By Elizabeth Newton
On the morning of October 21, 2015, John Conway sent a campus-wide email with the subject line, “Goodman Hall room fire—no injuries.” The email was brief, stating that a baseball cap fell onto a lit candle, starting the fire. The fire department came, and no one was hurt. If you’re not one of my close friends, chances are you’ve heard a few different interpretations of what happened.
My version of this story is a bit obscure and probably hard to believe for most. With stuff like this, there usually isn’t much proof, but I swear on it. Believe me if you will. Or not. Either way, I highly advise you not to mess with Ouija boards.
And be careful when you light candles.
So here’s what happened that morning: I woke up early, drank some coffee, and went to the HAC (not something that usually happens that early in the day). I got back at around 8 a.m., started doing some laundry, and lit a candle. After putting my clean sheets on my bed, I decided to do the dishes. It was going to be a good day, I thought. But while I was scrubbing my coffee cup, the fire alarm went off. I ran into my room and saw that my Sal & Mookies hat where I worked at the time was on fire next to the candle. It was a tiny fire, so I grabbed the hat from my desk in my bedroom and ran to the bathroom, which is connected but separated from the bedroom by a door, where I ran it through some sink water and effectively extinguished the fire (or so I thought). Now my problem was the fire alarm which, in Goodman dorms, only goes off in individual rooms. My roommate at the time was upstairs, in a friend’s room, so I ran up there to ask her what I should do and she told me that if the fire was out, the alarm would just stop.
I ran back downstairs to a decent sized fire in my bedroom. The door separating my room from the living room was on fire. It was propped open, so I managed to run through the burning door to the bedroom. Oddly, there was a plastic storage bin full of water nearby, so I grabbed it and threw it on the fire and ran to the bathroom to refill it. I managed to extinguish a good portion of the fire on the door, but it had spread to the wall and I was essentially trapped in the bedroom. Between running back and forth from the tub to the (now) burning wall and door, I frantically called 911. By the way, if something like this ever happens to you, don’t call 911. Call campus security. The fire department–like Jimmy John’s–doesn’t always know which entrance to use and how exactly to get to you.
This part I don’t remember so well, and so here is my roommate’s account: she ran downstairs, saw smoke coming out of the door to our room, and despite our then RA’s 100 percent reasonable attempt to prevent her from going into the burning room, yelled, “my best friend is in there!” For this, I am forever indebted to her.
She ran in and said most of the fire was out, but that I was just standing there, in the bedroom, with a very strange, blank look on my face. The fire department then arrived and did what firemen do, MAJOR props to the JFD because they got there quick and were amazing, while I sat outside on the curb outside, in shock.
So here’s what is weird about the situation: the candle, which started the fire, was on my desk on one side of the room. The infamous baseball cap was hanging on my bedpost on the opposite side of the room. The door that caught on fire was not in my path when I ran the inflamed hat to the bathroom sink. It didn’t add up.
And here’s how I make sense of it: The previous weekend, two of my closest friends and I decided to do a Ouija board in the graveyard next to Millsaps. A few years prior, I made the Ouija board and did it in a supposedly haunted, abandoned house in my hometown. The Ouija board ritual, which we found on a creepy website online, consists of gathering in a circle around some small candles, while putting all of our index and middle fingers on a shot glass on the alphabet letters written on the board. The shot glass is supposed to organically move and spell something, which would allegedly be the spirit whom we are trying to get it touch with breaking through to the material world. Nothing notable happened, except a friend moving the glass on his own spelling, “RUN.” We laughed it off and called it a night. This time, my friends and I walked from grave to grave doing the ritual, using the names written on the graves. We chose which graves to do the board on based on how old they were when they died. One of my friends, just joking around, was being pretty callous towards the graves. The last grave we did the ritual on was someone who had died young, a baby girl. One of us lit the candle and the flame shot up a few inches higher than normal and as my friend went to light her cigarette, it lit like a match but a bigger flame, similar to the candle. But it lit, and after she took her first puff she said that something was off, that it was sort of hollow, like a straw. My other friend and I tested it, and agreed. After that, we were a bit spooked and decided to go in. A few days later, my room caught on fire.
I’m writing this two years later, on the anniversary of “the fire.” I joke about it now. I’m the girl that started “the Goodman fire.” But it wasn’t a joke after the $4,000+ of damage. We aren’t allowed to have candles for a reason, but this was weird. I took full responsibility for what happened because you can’t pin something like that on a ghost. Most of my friends just think I’m being silly, but there are some people in the world that have a closer connection with the spiritual realm than others. I believe that now. Since the incident, a few odd things have happened and I just try to brush them off. Maybe I have that connection. But I’m not exactly looking to find out.
I guess you never really know if you’re one of those people until you experience something like I did. But I highly advise you not to mess with Ouija boards or anything similar. I’ve got a scar on my arm from a piece of that hat, reminding me of that day, for better or for worse. And you know, humans are the ones who get burned and pay fines. Not spirits.
The Girl Who Started the Fire