Ghosts in our Gothic halls: Students share their encounters with Rhodes’ spirits

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Ghosts in our Gothic halls: Students share their encounters with Rhodes’ spirits

Rhodes College at night.

Rhodes College at night.

Photo courtesy of Rhodes College

Rhodes College at night.

Photo courtesy of Rhodes College

Photo courtesy of Rhodes College

Rhodes College at night.

Rylan Lorance '21, Staff Writer

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 EDITOR’S NOTE: This article covers sensitive subjects including suicide and the afterlife, which may be discomforting to some readers. 

Coming to Rhodes comes with its own set of prerequisite legends like a dorm deliberately designed to confuse students and a labyrinthian system of tunnels connecting to the zoo. Determining if they are real is all part of the fun. For many, the ghost of Bellingrath is just another one of those stories. But as I was handed a photograph of what some believe to be the ghost of Thomas Bayley, a student who took his own life on that floor, it became clear that this is more than just a story to some of the third-floor Bellingrath residents.  

Anyone who takes a walk through campus at night would not be surprised to hear that this place has a few ghost stories. The gothic architecture, the general age of the dorms, the black and white photographs that cover the school fosters an environment perfect for these stories. The ghost many are familiar with is the McCoy Theatre ghost, Annie. Rhodes college historian and archivist Bill Short told the story of Annie, saying “In the 60’s, the McCoy theatre was owned by the Zeta Tau Alpha Sorority, This young lady, distraught that she could not get into the sorority, decided to express herself by committing suicide… students tell of noises, hearing someone in the dressing room and then walking in and not seeing anyone there.” Sophia Deck ’19 said, “The story of Annie goes way back, and we keep a seat open for her at every performance, because if we don’t, chairs break or just something goes wrong.”

A photo of Bellingrath Hall

The ghost of Bellingrath is a very real experience for many of the students who have seen paranormal manifestations in the dorm, considering that they now believe to have photographic evidence. The photograph was taken in the pitch dark, only the camera’s flash illuminating the door of the third-floor Bellingrath dorm. The door has a mirror on it, and in it you can see what appears to be the reflection of the hands and a forehead of the person taking the photo, but it’s unclear what exactly is going on. Sarah Helland ‘21 showed me the wall and showed me how the photo had to be taken purposefully because of the angle on the mirror. She said, “I am in the desk every day but one day I noticed these pictures. I asked both of my roommates about them and neither of them knew anything about it. We hadn’t had anyone over in weeks, and I know they wouldn’t mess with me on this.” When asked why she was certain it was not some practical joke, she told me her roommates have too many real Bayley stories to have fabricated a false one. She laid out her evidence: no one would have had access to her dorm during the night, there are two photos showing the same image, and most importantly, the angle of the photo indicates it was taken by someone tall and none of her roommates are even close to six foot.

These two photos were found in Bellingrath and are alleged to have something to do with the ghost of Thomas Bayley.

This is not the only occurrence Helland has experienced, “There are a lot of times when both me and my roommates wake up in the middle of the night and we look over at each other and feel something.” When asked about the feeling, she said, “It’s like being watched.” Many of the girls living in Bellingrath, mainly those on the third floor, have their own experiences with the Bellingrath ghost. They tell of stuff moving inexplicably, sounds of footsteps on the vacant fourth floor at strange hours of the night, those who have never talked in their sleep starting to have midnight mumblings that they are unaware of. Maggie Groenwald ’21 said, “We hear weird moaning noises in our room at night and lights flashing through the window even though it’s not close to the street.”

Emma DiMartini ’21 was not surprised when she saw the photos. “One time, when I was in the restroom, I opened the door briefly and saw a man walking down the hallway. I turned back around and went back inside to get my phone, and return in, like a second, and he was gone. I know he couldn’t have made it to the stairway, and I would have heard a door open and close if he went into a dorm. I couldn’t see his face, but I could tell he didn’t belong.” Sydney Watts ‘21 also told a story about her own experience. Before telling me this story, she prefaced by saying she used to never believe in the supernatural, and knows that no one will believe her, but she is confident she saw the ghost. “I could clearly see the outline of a person, it was faded, and white, and it was a person standing right there. It was right there.” She pointed to the corner of the room.

Though many of the stories people had were passed down from generations, Thomas Bayley was a real student who attended Rhodes. Short told me the story of Thomas Bayley. William Thomas Bayley was a student at Rhodes in the 70’s, a writer for The Sou’wester, and an occupant of third-floor Bellingrath. During his time here, he took his own life. Many believe the spectral occurrences on the third-floor of Bellingrath are because of him. Though it is unclear when these reports began to surface, the first event some cite as being strange is the Bellingrath Fire of 1987. Students currently residing on the third floor say that alumni told of the same experiences since the 80s. When asked about the strangest story he knew about Bellingrath, Short said, “There was a student in the 90’s, her first name was Mary but I won’t say her last name. She told me that her roommate kept complaining that things were happening. She kept hearing things, feeling strange, but the most vivid thing I remember is that she said the roommate was convinced that she was caressing her cheek while she slept. Mary was certain that it wasn’t a joke, and asked me if I can find anything about it.”  

For every story about people seeing inexplicable things, there were those who have not seen anything out of the ordinary and were skeptical of the stories.. Helland, the student who found the photos said, “My final take is that, even though he is not dangerous, it freaks me out that this could be real. I am a very scientific person. I only believe the things I have seen… but somehow I get this feeling that he exists.”