The nights are growing long and cold and the brightest leaves are beginning to fall. Parkville, Mo. is at its most picturesque at this time of year, but as October draws to a close, there is fear in the air.
“Fright Night” — Park University’s annual Halloween celebration for the community — will be held from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27 at the Copley Quad residence hall. The event is free and open to the public, and children of all ages are encouraged to dress in their favorite Halloween costume.
The event includes trick-or-treating for children throughout Copley Quad, and booths will be set up for carnival-style games, crafts and face painting.
More than 25 Park student organizations and departments will sponsor booths with activities, contests and events for the public.
“Fright Night is my favorite event for the fall semesters,” Park student Emma Givens said. “I love decorating the hall, dressing up and handing out candy to kids. It makes the month of October.”
While the Fright Night event offers a scare-free night of fun, Park doesn’t shy away from its history, which includes legends of ghosts. Throughout the years, ghostly tales of Park’s past have been featured in longtime KMBC anchor Larry Moore’s popular yearly ghost stories series and numerous storytelling events.
“Students have always delighted in creating ghost stories and some, truly, have had hair-raising experiences,” said Park University historian Carolyn Elwess, who said the campus ghost stories cannot be tied to any actual historical events and the oldest she is familiar with — that of the former observatory — was definitely fabricated.
The Charles Smith Scott Memorial Observatory was built in 1896 and stood alone for more than 100 years on the hill behind Mackay Hall. The stone building featured an iron catwalk which became a prominent part in the legend of its haunting.
According to Elwess, a group of 1930s college pranksters perpetuated a myth of a heart-broken female student who hanged herself from the observatory catwalk after being jilted by her boyfriend. The inventors of the story would allegedly sneak up to the observatory on several late nights and wail, mournfully and loudly, for several minutes before running off through the woods.
Girls who lived in nearby Herr House dormitory were thoroughly frightened and believed the sounds were made by the forlorn ghost even when nothing was found by those who investigated.
“I have heard this story from many alumni of the 1930s; I heard it as a student here in the 1960s and continued to hear it until the building was razed,” Elwess said.
The observatory burned in 1999 and was subsequently torn down. An observation deck commemorates the site, and after dark who knows what an unsuspecting visitor may experience.
But Elwess has a more personal experience with another of Park’s legendary ghosts.
“Way back in 1967 when I was a freshman here at Park, all newcomers underwent a sort of initiation,” she said. “One of the favorite pastimes of the male upperclassmen was to frighten the freshman girls.”
The story has its roots in an actual tragedy.
In August 1950, a small plane went down in heavy rain while attempting a landing at the old downtown airport. The plane and its passengers, a Kansas City businessman and his wife, could not be found.
That October, Park College student Rosemary Hayes was walking in the woods east of campus when she found some wreckage. Returning with some friends, they located crash debris, personal items and the missing couple.
The incident became part of campus legend, and throughout the years, numerous stories sprang up around the plane crash. The science building in the 1960s was full of antique equipment, skeletons and various taxidermied and pickled animal specimens. This is where Elwess’ tale begin, with the help of two upperclassmen biology majors.
“I remember my roommate and I being led to the basement where a closet was ceremoniously opened to reveal a withered, but recognizable human arm hanging from a hook,” Elwess said. They were told the arm was from the pilot of that lost plane.
“One said to us, ‘Be careful if you go walking in the woods because the ghost of that pilot is still out there, searching for his arm,’” Elwess said. “It loses something in the retelling, but my roommate and I were convinced enough and sometimes looked over our shoulders when we went for a hike.”
Parking for the Fright Night event will be available in Lot N adjacent to Julian Field at the University’s Sixth Street (west) entrance. For more information, contact Karie Schaefer, director of residence life, at email@example.com or (816) 584-7401.