Tag Archives: ghost stories

Ghostly Tales and Spooky Poems

One fine morning last week Tallahassee finally experienced its first yearly sign of fall (a slightly chilled breeze). You know what that means – it’s time to start chugging pumpkin spice flavored everything and devouring gratuitous amounts of candy corn! Those jack o’lanterns aren’t going to carve themselves folks, and Halloween is just around the corner. Meanwhile, we at Special Collections & Archives would like to celebrate by highlighting some of our more spooky stories and poems.

  • Fall of the House of Usher – Based on the classic Edgar Allan Poe short story of the same name, this beautiful graphic novel features the work of P. Craig Russell, an award-winning illustrator and the first openly gay, mainstream comic book artist. Comic-book fans should also check out our Will Eisner collection of comic books and graphic novels. Those who enjoy Poe (or music) may also be interested in the opera version of this story, available via Special Collections and in the Allen Music Library

Witch Poems 02 (2)

  • Witch Poems – No Halloween celebration would be complete without witches. This book highlights eighteen poems about witches, penned by various authors and accompanied by chillingly impressive illustrations from decorated artist Trina Hyman. Poetry lovers might also enjoy another book from our collection, featured as this article’s cover image, called Nightmares: Poems to Trouble Your Sleep. Speaking of witches, don’t forget to check out our works on Scottish History and Witchcraft.

If these ghostly tales and spooky poems don’t scare you enough, then come on down to the Special Collections for a tour and we’ll show you our creepy clown statues. Just a fair warning – they tend to move around when no one’s looking.


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.

Ghosts and Skeletons in the Christmas Greetings Collection

Told After Supper, Jerome K. Jerome, 1891.
Told After Supper, Jerome K. Jerome, 1891.

Are there ghosts lurking in the subbasement of Strozier Library? Probably not. But there are ghost stories, and some of them are hiding where you might not expect them: in Christmas books.

I came across some of these ghost stories while cataloging the Christmas Greetings Collection. Like the Dime Novels Collection, the books in the Christmas Greetings Collection were discovered in boxes stored in the subbasement of Strozier, forgotten and uncatalogued. They needed records so that they could be found by any researcher who might want to look at them, and since I’m one of the Special Collections catalogers, I got to create some of those records.

Most of the books in the Christmas Greetings Collection are gift books. They were privately printed and sent out by printers, booksellers, or book collectors to their friends as holiday gifts.

The Shadow Christmas, Laura Spencer Portor, 1925.
The Shadow Christmas (Laura Spencer Portor, 1925), one of the ghost stories in the Christmas Greetings Collection.

They are little books, often the length of a single poem or short story, and they tend to be beautifully made. Some of them showcase a special technique of papermaking, printing, or binding. Some of them tell a heartwarming Christmas story or describe an old-fashioned holiday custom. And some of them are creepy.

Season's Greetings 1944
We cataloged this book under two different titles. You can find it by looking for The Vesalian Muscle-Men or by the title on the cover, Season’s Greetings 1944.

One of the books in the Christmas Greetings Collection gave me a shock when I opened it. The cover looks fairly cheerful, with its “Season’s Greetings 1944.” Then you open it up.

Accordion-fold pages allow you to see that the background of the figures forms one continuous landscape.
Accordion-fold pages allow you to see that the background of the figures forms one continuous landscape.

Inside, the holiday season is being celebrated by a group of skeletons and skinless figures.

001 (3)This isn’t really one of the ghost stories in the Christmas Greetings Collection. Instead, these skeletons are the “Vesalian muscle-men,” a series of anatomical drawings from one of the earliest and most important works on human anatomy, Andreas Vesalius’ De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543). The book in the Christmas Greetings Collection was published in 1944 by Henry Schuman, an antiquarian bookseller who specialized in the history of medicine. It makes sense that he would send anatomical drawings to his friends at Christmas.

It makes even more sense, though, when you look at all of the skeletons, ghosts, and other creepy things found in Christmas stories of the past. Christmas ghost stories are a British tradition, one that really caught on in Victorian times after Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol in 1843.

A 1946 edition of Dicken's Christmas Carol from the Christmas Greetings Collection.
A 1946 edition of Dicken’s Christmas Carol from the Christmas Greetings Collection.

For a while, both U.S. and British authors were writing Christmas ghost stories, although the custom continued much longer in Britain than it did in America, where Halloween become the holiday most associated with scary stories.

Some skulls and skeletons from Told After Supper (1891), Jerome K. Jerome.
Some skulls and skeletons from Told After Supper (1891), Jerome K. Jerome’s hilarious take on the Christmas ghost story

So it’s not really surprising to find skeletons in the Christmas Greetings Collection. In this context, Vesalius’ anatomical drawings are not just scientific illustrations; they’re also connected to a larger tradition of Christmas literature. They reflect Henry Schuman’s interest in medical history, and at the same time they make an appropriately macabre holiday greeting. They belong with the Christmas ghost stories in our collection.