Thursday, December 31, 2020

HGB Ep. 366 - University of North Alabama

Moment in Oddity - The Accent of Tangier, Virginia (Suggested by: Chelsea Flowers)

We've all been on the phone or listened to a podcast with someone who has a heavy accent. We have to listen extra carefully, so that we understand what is being said. At least that is the case with English. But we imagine that it could be the same for people who speak other languages. And while some accents almost sound like another language, we generally understand what is being said especially in America. That is the case with most states and cities, except for Tangier in Virginia. Tangier Island is off the coast of Virginia in the Chesapeake Bay and despite it being 2020, the island is fairly isolated. One can only reach it by boat. And the people who live here want to stay insulated from outside influence. Families here go back to colonial times and this is reflected in their distinct dialect. Their tonal pronunciations go back centuries and the vernacular they use makes quite a bit of what they say unrecognizable. The accent is so thick that most people would assume that they are speaking a different language, but it is actually English and that, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Plymouth Colony Construction Begins

In the month of December, on the 23rd, in 1620, construction on the Plymouth Colony begins. The Mayflower carrying 102 passengers left Plymouth, England for the New World on September 16, 1620. The group had people who were escaping religious persecution and others who were looking for business opportunities. Despite differences, this group formed the Mayflower Compact as they sailed, which would lay the groundwork for American democracy. This incorporated both majority rule and constitutional law. The Mayflower landed on Cape Cod on November 21st. A scouting group went out and found the perfect location for their settlement and named it after the place they had come from, Plymouth. The Mayflower was brought down to the harbor and construction on dwellings began. The group would stay aboard the ship for several months as they worked on the settlement and eventually moved ashore permanently in March. Nearly half of them would die that first year, but eventually they flourished.

University of North Alabama

The University of North Alabama is located in the city of Florence and has been a fixture here for almost 200 years. It started like most older colleges, in a different spot and much smaller. Today, it has grown into a large university covering several acres with many buildings. Several of those buildings are reputedly haunted and there are even a couple of creepy statues that come to life! Join us as we share the history and haunts of the University of North Alabama.

Florence, Alabama sits along the Tennessee River and is the largest city in the area that is commonly known as the Shoals. This city also has the distinction of being home to the only house in the state of Alabama designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. And the name Florence is indeed from the Italian city that is the capital of Tuscany. An Italian surveyor named Ferdinand Sannoner first surveyed the town in 1818 for the Cypress Land Company. Florence was incorporated in 1826. Four years later, LaGrange College was founded and opened by the Methodist church. Despite that origin, the goal was to have the college be neither religious or theological. This was not in Florence, but rather a mountain town called LaGrange, which means "The Barn" in French. By 1855, however, LaGrange College had moved to Florence. And that was fortunate since Union troops burned the original school to the ground in 1863. The name of the school changed at that time to Florence Wesleyan University. 

This move to Florence was controversial and many students and staff refused to move. It took three days to caravan everything to the new site, which consisted of a bunch of tents until buildings could be constructed. That is why the school needed to change its name. Admission to the university was tough. Students not only needed to have a command of grammar, geography, math and Latin and Greek, but prospective students had to be able to translate parts of four books: Caesar's Gallic Wars, six books of Virgil's Aeneid, Jacob's or Felton's Greek Reader, and at least one of Xenophon's Anabasis. There were 160 students enrolled in that first year after the move. Future politicians would graduate from here, along with Civil War generals. The Civil War would bring hardship to the university, but it managed to keep from being destroyed, although various buildings would take turns being occupied by both sides. 

In 1872, the Methodist Church deeded the university to the State of Alabama and the name changed to the State Normal School at Florence. This would be the first teachers college south of the Ohio River that was state supported. At that time, the school was still only for men, but a year after this, women were allowed to enroll. The first women would enter the school in 1874 and the first female member of the faculty would be added in 1879. This made the university one of the first co-educational schools in the country. It would remain a normal school for fifty years. In 1929, it branched into a four-year curriculum offering bachelor's degree, the first of which was awarded in 1931. Graduate courses were offered later starting in 1956. In 1957, the college would change names again, this time to Florence State College.

Although the school had been co-educational for years, there was still one milestone it needed to cross and this came in 1963 when Wendell Wilkie Gunn became the first African-American student to enroll at the college. Gunn did have to sue for this to happen when he was initially denied admission. The trial lasted just ten minutes and Gunn's lawyer Fred Gray said in 2005 that this was "the easiest case of my civil rights career." Gunn would eventually become an international trade adviser to President Ronald Reagan in 1982. By 1967, the school had expanded its programs so much that it was agreed that another name change was necessary and the school became Florence State University. Yes, those are a lot of name changes and that leads to this little fun fact. Ethelbert Brinkley "E.B." Norton, was president of the institution for all three of those name changes. Wonder if he ever forgot which school it was that he was presiding over on a particular day? 

On August 15, 1974, the university underwent its final name change and became the University of Northern Alabama. More masters programs were added and the school started enrolling thousands of students. Today, the campus is spread out over 200 acres and has nearly 6500 students. The school nickname is the Lions and it actually owns two live lions named Leo III and Una who live in a state-of-the-art facility near the main campus entrance. There are many buildings and houses that make up the campus and several of them have ghost stories connected to them. We are going to share those with you now.

The O'Neal House

The O'Neal House is located at 468 North Court Street. This was home to two governors of the state. Edward O'Neal was born in 1818 and attended the University of Northern Alabama when it was LaGrange College, graduating at the top of his class.He married Olivia Moore and they had nine children together. When the Civil War broke out, O'Neal joined the Confederate Army as a Captain and worked his way up in rank to Colonel. During the Battle of Seven Pines, he was severely wounded and his horse was killed under him. He recovered and went on to lead regiments in several other battles. After the war, he worked in law and then politics and was elected governor in 1882, serving until 1886. He died in Florence, Alabama in 1890. The O'Neal House was built in the 1840s and the O'Neals bought it in 1857. Mrs. O'Neal loved the home from the moment she saw it and it is said that she has stayed in the house even after her death. She is most often seen standing in an upstairs window and is described as beautiful with long blonde hair. For those who have encountered her apparition, they report that she is friendly.

Off Campus Bookstore

The Off Campus Bookstore is located right next to the O'Neal House at 472 North Court Street. This house is cute bungalow built in the early 1900s and was home to a young girl named Molly in the 1920s. The family had a family dog that unfortunately caught rabies. Molly loved to play with the dog, so it was only normal for her to reach out to her dog that appeared to not be feeling well as it foamed at the mouth. The dog bit her and infected her with rabies. This was before there was a treatment for rabies and the poor girl died a horribly painful death. And perhaps that is why she has returned in the afterlife. Or maybe she misses her dog. People claim to see her apparition inside and outside of the house and a few claim she has asked if they have seen her dog. Sometimes she seems to have found her dog as the pet appears with her. The Kappa Sigma Fraternity used the house in the 1980s and the room that was reputedly Molly's room, was always painfully cold. A contractor claimed to see the girl during renovations. She appeared as a floating pink mist. He also heard disembodied footsteps like those of a barefoot child. Molly continues on in the bookstore with some poltergeist activity. Candy mysteriously disappears and objects get moved around. People also see the little girl looking out of the windows when the store is closed and no one is inside.

Norton Auditorium

The Norton Auditorium is located at 600 North Pine Street. At one time, this was the largest theater venue in the area and had been known as the Auditorium and Fine Arts Center. Major musical acts have performed here as well as theater productions. The auditorium underwent its first major renovation in January 2020. And we are sure that this helped to kick up activity because the spirit that haunts this place is not an entertainer, but rather, a construction worker. The Auditorium was built in the the 1960s and a worker was working on a high beam when he fell to his death. His spirit remains and likes to play tricks and people have taken to calling him George, although no one knows what his real was. He makes noises throughout the building and plays with the lights. The theater crew claims that one night they turned all the breakers off, so that they could change out the lighting. They went on a break and when they returned, every light was ablaze...and the breakers were still off. The campus newspaper, The Flor-Ala, decided to have some of their staff try to communicate with George using a Ouija board back in 2011. Apparently, they did get some kind of communication that verified the legend. 

Coby Hall

Coby Hall is located across the street from the Norton Auditorium. Before this was Coby Hall, this was the Courtland Mansion. The mansion was built by John Simpson in the 1830s for his wife Margret Patton Simpson. It was built in the Georgian Revival architectural style. Simpson ran a mercantile business in Florence for many years. The Civil War found both the Union and Confederacy occupying the mansion at different points. Confederate General John Bell Hood was one of the occupiers. George Foster bought the house for his daughter Virginia and her husband James Irving after the war, which passed down through the family to the Irvine’s great granddaughter, Mrs. Madding King. The Kings restored the house after World War II. Ellis Coats owned the house into the early 1980s and he allowed Project Courtview to use the mansion for Florence’s first Decorator’s Showcase. Coby Hall got its name from its last private owners, David and Coby Brubaker. Coby died from cancer at a young age and David gave the house to the University of Northern Alabama in memory of her. Coby Hall was dedicated in 2005 and is the headquarters of UNA’s Admissions and Recruiting. The mansion is also used for various events. The spirit here goes all the way back to the Simpsons. Margret Simpson is believed to haunt the hall and she dislikes any loud parties. She has made several appearances during parties. She has been seen in a navy skirt and white blouse, particularly on the first floor of the house.

Willingham Hall

Willingham Hall is a college administrative building located at 687-601 N. Morrison Ave. This site originally was home for the Locust Dell Academy, which ran from 1834 to 1843. The private school had been established by a man named Nicholas Hentz and his wife Caroline. Caroline was Alabama's first best-selling novelist. The current building was constructed in 1939 by President Franklin Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration as a men's dormitory. The Tennessee Valley Authority housed employees there during World War II and after the war it was a boys' dormitory. In 1947, the dormitory switched to a female dormitory and it remained that way until 1968. The name officially became Willingham Hall in 1949 for one of the college's presidents, Dr. Henry J. Willingham. His support of a new sales tax in Alabama helped insure that the teachers at the college got their full pay. Prior to this, most teachers were working twelve months for nine months of pay. The first reports of haunting activity came from an English professor who had returned to his office for a book when he heard an awful banging coming from the basement. He decided to investigate and found nothing in the basement. He went back to his office and the banging started again. This scared him to hear it a second time and he ran from the building. There are reports that Nicholas Hentz liked to play music loudly at night and there are claims that he is responsible for the noise.

Phi Gamma Delta House

The Phi Gamma Delta House is located at 523 Oakview Circle. In 2017, this grand home was nearly destroyed in a fire, but is back to its former elegance after extensive restorations. The Phi Upsilon Chapter of the fraternity calls the house home and they apparently share it with a female ghost named Ella. Ella fell down the stairs and died according to legend. Because of this, her disembodied screams are heard. She also seems to be jealous when the brothers bring their girlfriends into the house and she will act out in a poltergeist fashion.

Wesleyan Hall

Wesleyan Hall is located on Cramer Way and is probably the coolest building on campus and its oldest. The Gothic Revival architecture has many castle elements like battlements that surround the roof line. The building was designed by Adolphus Heiman who was a Prussian engineer, stonecutter, and architect. The builder was Zebulon Pike Morrison and the building was made from brick that was made on the southern edge of the campus and slave labor did the construction. Construction was completed in 1856. This served as Florence Wesleyan University. During the Civil War, both sides occupied the building at various times, one of whom was General Sherman. After the war, the university started up again, but with only one professor. The school foundered and closed in 1871. The school was turned over to the state and they chartered it as a normal school and a three-story building was added in 1909. Eventually, the buildings became part of the University of Northern Alabama and serve as the departments of Foreign Language, Geography and Psychology. 

The ghost that haunts this building is a young boy thought to be named Jeremiah. Legend claims that he was the son of one of General Sherman's officers and served as a Union drummer. He went for a swim and unfortunately drowned. People claim to see his wet footprints on the floor and his apparition has been seen standing still wet as though he just finished a swim. The campus newspaper conducted an investigation in 2011 and during that, doors opened and closed by themselves and computers turned on and off by themselves. 

Guillot University Center 

The Guillot University Center is located at 202 Guillot University Center in the heart of the campus. The building was constructed in 1986 on the former site of O'Neal Hall, which had been there since 1913. It is named for Robert M. Guillot, who was UNA's former president from 1972 to 1989. Today, this serves as a student union with a mail room for students, food court, meeting rooms, banquet facilities, 300-seat performance hall and The Lion's Den Game Room. The resident spirit in this building seems to be a carry over from the O’Neal Hall. Legend claims that a girl named Priscilla hanged herself in an elevator shaft. Several students claimed to see her apparition in the building looking very forelorn. One student claimed to hear the sobs of a woman when he was locking up the building after a fraternity meeting. He followed the sounds upstairs and saw a translucent woman weeping. He ran out of there. Local author Debra Johnson was once leading a tour on the campus and the group experienced some weird stuff in front of the center. The elevator doors opened and closed on their own even though the building was closed for the night. And then the front door opened by itself even though it clearly had to have been locked.

Romeo and Juliet Statues

The strangest paranormal stories on campus center around the statues of Romeo and Juliet. Legend claims that these statues take flight on nights with a full moon. No one knows how this happens, but every Halloween, Romeo ends up with a pumpkin in his hands. There are a couple of theories. Obviously, ours would be that some student or students are having a little fun. Others claim that this is part of some kind of pagan Halloween ritual. Faculty members like to claim that Romeo goes out and searches for a pumpkin to give to his love Juliet. Those are fun, but what is not fun are the stories that students tell of being chased by the Romeo statue as it throws pumpkins at them. Would be fun if they were flaming ala Headless Horseman. Some believe Romeo might be looking for a new love and that is why he has been seen in the women's bathroom in Steven's Hall. And one male student reported seeing Romeo standing over the fallen body of a woman. He fled and called police who could find nothing to back up the story. The student swore that he had heard a female crying and had seen the statue standing over that woman. Juliet is adventurous too. She has been spotted atop Wesleyan Hall with her eyes burning red. A female student claimed that the statue had attacked her. She had been crossing the bridge to the Guillot University Center when several strands of her hair were pulled out. When she turned around, the statue of Juliet was floating above her with blood red eyes and she was laughing.

The University of Northern Alabama has some beautiful and interesting buildings. Could it be that several of these places are haunted? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes:

Lewis O. Powell IV Blog: Southern Spirit Guide

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