By Bill Zachmann
At 5 pm of the afternoon of Friday, June 14, 1901, a group gathered on the northwest corner of Herty Field on North Campus. The occasion for the gathering this day was the laying of the cornerstone for the building officially known as Candler Hall but now commonly known as the IA Building. When the ceremony was complete, construction of the building began in earnest, being completed rather quickly as students began occupying the building the following January. Although the IA Building currently serves as the home for the School of Public & International Affairs and the Department of International Affairs, it spent the better part of its first half century of existence as a dormitory. If the walls could talk, there are plenty of tales ours could tell. But there is one story from a dark chapter of the building’s past that we recount today.
When fall classes began on September 22, 1905, in attendance was William Samuel Loyd, better known to his family and friends as Willie Sam, a 23-year-old senior from Fayetteville. On the evening of November 5, Willie and his roommate ate dinner at neighboring Denmark Hall and, there not being much to do in Athens on a Sunday evening, they subsequently returned to their dorm room just before eight in the evening. Back in their room Willie picked up a loaded pistol which lay on the stand next to his bed. For reasons we’ll never know he inserted his finger into the trigger guard and began spinning the pistol around. His roommate had no sooner told him that was a very bad idea when the loud report of a gunshot was heard throughout the building.
The bullet struck Willie in the lower abdomen and he collapsed to the floor. His roommate lifted him up onto his bed as a crowd of the dorm’s residents began gathering to investigate the gunshot. A doctor was called for and three local physicians arrived in short order. They investigated the wound and, seeing the amount of damage inflicted, declared it mortal. As he lay on his bed Willie said his goodbyes to his friends and dictated messages for his family. Forty-five minutes after accidentally wounding himself, Willie passed away in his dorm room.
The next day, a procession consisting of the entire student body followed Willie’s casket to the train depot just north of downtown Athens while Chancellor Walter Hill and a contingent of senior class members escorted his physical remains on the train trip to Atlanta. He is interred in his family’s plot in the cemetery of Ebenezer United Methodist Church, and although Willie was brought back to his family, there are indications that he never left the IA Building.
There have been a number of ghost stories told about the building over the decades, ranging from a dagger-wielding specter to an unseen figure that drags a chain up and down the staircases, to reports from students who lived in the building during its dormitory days waking up in the middle of the night and sensing the presence of someone hovering over them. Could there be multiple ghosts in the IA Building, or could the spirit of Willie Loyd be the cause of these stories? To be certain the former dormitory has seen more than a few odd occurrences in recent years. Objects have been reported to have been moved from their original locations. Staff who have stayed late into the night have reported hearing the wood floors creak as if someone were walking down one of the hallways. The custodial supervisor, whose office is in the basement, has heard footsteps on the stairs and the sounds of doors opening and closing late at night when the building is empty. Faculty who have come in to work on the weekends have reported hearing the elevator moving between floors even though nobody else was in the building. The automatic doors on the north entrance are known to open on their own despite the very short range of the motion sensors. One evening a staff member was tapped on the shoulder as they were leaving the building one evening. She turned to see who was behind her only to discover she was alone in the first floor lobby. As she turned back toward the front door she was tapped on the shoulder again.
Over the past one-hundred and twenty years, countless numbers of people have passed through the hallways of the IA Building. It’s entirely possible that the spirits of a few of these people have decided to take up residence in the building, in a sense returning it to its original status as a dormitory but on more of a ghostly level now. So the next time you visit our building you may get to see the automatic doors open on their own, be tapped on the shoulder, or experience something else altogether. Perhaps it’s just the spirit of Willie Loyd letting you know he still resides in the building where he once lived and died.