During the Fall 2020 semester, Michigan State University’s Campus Archaeology Program (CAP) adapted their yearly Apparitions and Archaeology: A Haunted Campus Tour to address the present realties of the COVID-19 pandemic and a mostly closed campus. The tour has grown every year since its inception in 2014 and was attended by over two hundred people in 2019. Director Dr. Stacey L. Camp and outgoing Campus Archaeologist Autumn Painter knew CAP had to keep up the tradition, as it is one of their largest outreach events of the fall semester. They decided to create a virtual version of the tour that would allow the public from afar to explore the haunted and historic spaces on campus. Autumn Painter and other CAP graduate student fellows had previously created virtual exhibits as part of CAP’s ever-growing digital cultural heritage initiatives, but the online haunted tour turned out to be the largest they have created thus far.
Over the course of ten weeks, from late May until July 2020, CAP fellows Rhian Dunn and Jeff Burnett developed an interactive virtual tour using an open-source story telling tool called Twine. Twine provides developers an efficient way to create “choose your own adventure”-style stories that audience members can explore in their own way. One advantage of the online tour is that they could include all eight sites that CAP has investigated over the years: Beaumont Tower, Sleepy Hollow, Saints’ Rest, Beal Garden, and more! When running the in-person tour, CAP typically showcases and presents five sites at a time.
The virtual tour was designed to give participants a choice in the content they wished to explore. The tour consists of twenty-five main pages featuring the eight historical sites and their attendant archaeological and haunted stories. Each page features a link to several of the forty-seven additional pages, allowing audience members to delve deeper into campus history. Additional links can be selected to return to the main sites or to continue exploring. Examples of these pages include: MSU’s “Sacred Space”, CAP’s celebrated Moore Artifact and the doll Mabel, and the history of fire and destruction on campus.
CAP’s virtual Apparitions and Archaeology: A Haunted Campus Tour was hosted on MSU’s Matrix: Center for Digital Humanities & Social Sciences and appeared on the front page of CAP’s website for the entire month of October. The event was publicized by CAP via their social media pages and by university partners including the MSU Alumni Office, the College of Social Science, the MSU Paranormal Society, and the Department of Anthropology. Discussion of the tour and interviews with CAP members appeared in the State News, MSU Today, and even on WILX TV10. This advertisement prompted four hundred forty-nine unique views on CAP’s blog post hosting the links to the tour, making it their fourth most visited page of all time. In collaboration with the MSU Alumni Office, they also had a live Question & Answer event featuring video content on the tour, which was developed by the MSU Alumni Office and the College of Social Science. The Campus Archaeology Program is immensely pleased with the results of the tour and they send our most sincere thanks to everyone who contributed to its great success.
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