Oct 192020

Robert McCammon’s college friend Carl Carter posted this story on his now-defunct blog back on October 21, 2013. It is presented here as he wrote it.

Raw Day 21: Chasing the ghost

Published | By Carl

It was 1 a.m., 1974, and three of us were huddled somewhere in Smith Hall on the University of Alabama campus, waiting for Dr. Smith.

He was long since dead, of course. It was his ghost we were there to see. The stories about him have multiplied and continued over the years about thumps in the night, books flying across empty rooms and various other manifestations. Rick McCammon, Bill Sikes and I were there to get proof. I was features editor of the Crimson-White. Bill was our photographer.

Rick, as a lot of people know, was my friend from high school, Rick McCammon, better known these days as the prolific horror novelist, Robert R. McCammon. But fame would come much later. On this night, he was just editor of the C-W. He’d always been fixated on the weird stuff. As mentioned earlier in this series, we had been ushers at the Plaza Theater in Birmingham’s Roebuck Shopping Center, with Catch-22 showing on our one screen. During the film, the ushers alternated between standing guard at the exits and sweeping popcorn off the carpet. Rick always managed to be in the theater for the gory scene where a guy gets shot up in an airplane and his guts go spilling out. Rick was always far too interested in that scene.

So it didn’t strike me as surprising that he’d drag us down to Smith Hall one night. It’s a big, old, spooky building that, among other things, houses the university’s Museum of Natural History. If I were a ghost, it’s where I’d go at any rate. The main purpose of the legend, I eventually figured out, is to give student journalists something to write about every October.

So there we were. Bill’s camera, loaded with Tri-X film, was on the tripod, aiming in no particular direction. (Just where DO you point a camera for a ghost who could show up anywhere? And for that matter, which of the scores of rooms do you set up in? We didn’t worry about such details. We felt sure Dr. Smith would accommodate us.)

We got there soon after dark and waited. And waited. And waited some more. About 1 a.m., I decided I’d had all the spooks I could stand for one night.”

“I’m done,” I said. “You guys can can tell me all about it and show me the pictures tomorrow.” And I went back to my apartment.

I heard about it all right. I was barely out the door when Dr. Smith appeared. To be more precise, a little blue light appeared, formed an arc and vanished. There were no pictures, of course, but Rick was beside himself. Over the years, I’ve seen several accounts from various interviews he did over the years.

Funny how the ghost didn’t show until I left, and how they didn’t get a picture.

Rick wrote a good story about it, and it served him well over the years. Any horror novelist worth his salt – and Robert R. McCammon is a very good one – needs a good ghost story to pull out now and then. And who am I to say it didn’t happen just the way he tells it?

When I asked Rick about it at the time, he replied, “It absolutely did happen that way! I have told that story over and over and always told it exactly the same way…because it did happen!”

Last year, the staff of Crimson-White posted an article about the former C-W editors, including Robert McCammon.


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