Demosthenian Hall, built in 1824, is the fourth oldest building at the University of Georgia. It houses the longest continuously running student organization in the country — the Demosthenian Literary Society, founded in 1803. Its current members learn all about the society’s history as a recounting of oral traditions is essential to their membership, but a certain few have had experience with members of the society’s past — people older than living alumni.
Abby Waldron, current alumni relations chair for the Demosthenian Literary Society, has been a member of the organization since the spring 2018 semester. She’s known of the story behind the hall’s supposed haunt ever since becoming a member.
The ghoul that lurks in the hall is supposedly Robert Toombs — nicknamed “Bobby T” by Demosthenian members — a famous UGA alumnus from the 19th century. Toombs was expelled from UGA for his repeated antics, according to “Ghosts of Athens: History and Haunting of Athens, Georgia”by Tracy Adkins.
“He was kicked out of UGA for chasing two people with a hatchet,” Waldron said.
Toombs was chosen as the class speaker but was kicked out of UGA a second time a semester before graduating. He returned to campus to give a particularly rousing speech at what’s known as the Toombs Oak — or the oak tree that is between Demosthenian Hall and UGA’s Chapel.
“His speech drew the crowd away from the program and out of the chapel to listen ... This was an insult to the University who kicked him out and also a testament to his abilities as an orator,” Adkins said in “Ghosts of Athens.”
Toombs died at 75, after being a lawyer, as a U.S. House member, a senator and the Secretary of State of the Confederacy.
On the day that he died, the oak tree was struck by lightning, Reece Griffith, Demosthenian historian, said. Part of the tree’s stump is still kept in the second floor of Demosthenian Hall, and members allege that Bobby T. still haunts the hall via that stump.
“I imagine that some sort of paranormal association was made between Robert Toombs and the oak next to our hall,” Griffith said. The rumor probably began in the ’70s, according to Griffith, as that’s when many of the society’s traditions came about.
Toomb’s paranormal activity
According to Waldron, members have heard an unidentifiable pacing from the upper chamber. Members who are on the first floor of the hall will hear footsteps “walking fireplace to fireplace” on the second floor late at night as though someone is “waiting to give a speech,” when they know that nobody else is in the building.
“There’s only one entrance to the second floor,” Waldron said. “If nobody else has ascended for the past three hours and you hear pacing, you know it’s not a person.”
This is the most common occurrence, according to Waldron. She has also had a personal experience with the ghost of Toombs.
One night during the finals week of December 2018, after a long day of studying on campus, Waldron decided to crash in Demosthenian Hall for a quick nap before returning to studying rather than making her way back home.
She fell asleep, and in her dream state, she was staring at her sleeping-self. She looked over at the door, which was slowly opening, and saw “a very large man laughing.”
“And I knew it was Robert Toombs in my dream,” Waldron said.
It was pitch black when she woke up, and she felt as though she could still hear Toombs’ laughter. She “bolted, got on a Prince-Milledge bus, and just left.” She even left her phone, bags and books in the hall in her haste to leave the unsettling feeling behind.
“I felt very unwanted in that space when I woke up,” Waldron said. The energy felt as though she wasn’t allowed in the hall, and something told her to “get out, which would make sense considering that women weren’t allowed in the society until the 1970s.”
Whether or not Toombs looms in Demosthenian Hall— which Waldron believes he does— the Toombs Oak stump remains in the upper chamber, serving as a reminder for the depth of the society’s — possibly haunted— history.