Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Hello, and Thank You, and Meet Tom Bayley

I want to thank you all again for your kind words in the last post and for your patience with me over this past week.  I know that in times past, I've gone longer than a week without posting, but I usually don't precede an absence with a depressing entry and then not even respond to everyone's comments for a few days.  Just to let you know, I check this blog as often as I check my e-mail; I see and read comments about as quickly as you post them, but much like my e-mail, I often wait a little while and respond to a bulk at once...but even for me, I was lax this week.  I'm extremely lucky to have such a great group of friends reading my stuff and I thank you for the support you give me. :)

SPEAKING OF YESTERDAY...rough day, yes.  But it was made better by my man Barack laying Mittens flat in a dominating debate performance that may have just won him the election, AMIRITE?  So, you know, every cloud has a silver lining...

Something else that happened yesterday was that I pulled out my sketchbook from my first semester of my senior year of college and I read the whole thing start to finish.

Now, if I were you, I would be sick to death of me always talking about BLAH 'I wrote something forever ago' or HAHA 'I have all this creative shit lying around that I'm going to bring up now' and that general kind of thing that I say all the damn time.  But the truth is that I HAVE CREATED SO MUCH SHIT IN MY LIFE that literally if all I did on this blog was write about things that I did earlier in life, I would...well...I would probably update more frequently than I do now.

Bellingrath dorm, Rhodes College.
Anyways.  My senior year, first semester, I took Intermediate Painting and, let's be honest here, I rocked the shit out of that class.  I painted crazy-awesome things, the likes of which I don't even know where they came from (since I have done nothing as impressive before or since), and I was also required to keep a sketchbook for the duration of the semester.  The main point of the sketchbook was to plan out the paintings I did in class, but I was also supposed to research established artists, AND (big "and" here) research something that was "of interest to me."  And what was of interest to my 21-year-old self?

Ghost stories on campus.

More specifically, I was interested in the stories that inspired the stories:  the real people who had lived and died on the grounds of my school.  (Yes, I realize the morbidness of juxtaposing this entry with the one that precedes it, but get over it.  I have.)

The most interesting thing to come from my semester-long investigation into Rhodes College's most famous ghost stories was that none of them could be directly traced back to a real death.  I found this fascinating at the time because of not only the excess of ghost stories on campus, but the excess of real deaths that had occurred there.  To my way of thinking, if you had all of this perfectly reasonable source material, why waste time making up fake stories?  But alas, it wasn't up to me to dictate campus legends, and thus it was that I ran into one dead end (no pun) after another in looking for the culprits of the stories I'd heard as a student.  But I did run across more than one interesting true story that stuck with me, and the one that stuck with me the most was that of Tom Bayley.

When I was a sophomore and a junior, I lived in a dorm called Bellingrath, which is nicely positioned near the dining hall on the southwest end of campus.  Today, as when I lived there, Bellingrath is exclusively a women's dorm.

A generation ago, it housed men.

Bellingrath has four floors, three of which house students.  I lived on the first floor (junior year) and second (sophomore) and Kara was an R.A. on the third floor our senior year, so I was very well-acquainted with the dorm itself, and just as acquainted with the legend of the ghost who supposedly haunted the fourth floor, which was locked to students but housed maintenance equipment as well as spooky noises and (allegedly) inexplicable lights.  And it was in the search for this (non-existent) fourth floor entity that I ran across Tom Bayley.

Tom Bayley
Tom was a senior during the 1969/1970 school year.  He was a history major and he was on the newspaper staff.

According to reports from the time, he was "quiet," but he had a lot of friends and he made good grades.

He lived on the third floor of Bellingrath with his roommate, Churchill Davenport, whose academic career was prestigious enough that Churchill made his way into the esteemed "Hall of Fame" for the 1970 graduating class.

In February of 1970, Churchill left his dorm room at about 6:00 p.m. while his roommate slept.  When he returned around midnight, his roommate was dead.

Tom had been drafted for the Vietnam War, and police found five suicide notes and a poem, all of which indicated how distraught he was at his draft notification.  Tom was supposed to report to the draft board that day, but instead, he drank a bottle of acid in his dorm room and it killed him.

It sounds ludicrous and maybe even creepy, but after I found him in the 1970 yearbook, Tom worked his way into my group of friends.  We all knew him, we all knew his story, and we all talked about him like he was someone we'd perhaps once shared a class with.  We even visited his old room the week of Halloween.  Kara held a "campus ghost story" talk for her residents; about fifteen girls showed up and I, as a featured guest, was unable to contain my earnestness when talking about the boy who had lived just down the hall.  As a group, we solemnly paraded to his room and took a moment to reflect, even as the girls who lived there at the time looked on as if we were crazy...

In some ways, Tom was an anchor for me.  An indication that a picture in a yearbook on a dusty library shelf could transcend time and make a difference in the life of a student with no connection other than attending the same school.  The next semester, when I took Intro to Digital Imaging, I featured Tom in my final project.  He's on my Facebook page even now, included in the album I put up shortly before our 5-year college reunion.  He was an integral part of my senior year experience, more real to me than some of the more forgettable people I really did share classes with.

I remember sitting with Kara and our friend Greta (my primary ghost research comrade) at dinner long after we'd finished eating one night, talking about the level of desperation one would have to feel to drink a bottle of acid.  Our generation is unbelievably lucky to not know the burden of a draft, even if we do know something of war.

Tom may have lived and died before my time, but his story resonated deeply with me and my friends...and it was strangely comforting yesterday, as I took the time to reflect on college life, to open up my sketchbook and see his familiar, haunted eyes looking back at me.


  1. Where to begin with replying to this post?! :-) Yes, of course - better debate this time?! YAY!! WTF is up with "binders full of women"? It's everywhere. Haha, stupid Romney. But also WTF with Gallup saying Romney's gonna win?! Grrr. They better be wrong!

    And yes, ghost stories on campus. Very exciting. And Buffy-esque :-) I can relate on the spooky factor with the year book and all but under other circumstances (which I'm not gonna do here cause I won't be able to make it sound as serious as it deserves to be and I don't want to offend people - well, actually sometimes I do, but not the people who might be offended by this particular thing). I'll just tell you some other time, in one of those e-mails I never send you ;-)

    1. I'm totally ignoring Gallup! I've been somewhat, er, obsessively following the polling data (Nate Silver's is a daily stop on my internet rounds) and Gallup just seems to be way out of line in comparison to any other polls. It's still way closer than I would like for it to be, but everything continues to point in Obama's direction (if only slightly!). Now if we can just get a performance tomorrow night, at the last debate, like the one from last week, I may finally be able to breathe a sign of relief! :)

      As for the ghost stories, I might post a few of the actual stories when it gets a little closer to Halloween. :) I had so much fun researching them at the time - yes, very Buffy-esque!! :D (Haha, thinking back on it, I was probably trying to *be* Buffy back then!) And now you've really piqued my interest, so whenever you write next, you'll definitely have to fill me in on your story! :)

  2. Hahaha!! Holding my thumbs for the next debate (tonight?)!

    Oh, I will tell you, promise, but now I've made it sound all exciting and I'm not so sure it is... Well, you'll be the judge. I'll try to make it soon!

    1. I LOVE ROMNESIA!!! That was a stroke of genius. The Obama team is awesome. :D

      And so is Barack Obama!! He did a BEAUTIFUL job of making Romney look like he was completely out of his league last night at the debate. I couldn’t have asked for a better performance!! :D :D :D Now it’s just down to two weeks of nervous waiting…I hope to God last night helped push the numbers in the President’s direction!!

  3. I'll hold my thumbs, and my toes! :-)

    And yes, Romnesia was genius!! And saying that it's covered by Obamacare, just brilliant!!

    My new collegue, who's American, is sincerely worried about the outcome of this election and that if Obama does win this time, the repulicans will find an even worse candidate for the next election (as they keep getting worse and more extreme) and the democrats will lose their hold of power. (if that happens she says she can never move back)So we started to work on a plan to brain wash the american population until then, to all be democrats, so if you have any handy tips regarding that, feel free to share :-)

    1. HAHAA!!! I LOVE THIS PLAN! Alright, I'll get to thinking...maybe with an international coalition of minds working on this, we can actually pull it off. :D

      (Oh God, I can't even think about Republican candidates getting MORE extreme! That's enough to give me nightmares. *shudder*)

    2. I feel I need a basement were I can keep a huge cardboard plan with arrows in different shapes and colors, matched by a big map of the USA with pins - also in different colors - to mark our successes and draw backs as we set the plan in motion. I feel like I need to practice my evil laugh, but then I remember - WE ARE THE GOOD GUYS IN THIS! Making America all Democrate is a step towards saving the world. So what I should be doing is practice my Dalai Lama-graces until we win the Nobel Peace prize (Not that that's an honour anymore since they gave it to the EU this year, but still.)

      And I know, every time you think they can't find anyone worse and then they do. And youthink everyone will realize the crazyness, and then they don't. World domination is simply our only option with this...

  4. Which room in belli did he live in??

  5. Hi Becky,
    I see this was posted four years ago, but I was trolling the internet in search of news about my brother Tommy. I saw your story and thought I should reach out. Tom Bayley was my older brother. I have seen other stories of his so-called ghost having appeared on campus. As you mentioned Tom being an anchor for you, I am glad you were able to somehow connect with him. Tommy as we called him when he was younger was a warm and funny person. I had to always be on the lookout or I could be ambushed by Tom and forced to wrestle for my freedom. Not easy for a 5 year old at the time. Anyway, thanks for keeping Tom "alive" in spirit. My brothers and sister will always have a special place for him in our hearts.

    1. Thank you so much for the comment! Tom was a big and special part of my Rhodes experience, and I love hearing about who he was as a person, outside of the newspaper articles we dug up. I emailed you, but I wanted to respond here as well. I'm so glad you reached out!

    2. Hello Becky. I am Tommy's sister...the one and only. My younger brother (above) contacted you earlier today and then forwarded your blog to the rest of the siblings. I can't tell you how good it is to know that Tommy lives on in hearts more than our own. I was in 8th grade when Tommy took his life. 60 now...but it could have been yesterday. Thank you for the sweet memories :)

    3. I'm so glad you've gotten a chance to read this and it means a lot to hear from you. :) As I told your brother, he really was a like a friend to all of us, strange though that may sound. :) He sounds like he was a great person and brother. It's wonderful to hear about the person he was!