The Haunting of Renfroe Hall

Renfroe Hall

There was spirit lurking in Renfroe Hall–a dark figured man in uniform–haunting the girls of Howard College on Halloween night.  Legend had it that a former student, angry about the introduction of co-education at Howard College in 1913, vowed to haunt every woman that lived on campus. Late one Halloween night in the 1950s, Margaret Sizemore, Dean of Women at Howard College, got a call to save her girls from a ghostly intruder, and, as she explains, she got more than she bargained for…

We had a student named Quinn Kelly from Miami and somebody down there had a special interest in her . . . . The church had sent her up to Howard.  She was just . . . always into something.  Cute as she could be.  Smart as she could be and I just loved her to death.  One Halloween night, I got a call at my home and someone said, “Dean Sizemore, there is a man in Renfroe Hall. We have seen him!” . . . They described his uniform.  Well, that went back to a story that Dean Burns told me.  He was [at Howard] when it became coed, I think in 1913, but he said before it went coed, that the cadets, as they were called, said, “We will not have women on our campus” and one cadet said, “If [a woman] ever lives in Renfroe Hall . . . I’ll come back from my grave and I’ll haunt them.”  Well, I had told that story to my French class and Quinn was in it and I gave her an idea.

Well, [after I got the call] I had gotten my husband up and of course had my children with me in the back seat and we went through that [dorm] and the girls were just panicking . . . even the house mother . . . .  So many had seen him.  We looked in closets, under the beds, we spent almost the rest of the night trying to find him.  Finally we left and said, “There’s no man in here.  Y’all are just having imaginative fits.” 

The next year at Halloween, the same thing happened. Oh, I forgot to tell you, before this happened the first time, a friend down at the Birmingham News called me and said, “We need a story about Halloween . . . Howard College is so old I just know you have a ghost out there.”  I said, “Well . . . every Halloween, we have this ghost of a former cadet who is so upset . . . he haunts the women now.”  I always told them that and they put it in the paper.  Well then . . . the second year the same thing happened . . . .  So my husband and I drove up to the back of Renfroe Hall.  There was a way you could come in from 78th Street, you could come right into the back and we saw this figure coming down the fire escape.  [The dorm] had a metal fire escape . . . and my husband jumped out of the car and ran [up] just as [the figure] got to bottom . . . .  He put his hands out and she ran right into him and said, “Oh Mr. Sizemore, I’m sorry! Don’t hurt me! Don’t hurt me! This is Quinn Kelly!”

Oh dear, I forgot what we did to punish Quinn Kelly, but she really had the campus upset over that and she just thought that was a wonderful, wonderful joke.  She’d found this old costume, this . . . Confederate uniform of some sort . . . with a sword . . . .  I turned her over to Major [Davis].

Quinn Kelley

Quinn Kelley, Howard College Class of 1957, probably contemplating her next prank.

 

Adapted from:

Oral History Interview of Margaret Sizemore by Susan Ray

http://digital.archives.alabama.gov/cdm/ref/collection/photo/id/19665

Faces of Marion

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Perceptions of Perry County and the Black Belt have transformed from pinnacles of the Old South to abandoned towns with empty buildings. Today the essence of these communities is lost on travelers who do not go beyond the surface of what they see while passing through. Yet, there is a beauty to these towns that can be discovered through the voices of the people who lived there. Their experiences and stories serve as a window to the past for present generations who wish to see Black Belt towns as they once were. This is accomplished by looking into the storyteller’s eyes and hearing their voice. The Faces of Marion exhibit, funded by the Alabama Humanities Foundation, uses the senses of sight and sound to move beyond generalizations. Divided into categories of place, process and people, this exhibit contains individual stories and photographs collected by Samford University’s Oral History Program, Jonathan Bass, and Caroline Summers.  The photos and audio will be on display in Samford University’s Davis Library beginning Saturday, November 1st.  Lowell Melton and Martha LeCroy are just two examples of the faces, voices, and stories that can be seen and heard during the exhibit.

Lowell Melton 15

Lowell Melton, the son of a Marion farmer, explains…

First we had mules to plow the land with, break up the land . . . chopped cotton, hoed corn and then we sprayed cotton, and then after a while we got somebody [to spray cotton], but first we did it by hand with all those sacks and stuff.  After a while my father decided to get a tractor to spray it first with a tractor. So we did that until the cotton started growing out or blooming out, or whatever you want to call it. And by the time September comes we had to go out and pick the cotton.  After we did that for about a month then we went to school. There wasn’t no school for us until we finished picking cotton . . .  In the fall after we got our crop together and [we] would go to school from that time until May, and then school would turn out for spring break or whatever you want to call it . . .  Most of the time it’d be October before we got to go to school . . .

And then my dad got sick, so he bought a tractor one day and I used to drive the tractor every day plowing the fields until I joined the army and then from the army I didn’t stay [in] Alabama and went to Detroit in 1963 . . . Well I heard they were hiring people up there in Detroit and so I went up to see for myself.  I got a job working with my cousin in a barbershop for a while.  Then I got a job working at a steel plant for about one year.  Then I got a job working for Chrysler for about three years.  Then I went to California and stayed out there until 1983 when my papa passed away. Then I came home to look after my mother; then she passed away too. 

Martha LeCroy Marion

Martha LeCroy, born in 1923, has lived in Marion, Alabama her whole life. She looks back on her memories of the town:

When you’ve lived in a place for so long . . . it’s home . . . I still cherish the country that I lived in and back then there were so many people who lived in the country it was almost like a town. Saturday – that was the main shopping day for everybody in the vicinity. We would come to town and buy groceries, or if the children needed shoes. We came every Saturday. It was 7 miles to Marion. We had a model T Ford . . .  My daddy was a mechanic and he liked cars.  He loved automobiles.  I guess we were some of the first people that really had a way to travel to Marion because so many had to travel by . . . horses and buggy but not many, just a few people–but they’d have mules and wagons that’d come to town…and buy what they needed for the whole week.

We had a garden. You know the family worked the garden–mostly my mother and father–and when we got old enough we kind of just picked whatever grew like tomatoes and English peas. Oh they were so good . You could eat English peas green then. They were green then and oh they were so green and sweet! We always had meat on weekends, but we had vegetables. My mother cooked a good meal. We always had potatoes on hand, she loved to cook peas and okra, and oh, that’s good stuff, squash. We ate all that kind of food, but in the summer was the only time we had a garden because it was so cold in the winter, you know it would freeze. We used dried peas in the winter, dried beans, and things like that, canned food. My mother canned and corked jars. Everybody did back then.

The stories of Lowell and Martha are proof that every individual, even though he or she may have grown in the same small town, can provide a unique perspective on the town’s history and what it meant to him or her. To see the rest of these individuals and hear their stories, visit the Faces of Marion exhibit in Samford’s Davis Library between November 1st and 14th.

Adapted from:

Oral History Interviews of Lowell Melton and Martha LeCroy

Photography by Jonathan Bass and Caroline Summers

Howard College’s ‘Almost Scarlett’

 GWTW Collage

Fiddle-dee-dee! Last weekend, movie theaters around the country held special showings of the Academy Award-winning Gone with the Wind to commemorate the film’s 75th anniversary. In January of 1940, the film debuted in Alabama at Birmingham’s historic Ritz Theatre.  The picture was so popular in Birmingham that it was shown in multiple theaters for over three months, unusual for the time. This movie remains a classic of the American cinema, widely beloved (and reviled) by some.

Howard College had a small part in the phenomenon that became Gone With the Wind. Scarlett O’Hara was the central character in the film (as in Margaret Mitchell’s novel). The iconic role was portrayed by Vivien Leigh, but the British actress was not the first choice for the role. Some sources report the film’s original director, George Cukor, (know for his work with Judy Garland on A Star is Born (1957) and Audrey Hepburn on My Fair Lady among other films) wanted Howard’s own Mary Anderson to play Scarlett.

Co-ed Mary Anderson ’39, known to her friends as “Bebe,” got her big break appearing in the play Excursion at the Birmingham Little Theatre. While touring the South for the right actors to recreate Mitchell’s characters in the film version of Gone With The Wind, Cukor attended the performance at the Little Theatre. Cukor immediately sent Anderson to New York for a screen test. She later reported to Hollywood to play the supporting role of Scarlett’s cousin, Maybelle Merriweather. Following the release of Gone with the Wind, Anderson went on to star in many movies and television shows, including Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Lifeboat.  In 1960, she earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It is not surprising that the class of 1939 named her Howard’s most glamorous girl!

anderson GWTW pic

(Mary “Bebe” Anderson, Howard Entre Nous 1937)

Adapted from:

The Howard Crimson, February 1, 1940.

Howard College Entre Nous, 1937.

Lewiston Evening Journal, August 22, 1964

Hollywood Reporter, April 7, 2014

International Movie Database