School Spirits: Ghosts at Florida State

ghostHave you ever felt a slight chill while walking up the College Ave. hill, and it was much more than a midsummer sweat? Perhaps you’ve woken up in the middle of the night in Cawthon and seen a girl peering through your window (on the 4th floor!). Don’t worry – you’re not ill or in the middle of some sort of mental episode – you’ve probably just had a paranormal experience. FSU is home to several ghost stories, with wraiths purportedly haunting different buildings and landmarks around campus. While many students and alumni hold these stories near and dear to their hearts, keep in mind: they’re campus mythologies born of the imagination of FSU’s inhabitants.
Westcott Gate, where Gallows Hill used to be located
Westcott Gate, where Gallows Hill used to be located

The oldest ghost story originates decades before the institution was even founded. Written about in Tallahassee: A Capital City, Gallows Hill was constructed in 1829 as a place to hang Tallahassee’s most unsavory criminals, right about where the Westcott Fountain is today. The first and most famous execution to happen at Gallows Hill was of a mother convicted of killing her own child. Over the years, students have reported feeling chills and hearing strange sounds while traversing the Westcott Fountain at night. Another story from long ago involves the ghosts of the Confederate Cadets trained at the (briefly named) Florida Military and Collegiate Institute, one of FSU’s predecessor institutions. Members of the FSU ROTC have made claims that the ROTC parade grounds are haunted by the cadets, where they continue their drills and turn off the lights during showers.

Sarah “Tissie” Landrum Cawthon, ca. 1920s

For those who live in Cawthon Hall, they don’t have one ghost to worry about – they have two. One story told is about the ghost of Sarah “Tissie” Landrum Cawthon, the namesake of Cawthon Hall. Cawthon, the first Dean of the College Home (now known as Student Affairs) at FSCW was hired to oversee that students were consistently on their best behavior, and representing themselves as fine young women. She was described as becoming dismayed when students picked up more modern and revealing fashion, started drinking and smoking and public, and expounding more liberal ideas during the Roaring ’20s. In Haunted Halls of Ivy: Ghosts of Southern Colleges and Universities,  it is said that her ghost moved into Cawthon Hall after its dedication, and she continues to look over the female students in the dorm. Some say that her new residency in Cawthon Hall occurred not-so-coincidentally when campus became co-educational and men moved into the dorm.

"Is there a ghost in Cawthon Hall?" by Lucy Weber, Florida Flambeau, 1971
“Is there a ghost in Cawthon Hall?” by Lucy Weber, Florida Flambeau, 1971
The other ghost of Cawthon Hall isn’t nearly as benevolent as the ghost of Tissie Cawthon. In 1971 the Florida Flambeau ran an article entitled “Is there a ghost in Cawthon Hall?” and speculation about new ghosts began. Legend has it that an FSCW student was sunbathing on roof of Cawthon when suddenly a thunderstorm rolled in. Trapped on the roof, the girl pounded on windows and doors, hoping for someone to let her back into the dorm, but she wasn’t discovered until after she had been killed by a lightning strike. To this day, students who live on the top floor claim they occasionally hear someone pounding on the window, crying and screaming, and sometimes will see a girl looking into the window from outside.
Do you have a favorite FSU ghost story that isn’t listed here? Leave it in the comments and we’ll be sure to add it to our collection! To see more photographs, ephemera, and artifacts related to the history of Florida State, check out the FSU Heritage Protocol Digital Collections or like the Heritage Protocol Facebook page.

About Hannah Wiatt Davis

Hannah Wiatt Davis is the Archives Assistant for the FSU Heritage Protocol & University Archives. She received her MLIS from FSU in August, 2014.

2 thoughts on “School Spirits: Ghosts at Florida State

  1. Have there been any stories about Reynolds Hall before it was renovated in the 1990s? I lived on “Zero Alley” and we were sure that there was a ghost, but we could never get any evidence.

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