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At chancellor’s residence, reports of a ‘happy ghost’ who has made herself at home

Dwellers past and present of the Residence on the Quad recount ‘things that have happened’ that they can’t quite explain.

Multimedia by Sydney Miller and Chen Fei Zhang; text by Sydney Miller

There are many superstitions surrounding the Quad, but one in particular caught the eye of Mary Barile — so much that she dedicated a chapter to it in her book, “The Haunted Boonslick: Ghosts, Ghouls and Monsters of Missouri’s Heartland.”

Richard Wallace

Listen | Chancellor Emeritus Richard Wallace describes the grandfather clock that chimes on its own.

Listen | Chancellor Emeritus Richard Wallace recounts a ghostly incident in the residence that frightened a couple of guests.

The legend of a ghost wandering the chancellor’s Residence on the Quad dates to the 19th century. According to an 1890 Columbia Missouri Herald article, “eerie lights and shadowy figures waltzed” in the house after the 1874 death of the university president’s wife, Alice Read.

Read was popular around campus, and Barile called her death “very upsetting” to the community. Despite Read’s death, legend has it that her ghost has never left the house.

Chancellor Emeritus Richard Wallace, who had an office in the building, also pointed to several unexplainable circumstances, such as a grandfather clock — without a working mechanism — that began to chime on its own. Another ghostly incident caused a professor to run shrieking through the house, telling Wallace to “brick it (the residence) up!”

In recent years, an elevator added in the most recent renovation has been known to run without occupants. Missing electronics and flashes of light also have spooked visitors and residents.

Despite the spooks, Barile, associate director of the Office of Grant Writing & Publications, believes that if the ghost of Read does indeed haunt the residence, she is a happy ghost. “Apparently, Alice does not want to leave her home. I call it her permanent homecoming,” Barile said, laughing.

Wallace said he was never been petrified by any of the strange happenings. Instead, he gets a good laugh whenever he recalls the scared professor who insisted Wallace not allow anyone into the residence.

“I don’t have an explanation, but for some odd reason I found it very amusing, and it is a story I’ve told many times,” he said.

Despite the “unexplainable” experiences he has encountered, Wallace remains a skeptic about whether the residence is haunted, though he doesn’t rule it out.

“To claim that something doesn’t exist, whether ghosts or something else, presumes a knowledge base that most of us don’t have,” Wallace said. “So I always leave open the possibility. Though I’m not convinced, that doesn’t mean I’m certain that it’s not there.”

Another ghost story

Are the Columns haunted, too?

The residence is not the only supposed haunting on the Quad.

In her book,"The Haunted Boonslick: Ghosts, Ghouls and Monsters of Missouri’s Heartland,” author Mary Barile also mentions a haunting of the MU Columns dating to the Civil War.

“There was supposed to be a deadly duel between a Southerner and a Yankee over a young woman’s affections, and one of the men was killed. That is why the ivy doesn’t grow on a certain part of the column,” Barile said.

— Sydney Miller