OPERATION TIME: 1822 to present
The Athens Female Academy was built in 1822 and later turned into the Athens State College by the Methodist church in 1975, making it both the oldest and newest school for higher education in Alabama’s state college system. One of the college’s most iconic buildings is the Founders’ Hall, which has four columns, “Matthew,” “Mark,” “Luke,” and “John,” holding up the structure. It was rumored that the structure was about to be completely burned down by the Union Army, but headmistress Jane Hamilton Childs gave the army’s commanding officer a note from President Lincoln and the group left, protecting the school from harm.
During the Civil War, an unknown woman wearing a long lace dress gazed out her window as Confederate soldiers bombed the place. In a state of panic, the woman looked at her room on the top floor and saw her own blood spatter against the wall. An alternate version of the story says the woman jumped out the window to her death. In her fall, she struck an open window, covering the building wall with her blood. Now, every Monday at exactly 9 AM, the scene seemingly recreates itself with a cast of ghostly actors.
Shortly after the end of the war, two young women tried to sneak out of the school to meet two men. As they descended the staircase with candles in hand to light their way, the wind swept a spark into one girl’s hair, igniting her and eventually killing her from her burns. Disembodied footsteps can be heard where the tragedy occurred. Light switches turn on and off voluntarily, squeak, and odd knocking noises are heard against the wall. Witnesses report seeing her on the third story of the building, peering out of the windows.
The most famous haunting at Athens State College comes from inside McCandless Hall. Abigail Burns was a beautiful young opera singer who often performed in the hall in 1914. During one of her largest and most successful performances, she had to leave, but she promised her excited audience she’d be back. Unfortunately, she would never perform again. Later that same night, an encroaching storm came to its head. The thunderstorm frightened the horses pulling her carriage, causing it to flip over and kill Abigail. She fulfilled her promise to return, but did so from beyond the grave. Those who have seen her spirit say she has blond hair, wears a long white gown, and carries a bouquet of flowers in her delicate hands. She has been sighted in the dressing rooms, hallways, and main hall. A floral fragrance follows her. Similar to the young woman who burned to death, Abigail Burns is also seen in the third-floor windows. In 1997, Professor Mark Durm went on a quest to disprove Abigail Burns’ haunting of McCandless Hall. He could not locate her death record or any information regarding her time as a singer at the hall. His attempts to debunk the story did not go over well with the witnesses, who firmly stood their ground. McCandless Hall is also believed to be haunted by Madame Childs, who haunts young women who stay out past curfew.
Bryon Hall (build in 1912) is another supposedly haunted location on the campus. The hall was named for Florence Brown, an Athens staff member who diligently cared for sick students during a typhoid outbreak when most other staff members fled in fear for their lives. Brown contracted the illness and died shortly thereafter. Everyone who stayed behind also passed away to the illness. Some of the activity to occur within the hall includes disembodied footsteps, knocking noises, “domino-style knocking cascades,” and levitating objects.
- Forgotten USA. “Athens State College,” www.ForgottenUSA.com
- Ghost Eyes. “Haunted Schools Athens State College,” www.GhostEyes.com
- The Shadowlands. “Alabama,” www.TheShadowlands.net
- Wikipedia. “Athens State College,” www.Wikipedia.org