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PRESIDENTIAL HAUNTINGS IN Bibb Graves Hall
By Alan Brown

The University of West Alabama is located in Sumter County, one of the most rural counties in the entire state. Founded in 1835 in the small town of Livingston, the University started out as Livingston Female Academy. By the 1920s, the small college had undergone a name change—State Teachers College at Livingston—and an ambitious building campaign. In 1928, the college was authorized to construct a two-story building with twenty-five rooms, five classrooms, three laboratory rooms, one

lecture hall, several offices, and an 800-seat auditorium. Because of budgetary problems, the new building was completed in 1931. It was named after David Bibb Graves, the fortieth and forty-second governor of Alabama. In 1962, the Natural Sciences and Mathematics wing was completed, making Bibb Graves Hall the largest building on campus. Fittingly, the president’s office was located on the first floor of this imposing structure. Since the 1980s, sightings by students and faculty indicate that one of the university’s past presidents is not ready to leave.

The first paranormal activity in Bibb Graves Hall was detected in the Natural Sciences and Mathematics wing of the building. In 1989, biology instructor Becky Graham had some very unsettling experiences in one of the laboratories on the first floor when she was a student:  “My youngest child was three months old when I went back to school. One of the first classes I took was genetics. I’d put her to bed at about 9:00 or 9:30, and then I would come back here and count flies. I’d be here all by myself. Every now and then, a security officer would come through. I might be up here until 11:00 or 12:00. Some nights, I would hear the elevator, and I would immediately think it was the security guard, but when I went out in the hallway, there was no one there. I had both of the doors open, and I could hear the elevator go up and own. Of course, that could be a malfunction of the elevator, but I’ve never known that to happen during the day.”

The weird, unexplained sounds continued after Becky became a professor at the University of West Alabama:  “I’d be sitting at my desk late at night, and I’d have the door open, and I could hear footsteps coming down the hall. I’d think it was one of the graduate assistants coming up to do some work. (I’d hear someone) walking through the back part of the building. The footsteps would stop right at the copier. I’d go back and look, and there’d be nobody there.” 

Becky’s daughter also heard the footsteps. “She’d be in my office, sitting at the computer doing her homework when she was enrolled here. She told me one day, ‘Mama, there are some strange noises (in the building). I could swear I heard footsteps.’  Then I told her, ‘It’s happened to me, too.’”

In 1998, a 23-year-old graduate student and former football player nicknamed “Cadillac Jack” had an even more terrifying encounter in Bibb Graves hall. Chairperson John McCall recalled the incident. “Jack was working late at night. He was on the phone, and he heard what he described as a ‘ghoulish’ laugh outside in the hall. He said it was in the stairwell area in the center of the building. He said it sounded like someone going up the stairs. I asked him if it could have one of the security officers, and he said no. There was no one there but him. So he went back—he was a little bit unnerved at this point—and got back on the phone. He sat back down, and he heard the laugh again. It was much closer and louder this time. He said at this point, (he had had enough), and he left that building.”

Later that same year, Becky Graham was working on a project in the zoology lab late one night when she received a phone call from Jack, asking if he could come by. “When I talked to him on the phone, Jack said he was getting gooseflesh just from remembering what had happened to him. He said this was a very real experience. He called me because he had left the gells still running earlier in the day. He said, ‘Ms. Graham, I am not going back in that building by myself.’  He asked if I would come back with him, and I said, ‘No, I won’t, because I have already experienced things there myself at night.”  Jack was so reluctant to enter the building alone that he talked his girlfriend into returning with him.

Although the ghost of Bibb Graves Hall has never been positively identified, long-time librarian Neil Snider believes the disturbances might be caused by the uneasy spirit of a former president, Dr. Noble Franklin Greenhill. Dr. Greenhill was president of the college from 1936 to 1944, when he resigned after not being able to keep student enrollment levels up during World War II.

According to Dr. Snider, the “re-appearance” of Dr. Greenhill might have something to do with his missing portrait. In July 1943, Dr. Greenhill enlisted in the Army. Following a period of training at Fort Custer, Michigan, he received his commission as a major in the Army Specialist Corps. “The student body and the alumni wanted a portrait of Dr. Greenhill,” said Dr. Snider, “so they asked local artist Virginia White Barnes to do it. That portrait hung in the waiting room of the President’s Office in Bibb Graves Hall. When I was chair of the presidential portrait committee, I called Dr. Greenhill’s grandson, and the first thing he told me was that he knew the portrait was still there in the late 1960s. It is my theory that the ghost in Bibb Graves Hall is Dr. Greenhill, looking for his portrait.”

Evidence also suggests that Dr. Greenhill’s spirit still haunts his former office as well. The evening of April 23, 2005, I conducted a ghost tour of the town of Livingston as part of the Sucarnochee Folk and Heritage Festival. The tour ended on the front steps of Bibb Graves Hall, where I pointed out that the office now occupied by Teacher Certification Officer Nancy Taylor used to be former President Greenhill’s office.

That Monday, I received the following e-mail message from Ms. Taylor, who had participated in the tour along with her daughter: “I think you got the ghosts stirring in Bibb Graves after the tour Saturday night. When I got in my office this morning, I noticed that some books on the shelf had fallen over—they have never done this before—and the book facing up is titled Ghost Fox by James Houston!  Coincidence?”  One can only wonder.

Weird Alabama

 

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