New College campus and beyond: old tales and ghost stories
Memorial tombstone of Charles Ringling Lancaster. (Taken by Emma Iverson.)

New College campus and beyond: old tales and ghost stories

Calling on only the most daring and boldest of ghost hunters: these time-weathered tales and ghost stories of New College are not for the faint of heart, but rather, one’s soul. Charles Ringling passed in 1926, but was he ready to go? With such a historic campus, it can be presumed that ghosts wander the dusty halls, dark eerie corners and “live on” within their former homes. The Catalyst conducted research and spoke with a knowledgeable alum to discover the old tales and haunted ghost stories around campus and the Sarasota area.

College Hall

Many may be afraid of clowns, but New College is wary of the Ringling Brothers of circus fame. Charles and Edith Ringling built the magnificent mansion now known as College Hall, and stories about it have floated around for generations. College Hall was completed in 1926, the same year Charles Ringling died. It has been stated that Ringling passed away in his own home a day after his 63rd birthday. Could it be that Charles Ringling stayed in College Hall to enjoy his estate longer? Maybe his death was unexpected and he is still slithering among the walls of his glorious mansion.

 A Catalyst reporter spoke with alum Alexis Santos (’12), a former Catalyst staffer who ghost-watched multiple sites on campus to determine if the myths were real. “There was a spike on an EMF meter that was a little difficult to explain, but I would not necessarily call it confirmation that College Hall is haunted. It was enough to make me freak out, and I waved the EMF meter around to see if it spiked because of an electrical outlet, but it could not be replicated,” Santos recalled. 

Was it a ghost encounter, one may wonder? In October 2018, the Paranormal Society of Bradenton visited College Hall and wrote up their own ghost report. “At one point, the equipment caught two shadows upstairs, one smaller in size than the other, which they [Paranormal Society] assumed belonged to one of the parents and one of the [Ringling] children.” 

One might wonder whether College Hall is full of ghosts, or whether the noisy air- conditioning system and an increase of adrenaline might foster the experience of an encounter. Click here for more bits of “evidence” that the Ringlings still inhabit their home because they enjoy it so much. 

The Devil’s Chair

On April 5, 1988, a New College student tragically drenched himself in gasoline and self-immolated. Since that time, rumors have persisted about a connection between the concrete chair situated by Sarasota Bay and this student. Despite the absence of any actual evidence, speculations endure regarding whether the chair is the location of his death, with alternative narratives proposing that it occurred nearer to the dock.

“It can be perceived that the so-called “devil’s chair” is associated with his death, but no one has ever been able to say for certain,” Santos told the Catalyst.

The Bamboo Wall

The bamboo wall adjacent to Cook Hall at New College has gained notoriety within the campus community over the years, whether it’s the rustling of the wind passing through its thickets or the presence of the Ringling graves encircling it. Since John and Mable Ringling were reinterred near this bamboo grove in 1991, eerie rumors have surfaced, hinting at the possibility of some enigmatic presence residing among the trees.

Most bamboo trees are known for their creaking noises during windy days, so is the wind to blame or is there something more sinister lurking?

“I couldn’t stay there long, it sounded like I was living through the horror movie The Birds,”  transfer student Jojo Patrick told the Catalyst

Old Caples Mansion

The most commonly shared ghostly tales revolve around the Old Caples mansion, originally constructed and inhabited by Ralph and Ellen Caples, who were intimate friends of the Ringlings. This historic, pale pink mansion has fostered generations of ghost stories. Old Caples is secluded from the other buildings on campus, so could the rumors be real or is the setting just too perfect?

Students have passed down the story that an intellectually disabled child is chained and locked up on the second floor, and that one can hear the sounds of a creaky piano playing constantly. 

Although this rumor may be easily debunked as inspired by the Hollywood movie, The Goonies, as Santos noted in his 2010 story, Old Caples is well-known for the two other ghosts who allegedly live within the walls: a woman who plays the piano in a purple dress and a man, who could possibly be her husband, who wears a white suit and appears in the garden most of the time. 

Pei Third Court 

Now that Pei has been taken offline, a ghost named Varney should be able to wander freely with no disruptions. Varney is mainly known for being seen in the lounge area and turning on and off lights, giving students the chills and an occasional touch on the shoulder. Although Varney has not manifested in the past couple of years, could it be that he will return due to the abandonment of Pei?

The Cà d’Zan

In 1926, John and Mable Ringling built their Mediterranean Revival and uncannily  styled estate. Ghost hunters often claim to encounter the apparition of Mable on the terrace, along with a spectral presence known as Mary. Mary, who was associated with the Cà d’Zan and tragically took her own life, was either 18 or 19 at the time of her passing. According to The Bradenton Times, Mary has had a few encounters with Ringling College of Art and Design and New College students throughout the years, usually in a black nightgown roaming across the rooms, and sometimes even scratching at others. 

Rosemary Cemetery

“One of the spookiest locales in the city,” Jessi Smith told Visit Sarasota.

The Rosemary Cemetery has a rich and historic history, a likely source of the rumors that swirl around it. Prominent members of Sarasota founding families are buried there. They include Mayor John Hamilton Gillespie, local developer Owen Burns and Lewis Colson, who was a surveyor and a prominent member of the Black community in Sarasota. 

The Green Family, infamous for being victims of a grisly family massacre at the hand of their husband and father in 1887, can also be found in the Rosemary Cemetery.

While there is no evidence beyond that produced by ghost hunters and mediums, many say one cannot visit the Rosemary Cemetery without experiencing paranormal activity. Current New College student or not, beware of the ghostly activity that might be encountered in the vicinity of the New College campus.

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