by Ryan Konrad
photography by Brady Keegan
Of the many things you come across in a tour of the University of La Verne campus, is the seal, located at the bottom of the steps of Founders Hall. It is an unassuming, tiled fixture. You can’t miss it since it is usually chained off. It is, admittedly, in an awkward location. Most universities place their seals within courtyards, or inside the lavish foyers of their oldest building or in front of the first structure on campus. Students weave around La Verne’s seal, usually making no acknowledgment of it. Yet, above all, no one sets foot on it. Granted, a chain now guards it from footsteps. But at a campus where students love their shortcuts through grass, bushes, and other subtle barriers, what is a mere chain, swinging less than a yard above ground?
It’s haunted, of course. Legend has it Gladdys Muir, a professor at then named La Verne College (before the 1977 name change to “university”) fell down the east steps of Founders Hall, cracked her head upon the ground, spilled blood and died. Thus, the seal was installed there, a cover to the heinous incident to “out the damned spot.” Her spirit roams the grounds, and is oft-blamed by students for the things that go bump in the night.
Gladdys Muir is perhaps the most famous of the ghost stories of the University of La Verne. The pantheon of those Leo spirits is also occupied by the likes of the professor who took his life by cyanide in Founders; the unclosed Ouija Board in Vista La Verne; and the ghosts in Dailey Theatre and the old Stu-Han Residence Hall. Passed down from tour guide to disinterested high school seniors, from orientation week leader to incoming student, and from upperclassmen to underclassmen, they are the captivating stories about La Verne that everyone knows, hooking students both prospective and new into our campus. After all, my tour guide told me that ULV is one of the most haunted colleges in the country.
I hate to bust your ghost, but it’s all half true.
Gladdys Muir died in 1967 not on university property, but later in the hospital. The seal was installed in the 1980s, 20 years later. The “professor” was an audiovisual director, a classified employee who took his life in his Founders Hall audio visual office.
Why do these stories, if the factual record is accessible, persist? Why do we willingly continue to perpetuate these stories and pass them down, with the possibility that these individuals’ real lives and history become so far removed from the popular account that they become mere caricatures? Who were these people? The living individuals who breathed life (or afterlife, if you will) into these stories were very real, and, fortunately, for this story, they are not found in the distant past.
I. “The custodian would not enter the room at all.”
David Glasa was a recently graduated La Verne theater major alumnus who worked in the school’s audiovisual department, a predecessor to the Scheduling/Events Department of the University. George Keeler, professor of journalism at the University of La Verne, knew him both as a colleague and peer, since both were student workers in the ULV Audio Visual Department. “He was a controlling person whom I felt lacked self-confidence in his abilities. Nevertheless, he was fiercely competitive,” remembers Keeler. “I believe this drove him in the wrong direction mentally.” Glasa and Keeler found much overlap in their time at La Verne, playing their brass instruments together and leading up to performing in Dailey Theatre productions, including “An Inspector Calls.” During that production, Glasa developed a crush on the female lead. “We saw that David was infatuated with the lead female star,” says Keeler. The feelings were not mutual. According to Keeler, Glasa would later send letters to her, letters that would not receive responses. Eventually, after graduation, she moved to Alaska. “I think this ate away at David,” Keeler says.
After graduation, Glasa was hired as the school’s audiovisual director. Keeler continued with his graduate work and rarely saw Glasa. “The summer of 1978 at the University of La Verne was a quiet and lonely time, with few classroom duties for audio visual, and I don’t think David could deal with the negative thoughts that were in his head,” says Keeler. One warm afternoon, Glasa, who had master keys to the entire school, entered the chemistry storeroom, found the cyanide bottle and took it back to his Founders Hall office. His lifeless body was discovered by a custodian after hours. Glasa was seated at the desk, the spilled cyanide bottle in front of him.
Douglas Waite, now administrator emeritus, served as the next audiovisual director. He was hired on the spot in an interview that took place the day after Glasa’s death. “I don’t disbelieve in ghosts. … I’ve seen enough in my time to believe there’s a possibility of ghosts,” says Waite. “Soon after I started, there were a lot of strange things … the custodian would not enter the room at all.” The strange happenings were reported by both Waite, employees and students. Campus Safety would receive calls that the old alarm, which at the time was operated via a manual switch, was disarmed and rearmed, despite the fact that no one had entered the room. “A student worker was talking to his girlfriend and was telling her about the ghost, and the phone flew across the desk—the receiver went off the phone,” says Waite. Several security guards reported seeing a figure moving around in his office while doing their nightly rounds. “They would enter the office to check it out, and there’d be nobody there,” says Waite.
Yet, perhaps the most eerie account of Glasa was his appearance in VCR tapes after his death. Waite and his student workers would check the sometimes faulty audiovisual equipment, and the sole VCR/TV equipment, through testing it. “Years later, it became almost like a video yearbook; we’d sit back and watch and laugh over people talking. Somebody might sing, or somebody might give an actual speech,” says Waite. Midway through the compilation, an unidentified person appeared on tape. At first, Waite could not recognize the individual talking on the tape with the microphone. Waite later realized it was Glasa. “It was just a weird coincidence that on that particular videotape, he was doing the same exact thing that my students and I did.”
II. “Founders Hall has some nasty steps.”
Gladdys Muir was a history professor at the University throughout the 1940s and 1950s, dedicated to peace studies and helping students. According to Keeler, “She was a person who had a revered following, that when they thought about La Verne, students often named Gladdys Muir as their favorite professor.” Muir was popular, often aiding students in need. “She supported them financially. She would give people a place to stay right at a time when they couldn’t necessarily afford the dorms, or they had to find other places. So, she was a beloved person,” says Felicia Beardsley, professor of anthropology and the director of the Cultural and Natural History Collections.
In 1967, while leaving her office in Founders Hall, she left the building using the steep steps located on the building’s east side. “Founders Hall still has some nasty steps… in those days, there was no guardrail going down the center,” says Keeler. She tripped on those stairs, fell down and hit her head. She was discovered by the then-new professor Robert Neher, around where the seal lays today. “She was taken to the hospital where she died of her head injuries,” says Keeler.
The seal was installed in the 1990s, in a campaign led by Ruby Montaño-Cordova, then deputy chief student affairs officer, as most schools had a seal on their campus. “It’s a modern touch,” I remember Ruby saying, says Keeler. She added, “We have a rock; why don’t we have a seal?” There is no connection between Muir and the seal, so why is the popular story told this way as junior communications student Gabby Cummings, an orientation leader relates at the steps: “Legend has it that up these very steep stairs, she tripped, fell, and landed right where the seal was. And they covered where her blood was with the seal. If you step on the seal, you will not graduate in four years.”
If the seal was installed nearly 30 years later, where was that connection made? Out of all the stories about ghosts on campus, why is “Gladdys” the most popular? How do these individuals become so detached from their own, real, and factual stories and turn into urban legends and little jokes when things move out of the ordinary?
III. “The world that can’t yet be explained.”
“So, these stories tend to persist because they spark the imagination. They’re very vivid. They are tied to a very specific place. And when you have a specific place, it becomes almost emblematic in the sense that it represents something,” according to Felicia Beardsley. Location in mythmaking is crucial to the perpetuation of stories. “And if it’s a story that is unusual outside of people’s experiences, that kind of teeters on the unusual or even the unknown, like the supernatural, that seems to kind of elicit this curiosity in people. So, they have a tendency to remember it, especially because it’s tied to place,” she says.
Yes, the very feeling of being in a place where one suffered a horrible accident tends to spark emotion and curiosity. The potency of being in that spot, infamous or otherwise, draws us there. It’s almost the same as visiting memorials or historical markers, where legends began, or history was made. The gravity of these places is what makes them special. It’s why something as mundane as a rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts defined a nation’s myth of expansion and Thanksgiving for 400 years. The location is special, and in order to ensure that this place carries the meaning it has for generations, it must be sustained, not through policy or planning, but through the community. It is up to the community to pass down from one individual to another, and it is here where things get lost in translation.
“It’s almost like a game of telephone, right? Not just a game of telephone, but a game of telephone where each of the participants has different skill levels in telling a story. So, when you’re passing a story on from one person to the next to the next to the next, each person has their own ability to tell a story in a certain way,” says Beardsley. Some people exaggerate and some people leave out things, so the fact that “Gladdys Muir fell and then died” is sometimes passed on as “Gladdys Muir fell and died.” To an extent, the bad storytellers, the ones who omit things and embellish to impress peers, are sometimes the best ones who aid in the great human tradition of mythmaking. Beardsley adds, “If you have a storyteller who wants to embellish, they’ll stick to the basic facts. The super basic facts will be there. But they might be a really good storyteller, and they start embellishing it. And then one of those elements of that embellishment starts getting embedded in the next teller’s stories. And then the next teller’s story.”
So, do we really see ghosts, or do we choose to see them?
And how do you explain what happened to LVTV PEG Access producer Claudia Gonzalez, who, as a ULV student worker, saw a hardhat fly off the shelf and straight across an Arts and Communications Building room? “I’ve had a lot of unexplained experiences that lead me to believe there’s something else beyond our reality,” Gonzalez says. The hardhat is no exception. “Out of nowhere, this hat just flies out from behind me and hits the white board in front of it. It just slams and falls down,” she recalls. “There was no feeling before; it just happened.” Needless to say, it was a dark and stormy night.
What are the things that go bump in the night? Of course, in the case of David Glasa, there is the possibility of faulty mechanics, shoddy equipment and coincidence, but, in reality, not many people have the lack of imagination to leave it at that. Spirits, ghosts and presences we want to believe because there is no further explanation. It’s too complex for it to be just that. It is just enough for us to wonder, what is beyond our physical reality to make us see what we believe we are seeing. By investigation and sharing what is more than meets the eye, we are actually taking part in a great human tradition: wondering. For thousands of years, we have tried to explain the unexplainable, and it continues today. It continues, out of all places, at a small University nestled between freeways and foothills.
Beardsley says, “We always want to know or think that we can come up with a solution that nobody else has come up with, that we can come up with an answer that nobody else has come up with. But I think it’s that driving curiosity, and that driving interest in the unknown. It is that idea that engages us and fires up our imagination and allows us to try to explain processes, to try to explain the world that can’t yet be explained.” ■