Spooky Scary Lawrence: The Untold Stories

Midterms are finally over, and if that was not scary enough, Halloween is just around the corner. To get in the spirit of Halloween I consulted the Lawrence archives for some scary, haunting stories.

Celebrating Halloween, the archives sponsors the annual “Haunted Lawrence” walking tours for the 10th year in a row. This year, it would be a seated storytelling event in the Milwaukee-Downer Room of the Seeley G. Mudd Library on Wednesday, Oct. 26, from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Due to the size of the room attendance was limited to 30 people.

“In addition to past walking tours, I have also done presentations on this topic for alumni at Reunion for the past several years,” said archivist Erin Dix. “This will be the 12th “Haunted Lawrence” event for me in my six years of working here.”

Dix’s favorite story to tell is the haunting of Ormsby Hall in 1899 when it was an all-women dorm. The girls chased the ghost out with their hairpins. The story is reported in the February 1899 issue of The Lawrentian. The ghost’s name is Ms. Havisham, who has gotten so famous that her name is included in the hall directory.

Supposedly, both theaters in the Music-Drama Center are haunted.

Stansbury Theatre is haunted by a ghost named Mary A.P. Stansbury. “Many people have told me about hearing strange noises, screams especially, from the theatre, including alumni from as far back as the 1970s, Campus Safety officers and faculty members,” said Dix. According to the archives, “one theory is that it was a worker that fell to his death when they were building the theatre. Others have suggested it was the owner of the home that was torn down to build the Music-Drama Center.”

Technical Director Aaron Sherkow is a skeptic and has not had any ghost sightings or encounters, but knows of people who certainly have had them. “When I was a student, people would say goodnight to her when they were the last ones out,” said Sherkow. “I never did. I was here a lot and the last one out a lot, frequently doing things with ladders and electricity that a ghost could take advantage of if she was mad.”

Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts Keith Pitts never had a ghost experience at Lawrence, but has had odd things occur in other theatres over the years that had ghost stories attached to them. “It seems theatre and ghosts go hand and hand,” said Pitts. “So I could see Stansbury being haunted.”

J. Thomas and Julie Esch Hurvis Professor of Theatre and Drama and Professor of Theatre Arts Tim Troy has a different experience. “I believe in the ghost of Mary A.P. Stansbury,” said Troy. “We usually refer to her as ‘Mary A.P.’ She usually appears as a flash of light in corner of your eye, then a hollow rustling sound follows as you look toward the direction of the light. Typically the light comes from a dark corner of the theatre, then you turn to see it, the sound comes high up from the fly loft. I assume she travels quickly. I have experienced this phenomenon myself 10 to 12 times over the years.”

“It is pretty typical for theatres to be labeled as haunted,” said Sherkow. “Traditionally theatres use a ‘ghost light’ to keep ghosts happy, but I think it was originally about burning off access gas, and then it was about safety as we continually change the space from show to show.”

“Mary A.P. seems to understand that she’s not allowed to disturb a performance, but she can show up at any routine rehearsal,” said Troy. “Once we begin the dress rehearsal process, Mary A.P. leaves us alone. When I came as a student in the early 1980s, she was so popular that everyone seemed to have heard of, or actually experienced, the presence of Mary A. P. As a student, we did some late-night searching for her in the nooks and crannies of the theatre. We were not armed with any kind of ghost defense, but we believed that if Mary A. P. appeared we could quote Shakespeare (except from ‘Macbeth’) as way of pacifying her. Of course, one cannot quote from ‘Macbeth’ in a theatre without drawing the anger a whole host of theatrical demons. Our conclusion at the time was that Mary A. P. does not like to be tracked, or followed or sought out in any way. She’s shy.”

To this day, if you are near Troy when he sees that flash of light or hear an unexplained noise in the fly loft, you will hear him recite a brief, soft Shakespeare quote. “Lately I’ve used: We are such stuff as dreams are made on,” Troy added. “That seems to make her happy.”

Mysterious sounds and shadows have been reported in Cloak Theater when it is empty. Troy believes that Cloak Theatre is not haunted because there is no ghost of Ted Cloak. “Ted was so settled and so beloved that everyone he knew holds a warm place in their hearts for him,” Troy said. “He is at rest in the afterlife.”

“Mary A.P. does not haunt Cloak Theatre,” Troy concluded. “As far as I can tell, if Mary A.P. spends any time in Cloak Theatre, she is quietly resting.”