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The Backstory: A ghostly tale from the UT campus

The story of a suspected ghost that haunted the Old Main building on the University of Texas campus long ago.

AUSTIN, Texas — Long before the UT’s current Main Building and iconic tower were built, the focal point of the campus was a large Victorian-Gothic structure known as Old Main.

During the day, it housed classrooms, a library and that large auditorium that could seat up to 1,700 people. But, at night, it was kept totally dark and its doors locked.

Yet one evening at midnight in March 1903, the sound of a piano playing sad music was heard coming from inside Old Main.

It happened night after night: a piano would play from within the darkened auditorium. Word of a suspected ghost in Old Main spread across the campus.

Students living in the original Brackenridge dorm known as “B Hall” wanted to solve the mystery. Someone got a key to Old Main, and late one night as soon as the music started, they rushed inside. But the mystery pianist was nowhere to be found.

The midnight concerts continued.

Later, three brave students decided to hide out in the back of the auditorium in total darkness hoping to see the ghost – or find the person who was pulling the prank.

When the music began at midnight, they lit matches and rushed the stage. But they didn’t find the piano player.

Now it would be cool to end the story there, to say that Old Main was probably haunted. After all, it was a scary-looking building in the darkness of midnight.

But the mystery was eventually solved. Someone phoned the B dorms and taunted the person who answered the phone, saying “you can’t catch me.”

Knowing that one of the few phones on campus was in Old Main, students rushed there and caught the culprit.

The piano player turned out to be someone who lived in Brackenridge dorm, though his name is lost to history. He admitted it was a prank and said he would hide under a seat in the auditorium whenever someone tried to find him.

Old Main is gone now, but this ghost story lives on thanks to UT historian Jim Nicar, who provides a delightfully detailed story of the “ghost” and other tales from UT’s fascinating history at jimnicar.com.


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