Huntingdon College – Montgomery

On February 2, 1854, Gov. John Winston and the Alabama legislature established Tuskegee Female College in Tuskegee, Alabama. Andrew Adgate Lipscomb, the first president, shaped the college into a teaching institution. In 1856, the first graduating class consisted of 4 students. Three years later, the enrollment rose to 216 students. When the United Methodist Church took control of the college in 1872, the school’s name was changed to Alabama Conference Female College. By the turn of the century, the college had outgrown its Tuskegee campus. In 1906, the president, Dr. John Massey, initiated the search for a better location. Two years later, Dr. John Sellers, William Moore, and C. G. Zirkle purchased fifty acres of land in the Cloverdale neighborhood of Montgomery from J. G. Thomas and donated the parcel to the college.

Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., was hired in 1908 to design the campus. On August 24, the administration relocated equipment, furniture, and college records to a rented building that was chosen as the temporary home of the college. Following a devastating fire that destroyed the building and all of its contents in 1909, Pres. William Martin and the entire student body moved to Sullins College in Virginia. In 1910, the first building at the Montgomery campus, John Jefferson Flowers Memorial Hall, was completed, and the college opened its doors under a new name, the Women’s College of Alabama. The architect, H. Langsford Warren, designed the building in the same Gothic style used at Cambridge and Oxford universities in England. The college remained an all-female institution until 1934, when it graduated its first male student. However, the first full-time students were not admitted until 1954. To reflect the college’s coed population, the board decided in 1935 to change the name to Huntingdon College, in honor of Selina, countess of Huntingdon, who was instrumental in spreading Methodism in England. A number of buildings have been constructed at Huntingdon College since the 1940s, including Julia Walker Russell Dining Hall (1963), Hubert F. Searcy Hall (1970), James W. Wilson Center (1987), and Carolyn and Wynton Blount Hall (1995). To accommodate its rapid growth, the college acquired the thirteen-acre Cloverdale School property. Today, Huntingdon College has more than twenty undergraduate programs. The college has built on its strengths, especially its liberal arts, pre-law and premedical sciences programs. Huntingdon College is also noteworthy for Gothic Revival and Tudor Revival buildings, one of which— Pratt Hall—holds a prominent place in the state’s ghost lore because of the Red Lady.

The Red Lady is, without a doubt, Alabama’s best-known college ghost. This par- ticular story began at the college’s Tuskegee campus in the nineteenth century. The first sighting took place at 10:00 P.M. on “Sky Alley,” the top floor of the Tuskegee dormitory. Several young women stared in horror as the female specter, wearing a red dress and holding a red parasol, strolled down the hall. The red glow ema- nating from her crimson figure illuminated the dark hallway. The silent spirit seemed to be oblivious to the girls who were watching her. When the Red Lady reached the end of the hall and turned around, the students ducked into an open dorm room and shut the door. Shaking uncontrollably, the girls huddled behind the door and listened to the clicking of the apparition’s shoes as she walked up and down the hallway. After a few minutes, the footsteps faded away. The girls ran over to the window just in time to see the Red Lady walk through a row of cedars and pass through the main gate.

According to Kathryn Tucker Windham’s version of the tale in her book 13 Al- abama Ghosts and Jeffrey, the Red Lady was a wealthy young woman from New York. The story takes place in Pratt Hall, built in 1912 on the Montgomery campus of Huntingdon College. In the variants of the tale, she is known as either Martha or Margaret. She was forced to attend Huntingdon College by her father, who told her that she would not inherit his fortune unless she graduated from his mother’s alma mater. She arrived at her dormitory, Pratt Hall, wearing a red dress. She brought with her red draperies. Her dorm mates were fascinated and somewhat put off by her room’s red décor. Over the next few weeks, Martha seemed to go out of her way to isolate herself from her classmates. She ate by herself in the cafeteria and refused to interact with her roommate’s friends when they visited in her room. Some say that Martha’s apparent disdain for the other girls was actually shyness. Her roommate eventually tired of Martha’s silent treatment and moved out. A succession of roommates moved in—and out—of Martha’s room. They could not tol- erate the girl’s cold demeanor. The president of Pratt Hall took pity on Martha and moved in with her in an attempt to help her fit in with the rest of the residents. After a few weeks, she too found it impossible to live with the New York girl who seemed to be too good for Alabama. On her last day as Martha’s roommate, she was packing her suitcase when Martha opened the door to enter. For a few seconds, Martha stood in the doorway, frozen to the spot. Finally, she pointed her fin- ger at her roommate and said, “So, you are going to abandon me, just like the rest. Go ahead. Leave. I promise you that you will never forget this day for as long as you live.”

Over the next few days, Martha began acting even more strangely than usual. Sometimes, she walked into the various dormitories late at night, opening the doors and staring in the darkness for a few minutes before moving on to the next room. One day, Martha failed to show up for classes or for meals in the cafeteria. Sensing that something was seriously wrong, her last roommate walked up to the fourth floor of Pratt Hall. She was passing down the gloomy hallway when suddenly, crimson flashes of light emanating from Martha’s room punctuated the darkness. The girl cautiously made her way to her former room. When she opened the door, she was shocked to see Martha dressed in her red nightgown, sprawled on her bed. Dried blood encrusted the gashes on her wrists. Martha was dead, an apparent suicide. For decades, students living on the fourth floor of Pratt Hall claimed to have seen her spirit prowling the hallways, sometimes passing through walls or closed doors. Students also reported seeing red flashes of light coming from the transom of Martha’s former room. All of these sightings occurred on the anniversary of Martha’s suicide. A woman interviewed by this writer said that her daughter saw the red light back in the late 1970s when she stayed on the fourth floor during summer band camp.

Pratt Hall now houses the Department of Education and Psychology. Ironically, the offices of campus sororities are on the fourth floor, the same floor where the troubled girl from New York found it impossible to bond with the other residents.

Even though Martha’s former residence is no longer a dormitory, her tragic story lives on. Every October, the members of Phi Mu, Chi Omega, and Alpha Omicron Pi sororities hold a Red Lady Run. To commemorate the death of Huntingdon College’s most legendary undergraduate, the sisters paint their faces, don black clothing, and run around the campus. Martha’s memory also lives on in the stories that students and alumni tell each other on dark, stormy nights.

Martha may be the best known of Huntingdon College’s ghosts, but she is not the only one. In recent years, the Houghton Library’s mischievous spirit has begun receiving attention. Unlike Martha’s, the library ghost’s background is unknown. Its deep-throated moans have led students to believe that it is male. The ghost did not even have a name until the 1990s, when students began calling him “Frank.” He is believed to be responsible for the poltergeist-like activity in the library, such as leaving opened books on the tables, slamming the heavy oak doors, pushing books off the shelves, moving objects from one place to another, and rolling an office chair around the library. Frank may never achieve Martha’s notoriety, but he is a very real presence to the people who work and study in the library.



Haunted Alabama written by Alan Brown – Copyright © 2021 by Alan Brown