The Ghostess With the Mostest

If Agnes does not exist, we probably would have invented her.

Brenau’s legendary campus ghost makes too attractive of a scapegoat for the creaks and groans in the eaves of Brenau’s old, atmospheric buildings, and among the many exceptional women who have disturbed the peace here, she inspires the most curiosity.

For decades students have summoned Agnes with Ouija boards and candle-lit séances that make their ponytails stand on end. A dean once pleaded with them to stop with the candles; actors were slipping on the wax drippings littering the stage of Pearce Auditorium, reputedly Agnes’ favorite spot and the vicinity of her purported suicide by hanging over unrequited love.

The apparition, usually arrayed in ectoplasmic muslin, reigns as Gainesville’s most famous spirit, drawing various paranormal researchers such as Atlanta-based Ghost Hounds (billed as “the largest paranormal investigation group in the Southeast,” who reported vague electronic voice phenomena (EVP) around Pearce, but nothing revelatory about the Agnes origins. For her 1999 book, Georgia Ghosts, the late folklorist, Nancy Roberts, interviewed a woman she identified as a Brenau junior, Brittany Bell, who contended that her grandmother knew “the real Agnes” and then recounted in gooseflesh detail how she awakened one evening in her dorm room to the vision of a spectral woman swinging from a noose attached to a light fixture.

Others claim recently to have seen a ghost, or ghosts, on the premises. In one recent encounter, the young daughter of a Brenau alumna, visiting darkened Pearce Auditorium, startled her tour guide by starring at something she saw in the empty chairs of the auditorium – “a man” who looked like “a light.” Last year a photo surfaced of a smoke-like apparition on the Pearce stage.

Tami English, EWC ’11, director of residence life at Brenau, says during the spring term an upper-class resident of East Hall asked to be moved because she was afraid that one of her roommates was Agnes. Aside from that feeling we all get that we’re being watched, only to turn and find no one there, the normally level-headed, highly focused student, according to English, had – with the help of her two living roommates – documented some strange occurrences, and her boyfriend recorded a video of a shadowy, indistinct figure from what he thought initially was a Skype conversation with his girlfriend over the computer that she had left running in her room when she and her roommates were out one afternoon.

Others speculate that Agnes is actually the ghost of Lucile Townsend Pearce (see her profile here), the formidable wife of H.J. Pearce. However, despite so much breathless, anecdotal evidence – doors mysteriously locked, piano keys banged, lingerie stolen, and other bumps in the night – no one has produced any documentation gothic enough to justify a haunting.

“We’ve never found an obituary or article in old newspapers to explain any of this,” says Debbie Thompson, director of the Center for Greek Life and Campus Traditions. “We narrowed her identity down, possibly, to Agnes Galloway, a student from North Carolina who appears in the Bubbles yearbook as a freshman in 1926. There are no other pictures of her anywhere else here.”Agnes Galloway from the 1929 Bubbles.

This photo shows a pleasant-looking Jazz Age woman with bobbed hair and the soft face of a cameo brooch. One story holds the spirit occasionally occupies Row G in Pearce Auditorium, where Miss Galloway might have sat under the ceiling mural of Dido – who similarly committed suicide for her lover – and Aeneas. However, public records indicate that Galloway died in 1929 from tuberculosis far from the Brenau campus.

In the 1980s Brenau student Andy Lerner, EWC ’89, wrote and directed a play, The Legend of Agnes, performed in Pearce Auditorium as part of a “haunted house tour.” Keena Redding-Hunt, WC ’89, now an adjunct professor in the Department of Music, played the role of what I once described in the newspaper as the ‘girlie-girl’s poltergeist’.” About two decades later, Sarah Cosey, WC ’06, a Gainesville native who grew up hearing Agnes stories, wrote a term paper outlining the nine basic Agnesian theories:

Agnes, seduced, impregnated and spurned by a rakish music professor (hence, the clanging piano keys), offs herself.

Agnes, ingénue or ballerina, denied the role of her dreams, …

Agnes, blackballed by her chosen sorority, …

Agnes, accidentally killed during sorority initiation, …

Agnes, a member of the still-extant secret society, H.G.H., or the Horses, lured by a coven of six witches, H.G.H.s arch enemy, into a staged suicide, …

“The problem with the Horse theory” which prevailed in the 1990s, Thompson says, “is that The Horses didn’t exist until around the mid-1930s. However, back in what we think was Agnes’ day, Brenau had a lot of strange secret societies, with names like ‘The Stabs,’ ‘Scabs’ or whatever.” As additional repudiation, Mary Helen Hosch, WC ’35, of Gainesville, one of the reputed founders of the H.G.H., said in an aside during an interview for another story in this magazine, that she heard Agnes stories when she arrived on campus as a 16-year-old freshman in 1931.

Some of these group photos in the Agnes-era yearbooks are decorated with witchy symbolism – skulls impaled with daggers, boiling cauldrons – that contrast oddly with the white-gloves, garden-party gentility of the other images. What, exactly, were those ominously robed women up to?

Thompson pointed out another chronological glitch in these legends.

“Alums from the ’40s and ’50s don’t tell Agnes stories,” she says in a slight contradiction to 98-year-old Hosch’s memories. “Agnes doesn’t start to show up until the ’60s. Maybe she decided to leave us alone during the war years, or maybe she needed to stay dead a certain amount of time before she could return. Who knows?”

Pearce Ghost
The director of a local dance and music studio marks the Pearce Auditorium stage for rehearsal while a spirit in a flowing period dress supervises, captured in the second photo taken just a few seconds apart from the first.

People who claim to have seen Agnes described her as appearing first as a flickering blue light then coming into focus as a young woman in a calf-length, flowing white dress, occasionally playing tricks on students, like one who claimed Agnes stole her roommates panties.

“I saw her once when I was up in Bailey doing room checks as an R.A. over one break and then another time when I felt her presence,” says my former roomie, Jennifer Allison, WC ’92. “Pretty freaky. She totally exists.”

But who is Agnes and what’s she up to?

“The fourth floor of Pearce is the most haunted place at Brenau,” says  Kathy Amos, the director of Brenau’s Center for Lifetime Study. “I think she’s only in Pearce. I think she’s still looking after it.”

I was a senior at Brenau when my fellow theater students put together a fundraiser during Halloween and created scripted tour of haunted Pearce Auditorium, which was based loosely on Brenau history. At that time, the uppermost regions of the building were open to the public. We decided to end the haunted tour with a big finale: Agnes would make an appearance. I would play Agnes.

Dressed in a white gown, I sat high in the theater perched on black paper wrapped scaffolding, hidden behind a fabric scrim on stage.  The tour ended in front of me, but no one could actually see me. When the touring group exited through the theater, a pre-recorded scream rang out and a light came up behind the scrim, casting a look as if I were hanging in mid-air. This gave the audience a huge fright and I delivered a very eerie monologue, which scared the audience even more.

When the audience toured a different part of the theater, someone from the production crew turned on the work lights and my best friend, Julie, walked on stage to look up to the scaffolding and checked on me. In little heels, her approach was distinct… click, click, click, click.  Then, I would lean over the scaffolding and say “Hi Jules!,” and she would ask me if I needed any water or anything.

One night I’ll never forget, I heard her heels… click, click, click, click on the stage floor.  I leaned over to say, “Hi, Jules!” There was no one there. This frightened me immensely because I was 100 percent certain that I  heard her approach, just as she had done every night before and after that night…click, click, click, click.  However, when I spoke to acknowledge her, I was totally alone in the theater.

The last night of the show, audience members swore that, in addition to the pre-recorded scream, they heard yet another piercing scream and saw a strange light (other than the normal light cue) illuminating me.  I did not notice another light. However, people who were in the audience swear they saw it.

–Keena Redding Hunt

As you can read in the article about Lucile Pearce, her husband had built a small studio for his talented wife accessible only by a staircase from his office on the third floor of Pearce. There she kept her private time, practiced violin and occasionally entertained special guests. The speculation that it is Lucile who haunts Pearce has nothing to do with any tawdry romance of suicide. Arguably, Lucile as a student could have fallen in love with her professor, but she did not hang herself over him: she stayed married to the dude for decades, had children and died only when she accidentally plowed her roadster into a tree several blocks away from the studio.

Amos, a gifted, dramatic storyteller who can who can scare the bejesus out of you talking about a room full of rocks, arguably has done more than anyone to perpetuate the Agnes legend through her involvement with the Northeast Georgia History Center’s annual Halloween time “Ghost Walk” tours in Gainesville’s historic section. At one point she speculated that we got it right about a ghost named Agnes: we just had her last name wrong.

Part of the legend around the Brenau collection of The Dare Stones – the mysterious assortment of carved, boulder-size rocks that purport to solve the mystery of the Lost Colony of Roanoke – is that the author of the writing on the rocks was Eleanor Dare, who in her journey from the coast of North Carolina had given birth to a daughter, Agnes, who is referenced in the carvings. Agnes, who had died, was fathered by an American Indian “king” from North Carolina or Georgia where some of the early tribes believed spirits of the dead took up residence in sacred stones. In a Twilight Zone moment, Amos once suggested that the legend of Agnes, the ghost, did not show up on campus until the late 1930s – about the same time The Dare Stones arrived.

Amos, however, claims with no small dose of pride that she spins no yarn before all its threads – not to mention some of our legs – are thoroughly pulled through solid research.

“I’m not inclined to perpetuate bogus stories that no one can find a basis of fact,” says Amos. “The truth of the matter is that, at this point all Agnes is a ghost story, just like the several others on this campus. That’s not to say that Pearce isn’t haunted, but it isn’t haunted by anyone named Agnes.”

“The legend always deals with ‘Agnes’ hanging herself from the diving board of a swimming pool beneath Pearce,” says Amos. “The only problem with that is that I have the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps that prove that there has never been a pool beneath Pearce. The other ‘legend’ has her hanging herself from the balcony at Pearce. B.J. Williams concocted that story – she told me that herself.”

“Wait a minute!” says B.J. Williams, WC ’82. “I don’t know that I personally concocted that. I heard that Agnes did herself in either in Pearce or that she hanged herself in the pool that supposedly was underneath Pearce. Of course, keep in mind that I heard the story in 1978 when I arrived on campus as a timid freshman inclined to believe anything an upperclassman would tell me. I also heard that Agnes was a Zeta Tau Alpha, but my suspicion is that every sorority woman thinks Agnes was a member of her sorority. Then again, there’s the rumor that Agnes killed herself because she was excluded from every Greek group. I’m thinking Agnes is whoever we as Brenau alumnae want her to be.”

But does Williams “believe” in Agnes? “I never saw nor heard Agnes, but I will say that, when WBCX was located in the very top of Mt. Bailey, I was supposed to take radio practicum, which would have required me to have an air shift by myself. I went up to the radio station once – in the dusty dark – and I dropped the class, not wanting to take chances with Agnes or any other ghosts. I waited until the radio station was moved elsewhere on campus to take my radio practicum.”

Most Agnes enthusiasts, however, believe the ghost is benign, if not downright protective, and certainly no more mischievous than the average sorority sister.

“She’s very playful,” Cosey says. “If she’s jiggling a doorknob or something, you can be like, ‘Agnes, stop!’ And she will. I think Agnes loves Brenau, and I know Brenau loves Agnes.”

– Dyer, a writer from Cleveland, Ga., is a 1992 Women’s College graduate.

She is scheduled to be a featured speaker in a program about magazine writing at the AJC Decatur Book Festival Aug. 31, 2013.

 

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Comments
14 Responses to “The Ghostess With the Mostest”
  1. Deb Kroll says:

    I lived on 3rd floor Bailey during my senior year at Brenau (1972-73) and had several encounters with Agnes as did others living on 3rd floor. I did want to make one comment, however, about the quote from Kathy Amos stating, “The legend always deals with Agnes’ hanging herself from the diving board of a swimming pool beneath Pearce….There has never been a pool beneath Pearce.” Oh but there was a pool, and I saw it nearly every day because I and my fellow students and professors used the “tunnel” beneath Pearce as a shortcut whenever we could. Now blocked off, the passageway we called the “tunnel” went right by an empty swimming pool. If it wasn’t a pool, then it was a large rectangular, open and empty cement pond. It ceased to be used when the new pool was built across campus.

    Deb Prince Kroll

    WC’73

    Adjunct Professor of History at Brenau

    • isabel says:

      can you get some pictures for me. Me and my friends are doing research on agnes, so send me info if you can. It would help alot. Thanks, Isabel.

      • Alison Reeger-Cook says:

        Good day, Isabel,
        We would be more than happy to assist with your request, but maybe you can clarify what you are needing pictures for.

        What is the nature of the project? Exactly what kinds of photos do you need? Is this for a school project – if so, where do you go to school?

        If you could provide us some more information, including your full name and the best contact information for you, we will see how we can assist you. If you would prefer to contact our office directly, you may call 770-534-6160 or email info@brenau.edu.

        • isabel says:

          can you tell me anything you know about agnes galloway. i go to NHM and i am doing tech fair on her. she is very weird and confusing.so any info will help

          • Alison Reeger-Cook says:

            Hi Isabel,
            We would love to help you with finding resources, websites and books that discuss the story Agnes Galloway and the Brenau University hauntings. If you would like to contact our Office of Communications & Publications at 770-534-6160 so we can talk you through it and get a proper contact email from you so we can send you more information, we’d be more than happy to help.

        • isabel says:

          sorry to bother you at this time, and this is a crazy question, but are you agnes?

  2. Andrea Cook says:

    I lived up on that floor and never witnessed anything. I slept great. It is an old beautiful building that has old walls and floors. There’s no Agnes roaming around.

  3. isabel says:

    its isabel, hi. do you know why you havent encountered agnes? what room did you live in? thanks,isabel

  4. isabel says:

    its isabel, hi. do you know why you havent encountered agnes? what room did you live in? for deb kroll, were can i find the secret tunnle? is it true that the basement and the atic are the most hauntyyed places at brenau? thanks,isabel

  5. Izzy U. says:

    Hello, its me again. I was wondering if we could get pictures for a project on Agnes Galloway, as we are doing a project on her. Bye!

    • Michael McPeek says:

      Hi Isabel,

      Please call our Communications & Publications Office at 770-534-6160 and we’d be happy to discuss the project with you and help you out with materials.

      Thanks,
      Michael McPeek, director of multimedia publishing.

  6. Barry Kendrick says:

    In the article it is noted that H.G.H. was not created until the 1930s. Mark Sloane’s book Hoaxes, Humbugs, & Spectacles has a photo of the G.S.G. club in 1912[p. 92] which supposedly went underground after being listed for one year in the yearbook. Just thinking!

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