University of Arizona legend says that a ghost haunts Old Main, especially during periods of construction.

Jacob Chinn

By day, the scaffolding around Old Main reminds passersby of the university’s rich history and forward movement. By night, when the Mall is silent, and the students have gone, some may feel a ghostly presence.

A homecoming to the University of Arizona might be spookier than you expected.

To celebrate the school’s 99th homecoming, the Student Alumni Ambassadors will escort groups around campus Friday, sharing stories that haunt some of the more iconic landmarks.

The ghost of Old Main, a construction supervisor during the initial building, seems most at home during renovations, said Kelley Prust, the director of membership and marketing for the UA Alumni Association.

Back in the 1880s, with the community angered over the construction of the university and threats to burn it down circulating, the construction supervisor spent many nights on site — until one morning his workers found him, stabbed in the neck.

He never left Old Main.

Memories don’t always come with rose-tinted glasses, but don’t worry too much about supernatural encounters on the tour. Chances are the ghosts will be snoozing — the hour-long tour takes place at 10 in the morning.

Another stop is the all-women’s dorm, Maricopa Hall. Here, lore has it, a young student hung herself after finding her fiancé in town, in bed with another woman.

“She walked all the way back to the university and was found in the morning hanging from a pipe,” Prust said of this version of the story. “She’s seen crying and walking through the halls (today).”

The ghost tour haunts nine venues on campus, including Centennial Hall and Bear Down Gym.

While generations of university students and faculty have passed these stories on, often adding personal experiences to the tales, this tour is the first of its kind on campus.

Homecoming, it seems, resurrects all manner of things.

“Some of the things, the heritage and traditions, are steeped in programs and activities,” said James Knight, a UA professor in the department of agricultural education. “These others are urban legends, and they survive by word of mouth as people talk about them,” he said, referring to the paranormal tales. “I don’t even know if they have paper trails.”

Throughout the school year, Knight teaches a class on the more standard university traditions and will give a truncated presentation for alumni during homecoming weekend. On ghost stories, Knight only knows what hearsay has told him — just like the rest of campus. Prust said the Student Alumni Ambassadors are probably the closest thing the university has to ghost experts.

Many students soak in the decades-old traditions during their time on campus, but few want to stay eternally.

Some, like the military ghosts at Bear Down Gym, have little choice.

During World War II, the gym was used as barracks for troops in training. After the war’s end, some of the fallen returned to the place where their military careers began — to stay.

These ghost stories aren’t the only ones told across campus and among alumni. The Student Alumni Ambassadors asked for submissions when developing the tour, and a few suggestions were unique, telling tales of apparitions outside of the usual hot spots.

Although some ghost stories might be personalized, the ones that made the tour more or less match up with the historical Heritage Trail and put a creepy spin on UA history for anyone who signs up.

Alumni might say they bleed red and blue.

Some actually do.

Contact reporter Johanna Willett at or 573-4357.

Writing about Tucson's heart and soul — its people, its kindness, its faith — for #ThisIsTucson.