Harding University, a Christian college located in Searcy, Arkansas was originally founded as a Methodist Episcopal women’s college called Galloway. This story started when Galloway Women’s College was at its peak. During this time it was considered one of the finest educational institutions in the south. Young ladies who attended the college in the late 1800s and early 1900s were taught a curriculum that included homemaking and secretarial training. The school was also known for its music and art curriculum.
Sometime before 1934 a sweet young student by the name of Gertrude, was found dead at the bottom of an elevator shaft sending shock waves through the school. Galloway was small so most of the students and staff knew her. How Gertrude ended up in the shaft is still a mystery. Reports at the time stated that late one November evening while most of the school’s residents slept Gertrude returned from town with her date after attending a small party. Her date bid her farewell at her dorm and Gertrude entered the hall and climbed the stairs to her room.
At this juncture the story gets fuzzy but it was reported that a blood-curdling scream awakened many girls in the hall at which point chaos took command of the dorm. One young witness saw a huge, dark form hurdle by where she was standing and disappear down the stairs. A hysterical housemother finally calmed everyone down enough to call the police who found Gertrude at the bottom of the elevator shaft dead.
Her death came as a major blow to the normally peaceful college. Legend states that Gertrude’s fellow students insisted she be buried in the pretty, frilly white gown she wore her last night alive. The police never found the supposed killer so her death was deemed an accident. This ruling unfortunately did not save the college’s reputation. Many parents withdrew their daughters and the school began to falter financially.
Several years after Gertrude’s death a freshman woke up at midnight and walked down the hall to get a drink of water. There was a full moon so she had no trouble seeing her way, as she passed the partially boarded elevator shaft she peered through a crack. She stifled a scream and barely managed to return to her room. Feeling faint she woke up her roommate. She told her, “I could see her in the moonlight, sitting there in a white evening gown, combing her platinum-blonde hair.” She then dropped to the floor in a faint.
Her roommate mustered her nerve and went down the hall to take a look. Another student awakened by her movements found her plastered against the wall across from the elevator shaft. She gasped and finally managed to say, “She-she-walked right through the wall to the first floor. She was too terrified to say anything else. The Dean of Women was called and in an effort to reassure the scared girls she peered down into the depth of the shaft. “Why there’s nothing down there, except an old comb someone dropped.”
Soon after this the Galloway Women’s College closed its doors for the last time. Years later the original building was torn down. Many of its old bricks were used in the construction of what is now Harding Universities’ Music building, which is located 300 yards from the original site. Some of these original bricks were also used to make a path that leads from the old site to the new building.
Today it is along this path that several students have been stopped dead in their tracks by the sight of a young woman, dressed in a white lace gown, sweeping by them. This apparition is seen following the path back and forth from the old site to the music building. Several students making a recording in the music building late one night picked up footsteps when no one else was in the building. Gertrude or Gertie Sue as the students and staff fondly call her is often seen at Harding today.