Thursday, April 11, 2013

School Spirit - The Legend of Sydney Grimlett Auburn, Alabama

Here’s a story that’s been written about a few times but with a twist of paranormal fact. The legend of Sydney Grimlett is an old one at Auburn University and one that students and most locals know very well. The first time I read the legend of Sydney Grimlett, I was about 7 years old. The school library carried several copies of the 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffery series by Kathryn Tucker Windham which was originally published in 1969 but the story of Sydney Grimlett has been a staple in the history of Auburn University since its infancy.

In 1864, the location of Auburn University wasn’t the beautiful campus setting it is today. In the later part of the Civil War, the rural south was largely intact but suffering greatly as a result of the war. Many homes, churches and warehouse were being transformed into make-shift prisons and hospitals. The University Chapel, during that time, was a Presbyterian Church and was used to tend wounded, sick and dying soldiers. Among the Confederate soldiers, who were present at this hospital, was an English born soldier named Sydney Grimlett. Grimlett was allegedly part of a Calvary Division from Virginia. Other sources mention he was part of General Hood’s army and he died at the Texas hospital from either infection or blood loss during an amputation of his leg and is presumably buried with the ninety of more soldiers at Pine Hill cemetery. Historical elements regarding his actual identity and cause of death are sketchy at best, but his legacy continues through the verbal traditions at Auburn.
After 1927 the tale of Sydney Grimlett and his ghostly antics were an established story in Auburn. The theater students used the old Chapel as a play house and preformed countless plays and acts here until the late 1960’s when the Telfair Peet Theater was built and opened to students. During plays, some guests attending the event would see glowing balls of light hovering over the actors and players on stage. Other antics began to present on opening nights when props would go missing and electrical problems halted the performance. Most often Sydney’s ghost was to blame for the problem and one student jokingly suggested leaving a gift out for the spirit to keep him quiet and calm, so the tradition of leaving chocolates in the rafters of the Chapel began. Later, the students asked the ghost to come with them when they moved into the Telfait Peet Theater several blocks away.
Today the theater still carries on the tradition of leaving out candy for Sydney. A small pink bucket sits in the cat walks, high in the rafters, over the stage. M&M’s are the most common gift left in the bucket and some staff are so superstitious about leaving out Sydney’s candy that they flat-out refuse to take stage or even begin an evening play without making sure the candy is left. Fear of the supernatural stage phantom was prompted many to be very careful and not anger this peculiar spirit.
In 2011 the book; Haunted Auburn and Opelika featured the story of Sydney Grimlett as did the book; Hidden History of Auburn. Both books made mention of a team of ghost hunters who stayed the night at the Chapel in 2008. Since then, the team of paranormal researchers have also investigated the Telfair Peet Theater (in 2011 and 2012) in an effort to find the ghost of the legendary Sydney Grimlett. The investigation at the Chapel turned up a few odd occurrences. A few strange sounds encouraged the investigators from the Alabama Paranormal Research Team to look closer at the Chapel’s lady’s room. Shortly after midnight, the team had not experienced much activity and so they began to pack up their equipment to go home. A dripping sound came from the bathroom and when the investigators went to check it out, the water from the sink facet was running wide open. The team chalked it up to faulty plumbing, the building is old but they activity was documented and labeled “inconclusive” in regards to it being classified as a supernatural occurrence.  
The following year (in 2011) the staff at the Telfair Peet Theater contacted the Alabama Paranormal Research Team regarding unusual things that were happening. For some time the activity level in the theater had been quiet and peaceful but according to the theater staff, something had stirred up the ghost of Sydney Grimlett and the Alabama Paranormal Research Team was determined to figure out if the paranormal activity was contributed to him or not.
Upon the first interview with the staff director; Paul, I was informed that the activity was unusually disturbing and that countless people who worked and volunteered there were having experiences. The costume room was the most prominent and often shoes would come up missing. Months later a box full of the same right or left footed shoe would turn up in an odd location. Sometimes the staff would see a dark figure dart around corners and disappear into hall ways from the projection room. Others could hear the sounds of someone talking in parts of the building where no one was at.
Once the investigation started, APRT covered every room open to investigate and found that the stage seemed to be the most active location. Strange electrical anomalies registered on the electric magnetic detectors. No source could be found to determine if the field was in the wiring or walls and it appeared to be a moving field that would register on the meter, causing it to light up, when we asked “yes or no” questions.
The second investigation of the Telfair Peet Theater turned up the most conclusive evidence of possible paranormal activity. Team members sat on the stage and asked a series of questions in the hopes that we could capture electronic voice recordings of Sydney on our digital voice recorders. We used the same Electronic Field Detector to determine if communication could be made using the magnetic fields inside theater. I used a bag of peanut M&Ms to coax the spirit out. It seemed appropriate since the spirit (according to legend) was partial to chocolate. While going through the bag of candy, I asked, per color if Sydney preferred one color over another and watched for the magnetic field detector to light up in reference to yes or no as an answer. I addressed the colors in no particular order and asked; “Sydney, do you like the blue ones?” to my surprise the meter lit up twice when investigator Tonya Campos asked the same question again to verify. I waited a few seconds and asked “Do you like the red ones?” a few seconds went by and there was no response from the meter. We went through two more questions, asking if Sydney liked the green or yellow ones, still no response came from the meter. On the last question I asked “Do you like the orange ones?” and in a split second the meter lit up in response to YES!
As a paranormal investigator we always look for intelligent answers. We could only assume we were speaking with the legendary spirit of Sydney Grimlett at the theater that night in Auburn. We may not be able to determine who or what it was that lit up our meters but one thing was very certain. The entity we were encountering was aware that the university's team colors are orange and blue and they are obviously the favorite of a chocolate loving ghost, I’d say that makes him worthy of the title: “School Spirit”.
View video evidence of this activity on youtube: