Orton Hall

Built in 1893, Orton Hall is one of the oldest buildings on OSU's campus. It's named for Edward Orton, who served as the university's first president from 1873 through 1881. Orton was a professor of Geology, which is why the building named for him houses much of the Geology Department, as well as OSU's own Geological Museum.

Not everyone is aware that there is a museum inside Orton Hall, despite the fact that it's one of the largest fossil collections in the midwest. Orton himself donated the museum's original core of 10,000 specimens. Today most of the geological artifacts are stored in the building's basement, but a number of the most interesting ones are placed in the first-floor museum for free display to the public. Exhibits include a prehistoric turtle shell, an ice age sloth, and several dinosaur eggs, not to mention pieces of various meteors that fell all over the world. The most famous artifact, the full-size Conway Mastodon, was discovered in Clark County in 1898; it's now on display at the much larger Ohio Historical Society.

The dead things in the museum aren't the only exhibits at Orton Hall; creepy geological gargoyles are found all over the building. They're at the tops of the pillars inside and around the bell tower outside--plaster representations of the various types of prehistoric life found in Ohio. On the pillars they're mostly variations on a human skull, but around the tower they become more monstrous: extinct reptilian creatures that populated the primordial sea which once covered Ohio.

Orton was built with geology in mind, out of the heavy rocks native to Ohio, with the rocks lowest in the strata closest to the ground and the youngest ones near the roof. This makes for a gloomy Romanesque castle of a building, spooky even at the busiest time of the day. Which is fitting, because Orton Hall is probably the best-known haunted place on campus.

As you might guess, Edward Orton himself haunts the building. He apparently spent a lot of time reading by lamplight in the top of the bell tower. By all accounts, there are scorch marks on the inside ceiling of the tower room left by his oil lamp. Legend says you can see light flickering through the vertical slots which surround the turret--his ghost, still reading in his favorite spot. During the day he is reputed to chill the air and make noises in an attempt to make students behave.

These days the tower is occupied by fourteen bells: twelve E flats, an A sharp, and a G sharp. The Es were gifts from the classes of 1906-14, while the A and G were installed in 2003. They chime every fifteen minutes--the definitive OSU campus sound.

Orton's other ghost is said to be that of a prehistoric man with "humped back, thick hair, and a protruding forehead" which is supposed to slam doors, bang on things, and make noises since he can't speak. Is this the ghost of a football player? Or does it have something to do with the geological museum?

I have had a Geology class in Orton Hall but I never once saw or heard anything supernatural, not even when poking around the museum alone after dark. I've also occupied a bench on the Oval and watched the bell tower long enough that I think I know what everybody's seeing. The tower is illuminated from within by powerful spotlights, and when the weather is warm, moths fly through the beams and light up like flames, just for a second. When I first saw this I thought for one hopeful second that I was seeing President Orton, but as usual there was a more real-world explanation. Not that there always has to be, of course. Explore Orton Hall for yourself sometime (it's always open during college hours) and let me know if you see anything else.

OSU Hauntings
OSU.edu: Orton Hall




Lymanstall, Carrie. "Geological Secrets Abound in Orton Hall." The Lantern. May 14, 2001.

McIntyre, Melanie. "Beyond the Building: Orton Hall." The Lantern. July 3, 2003.

Smith, Robin. Columbus Ghosts II. Worthington, OH: Emuses, Inc., 2003. pp. 85.