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The ghost of Polly Hawley?
Some believe her presence
is felt in Mackay Hall at Park University


(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a series of three Park University ghost stories from Carolyn McHenry Elwess, archivist for the university in Parkville at its historic 1875 campus)

by Carolyn Elwess
Park University archivist

As mentioned in other tales of incorporeal presences, I am convinced that those devoted and strong willed founders and subsequent leaders, professors, staff members who both created and maintained this institution over the past 142 years do, indeed, remain or return at times to see how their beloved campus is faring.

One of them is Pauline “Polly” Hawley, the wife of our third president Dr. Frederick W. Hawley. Dr. Hawley is remembered for his keen organizational skills and his talent for highly successful fund raising. During his tenure, (1915-1937), several of the buildings that still stand on campus were funded, planned and erected and remain in use today. Older, tired buildings were thoroughly remodeled, including the venerable Mackay Hall.

There are many stories about strange occurrences in Mackay – a sudden whiff of perfume in an empty room; doors closing by themselves and feelings that someone is present in an otherwise empty room.

Originally, there was a large open stairway in Mackay, located where the elevator and fire stairs were installed in 1994. The staircase was wood and the treads were creaky – all the way up to the third floor. People who worked in Mackay at night have often spoken of hearing someone climbing the squeaky stairs--but when they peeked out to see who it was saw no one.

During Park's 50th anniversary celebration held in June, 1925, the alumni announced they had raised $3,000 toward the redecoration of Mackay Hall and promised to raise more. Over the summer, Polly oversaw a complete remodel of Mackay Hall which included rewiring and re-plumbing in addition to rehabbing tired hallways and classrooms. As reported in the November, 1925 Alumniad: “The basement which had grown so damp, dingy and uninviting is now clean, bright with new paint and cheerful in appearance. Its walls have been made waterproof to protect against dampness and former laboratories have been transformed into classrooms and offices. A room has been provided for the college band and stairway and toilets have been provided to better advantage. On the first floor still more extensive improvements are in evidence; new oak floors and stairways, new doors of attractive patterns, electric wires concealed and windows made weatherproof and rattle proof. As a touch of refined beauty to catch the eye as one enters the building, richly colored stained glass windows are seen on the stairway landings. Dr. Findlay's room [the east end of the hall, now the University Advancement suite] has been made over into offices for the President and the Dean.

“The total amount expended thus far is $13,000 of which the alumni have paid or pledged $4,487. The balance has been borrowed. Dr. Hawley says that $4,000 more will put the second floor in as good shape as the first and thus the job will be finished.”

Polly also wrote about the summer's work, noting that she spent every day alongside the workers:
“Day by day through the long hot summer we worked out the Mackay to be. It was a wonderful day when finally the last of the old plaster was off, the damp around the walls, inner and outer, of the entire basement completed and the construction really begun. The hammers now had the sound of music and each daily trip (excuse me! Trips I should say) revealed that which delighted and encouraged. But all this preparatory work brought us to within a month of the opening of school. Would we be ready? We had to be! September eighth loomed ever before us – it didn't seem possible we could be ready for the 500 students then but we were!

“Such a contrast to that early day in June, then quiet almost eerie halls, dreary, broken………..old……and now, the gladness of new everywhere. Sunlight, where it had not penetrated before, conveniences such as we had hitherto fumbled along without. Classrooms gleaming with new walls and floors. New offices for the student publications. New book rooms which the YMCA skillfully conducts to help mutually impecunious pocketbooks. How grateful we are for it all!! (Park College Record, October 31, 1925).

It should be obvious from the tone of her writing that Polly threw all her energy into the renovation of Mackay and the same was true of her involvement with the rehabbing of Old Alumni Hall and Old McCormick chapel. She also helped design and decorate the 1918 Copley Hall dormitory, Thompson Commons, Herr House, both built in 1927, and the 1931 Graham Tyler Memorial Chapel.

Very few details of the campus escaped her attention and her hands-on labor during the Hawley tenure.

Regardless, the huge remodel of Mackay Hall was her obsession that hot summer in 1925, and in my opinion, the creakings, perfume and unseen presence that so many people have remarked about over the years are manifestations of the benign shade of Polly Hawley, whose indomitable spirit while she was alive enhanced the Park University campus for the many subsequent generations of the Park family that have walked in her footsteps.

Can you blame her for returning from time to time to see what things look like now? She would cheer at the improvements, I think.

After their retirement in 1937, Polly and Dr. Hawley built a home at 1104 Main Street (still standing) and lived there until their deaths – Dr. Hawley on July 29, 1953 and Polly on Dec. 3, 1954. Both are buried in the Park family section of Walnut Grove Cemetery located on Hwy. 6, just north of downtown Parkville.

She never left us.

Mackay staircase in 1994.

Mackay Hall circa 1910.