If SRU has not acquired any otherworldly beings in 133 years of operation, it has certainly gained enough supernatural folktales to make up for it. Over the last century, there have been numerous reports of spirits lurking on the school grounds.
One story, regarding the alleged ghost of Emma Guffey Miller, was so widely discussed that a paranormal investigator assessed Miller Auditorium for her presence. Supposedly, she, or possibly a different spirit, appeared on camera in the form of a green mist.
“Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, I think we all believe in Emma,” said Bob Watson, SRU alum, former staff member and local university historian, during a Halloween story time in 2020.
Watson claimed that over 100 women have reported seeing Miller’s likeness while brushing their hair in the mirrors at North Hall. More than 50 of them have said they felt fingers moving through their hair as they brushed. One woman alleged that, after making a snide comment about Miller, someone pulled her to the ground by her hair. However, nobody else was in the room.
“Ninety percent of the accounts I heard from women in North Hall occurred in one of two rooms, and all of the accounts were from a time before men were allowed to live there,” Watson said.
One day, while looking down from a North Hall window onto the campus she built, she said, “I love this place and I don’t think I will ever leave,” according to Watson.
In her lifetime, she was a wealthy socialite and close friend to Eleanor Roosevelt. She served on the Slippery Rock board of trustees and was responsible for the construction of several buildings on campus.
At 95 years old, Miller died peacefully in her sleep at Grove City Hospital.
“She was a character bigger than life and, maybe, a character bigger than death,” Watson said. “I can say that, after 40 years and more than 100 accounts, I am absolutely certain that Emma Guffey Miller’s spirit resides in North Hall.”
Many believe that Miller’s ghost spends time in the auditorium named after her.
“I’ve heard tons of stories about flickering lights, damaged equipment and shadowy figures in Miller Auditorium,” theater student Heath Chase said.
However, Watson feels those stories should be attributed to different spirits.
“Students claim to hear a younger woman moaning and screaming, as well as a crying baby, but Emma was old,” he said. “And she was always silent whenever women spoke of her.”
“People say that if you leave out a 1950s baby doll during your show, there will be less mischief and things that go wrong,” Chase said of the disturbances in the theater.
There are also accounts of a woman’s laughter sounding throughout the auditorium, even when it is empty.
“Perhaps it is a mother and her child,” Watson said.
Another performance space on campus, Swope Music Hall, is home to ghoulish myths as well. Students affectionately refer to the phenomenon as “The Swost”—a combination of “Swope” and “ghost.”
“There are many rumors about who and what [it is],” Brett McCutcheon, music student and creator of The Swope Gazette, said. “A common theme is that the Swost will take music right off the musician’s stand during performances in the recital hall.”
“Another rumor is that every night at 3 a.m., the organ plays with no one around, but the organ hasn’t worked for years,” he added.
On the lower half of campus, students have reported weird sounds and sights in the newer residential halls.
“I heard a couple shouting and arguing in the room next to me, even though nobody lives there,” said sophomore ghost enthusiast Chloe Wright. “It made me wonder if it was related to the murder-suicide carried out by a vengeful ex on campus 40 years ago.”
One maintenance man claimed he was working inside Watson Hall during COVID-19 when nobody else was in the building. He asserted that, despite this fact, doors kept opening and slamming shut.
However, it is not only within the bounds of campus that Slippery Rock ghost stories run amuck.
In 2013, the cable channel SyFy came to town to interview former residents of 133 Kiester Rd for their show “School Spirits.”
The residents, members of the fraternity Alpha Sigma Phi, recounted elaborate, violent happenings that occurred throughout their time living there. They heard little girls giggling, found themselves locked in rooms and even reported being randomly choked by objects in the house.
The men did research and found connections to a brutal murder in the late 1800s, where a woman and her five children were stabbed to death, and the perpetrator was hung. It is unclear whether the current owners have experienced any paranormal instances.
While the happenings on campus were a nuisance to some, there are no reports of hospital visits as a result of ghostly activity.
“Even with all these ghost stories,” Wright said, “I still feel safe here at Slippery Rock.”