University of Georgia
One of the oldest organizations on the UGA campus, the Demosthenian Literary Society, a debating society, was founded in 1803. Among its alumni roster are many who would help shape the state of Georgia as well as the nation including Robert Toombs. Known for his fiery disposition and oration, Toombs represented Georgia in the United States House of Representatives, the Senate in the turbulent years leading up to the Civil War and served as the first Secretary of State for the Confederacy.
Toombs entered the university at the ripe age of 14. Under the firm rule of University President Moses Waddell, who was later described as having been “a born educator and strict disciplinarian,” Toombs was more than once on the receiving end of Waddell’s discipline. One evening, only a year or so into his schooling, a proctor caught Toombs and a group of other students playing cards—a vice worthy of expulsion. Instead of awaiting a dishonorable dismissal from the school, Toombs sought out Waddell and received an honorable dismissal before the proctor’s report arrived. Encountering Toombs later that day on campus, Waddell harangued him for this deception to which Toombs replied that he was no longer a student and simply a free-born American citizen.
However, the legend does not end there. During graduation exercises, Toombs took a position outside the university chapel (located just next door to Demosthenian Hall) next to an oak. He launched into a compelling oration and soon the students emptied out of the chapel to hear him speak. That oak was later named the “Toombs Oak” and remained for many decades. Legend says that the oak was later struck by lightning at the same time that Toombs died in 1885, however records show that the oak was dying, but still alive into the 1890s. According to Barbara Duffey, the oak was struck by lightning at the moment of Toombs’ death, but lived on and was finally taken down in 1908. Regardless, upon the tree’s death the stump was removed to Demosthenian Hall where it remains to this day.
Starting in the Georgia legislature in 1837, Toombs record of service to the state is lengthy. He entered the U.S. House of Representatives in 1844 and there forged a lifelong relationship with another Georgia representative, Alexander Stephens, who would later serve as vice president of the Confederacy. Toombs entered the Senate in 1853 and served until his resignation in 1861 when Georgia seceded from the Union. Jefferson Davis asked him to serve as the first Secretary of State, but Toombs became increasingly frustrated with the Confederacy and stepped aside to become a military commander for Georgia. He escaped the South as the Confederacy fell in 1865 and returned two years later as an “unreconstructed” Southerner.
Just as he returned to his beloved Georgia after the fall of the Confederacy, perhaps Toombs’ spirit has returned to his beloved Demosthenian Hall after his death. Students studying in the quiet of Demosthenian Hall have reported hearing pacing footsteps in the empty chamber above. Other students have felt a presence urging them to get out, but when they exclaim, “Bob, no!” the feeling dissipates. A hazy grey figure has also been spotted and other sources claim that the figure is outfitted as a Confederate soldier.
William N. Bender, in his Haunted Atlanta and Beyond, states that Toombs’ spirit has also been seen at his home in Washington, Georgia. He asks whether it is possible for a spirit to travel. In my opinion, it seems there is nothing to actually indicate that the Demosthenian Hall spirit is actually Robert Toombs. I have observed that in historic locations—especially those associated with famous people—there is a tendency to identify any spiritual activity with those famous people, even in cases where is unlikely. While it’s not unimaginable that Toombs might haunt his home, it appears that the activity within Demosthenian Hall is simply residual energy associated with the many students that have passed through the hall’s portals.
Henry Ford Building Complex
Mount Berry, Georgia
Located on part of the largest college campus in the world (at more than 26,000 acres), the Gothic-style Henry Ford Building Complex now is mostly used for administration. The complex was built through a gift from automobile manufacturer, Henry Ford, one of many prominent philanthropists to aid this institution built on philanthropy. Martha Berry, the daughter of a local planter, was shocked by the ignorance of the children in this city at the foot of the Appalachians. She built a series of school to educate these impoverished children and of them, Berry College has survived as a symbol of her kind work.
According to Daniel Barefoot’s Haunted Halls of Ivy, Berry College’s two campuses, the Main and Mountain Campuses, are practically crawling with spirits. From the spirit of Frances Berry, Martha’s sister, at Berry’s home, Oak Hill to the female wraith haunting Stretch Road, the road between the campuses, to the ghost of the House o’ Dreams, a mountain retreat cottage. In the Henry Ford Building Complex, the spirit of a female student who hung herself after her boyfriend was killed in World War II, is said to still roam the building. Of course, with the beauty of Berry’s enormous campus, who wouldn’t want to return?
Two sensitives associated with the Southeastern Institute of Paranormal Research in Pearce Auditorium encountered a wet female. Working independently, the sensitives discovered this sad form wearing a white dress with dark, matted hair. Perhaps this was Agnes, the auditorium’s resident spirit. Legend speaks of a young woman who hung herself in the building at some point during the 1920s. She’s been roaming the halls ever since.
Opened as a private women’s school in 1878, Brenau gained its unusual name when the school was acquired by H. J. Pearce (for whom the auditorium is named) in 1900. The name is an amalgam of the German “brennen,” “to burn” and Latin “aurum,” “gold;” reflecting the school’s motto, “as gold refined by fire.” The school has continued as a force for education in the region and opened its doors to men in the 1960s while retaining its historical Women’s College and acquiring a few ghosts along the way.
Pearce Auditorium, dedicated in 1897, was built to serve the needs of the campus as well as Gainesville. Over the years, the auditorium has seen names ranging from noted American dancers Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn to the Vienna Boys Choir and, if legend holds true, a slight dark haired young woman named Agnes. Since Agnes passed through the doors of the auditorium, numerous stories have been told about this dark-haired waif.
As with most legends, there are numerous versions and sources do vary. The basic story tells of a young music student who fell in love with a rakish music professor. He kissed her during a lesson and when he married another woman, the distraught student committed suicide by hanging herself in the building. All of this took place around 1926.
Investigators interested in Agnes’ legend have thoroughly searched school records and discovered one young lady who may be the real Agnes: Agnes Galloway, whose picture appears in the 1926 yearbook. Records indicate that Ms. Galloway, from Mount Airy, North Carolina, died young, though in 1929 and the reason given for her death was tuberculosis. While suicide was often covered up by image-conscious families, the year of her death obviously doesn’t agree with the legend. Nancy Roberts in her Georgia Ghosts published an interview that adds some fuel to the legend’s fire.
Roberts interviewed a student whose grandmother had attended Brenau and who had known Agnes. The interview includes the story of the music professor and has Agnes hanging herself in her room in Pearce. The student coincidently was assigned to the very room where Agnes’ life had ended. The student was awakened one evening and saw the ghostly image of Agnes hanging from the light fixture. But, what would account for the sensitives seeing a young woman who was wet?
Another investigation in 2005 by the Ghost Hounds did capture an EVP during an investigation, but who or what is actually haunting Pearce Auditorium may never be known.
- Atkins, Jonathan M. “Berry College.” New Encyclopedia of Georgia. 15 April 2009.
- Barefoot, Daniel W. Haunted Halls of Ivy. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2004.
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- Berry College. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 20 May 2011.
- Brenau University. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 17 May 2011.
- Coulter, E. Merton. The Toombs Oak, The Tree That Owns Itself, and Other Chapters of Georgia. Athens, GA: UGA Press, 1966.
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- “Exploring haunted history.” The Athens Banner-Herald. 31 October 2010.
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- Thomas, Brandee A. “Spirits of the past draw a crowd to History Center.” Gainesville Times. 30 October 2010.
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