Some students may not know that behind the quaint rocking chairs on the porch Sanford Hall, the quaint, brick residence hall on campus, hides a grisly history.
Some say that the ghost of Cookie, the affectionate nickname given to Betty Jean Cook by classmates at the Georgia State College for Women, haunts the residence hall many students come to call home for their school year.
“We would close it [our closet doors] and sometimes they would lock and sometimes we would come back and they were open,” said Hannah Kate Mulanax, a sophomore outdoor education major who lived in Sanford as a freshman. “We were laying on the floor doing homework, and we heard a woman singing, [which] was interesting because we were the only women on our floor.”
Some residents on the second floor of Sanford Hall report hearing footsteps and sounds above their heads, while they were residents on the second floor.
Cook attended the Georgia State College for Women from 1948 to 1952 when she allegedly committed suicide.
In a 1950s yearbook, Cookie is photographed wearing equestrian gear, indicating that she was probably on the equestrian team. Other records show that Cookie suffered from back pain, which some have speculated came from falling off of a horse. The pain caused her to feel trapped in her own body, and some speculate that it is the reason Cookie committed suicide.
In addition to the equestrian team, Cookie was largely involved in the Department of Theatre and Dance, serving as president of the theatre sorority Alpha Psi Omega while holding leadership roles in other clubs across campus. She was a biology major with plans to attend medical school.
Cook also made the Dean’s list a few times during her time at GSCW and was considered very popular among students.
Special Collections Graduate Assistant Jessica Mcquain speculates that Cookie’s death was a murder, not a suicide. She said that she believes that Cookie could have been murdered in 1952. When Cookie was found, she had cuts on her arms, elbows and neck, and that if one area had already been cut, she would not have had the strength to make the other cuts, opening the possibility of murder.
Cookie was also reported to have a boyfriend, who was away at the time, and when he arrived in town, he called Sanford Hall, and heard the news from roommates.
Bob Wilson, university historian at GC, said that he has been interested in Cookie’s story for years. In 2004, Wilson spent the night in the third floor area of the building, and did not experience anything until the morning when he said he woke with an electrical-like tingling sensation felt all over his body.
Wilson said that several years back he also visited the Baldwin County Coroner’s office, and talked to the coroner with information in Cookie’s death certificate. Wilson said that the coroner wouldn’t write off the possibility of murder, based on what was reported in the death certificate.
Mcquain believes that if she were to cut her neck, she would bleed out too quickly, and not be able to cut her wrists. When she cut her wrists, Mcquain infers that she would not have the strength to cut her elbows or neck after.
Mcquain also mentioned lights randomly turning off, hearing noises and creaks from the empty floor above her. Her closet door seemed to lock itself numerous times.
Mulanax said that she heard loud footsteps late at night, that sounded like boots hitting the floor.
Lauren Butera, a junior biology major, who is also a Community Advisor of Sanford Hall said that she bought “ghost-hunting equipment” to search for the ghost of Cookie. She bought a “spirit box” that scans radio frequencies in the air and translates anything heard into words and an electronic magnetic frequency (EMF) meter that scans for areas of high electromagnetic frequency in the area, and spikes and goes off when frequencies are found.
Butera said she carried the EMF meter around her room it meter “went berserk” when she scanned her closet.
On a separate occasion, Butera was let into the third floor of Sanford Hall with a police officer, and scanned the areas in the upstairs region. She mentioned that nothing went off, except for when they went into the room where Cookie allegedly committed suicide.
“We went into Cookie’s room and we asked her a bunch of questions, and said touch it for ‘yes’ or don’t touch it for ‘no,’” Butera said. “She said that they asked a bunch of questions but nothing happened, and then one girl asked ‘Do you regret killing yourself?’ and the thing [device] started going of like crazy, lighting up and beeping. It was really sad.”
Harold Mock, director of Leadership Programs and assistant professor of history, was a former resident and Community Advisor at Sanford, said that many people in the ‘50s viewed suicide as a moral failure.
Mock said that during the ‘50s, the senior residence hall was Ennis Hall, but the building could not accommodate all of them, and a few seniors, including Cookie, lived at Sanford Hall with underclassmen. He said that Sanford was located near Nesbitt Woods which was essentially like living off campus in a building in the woods, and could have been alienating.
Mock also said that students at school were under “In Loco Parentis” which is Latin for “in place of the parent”, and this was a legal responsibility held by the college president, and enforced by dorm mothers. Students couldn’t leave campus when they wanted to, and couldn’t have visitors without written permission from higher powers. Because of this, Mock explained that life in the residence halls was much different and formed more of a community among the girls.
He said that when Cookie allegedly committed suicide, the effect of this action was felt powerfully across the GSCW campus, because the system in place had essentially failed.
The most commonly accepted story is that Cookie had carried a mattress to the third floor, which was still accessible but not used, and would sit alone and self harm, out of the view of friends and roommates.
On April 5, 1952, during the Pilgrimage tour and Pageant, a local event, Cookie made a mistake while self harming and cut too deep.
She lost lots of blood quickly, and was found bleeding and in shock by friends who called emergency services. Cookie was carried out of the building and was reported to have said “Don’t let me die,” but when she arrived at the hospital, she had lost too much blood, and died on the operating table.