The ghosts of Maryville College, friendly and otherwise

The Anderson bell tower, said location of the ghost cow’s untimely demise.

At 200 years old, Maryville College is the nineteenth oldest institution of higher education in the nation.

As with any place inhabited by humans, age ushers in a set of common human experiences. As the feeling of the ancient presses in on a place, the recurrent themes of myth and legend are brought to the fore, influencing the human mind’s present.

Beyond myth and legend, however, there are stories that arise out of similar encounters, metastasized by community and shared experience. These, spoken of on our campus in the halls of Anderson and Clayton, debated and fawned over in Pearsons and Lloyd, feared and mused about in Davis and Carnegie, are the stories of otherworldly spectres and paranormal entities that roam the halls and grounds of our college. These are the ghost stories of the MC community.

Perhaps the most famous of these apparitions is that of Whiskers, a spectre known to haunt Anderson Hall, the oldest building on campus.

Whiskers first appeared as a fictional character in 1930 in a short story written by MC alumnus Weldon Hilla. As early as 1981, the Echo was reporting multiple sightings of the figure in Anderson, usually by professors and students who worked in the building later in the evenings.

Whiskers is said to look like an old man with a peg leg, who limps through the corridors of Anderson, always on a mission to find his missing limb. Solid historical facts about Whiskers appear to be lost to the ages, however rumors circulate that in life he was either a Civil War soldier who lost his leg in battle or the college’s old night watchman.

After Whiskers, the most-reported paranormal being at MC is that of a female ghost called Lilly.

Reports about Lilly date back to the Maryville College Theatre, MC’s theatre before the Clayton Center. According to legend, Lilly is said to have been a stagehand with aspirations of becoming an actress. She once was spoken of in connection with another, less friendly ghost named Andrew, who also was said to haunt the old theatre.

Stories of Andrew appear to have ceased after the old theatre was replaced, however, the stories of Lilly continue.

In the old theatre days, stories about Lilly often included props for plays going missing moments before the curtain went up, only for those same props to reappear in their original places at the last minute.

Now, Lilly is said to inhabit the catwalks above the stage of Clayton, with some students claiming that they sometimes see a white figure in the catwalks during productions. Stories of other paranormal entities that have appeared over the years are sometimes less typical, although not necessarily less interesting.

Indisputably, the most bizarre of these other paranormal tales is that of the Ghost Cow of Anderson. According to some students’ accounts, if you stay on the upper floors of Anderson long enough, you can hear the sounds of a cow mooing. This, they say, is the fabled Ghost Cow.

The background to the Ghost Cow is spotty to say the least. The only consistent part of the legend is that—at some point in the college’s history— a group of students pulled a prank in which they led a cow up the stairs of Anderson, leaving it in the bell tower. The cow is said to have died there, leaving only its spectre to cause noise from time to time.

To this day, some students still claim that they have heard the Ghost Cow. Beside the seemingly spooky, if not unnerving stories of the “famous” ghosts at MC, there are a slew of reports of something more menacing, if not downright frightening.

In the J-term of 2013, then-freshman Natasha Kollett was alone in the upstairs bathroom of Thaw when she claims the door to the stall next to her began rattling violently, followed immediately by the automatic towel dispenser spitting out towels all over the floor.

“The minute I stepped out of the stall, everything stopped,” Kollett said. Upon examining the door in question, Kollett found that it looked as if someone had attacked it with a knife. Another source, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Echo that a violent ghost lives in Davis Hall.

The source said that in the 2016-17 school year, she was in a bathroom in Davis when she noticed a black-haired girl behind her in the mirror. When she turned to see the “person” she saw nothing standing there. However, when she turned back to face the mirror, the girl was still there.

The girl in the mirror smiled at its viewer and then, the source said, she felt a powerful jolt of force push her down to the ground, with her only narrowly missing hitting her head on the edge of the metal stall next to her. Sezim Altynbek Kyzy, a Kyrzygstani student studying at MC for a year while abroad, had a similarly harrowing experience in Clayton. In Spring 2017, Kyzy was working in the photo lab in the basement of Clayton B when, at about 2 a.m.—after all the doors were locked and the building was left vacant— she began to hear footsteps in her vicinity.

Alarmed and slightly panicked, Kyzy left the building in a rush, believing that something was following her. She told the Echo she “felt like there was some sort of shadow following me,” adding that she hoped she only felt like that because she was shocked at the moment.

Few places built by human hands escape 200 years of history without the legends and myths, ghosts and spectres that often become associated with a place. Maryville College is no different. It is a place full of personalities, both real and imagined, physical and otherwise.

Hundreds of thousands of people have passed through the halls, dorms, cafeterias, theatres, and faculty offices of our college. These stories may illustrate that not all of them may have left.

One thought on “The ghosts of Maryville College, friendly and otherwise

  • September 11, 2023 at 2:10 pm

    My grandfather attended Maryville; he graduated in 1929. He was one of the students who put the cow in the bell tower. On another occasion, he removed the cutlery (or maybe just the spoons?) from the dining hall. I loved his stories.


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