The University of Montevallo is located just south of Birmingham. The university is the realization of the dream of educator and social activist Julia Tutwiler, who envisioned an institution where young women could acquire skills that would enable them to become self-sufficient. As a result of the urging of Tutwiler and citizens of Montevallo, Senator Solomon Bloch introduced a bill establishing the school in the small town of Montevallo. Alabama’s Girls Industrial School opened its doors in October 1896. The Industrial School was housed in a number of existing structures. The largely experimental school trained young women to become teachers, musicians, artists, milliners. Bookkeepers, and telegraphers. By 1899, four hundred students were enrolled at Alabama’s Girls’ Industrial School. In the early 1900s, the school adopted purple and gold as its school colors. In 1907, the new president of the university, Thomas Palmer upgraded the school’s existing teacher training program, mostly because the demand for industrial training was declining. Under Palmer’s guidance, the school became one of the first institutions in the state to promote teacher education in music, art, commercial subjects, and physical education. In 1911, the school changed its name to Alabama’ Girls’ Technical Institute; the phrase “College for Women” was added to the schools name in 1919. In 1923, the school became a degree-granting institution after changing its name to Alabama College State College for Women. In the 1950s, faculty, alumnae, and the board of trustees gradually accepted the fact that in order for the school to grow, it would have to lose its designation as a “girls’” school. On January 15, 1957, the state legislature changed the name of the school to “Alabama State College,” thereby transforming it into a co-educational institution. By the end of the decade, intercollegiate baseball, basketball, cross-country track, and tennis teams were organized. In 1963, over forty percent of the student body was men. When Alabama College became the University of Montevallo on September 1, 1963, it included four colleges: Arts and Sciences, Fine Arts, Business, and Education. In 1995, The University of Montevallo became one of twenty-five institutions to be offered membership in the prestigious Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges. Today, the university has the distinction of being ranked by the U.S. News & World Report as being ranked as a Tier One master’s-level institution. Montevallo is also reputed to be the most haunted universities in the entire state.
The oldest building on the campus of the University of Montevallo was originally a private residence. In the early 1800s, the site on which the University is now located was occupied by a tribe of Indians and a wealthy merchant named Edmund King. Born in Virginia in 1832, he married Nancy Ragan in 1812 in Griffin, Georgia. In 1815, King, accompanied by two servants, traveled to Mobile. They then rode on horseback from Dallas Country northward to a community known as Wilson’s Hill. He was so impressed with the place that he and his servants built a log cabin on a picturesque site. In 1817, King moved his wife Nancy and their children to the community that would come to be known as Montevalo. Their guide was William Weatherford, the Indian warrior known as Red Eagle. In 1823, King set about building a house that reflected his increasing prosperity. He replaced the hewn-log structure where he and his family had lived for six years with a handsome brick building, built in the Federal style. Servants made the bricks of clay from Shoals Creek. Visitors traveled from miles around to gaze at the windows, which had genuine glass panes. Before long, Mansion House, reputed to be one of the finest homes in the entire state, became the social center of Montevallo and the surrounding area.
Edmund King eventually opened a successful mercantile store in Montevallo. However, King’s fortune did not insulate him from tragedy. In 1842, his wife Nancy died in 1842 at the age of forty-nine. His second wife, Susan Ward King, whom King married in 1848, died in 1850. Both of King’s wives are buried in the little cemetery next to the King House, not far from the grave of his son Lyttleton, who was accidentally killed by one of his brothers while deer hunting. It is said that King spent hours walking around the graves, sometimes forgetting to eat. His last years were marked by infirmity and recurring illness. King died on June 28, 1863, at the age of eighty-two. Some say he was strolling through his orchard in the back of his house when an overhanging limb fell on his head and killed him. Others believe that he died in a fall from a peach tree he was trying to climb.
However, according to local legends, the death of Edmund King was not the end of his story. For years, people reported seeing his ghost wander around with a lantern and a shovel, reportedly looking for the gold that he had buried under a peach tree. Sometimes, his spirit takes the form of a ball of light that has been seen darting around the area between the graveyard and the orchard. Dr. Frank McCoy told of his own encounter with the spectral figure: “It was my first year here—1976. I was hired by President Kermit Johnson, who had already retired from being a principal and superintendent in Birmingham. He seemed to be really old to me back then. Students talked about seeing the house’s ghost, and we decided to stake out the place. My office was in Brock Hall right across the street. We decided to wait after nightfall to see if we could catch sight of him. Sure enough, we looked up one night, and we saw this shadowy figure walking around the outside of the house, bending over, [like he was looking for something buried in the ground]. Everywhere this figure went, it suddenly got very dark. One part of the yard went dark, and then another, and then another. I figured out that it was the president, Kermit Johnson, who was going around turning off the outside lights to keep the utility costs down. The lights were on the ground, and he had to bend over.”
The children and grandchildren of Edmund King also spoke of strange activity inside the King House. For years, King’s relatives have experienced cold spots in King’s bedroom. People sitting in the downstairs parlor reported hearing the creaking of the bed and footsteps, as if someone had just climbed out of bed and walked across the floor. They immediately thought of Edmund King, who was in the habit of leaving his bed and pacing the floor of his bedroom when he was old. As soon as someone opened the door, the noises stopped. King’s descendants also claimed to have seen weird lights in the dark corners of the upstairs room, usually on stormy nights. They also heard the clinking sounds of coins. Dr. Frank McCoy said that students and faculty reported seeing his ghost in one of the upstairs windows, counting his money. “At times, he will lose money, or he can’t figure out why his books won’t balance,” McCoy said, “and he starts roaming the inside of the house.
The most bizarre occurrence inside the King House was reported by Kathryn Tucker Windham in her book Jeffrey’s Latest 13: More Alabama Ghosts. Windham reports that years after King’s death, a wedding feast was held inside the mansion. A young girl, possibly a brides’ maid, was trying to carve a roast pig when a high-pitched squeal came from the animal. Panic-stricken, guests overturned chairs and bumped into the banquet table as they dashed out the front door. While they were regaining their composure on the front lawn, one of the groomsmen volunteered to carve the pig. He had just stuck a large fork into the pig when what guests later described as a “huge white thing” floated from underneath the table, hovered over the bride and groom, and disappeared. Needless to say, no one felt like eating after the spirit vanished. Later on in the evening, while the bride and groom and their guests were dancing, a white-robed figure leapt through the parlor door, floated over the heads of the guests, and flew out an open window into the night. To this day, no one knows who—or what—the uninvited wedding guest was.
Even today, students talk of the ghosts inside the King House. One night, several members of the baseball team claim to have broken into the old house when they heard a spectral voice order them to “Get out!” Students passing by the house during the day have seen the transparent figure of an elderly man dressed in 19th century period clothing waving at them from a second story window. At night, students have seen the light of a lantern move from room to room on the second floor. People standing inside the kitchen of the King House have reported getting “bad vibes.” One evening, a young man and woman were walking around the outside of the King House, staring into the windows. The young man was looking into one of the kitchen windows when suddenly, he felt a hand on his shoulder. Thinking that his friend was trying to get his attention, he turned around to find out what she wanted. To his surprise, she was standing across the brick patio, staring into an upstairs window.
One of the buildings that became the nucleus of Alabama Girls’ Industrial is now known as Reynolds Hall. During the Civil War, the building was used as a Confederate Hospital. Dr. Frank McCoy, a retired professor in Montevallo’s Fine Arts Department, believes that Reynolds Hall is haunted by the ghost of Captain Henry Clay Reynolds, whose duty it was to protect the sick and injured men in the hospital: “Captain Reynolds learned that General Sherman’s troops were about to attack the Briarfield Iron Works, which was a very valuable smelting facility for the Confederates, so he decided to go eight miles from Briarfield and join the troops. Unfortunately, he left the wounded soldiers in Reynolds unguarded, and when the Union Army came through, they massacred the wounded. Reynolds came back from Briarfield and was anguished over the fact that he had not died on the battlefield. He regretted not staying in Montevallo to protect the wounded men. Captain Reynolds said he’d never go from Reynolds Hall again, so he never left.” Legend has it that the bodies of the murdered patients were buried in the King cemetery. Some people believe that Reynolds spirit is guilt-ridden over his actions during his tenure as the first president of the school. Reynolds had been one of the primary supporters of Montevallo as the site of the proposed girls’ industrial school. Supposedly, Reynolds ghost is racked with guilt because he was forcibly removed as president. His detractors claimed that he had invested the students’ tuition money to fatten his own bank account.
For generations, students, faculty, and staff have had paranormal experiences in Reynolds Hall. Some of the disturbances in the building seem to be poltergeist activity. Janitors claim that doors and windows open and close by themselves. People walking through the building at night have passed through what seem to be cold spots. Occasionally, people have felt a gust of wind blowing across the stage when the doors are closed. Most people credit these phenomena to the Henry Clay Reynolds, whose blue apparition has been seen and heard walking around Reynolds Hall. Some students actually claim that Reynolds’ specter has followed them around the campus late at night. The best known ghostly activity in Reynolds Hall involves the portrait of the disgraced president. Dr. Frank McCoy said, “I have been over to Reynolds Hall on lights when maintenance people will sear that Reynolds’ portrait has been moved. They will take it down and move it back to its proper place. No one has ever been caught moving it, but it does in fact move around the building.”
The ghostly presence at Palmer Hall is the spirit of Dr. Walter H. Trumbauer, known affectionately by the student body as “Trummy.” Dr. Trumbauer founded the Drama Festival in 1928. He was also the driving force behind College Night, which began on March 3, 1923. “College night has been recognized by the Smithsonian Institute as having the longest-running continuous student-produced and directed student show in the country,” Dr. McCoy said. “It is a really intense rivalry. You declare that you are gold or purple, the school colors. Then you go through various athletic competitions, followed by debates. Then it culminates in a series of nights, beginning on Wednesday and ending on Saturday. Each group writes, produces, choreographs, and acts in a production it has written. Then on Saturday, a winner is declared. Probably no more than ten days a year do students have an interest in Palmer Hall, but during that time, the rivalry and intense emotions are raucous on College Night.” Dr. Trumbauer had a vested interest in Palmer Hall and its 1100-foot auditorium because he helped design it. Apparently, though, his spirit is miffed because Dr. Trumbauer’s name was omitted from the plaque on the outside of the building. Dr. McCoy says that Trummy’s restless spirit is most active during the performance of plays: “Trummy will wander backstage and appear and disappear as students are getting ready, causing the performers to become even more jittery than they were before walking on stage.” Students can tell which play meets with Trummy’s approval because he causes the battens to swing over the performance of his choice during dress rehearsal. Students say that Dr. McCoy suspects, however, that there might be a rational explanation for the manifestations inside Palmer Hall. “Most of these students have never appeared on stage before and certainly not in front of a thousand people with bands playing and cheerleaders and that sort of thing. So the fact that they would see an apparition in the labyrinth below the stage is understandable.”
Another haunted building on Montevallo’s campus is Hanson Hall Women’s Residence. The story goes that the spirit of a strict housemother is still watching over the young women in the dormitory. She usually takes the form of an unseen presence who looks over the shoulders of students as they study late into the night. Her ghost has also been seen walking down the halls and peering into students’ rooms to make sure that everything is as it should be. The vigilant housemother has also been credited with moving objects from their original location. One student said that she left her coffee mug on her desk, only to find it gone a few minutes. The mug reappeared in the same location a few weeks later.
The University of Montevallo’s most famous ghost story takes place in at the oldest residence hall, Old Main. The four-story west wing of Old Main opened its doors in 1897. Students have given the old dormitory the nickname “Buzzard Hall, ” probably because the tangle of vines encircling the entrance way are said to resemble buzzards’ nests. Old Main’s most famous resident is Condie Cunningham, who lived on the fourth floor. On February 4th, 1908, she and her friends were heating up hot chocolate on burner when someone knocked over a bottle of alcohol, which splashed on Condie’s nightgown and ignited it and her hair. Screaming, the terrified girl ran out of her room and down the hallway. Finally, she collapsed in a smoldering heap at the foot of the stairs. Condie was taken to a local hospital, where she died several days later. Students said that they could still smell the stench of burned flesh on the fourth floor several days later. According to Dr. Frank McCoy, stories of Condie’s ghost began circulating around Old Main shortly after her death: “Even today, you can talk to students who swear that Condie came into their room. She’s been known to go into the shower areas and scream her head off. Some students have felt a breeze when the windows were closed. They have seen the carpet on the threshold of her room ripple as if someone walked into the room. Or they tell the story of a door opening, and there won’t be anyone there. The girls say that when she roams the hall, she doesn’t do it quietly. She runs and screams through the hall as if she is still on fire. One student told me that Condie is coming back because she is trying to live vicariously through the young students in the hall.” Students have also a voice crying “Help me!” and disembodied footsteps running down the hall. One young woman claimed to have seen the apparition of a woman in a 19th century dress standing by her bed, criticizing her for having a boy in her room after house. The ghost of Condie Cunningham is so famous that Old Main has been featured on television programs and radio shows like “Rick and Bubba.”
In 2002, this writer, accompanied by Dr. Frank McCoy and an R.A., visited Old Main. At the time of my visit, her room was unoccupied. Supposedly, no one could stay there very long because of the spectral sounds in the room. Dr. McCoy said that the door to her room was not the original door: “Students began to the image of a woman screaming in the wood grain panel of the door to her room. Her hair was on fire, and the flames were shooting up. There were maintenance people who claim that they saw the image too. It wasn’t just the students who saw her. A few years ago, somebody decided to put the door in storage to put the school at ease.” The R.A. took Dr. McCoy and me to the basement, where the door is stored. I can understand how someone with a healthy imagination who is familiar with Condie Cunningham’s tragic tale could make out the image of a screaming woman in the intricate pattern of streaks and swirls on the wood. A variant of the story has it that image on the door is the face of a young woman who hanged herself in Condie’s room. She has also been credited with opening and closing the doors to rooms on the fourth floor, including the doors to the bathroom stalls.
Ghost stories are still told in the dormitories at the University of Montevallo, but not as much as they were in the past. Dr. Frank McCoy attributes this erosion of the transference of campus lore to the changing face of the university: “Back in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, there were much closer connections between students and faculty because they didn’t know that we didn’t know everything, so what developed was the faculty perpetuated many of the ghost stories on the campus. They would have the students at their homes. What are you going to talk to an eighteen-year-old about over dinner? You are not going to talk about math or science or art history. You’re going to talk about campus life, and there are few things more interesting than ghosts, so it became almost traditional that faculty would tell ghost stories. This is not done so much because there are fewer students living on campus. Only about one third of the student body lives on campus now, so many of these student/faculty relationships have not continued.” One can only hope that the current interest in the paranormal, spawned in large part by television, will inspire students to investigate the truth behind the stories that have made the University of Montevallo very well-known to ghost hunters across the United States.