Of all the things usually found in a frat house, a ghost isn’t one of them.
For the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, bumps in the night are all too frequent. Members claim that their house on 327 S. Milledge Avenue is haunted.
“I lived in room No. 2 my entire sophomore year and there were many, many kinds of weird things that would happen throughout the year, whether it was flickering lights or seeing things that weren’t where we left them,” said Jeff Ostenson, a recent marketing graduate from Stone Mountain.
Sigma Phi Epsilon's haunted story begins with a family who lived in the house prior to the fraternity. The father — who was in some variations a priest and in others a chemistry professor from the University named H.G. White — was fired from his job.
In a fit of madness, he drowned his young daughter, Tabitha, in the upstairs bathroom. According to rumor, he either hung himself in the attic or disappeared altogether, never to be seen again.
“Ever since then the house has been haunted by Tabitha,” said Jim Martin, a fifth-year psychology major from Alpharetta.
Several fraternity brothers have come forward with unexplained occurrences — a ball bouncing, footsteps in the attic and the echo of a girl’s laughter — all of which were supposedly done at the mischievous hands of Tabitha.
Ostenson recalls a particularly unnerving event after closing his bedroom door.
“It wasn’t five minutes after we had done that the door slowly creaked open,” Ostenson said. “Obviously you can’t make a door creaking noise in the paper, but it was the worst door creak noise ever.”
He and his roommate, Wes Robertson, quickly looked down at the door to find no one standing at the threshold. Then it slammed shut.
“It slammed while we were watching the door and I never had anything like that happen,” Ostenson said.
Neither roommate could offer an explanation for the door opening and promptly closing.
“It’s one of those doors that doesn’t catch,” said Robertson, a finance graduate from Memphis, Tenn.
The stories don't end there. Robertson and Ostenson both recall lights turning off by themselves, which Ostenson claims was not a result of a simple power surge.
“Out of nowhere all the lights got very noticeably brighter, like all of them were about double the brightness, and then they all burned out,” Ostenson said. “I knew it wasn’t a power surge or anything because the TV was still on, the TV was still working. But I went around and tried all the lights, and all of my bulbs had to be replaced.”
In addition to the standard spooks of flickering lights and self-shutting doors, residents returned to their room to find personal items in odd places.
“No moving beds or anything, but I would set down my phone and literally just walk to my dresser and come back and it wouldn’t be where I thought I set it down,” Ostenson said.
Other experiences were on the more subtle side of eerie.
“I’d come back to sit down and study, and get on my laptop and something just didn’t feel like it was in the right place,” Martin said. “I couldn’t really put my finger on it. It never really stuck out like my printer’s on the other side of the room or something, but it wouldn’t be the way it was when I left it.”
Residents note being spooked on a psychological level as well, reporting feelings of unease when alone in the house and plagues of strange dreams.
“I just had some really weird dreams while I was sleeping there, a lot more than I had at other times or other places,” Robertson said.
Just how much of this ghost story can be chalked up to the unknown? First a little must be known about the house’s history.
Property records at the Athens-Clarke County courthouse indicate that the house changed hands twice since being built in 1950. Its most recent sale was in 1975 when Alpha Xi Delta sold the property to Sigma Phi Epsilon.
According to the deed book, the earliest warranty deed was in 1959, when Alpha Xi Delta bought the property from Omchap, a housing corporation.
But as to who lived in the house before either fraternity? Not even a ghost of a record remains.
Though the history of the house prior to 1959 is murky, explanation for the origin of this story is not so otherworldly.
“There’s so much in our world we don’t understand,” said Elissa Henken, University professor and folklorist. “We spend some of our time as humans conjecturing about what might be after.”
Henken said stories of hauntings feed speculation about the afterlife and explain things that are seemingly out of order.
“How do we explain it?” Henken said. “There’s somebody invisible to us doing it.”
Reasonable explanation or not, many fraternity members insist that it’s possible there is something amiss.
“I’m not big on ghosts or anything, but you never know,” Robertson said. “They were kind of freaky when you think about them in retrospect.”