Turn on all of your lights, lock the doors, and check under the bed to prepare yourself for tonight’s Creator Conversation interview with author, Jeff Provine. Jeff is the “ghost guy” down in Norman who leads the spooky historical tours for OU and downtown and has written Campus Ghosts of Norman, Haunted Norman, and co-written Haunted Guthrie.
Let’s get to know you, Jeff. Tell everyone a little bit about yourself.
I grew up on the family Land Run farm just north of Enid and came down to Norman for school. I’m still hanging around, now teaching classes such as the History of Comic Books. My passion is tackling projects, like writing my steampunk Celestial Voyages series, my young adult multiverse Dawn on the Infinity, and my blog This Day in Alternate History or remodeling the house by tearing out a bathroom or laying wood floors.
How did you get involved in writing about the paranormal?
When I did study abroad in England, I went with some of my friends on their hometown ghost tours. Since everything’s a thousand years old over there, they have tons of great stories. I knew just one about Norman: the little boy who roller skates around Ellison Hall, the old infirmary on campus. My friend Tess thought the story was so great that there should be an OU tour. I doubted there would be enough stories, but then I began looking in on it and was proven very wrong. The campus was teeming with spooky tales, and so I launched a Halloween walk for charity to tell them. It’s grown from there into an official monthly tour, which caught the attention of the History Press, who asked that I put them down in a collection, Campus Ghosts of Norman.
When researching your first paranormal book, Campus Ghosts of Norman, what were some of the more interesting things you learned?
I am constantly blown away by just how much history is jammed into only 125 years. OU exploded onto the map thanks to the diligent work of some great people, and apparently some of them stuck around even after death. Professor Mildred Andrews Boggess, for example: she was a member of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, started the master’s level music program and organ repair shop, and there’s a cathedral-style organ named in her honor in Catlett Hall. Despite her death, she still comes to sit in on student recitals and even plays the organ, they say.
How long did the book take to make from start to finish?
The first book came together in just a couple of months. I already had most of the research completed with the OU stories, but I wanted to go beyond campus into Campus Corner to discuss tales like the beheading (in 1996). It came down to a matter of just telling the words on the page instead of voice.
What was the scariest thing you encountered during your research?
It was a little after the researching phase, but one of the really weird happenings on campus was when I was filming some spots a few Halloweens ago with Web Comm. We went down to the basement of Cate Center, where there was a terrible accident of a boy who was beheaded while playing in the dumbwaiter. People say they hear lots of noises down there to this day. When we were there, someone distinctly said, “I meant to catch it.” I heard it and the lady doing sound heard it, but the camera guy said he didn’t hear anything.
Tell us a little bit about OU’s most famous ghost.
The “most famous ghost” is likely the Library Ghost, who skulks the old decks of Bizzell Memorial Library, which is infamous for its frosted glass floorplates designed to let light flow down from the skylights above in the olden days. Many, many people have stories about him/her (depending on the version of the legend you like), hearing footsteps, seeing books fall off shelves, and especially getting the feeling of being watched. All the legends agree that the ghost originated when someone fell through the floor and broke their neck, although there does not seem to be a record of anyone dying there. I suppose someone must have liked the place enough to come back and hang out.
After the Campus Ghosts of Norman, you’ve gone on to write other haunted books, one about Norman and another you co-wrote about Guthrie. What were some unusual encounters you had when working on those books?
The Norman book took me all the way from the unsolved Lovers Lane murders back in the 1970s by the river out to hunting Bigfoot at Lake Thunderbird. I was especially blown away by the story of Lew Humphreys, one of Al Capone’s lieutenants who retired out in Little Ax, just a few miles away. He was busted by FBI agents at the train depot in Norman.
After Norman, I co-wrote Haunted Guthrie with Tanya McCoy, who leads the OPA paranormal investigation team. She has a lot of firsthand accounts and leads investigating tours of sites in Guthrie where people can use their equipment to capture EVPs or detect electromagnetic flux. Her stories added tales of people being scratched, woken up in the middle of the night, and more to my historical research about the town.
What has always struck me the most when canvassing and interviewing has been just how free people are with their ghost stories. Oklahomans are a really nice bunch of folks, but we’re fairly conservative. If you just started asking about ghosts, folks might just brush it off. Once the stories get going, however, everyone has a story or two to share.
You also host the OU Ghost Tours. What’s that like?
Ghost tours are a blast. We gather on the North Oval, talk about EVPs in one of the old dorms, Professor Boggess, the old infirmary, the exorcism in 1973 in what would later be the old Jim Thorpe Multicultural Center, and our library ghost. When the buildings are open, we sneak inside Holmberg Hall and the Library decks to see if we can catch sounds of ghostly music or spectral footsteps.
What was one the freakiest things to happen to you during one of your OU Ghost Tours?
One night the motion sensor lights flicked on in one room of Ellison Hall, the old infirmary. It was long after the offices there had closed up, and it was just the one room, so not someone coming into it from the hallway. We moved a little bit back from the building that night.
What are you working on now?
Tanya and I are hard at work on Haunted Oklahoma City, due to be out Fall 2016 in time for Halloween. It’s a much bigger town than we have worked with before, so there are a lot of different kinds of stories to research and investigate. Oklahoma City is jam-packed with history from sooners to the “stealing” of the capitol to Film Row in the golden age of the silver screen to our modern downtown renaissance. We’ve got legends of ghosts in the halls of the Skirvin Hotel, reappearing bullet holes in a gangster’s front window, the ghost of a witch out past Kitchen Lake.
Anything else you want people to know?
OU’s monthly ghost tours are still going strong, with the 2016 season’s dates posted at the Visitor Center website. Last fall I piloted a new tour for downtown Norman, which went so well that we are planning to do them each month following the Art Walk every Second Friday.