The ghost of Old Lady Armstrong
In 1985, after years of fist fights, class disruptions, poor grades, visits to the principle’s office and conferences with teachers who simply refused to deal with me anymore, my parents decided it was time to take a different approach to my schooling.
Taking a suggestion from the principle, my parents decided that I would attend a boarding school. It was believed that a more structured and disciplined environment was what I needed. I can say now, looking back, that it worked; for the most part, my grades and attitude did improve. Still, I cannot say that I didn’t occasionally get into a bit of trouble.
Morris School for Boys was a Catholic boarding school nine miles west of Searcy. It was run by Franciscan monks at the behest of the Diocese of Little Rock. It was founded in 1921 by then-Bishop John B. Morris, hence its name.
Like most old school campuses, Morris had its share of stories and legends about the people who owned the land before it was a school. As it turns out, Morris school sat on the site of what was once a health resort called Armstrong Springs, named after its owner and founder.
The resort operated during the 1880’s and was run much like the other resorts of Hot Springs. People would travel to the resort to consume or bathe in the waters of the springs, which were believed by the local Native American tribes to have healing properties.
One of the legends of the school centered around Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong, whose graves were said to be underneath the dining hall floor. The Armstrong’s ghosts were said to haunt the campus.
Reports of sightings dated back to the beginning of the school. These tales were passed down by word of mouth through each generation of students and grew more exaggerated with each telling. As a twelve-year-old boy, I was both fascinated and frightened by these tales, and so was my friend Tomain.
If there was one thing a student at Morris could never complain of, it was boredom. The campus was equipped with sports fields, a tennis court and a gymnasium which boasted its own video arcade, canteen with vending machines and television room, but the coolest thing it had was an indoor pool.
Like most swimming pools, this one had rules. Coach Max enforced the rules. Coach was burly man with a cop mustache, and often with a surly disposition. One of the coach’s unwritten rules was that the last two boys dressing after leaving the pool had to take all the day’s wet towels across campus, in the dark, to the laundry room.
Did I mention it was dark? The campus had outdoor lights, but they were spread out, leaving some parts unlit. When you are out in the country, miles away civilization, let me tell you it can get pretty dark.
It was December and Tomain and I were the last two boys dressing one night after swimming, so we got stuck with towel duty.
Making our way across campus, we began to converse on the subject of the ghost of Old Lady Armstrong. I don’t know exactly what happened, but I remember a moaning noise. I took it to be the wind, but it caused Tomain to look over his right shoulder. He screamed an expletive, dropped his side of the baskets and began to run, which startled me.
I dropped the baskets and ran like hell. I didn’t even look back to see what we were running from. If it was bad enough to scare Tomain, I sure as hell wasn’t sticking around to find out what it was.
The next day, we were confronted by an angry Coach Max. Not only did he not buy our ghost story; he also made us recover the frozen towels and help the laundry staff unthaw and wash them.
We caught all kinds of flack from the other guys about being afraid of the dark and leaving the towels out to freeze. It was a running joke for a long time. After that, Coach Max made us drop off the towels every night for the rest of the school year, whether we were swimming or not.
I learned a couple of things from that incident. One, don’t be the last guy dressing after leaving the pool. Two, you have to be careful about following other people, no matter how convincing they are. You have to check things out for yourself or you might end up not only catching a lot of flack for being stupid, but with the proverbial “towel duty” as well.