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Ghosts come to life at downtown library storytelling event

Dr. Alan Brown, member of the Road Scholars Speakers Bureau for the Alabama Humanities Foundation, presented “Ghost Stories from Alabama College Campuses” at the Halloween day edition of the Cullman County Library’s Fall Brown Bag Lecture Series. (Maggie Darnell for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN - The Cullman County Public Library held a special session of its Fall Brown Bag Lecture Series Wednesday, with a unique presentation in the spirit of Halloween. Dr. Alan Brown, member of the Road Scholars Speakers Bureau for the Alabama Humanities Foundation, was the special guest speaker.

Brown’s subject was “Ghost Stories from Alabama College Campuses.” Those campuses included the University of Montevallo and Auburn University. There were many stories from other colleges in Alabama as well.

“People wonder why we have Southern ghosts, it’s because of our violent history,” Brown said to the crowd. That includes events ranging from lynchings to the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, racism and hate crimes running rampant through those dark times. Spiritually, some say that negative energies that come from the “other side” thrive off the pain and sorrows of the tortured souls who fell victim to the crimes of the South’s dark history.

Montevallo- The Ghost of Main Hall:

It’s Feb. 4, 1908. Alabama Girls Industrial School student Condie Cunningham and her roommate were using a chafing disk to make hot chocolate, however during this the curfew signal rang, so the girls rushed to clean up what they began. In the rush, alcohol that was being used as fuel for the burner spilled onto Cunningham’s nightgown, which caught on fire. Cunningham’s injuries resulted in her death two days later. Her story has fascinated students of Montevallo for many generations. Ever since 1909, students claimed Condie’s ghost haunts Main Hall. There have been sightings of a ghost covered in flames… others have reported hearing a woman run through the halls and screams in the bathrooms.

Allegedly, a face surrounded by fames appeared in the wood grain of Cunningham’s dorm room door. It is also said the face appeared on another door that replaced the original door on Main Hall. Ultimately, the door was removed, and the room was sealed off, the last door being stored in the University of Montevallo archives; however, it is displayed in the campus library during the month of October in the spirit of Halloween.

Auburn- The Legend of Sydney Grimlett:

Grimlett’s spirit has been a staple in Auburn University’s history since its infancy. In 1864 during the latter part of the Civil War, the University Chapel (at present Auburn) was a Presbyterian Church and was used as a hospital for sick, wounded and dying soldiers. Grimlett was an English-born Confederate soldier who was allegedly part of a Calvary Division from Virginia; however, other sources claim he was part of General Hood’s army and passed at the Texas hospital from either infection of blood loss during an amputation of his leg; he’s presumably buried at Pine Hill Cemetery.

Historical elements of Grimlett’s identity and cause of death are unclear at best, but nevertheless his legacy continues through verbal traditions at Auburn University, which traditionally states Grimlett passed from his amputation process at the old chapel. After 1927, Auburn’s theater students used the old chapel as a playhouse and performed countless plays there until around the late 1960s when the Telfair B. Peet Theatre was built and opened to students. During plays, there were reports of guests seeing balls of light glowing above the actors on stage, props would go missing and electrical issues would emerge, halting performances. Many jokingly blamed Grimlett’s ghost for all the mishaps. There were even reports of hearing a foot stomping in the theater… mind you Grimlett only had one foot at the time of his death due to the amputation.

A tradition began when a theater student jokingly suggested to leave a gift for Grimlett to calm him, so the students started to leave chocolates; this tradition continues today. It is said that the theater students forged such a strong relationship with Grimlett, they asked him to go with them to the Telfair B. Peet Theatre, which he did.

According to Brown, in Grimlett’s honor, the theater department now bestows the Sydney Award on its best student.

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