Washington and Lee’s Very Own Payne Hall Ghost

A Haunting on the Campus of Washington and Lee: The Payne Hall Ghost

Molly Bush and Katey Smith

Overview of Project

Students of Professor Brock’s Spring Term class on the History of Ghosts paired up to conduct interviews with Lexington residents to record ghost legends in the local community. Our oral interview features two members of Washington and Lee’s faculty who speak of their personal experiences with the supposed ghost of Payne Hall. The final podcast featuring our interviews is uploaded above. The Payne Hall Ghost Presentation is included as well.

History of Payne Hall

Built in 1830, Payne Hall was first called the Lyceum and was added to create additional academic spaces (offices, classrooms, etc.) on campus. It was also referred to as the Athenaeum, specifying its initial purpose of a science building. Payne’s Hall collection of classrooms still features many large windows, evidence of past laboratory spaces. In 1936, the building was official given its name of Payne Hall after Judge Barton Payne, a major financial supporter of the Colonnade’s fireproofing and renovation efforts. Payne Hall was most recently renovated in 2011. This renovation is mentioned in our podcast above. Today it is home to the University’s English Department.

Dean Suzanne Keen

A member of Washington and Lee’s English Department for the last twenty-one years, Dean Keen is a skeptic of ghosts and the supernatural. Although she does not believe in ghosts, she enjoys hearing and telling ghost stories. Despite the surprising nature of her experience detailed above, she is still not sure she believes in the ghost of Payne Hall. Instead, she contributes the incident to mere coincidence.

Mrs. Sandra O’Connell

Born and raised in Lexington, Mrs. Sandra O’Connell has been the administrative assistant of the English Department for the last thirty-one years. Her husband, Coach “O”, volunteers as an assistant men’s lacrosse coach for the Generals. She has three children and four grandchildren. Mrs. O’Connell had a very unique personal encounter with the Payne Hall ghost. She is a believer in happy ghost spirits as she welcomes them into the “House of Payne.”


The several stories told in our podcast point to the possibility of a ghost, or several, roaming the hallways and classrooms of Payne Hall. Each of the recounts is unique to the teller. We speculate that Washington and Lee’s ghost of Payne Hall serves as a unifier between past and present community members under a common collegiate history. Perhaps, the ghost echoes memories of Washington and Lee’s southern identity and associations with the Civil War.

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A big thank-you to Dean Keen and Mrs. O’Connell for being so willing and open to speak with us about the ghost of Payne Hall—it was a pleasure to chat with you both and we appreciate your contributions to our podcast!

Works Cited 

University Chronology: https://www.wlu.edu/about-wandl/history-and-traditions/a-brief-history/university-chronology

Payne Hall Ghost: http://news.blogs.wlu.edu/2011/10/27/payne-hall-ghost-spooked-by-renovations/

Payne Hall Restoration: http://www2.wlu.edu/x55609.xml