Recalling an Ole Miss Halloween
Published 8:00 am Saturday, October 29, 2022
Years ago on Halloween when my office as Assistant Director of the Ole Miss Career Center and teacher was on the third floor of the un-restored Lyceum, I needed to work late – but first took a short walk around campus in the cold, partly cloudy, crisp fall air. As the sun was setting, I paused at the Civil War Statue in the Circle and under the streetlights read again the quote from British nobleman, Lord Byron (1788-1824) poet and politician who joined the Greek War of Independence fighting the Ottoman Empire and referencing 300 Spartan soldiers sent to certain death at the hands of the Persians at Thermopylae; “O stranger, tell the Spartans that we lie here, obedient to their commands.”
In the Civil War (1861-1865), 260,000 Union and 258,000 Confederate soldiers lost their lives and this quote seemed appropriate to them as well as most soldiers were drafted and sent to war, including me (Vietnam July 1969-August 1970), and fought because we had to, not for any ideology. After the 1862 bloody Battle of Shiloh in Hardin County, TN (less than two hours away) many buildings on the Ole Miss Campus treated wounded from both sides and those who died were buried together in a modest cemetery named, “God’s Little Acre” located just south of the Tad Smith Coliseum.
Looking at Ventress Hall from the Circle, I reflected on the beautiful Tiffany-stained glass windows housed there depicting the University Grays, Company A of the 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment, composed almost entirely of Ole Miss Students – the Grays penetrated deep into Union territory at Gettysburg in 1863 but suffered almost 100 percent casualties. A frigid breeze rustled the leaves and a shiver spiked through me as I glanced down University Avenue and was startled by the sight of an enormous, orange, harvest moon slowly appearing on the eastern horizon. The moon loomed large and appeared orange, I knew, because of the Autumnal Equinox and Halloween had its origins in religion.
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On the 31st of October, All Hallows Eve, legend tells that spirits of the dead return to walk the earth; November 1, All Hallows Day is for remembering those who died the previous year and would finally find peace – we Catholics celebrate this as All Saints Day, the second day, All Soul’s Day, commemorates the faithful departed believed to be in Purgatory.
Chilled by falling temperatures and thoughts of the deceased, I hurried into the unoccupied Lyceum where my footsteps echoed eerily as I climbed the old, squeaky stairs to my third-floor office. After hours of working alone in the spooky, creaking structure, I fell asleep at my desk and was suddenly awakened by, “Dixie,” then the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” followed by laughter, voices, was ready to exit in full-blown panic when a calm voice told me to be still.
A Confederate and Union officer, one Black one White, appeared in full regalia like Captain Kirk being beamed aboard the Enterprise and said they were among those who died from battle wounds when the Lyceum was used as a hospital. Then, images like on a movie screen played with Confederate and Union soldiers, wives, girlfriends, children, family, pets, talking to each other, shaking hands and laughing on a gorgeous sunny day – it was the Grove! Movie ended, officers reappeared and said those soldiers were killed in battle; wars were mistakes of humanity – the Devil’s work and instructed me to tell the world to avoid war at all cost and that the Devil could be defeated with prayer and good works.
Then, officers smiling, they slowly faded into infinity as I sat back in my chair, stunned, felt so peaceful, was this real – regardless, it was time to go home and return to the living. Exiting the Lyceum, the sky was clear, moon full, and the clock on the Lyceum registered 12:01 – All Saints’ Day…the dead were once more at peace….
Footnote: All of the above is true, office in the unrestored Lyceum, my walk before working late, many nights in the old, empty Lyceum, my corner office on the third floor, no elevator then, one window facing the Library, the other Holman Hall School of Business, and the wonderful old Lyceum did indeed had lots of noises, especially with only me there, and with all its creaking and groaning, I imagined this very scene many times – but thankfully…it didn’t actually occur….
When my hero and father figure, Dr. Gerald Walton, Provost, gave me a personal tour of the Lyceum undergoing restoration (1998-2000), it was completely gutted inside, walls to walls to the rafters – some still charred by at least one of three major fires that were thankfully put out. On two occasions, arriving early for work in the Lyceum, to my horror discovered I had left the coffee pot on – fourth major fire, my legacy, burning down the Lyceum! This expedition into the “ruins” of the “old” Lyceum was an other-worldly experience for me and helped fuel my vivid imagination. Thank you, Dr. Walton, I miss you every day…. Those of you who spent time at night working alone in the Lyceum – get this!
HAPPY OLE MISS and OXFORD HALLOWEEN…GO REBELS, beat A&M today at 6:30pm in College Station, TX!
Steve is an Oxford resident, worked on Campus, received his Ph.D. in Counseling from Ole Miss, is an LPC, NCC, and can be reached at, email@example.com.