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Halloween activities on campus and some history behind the Fort Douglas ghost stories

By Janelle Hanson, communications specialist for University Marketing and Communications

A floorboard creaks, a shadow slowly moves across the wall or something comes crashing to the ground: All things that can easily be explained away, but with Halloween approaching, many love to indulge and let their imaginations run wild with thoughts of ghosts and paranormal activity. And if you’re up on the U’s campus, especially the Fort Douglas area, it might not just be your imagination.

For over 150 years, tales of Fort Douglas on campus being haunted have been widely circulated and paranormal encounters told and retold. Campus is a popular spot for paranormal investigations shows and ghost tours, including a paranormal investigations tour offered by the U’s Continuing Education Department.

Some of these stories might have some legs to stand on, according to Beau Burgess, Fort Douglas Museum curator, who has been collecting an archive of stories from museum visitors.

Camp Douglas Stables - Credit Fort Douglas Museum Archives

Camp Douglas stables. Credit: Fort Douglas Museum Archives

“People who grew up here pass through bringing scrapbooks, sharing their memories and experiences,” said Burgess. “I got here knowing some of the ghost stories and asked, ‘Where’s the archive of ghost stories?’ It’s a big part of our oral tradition so I started keeping an archive of the paranormal stories people would tell me.”

The stories range from hearing unexplained voices, footsteps inside a building when they are alone and non-existent cannons firing, to seeing apparitions of military men, children and even a cavalry man brushing his horse where the stables used to be (now the Reserve Center located just off Mario Capecchi Drive and Hempstead Road).

“I’ve had my own experiences [at the museum] and a myriad of experiences with the paranormal investigations,” Burgess said, “I’ve had kind of spooky things happen and I’ve had things I’m at peace with.”

Burgess says there have been reports of people hearing voices speaking in German and EVPs (electronic voice phenomenon) picking up those voices, which Wikipedia describes as sounds found on electronic recordings that are interpreted as spirit voices. The piece of history to back this up? Fort Douglas did become an internment camp in 1917 during World War I, which I’m sure you can guess by now, held prisoners of war, including many Germans.

Prisoners of war being signed in at Camp Douglas. Credit: Fort Douglas Museum Archives

Prisoners of war being signed in at Camp Douglas. Credit: Fort Douglas Museum Archives

“This really does speak to the people who were here before us,” said Burgess, “We never know the people who are here before us or what happened, unless we go looking for it. We’re just in this continuum of stories and experiences, physically here inside these walls.”

Some of the most well-known stories center around the resident ghost of Fort Douglas, a Civil War soldier named Clem, whom museum workers insist they’ve seen or felt his presence. A previous museum curator named Jess McCall was working in a back room and felt the ghost trying to get his attention. McCall said out loud to leave him alone, he was trying to get his work done as the bottle of Wite-Out he was using got pushed off the desk dripping everywhere.

But these type of paranormal encounters don’t happen at the museum alone. “If I really mapped it out, every building here is haunted in some way or has had an experience,” Burgess said, “And whether you believe it or not, whether you’ve experienced it or not, that’s part of the history.”

Have a happy Halloween and enjoy these activities happening on campus:

Zombies vs. Human Dodgeball Tournament
Tuesday, Oct. 27 | 6 p.m.
Legacy gym, Eccles Student Life Center

Register to play Zombies vs. Humans Dodgeball at by Monday, Oct. 26, at 8 p.m. Pick a side: Zombies or zombie-hunting humans, and dress appropriately. The tournament will be six vs. six, and there will be a costume contest and prizes, including VIP tickets to the screening of “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.”

Family Fright Fest
Wednesday, Oct. 28 | 4-6 p.m.
Union Building

Family Fright Fest is a family-friendly event hosted by the Union Programming Council. Join in for pony rides, trick-or-treating, bag decorating and much more. Free shuttles will run from East and West villages to the Union.

Zombie Zumba Party
Thursday, Oct. 29 | 5:30 p.m.
Bryce Studio, Eccles Student Life Center

Get your Zumba on! This costume party will have snacks and prizes.

Garden After Dark – Legends of Camelot
Thursday, Oct. 29 from 6-9 p.m. | Friday, Oct. 30 from 6-10 p.m.
Red Butte Garden

Calling all princesses, knights and wizards. Journey to a land of myth and magic as you discover the land of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. With crafts, activities, light displays and more, join us for an indoor/outdoor, costume and family-friendly experience in Red Butte Garden to celebrate Halloween.

Click here for more information.

Garden members $6 and general public $12.

Halloween Party
Friday, Oct. 30 | 10 a.m.-noon
West Community Center, University Student Apartments

The Mom’s Club at University Student Apartments includes moms, kids, expectant moms and interested residents who meet twice a month in the West Community Center.

Halloween at the Campus Store
Friday, Oct. 30 | Throughout the day
Campus Store

The University Campus Store will have Halloween treats for customers while supplies last. Customers who come to the store on Friday or Saturday wearing their most creative, scary or funny costume will have a chance to win a $25, $50 or $100 gift card. Photos of the costumes will be posted on the store’s Facebook page and the photos with the most likes will win. Campus Store Twitter followers can participate in a scavenger hunt on Friday, Oct. 30. The store will have clues leading to Halloween items or Campus Store products that can be found throughout campus. Prizes will be awarded to students who bring in the items from the scavenger hunt.

Halloween Garden Harvest
Friday, Oct. 30 | 2-6 p.m.
Pioneer Garden (east of the Pioneer Theatre)

Join the fifth annual Edible Campus Gardens Fall Harvest. Participants will plant frighteningly delicious garlic and fill treat baskets with what remains of the harvest season bounty. El Sillero, the café in the Sorenson Molecular Biotechnology Building—where mad scientists go to have fun—will provide treats. Wing & Claw will rattle harvesters to the bone with live music. A costume contest (4-6 p.m.) is sure to bring out the Wolfcarrots, Frankensquashes, Psychopeppers, Bloody Beets and other terrifyingly creative costumes. Prizes will be awarded to the most ghoulish and ghastly costumes.

Utah Philharmonia Halloween Concert
Friday, Oct. 30, 7:30 p.m.
Libby Gardner Concert Hall

All ages are invited to join the Utah Philharmonia (in full costume) as they present a haunting celebration of Halloween. Conducted by Robert Baldwin, the evening will be full of many surprises. So top secret in fact, the pieces will not be revealed until show time. The evening will be topped off with dramatic decorations and an audience costume parade.

Officer’s Hollow
Saturday, Oct. 31 | noon-3 p.m.
Officer’s Circle, Fort Douglas

This carnival-style event is free and open to all children and families. Kids can safely trick-or-treat at festively decorated Officer’s Circle homes, play games, have their faces painted and participate in other fun activities. This annual event is organized with the goal of removing obstacles that may hinder a child’s enthusiasm for, or ability to participate in, Halloween. Officer’s Hollow is presented and staffed by students from the U’s College of Social Work, Bachelor of Social Work Student Association, the Lowell Bennion Community Service Center and the Residence Halls Association.

Trick-or-treat for UNICEF
Saturday, Oct. 31 | 5 p.m.
Meeting at the Union

This is your invitation to participate in UNICEF trick-or-treat this Halloween. We will be trick-or-treating for donations from house to house for UNICEF. We will meet in the Union to pick up the donation boxes and any other supplies you may need. From there, we will have maps of neighborhoods around the U to target. Participants who can drive and take others with them to neighborhoods surrounding the U are appreciated. UNICEF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting children by providing necessities, such as clean water and immunizations, as well as education. It also aids in emergency relief.