Written by Marissa Yardley
Mary Mayo Hall is located on Michigan State University’s northern end of campus known as “West Circle” alongside other historical buildings. It is the oldest residential hall on campus, built in 1931 as a standalone women’s dormitory in honor of its namesake, Mary Anne Mayo. Mayo was a leading member of the Michigan State Grange and an elected member of the Michigan Agricultural College (MAC) Committee (MAC would later become Michigan State University). Mayo had progressive ideas about women’s education and played an integral role in hiring the first female professor of Domestic Economy and Household Science at the college. She fought for expanding the education of women and rallied for a women’s dormitory on campus until her death in 1903. She died of an illness (rather than the rumored murder or self-inflicted causes), and, more importantly, she never stepped foot in the building that bears her name. Yet somehow tales of her murder, suicide, and ghost still haunt the halls.
I lived in Mayo Hall my sophomore year at Michigan State University. I can’t speak for those who have seen apparitions or heard the lobby piano play by itself (a rumor that made me nervous to sit at that bench), but if there is a ghost, it’s no one who died within those walls. Although Mayo’s portrait hanging in the east lobby is a bit chilling, with a whisper of a knowing smile, she’s never conclusively been seen walking around. There is some merit to the stories of satanic rituals that took place on the fourth floor, but it had nothing to do with Mayo herself and the floor has been locked for years. However, there’s absolutely no doubt that the building is intimidating, famous, and just a touch chilling.
My roommate Julia and I wanted to live in Mary Mayo mostly because of the spooky history behind it—from our first day of classes at MSU, we’d heard it was a creepy place. It’s also a very beautiful, historic building, and it was convenient to most of my classes that year. Between that and our morbid curiosity, we put our names down and moved in the following fall.
We took in the gorgeous old woodwork and elegant but poorly maintained radiators (the room was always freezing cold or steamy hot – nothing in between). We delighted in the antique feel of the décor and surroundings. Oak trees lined the grounds outside our window, while a striking fountain gurgled outside during the warmer seasons. Once we decorated with our Michigan State University tapestry blanket and favorite movie posters, it was the perfect college room.
Our first day there, before school started the following week, we went exploring. We’d heard that the basement tunnel connecting the east and west wings of the hall was the creepiest spot in the building. We went down to the basement, which housed the laundry room, in the east wing below our third-floor room. It was normal enough. A TV was mounted on the wall in the corner, which, alongside the washers and dryers, seemed out of place in the old building. The dusty windows let in just a little light and were covered in cobwebs. A short hall led off from the stairs coming down, with two old doors that were always shut and locked, hiding storage space. If you went through another large, heavy door off the stairs, you’d be headed toward the tunnel. There was one more door that led into the actual tunnel, almost like descending into a catacomb. Once inside the whitewashed hall lit by overhead bulbs, we felt a chill. I’m mature enough to say it may have been due to the fact that it was “TOTALLY HAUNTED!” But the feeling was there nonetheless.
At this time, most of the building hadn’t been updated much, so the old, heavy iron incinerator chutes were still there, along with the dusty concrete floor. We stood there a couple minutes, taking it in, but the goose bumps got to be too much for us, so we headed along toward the west wing basement. The laundry room was pretty much a mirror image of the other, and without further ado we headed back up to our room.
A few days after we moved in, something weird happened. I woke up in the middle of the night and the overhead. We slept in lofts, so it was right by my head. My roommate was asleep in her loft. I assumed she had forgotten to turn it off or something, and I went back to sleep.
When we got up the next morning for class, my roommate said, “Did you get up last night?” I told her I hadn’t.
“Really? Because I woke up in the middle of the night and the light was on and the door was unlocked. I thought you had gone to the bathroom and forgotten to lock it, so I got up and did it,” she said. Instant chills. All over.
“You didn’t leave it on when you got into bed?” I asked. She said she’d turned it off—she couldn’t sleep with the lights on. We both knew we hadn’t sleep walked over (navigating our shared loft ladder was a trial when we were awake!), but we wrote it off as forgetfulness. Both of us knew better, though. We were anxious 19-year-old women; there’s no way in hell would we leave our door unlocked on a college campus. Still, we shrugged it off.
Fast forward to early the following spring. My roommate and I needed some clean clothes one Thursday evening, so we lugged our hamper down to the east wing laundry room. After a few months living there, we’d noticed the TVs downstairs rarely worked. They were either choppy and fuzzy, or they didn’t turn on at all. And on one occasion, I had come down to the news blaring and it somehow turned off while I was sorting my clothes. I tried to chalk it up to poor reception, but it still wasn’t a room I enjoyed frequenting alone. Julia and I got to the laundry room and all the washers were full. We hesitated for a moment and then decided to take the tunnel to the other room. I literally have never traversed that hall alone. It spooked me, and if I had to go from one laundry room to the other by myself, I would walk up the steps and through the first-floor lobby to the other staircase.
We got to the other room and were relieved to find a couple empty washers. Then we realized we forgot quarters. Neither of us wanted to lug that hamper back upstairs, but we knew better than to leave it alone. Julia offered to run the three flights upstairs while I waited with the clothes. Alone.
The TV was on and, surprisingly, operating normally, and I was grateful for the background noise. Suddenly, the room was plunged into pitch black silence as all the lights died and the TV shut off. I screamed. I screamed LOUD. I raced to the door, which despite having been propped open (as always), was now CLOSING. Abandoning my laundry, I yanked that sucker as hard as I could and BOLTED up the three flights back to my room. Sheer terror fueled my escape.
On the first landing, I noticed those bright generator lights flooding the stairs. It added to my horror more than the darkness could—it was so surreal and I was all alone. I got to my hall and met Julia racing toward the stairs with a Maglite in hand. I won’t lie—we hugged like I’d just returned from being shipwrecked. She said the lights had gone out just as she got to the room, and she was coming to save me from the creepy basement. We wandered the hall with our flashlight, greeting our other bewildered neighbors. The RA came out to let us know that all of the north campus was out of power—a generator had malfunctioned. We played games in the hall by candlelight until the power came back, at which point Julia and I went together to retrieve our hamper. She held the door (I still don’t know what shut it) and then we got the hell out of there. Laundry became a morning activity. I never used the west wing room again.
Our final Mary Mayo creepfest came that winter. A friend came to visit us one weekend and having heard (from me) the spookiness of the hall, she wanted to investigate. Armed with a big flashlight each (and clad in running shoes), we went down to the east wing basement. The first thing we noticed was that a door was ajar in the side hall—one of the doors that was always kept locked for storage. So, of course, we went over to it. There was nothing inside but an old broom, but we felt like it was an adventure nonetheless. We showed our friend the laundry room and were considering going through the tunnel when she said she wanted to look at the closet again. As we walked back toward the stairs and turned down the hall, the closet door swung shut. We screamed and raced up to the landing, pushing through the door to the parking lot outside. We panted and stared at each other. It could have easily been a small breeze (it was a thin plywood door), a crosswind in the hall or some other innocuous thing. But it was terrifying and we were not going back.
Except we were totally going back. We went down and looked at the door, now shut. We decided to give up on that adventure, as my heart was threatening to beat out my chest and run back outside. Julia and I showed our friend the tunnel and the other laundry room, recounting my terrifying escape. We went up to the fourth-floor room, supposedly haunted by students who performed satanic rituals there. We peeked through the window but didn’t feel like trying to get in and possibly get stuck inside or attacked by asbestos spiders. We went back to our room still impressed by a door shutting in a hallway.
I don’t know if Mayo is really haunted. I do know that creepier things happened to me there than any other building I’ve ever lived in. And I know it’s enough to keep the legend going strong. Here’s to you, Mary—and stay the hell away from my new house!