The ghost of Daisy Williams is set to make her cable television debut Wednesday night. But will her disgraced uncle steal the show?
Tune in to SyFy’s new “paranormal docu-series” called “School Spirits” at 10 p.m. July 18 to find out. The fourth episode of the series, “Ghostly Girls’ School,” is all about Sweet Briar. It will feature some familiar faces, although none of the footage was filmed on campus.
The stories are based on eyewitness accounts and dramatized through re-enactments with professional actors. Among the several students and alumnae flown to New York to tell their tales were Dani Humphrey ’13 and Sarah Fletcher ’13. Excerpts of their interviews are included in a sneak peek on the show’s website, syfy.com/schoolspirits.
Historian Lynn Rainville and professor of religion Cathy Gutierrez were asked to provide historical context for the events described by witnesses. We’ll have to watch to find out who made it into the final cut.
Despite Daisy’s legendary hauntings on campus, the previews suggest it was a more sinister character who captured the producers’ attention. The show was created for SyFy by Seth and Julie Jarrett of Jarrett Creative Group and co-produced with Mark Burnett, of “Survivor” fame.
Seth Jarrett described the episode in a press release.
“They believe that the spirit who is haunting this group of women in the school is actually the daughter of the founder of the [college] from about 150 years ago,” Jarrett said.
“What is interesting about that story is it starts off with the women in the [college] believing that there is one spirit, a friendly spirit, who is haunting them. And then a second spirit appears later on in the experiences who has much different motives, more dangerous, violent motives, to the point where one of the women is almost strangled to death by this spirit.”
The second spirit would appear to be Lucian Fletcher, brother of Daisy’s mother and Sweet Briar founder Indiana Fletcher Williams. Gutierrez said the producers pressed in the interview to elicit a “little more sensational, a little more romantic, a little more swashbuckling” picture of Lucian.
Lucian’s legacy probably needs little further embellishment; some accounts make him out to be a bad character, indeed. What is known about him is that he was not in good graces when family patriarch Elijah Fletcher died in 1858, and he is the only one of four siblings to be cut out of their father’s will.
Gutierrez has said that some students who have seen the extended preview expressed surprise at the Lucian character.
“Students don’t really think of Sweet Briar as haunted in a scary sense,” she said, noting that old institutions always have a colorful past. “Our students tend to see the campus ‘ghosts’ as a connection with the school’s history.”
In contrast to some of the students, who described sitting in front of the camera for hours on a chilly warehouse set, Gutierrez mostly enjoyed the two-hour interview. And it afforded a free trip to New York, where she took advantage of the city’s museums. She was somewhat prepared for the experience, though.
“Lynn Rainville gave me the advice to go to the bathroom [beforehand] and to bring snacks,” she said, because the producers were so concerned with continuity. “Once you were on the stool you were not moving until you were done.”
They wanted to make sure her clothes didn’t shift, too, so they duct-taped her collar in place. That came back to, er, haunt her.
“They taped my collar down so effectively that hours later at a museum, I had a guard come up to me and peel it off my back,” she said.
Which led to a revelation.
“I was the weird person in New York.”