SCHOOL - SPIRIT
KAYLA GEORGE’S OFFICE is at the end of a long corridor on the second floor of Morrison Hall, a nearly century-old, Colonial-style brick box with arched windows that seems to crouch, as if playing hide-and-seek, behind the Walker Science Building and Sarah Belk Gambrell Center for the Arts and Civic Engagement on the campus of Queens University of Charlotte. Morrison frustrates your efforts to enter it. The front door sticks. You have to yank the handle like a lawnmower cord to open it. The staircase can be tricky to locate, and the stairs creak as you ascend.
George is Queens’ assistant dean of conduct and director of residence life and housing. So it’s appropriate for her to work in Morrison Hall, a dorm back when Queens was an all-female campus. She took the job in fall 2015. Once I’m settled in her office, provided with a cool drink on a sweltering late September afternoon, I ask when she first heard the ghost stories.
The most famous one, Queens’ own “Tell-Tale Heart,” occurred at—where else?—Morrison Hall. It concerns a young lady named Clara, who was living in one of the upstairs rooms. The Clara story has a couple of different versions, but its skeleton is this: Around the end of World War II, Clara wrote a Dear John letter to her soldier boyfriend, who was stationed overseas; she’d been seeing other boys. Yet her soldier was already on his way back. The letter never reached him.
You can guess where this is going. Our G.I. decided to surprise his sweetheart at her dorm. The surprise was on him. This is where the legend gets fuzzy. Some accounts have the soldier, in a jealous rage, covering Clara’s mouth, tying a bed sheet around her neck, and pushing her over the bannister of the back stairwell. Others have Clara so grief-stricken by her act of independence/betrayal that she did the deed herself. Either way, some time after, the college erected a ceiling-to-floor panel of wooden slats that to this day blocks access to the bannister, and Clara passed into Queens legend.
Except she’s apparently still pranking her way through Morrison Hall— the wronged undergrad who can’t bring herself to leave. “So this is Clara’s room,” George says brightly, giving me the tour. “I’m happy to show you this, because it’s spooky AF.” It’s across the hall from her office and was for a time occupied by Monica Gillette, an assistant dean who would speak of laptops that mysteriously turned off and then back on during meetings. Clara’s room was also once the office of another assistant director, Johnny Hohenstein, who had hung his framed undergraduate diploma from Belmont Abbey on the wall above his desk. Hohenstein would get to work in the mornings and discover that the diploma had slipped and fallen within the frame.
“There was one point when I duct-taped it to the matting, and it still fell,” Hohenstein confirms. “Then I left Queens and took a new job in Alabama, and it never fell. Not once.”
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