JACK CAWTHON: "MY ENCOUNTER WITH SIS LINN" - Glenville State's Resident Ghost

By Jack Cawthon 2007
I had almost forgotten about the Sis Linn murder in Glenville many years ago until I read Annette Barnette's excellent account in the Herald.

This near Halloween is a good time for reviewing such a case, and it has inspired me to become a ghost writer myself.

According to Ms. Barnette, Sarah Linn was born in 1853 and was a graduate of the then Glenville Normal School in 1877. She taught for a time and then for a shorter time tried marriage, which didn't seem to take.

In 1919 Sis (the only name I ever heard her called) was found murdered in her home which stood near where Verona Maple Hall, a women's dorm, would later occupy.

I should emphasize that I have never seen ghosts, flying saucers, Big Foot, or even the fabled mountain lions that many other people have observed. However, there are other senses besides sight and then there is nonsense. For all of this, you must rely on your own senses.

Back in the 50s I was fortunate to be hired as college night watchman at Glenville State, working Saturday nights and over holidays and other break times that the regular watchman had days off. I owed the job to Lloyd (Casey) Jones, who was the financial wizard in charge of handling college money, and he handled it in a very tight-fisted manner.

But, thanks to him, he provided me with much-needed employment both in the watchman job and on the college maintenance crew during the summer. He also made sure that the photography lab was well stocked, with me as a chief beneficiary, as I also served as unofficial college photographer.

Student jobs paid 55 cents an hour, as set by the state. Somehow, Jones was able to pay the student watchman for 12 hours for an 8 hour shift. Maybe it was declared a hardship assignment, or else no one would stay in the job for long, but it was big money for me at the time.

There were other student workers ahead of me who came and left rather hurriedly, as they either didn't like the night, felt sleep deprived, or ended up just plain scared.

I took to the job immediately, as I am a night person, and, looking back, probably reached my highest job competency. Future employment may have paid much better but never was as satisfying. Whenever I saw Jones, I kidded him about returning as a full time watchman, as I felt that was my true professional calling.

The watchman carried a time clock (redundant, but that was what the device was called) and each building had one or more stations at which there was a large key. This key was inserted into the time clock and turned, and, in turn, punched a paper disk indicating the time and location on a chart.

The schedule was every hour and a half for a round of the entire campus. This patrol was required for insurance purposes and was long before campus crime was prevalent. The major challenge was staying awake, and I never once missed a round in the four years I had the job.

I enjoyed the deserted campus during student breaks, as I worked Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the regular holidays that most people took. There were long student breaks in the summer and at other times, and it was a relief not to be annoyed by some of the women in the dorms who tired to distract me with open windows and other challenges. I was a dedicated watchman and an honor to my profession!

The regular watchman was stingy with flashlight batteries. Some student workers before me would use a light the entire circuit, even with campus lights shining, and as a result would drain the batteries.

His remedy was to replace fresh batteries, saving them for himself, with weak batteries for his relief workers. This didn't bother me; I used the light sparingly but one special night I was to pay the price.

So, it was on an extremely dark night, when mystery often flourishes, the campus was deserted for a holiday, which may have been the Christmas break, as I made my routine after midnight walk. The shift began at 9 at night and ended at 6 in the morning, and I may have been more than halfway through the night.

I was entering the basement of Verona Maple Hall through an outside locked door, when I first heard the sound. It came as a low moaning and cascaded into a wail of pain and misery. At first I thought it was an air vent in the basement which often fluttered in the wind. But there was no wind. I shone the weak flashlight into the room, but there was nothing moving in it.

From far down the inner basement isle the noise came again. By this time the hair of my crew cut was beginning to feel curly, the first time I had ever been the least bit scared on duty. I didn't proceed farther along the basement, as my light was just about done for. I quickly punched the clock and left hurriedly.

I had heard the Sis Linn story from my Dad. He had told it many times, how she was brutally murdered in her home by suspects seemingly after her homemade wine. There were certain young men of the town under suspicion, and I am sure they suffered under the rumors of guilt, but no one was ever found guilty of the crime itself.

My thoughts were of the Linn murder on that same spot so many years before. I knew I must check that basement several more times before the night was over. It would be an understatement to say I didn't linger longer than to punch the clock, but I never heard that terrible sound again during all the time I served thereafter.

I still don't know the cause, but from the incidents occurring in later years, related by Ms. Barnette, I have a good notion.

I continued to work as student watchman until college graduation. Jones often complimented me on the time clock consistency. But there were some things a time clock couldn't show and I never told my story until now. After reading the account by Ms. Barnette I feel I should relate my experience also. The incidents she reports are more than a scary Halloween story to me.