Harrisonburg Haunting: The Ghosts of Madison

At 108 years old, JMU is bound to have a few ghost stories and spooky traditions floating around, and this month, your TAD writing team has set out to find them!

Everyone at JMU has heard of the tunnels—forbidden, dangerous, and difficult to access. They’re the holy grail of trespassing for many a student thrill-seeker. But do you know their history? You might have heard that before they were closed off in the 1960’s, they were sometimes used by the students and staff at the State Normal School to move safely and unruffled between classes during inclement weather. You may not have heard that they’re haunted.

over103The State Teachers College at Harrisonburg, ca. 1929. Courtesy of JMU Special Collections.

There are many stories about the tunnels, but one in particular has endured the test of time.

First, a little history about the tunnels themselves. Originally, the tunnels funneled steam from the old heating plant to Jackson Hall (formerly Dormitory No. 1), Maury Hall (formerly Science Hall), Ashby Hall (formerly Dormitory No. 2), and Harrison Hall (formerly the Students’ Building). The tunnels were large and dimly lit, but provided easy access to various campus buildings. As more buildings were built and the student population grew, the tunnels became less important and more dangerous, and were eventually closed off sometime around 1969. A lively mythology about the tunnels and their ghostly denizens grew quickly once they were forbidden, and it is still very much alive today.

studentbody1929Student body of the State Teachers College at Harrisonburg on the Quad, 1929. JMU Special Collections.

As legend has it, our ghost was a student at the State Normal School (or, depending on the exact year, the State Teachers College) in the 1920’s. It was a time of rapidly increasing freedom for women, both socially and professionally, with a booming film industry pushing an image of romance and sexuality onto the young people. One can imagine that many of the liberated young ladies attending the College were taken in by the glitz and joie de vivre of the flapper lifestyle. So it’s understandable that when this girl began receiving little gifts and romantic letters from a secret admirer, she was swept off her feet. The notes kept coming, each longer than the last, the words more sweet, the gifts more lavish. And then, one day, the letter was an invitation—to meet her admirer in the tunnels after curfew. The campus had been on high alert for a Peeping Tom for some time, and her friends begged her not to go. A stranger, in the middle of the night? What sort of man refuses to show himself in the light of day? But, wrapped up in her romantic fantasy, she ignored them, slipped on her fanciest heels and spritzed on her nicest perfume before sneaking out to meet her unknown beau. When she arrived at their amorous rendezvous, her fantasy rapidly devolved into a nightmare—her secret admirer was a crazed killer who had been stalking the campus for weeks. He attacked and eventually killed her, leaving her body in the tunnels.

It’s said that if you listen closely, you can hear her heels clicking on the floor of the tunnels late at night. And if you catch a whiff of perfume on your midnight stroll? You’re standing on the spot she was murdered.


JMU’s Centennial Celebration Info Page

Encimine Blog post about the tunnels

Jollett Etc. Blog Post about the tunnels

Ashby Hall Blog Post about creepy stories

Breeze Article on JMU’s supernatural side

JMU Special Collections photos

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