Central Methodist University has anchored the small town of Fayette, Missouri, since its doors opened in September 1857. During the past 150-plus years, a number of people have died at the university – and some may still be there, awaiting graduation.
Ghostly stories, of knocks, taps, footsteps and apparitions are often associated with dormitories.
“Howard-Payne is where all the whacky stuff happens,” said Melanie Schaefer, a former financial assistance counselor at the university.
A stone outside the Howard-Payne dormitory reads “Howard Female College.” While the college refurbished the dormitory in the 1940s, a falling brick killed a student, reported the campus newspaper, The Talon. Since then, her spirit has appeared outside the dorm, but more typically is experienced inside the building, turning electrical appliances on and off, knocking on doors and rattling pipes.
But bigger things happen at the conservatory.
Sean Maples’ supernatural investigation group Missouri Paranormal visited the university and is convinced something haunts the building.
“We spend most of our time debunking things and I would say 90 percent of the stuff we run across we can explain,” he said. “But it was one of most interesting ones that we’ve done. We really had a lot of weird experiences.”
The building moaned.
“It was probably right around one in the morning. It was just me and one other investigator in the whole building,” he said. “We were probably two feet apart. It was so loud I was surprised the other team members outside the building didn’t hear it. It literally echoed through this church.”
The noise died as quickly as it filled the sanctuary and, Maples realized, it came from the side of the building that held the exits.
“We decided to go downstairs in complete darkness and out of the auditorium in complete darkness to get out of that building,” he said. “It spooked me a little bit. We went back in there and could not determine the cause of it.”
The heat was not on in the building, nor was the air conditioning. Maples’ group has been back twice and has not been able to explain the noise by natural means.
In the auditorium, Maples and other investigators have heard voices “like whispers.” Maples has captured a number of these on audio in the form of Electronic Voice Phenomenon (voices recorded in an empty room).
“One of the weirdest things we caught on EVPs was a cat,” Maples said. “There’s a cat meowing in the basement of the church. We looked all over and couldn’t find it. We really didn’t find that significant at all, until the second visit we captured an EVP of a man in the auditorium talking about a cat.”
That man may be former band director Tom Birch, who died in that room May 1, 1964, while conducting the piece “The Catacombs” from Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” at the annual spring concert.
Jim Steele, owner and publisher of The Fayette Advertiser and The Democrat-Leader, was a senior at the university and was in the auditorium when Birch had a heart attack.
“It was kind of a warm pleasant spring evening,” Steele said. “He had the white starched shirt, tails. (He had) Just as he had gotten into (The Catacombs) there was a ‘whoo,’ a gasp you could hear in the audience.”
Birch dropped onto the stage, fell into the drum set and died.
Since then, people occasionally report seeing a man in a tuxedo that looks like Dr. Birch standing in front of the auditorium smoking a cigar – such as the image a student saw in the 1970s.
“A girl was going from the student union across campus to Cross Memorial Clock Tower on the campus’ quadrangle,” said Robert Bray, Central’s Alumni Director at the time. “The apparition appeared and said, ‘Nice evening for a concert.’”
Frightened, the girl convinced her boyfriend to go with her to the conservatory. She found a picture of the man she’d seen – it was Dr. Birch.
“You can tell it’s a male in the church, the voices we captured,” Maples said.
Other spirits that reportedly haunt Central Methodist University are N. Louise Wright, dean of the conservatory of music who died much like Birch, during a performance; and the ghost of a young stable boy who was killed on the university grounds during the Civil War.
During the group’s last visit to the university, they captured an EVP that may have been the stable boy asking for help.
“Each one of us carried a two-way radio; they’re all on the same channel,” Maples said. “When (the child’s voice) happened, two of the people with radios were standing next to me and mine was the only one who went off – it was a kid.”
Missouri Paranormal approaches reported hauntings as skeptics, treating orbs and bumps in the night first as things that can be explained terrestrially. But they couldn’t explain the Central Methodist University hauntings.
“A lot of activity we captured didn’t really follow the normal expectations of a normal haunting,” he said. “It seemed like the activity was very sporadic. It was a hit-or-miss deal. If you weren’t in the right spot you didn’t experience it.”
Copyright 2009 by Jason Offutt
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