Author Jeff Provine honors us with a visit today. A professor of Oklahoma University, Jeff also runs the university’s ghost tours. Jeff has compiled spooky ghost stories and recently released Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma. Let’s ask Jeff about this exciting new book.
Hello Jeff, thank you so much for coming in. You say, ‘While backpacking around Europe and attending every ghost tour I could find…’ Why ghosts? What triggered this fascination?
Ghosts have always fascinated me, as I’m sure they do anyone who wonders what goes bump in the night or what happens to the human spirit when the body gives out. There seems to be so much more at work in the world than just the material realm, and I’ve always wanted to learn more about it.
You say, ‘I mentioned to a friend of mine the only local ghost story I knew, the “Ellison Hall Ghost”.’ Please tell us a bit about the “Ellison Hall Ghost”
The story goes that a little boy was out roller skating one day in the early 1930s when he was hit by a car (or had an asthma attack, the story differs). With the university infirmary the nearest hospital, they rushed him inside and up to the third floor where the surgery suites were. He did not make it, but apparently he’s still up there. People have heard the sounds of wheels rolling up and down the hall and, sometimes, the bouncing of a ball. The motion sensor lights are famous for going off when nobody’s around.
Wow! That is scary.
You say, ‘She suggested I do a ghost tour of OU; I chuckled and said, “There aren’t enough stories! “Well, I was very wrong. Turns out there are so many stories I picked the best.’ How and where did you discover these stories?
Stories came from a wide variety of sources. My first look was at Internet forums telling local legends about Norman. Once I had a few leads, I dug into old newspaper archives on microfilm, books written about OU, and old yearbooks. Most useful of all was simply strolling from one building to the next, seeing if anyone had experienced something weird. Good ole Oklahoma folk are often quiet, but once they get to telling stories, it’s amazing what we can find out.
You say, ‘Since October 2009, I began informal walks around campus telling the tales.’ How did this start?
It started simply as an imitation of the other ghost tours I’d been on. We met outside one of the buildings and walked along the sidewalk from one story to the next, pausing to tell tales. Over the years, word of mouth, social media, and OU’s Visitor Center have been instrumental in filling up the tours.
You say, ‘My walking tours are seventy-five minutes and open to the public.’ Please share with us some memorable moments.
Since OU is a public space, it’s only fair to tell the stories without charge. Anybody walking by can stop in and listen. At about the hour-mark, people start getting worn down, but there are so many stories to tell!
You say, ‘A voluntary donation is collected on behalf of the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Oklahoma.’ Tell us about this cause.
CACO is an organization that operates multiple-bedroom homes where kids from troubled backgrounds can go into a safe place. Each kid gets his or her own room and, often for the first time, their own individual toys. With Halloween being a kids’ holiday, I thought it’d be the best recipient for donations, which give the Ghost Tours all the more reason to go on.
Since Norman’s inception more than 120 years ago as a college town, it has gathered a shadowy history and more than a few residents who refuse to leave. Ghostly organ music and sinister whispers fill school buildings in the night. Patients walk the surgical suites of the old infirmary, which was once a quarantine ward for polio victims. Long-deceased sisters still occupy their sororities—one even requiring an exorcism—and dorms are notorious for poltergeists and unexplainable sounds
About the book. It’s new from The History Press’s Haunted America line’. What prompted you to write Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma?
The History Press caught word of the tours, and they suggested I write a book. It was my first major nonfiction work, and I was excited to tackle it.
What, in your opinion, are the best ingredients of an excellent scary tale?
First, the author needs to establish a setting or character that is relatable. Show that it can happen to anyone or anywhere. Then, introduce the weirdness, go outside of the comfort of normality. Finally build to a crescendo where the mortals and the spirits face-off.
Please share some memorable moment/s from when you wrote this.
While I was writing about the poltergeists believed to haunt students in some of the dorms, unseen spirits tearing posters off walls and shoving students, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, the bedroom door behind me slowly, almost silently, open. I jumped out of my chair to find my wife peeking in to check on me and show me a funny YouTube video for a break. I definitely needed a break after that.
Hahahahaha! The book must be scary to have affected you like that! You say, ‘It has all of the scariest stories from the OU Ghost Tour, plus more from around the college area of town.’ Why is this book a must-read? What makes your collection special compared to the available ghost stories?
My stories are collected with at least two independent sources. Rather than spinning a yarn, I exercised my Journalism degree in making it as factual as possible. The stories also show a good deal of history, which gives a deep perspective on places we often just walk by. If this is what happens in a few blocks square in a town in Oklahoma, imagine what happens around where you live.
You have true ghosts as characters!
And you say, ‘Strange sounds, secret societies, and spectres… all just a part of the darker side of OU.’ Aren’t you supposed to be scared? Are you an expert in scaring your tour guests?
Generally the tours are rated PG. It gets freaky when we talk about the choking ghost who repeatedly attacked a student before being exorcized, and people love to share that thrill. I know it’s a good tour when people gasp and, after the story, whisper nervously and excitedly to one another.
You must be an excellent speaker! ‘Professor Jeff Provine sheds light on some of the darker corners of this historic campus and the secrets that reside there.’ I can see your deep love for this campus. Share with us your historic OU.
Even though I didn’t know it until I graduated, I’m a fourth-generation OU student. My great-grandfather went there for his pre-med degree, my grandfather for mechanical engineering, my mother for accounting, and finally me. Since I finished my degree, I returned for a Master’s and have been teaching there every year as an adjunct professor. It is a vibrant campus with lots of history and possibility.
‘The Mysterious and Macabre of the University of Oklahoma. A noisy ghost in Cafe Plaid, chittering sorority spirits in the basement of Casa Blanca, and a Pioneer Woman wandering the Duck Pond.’ Do you have any interaction with these secrets? Any medium ability, or have you ever sought a medium’s assistance?
I’ve never seen a ghost, and I’ve never heard or witnessed anything that, as a skeptic would say, is scientific proof. On the other hand, I have tagged along on an investigation, and there have been some unexplainable happenings. I’ve talked with several folks who claim medium abilities, but I’ve never been with them while consulting with a spirit.
If you could, which character/ghost did you want to meet the most, and why?
Mex the Dog, buried at the 50-yard line in the football stadium. He sounds like a good dog.
If you were to interview a ghost, which questions would you be curious to ask?
First and foremost, I’d have a lot of questions about the death process and the afterlife. Once my curiosity there was settled, I’d like to learn more about the specifics of history. What was Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency like? What do they think of cultural norms these days?
Would you like to elaborate on any of these tour talks of yours?
Mildred Andrews Boggess was our Professor of the Organ from 1938 to 1976. She was a very type-A personality who got things done. She established the Master’s organ program, holds the record for most students winning nationals, and started the fund for the cathedral-style organ that is today named in her honor. When the music hall was renovated, they moved out all of the old organs, and apparently prompted her to come back to the school. They say you can hear organ music playing in Holmberg late at night from her.
Ellison Hall is our most haunted building on campus. The little boy is the most famous, and from the paranormal investigators I’ve interviewed, he’s not alone. There is a nice nurse with an EVP saying she’s from Memphis, a stodgier nurse, a female ghost, and a trickster. A pair of psychics who went into the basement (which was once the morgue when it was the hospital), said that there was something bad beyond the hatch leading to the steam tunnels. One said she wouldn’t go in there even if they paid her.
In 1986, a fourteen-year-old there on a summer program got into in the basement of what is also known as “Cate Cafeteria.” He was playing with the dumbwaiter, the little elevator used to take things up to the ground floor so they wouldn’t have to be lugged up the stairs, apparently trying to ride it. He was too big, however, even if he squeezed in backward. Unbeknownst to him, someone upstairs hit the “call” button, and the elevator began moving up even with the doors open. He tried to escape, but got caught by his neck and was decapitated as the elevator moved past the wall shaft. They say his spirit is still down there.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Campus Ghosts is the product of asking people their stories. The world around us is jam-packed with amazing history that we rarely think about. Pausing to look deeper into our surroundings and those around us makes our lives so much richer. There are stories everywhere!
Thank you so much for your time, Jeff. Best wishes for the book and the tours!