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Ghosts, disappearances and insanity in old Fisher Hall

Building: A History Series

Robert Frost, who once referred to Miami University as the  “Most Beautiful Campus That Ever There Was,” impressed a legacy of awe on the university. Although the outward adornment of many campus buildings may be a striking neo-Georgian-esque statement, the history of the buildings is often far less appealing. This week, we examine the original Fisher Hall and see past its stunning rooms and into the darker corners of its history.

Peabody Hall might just lay claim to the most-renowned haunted hall on Miami University’s  campus, but Old Fisher Hall is home to its fair share of unnerving occurrences. 

Fisher Hall’s large central tower and wide wings were originally designed by James Knox Wilson to house Oxford Female College. On Sept. 3, 1856, after four years of construction, the luxurious building was dedicated and opened to the new students, who reportedly enjoyed one of the finest residence halls in the country, according to an advertisement run at the time.

The building spared no expense. It had hot and cold plumbing, servants, a state-of-the-art steam heat system and fully-gas lighting. The final construction costs were $100,000. That cost overran the original budget by an additional 150 percent, according to historical account of the building later compiled by Miami, called “Miami University’s Fisher Hall, National Trust for Historic Preservation Fisher Hall: It’s Preservation Potential.”

In 1882, the building was sold to the Oxford Retreat Company for $45,000 when the College faced financial problems. For the next 44 years, the building served as a “Private Institution for the Treatment of Insanity, Nervous Disorders, Inebrity and Opium Habit,” according to documents in the Fisher Hall national trust.

According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in 1923, Miami struck a deal with the Oxford Retreat Company, and by 1928, Miami removed the bars from the windows of the asylum, made some other minor changes and opened the newly-dedicated Fisher Hall as a first-year men’s residence hall.

Before the building was deemed unsafe for permanent occupation in 1957, Fisher Hall was home to two of Miami’s biggest mysteries. 

On April 19, 1953, a resident assistant in Fisher Hall, Ronald ‘Ron’ Tammen Jr. disappeared without a trace. The essay “The Disappearance of Ronald Henry Tammen” details a massive investigation eventually involving the FBI that failed to reach any conclusions. Tammen left (whether by choice or force) with the light and radio on in his room, with his car still parked outside the hall and without his keys or wallet.

Many theories prevail concerning the disappearance of Tammen, and the case remains unsolved. An article run in the Cincinnati Enquirer at the time debated whether he was hit on the head by two strangers, developed amnesia and wandered off (as was believed by former Miami president Shriver) or was kidnapped or ran away. There was never another confirmed sighting of Tammen nor of his remains.

Shortly after this disappearance, residents of Fisher Hall reported hearing strange noises in the dorm. Singing was repeatedly heard from the Formal Gardens, according to students in Fisher at the time, but no singer was ever found. 

One night, determined to find the singer, students from the hall searched and secured the Gardens. According to the Enquirer article, even though the Gardens were supposedly confirmed to be empty, the students still heard singing, and, when searching the gardens for the source, saw a figure clad in white running away with what they claimed to be “superhuman speed.” 

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Tales of the “Fisher Hall Phantom” quickly spread, and many other students and professors claimed to have paranormal experiences. Some paranormalists even came to investigate the hall. 

Despite the supposed haunting, Miami continued to operate the hall as a dorm until 1957. After that, it briefly served as a theater and then mostly sat empty until around 1970, when the university decided to tear it down, according to the article “Fisher Hall Scheduled for Demolition.” 

Although students and staff petitioned for the building to be saved and restored, as detailed in a letter from Walter Havighurst to Bob Wilkin of the Murstein Alumni Center, the university couldn’t find the money to make the changes, and the National Register Structure was demolished, as recounted in the article “Fisher Hall Scheduled for Demolition.” Supposedly, the debris was searched in hopes of finding Tammen’s remains, to no avail as described in the documentary ‘The Phantom of Oxford.” 

The site of Old Fisher Hall soon became home to what is now the Marcum Center in the early 80s, but the legacy of Fisher Hall lives on — not only in the name of a current hall, but also in the darker side of Miami history.