I know what you’re thinking, aren’t all pianist a little haunting? This one is different, trust me. Take a turn up U.S. Highway 67 and head to Searcy to visit Harding University, and the ghost that haunts its hallowed halls. In order to see the ghost, you have to head to the music department and the music building.
Historically, this legend seems to be accurate. The ghost is referred to as “Galloway Gertie,” because Harding was still Galloway College for Women when Gertrude attended.
Galloway was one of the finest institutions in the South, and Gertrude was a music major.
There are two versions of this story that I’ve heard. The most accepted one is as follow. One night Gertrude was returning to her dorm from a date. She told him good night and headed upstairs to her room in Gooden Hall. She heard a noise inside the elevator and went to check it out and somehow fell to her death. It’s said that a blood-curdling scream woke the other girls up and one saw a dark form rushing from the scene, but foul play was never proven. Gertie was wearing a white, lacy gown, as women of the time usually did for a date, when she fell. Some stories say she was buried in this gown.
It wasn’t too long after Gertrude’s death that students starting seeing a blonde in a lacy gown in the elevator shaft or in the halls. Some even claimed they could hear the swishing of her gown as she walked the halls while they tried to sleep.
Harding acquired Galloway in 1934. Gooden Hall was demolished in 1951. The Harding Administration Building is now where Gooden Hall used to be. The kicker is that they used the bricks from Gooden Hall to build the Pattie Cobb women’s residence hall and the Claude Rogers Lee Music Center.
Gertie liked the music center.
Students reported that they could hear a faint piano playing softly, or catch glimpses of her white gown and hear the swished of her walking past. Legend says a group of boys decided to spend the night in the music center to prove Gertie didn’t exist. They were locked in by security, and security checked the building to make sure nobody else was in it. Soon after they were left alone, they started to hear the mysterious piano. Frightened, they called security, but before security could come they mustered the bravery to check it out. As they got nearer to the sound, the playing stopped and no one else was found in the building.
The old Lee building is no longer used as a music building since the Reynolds building was built. There are no more pianos in the building. Gertie sightings have decreased, but she’s still around.
One teacher recounts:
I’m putting equipment in the old closet in the back, and I hear music. I hear the run of the piano and it’s this woman’s beautiful voice. All I thought was, ‘man, that is so pretty,’ but then I remembered that there are no more pianos in the building, and I was alone.
The other, less reliable, story is that in the 1930s, a young woman with a promising career attended Harding.
She majored in music. She fell in love with another Harding student who was tragically killed in a car accident a short time after they met. She was very depressed and she spent every waking hour of the day on the third floor of the music building playing piano. Later in the same semester, he was killed, she also died. Legend says she died of a broken heart. Soon after her death, students reported hearing piano music from the third floor of the music building. Whenever they would go to investigate, they would find no one there. Most believed it was the young girl serenading her lover from beyond the grave.
This story was told in Haunted Halls of Ivy: Ghosts of Southern Colleges and Universities. However, Harding officials that were contacted had only heard of Gertie.