Every year when Halloween rolls around, it seems old campus legends run amuck—particularly, the story of Ghost Mary. Mary was allegedly a student at Elon University living in West residence hall at the time of the 1923 fire, and she jumped when she thought the building was on fire. She died and now supposedly haunts the building.
But Walter Boyd, a 1976 Elon graduate and local historian, isn’t so sure.
“As far as there being in something in West, the answer is yes. There is something there,” Boyd said. “The fallacy is that the ghost has nothing to do with the 1923 fire. The ghost, and there may be more than one, long proceeds that fire.”
Boyd has several theories on what or who might be behind the rumored hauntings Under the Oaks. Many stories come from his grandmother, who graduated from Elon College in 1910 and whose ancestry in Elon dates back all the way to 1777, before this area was even known as Elon.
“She knew everybody from Dr. Long on, and I just knew of every president and everything that had happened at the college since its founding,” Boyd said.
According to Boyd, causes for potential ghosts at Elon predate the existence of the campus. Before Elon College existed, he said Williamson Avenue was in a different location. The road passed behind what is now the fire station, Under the Oaks, and straight through West Hall’s location. He says this spot is the location of several deaths, including a man being thrown from his horse and drowning in a pond, a house burning down with a family inside and the bizarre death of an Elon student.
That student was William Henry Horton. In 1935, he fell off a fence outside Alamance building and died. Horton was set to be the class valedictorian, and former university newspaper “The Maroon and Gold” and “The Burlington Times” called his death the “greatest tragedy in Elon’s history.”
Lee Steele, another Elon alumnus, is interested in investigating if Elon is really haunted. He graduated from Elon in 1978 and now volunteers as an investigator with the local paranormal investigation group, “Positively Paranormal Team.” Steele and his partner Matt Shelar both became interested in the supernatural after encountering ghosts when they were kids.
“We’ve run into some crazy stuff,” Steele said. “You hear stuff get thrown, you see shadow figures, stuff like that.”
They use a variety of tools to capture videos of spirits and even communicate with them. They set up their wide array of devices in West to see what they could find. One device called the Ovilus 3 has an English dictionary's worth of words uploaded on it, and they claim ghosts can manipulate the device to answer questions.
Responses recorded in West include: “hi,” “door” and “demon.” When Shelar picked up a bottle of Holy Water, the device said “water.”
But the team’s work goes beyond just finding ghosts. They also perform house blessings and cleansing if they believe they have stumbled upon an evil spirit.
“Jesus gives us the authority and the power to cast out demons,” Shelar said. “All we can do is to come in and try to help you. It all starts with yourself; that’s what attracts a demon to you if you’re not in the right frame of mind and you’ve got everything else going on except Jesus Christ.”
While using Holy Water, white sage and prayer to protect themselves, they also look out for each other.
“We consider ourselves brothers,” Shelar said.
“We’re family. We have each other's back if something happens,” Steele said.
Based on their findings in West, both of the paranormal investigators said they believe they did find a spirit of some sort. Steele says that in the future, he hopes to conduct a full overnight investigation in the building to find out more.