Standing in the parking lot behind Copeland Hall, Cathy Walker saw something she still can’t explain.
Walker, a custodian, had finished work. Standing in the parking lot about to leave, she looked back into The Daily’s newsroom through a window and saw what appeared to be a little girl waving her arms in the supposedly empty newsroom.
"The alarm [to the newsroom] was set. The doors were locked. Nobody should've been in there," Walker said.
Jeffrey Provine, OU ghost tour guide and freshman programs instructor, says stories like Walker's are common. When Provine hears two similar stories from two sources that don't know each other, he starts to research the building's history to see if the ghost sightings correlate to any real-life events. Some of the stories Provine hears turn into parts of his books, which document some of OU’s haunted history — and there are plenty of spooky stories.
"It turns out there's tons of these ghost stories around OU," Provine said.
The first OU ghost story Provine ever heard was about the ghost of Ellison Hall. Provine refers to Ellison Hall as the most haunted building on campus.
Ellison Hall, built in 1928, was originally Hygeia Hall, the first infirmary on campus. One day, as the story goes, a boy was skating on Elm Avenue. The boy collapsed — some say he was struck by a car, others claim he suffered an asthma attack — and onlookers rushed him to the infirmary. The boy died, but some say that his spirit lives on in Ellison wandering the halls.
"The motion sensor lights turn on without anybody in the room. The elevator goes to random floors by itself … late at night, people hear something rolling down the hall, even though nobody's there," Provine said.
Provine told this story to some friends he met while studying abroad in England in 2005.
"Everything's haunted in England, and that was the only story I knew," he said.
Urged by his friends to find other eerie tales, Provine researched OU's history and found many more stories than he expected, enough to run a Ghost Tour in 2009, which proved successful enough to become an annual event.
Provine said he encourages participants in the Ghost Tours to share any ethereal experiences they have with the group.
"A lot of the time, people don't really want to share things like that, but when we bring up the topic, it gets people talking." Provine said. "It's really cool to see what people are willing to share."
The History Press eventually published a compilation of Provine's stories last year in his book "Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma." A second book, "Haunted Norman," was published Sept. 28.
"It's really wild," Provine said. "You learn so much about the history of all these places on campus that you'd never expect."
One of Provine's favorite stories involves the beheaded boy of Cate cafeteria.
According to legend, during the summer of 1986, a boy was attending a linguistics program at OU. One day, the boy, having wandered around the Cate Cafeteria for a time, discovered the dumbwaiter in the basement and decided to crawl in. When somebody called the dumbwaiter, the boy's head was stuck in the rapidly ascending device until it was removed.
Provine said that although the dumbwaiter is gone, workers still say they hear banging noises in Cate Center, "like people working on machinery."
While there are many violent and macabre stories like this — the house on the cover of "Campus Ghosts" is the alleged site of another violent beheading — not all ghost stories are negative. Custodian Marie Mulholland has a different perspective on spirits.
"They're not bad," Mulholland said. "They're lonely ... If we acknowledge them, let them know they're not forgotten, then they'll be fine."
Mulholland, who has worked at OU for 20 years, said places where people died — like Dale Tower, which saw two people jump to their deaths in the 1970s — feel unmistakably strange. Leaving gifts for the spirits, such as food or drink, allows the spirits to feel at ease.
Provine agrees that ghostly encounters don’t have to be negative. For instance, when a new exhibit was being erected in the Historic Jacobson House on Chautauqua Avenue, workers said they felt a gust of wind, the house shifting and a sense of contentment, Provine said.
"Everyone decided that that was [former School of Art director Oscar] Jacobson expressing his approval," Provine said.
Jacobson may not be the only good-natured ghost on campus. Provine said that when a team of paranormal investigators looked at Whitehand Hall, "they said they were the most polite ghosts they'd ever seen."