The Bethel: Home to the Intellectually Curious and Probably Paranormal

By Stephanie Huynh | Staff Writer | smh2026@jagmail.southalabama.edu |

What is a fancy church building doing in the middle of campus? Located across from the Moulton Tower and beside the Mobile Townhouse, the Seamen’s Bethel Chapel Theater, or the Bethel for short, currently houses the USA Honors Program. It’s also rumored to be haunted.

Established in 1860 at 65 Church Street in Mobile, AL, the Bethel served as a place for American seamen to sustain their spiritual and physical health during the Civil War (1861-1865). Later in the 1960s, the plot of land that it was on was cleared for the construction of the I-10 George C. Wallace Tunnel downtown. The Bethel was deconstructed and rebuilt on South’s campus in 1968 after the university and the Mobile Historic Development Commission worked together to preserve the building. Before it was used for the Honors Program, however, it served as the campus theater until the Laidlaw Performing Arts Center was constructed.

In a podcast produced by the Honors College in late 2020, students interviewed Honors College Academic Advisor Alan Sells and Dr. Douglas Marshall and discussed the history of the Bethel as well as its supposed haunting. At one point, Sells said, “I know that there are things that have happened in that building that I cannot explain and that others cannot explain, so I think that there is something very special about the Bethel regardless.” He recalled a time when he and his friend were scheduled to study together at the Bethel, but slammed doors and footsteps in the basement led them to relocate upstairs.

The Bethel is allegedly haunted by the ghosts of a former sea captain and a young girl who lingers in the basement. According to Sells, the Captain is an older man who wears a captain’s hat, but the girl doesn’t have any solid figure; she is felt rather than seen. The captain is rumored to have died while the Bethel was located in Downtown Mobile, but the young girl is said to have died during the Bethel’s Theatre days.

The lore behind the ghost of the young girl is that while her mother was busy in the theater, she often played in the boiler room where costumes were kept. Unfortunately, a fire broke out and the girl died near that same room. Most of her shenanigans take place near the boiler.

Sells recalled, “The girl likes to be tricksy. She likes to close doors. She likes to make the boiler hiss. She likes to close books. Sometimes, people have heard the faint rustling of clothes (…) and the clinking of clothes hangers.”

An unofficial source commented about a possible Bethel paranormal experience on an online thread. They wrote, “A friend took me to the [basement] of this building while we were studying. I had heard the stories but neither of us paid them much mind. While walking through the boiler room, looking for the spirit I said aloud, “This place isn’t haunted. There are no ghosts here!” A split second later the flywheel and belts on the boiler went crazy as the boiler kicked on. Coincidence? Probably, but scary still.”

On the other hand, Dr. Douglas Marshall believes that there are definitely other explanations for the spooky occurrences in the Bethel. He said, “Old buildings, even though [it’s] a reconstructed old building and especially those on this scale, there’s a lot of room here for things to groan and move.” He also mentioned that the number of reported noises in the Bethel severely decreased once the HVAC system was updated.

Sells reassured the Honors podcast crew that nobody has ever been harmed in the Bethel due to these apparent hauntings, and even reported that the Captain is known as a protective ghost.