Buildings on campus and around Tuscaloosa thought to be haunted

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Buildings on campus and around Tuscaloosa thought to be haunted

Colby Leopard

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Tuscaloosa is rich with history in the way that many southern towns are. Named after a Native American killed by European settlers, Tuscaloosa is freckled with plantation homes that once oversaw massive slaves operations before seeing action during the Civil War in the Battle of Tuscaloosa.

With this rich history come darker, eerier stories that explain why present day Tuscaloosa is filled with haunted houses, cemeteries and buildings.

Ian Crawford, the director of the Jemison-Van de Graaff Mansion, said you don’t have to look very hard to find a haunted building in Tuscaloosa. On the UA campus, Woods Hall has the creepiest true history, Crawford said.

“There was a duel that took place in the 1870s on the balcony of Woods Hall between two students,” Crawford said. “One of the gentlemen made a snide remark about his friend’s cousin, and so her honor being tainted, he challenged the insulter to a duel. Two shots rang out and one man fell. We don’t know if the gun shot killed him or if it was the fall from the balcony, so there are stories around about how you can hear the gun shots on Woods Quad. Some people say that, late at night, you can see the young man pacing about on the Woods balcony.”

According to “Haunted Tuscaloosa,” a book on the haunted history of Tuscaloosa, there are nine buildings and areas on campus said to be haunted, including Woods Quad. David Higdon and Brett J. Talley, the authors of the book, also listed the Kilgore House, the Little Round House, the Quad, Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library, Smith Hall and the Allen-Bales Theatre.

“Over the 180 years of its history, The University of Alabama has seen much in the way of change and development,” Higdon wrote. “From a frontier college, to a Civil War military school… to a national institute for learning, many souls have passed through its doors. If some stories are to be believed, not all of these souls have left.”

Most, if not all, of the haunted stories surrounding The University of Alabama campus are difficult to prove, Crawford said.

“Another place on campus with an interesting and haunted history is the Little Round House. There are lots of stories about what may or may not have happened there, but we have no way of knowing,” Crawford said. “The fun story says that UA cadets wanted to extract some justice on the invaders occupying their city. In disguise, [the cadets] would lure Yankees to the Little Round House promising them whiskey and a good time, but once they got there and got inside the Little Round House the other cadet would kill them.”

Outside of the UA campus, Tuscaloosa’s oldest plantation homes are popular destinations for ghost hunters and thrill seekers to visit, Crawford said. Crawford has hosted a number of paranormal research groups at the Jemison-Van de Graaf Mansion on Greensboro Avenue.

“We’ve had several different groups come here to investigate some sort of paranormal activity, and, honestly, this place is perfect for it, because it looks so much like a haunted house,” Crawford said. “What they’ve experienced most often are batteries draining quickly on cameras. There was one time when they were trying to get a picture of one of the portraits in the house and they couldn’t get the picture taken until they asked Priscilla Jemison permission to take her picture. The film would mess up each time.”

Although Crawford said he did not believe the paranormal research groups found anything that couldn’t be explained during their investigation, he has experienced some bizarre activity at the mansion himself.

“I’ve heard the crash a couple of times, and the crash is very unsettling because it sounds like a bookcase is falling over,” Crawford said. “You can hear the glass and timber splintering, but you can’t feel it like you would if something had actually fallen down.”

John Oberkor, a sophomore from Montgomery, Ala., has studied the history of Tuscaloosa and the University and said the Drish Mansion is the most interesting and haunted place in Tuscaloosa.

“The Drish Mansion is the only place in Tuscaloosa that has documented, certified creepy stuff going on,” Oberkor said. “Dr. John Drish, the plantation owner, was crazy. He locked his daughter in her room for over a month to keep her from seeing her fiance. He died an alcoholic, and some people say he still haunts the Drish Mansion to this day.”