USC isn’t just a home for students — McKissick Museum curators and ambassadors believe spirits of late university presidents and Civil War soldiers reside on campus. With Halloween drawing near, the Visitor Center held its 12th annual ghost tour Oct. 26 to give hundreds of students a chance to explore USC’s oldest and most haunted grounds.
The tour starts in the lobby of the museum, decorated wall-to-wall with cobwebs, where employees said they experience strange paranormal occurrences on a regular basis.
Mark Smith, curator for exhibition and collection management, opened the tour dressed as a funeral director named Justin Sane with the motto, “We’re the last ones to let you down.”
“A lot of people don’t want to be in this building at night,” Smith said. “It’s an old building; it's got its creaks and groans.”
Working with artifacts, Smith has had his own encounters with whom he believes to be former USC president James McKissick lurking in the halls. McKissick died in 1944.
“(McKissick) has such a strong connection to this building,” Smith said. “That’s one of the reasons I started putting radio in all my storage areas, because it’s too quiet. Sometimes I don’t want to hear things, if you know what I mean.”
Due to his devotion and success at the university, McKissick’s coffin was put on display for students and staff to say goodbye before he was buried on the Horseshoe. According to Smith, the museum’s staff has heard footsteps and the sounds of doors closing, saw lights turn off, objects fall and has noticed their coffee cups being in a different place than they had left them.
Smith recalled the day he was putting the USC mascot display up when a student helping him said there was something — or someone — touching the student's back. Smith said when he turned around, there was nothing there.
The USC Police Department has also had multiple reports of strange happenings to officers after patrol shifts on the Horseshoe.
According to Captain Eric Grabski, 30 years ago, after the first call boxes were installed, USCPD dispatch received random activations from the emergency call box located next to McKissick's grave.
“When officers responded, no one was in sight, and there were no signs of human activity,” Grabski said in an email interview. “Many believed that McKissick's ghost was responsible for the activations.”
Other parts of campus, including McMaster College, Longstreet Theatre and Taylor House, nearby the School of Law, have reports of similar experiences.
Grabski recounted reports of officers locking all of the doors in McMaster College, only to find all the doors unlocked immediately after. On some evenings, some have refused to walk in front of Longstreet Theatre, a former Civil War morgue, because they would grow cold and see figures of soldiers walking along the steps.
“An officer ran and never returned, not even to collect his final paycheck,” Grabski said about a ghost sighting incident that happened at the Taylor House.
Greyson Carraway, ambassador captain of innovation and recognition, is working on the tour for the first time. He spends a lot of time in the McKissick Museum and sometimes closes the building at night. There was one night he said left him shaken up: While closing the gate, he heard someone pacing along the other side.
“There’s no way anyone could have been over there," Carraway, second-year elementary education student, said. “It is kind of spooky; there are some weird sounds and stuff that go on (at the Visitor Center).”
The event also featured a theatrical event, with Carraway in charge of events and students presenting the history in costumes. He and his peers also shopped for the spooky ornaments haunting the lobby of the Visitor Center. Other ambassadors were the scarers, chasing students down the Horseshoe screaming.
“It’s just sort of fun to see some people jump,” Smith said. “That’s our goal, make (the audience) jump a little bit.”