Virginia Military Institute: Ghosts, Shadows and Phantoms

Virginia Military Institute, or VMI, has a past steeped in tradition – and ghosts. Cadets’ encounters with some spirits there have spanned several generations.

VMI History

The school, nestled in the rolling hills of Virginia’s scenic Shenandoah Valley at Lexington, opened its doors in November, 1839. A strict formality and sense of tradition were quickly established.

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By the start of the Civil War in 1861, the school was already known as one of the best military institutes in the country – its reputation even rivaled that of West Point.

VMI’s most famous professor, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, joined the faculty in 1851. He was an instructor there until he was called to serve in the field for the Confederate States of America shortly after the onset of war.

Today there are many of Jackson’s personal effects and even the skeleton of his beloved horse on display in the museum area of the school’s chapel. A portion of the college, a section rumored to be the most haunted, is now dubbed “Jackson Memorial Hall” in his memory.

Virginia Military Institute during the Civil War
Virginia Military Institute during the Civil War

A Gruesome Shadow

Since its opening, VMI has maintained 24-hour sentry of the school. In a recent interview, alumnus Robert Rainer recalled how he had seen the shadow of a hanged man on the exterior wall of one of the structures while walking his rounds of guard duty.

He shared the encounter with classmates and learned that he was not the first to have had such an experience. Rainer claimed that dozens of other Cadets shared similar encounters with the shadow. All tell of looking at it for a few seconds, barely long enough to process what they’ve seen, when the shadow simply disappears.

The institute has found no evidence to support the rumor that anyone was ever hanged at VMI, but the eye-witness accounts of sentry cadets and their unwavering testimony tells a different story.

Ghostly Lights

Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson served as a Confederate general (1861–1863) during the American Civil War, and became one of the best-known Confederate commanders after General Robert E. Lee.

Jackson played a prominent role in nearly all military engagements in the Eastern Theater of the war until his death, and played a key role in winning many significant battles.

Could General Jackson have returned to his love of teaching even after his death? Alumnus Tim Frederickson shared an account of an eerie blue light he witnessed while attending the college.

According to Frederickson, several other students returning to their rooms alone after an evening of study have reported seeing a mysterious blue ball of light drifting through the halls.

Many claims that the light has been witnessed entering Jackson’s former classroom where it vanishes. Stories of the ghostly light date back as far as the early 1900s.

Ghost hand

The Yellow Peril

One of the most feared spirits lurking at VMI is the “Yellow Peril”. The legendary Yellow Peril of VMI, said to haunt the third stoop in a corner of barracks with a not so bright history.

The yellow peril is said to take the form of a cadet in a dark grey blouse wearing a garrison cap with the brim pulled down over his eyes and a faint yellow tinted face with a gash strewn across it.

A wretched yellow face and bony shoulders are all that have been seen of this apparition, but it is known to surprise Cadets walking the halls of the third floor of the barracks alone at night.

Students have reported strange wails in the corridors when no one is around and attributed it to the Yellow Peril.

Virginia Mourning Her Dead

A beautiful bronze statue, Virginia Mourning her Dead, by Moses Ezekiel, has captivated generations of VMI cadets. The statue has a long history of suspected paranormal activity, including moans and cries that are reported to come from the area in which it stands.

Many alumni claim to have seen tears coming from Virginia’s eyes when they went to inspect the mysterious sounds in the vicinity.

Wake up Calls

One of the most peculiar ghosts of VMI is the spirit that is known to knock on dorm room doors just before one of the sleeping Cadets is about to rise for his shift at sentry.

When the knocks are investigated, no one is found in the long hallway. Tim Frederickson claimed that the spectral knocking got him out of bed when he’d failed to ready his alarm clock, thus saving him from punishment for missing guard duty.

Ghosts – a VMI Tradition?

VMI students and alumni have a reputation for bravery, honesty, and good judgment. These qualities only add another layer of validation to the rumors of paranormal activity at the historic college.

Cadet guided tours are offered daily (dependent on Cadet availability) at 11:15 a.m and 3:15 p.m. and start at Jackson Memorial Hall (Level 200). The tour lasts approximately 40 minutes. Take your camera and you could come away with a ghostly souvenir!

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