There were times, Lynn Fendlason remembers now, when she would bewitch her sixth-grade classmates at DeArmanville Junior High with retellings of ghost stories from Kathryn Tucker Windham, the celebrated Alabama storyteller.
“If anything led me to ghost stories, it was probably (Windham),” Fendlason said. “She was phenomenal to me as a child. I read every book she ever did. I was the one at school who always checked out her books.”
Windham died in 2011, but she will forever be known for “13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey,” the first of many ghost-folklore books she wrote during her literary career.
In 1989, Fendlason took her admiration for Windham’s work and wrote “The Ghost of Milford College,” which The Anniston Star selected that fall as one of the best submissions in its first Ghostwriters contest.
Fendlason was a 22-year-old Ayers State Technical College student when she wrote her Ghostwriters story. Today, she’s 52 and lives with her husband in Birmingham, where she is a medical transcriptionist. She’s also at work on her first Southern fiction novel.
She chose the title of her Ghostwriters story “out of thin air,” she said, and the premise of a ghost haunting a music school because she had previously studied music in Marion at Judson College, which had its own legacy of haunted music halls.
Here’s the catch: she’s neither seen nor read “The Ghost of Milford College” since The Star published it on Oct. 28, 1989, though she does recall rushing out to buy a copy of the paper that day.
“I have not seen it since I submitted it, but I do remember the gist of the story,” she said. “I wasn’t apprehensive (about entering the contest), but I didn’t think it would necessarily be printed because I was so young and inexperienced and there would be more experienced writers out there … But because I loved to tell stories, I decided when I saw that opportunity that I thought it would be fun.”
Fendlason, who hopes to publish her first novel soon, has an interesting take on aspiring writers.
“I think the biggest hurdle people face when they really invest is they are scared to call themselves writers,” she said. “People are afraid to cross that threshold. You are cowardly, you are always afraid you aren’t going to measure up. I crossed the threshold a couple of years ago. Now when people ask me what I do, I say I am a writer.”
“The Ghost of Milford College”
The dry October leaves crumbled into a path of brown powder as the young girl walked along the dimly lit college campus. “Halloween is such a drag!” the thin, brown-eyed student mumbled to herself.
The college music building was certainly intriguing, however. Kelly read the cornerstone: “Barrington Auditorium. Constructed at Milford College, November 10, 1838.” Hoping to kill a little time, Kelly inched her way up the marble steps and tried the door. She carefully entered the foyer of the massive building.
As she turned to close the door, she saw a shadowy figure coming toward her from the front of the dark auditorium. She screamed and the echoes of her fright filled the room.
Then, a soothing voice, in the form of laughter, filled the musty air. The approaching figure stepped into a scattered beam of moonlight from the broken shade of a balcony window. It was Kelly’s turn to laugh. Her would-be spook was a girl with features similar to her own. She was carrying a metronome and a large piece of crumpled, yellow music.
“Hello,” called the voice. “You certainly frightened me, too. I’m surprised I didn’t scream first!”
Kelly smiled. Then she looked at the bundle in her companion’s arms and replied, “You must be a music student here at Milford. We haven’t met — I’m Kelly Russell.”
The other girl nodded politely. “I’m Louise Bentley. I am glad to meet you. I was just getting ready to practice,” she said as she flipped a switch by the main entrance. Light flooded the auditorium. It bounced off the shimmering crystals of the circular chandelier, making tiny strips of light dance across the ornate pipe organ that stood on the large mahogany stage. “Would you like to join me?”
“Frankly, I’d love to,” said Kelly. “All my friends are out ‘spooking’ tonight, and I was getting a bit lonely.”
“I know how you feel. I don’t know many students at Milford. Being a music major means I have to practice 15 or 20 hours each week. Sometimes I feel like the old auditorium is my home.”
“I’d hate to spend that much time in this creepy place,” Kelly said shrugging her shoulders. “I guess I was just intrigued by it since tonight is Halloween.”
“Ah, so you’ve heard about the ghost of Barrington Auditorium?”
“Ghost?” asked Kelly. “No, I didn’t know there was a ghost story about our auditorium.”
“Really? All the music students know it. It’s the first thing the upperclassmen tell the freshmen in our department. It seems that a young girl from Minnesota began studying the organ at Milford almost 100 years ago. They say she was very talented. She worked extremely hard on her music, and the entire music department praised her for her accomplishments.”
“So, I don’t get it,” Kelly interrupted. “Did she like the hard work so much she decided to stay on?”
“No, silly,” Louise said. “It seems that her professor took more than a teacher-pupil interest in her.”
“You mean...?” began Kelly.
“That’s right! They were lovers. And what a terrible scandal it was on campus! The college board of directors met with the music instructor and demanded that he never see the young student again. But Professor Westbrook insisted that he loved the girl too much to voluntarily end the relationship. He said that her beauty and her music were intoxicating.”
Louise paused for a moment. “The board of directors dismissed him. Since the Milford community was so small, the influential directors made him a social outcast. Everyone practically threw him out of town. The board warned that if he tried to contact the young girl from Minnesota, they would expel her from school. Her musical future would be destroyed.”
“So then, did he just go away, without even saying goodbye to her?” Kelly asked.
“No,” said Louise. “Supposedly, he sent her a dozen crimson roses with a letter of explanation. In it, he told her he loved her too much to destroy her opportunity to make beautiful music.”
“How romantic,” Kelly sighed.
“Then,” Louise continued, “his grieving lover spent night after night carrying the roses to this auditorium and practicing her music. Finally, when she decided she could no longer endure the pain of living without him, she gripped the roses, climbed the stairwell at the back of the auditorium, and flung herself from the balcony.”
Kelly winced. “How horrible!”
“And now, supposedly,” Louise winked, “she haunts this building by playing her organ music. Many people even say you can still smell the roses when she plays this organ.”
“Well, it is a great story, but I don’t believe it,” Kelly declared. “Do you?”
“Oh, I don’t know. It certainly makes the history of Milford colorful.”
“And it certainly gives me the creeps, Louise. I think I’m going to get back to my dorm room to study. Maybe I’ll see you around campus.”
“You know where to find me,” Louise sighed. “I guess I’d better practice.”
“Right!” said Kelly as she walked toward the back of the building.
“Hey, Louise,” Kelly called as she opened the auditorium door and stepped outside. “Where did you say you were from?” Louise stopped playing the organ. “Minnesota,” she said with a soft little laugh, before she continued the haunting tune. A chilling breeze swept over Kelly as she quickly slammed the door shut. The perfumed fragrance of roses thickly filled the air …
— By Lynn Houck, Anniston