Dr. Ardrey’s Unintentional Legacy Is a Bit Spooky

October 28, 2022

Since it’s nearing the end of October, how ’bout a good, old-fashioned ghost story? This one really happened, back in late 1973, when I was nineteen years old and still rather impressionable. Because that was nearly a half century ago, please forgive me if I don’t remember all of the details exactly as they happened!

During my sophomore year at Northern Arizona University, builders put the finishing touches on Ardrey Auditorium, named for a long-time dean of the College of Creative Arts. During the fall semester I’d attended a play and several concerts in the new venue, and I’d found the acoustics phenomenal.

But now, during finals week, I had other things on my mind as I approached the building late on a chilly December evening. I’d just completed a term paper, due no later than eight the following morning. Worried about oversleeping, I opted to walk the paper to the professor’s office that night and slip it under her door before going back to my dorm.

Sharp wind blasted sleety needles into my face, and I zipped my jacket as I hurried through the empty streets. Lights shone in only a few dorm windows, and I heard a chime in the distance, marking the midnight hour. Clouds obscured the moon, but streetlights provided decent visibility. The wind abated as I moved into the lee of the softly lit building.

A graceful, curved ramp climbed from the street to a set of double glass doors on the left, leading into the auditorium. On the right, a sidewalk veered toward a wing of faculty offices.

A strange sensation came over me as I reached the top of the ramp. I felt as if someone was watching me. I stopped and looked all around but saw nothing except a few fallen leaves by the double glass doors, and circles of light under the streetlamps below. The wind had completely stopped and the night fell silent. Although warm in my jacket, I felt a chill run up my spine.

A rustling sound drew my attention to a sheltered corner next to the auditorium doors. Although I could not detect even the slightest air movement, a small pile of dry leaves there whirled and spun. I ran down the sidewalk and pulled open the door to the office wing.

I stepped into the warm, well-lit hallway. Breathing a sigh of relief, I found the professor’s office and slid my paper under the door. Reluctantly, I headed back outside into the still air.

Tendrils of fog wisped around the building’s edges, and moisture dimmed the streetlamps below. I had to pass by those double glass doors in order to go back down the ramp. Again, I felt as if eyes were watching me. As I approached, the doors began to shake furiously.

Dim interior lights illuminated the entrance well enough for me to clearly see the empty lobby. Yet the glass doors continued to shudder vigorously. Walking tentatively past the doors, I watched with nervous fascination as the rattling grew increasingly frantic. For a moment, I thought the glass would break. Terrified, I bolted down the ramp at top speed and sprinted back to my dorm.

The next morning, I returned to the auditorium. Everything looked normal in the cold, bright sunshine. I pulled on the locked glass doors and peered inside. Nothing. I looked in the building corner for the dead leaves, but they weren’t there. Could I have imagined the entire thing?

I didn’t believe weather factored into the incident, since the wind had calmed by the time, I’d reached the building last night. Even though I’d always scoffed at tales of the supernatural, I wondered if the immediate area had any history of unexplained occurrences.

In the library, I began nosing around for more information, but found nothing pertaining to that part of the campus, other than recent news stories documenting the construction project. The few cautious questions I asked of the library staff resulted only in raised eyebrows.

A man, perhaps in his mid-twenties, with long, black hair pulled back in a ponytail, caught up with me as I exited the library.

“Wait,” he said. “I couldn’t help but overhear the questions you asked the librarian. Can you tell me why you are interested in the history of that area?”

“Something odd happened there last night,” I replied, not wanting to go into detail. I started to walk away.

But he persisted, grabbing my arm. “Please, tell me more. Something strange happened to me, as well, on the ramp leading up to the auditorium.”

I stopped and stared at him. His eyes were wide behind his black-rimmed glasses. Oh well, I thought, I may as well tell him what happened.

He listened intently as I told my story, then he nodded. “That’s very similar to what happened to me,” he said. “I’m a graduate student, studying southwestern history. After my experience near the auditorium, I told one of my professors about it. He’s been in this part of northern Arizona for a long time, and I thought he might have some insights. It turns out that he did.

“When they broke ground for the project a couple of years ago, the crew encountered a prehistoric burial ground. Construction halted while the University brought in tribal and state authorities to inspect the site and advise how to proceed. They ended up relocating the burials to tribal lands so that construction could continue.”

I opened my mouth, then closed it again without speaking.

He continued, “My theory is that the dirt-moving caused a wider disturbance than anyone realized, and that maybe they did not find and relocate all of the deceased individuals. My professor has asked a Native American colleague of his to investigate further.”

I never found out the results of that investigation, nor did I ever hear any more stories of unusual happenings in the vicinity of the auditorium. But I never again visited the building alone, or late at night.

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

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