A ghost hunt in Freedlander to uncover the truth behind a long-standing campus ghost story
With Halloween looming, ghost stories are creeping their way back onto campus. One of the most widely-known ghosts on campus is Effie Shoolroy, who supposedly haunts Freedlander Theatre. Effie is a benevolent ghost whom countless students have encountered, especially around show times. With “The Golden Age” opening this weekend, Effie stories have started accumulating already. Chelsea Gillespie ’14 relayed a story from last weekend, when an unknown woman’s voice was heard over the headset. Could it be Effie?
Effie Shoolroy was married to Ross K. Shoolroy, a trustee at the College from 1969-1975 during the period of Freedlander Theatre’s construction. Ross donated money to develop the Effie Shoolroy Theatre, located right across from Freedlander in the building, and for other equipment. The theatre was named in honor of Effie, who was a big supporter of the arts in Wooster before she passed away in December of 1974. Since her death occurred right around the time of the theatre’s construction, this is likely why the ghost that haunts the space is thought to be Effie.
Supernaturally speaking, it would also be logical for Effie to choose to haunt Freedlander. The Daily Record recently released an article about Douglas Myers, Wooster’s very own ghost hunter. Myers says that “hauntings are most often triggered by somebody making changes, additions, or other improvements to older buildings, which seems to attract the spirits of those who had a connection to that place.” Freedlander was built right around the time of Effie’s death, so it would seem to be a prime location for her ghost since she had such a connection to the College and to the arts during her lifetime.
Myers listed both Freedlander Theatre and Kauke Hall as two places in the Wooster community notorious for hauntings. In fact, Freedlander comes up on a few different websites noting haunted places in the area. The sites do not mention Effie specifically; they instead state that apparitions of people dressed in clothing from the early 20th century have been noticed in the theatre, sitting as though they were waiting for the show to begin, appearing to talk and laugh, but making no sound.
Professor of theatre Dale Seeds claims that there were already Effie Shoolroy ghost stories when he came to the College in 1984.
“Ghost traditions are pretty common in theatre,” he said. “They show up in Shakespeare for example – Hamlet and Macbeth – and there’s a lot of lure and mythology to that.” While Seeds was quick to admit that students have been reporting their experiences with Effie for generations, he seemed a bit skeptical about her existence. “I’ve never had anything I would describe as an experience myself. I’ve worked in a lot of theatres where people say there have been spirits and things like that, but I hear stuff and I say ‘well that’s just leaves in the parking lot’ or ‘that’s the thermostat changing.’”
While Seeds feels ghosts are a fun theatre tradition for people to believe in, he also believes that many of the experiences that people claim to have likely stem from working late and being tired or misinterpreting unfamiliar sounds.
In order to get to the truth about stories of Effie’s existence, I decided to go on my own ghost hunt. Around midnight on Friday night, a friend and I entered Freedlander Theatre intent on finding evidence of Effie Shoolroy. We first noted that Kent Sprague ’14, student lighting designer for “The Golden Age,” was working on stage lighting. We also noted that there was no one else in the building at the time. We talked to Sprague, who informed me that Effie’s ghost is indeed “a real thing,” and he, like many others who work in Freedlander at late hours, has experienced the eerie, often unexplainable noises that haunt the theatre at night.
We then made our way downstairs to the prop room, noting, again, that no one was downstairs and that all the lights were on. We spent a few minutes at the entrance to the trap door (where I admittedly asked any ghosts present to give me a sign of their existence). At this point my friend claimed she felt a shift in the pressure of her ears, and I was distracted by a slight noise in the far corner of the room. I went to investigate, and all the downstairs lights suddenly went out. My first reaction was that a person undoubtedly turned them off, but I was in plain sight of both switches, neither of which had been flipped, and neither my friend nor I heard anyone else enter the room. Needless to say, it was an unnerving situation.
My experience in Freedlander reminded me of a 2002 Voice article in which Sara Davis ’05, who claimed to have “an affinity for seeing, hearing and feeling paranormal activity,” shared her insight about spirits with a Voice reporter. The reporter wrote, “Davis said that often spirits will become attached to furniture, which explains why so many different hauntings have occurred [in Freedlander], such as lights turning on when doors are locked.” Davis claimed to have met Effie’s ghost herself and said that the ghost told her that her real name is Maria and she likes to turn on the lights when no one is around. A 2008 article in the Voice reported findings similar to Sprague’s description of his experiences with Effie; it said simply that “many of the theatre students report hearing rattling noises and slamming doors at odd hours.”
Even eleven years ago, Davis agreed that Effie is a benevolent ghost, and advised Voice readers not to “be afraid, because spirits can rarely hurt you and are actually very conscious of what we tell them to do.”
Perhaps we should just accept Effie’s ghost as part of the campus community. President Grant Cornwell reported in a Halloween-themed news article online last year, “These spirits have been here a lot longer than the rest of us, and except for an occasional wisp or creak in the middle of the night, they have been good citizens. So I say, ‘let them stay and feel welcome.’”
Whether you believe in the existence of spirits or not, the legend of the ghost of Effie Shoolroy has already transcended generations and is likely here to stay.