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Ghosts and Legends and Lore! Oh My!

Ghosts and Legends and Lore! Oh My!

Athens, Georgia and the University of Georgia campus is no stranger to rumors of haunted buildings and paranormal activity. From friendly ghost sightings to legends surrounding UGA’s iconic landmarks, the folklore of campus brings the Athens community together through years of storytelling and tradition keeping.

Legends of North Campus

The Arch

Maybe the most well known of UGA’s legends surrounds the iconic Arch. Standing at the entrance of Historic North Campus, the Arch represents wisdom, justice and moderation. If you stand near the Arch between class changes you are sure to see students divert to the left or right to walk around the Arch. That is because rumor says if you walk under the Arch before graduating from UGA you will not receive your diploma. For those not yet admitted into UGA, lore says walking under the Arch before you are accepted puts your decision at risk. The legend began in 1905 when Daniel H. Redfern, a freshman, would hop over the fence that ran up to the Arch to avoid walking under it. He made a vow to not walk under it until he graduated because he was moved by the Arch’s meaning.

The Chapel Bell

The Chapel Bell located across from UGA’s Herty Field was originally used to signal students of chapel services, meal times and class times. Now, it symbolizes celebration and community. Whether students ring the bell to celebrate taking a huge exam or winning a national football title, the bell stands as a symbol of triumph for UGA students and the Athens community.

Herty Fountain

Every year during the first week of classes, hundreds of new freshmen squish back to their dorms after celebrating their first year with a dip in Herty Fountain. There are many reasons to jump into the fountain as there are many reasons to celebrate. Tradition says incoming freshmen jump into the fountain after their orientation, but throughout the year you can see sogging students laughing about their recent adventures and creating memories they could not make anywhere else or ever forget.

The Haunts of UGA

Susie of Alpha Gamma Delta

South Milledge is lined with beautiful homes filled with history. One of the most iconic currently belongs to Alpha Gamma Delta sorority and is commonly known as the Wedding Cake House. Gifted to Susie Carithers by her father, former state senator James Yancey Carithers, the house was gifted to celebrate Susie’s engagement. After thinking she was left at the altar on her wedding day, Susie took her own life in the home’s attic. The story continues that her fiancé came into town the next day after being delayed by a broken wheel.

Even years later, current sorority sisters living in the house have reported doors opening and closing, sinks turning on and off and the sound of a chair in the attic. Even the piano in the parlor downstairs has been said to play at random.

Legend has it that sisters who live in the “Engagement Suite” in the house will find love and get married before they graduate, a legend that has proven to have some truth behind it. Overall, Susie has been a kind and good-natured ghost host. 

UGA’s First Murder

One rainy night in 1918, Jamie Johnson and Belle Hill were visiting their friends from their hometown that attended UGA. They returned from dinner late that night and came back to Waddel Hall to seek shelter from the storm and see their friends. The five students talked for a while before heading to bed. Before going to sleep, Johnson asked for a piece of paper. It was known to no one that he was using the paper to write a suicide note. Later that night, Johnson shot Hill and himself in the heart. The event was the first murder on UGA’s grounds.

Various stories exist for why Johnson shot his girlfriend. One said the couple had gotten into an argument which caused the incident while another said Johnson was under extreme mental duress. Whatever the reason, students say they can hear noises that sound like a lovers quarrel coming from the upstairs of Waddel Hall.

Demosthenian Halls’ Ghost Mascot

Demosthenian Hall is home to the oldest student organization at UGA, Demosthenian Literary Society. The hall was built in 1824 to hold the organization’s meetings. DLS has many famous alumni such as Robert Toombs.

Toombs never actually graduated from UGA as he was dismissed from campus, but he did attend UGA in the 1820s before becoming a Georgia representative and senator and holding positions for the Confederacy. Folklore says at the exact time Toombs died, the large oak in North Campus called the Robert Toombs Oak was struck by lightning.

Current members of DLS say Toombs stuck around after death. Reports of seeing full apparitions within the halls are more common than one may think. Stories of his hauntings have been told for decades, most commonly rumors of footsteps and hearing his voice have been shared. One student called him “a little ghostly mascot.”

The lore that surrounds campus and is found within buildings’ walls is what adds depth and community to UGA. Whether it’s telling a new student about seeing Robert Toombs’ ghost or walking under the arch after commencement, it’s the belief and the excitement that surrounds these traditions and legends that keeps them breathing after so many years.