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Campus Haunts: The Spookiest Spots at UF

Hey, last time you didn’t look, UF scored in another top college ranking — the 50 Most Haunted U.S. Campuses.

The historic UF campus ranks among the “most haunted” in the nation, according to several sources.

Hey, last time you didn’t look, UF scored in another top college ranking — the 50 Most Haunted U.S. Campuses.

The Gainesville campus was rated No. 18 on a list compiled by the Online School Center, which consulted articles and other sources about recorded ghost sightings and weighed the reported “notoriety, volume and credibility of the paranormal activity on campuses throughout the U.S.” Haunted Places, Florida Haunted Houses, MapSpirits and The Speakeasy channel on YouTube (“Haunted US Campuses,” episode 3) also have cited UF as being among the nation’s the most haunted universities.

But there’s no need to call Ghostbusters. “I have found that most stories about campus hauntings involve friendly, playful ghosts that cause no trouble,” says Elizabeth Tucker, author of “Haunted Halls: Ghostlore of American College Campuses” (2007).

“Campuses with lively ghosts usually have strong cohesion,” Tucker told Inside Higher Ed. “In other words, school ghosts reflect school spirit … and add excitement and mystery to campus life.”

While you may pooh-pooh poltergeists, don’t let your skepticism stop you from perusing the urban legends that haunt these hallowed UF halls.


The first building erected on the Gainesville campus, UF’s Thomas Hall dates to 1906 and originally housed a temporary kitchen, whose temperamental chef was known for banging on pots and pans. The ghost of “Old Steve” still causes mischief in the residence hall by clanking and hammering around sunset, students say.

“Old Steve,” the Noisy Ghost of Thomas Hall

Opened in September 1906, Thomas Hall is the oldest structure on campus, now listed on the U.S. Register of Historic Places. Located in the historic Murphree area, Thomas was originally designed as a multipurpose building, with administrative offices and a temporary dining room located under the classrooms and library.

It was down in the kitchen that a boisterous head chef named Steve used to cause a ruckus by banging on pots and screaming at his staff. Since then, many residents claim to have heard “Old Steve” making clanking and rattling noises, usually at sunset.

This 1918 postcard shows Thomas Hall a little more than a decade after it was built. Photo courtesy UF Digital Collections, Smathers Libraries

Former UF student “Savannah,” who lived in Thomas J in spring 2016, wrote on Haunted Places that while she never heard Old Steve’s percussive concerts, she witnessed something creepy that defied logic. Every night she experienced the “odd feeling of someone staring” at her from a door by her closet, which made her sick to her stomach. She and her roommate slept with a light on the whole semester.

University Spokesperson Steve Orlando told the Gainesville Sun that the ghost story was cooked up long ago by former students who wanted to “commemorate the man they befriended.” Orlando said the notorious clanking noises are actually caused by the radiators that heat the 105-year-old building.

University Historian Carl Van Ness believes students concocted the story as joke: “It was never meant to be taken seriously,” he told the Sun.

Formerly home to the P.K. Yonge Laboratory School, UF’s Norman Hall is reputed haunted by the spirits of children who, urban legend has it, died in an elevator accident in the 1930s. This photo from the 1940s shows P.K. Yonge students in the original second-floor library.

“Something Creepy Went Down at Norman Hall

Located on the east side of campus, Norman Hall opened in 1934 as the P.K. Young Laboratory School, a K-12 practice teaching center. The 3-1/2-story building was constructed in the Collegiate Gothic style, with gabled roofs and cast-stone gargoyles leering from the cornice. The hall now houses the UF College of Education.

Even students who say they do not believe in ghosts have admitted to interviewers that Norman is “spooky” and “gives off a creepy vibe.” People who frequented Norman in earlier years reported eerie doings in a second-floor lounge, visible through a metal grate. Inside the room was an old metal hospital bed, said to be haunted by the spirit of a school nurse. Legend had it if you made the bed at night and locked the door, the sheets would be rumpled and slept on in the morning.

Students and faculty in Norman Hall say they have heard children laughing and running in the halls, with one sprite leaving an icy chill in her wake. Photo by Monik Markus via Flickr

Urban legend has it a group of children perished in a Norman elevator accident in the 1930s. Since then, children’s laughter and the pattering of little feet have reportedly been heard echoing in the corridors late at night. The ghost of a small girl is said to roam the third floor, leaving an icy chill in her wake.

When Norman Hall underwent a long-awaited $30 million renovation between 2018 and 2020, College of Education administrators took the opportunity to set the record straight about the rumored elevator accident in the ‘30s.

“No documentation or eyewitnesses can be found to verify the story,” stated a COE blog post about the 2018 groundbreaking ceremony.

Watch the College of Education’s tongue-in-cheek video about their ghostly inhabitants here:

Beaty Towers is said to be haunted by the sobbing ghost of a UF student who allegedly leapt to her death in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Tom Petty vehemently denied the widespread urban legend that a Beaty tragedy inspired the lyrics of “American Girl.”

An American Girl in Beaty Towers

Facing US Route 441, the twin 13-story dormitories known as Beaty Towers opened in 1967 and are the only high-rises on campus. Legend has it that an unknown female student killed herself by leaping from the roof or balcony of one of the towers in the late 1960s.

There are two versions of why she did it.

In one, the young woman fell into despair after her boyfriend found out she was pregnant and dumped her.

In the other variation, the woman was high on LSD and thought she could fly.

Her ghost has reportedly been seen roaming the corridors of both towers — sometimes silent, sometimes sobbing. She appears in mirrors and reputedly enters students’ rooms and moves things around.

In addition, it has been rumored that the tragedy inspired Tom Petty to pen the lyrics to “American Girl” in the 1970s: “She stood alone on her balcony / Yeah, she could hear the cars roll by out on 441 / Like waves crashin’ on the beach / And for one desperate moment there / He crept back in her memory.”

Historian Van Ness told the Sun that suicides have happened at the university, and this particular one may have taken place in the late 1960s or early ‘70s. He could not be certain because UF does not keep a file on suicides, he said. That timeframe would coincide with when Petty was performing around Gainesville. Spokesperson Orlando disagrees. He told the newspaper no one has committed suicide by jumping off Beaty Tower.

As far as a Beaty suicide inspiring “American Girl,” the late artist himself insisted the story was just “a huge urban myth down in Florida” when he was interviewed for the 2020 book “Conversations with Tom Petty.”

“That’s just not at all true,” he was quoted as saying. “The song has nothing to do with that. But that story really gets around…. I’ve even seen magazine articles about that story. ‘Is it true or isn’t it true?’ They could have just called me and found out it wasn’t true.”

Ghost stories aside, Petty did harbor great affection for “American Girl.” It was the last song he and the Heartbreakers performed in concert, rounding out the encore of their Hollywood Bowl performance on September 25, 2017. One week later, Petty died of cardiac arrest caused by an accidental overdose of prescription drugs.

Petty may be gone, but his song, like the myths attached to Beaty Towers, Norman Hall and Thomas Hall, won’t give up the ghost.