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Haunted Miami: Myths and mysteries

Robert Frost once said Miami University’s campus was “the most beautiful campus ever there was.” But he neglected to mention its reputation as a school plagued by the unexplained and unnatural, from Helen Peabody’s ghost to the mysterious disappearance of Ronald Tammen. 

The following is by no means a collection of every spooky incident on campus, but it will give a brief summary of some of the most disturbing disappearances and foreboding figures in Miami’s history.

A fish, then nothing: The disappearance of Ronald Tammen

The date was April 19, 1953. For Ronald Tammen, it was a night to do psychology homework after a weekend of running errands and performing with the Campus Owls jazz band, playing the string bass.

For the rest of the university, the day would mark Tammen’s disappearance from both Fisher Hall and the planet.

Tammen had been surprised earlier that evening with an ambiguous yet chilling symbol: a dead fish pulled from a nearby lake, tucked into his bedsheets. While some have speculated that the fish represented a threat by an unknown mafia, it was later revealed that the fish was simply a practical joke pulled by fellow student Richard Titus — the two frequently pranked each other.

What happened next, however, was anything but a joke.

Tammen was last seen going into his room with fresh sheets. His roommate returned at 10:30 p.m. to an empty room with the lights still on and Tammen’s psychology textbook open at his desk. Other than what he had been wearing that night, everything else he owned was still on campus — his car, his wallet and his beloved bass were untouched. 

He was never found.

Since then, many theories have circulated, ranging from murder to temporary amnesia (mostly owed to a witness who claimed they saw Tammen the next morning, unable to remember his name and asking directions to the nearest bus stop). There has even been a theory purporting that Tammen was gay and secretly recruited by the CIA because of this.

Fisher Hall was torn down in 1978, but a body was never found. However, some claim to have spotted Tammen — both alive and as a ghost — over the years.

Regardless of what happened, the case of Ronald Tammen may prove to be one of Miami’s most intriguing mysteries for years to come.

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Love and barbed wire: The Miami motorcycle ghost

This legend begins with a love story.

Supposedly, a farmer and his daughter used to live on the outskirts of Oxford in the 1940s. The farmer didn’t approve of his daughter’s boyfriend, who used to cause a ruckus driving through the streets at night to meet with the young woman. The farmer consequently forbade the man from seeing his daughter during the week or at night. 

The two lovers devised a system to circumvent this rule: after the girl’s parents went to sleep, she would drive up to a nearby 90 degree turn, park on top of a hill and flash her lights three times to signal that the coast was clear for her boyfriend. 

The furious farmer decided to put a permanent stop to the shenanigans by stringing up barbed wire at shoulder height at the bottom of one of the hills. One way or the other, the man wouldn’t be able to see his daughter at night again. The next night, the man went to pick up his girlfriend and propose to her.

Instead, he was decapitated by the wire while driving down Oxford-Milford Road.

It is said that if one goes to the lovers’ spot (the first four-way stop after going past Yager Stadium and Beta Headquarters on your left) and performs the system, they will see the headlamp of the ghost.

The Murder in Reid Hall: Bloody handprints

While the disappearance of Ronald Tammon remains a mystery, the murder of Reid Hall Resident Assistant Roger Sayles in 1959 was not.

On the evening of May 9, Sayles was trying to resolve a dispute between two residents when one of them pulled out a gun. The resident shot Sayles, then killed himself with the same weapon.

Sayles fell bleeding against a nearby door, leaving two bloody handprints as he died. 

As the years went by, students claimed they witnessed some strange occurrences, such as noises around the area where the murder happened.

The most striking feature, however, was the appearance of Sayles’s two bloody handprints on the door where he died.  Some claimed they saw the handprints appear after staring at the door for a while, while others said the handprints had been sealed within the door forever after a new coat of varnish was applied.

Reid Hall no longer exists; it was torn down in 2008 to make room for the Farmer School of Business. While there haven’t been any more accounts of paranormal activity yet, beware if you see bloody handprints in the basement of Farmer.

Peabody Hall: Don’t piss off Helen 

We now come to the story that Miami is most known for: the ghost of Helen Peabody. 

Peabody Hall used to be the Western Female Seminary, a prominent building in the Western College for Women that existed next to Miami from 1855 to 1974 when it merged to become part of Miami’s Western campus. 

Helen Peabody, the first principal of the college from 1855 to 1888, was infamous for her opposition to co-education. She didn’t trust any of the men from Miami who sometimes came onto the campus grounds, a conviction rumored to be held beyond her death 

It’s said that Helen Peabody’s ghost still watches over the women of Peabody Hall while haunting the men that walk its corridors and sleep in its rooms. 

One such haunting supposedly happened to Andy Duley and his roommate in the early 2000s: after criticizing Helen Peabody in front of her large portrait in the hall’s lobby, the two men were subjected to objects falling down unprompted in their room and random message notifications on the phones that were provided to students at the time. 

After unplugging their phones, they got an RA, only to discover that the unplugged phones had more than 200 calls and messages on them. The messages were all recordings of their comments about Helen Peabody.

While there are many more stories about mysteries and ghosts on Miami’s campus, one thing is certain: if Robert Frost had stayed on campus for long, the most beautiful campus may have turned out to be the most haunted one.