As the Bell Tower strikes midnight, faint fluting begins to drift down the deserted stairways and into darkened offices. And as magically as it began, the unearthly music stops exactly at 1 a.m.
But the question isn’t who is the phantom musician it’s what.
1898 was a monumental year in Cedar City, with the recent inauguration of the Branch Normal School, now Southern Utah University. Each town resident poured their sweat, tears and resources into the original building, Old Main, but one citizen gave a little more—her blood.
Young Virginia was brutally murdered and her body was found draped over a large piece of sandstone in the red hills just east of Cedar City. Her killer was never found, or so we thought.
Coincidentally the same bloody rock Virginia was found on was used to build Old Main, and according to campus folklore, Virginia is forever bound to the building.
Now that her body is eternally tied the brick-laden prison, Virginia is said to roam the top floor of Old Main and in 1948 became an alleged arsonist when Old Main burnt to the ground in 1948, 50 years after her brutal murder.
Dr. Jeorde Spear, a professor of parapsychology with the University of Utah, was supposedly hired by college officials to investigate the supernatural claims, and he reported his findings to a student journalist. Spear stated that the malevolent Virginia took her revenge by setting fire to the building. Coincidentally the morning of the fire, a man had began his first shift as a custodian, a man who 50 years before was acquitted for the murder of Virginia and returned to campus for the first time.
Even after exacting revenge on her supposed killer, Virginia is still found roaming the third floor of Old Main, playing unnerving flute music in the dead of night, vindictively stopping elevators, creating footsteps that can be heard but not seen, and if you’re so unfortunate you may see her in the buildings upper windows.
But this haunted horror isn’t a thing of the past. Current students have seen the paranormal spirit.
Weston Prisbey, senior biology major, went with friends last Halloween to prove the theory. While gathering outside the steps of Old Main exactly at midnight, something they didn’t expect began happening on the top floor of the historic building.
“As soon as midnight rolled around the blinds on the third floor of Old Main, on the left hand side, began moving up and down, opening and closing. Then a bright flash filled the room and when it went off there was a figure standing in the window,” explained Prisbey. “All of us ran to our cars and for the next day every sound made us jump.”
But Virginia isn’t the only paranormal entity that haunts SUU’s halls. A spirit of a pianist, who is believed to haunt the Braithwaite Fine Arts Gallery, turns lights on and off and occasionally plays music. Her favorite melody is said to be “Deep Purple.” The same tune she was supposed to play at her Junior Prom before her untimely death.
Bessie Dover, SUU emeriti, remembers the story that she heard from friends who went to Branch Agriculture College in the 1940s. “I had always heard that it was a ghost of a former ballet dancer and she had died from an infection she got in a blister from dancing a lot and that the ghost was dancing up in the auditorium to the old poplar song Deep Purple,” she details.
Other spirits are said to lurk in the Auditorium, traipsing along the catwalks, playing pianos, performing ballets and even one wears a top hat according to students and Utah Shakespeare Festival administrators.
This transition from a mournful story to a haunted tale is based on human’s basic desire to believe in a life after death, according to Dr. Kyle Bishop, professor of English and SUU’s resident paranormal expert.
He went on to say, “Even if ghosts are perceived as malevolent, they at least prove that people exist after death. Monsters are made-up manifestations of fears we can't address or deal with otherwise: our fear of others, our fear of death, our fear of infection, our fear of losing control, our fear of sex, etc. We turn a fear into a monster so we can deal with it and, often times, defeat it.”
Don’t believe any of these tales? Maybe you need some proof. If you want to decide for yourself, be outside Old Main at midnight tonight if you dare, but don’t go alone.