Paranormal Presidential Investigation at
Local Community College*
Those who frequent the group outings to Hollywood Cemetery in search of specters will all say one thing: the grave of John Tyler is about as mundane as they come. “You would think that, for someone who died on the precipice of the war, he’d be a bit unsettled,” muses Helen, a guide with Haunts of Richmond. “But the gravesite is quiet. We’ve never gotten any readings there.” Other ghost hunters have sought out John Tyler at his Sherwood Forest plantation, conducting overnight investigations as the plantation’s current ownership permits. But the only ghost activity there has been attributed to the “Gray Lady,” who has been seen by the current residents as well as many visitors.
Years of apparent tall tales at a local college named after the former president have led to mounting speculation that perhaps Tyler remains unsettled after all and has taken on livelier atmospheres.
“Ah, mhmm, the ‘Virginia gentleman,’” muses Dr. Kirn, who recalls the number of doors that would often swing open for students, particularly women, as they exited buildings on campus at John Tyler Community College. “That was before they automated them. There were a bunch of unexplainable things that used to happen around here. When it started the building was relatively new; we thought perhaps the construction of the school had shaken up fallen soldiers – everywhere around here was battlegrounds.”
But a series of patterns at the school led many to theorize that the haunting is that of John Tyler himself.
“I’ve been here for twenty years. The entire time, talk has always been circulating about freaky things that were happening around campus. He seems to like Moyar Hall. It seems like every day new stories are coming out of there,” notes Lisa Payne, a librarian for both campuses.
Rebeca Parrott, site coordinator at Chester library, has also noticed the oddities on campus. “The weirdest thing is the poems. People are always finding notes around, bits of poems written on scrap paper. They’re kind of cheesy-sounding, really dated. Then people started trying to figure this stuff out and they started realizing they were finding the same things. We didn’t know who was doing it until one day one of the history professors was doing a feature on John Tyler and she shared some of his poetry – and a student blurted out – ‘No way! People have been writing these poems around campus!’ But who just copies down cheesy 1800s poems and leaves them around? And then one day back in like, 2010, a student was trying to print something at the library and the printer spit out a whole one of these poems. So, we think, it must be John Tyler. If it is, he really likes to toot his own horn though.”
“He was never the socialite, apparently. But I feel like he’s got some sort of post-mortem vigor because students are always hearing things,” stated Mrs. Payne.
“One night, I was walking down the hallway after class – I’d stayed late to talk to my professor – and I swear I heard a sort of gruff voice say, ‘Laura?’ I jumped – it was like two feet from me. But nobody was there,” recalls Courtney Britt, who graduated in 2015. “And then I was telling my friends about it and my friend Elyse said that her friend Emma had heard something similar a few weeks before. Apparently, someone said to her, ‘Where’s Laura?’ And it seems like these kinds of stories have been getting out and now when something happens people are just like, ‘Oh, must be old J.T.’”
“Yeah that’s what they call him now,” states Payne. “‘Old J.T.’ He seems to be really hung up on history. There’ve been a couple of times that history books have fallen onto the floor when they’ve been sitting in the middle of a table or propped up on a chalkboard. Or history professors have come into their offices in the morning and found like, one or two books that looked like they’d been pushed onto the floor. I mean the guy’s got some sort of griefs with certain things that have gone down over the last 150 years for obvious reasons, but he apparently has no regard for state property. A lot of textbooks are eBooks now but that just makes things harder because we’ve had so many students who’ve had glitches with their only history books and then they can’t access them on campus. It’s like, ninety-five percent of the time history books.”
While such paranormal events may spook some, students and staff at JTCC recall their experiences with a nonchalant coolness, indicating the benign nature of the phantom rumored to walk the school’s halls. “We have no way of proving that it’s actually him, of course,” notes Payne. But one thing is certain: when the unexplainable happens, students and staff at John Tyler Community College have someone to blame.
*Notice: This is a work of fiction. If you would like to try your own hand at creating character sketches, come to “How to Build a Character,” a creative writing workshop at the Chester Library on Monday, March 4, at 2:00 pm and Wednesday, March 6, at 2:00 p.m. We will be discussing the basics of creating characters for works of fiction, and doing a fun, no-pressure writing exercise based on the historical figure of John Tyler himself. The workshop will be held in the Library Conference Room.