BTW, this is for a ghost walk I’m starting in my town. So it’s (mostly) based on a true story.
In reviewing it would be super helpful if you could tell me if the story was believable and creepy. Keep in mind I will be telling it at night, starting at a graveyard, and ending at the Chambers building.
Before I can tell you something interesting, I must tell you something boring. Well, upon first viewing, it was boring. I have asked many people throughout town for ghost stories. College Students are always the least helpful. Once I had been going all day and got nothing. But, I didn’t want to feel like my day was a waste. So, when one of the last students said they had a little something my heart rose. They said it was dumb, but I told them that I would take it. Because honestly, I would at this point.
“Well,” They said. “There is a rumor that someone died in the reconstruction of Chambers [that is the college’s main building], and now they still haunt the building. Sometimes at night, you can actually hear construction still happening. To tell the truth, I have heard it a couple of times.”
He was right. It was supremely dumb.
Worst. Ghost. Story. Ever. No one even died in the rebuilding of Chambers! You may be wondering why I’m telling you this crappy ghost story. We’ll get to that, but first, I have to tell you about graverobbers.
Or, more specifically, Body snatchers. In 1870-1900 there was a whole body-snatching fad. Grave robbing is when you raid a grave for valuable objects buried with the body, and body snatching is when you took the corpse itself. Normally, used by doctors and students of medicine, for directions and the study of anatomy. Cadavers were hard to come by, this was because there were few legal avenues to get them and no longer-term way to keep the body’s fresh.
But doctors and students still needed bodies, and they were going to get them, one way or another. Sometimes they would do the robbing themselves, or sometimes they would just buy them from whoever was selling, no questions asked.
This body snatching was frequently done in poor or black comminutes where it was easier to get away with.
This practice extended all the way out to our little “medical school” at Davidson College. Which at the time, had about 45 medical students in need of cadavers.
Now, grave robbing is obviously immoral and illegal, but let’s put ourselves in the mindset of a college student. You don’t have a ton of money, college is expensive, books are expensive, and most of all, fresh cadavers are expensive. But, you might notice that corpses are just lying around unused in graveyards. Taking one couldn’t hurt too much. In fact, by using a cadaver, you could be a better doctor, and therefore save lives. So, you and your friends are reading the morning paper and see that, in fact, recently, a healthy young woman had died. (well, as healthy as you can be and dead.) She was now buried, unused, in the next town. Since she had died recently, she was guaranteed fresh. So you might load up your buggy and shovels in the dead of night and go to snatch a body.
That is precise what three college students did. They arrived in darkness and began to dig with their wooden shovels, (which are quieter,) putting the dirt onto a sheet so as not to disturb the grass.
See, body-snatching was illegal. It needed to be done quickly and efficiently, so you couldn’t always dig a nice clean hole. Grave-Snatchers had strategies to maximize speed and stealth.
They would dig a hole straight down to the head of the coffin, where, with the help of crowbars, they would make a hole. From there, they would reach inside and wrap a rope around the shoulders of the corpse. They would take this rope, climb out of the hole, and yank the body up and through.
Then they would fill the hole quickly and heave the body up onto their cart and get out. Like boy scouts, leaving no trace. Or at least, that was the plan. But this time, they accidentally left a spade at the sight of the snatching.
Now, the story goes that their genius strategy for making college a little cheaper was going well until the father got involved. Seeing the spade, he got suspicious and checked the grave. Finding it empty, he was thrown into a rage.
Apparently, his beautiful daughter had been his pride and joy, so her death had been very difficult for him, but when she was stolen, that sadness turned to hot anger. He was ready to deal out punishment even if the law wasn’t.
The three students heard that the father was coming to the college. They either had to somehow dispose of the body or face the punishment. The resourceful students scrambled, grabbing the body and dragging it up the stairs of the Chambers building. Chambers was the largest building on campus, with five 45 foot tall columns. Each of these columns were hallow and let out into the attic. So, as the students stumbled up through the cobwebbed attic and dropped the body town a column. With a sickening crunch, they thought their problem was solved. Who would check a column for a body?
The father came by and demanded that the school be searched. The students held their breaths as the school searched high and low, but no corpse was found.
The intrepid college students thought their problems were solved, and so they went back to there normal lives. But they hadn’t factored in the heat. As the weeks began to warm up, and people began to notice a smell.
The students knew if people looked too hard and followed the smell, they might find the body. But, this was when they had their third stroke of genius. Lime. A chemical that halts the rotting process, today it is often used by the mafia and criminal organizations to hide a body's scent from the authorities. The students were men of science, so they were familiar with this chemical and knew where to find it. So with their second crime of the month, they began to steal the college supply, and every night one of them would be tasked with going up there and given her a healthy sprinkling.
This went on for a couple of weeks, until one night something happened that made none of them dare go back. It was the youngest's turn. In the wee hours of the morning, he took a small paper bag of lime and then crept out of his boarding house. I can imagine how nerve-wracking that must have been. If you were seen leaving at such a time of night, rumors might spread. At this time, even dancing was frowned upon, so I can't imagine what people would think if they caught you creeping out in the middle of the night.
Then, creeping across campus, thinking about all the possible things the father might do to them if they were caught. Then he climbed up into the champers building's creaky old attic. He looked down the long column to check the mangled body was still there. It should be noted that lime halts the rotting process, in effect, similar to mummifying. So, though the body was breaking down, it still looked quite like the person they first found. With a quick dump of lime, he crept back out and made his way down to the bottom floor of the building. He began to slowly and quietly walk down the large marble steps at the entrance of the building.
It could be chalked up to the fact he was tired, paranoid, and young, but from behind him, he heard a loud thumping, like someone of immense strength was attempting to burst out through stone.
He turned to find the source of the sound, terrified that it came from someone who could have seen him. He did not find a person; instead, his eyes fell on a column that shook with each mighty thump. For a moment of shock, he couldn't help but stare at the very column in which he had just poured lime dust.
"Help! Somebody help! Let me out. I'm trapped! I can't breathe!" A voice screamed from within. The columns considerably dampened the sobbing voice, but you could still hear how raw, terrified, and broken it was.
The young student turned and ran back to his boarding house. He refused ever to go back. The two others may have claimed not to believe him, but they never went back either.
Years passed, the students graduated, and the father stopped looking. Some people said they could still hear pounding and screaming coming from the column.
Later, college students wondering about the rumor lowered someone down the column. They did, in fact, find bones.
But time passed, and eventually, Chambers burned down and was rebuilt in the same spot it had sat before, and the story faded into myth.
After two hundred years and one fire, one would think that the sound would have faded. But after hearing a college student talk about the strange banging of late-night construction work, I personally think otherwise.