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Elon University's Fire of 1923
The Ghosts in the Elon Hallways
By Brianna Duff
When you go on a tour of my university, you always hear the story of the fire of 1923. This fire that destroyed most of campus is what caused Elon’s mascot to be changed to the Phoenix, a legendary bird that rises reborn from the ashes. Because of the tale that we came back bigger and brighter from this incendiary tragedy, any student can tell you, if not the exact date of the fire, a general story of our rebirth.
But: this fire has left more than just history in its wake. Students will also tell you that this fire introduced a few restless spirits to the Elon campus…or so it is claimed.
The popular story goes that West, one of the residence halls on campus, is haunted by a young girl named Mary who, in a desperate attempt to save herself from the fire, jumped from a third story window and died. Students have claimed to see the chandelier swinging by itself in the parlor as well as flickering lights affecting the hallways. Mary has even made a few appearances. One boy tells the story of how, while spending the night in his girlfriend’s room, he woke up suddenly to see Mary’s figure standing over their bed. The girlfriend, though deep asleep, was said to be communicating with Mary as the ghost hovered above them.
Mary’s legend is made spookier by the fact that, despite the oft-told suggestion that Mary died in the 1923 fire, West is one of the few buildings on campus that was actually not touched by the flames. In fact, because the fire occurred in mid-June, there were no students on campus and no one was actually killed. So, who is Mary if she is not a desperate and lost-too-soon student?
The answer may be found in another apparition that students and faculty alike have spotted several times over the past eighty years. This man is often seen in Whitley Auditorium, the old music hall. Some claim he is a music professor that walks the stage looking for sheet music in his restlessness. Others give a story that would tie him to young Mary: that he was a resident of a large home that was built on the land where Whitley and West now stand. This home burned years before Elon was built with the family still inside. He and Mary are then the bygone spirits of a family whose grave is inconveniently lost in time to my university.
Whatever the real story is, Mary and the unidentified older man continue to be present on my university’s ground, haunting their separate buildings and leaving a particular kind of legacy. On Halloween each year, we do a ghost walk through the woods where we recreate Mary’s haunting death and terrify ourselves with the spirits said to walk among us.
The story goes that Elon can always rise from the ashes, but I wonder: who exactly are we bringing with us?
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