By Allison Rost ▪️ Illustrations by Jennyann Carthern
Over the years that have passed since Mills Seminary moved to Oakland, the halls and classrooms across campus have seen tens of thousands of students come through. Some of them might still be sticking around, decades and even centuries after they arrived.
Tales of supernatural encounters have naturally been passed down from generation to generation at Mills, early enough that Mills Weekly began reporting on them in 1933! Ghost tours have become one of the most popular events at every Reunion, so we tagged along on one at Reunion 2021 and reviewed footage from others to compile the list below—though this certainly doesn’t cover all of the folklore out there. Our thanks to Sunshine Anderson ’20, Danica Marielle Ola ’21, and other students and alums for sharing their knowledge, and for their respectful approaches in telling these tales.
Content warning: The subject matter in the following stories might be upsetting. Please proceed with caution.
Ethel Moore & Mary Morse Halls
Starting on the south side of campus, the twin residence halls atop Prospect Hill have racked up more than their fair share of ghost stories. Inside Ethel Moore, residents have reported seeing two sisters sitting on the couch downstairs worrying over their studies, and there have been sounds of piano playing when no one’s sitting at the keyboard.
A tale that’s told in both halls is one of rooms that have been cordoned off after students living in them experienced troubles with their mental health. The two rooms apparently once housed residents who took their own lives—one over a breakup, and another who wanted to pursue a career in Hollywood but her parents disapproved. Reports are that the energy in the rooms just never righted itself.
And the service road behind Mary Morse was once the site of an accident involving a horse and buggy. Multiple Millsies have spotted a woman in period dress coming out of the forest at night in the vicinity, or on the residence hall’s stairs. Other have reported seeing the actual accident play itself out again.
Mills Hall/The Oval
The oldest building on campus is a natural hotspot for activity from the great beyond. These days, staff members working in its halls late into the evening might hear thumps and the sounds of furniture being moved around, and new employees staying in the apartments on the fourth floor have heard knocks on the door only to find no one there. Rumor has it that, many years ago, a student living in Mills Hall when it still served as campus housing jumped to her death from the fourth floor after her parents had promised her in marriage against her wishes. Some say you can still see her initials carved by her diamond ring into a windowpane up there.
Susan Mills, one of the earliest denizens of Mills Hall, was a dog lover, and she reportedly buried the succession of her small pooches under the Oval. These days, when dogs come to campus and frolic on the Oval, they’ve been known to behave as though they’re playing with their peers even if they’re the only canines present—leading to speculation that Susan’s dogs are hanging around in spirit.
In the nearby vicinity, toward Leona Creek and the bridge that now connects the Oval to Lucie Stern, students have heard a young voice crying out for help. Lore has it that it’s the voice of the child of a professor who was carried away by rushing creek water one spring decades and decades ago.
Many a drama student has heard footsteps in the 121-year-old building. The source of those footsteps is under dispute: Some say they belong to Susan Mills, whose funeral was held in Lisser Hall in 1912. Louis Lisser himself is alleged to be the other possibility—apparently he was displeased when Susan opted to take Mills down the liberal arts path rather than the arts conservatory option he preferred.
Warren Olney & Orchard Meadow Halls
The range of oddities at the joined residence halls by the President’s Meadow is impressive: Students have felt cold spots while walking the hallways. The light in the second-floor bathroom of Warren Olney turns on by itself, and candles have been known to light themselves in Orchard Meadow. The figure of a woman is occasionally spotted on the stairs at Orchard Meadow, and rumor has it she’s waiting for a date who never came.
Residents have heard the voice of a little girl saying their name while in the laundry room at Warren Olney, then seen her follow them into the elevator—some say it’s the presence of one of Olney’s three daughters, who died young of pneumonia. She supposedly stays close to the dorm due to her love for her father.
The first floor of Warren Olney also plays host to several rooms that, back in the day, served as “date rooms” where students could entertain their gentleman callers. In modern times, residents use those rooms to study, and they have noticed the doors opening and closing of their own free will. And in the library in Orchard Meadow, legend has it that if you fall asleep while doing your homework, you will wake up to find that a friendly Mills spirit has completed the assignment for you.