends around Ohio State. Each of them has something to do with a building on campus. The team listened to podcasts, explored the now-defunct Forgotten Ohio website, dug through blogs and painstakingly read online archived files end-to-end. We’ve included the meatiest of these, plus some legendary rumors about crimes or disasters.
To follow along with the locations of these stories, use this map, which correspondes with the locations in parentheses below.
Fifth-Floor Phantom | Denney Hall (010, F6)
In 1990, The Lantern published an article about an English professor who murdered a female student many years ago. According to the article, this dirty deed occurred in an elevator stopped on the fifth floor of Denney Hall. The professor fled and left the student there, where she unceremoniously bled to death. Rumor has it that whenever someone tries to take this elevator down from the fourth floor, it will sometimes take a detour to the fifth floor first. Perhaps the ghost of the murdered student is hoping someone will still save her. (Source: Page 3)
No Refills | Derby Hall (025, F6)
The date was Jan. 31, 1925, and campus was shrouded in darkness. Sunlight broke through the mottled blanket of midwinter clouds for only a few hours each day. It was the middle of flu season, and dozens of students headed to the student-run pharmacy in Derby Hall to fill prescriptions of fever reducers and pain relievers to cure their sneezes and dry their snot. At the time, Derby Hall was a chemistry building — the third chemistry building on campus, in fact, since previous iterations had all burned to the ground.
Before returning to his room at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house for the night, student Charles Huls payed a visit to the pharmacy to pick up a pill called quinine, a common fever reducer at the time. Within hours, however, he became deeply ill, suffered a series of violent convulsions, and died. The following morning, another student, David Puskin, took a pill for his cold and was dead 20 minutes later. Police and the university blamed tetanus and viral meningitis for the deaths, until more students became violently ill, one of whom was a football player. The athletics director pressured the dean of the College of Medicine to run tests on the pills, and it was discovered that the pills were pure strychnine, a deadly neurotoxin that produces some of the most painful and dramatic reactions of any known toxin.
The story goes that then-President Thompson believed that there was no way the poisonings were an accident, although it remains unclear whether the poisonings were an attempted mass murder or made to target a specific individual. Derby Hall still stands, but its pharmacy is long gone. (Source)
The Hopkins Handprint | Hopkins Hall (149, F7)
There are a few versions of this myth, but they all begin the same way: Soon after the building’s construction in the 1960s, a student stayed late in Hopkins Hall working on a project. She went to use the elevator, but it became stuck, and there was nobody in the building to free her, causing her to remain trapped throughout the night. When the janitor came the next morning and finally opened the elevator doors, the student was located at last — she’d had a breakdown and scrawled angry messages all around the elevator. The other version of the myth states that, instead of leaving notes, the student left handprints on the elevator walls. Supposedly, one can still occasionally find angry messages scrawled on scraps of paper on the elevator floor, or, depending on the version of the story you believe, one can still sometimes see a ghastly handprint on the side of the building, a symbol of her struggle that long and lonely night. (Source)
Curator-in-Chief | Hayes Hall (039, E7)
The oldest building on campus, Hayes Hall is named after President of the United States and three-time governor of Ohio, Rutherford B. Hayes. Originally, it housed the school’s military department. Accordingly, a large gun room occupied the back of the building.
From the years 1916 to 1920, Hayes Hall was also used for student housing. There was a strict curfew imposed on those who lived there, but college students always find a way! One night, two students stayed out after curfew, but their usual tricks to get back inside — tossing pebbles at friends’ windows, for instance — weren’t working, and it seemed like they were going to be stuck outside all night. That’s when a bearded man, who identified himself as the building’s curator, appeared in one of the doorways and let the boys inside. Nobody else had ever seen the mysterious bearded curator, so the boys had no way of knowing who to thank. Sometime later, the two students spotted a picture hanging in the hall — it was an image of the man that had let them inside. When they showed it to friends, someone recognized the picture to be not of a building curator, but of President Rutherford B. Hayes, who had been dead for a quarter of a century. (Source)
Eugene on the Scene | Ohio Union (058, C8)
At 6 a.m. on a Thursday in June 1929, a corpse was found on the side of the road near Sabina, Ohio. The corpse possessed no identification besides a written address, 1118 Yale Ave, which turned out to be a vacant lot in Cincinnati. A man named Eugene lived near the lot, so the town started referring to the corpse as “Eugene.” Eugene was embalmed, and the funeral home placed him on a couch in the brick shed out back in hopes that someone would come and identify him, which no one ever did. Eugene remained in that shed for decades. In Sabina, word of this grotesque display began to spread. Over time, millions of people passed through the little town and to pay a visit to the mummy.
One morning in 1958, a custodian noticed someone sitting on a bench outside the Ohio Union with a newspaper over their head. The custodian went to investigate and realized that the person was not a person at all but, rather, a mummified body. Upon receiving a call from the custodian, someone at the police station recalled Eugene and phoned the Sabina funeral home. Sure enough, Eugene had fled his shed. Ultimately, five Ohio State students were arrested for the crime. They cited the theft as a prank, but one student was suspended and four were expelled. (Source)
Mendenhall's Monster | Mendenhall Laboratory (054, D7)
The following does not take place in Mendenhall Laboratory proper, but it is nonetheless associated with the building. Physicist Thomas C. Mendenhall, for whom the lab was named, was the first faculty member hired in 1873 by the then-named Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College. The year prior to his hire, he taught at Columbus (today known as Central) High School. Mendenhall requested and was granted permission from the state to allow him to run a reanimation experiment on the corpse of a recently deceased prisoner. He wanted to ply the body with electricity and try to bring it back to life, Frankenstein style. A murderer named John Barclay was sentenced to hang to death on Oct. 4, 1872. After he was formally pronounced dead, Mendenhall had his corpse transferred to Starling Medical College in downtown Columbus, a gothic cathedral of a building and one of the predecessors to our own College of Medicine. There, Mendenhall juiced up his generators and began shocking the body.
Squeamish readers might want to stop here. For those unphased by the macabre, a newspaper called The Cincinnati Commercial documented the results of the experiment: “The first test was on the spine. This caused the eyes to open, the left hand to become elevated, and the fingers to move, as if grasping for something. The hand finally fell, resting on the breast. The battery was then applied to the nerves on the face and neck, which caused the muscles of the face to move as in life. The test was next applied to the phrenic nerve of the left arm, and afterward to the sciatic nerve.” In other words, the body twitched and flopped around like it was alive again, but of course it was not, and the experiment, for better or worse, was a failure. (Source)
Dr. Orton and the Caveman | (060, D6)
On the south edge of the Oval sits the gloomy Orton Hall, whose bell tower chimes every 15 minutes as it oversees the goings-on around campus. It’s a well-known piece of architecture; an example of the Ricardian Romanesque style, it is the second oldest building at Ohio State, behind Hayes Hall. The gargoyles perched on the edge of the building’s roof are not gargoyles, but prehistoric creatures that are stranger looking than any fiction. Fossils, relics from when Ohio was a primordial seafloor, are embedded in the limestone steps. A towering skeleton of a giant sloth greets visitors as they walk through the front doors into the lobby, where roseate light streams in through stained glass.
The building was beloved by Dr. Edward Orton, Sr., the professor of geology for whom it was named. It is said that he used to love reading in the tower by lamplight and that the ceiling is scarred by scorch marks from the lamp. Some whisper that one can still sometimes see the glow of his flickering light shining through the night and that, to frighten students, he makes noises around the building and chills the air.
In the 1990s, two psychics came to visit Orton. They were trailed by a reporter from The Lantern, who wrote that the psychics sensed a ghost of a Cro-Magnon man haunting the museum. Supposedly, he is upset by his surroundings and doesn’t understand his place in time, and will go around the museum slamming doors and banging on the walls in frustration. (Source #1 and Source #2)
Dr. Clark and the Pink Party Girl | Pomerene Hall (067, D6)
In the hours before dawn one morning in the autumn of 1903, Dr. Frederick Clark shot himself on the hill overlooking Mirror Lake, where Pomerene Hall now stands. He had become depressed following a failed Alaskan mining (or oil, depending on who you ask) investment, even turning to the president of the university for financial help. When none was given, Clark committed suicide. His wife reportedly blamed Ohio State for her husband’s death. Clark supposedly haunted Pomerene and banged on the walls and slammed doors, but following Pomerene’s renovation, maybe the spirit has moved on.
Also associated with Pomerene is the ghost of the pink party girl who can manipulate computers. Wearing an outdated bright pink party dress, she lurked in room 213 and was known to walk the length of the room to the window and look to the north over Mirror Lake. Then, she would disappear. (Source)
Lady of the Lake | Mirror Lake (888, D6)
The most widely-spotted ghost at Ohio State is the Lady of the Lake. On cold, wintry nights, she can sometimes be seen skating across the ice, warming her hands and wearing outdated clothing. Some reports say she wears white, while others say she wears pink, leading people to speculate that she might be the ghost of the pink party girl of Pomerene out taking a stroll. Others believe she might be the ghost of Dr. Clark’s disgruntled wife, but none have gotten close enough to see her face. (Source)
The Oxley Poltergeist | Oxley Hall (102, C8)
There have been multiple reports over the years of a poltergeist in Oxley Hall. The first residence hall on campus, it was converted into a women's-only dorm in the 1930s and 40s. Tales began to circulate the hall of interactions with the poltergeist: Lights were flickering on and off, and doors would slam and unlock at random times. Some thought that the poltergeist was a spirit of a woman who was locked in the hall over winter break and found dead when people began returning to campus. Supposedly, third floor lights will turn on Dec. 17, the day she is said to have died. The reports of the haunting were so frequent that parents complained and began forbidding their daughters from living there, and so Oxley was shut down as a residence hall. However, the building has since been torn down and renovated, so perhaps the poltergeist is no more. (Source)
Sharpshooter Snook, or Dr. Snook and Theora Hix | Mack Hall (100, C6)
June, 1926. The weather that month was cool and dry. Theora Hix, age 21, was living in Mack Hall and doing stenography work for the College of Veterinary Medicine to pay for her room and board on campus. One evening, she accepted a ride home after work from a professor at the college — a married man named Dr. James Howard Snook, age 46, who, six years earlier, had been a member of the American pistol shooting team that took home Olympic gold. Three weeks after their meeting, the two became lovers. Snook rented a room at 24 Hubbard Avenue so that they could have their trysts in a more private place. Their relationship was defined by turbulence and antagonism and ultimately concluded with an allegedly heated argument in Snook’s vehicle on June 13, 1929. According to Snook, he struck Theora in the head with a hammer and dumped her out of the car; when he saw she was still alive, he used a pocket knife to cut her jugular vein, and then he went home to his wife. A couple of teenagers discovered her body, and authorities quickly located Snook. He was arrested and put on trial, which garnered national attention; onlookers would reportedly line up as early as 3 a.m. to get a seat in the courtroom. Snook was found guilty of murder and executed in late February 1930. (Source)
Dr. Death | Rhodes Hall (354, C5)
Ohio State’s brush with our very own Dr. Death began in 1983 when Michael Swango, fresh from medical school at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, secured a surgical internship at the then-named Ohio State University Medical Center (now known as the Wexner Medical Center). The internship was to be followed by a residency in neurosurgery.
Swango began his residency working in Rhodes Hall. Almost immediately, patients who had previously been healthy began to die with disturbing frequency. Each time, Swango had been the intern on duty, and nurses recalled seeing him enter patients’ rooms at unscheduled times. A surviving patient told nurses that Swango had injected her with a mysterious substance right before she began having life-threatening seizures. One of the nurses also witnessed him injecting a patient with “medicine,” only to have the patient become mysteriously, violently ill later on. When the nurses brought their concerns to administrators, the lack of hard evidence caused their concerns to be dismissed. In 1984, the medical center began an investigation into Swango’s practices; he was cleared of all charges.
Following the investigation, Swango was moved to the Doan Hall wing of the medical center, where more patients began dying mysteriously. Ultimately, his work was so messy and disordered that the hospital pulled his residency offer once the internship ended. Swango continued to work for hospitals both domestic and abroad until his bloody work was finally noticed and he was caught by law enforcement. Today, he is incarcerated in Florence, Colorado, where he is serving three consecutive life sentences. Officials estimate he may have been involved in the deaths of over 60 patients and colleagues. (Source: Blind Eye by James B. Stewart, printed by Simon and Schuster in 2012)
Cannibal on Campus | Morrill Tower (272, F4)
Jeffrey Dahmer, otherwise known as the Milwaukee Cannibal, was sentenced to 16 terms of life imprisonment in 1992 for the murders of men and boys throughout Wisconsin and Ohio. When he was eight, the Dahmer family settled in Bath, Ohio, where he attended Revere High School. The summer after his senior year of high school, when both of his parents had moved out of the house during a messy divorce, Dahmer committed his first murder. Two months later, he enrolled at Ohio State and moved into (most sources agree) Morrill Tower — although his exact room number is unknown. Dahmer attended Ohio State for one quarter, but did very poorly on account of his rampant alcohol abuse, then dropped out. We all know what happened next. (Source)
Supernatural Special Collection | Thompson Library (050, E6)
Olive Branch Jones served the university for 46 years, working in various libraries across campus. She is best known for her work in Thompson Library, where she oversaw the accumulation of many special collection items, which are today stored in the lower levels of the library. There have been multiple sightings of the spirit of Olive Branch Jones in the basement, roaming the stacks of the special volumes she helped collect. (Source)
The Body in Bricker | Bricker Hall (001, F6)
Herb Atkinson graduated from Ohio State in 1913. He went on to serve as a trustee for the next 23 years and passed away in 1952. Following Atkinson’s death, his wife saw to it that his will was fulfilled — he wanted his remains to be buried somewhere on Ohio State’s campus. In recognition of almost a quarter of a century of service to the university, Atkinson’s ashes were interned in Bricker Hall. His ashes now reside behind a nondescript plaque on the wall near the boardroom. Therefore, it is not a stretch to believe that Atkinson’s ghost might haunt Bricker. There have been reports of lights flickering on and off, and perhaps more substantially, some have even seen the ghost of Herb Atkinson milling around the building drinking punch. (Source)
Story by Avery Samuels, a student communications assistant in the Department of English and is pursuing a BA in English and Film Studies.