On a recent Friday evening, several students crowd into the women's bathroom in the basement of Main Hall at the University of Montana. A woman wearing a black dress and kerchief over her blond hair stands in front of the vanity. Her face is painted white, with ghoulish dark circles around her eyes.
"A janitor was cleaning in the middle of the night," she says, "and he looked up in the mirror and saw a figure standing behind him, a young girl with long, beautiful black hair. And they say that you can still see her if you look hard enough." She coaxes the group to come in closer. As everyone leans toward the mirror, there's suddenly a startling shriek. A small girl wrapped in a blanket has appeared standing behind the group. Giggling, everyone rushes out of the room.
The ghostly skit is part of a dress rehearsal for the haunted buildings tour given by UM Advocates to visiting high school seniors and their parents. UM Players, the acting group for non-theater majors, play the ghosts. The tour might be genuinely spooky, if the actors weren't trailed during this dry run by TV news cameras, chatty Advocates and Stephen Seder, the Players director, interjecting suggestions. "Definitely try to get them as close to the mirror as possible so the little girl can surprise them," Seder says after the bathroom performance.
UM's campus is a good place to start for any would-be ghost hunters in Missoula. Throughout the years, staffers working at night have reported strange episodes like doors slamming and equipment moving in old buildings like Jeannette Rankin Hall and Brantly Hall, a former dormitory that now houses offices.
In Brantly, during the tour's last stop, UM photographer Todd Goodrich mentions a ghostly presence he felt there late one evening a couple years ago. His story isn't part of the act and only mentioned as an aside. "So I stepped into the elevator, and my knees went weak, and there was this coldnot a breeze, but a spine tingling or hair sitting up on the side of your neck [sensation]," he says. He hit the button, but the door wouldn't close, so he ran upstairs to his third-floor office. As he got there, he says, the elevator arrived and the door opened. "That was it. Not like a big thing."
Costumed actors and sudden screams make for a fun Halloween tour, but it's stories like Goodrich's that are memorably creepy.