The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

Fondren stacks can give students the creeps

In a quiet, isolated area of the library, Varun Babbili was studying for a history exam with a partner during finals week. For the past two nights they had extinguished their energy by working into the early morning hours. Their large study group had slowly diminished to two. On this night, their concentration was broken by the sound of books falling from shelves. Babbili had a clear view of the entire floor, but decided to investigate. He found the fallen books, but there was no one to be seen.

Thinking he was delirious from lack of sleep, Babbili returned to his studies. Soon after, the lights began to flicker. Babbili assumed it was the result of the rain outside, but then the lights began to flicker as if someone was messing with the light switch, flipping it up and down. Suddenly, the room went dark. Babbili and his partner used the light from their cell phones to find the door to the stairwell, but it was locked. The light on his cell phone turned off and when he lit it up again, there was a large security guard standing directly in front of him.

“Is everything all right up here?” the security guard asked.

“It was just like a movie,” said Babbili, an SMU senior finance major, who said the incident took place during his freshman year. He had never seen that security guard before and has never seen him since.

“It’s the quietest place in the library,” Babbili said of the stacks. “It is also the creepiest place in the library.”

The scene occurred on the eighth floor of the west stacks in Fondren Library. Rumors of these stacks being haunted have circulated SMU for years. Charles Colvin, a staff member at Fondren responsible for general student assistance, says the west stacks are the least sought-after study area in the library, though they are the quietest. Students tend to stay on the main floor or request a private study room.

“I heard someone died up there once,” Babbili said. “Umphrey Lee I think. I don’t know if that’s true, but I’m going to have to Google that one.”

The rumor is that former SMU president Umphrey Lee had an office in the west stacks and supposedly died of a heart attack there. Lee first came to SMU as a graduate student in 1915. From 1922 to 1936 he was the pastor at Highland Park United Methodist Church. After spending a few years at Vanderbilt as the dean of the School of Religion, Lee returned to SMU as president of the university. He retired in 1954 due to health problems, but remained chancellor until his death in 1958. The library was built in 1940, during his administration. The original building consisted of three floors of reading rooms and eight floors of stacks.

Marshall Terry, a former SMU English professor and author of “From High on the Hilltop: A Brief History of SMU,” confirms that Umphrey Lee did die in the library while working on a book in his office. Terry says Lee’s office was located on the third floor of the library, between the university Archives and the SMU Press.

Dark narrow staircases, dusty shelves, low ceilings and the distant sounds of footsteps and doors shutting don’t make the location an appealing study area for most students. Junior political science major Rachel Heard said the intercoms near her third floor study spot will randomly emit static. Junior psychology major Debbie Gunst says she has heard unsettling echoes in the stairwells between floors. Yousef AlKhan, a staff member of Fondren Library working in the Center for Information Processing said that the library doesn’t get complaints too often, but students tend to make more claims of unusual activity during finals weeks, when the large population at the library forces some students to find quiet refuge in the stacks.

“I think it’s creepy though, that area in general,” said AlKhan. “People just get creeped out.”

Regardless of whether the building hosts supernatural beings, some strange things have occurred there. In 2002, The Daily Campus reported that groups of men, unaffiliated with SMU, had been caught by library employees engaging in homosexual acts in the basement of Fondren. The library had become a popular spot for Dallas men to join in anonymous sexual activities. Though security has cracked down at the library since these incidents took place, Colvin said that used condoms have periodically been found in the west stacks.

At least one documented death occurred at the library. A former SMU graduate student, Philco Yat-Fai Poon, was found unresponsive in the CMIT level of Fondren library in July of 2003 while watching a film. Poon was declared dead upon arrival at the hospital. The Daily Campus never reported the cause of death.

In 2003, a female student said she was drugged at the library after leaving her water bottle unattended when she went to the bathroom. She told The Daily Campus that the last thing she remembered was trying to walk to her car in Airline garage. She later woke up in her parked car and realized she had been sexually assaulted.

Though strange happenings have taken place throughout the building, the incidents do not faze all students. Some even favor the privacy and isolation found in the stacks. Sophomore Megan Altman prefers studying in the area.

“The west stacks make me concentrate,” Altman said. “It’s perfectly quiet. But I don’t believe in that [haunted] stuff at all.”

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