Haunted History: Strange Happenings on the Old Campus

The following account is a haunted legend that grew up around the Alumni Building, which served as Wake Forest College’s first medical school. The building, located where the SEBTS Jacumin-Simpson Missions Building now stands, was erected in 1906 and torn down after the college left in 1956. 

It had begun as a joke but the thrill of the prank was gone. The young medical students stood silently in the moonlight shadows in front of the newly built Alumni Building. On the warm spring earth at their feet lay the body of a man.

There was nothing in sight but the night, and the prostrate figure, and the looming shape of the building towering grotesquely over them. The unfinished stone steps leading up to the front entrance yawned like a gaping mouth before them.

“Over there,” said one.

They picked the body from the ground and carried it to the steps where it was dropped. Shafts of yellow moonlight fell onto the pasty white face and made it gleam. One of the group turned away, his own face an expressionless mask of tension and fright.

Icy Stare

Another bent over the body and draped a handkerchief over the face, to keep it from glaring icily at him in the moonlight. The only sound was the soft wind playing through the young magnolia trees and elms. The excitement they’d felt at pulling this prank–intending to deposit an extra body for their fellow medical students to discover the next morning in Room 33 (the dissecting room)–had vanished.

They couldn’t forget the telltale mound of dirt from the grave they’d opened in the nearby cemetery. There was no hope of concealing the evidence. The plot had been disturbed and they would be found out.

Several times while carrying their burden from the graveyard, the young men had almost been caught. Each time they had crouched in the ditch by the roadside, forcing themselves to lie close to the dead man.

Somehow they had managed to get the body onto the campus. Once there they paused with beating hearts in the darkness of the grove of trees.

Footsteps Echoed

Now they were too scared to proceed. Instead, they decided to dispose of the body under the unfinished steps of the newly constructed Alumni Building.

Hastily they boys began digging a hole in the earth behind the steps; a hole large enough to contain a corpse. They dug rapidly, tearing at the soft earth with their bare hands, cursing when the rocks dug into their fingernails. But haste was their watchword and fear was the fuel that drove them on.

Finally they finished the task and pushed the body into the crevice they had made. They pushed dirt over the body and scrambled out from behind the steps. Earth clung to their shoes and they stomped their feet on the pavement to get it off.

As they turned to go, footsteps echoed on the brick walk.

The little group slid nervously past a professor who glanced keenly at them as he went by. To them it seemed he knew everything. But apparently he saw nothing, for he continued on until his form vanished in the darkness.

Drifted Away

“Why didn’t we put him in the vat in the storeroom?” quavered the youngest, a trace of hysteria in his voice. His companions quieted him with harsh words. They began to drift away, each swallowed by the night, the darkness covering their fright.

But behind the brick supports of the unfinished steps, a mound of loose earth hastily smoothed over and trampled on seemed to push up slightly in the center. The yellow moonlight illuminated a spot that looked a bit like shoe leather.

Vision of Yellow

These events remained alive in the minds of those young medical students for a long while. They avoided the steps at night. Even when they passed in broad daylight, a vision of the haunted yellow moon rose before their eyes.

And when they met for the dissection lab in Room 33, the fear in their faces was illuminated by the harsh beams of yellow sunshine that streamed in through the large overhead skylight.

The Cadavers

The light would strike the cadavers from above as they lay on the table. It seemed to soak into the dead skin and wallow there. They couldn’t stop the visions. It reminded them of how the moonlight played on the surface of the body they’d stolen that night.

They never told anyone. When they graduated, they took the secret with them. They thought nobody knew. Indeed, their names were never revealed. But the story took on new life as details began to emerge from the hidden, earthen mound beneath the steps.

Legend Grows 

Years passed, and somehow the story of that night leaked out–half-formed, half-understood. The building’s steps had long since been completed. Any proof of the legend lay buried under the massive stone blocks.

As time went on, the Alumni Building took on more of the aspects of a normal college structure. The medical department moved away, into a brand-new building of its own. A finance school moved in. Room 33 was renovated and the skylight boarded up.

Soon the finance school was replaced by the English Department. The building became familiar and used by everyone on campus. Each day its boards sagged with the combined weight of most of the student body.

Boards Creak

The Alumni Building began to grow old. Its walls settled and darkened; constant climbing hollowed out the steps along each flight of stairs. The boards, loosened by the constant wear and tear, creaked at the slightest pressure.

The edges of the stone steps out front even began to erode. Curiously, the second step from the top appeared to be loose. And on the step beneath it were deep scratches–just a little deeper than those usually left by people’s shoes.

The incident of the sepulchral steps became a legend. It was repeated often, but always laughed at. It was the humorous fantasy of someone’s overactive imagination. No truth in it, of course. But a good story.

Heavy Weight

But in the night, with classes long over, something happens to the old building. In the darkness, the flights of wooden stairs begin to crackle. The sound begins at the bottom and works its way up–each creak coming in steady succession, as if the boards are groaning under the weight of something heavy. Something carried. An invisible burden.

In the blackness of Room 33 the emptiness is acute. The nothingness is like a presence, so strong it can almost be felt. And another thing, too. A faint odor permeates the space, seeping from the walls and mingling with the air–an order that keeps growing stronger and stronger.

Formaldehyde and dead fish.

Original story by Durell Bullock

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