Towers are meant to be monuments, and monuments are designed to draw the attention of all who see them. They mark great people or are meant to commemorate a moment in time people feel is worthy to be relived and remembered. Standing like centennials, they are lightning rods for ceremonies, meetings, and even dates. They are lightning rods for legends.
Hulley Tower may be standing in the front of the Stetson University campus in Deland, Florida, but for the students there it is the center of the school. Once over 116-feet, it has been the home to several legends over the years, but not all of them are haunted. For example, it used to be said that students would go to the tower before a big test and rub the brick hoping for good luck. If it was a particularly tough exam, students were said to ask the two people interned inside the tower for help. It’s also said to be the meeting place of a secret, exclusive society at the college, but no one has ever been able to get a firm handle on the real story.
One of the creepiest legends about the tower, and the one that brought us to the campus, was the story of Susanna Brown. She was said to be the daughter of a Baptist minister from Iowa. She attended Stetson in the early 1890s as a finishing school, but in her first semester she fell in love with her English professor. The two quickly began to fall for each other, and over the course of the year they would meet at Hulley Tower late at night to talk and spend time together. The affair continued through the summer, but things took a turn in the fall semester. While they were kissing behind the tower late one night, they were spotted by a fellow staff member. He went to administration, and by the next afternoon Susanna was thrown out of school and her professor fired. She was destroyed. She would have to go back home dishonored and without the man she had fallen in love with. She cleaned out her room, making sure to take a ribbon her love had given her and a poem he had written her. She snuck off to Hulley Tower and jumped from the top after telling the world that she would love her banished professor forever. To this day her voice is heard declaring her passion at night during the fall. Her ghost is also caught climbing the tower stairs and seen jumping from the top.
It’s the kind of story you’ve heard before. At least you’ve heard something like it whenever you’re from. The legend was made popular in Dusty Smith’s Haunted Deland and the Ghosts of East Valusa County. The only trouble is, it never happened. Unlike other bits of folklore or legends, this one seems to be the creation of the author herself, although it is unclear if she was told the story by another source. It falls apart on a basic level, although all who hear it want it to be true. Brown is said to have attended the college and committed suicide in 1892 or 1893. Hulley Tower was built by the second president of the university, Lincoln Hulley, who served Stetson between 1904 and 1934, 12 years after the suicide.
He and his wife Eloise donated the building to the university, mainly as a source for the 11-bells she loved that rang out over the campus, and both are laid to rest in the mausoleum at the base of the tower. Lincoln Hulley died right before it was completed in 1934, and the bells continued to play there for decades after Eloise had died as well. There is no way Brown could have killed herself from throwing herself off a tower that didn’t exist.
So maybe the suicide happened somewhere else on campus and the tower, being a touchstone for things at Stetson, became the new site of the death. According to Kelly Larson, archivist at the college, there have been no suicides on campus. When Natalie and I went there we spent the day diving into the records of the school, and we could find no death that matched Brown’s or any reference to her attendance or expulsion from the school. Furthermore, the picture published in Smith’s book identified a man as the professor who was having the affair. In fact, that man acted as an interim president for the college a few decades after the picture was taken. He was not quietly thrown out or even a professor at the school.
The real haunting at the tower is actually much more romantic. Lincoln and Eloise are said to still walk the grounds near the tower in the early morning hours. Although they died at different times, they have found each other in death and return to the place they loved in life. At times they are said to be seen with walking a dog, although it is more commonly said to be Lincoln Hulley walking the dog alone. It is more likely this is another potential ghost who has been connected to Hulley because of the tower and the popularity of the love story. This legend is repeated on campus and retold by people who attended the school. There are written references to it in the paper, and most people who went to school have seen the couple or know someone who has. There have also been reports of the bells sounding even though no one is ringing them, an amazing feat considering they are not even housed in the tower anymore.
This is the legend we wanted to trip. Not only did it fit in perfectly with our Haunted Love Project, it was also something we could do on campus without specific permission or without breaking the law. One of the reasons the bells are no longer in the tower is that it is not really there anymore. In 2005, 94 feet were taken down due to safety reasons, and the bells were dispersed throughout the campus. The bodies of the couple are still at the base, their coffins visible through the windows, but the building is locked and there is no reason for staff to go inside.
We had woken up at midnight to try and capture the Oviedo Lights and returned to the campus at 5 o’clock AM. The grounds were dead but lit up by the yellow street lights of the campus. After walking the grounds in front of Hulley, we went to the building itself to try and talk to whomever might take the early morning walks. The feeling was different than it had been when we had visited earlier in the day, cooler but with an odd electricity in the air.
Then it happened. As we focused on the yard behind the tower, something dramatically changed. As we stood watching the main buildings, the supposedly haunted Holler Fountain and Elizabeth Hall, we were suddenly in a bubble. There was no air, no sound, as we watched several dark figures move across the grass, weaving in between the trees. These were not like the shadowy figures we had seen during the Ghostly Pants legend trip or the Mini-Lights. These were almost like the negatives of a photograph like I would later see at Arbuckle Bridge. There was nothing malevolent about them, but rather it felt like we were watching a moment that had happened long ago but inversed somehow.
And then after a few moments, it was over.
The air was humid again, and the noise of the early morning birds came back. Both of us looked at each other at the same moment and felt we had been brought back to the real world. It was not the couple we had seen, or maybe it had been in some way. We had perhaps viewed the impression of students going to class, year after year and decade after decade, leaving an impression on the environment around them. We got back in the car, knowing there would be nothing else that would happen, and drove off.
Legends give birth to other legends. We need them, and we need them to be ours, so we take the best parts, the ones that really speak to us, and add details that make them our own. Every generation borrows the greatest hits from the one before until the original story, the truth of the details, is lost. Not that it matters much. A great story is always better than the truth and always better when you yourself can be part of it. Hulley Tower inspires that kind of borrowing. Still looming large on the campus of Stetson despite its new, small stature, it continues to be the kind of place students come to feel the electricity at the school and be part of something bigger than themselves, like a living yearbook that isn’t contained to one year. It would seem some keep coming back for the bells even after they die.
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