Editor’s note: This story updates the dates of the tours from a previous version, which have been moved to Oct. 29-30. The tours were originally scheduled for Oct. 22-23.
(Rock Hill, S.C.) — The annual Tillman Hall ghost tours, hosted by the Winthrop University Student Alumni Council for the past 16 years, bring entertainment and history to the campus, but also draw attention to the evolution of the ghost story.
The tours will be held this year Oct. 29-30 from 7 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. and will take attendants from the basement of Tillman Hall to the typically locked fourth floor for a $10 entrance fee.
Shayna Foxworth, the student and young alumni program coordinator, said the money raised goes towards the Winthrop Fund, which “provides current and immediate support to students and the university,” according to the university’s website.
The ghost tours are designed to be both scary and informative. According to Foxworth, all historical stories told on the ghost tours are extensively fact checked with the campus archives to ensure accuracy.
“It’s very unique. We try to change it up every year in some format, but all the information we give is factually checked with archives. We work very closely with the archives for our script to ensure that we are giving out accurate information about people who have positively impacted Winthrop University’s campus,” she said.
These tours used to cover the whole campus, but it was too challenging to make them as spooky and interactive as the council wanted them to be.
“I was actually a student in the Student Alumni Council when the tours were across campus,” Foxworth said. “Having to run from Tillman all the way over to the amphitheater or over to Byrnes sometimes, it was a lot.”
Many students are already making plans to take the tour with friends, including Taylor Sallenger, a senior political science major, who said she has heard a lot of positive things about the tours.
“I really hope that I can experience them, because I’ve heard they are pretty cool. So I’m hoping that it won’t be cheesy,” she said. “But it comes highly recommended, I feel like, from people who have gone on them in the past.”
Sallenger said she had a night class in Tillman Hall last semester and she firmly believes it’s haunted.
“It’s a spooky place, like when you are leaving, it’s just like, there’s just like a vibe, a presence. It’s wild. It’s haunted. Tillman is haunted. There is no other explanation for it,” she said.
Dr. Debbie Garrick, senior development officer for Winthrop, said she has had heard about many ghost encounters in Tillman Hall from other employees.
“A lady who used to work in the accounting office told me that she was up on the third floor of Tillman and…just watched a woman, she was in a full long dress, everything like that, like she was someone dressed up as a period student from the 1800s or 1900s, and she said ‘I just watched her walk right through the wall,’” Garrick said.
The fourth floor, which is typically locked but opened for the ghost tours, is a location heavy with ghostly activities, according to Garrick. She said cleaning crews have refused to work there.
“Back in the day, when the custodians actually used to clean the fourth floor here (at Tillman Hall), they would just periodically go up there and they refused after a certain amount of time because they would find messages written on the floor,” she said. “They had gone up there to mop or something, and there would be ‘don’t come back’ (or) ‘leave me alone;’ that kind of thing (written) and the crazy thing was they would be written in water, but there was no water up there.”
Many students and staff believe other locations on campus are also haunted, such as Margret Nance Hall, Johnson Hall, Crawford Hall and the Little Chapel. Sallenger said she believes the library may also be haunted.
“I can’t prove the library is haunted and I don’t think anybody exactly says ‘the library is haunted,’ but the vibe in there when it’s like, later at night, it’s just creepy,” she said.
Garrick said she had not heard of the library being haunted, but she said she thinks it’s creepy. She said she has heard many of the other ghost stories around campus, including a strange, possibly ghostly, encounter in the president’s house.
“At the president’s house…they found a 1900-something postcard that just showed up one day randomly. And…it was during the pandemic, so they asked the few people who had been coming in the house, you know, the cleaning folks, the exterminator, folks from Sodexo, ‘did you guys put this card here?’ And nobody had seen it before and it just appeared on top of their television set. It was crazy,” she said.
To nonbelievers, ghost stories may seem like a silly way to scare or excite people, but they can be an important part of the culture and folklore of an area.
Sean McCloud, professor and director of graduate studies for the Department for Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said ghost stories are an important way to remember history or tragedy.
McCloud was a guest on the Palmetto Report podcast to discuss the history and cultural impact of ghost stories.
“Some communities focus really on family spirits, ancestors that need to be remembered or appeased. Other ghost stories focus on places where things happened, (such as) accidents or murders,” he said.
According to McCloud, ghost stories are a diverse and ancient form of storytelling.
“There are as many and as old, of ghost stories as there are stories about gods. So this is something that’s longstanding in all human cultures,” he said.
Ghost stories are most commonly attributed to folklore, according to Casey Cothran, chair of the English department at Winthrop. She said that, unlike fairy tales, ghost stories are a way to try to explain things that seem unnatural.
“Folklore, as the term suggests, are stories told by the folk or the people. And commonly, a lot of ghost stories start out as specific tales about locations and certain areas, maybe where an act of violence happened or where something strange happens, like the sink faucet is always leaking,” she said. “So I would argue that, unlike a fairy tale, which very typically presents a fantasy narrative…it’s a little bit more an attempt to explain local phenomena.”
Cothran theorized the reason why ghost stories are so impactful to humans is because they allow us to see the past as tangible.
“The greatest mystery of all is death and what happens after death, and so ghost stories are ultimately narratives where we fantasize that perhaps the loved one isn’t gone or that the past is somehow still with us,” she said. “That something that happened in the past happens again and again on a level of time and space that is only partially visible to us. These are our fantasies that help us deal with loss…but at the same time, I think they also feel terrifying to us, because what does it mean if those things don’t actually go on to another plane or another place?”
Other events will take place at Winthrop for Halloween and although official details have not yet been released, Foxworth said there are many ways to get engaged on campus this year.
“We’re working on a pumpkin painting event at the beginning of the week. We’ll be having some virtual movie trivia on the Alumni Association Instagram and social media and then we are looking at having an in-person painting event, but we haven’t really identified that just yet,” said Foxworth.