Skeletons in the Columns

In honor of our upcoming 3rd Annual Ghosts in the Library storytelling session (coming up on Thursday, October 27th),  here is a little early Halloween story–or make that stories.

Chambers building with students exploring the portico and roof

When it comes to ghoulish stories on campus, the most popular are ones about skeletons being pulled out the columns of the original Chambers building.  These stories are tied to the presence of the North Carolina Medical College.   The college operated in Davidson from 1893 to 1907 and students at the college did study with cadavers.

Stories began to be told about stolen bodies being hidden in the columns.  One such story, “The Skeleton in the Column” ended up in the April 1912 Davidson Monthly. Written by Andrew White, the short story tells of a freshman being terrified by senior’s tale of former students hiding a body in the columns and his assertion that “every fall about this time Bill Ashton’s ghost comes out a walks around, hunting for the fellows who put his body there.”  The freshman dreams of the ghost and is drawn to the columns, falling to his death.

Davidsonian article, October 21, 1914

Two years later, the Davidsonian printed an article recounting the story of  a student who reported finding a skull in the columns. The story reports that Walter Dumas, class of 1915, “with a rope fastened securely around his body and with an electric searchlight  in his hand, was safely let down by several of his comrades, a thorough search for the much-talked-of skeleton was made, and  a skull, the only part of a skeleton that was visible, was brought up to the top.”  The article notes that no other bones were found.

Walter Alexander Dumas

In 1949, Dumas elaborated on his story in a letter to Prof. Howard Arbuckle which was published in the December 4, 1949 Charlotte Observer.  In his later account, Dumas was only accompanied by Ernest Campbell, class of 1914 made the search in secret.  On that day, they found the skull. A few days later they looked in another column and found additional bones.

Milton McKinnon

That article prompted Milton McKinnon, class of 1895 to write the paper and tell of his adventures in the columns.McKinnon and classmate James Massey searched the columns in 1893 and found the “top portion of a skull, expertly sawed off.”  McKinnon reported that “We showed a large number of the students our findings; finally, out of respect for the human bones, we placed them back in the loft, hidden under the eaves. The unanimous opinion was that the skull was that of  a white man.”

David Hudson

If the columns had not been busy enough,  yet more students, this time around 1917 were reported to have found bones   An undated article in the archives has an account of David and George Hudson, who, without any ropes and with their lantern going out on them, still managed to bring up a skeleton in pieces.  This story was retold in a February 1976 Davidson Update article written by James R. Morton, class of 1917.

Columns from original Chambers Building coming down

Any further adventures in the columns ended when the Chambers building burned down in 1921.  The columns remained standing for several years, serving in a sense as a partial skeleton of the building.  No bones were found when the columns were finally taken down.



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