Friday, October 16, 2020

Haunted Carbondale--Shryock Auditorium


One of the oldest buildings remaining on the SIUC campus, Shryock Auditorium opened its doors to the public in 1918 and since then has hosted performances and presentations by many celebrated people including President William Howard Taft, Depeche Mode, VP (at the time) Richard M. Nixon, Carol Channing,  Buckminister Fuller, Arlo Gutherie, and Paula Poundstone to name a few, as well as the funeral of the man whose name it bears and who died in his office in the building just before the spring student convocation in 1935, Henry William Shryock. According to some, he never left.

Shryock joined the English department at what is now SIUC in 1894 and worked his way up the ladder to assume the office of the President in 1913. During his time as President, he oversaw the building of the first campus power plant, the creation of a Bureau of Rural Social Work and the construction of the auditorium that now bears his name. After opening, with his funeral as the first event held at Shryock, the Auditorium hosted most major entertainment events on campus until the mid 1960s and the opening of SIU, now Bantera, Arena. Although the entertainment has moved to the Arena, according to a number of people “Henry” as the ghost is known, still walks Shryock and has since 1935, although it is doubtful that such a staid persona as a college president would pull such pranks as moving and hiding items, putting seats in the auditorium up and down or turning off and on the every burning stage light known as “Henry”.

Other reported activities include footsteps backstage and in the balcony, doors opening and closing by themselves and the occasional sighting of a shadowy figure by the building’s massive pipe organ. Several years ago the Little Egypt Ghost Society got permission from the University and hosted a “ghost hunt” in the building for Girl Scouts in the region. Locked in the building to prevent outsiders from slipping in, the Scouts got to handle the Society’s equipment, including the “Ghost Meter”  and EMF detector. During the  “hunt” the Scouts picked up some fragments of voices and temperature changes but nothing more dramatic. Towards the end of the evening, the Scouts and the Society settled into the seats at the front of the auditorium. The Scouts were told, if ghosts were present and wanted to answer questions, they would light up the Meter, I light for yes and 2 for no. The Scouts started questioning “Henry” and the Meter started flashing answers in response, secretly controlled by one of the Society members. It would appear the “real Henry” did not care for this and made its feelings known by slamming hard a door to the right of the stage, which caused everyone to jump, ending the Q&A.

While the rest of the Society packed up and moved the Scouts out of the Auditorium, a pair of Society members  investigated the area from where the slam had come. Every door they tried had a damper on it, designed to prevent it from making the slamming sound. They did find a door leading to the outside that did slam loudly, but it was locked and they had to get the keys from the SIUC staff member to open it. So what slammed the door? Perchance the “real Henry” got annoyed with the “Fake Henry” and wanted to show his displeasure. It is also doubtful that the University would look favorably on visitors wandering the halls without permission, so without checking for hours, best to view the Auditorium from Old Main Mall.

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