by Austin Hendricks
Ghosts. In some people the word invokes a feeling of panic and fear, as though they are being watched by a specter from the past; a malevolent spirit doomed for all eternity, never able to rest until the crimes committed against them are avenged. However, others do not believe in ghosts, and so they give natural explanations, including old paint, mold, gas leaks, drugs, and mental illnesses, for the strange events. Even those that do not believe in ghosts can still appreciate a good ghost story, especially about an area that they regularly visit, such as their college campus. There are many hauntings on the Augusta State University campus including the Confederate soldier, Apple Pie Ghost, First Lady, Emily Galt, Boykin Wright, and George Washington Rains.
Freeman Walker, born in 1780 in Virginia, was a U.S. Senator that moved to Augusta in 1797. Once here, he acquired the land known as The Hill, an area of land that housed many of the upper-class members of Augustan society that also overlooked the Arsenal. After he sold the land to the U.S. government, mostly due to the number of illnesses at the Arsenal resulting from its close proximity to the river, it became known as the Augusta Arsenal. However, Walker was allowed to keep a small parcel of land to use as a cemetery. Among the dead are two Confederate soldiers that perished during the Civil War, both members of Walker’s family. It is one of these two soldiers that supposedly haunt Augusta State University (Roberts 219).
Many people on campus have claimed to have seen the Confederate Ghost. Keith Cowling, an English professor, was about to leave campus one evening when he saw someone walking through the parking lot. He was dressed in a grey coat with a yellow scarf tied around his waist. As Professor Cowling followed the strangely dressed man, he realized he was walking towards the Walker Cemetery. As the man approached the gated cemetery, he vanished. The professor figured he had climbed over the small wall separating the Walker Cemetery from the Arsenal Cemetery. However, upon further inspection, in the light of day, the professor saw that the man couldn’t have disappeared from sight if he entered the cemetery that way. The only other way to get in was to climb over the ten foot tall fence. The professor realized that the man must have gone straight through the wall. After some research, he also realized that the outfit the man had been wearing was a Civil War uniform. Cowling, a skeptic of ghosts, came to the haunting realization that he had in fact seen a ghost. Since then, many people have claimed to have seen the ghost of the Confederate soldier wandering around the Walker Cemetery, which is still there today (220-223).
Named after Col. J. Walker Benet, the Benet House was built between 1827 and 1829 as officer’s quarters at the old arsenal. Benet’s son, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Stephen Vincent Benet, was born in 1898 and lived in the house as a young man; because of his connection, the house is today listed on the National Registry of Historic Places (Schofe; “Stephen Vincent Benet”).
Legend tells of an officer that lived in the Benet House long before Stephen and his father. He was married to a pompous woman who spent obscene amounts of her husband’s money on fine clothes. She supposedly spent hours staring at them in her closet. Every morning the maid would bring the woman tea while her husband went hunting. One day, the maid came in and found the woman dead on the floor, apparently from poison. The tea cup was still clutched in her cold, dead hands. The Commander said that he had brought her some tea before he went for his morning hunt, but denied poisoning his wife. Despite accusations of his involvement in her death, he was never tried for the crime (Johnson 104).
Many people claim today that the woman, nicknamed the “First Lady,” still haunts the house, forever seeking vengeance against her husband for murdering her. Witnesses claim that, if one looks in the mirror in what was once the woman’s room, a glimpse of a woman admiring herself in the mirror can be seen. They also claim that the sound of hangers moving or clothes being tossed around can be heard coming from the closet, even if there is nothing in it (104). In 2010, a tape recorder was placed in what was once the woman’s room and left overnight. Captured on the recording were a woman’s voice and a child laughing.
Another ghost, humorously nicknamed the “Apple Pie Ghost,” supposedly haunts the Benet House. Legend tells that the ghost is the spirit of the nephew of a commander stationed at the Arsenal during the Civil War. He was paid around two dollars a day, a great sum during this time. He loved to flaunt his wealth, and so all the men were jealous of him. One day, when the soldier went to get some fresh apple pie, someone shot him on the steps of the building. On his grave reads “Killed by a Cowardly Assassin.” Now, the ghost of the young man, doomed to search for a slice of delicious apple pie for all eternity, causes strange noises to echo from the kitchen, the oven to mysteriously open or close, or the cabinets to rattle and shake (104).
Although campus legend holds that Bellevue Hall was built in 1806 as the summer home of Freeman Walker, recent research has determined that it actually dates to 1850. Its first occupants were John M. Galt, a military storekeeper, and his family, including daughters Emily and Lucy (Schofe). According to the popular story, Emily eventually fell in love with one of the soldier stationed at the Arsenal, and soon they became engaged. The soldier gave her a diamond ring that she loved to show off to anyone that would look at it. In 1861, Emily and her sister scratched their names in the upstairs window pane with the ring. After the Civil War started, her fiancé was deployed for battle, where he was eventually killed. The legend claims that Emily was driven mad with grief, and so she threw herself out the window (116-117). In actuality, Emily was supposedly committed to an insane asylum and died there.
Many people today say that they see two girls playing in the hall, Emily and Lucy playing a game for eternity. Witnesses also say they can still hear loud screaming coming from the building, Emily and her fiancé arguing about him going to war. The window is currently sitting in the campus museum, a relic of the past residents of the house (117-118).
Boykin Wright Hall
Born in 1852 in Virginia, Boykin Wright was always respected for his intelligence, as well as his kind and gentle demeanor. After graduating from the University of Georgia, Wright opened a law office in Augusta. He was soon nominated as a Supreme Court Justice, the role for which he is most widely known. While in Augusta, he also oversaw the construction of his future house on The Hill. It was considered the center of social life in Augusta. In 1932, Wright passed away peacefully after his health deteriorated. By all accounts, he had lived a rich life, free from terrible hardships or travesties. He was buried in Summerville Cemetery. His home was donated to Augusta State University in 1970 by Marguerite Wright Hillman, his daughter (112-113).
Many faculty members that work in the hall have seen a man walking through the building. However, people are not afraid of him, but rather feel incredible warmth and comfort. Many hear a rattling of doors and the rush of a pleasant feeling. They also claim to have seen his spirit, wandering the halls. One woman claimed she was sitting at her desk and, when she looked up, saw a man looking at her through the door leading to the hallway. He was dressed in early 1900’s clothing, and seemed peaceful. After staring at her for a moment, he turned and walked away, disappearing into thin air. This is what happens every time he is seen. Strangely enough, all of the sightings appear to be in broad daylight, and usually in March (113-114).
Built in 1827-29, Rains Hall was originally designated for the second-in-command of the Arsenal. When Confederate troops took control in 1861, Colonel George Washington Rains was put in charge. After the war, Rains became a professor of chemistry and later went on to be the Dean of the Medical College. Rains retired from his position in 1894, and died peacefully four years later. By all accounts, Rains was very interested in improving public health. After the Arsenal closed in 1955 and the college took control, many ghost stories appeared concerning Rains’ former house (107).
According to witnesses, voices can be heard coming from downstairs, but no one is down there. Phantom footsteps can be heard going down the hall, along with the scent of cigar smoke. Doorknobs will rattle, and lights will flicker on and off. Another event is that it will be as though someone goes down the hallway and brushes their hands on all of the blinds. According to Scott A. Johnson, the faculty in the building refer to the ghost as “George,” convinced that it is the long-dead general. Another ghost that has been seen is supposedly dressed in a military uniform, but with flared pants and a cavalry hat, which does not match any descriptions of Rains. Other witnesses report seeing a small boy playing with a ball in the basement, but he vanishes before they can get close (109-110).
Renovations of the house took place in 2004, during which time a pair of 1870s slippers, called “concealment shoes,” were found in a wall. These shoes were supposedly used to ward off bad luck. Pres. William Bloodworth said that they should be left alone, but then-Physical Plant Director Therese Rosier took the shoes and left behind a pair of gold sequined pumps. No reports of ghost activity have been issued since then (108).
Local legends and monster stories are an important part of human nature. They offer a glimpse into the past; an understanding of what our ancestors believed and feared. They also remind us that we do not understand everything that is out there. As Shakespeare said in Hamlet, “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Humans are very limited by their perspectives, and have to be open to the idea that there are entities that they are not capable of understanding, despite the promises offered by modern science. In a world where everyone tries to quantify life, it is important to leave some things to the imagination.
Johnson, Scott A. The Mayor’s Guide to the Stately Ghosts of Augusta. Augusta, GA: Harbor House, 2005. Print.
Roberts, Nancy. Georgia Ghosts. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1997. Print.
Schofe, Kathy. “hauntings on campus.” Email to Rhonda Armstrong. 24 October 2013.
“Stephen Vincent Benet.” Poets.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Sept. 2012.