For generations, the students of Brenau University have whispered about the legend of Agnes, the ghost that allegedly haunts the seats of the historic Pearce Auditorium.
While there are many different versions of the story of how the spirit of Agnes came to lurk in the auditorium, AccessWDUN recently spoke to Tracy Moore, Director of Development Programs and graduate from the class of 2007 at Brenau University, along with other Brenau faculty, to dive into the folklore of Agnes and explore the history of the auditorium that may have inspired the legend.
Dedicated in 1897, Pearce Auditorium was built to serve both the university as well as the Gainesville community. While ghost stories have followed the auditorium’s reputation for the majority of its existence, Moore told AccessWDUN that the university has records of students hearing about Agnes dating back to the 1930s.
“Around that time, though, some admit to hearing ghost stories and things like that even earlier," Moore said. "Probably the most popular legend was that she was a voice student that was in love with one of her professors. And it was of course, unrequited, and that she was a really troubled student, and that she came to this space or somewhere in this space, either whether she lived over the theater, there was legend of a pool underneath the theater, where she hanged herself and is said to have haunted the rest of the space since then.”
Although this version of the story has been the legend spread through word of mouth on campus, Moore explained that the University has narrowed down which student may have inspired the tale.
Agnes Galloway, a student who was a freshman from North Carolina in 1926, is believed by some to be the spirit that haunts the auditorium. However, records indicate that Galloway died of tuberculosis in 1929 far from Brenau’s campus.
“There's no official record of a student hanging themselves around that time on Brenau’s campus,” Moore said. “Especially in that time, it was pretty natural that if someone passed away in a way that was, tragic or, something that the family wouldn't have wanted reported, there's the allegations that her death records might have been falsified to those people that really want to keep the lore and the history going and things like that.”
It has also been speculated that perhaps Pearce Auditorium's ‘Agnes’ is actually the spirit of Lucile Townsend Pearce, the wife of Haywood Jefferson Pearce, from whom the auditorium gets its name.
Moore said Agnes typically shows herself through playful, mostly innocent, pranks.
“She's very mischievous. and playful,” Moore said. “That's one of the things that we're really grateful for here at Brenau was that if we're going to have some sort of spooky presence, that at the very least, she seems to mostly be playful and harmless. So, playing with the lights, playing with the seats, certain seats will be down, or the lights will go on or off unexpectedly or even be repositioned. We've had a couple of instances where lights that no one could reach without a ladder, serious equipment, they'll be moved into new fixtures in ways that they weren't before. And no one can really explain that sort of thing. There's lots of different quirky things that happen that could be contributed to old buildings, but mostly usually get contributed to Agnes.”
Alumni who once lived in the dorms above Pearce Auditorium have also shared stories of waking up in the night to find pennies inexplicably tossed on the floor, all facing heads, and lights in dorms going out while being in their dorm alone.
Jennifer Allison, an alum and Associate Professor from the School of Occupational Therapy for Brenau University, lived on campus from 1988 to 1992 and said she had her own abnormal experiences she attributes to Agnes.
Allison recalled her sophomore year acting as a residential assistant and agreeing to check on a dorm room in Mount Bailey, the dorms beside Pearce Auditorium, over a school break late at night. Allison remembered no students being in the dorms at the time, and seeing something odd during the routine check.
“I saw, it was sort of, almost like there were three orbs of light,” she described. “And they then coalesce into the figure of a female, of a person, at the end of a hallway. And it was sort of– it wasn't totally clear. It wasn't like, you know, on TV, you totally can see them or whatever. But it was almost like she was shrouded in something. Or it was just blurry, like, I don't know, when they're checking your eyes and things are blurry.”
Allison then went on to describe the figure of the woman who she saw appear before her.
“But she wore, it wasn't like a Victorian type of dress, it didn't go the full way,” Allison said. “It wasn't floor length, but just a little bit, sort of above where the ankle would be. She was not wearing shoes or a hat. Her hair was kind of up in probably a bun, or looked like that, but what I was really clear on was she was not standing on the carpet. So, it was like she was just a little bit above it. So, that was where I actually saw her. And I immediately just turned and ran pretty quickly down the stairs. “
While Allison did not live in Mount Bailey, she also recalled that same year, visiting a friend who lived in the building to watch TV at night and hearing oddities when seemingly no one was around.
“There were times where we would hear doors slamming. And there was nobody up there, like, the students were gone,” she said. “Or maybe, all the students were with us watching TV and doors were opening and shutting down at the other end of the hallway. A lot of times I felt coldness, I would walk down the hallway. And certain areas would be very, very cold. I didn't hear anybody speak or anything, but it was a lot of the slamming of doors or the coldness.”
Lainey Kennedy, Assistant Director of Event Services at Brenau, explained that while she’s never physically seen what might have been Agnes, she's also felt the coldness in the auditorium.
“Going on 20 years ago, when I was a freshman at Brenau, we were building a set here in Pearce and our technical directors sent me to the basement to grab extension cords,” Kennedy said. “So this is September, so it's hot and moist in this air-conditioned basement and I go down the steps, and I step off the last step and it goes ice cold. And I stepped back, and I stepped through it again. And it's, you know, ice cold and just feels icky and creepy. And so I ran and grabbed the extension cords and I told them I would never go in the basement by myself again. And 20 years later, I have kept that promise.”
However, Agnes is not the only spirit said to roam the campus. Little Red, the supposed ghost of a child is said to haunt the Freshman Dorm.
According to folklore, Little Red was a boy who lost his life in a cement accident while the campus was undergoing construction.
“He’s also very playful,” Moore said. “What you're told as a freshman is that if you leave a red crayon out at night, you'll wake up to drawings on your dorm room. Now, there's always a way that, it could be some sort of student prank or things like that, but it's one of those things that gets carried on, you know, year after year after year.”
Despite the scares these legends ignite in the student body at Brenau, Moore believes sharing the ghost stories brings students closer to each other and the school.
“Someone said sometimes that they think if we hadn't all seen evidence of Agnes, if Agnes hadn't shown herself in all of these different ways, than the Brenau women would have invented Agnes in some way,” More said. “Because it really does have that sort of overlying connecting nature of folk tales, and folklore and stories that really do bring your community together in a strange way, and in a funny way, but it's a way that we all really enjoy and enjoy carrying on the tradition of telling those ghost stories year after year.”