Ghosts and Moore

She had always been drawn to Moore building.  “It’s not the ghosts that scare me, it’s getting caught and getting kicked off campus.”  Fired, right when she was about to be working on campus again, the recent graduate who moved back to Cullowhee to be close to her people.

“It’s an opportunity,” I said, the open window to the right of Moore’s front door inviting us in like act one of the horror movie we were longing for a leading role in.

We were both on the fence in varying degrees.  Overlooking the main campus of Western Carolina University, the walk we were on was meant for just the perimeter of the abandoned building’s walls and the rumored hauntings presumably within.  We bickered about taking the massive amount of stairs behind Bird Building, she arguing that it was better to walk around and me taking issue with the length being five times as long.  Finally, we settled for a climb up a curious set of stairs that dead-ended three-fourth the way up the hill into nothing.

Starting at the back, around the corner from a new-looking radio tower and some old-looking metal stairs, I ignored a no trespassing sign attached to a door as I attempted in futility to turn its knob, finding it locked as to be expected.

The basement had been renovated recently and looking inside one could see new desks, a brand new Apple desktop, and some open paperwork I couldn’t quite make out from where I stood.

She peered into a window.  “Yeah, it’s a lot cleaner than the last time I was here.”

The last time she was here, Moore had been closed, as it had the entire time she had been a student at Western Carolina.  Its most recent use was housing health classes but the new HHS Building on the Millenial Campus just down the road – and connected by fabulous hiking trail – had finally closed the historic building and its beautiful architecture.

“It looks gothic,” she said and I wondered if she was right.

Outside, the sculpture of a chalice – from the 1950s collection of “statues for government buildings” – made the learned occultist in me cock an interested eyebrow.  One of the suits of the minor arcana of Tarot, it represents, among many other things, magick.

As she took a photo of the odd decoration, I moved alongside the edge near Brown and up to where the building became shockingly older.

“Come up here and smell this,” I called to her.  She was in no hurry to comply with my strange request, but once she did finally join me on the brick walk outside, among the bushes badly in need for a trim, I needed only say “old” to elicit an agreement from her.  It wasn’t a smell of must or mildew, it was something else, something familiar.  I’m not a believer in ghosts or the supernatural but something in that smell made me suspend my disbelief and return to a time in my life, a younger time, when the world still held such fantastic possibilities.

Moore’s ghost stories all center around the building’s intended use as a girl’s dormitory.  Though the timeframes differ, the stories remain largely the same: a woman dies on the third floor, the victim of sexual assault and an assailant who gets off relatively scott-free.

Peering through the window, I can see into some kind of dining area – piles of building materials stacked amidst crumbs of drywall and big kitchen appliances in sleek, new brushed metal, confusing me even more.

Dedicated May 30th, 1924, the Walter E. Moore Dormitory for Girls had cost the college a quarter-million dollars, which in 2019 money comes to 3.75 million USD.  Housing 180 students across 90 rooms, Moore Building was one of the great milestones of a campus that would be forever growing, still to the record-breaking enrollments of today.

“I think this is the front,” she said as we walked back up to the building after taking a look at the Joyner Building placard down below.  New cameras had been placed along the basement area of Moore and I had counted them as we approached the building.  Here, to the left of the main entrance, signs promised we were being videotaped but I couldn’t find any outside.

“They’re just trying to scare us,” I concluded.

“Maybe,” she responded, before noting on the way back, “you know, they probably have cameras on the inside…” a fact which would eventually unseat our infiltration plans.

The doors and windows alongside the front of Moore, on the first floor level, showed obvious signs of having been tampered with.  Someone was serious about getting in and less serious about being conspicuous because the thick, metal plates behind the door knobs that protect the entire assembly from being messed with had been pried up at the corners, to no avail as the door’s locks held fast to my nudging.

We continued on to the final corner of Moore, our last stop on our investigation of the perimeter of the regionally if not nationally famous building of Western Carolina, past the front door, on to the last set of windows and doors.

“Do you see that?” I asked her, my eyes fixed on it.  She stopped, unsure if I meant a sign of danger.

Continuing forward cautiously, she soon saw what I had seen: a window slightly ajar.  I stuck my head in Moore slowly, recalling back to a youth spent exploring abandoned buildings.  “Hello, anyone in there?” I called out, “I’m not a cop.”  Regardless of whether anyone inside believed that or not, no one replied.

We turned to go home, minds racing with new purpose.  The unlikely had happened, a way into Moore, and now we had to contend with the frightening possibility that, on this very night, we were going to commit second-degree trespassing – really first-degree but the cops would mercifully charge us with the lesser crime if caught.

“I really want to go,” she said and I could smell the ‘but’ coming, “but… the cons really outweigh the pros here.”

She was right.  I was a senior, about to graduate and looking to do another two years grad school on this campus.  She was waiting on her job to hire her back at a supervisor position.

“How about this,” I asked in compromise, “let’s just go back home and do a bit of research, then see how we feel when it gets dark.”

We sat in my living room, her listening to me as I read out what I could find from a few cursory Google searches.  Inside Moore, there had been an infirmary, and in the basement, a morgue, though I couldn’t substantiate the latter beyond the 90’s formatted ghost hunting website I had found it on.

I noted the differences within each and the elements that were the same: always the third floor, always a woman, always sexual assault and murder.  The year was sometimes in the 60s, sometimes in the late 80s. The perpetrator was said to be someone local, mentally impaired, from a rich family.  After the horrific deeds, he was let off with a slap on the wrist and sent to Broughton Mental Hospital in Morganton, a place notorious among locals as the center for many folk mysteries.

The research had quickly become bittersweet: the more we read, the more we wanted to go.  I ought be thankful for her tempering my reckless ways, though that is to gloss over her own urge to dive through that window beside me.

University officials claimed these stories were identical to ones at other schools.  How convenient the perception that such things are often covered up – we too easily discarded this explanation and doubled-down on the story of Moore.

A comment on the website captured out imaginations, and quite frankly, freaked us the hell out.  Posted by someone with the nethandle of Yokel, they claimed that “The story surrounding Moore is true. I know people who worked the search teams and the woman’s body in the woods near Glenville. Horrible crime! The man was insane and had the mentality of a child. He lived at the end of a road several members of my family and friends live on. He spent his remaining days in his family home which never had power or water but had a large 1980s satellite dish in the yard. Freaky.”

“No power but a giant satellite dish,” she repeated, ominously.

“So, do you want to go?” I asked.

“What if we go in there and there’s cameras?”

“Then we’ll leave.”

“What if the cops see a bunch of people walking down the road dressed in all black?”

“They’ll think we’re goths.”

We played what-if back and forth for the rest of the evening, knowing we had neither the reckless fortitude nor the parental safety net to necessitate the risk of trespassing within Moore.  Still, the open window waits for us, at the top of the hill, calling to us for a moment of weakness, a moment of reckless abandon.  There were secrets inside, if we were bold enough to enter, secrets and maybe even asbestos.  Come nightfall, however, it was our lack of moxy that haunted us far beyond any spectre that could wait within.