5 creepy university urban legends | Top Universities

5 creepy university urban legends

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Vyara Pancheva

Updated Jun 02, 2023



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Have you ever heard stories about haunted universities or creepy libraries and even dungeons beneath? Do you believe in the legend of Bloody Mary or the Headless Horseman? What about strange disappearings and suicides on campus? All of the above are simply university urban legends – some are spooky, some are weird and most are almost entirely made up. Every university has its stock of tales and traditions, urban legends and ghost stories included. As Halloween approaches, get yourself in the mood with some of the world’s most widespread university urban legends:

1. The Halloween massacre


The Halloween massacre is one of the most famous college myths of all time. It is not certain how and when it actually started, but it has made its way into most American universities. For decades now, it has created panic and fear among thousands of students (and possibly even a few professors as well). The legend goes that a popular psychic has made a prediction that on a Halloween night a masked man (in some variations, he is dressed as Little Bo Peep) will enter the campus of a university that starts with the letter 'M' or 'W' and is located near a pond/lake/river, railroad track, or cemetery. He will then kill everybody there. This story has existed for many years now, but no massacre has happened yet. However, students from all around the country still fear it, especially at colleges such as the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin.


2. The dead roommate


Another grim college legend, which is repeated across many dorm rooms, is the one about the dead roommate. No one knows where it started or whether it has any basis in true events, but rumour has it that if a student’s roommate in college dies by accident, illness or suicide, s/he will get only straight As until the end of the year. This, of course, is complete fabrication. Those students might receive some consideration for the stressful circumstances, but they will most definitely not automatically get only excellent grades. (So don’t start getting any murderous ideas!) One of the US colleges where this belief is particularly popular is the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


3. Statues come to life


Many universities around the world have some sort of statues or monuments in front of their main building. It might be a statue of the creator, benefactor, alumnus or an abstract symbol. A popular myth is that at night those statues come to life and move around the campus. The legend varies from institution to institution, but the pattern is the same. Some colleges might even have monuments of animals or different types of fantastic creatures. The University of Cincinnati, for example, has stone lions in front of its McMicken Hall, which some students believe they have heard growl at night. Some variations of the legend say that the statues only move when a virgin or a cheater walks past them. Others go even further and describe paintings and other objects coming to life as well. Students from Michigan State University, for instance, claim that the portrait of Mary Mayo moves its eyes and follows you through the room.


4. Secret tunnels below the campus


Lots of universities in the world are believed to have secret tunnels below their campuses. Through the years, students have made up various stories concerning hidden pathways leading to dungeons, ritual rooms and so on. This legend is again particularly popular in the US. Students from Michigan State University believe that there are creepy dungeons below the university. That is partially true, because there ARE tunnels running under the campus, but they are actually steam tunnels that were built to house campus utilities. No dungeons whatsoever have been found. Another version of the same belief exists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where some students there believe there is a secret room below the Foreign Language Building and that it holds a supercomputer, which is owned by the government. They also claim that there are secret tunnels below the buildings on the Quad, whose origin and purpose is unknown.


5. Haunted universities


Arguably the most popular college urban legends are about haunted universities. Almost every university in the world which is more than 100 years old has its own ghost. While some students proudly brag about that and make up all kinds of scary stories of ghostly encounters, there are some who are genuinely afraid. Even though different colleges have different legends concerning ghosts, the main patterns are very similar. There can only be so many types of ghosts, right?! Ones to watch out for include:


  • Headless ghosts


Probably initially inspired by Washington Irving’s Sleepy Hollow, legends about headless or bodiless ghosts are some of the most popular ones in stories of haunted universities. The most prestigious universities in the UK – Cambridge and Oxford – both have similar hauntings, which include famous Brits. Students in Cambridge believe they have seen the floating head of none other than Oliver Cromwell himself. He was beheaded and while his body was buried, his head rests at Cambridge’s Sidney Sussex College. It is said that Cromwell haunts the campus grounds, supposedly searching for the rest of his body. Oxford, on the other hand, is said to be haunted by the headless spirit of King Charles I. Students have reported seeing him around the grounds of Christ Church College.


  • Ghosts of former professors


Another famous urban legend, spread around many colleges around the world, is about ghosts of former university professors. Such a legend exists at Heidelberg University in Germany, for example. During the Nazi era, many Communist or Jewish professors at the university were sent to concentration camps. Lots of them have apparently returned to their old workplace to haunt its grounds for eternity. While students haven’t actually seen them, they have reported that the chalkboards in these professors’ old lecture halls “self-erase”, or have mysterious words written on them.


 A similar urban legend exists in the American University of Cincinnati. According to students and staff there, the ghost of a former classics professor who died in the 1960s haunts the Blegen rare book room. Students claim that they constantly feel like someone is watching them and keep hearing strange noises at night. 

  • Ghosts of students who committed suicide


Possibly the most widespread versions of the ghost legends are those concerning students who committed suicide on campus grounds. I guess there is something eerie about suicidal students indeed, but most stories aren’t based on actual evidence. Supposedly, in the beginning of the 20th century, a young girl took her own life by drowning in a swimming pool at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The girl had just found out she was pregnant and in her panic committed suicide. Students believe that her spirit still roams the English Building of the university. Another similar myth exists at the Emmanuel College in Cambridge. A student who hanged himself many years ago apparently walks the corridors of the building.


  • Ghosts of builders


The last popular pattern among stories about haunted universities is the one about builders who died during the construction of the college in question. Since they gave their life for the university, they are said to never leave it. Students at the Lomonosov Moscow State University in Russia have reported hearing sounds of construction and blood-curdling cries on the top floors of the university.


 Another legend of a ghost of a former builder is extremely popular at the University Of Toronto, Canada. Rumour has it that in 1889 a student actually saw the ghost of a stonemason, who told him that he was murdered in a fight inside the campus. In an attempt to save himself, the stonemason struck a wooden door, which still exists in the university today.

 True or not, urban legends have and always will be a part of college life and experience. Students all over the world share them with the new generation of freshers, and thus they live on. Stories of haunted universities and horrific events have survived the test of time and continue to make our blood freeze and skin tingle. So why not do a bit of research into your own university’s urban legends, and scare your course mates this Halloween?

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