Old Walter Bickett School a site for strange happenings
Principals, teachers and custodians have heard the sound of laughter and chatter, heels clicking along wood floors and even piano music. Typical noises from a typical elementary school?
Perhaps … but these sounds have occurred when Monroe’s Walter Bickett Education Center is virtually empty, making them anything but routine.
Principal Adolf Roldan has experienced these strange happenings for years. “There’s definitely something going on here,” Roldan said. His list of unexplainable events includes hearing conversations, doors opening and closing and people walking upstairs – only to discover upon investigation that the classroom or hallway is empty. The sound of piano tunes rings distinctly throughout the building from time to time, Roldan said, even though the old piano has been gone for almost eight years.
Phantom noises aren’t the only happenings during Walter Bickett’s off hours. “The phone will ring two or three times during the evening,” Roldan recalled,” and no one is on the other line when you pick it up.”
Busy and talkative but polite
No one can accuse the mystery figure that roams the school’s halls of being rude, especially not Roldan, who experienced its politeness first hand. “As soon as I stepped off the elevator, I distinctly heard someone say, ‘Have a good day.’ ”
At least one other teacher shared this unnerving experience, Roldan said.
A little boy leaving a restroom once told him, “I know this place is haunted because someone just talked to me in the bathroom and there was no one there!”
Custodian Janet Roberts concurs and believes this ghost even knows some of the staff by name. “One time, I heard it say my name three times,” Roberts said.
Roberts speculates the ghost likes to play or keep busy. She’s arrived at school and found the elevators open or she’s known the elevators to open, close and go to the second floor with no one pushing the buttons.
Roberts remembers a time when she opened a heavy door wide, only to hear someone say “ouch.”
Based on stories, it’s hard to tell if these comings and goings are the work of one ghost, a group or, perhaps, both.
“The heels clicking makes me think one of the ghosts is a woman,” Roberts said. She once caught a glimpse of a silhouette by the windows, followed by a strong perfume-like smell, the custodian said. She and Roldan have heard children’s voices in conversation, and Roberts recalls Bickett students seeing more than one silhouette in the basement windows. Their experiences suggest more than one ghost may be visiting the school.
Just friendly or plain scary?
Are the ghosts friendly or scary? Depends on who’s talking. Roldan remembers a time when police officers responded to an after-hours call to the school because of voices coming from inside. “All three officers pulled their guns before going in,” he said.
When workers were installing an intercom system a few years back, an electrician marched into the office to say he would no longer work in the building, Roberts said. When prodded, he reported his screwdriver rolled down the hall for no apparent reason.
Substitute teacher Barbara Johns spent six months working in the basement, where she remembers getting “a creepy feeling.” Johns is the founder of the Union County Area Paranormal Society and author of the self-published book “North Carolina Ghostly Visitors.”
Those who know the school and the ghost or ghosts best believe it is friendly. “It’s not scary at all,” Roldan reports. “It is harmless.”
Roberts concurs. “Whatever it is has never hurt a soul.”
Walter Bickett’s history
Separating fiction from fact about the school building is difficult, said Monroe Librarian Patricia Poland, who is in charge of the library’s genealogy files. The rumor mill is ripe with stories that the school sits atop an old graveyard. Regardless, a rather large cemetery sits directly across the street.
Poland’s genealogy records indicate the school sits on the grounds of a former County Home, built in 1898 to house the impoverished and mentally ill of the day. Dubbed “The Poor House” because people went there when they had nowhere else to go, the County Home was “not a place where you wanted to end up,” Poland said.
The building was erected or renovated, depending on the source, to become Monroe’s high school, before officials converted it to an elementary school.
No one has ever investigated the claims of paranormal activity at Walter Bickett Education Center, but the stories of voices, noises and even scents peak the curiosity for many. The Union County Area Paranormal Society “would love to investigate this school,” Barbara Johns said.
Roldan would welcome the visit, provided he got the approval of his bosses, he said.