Urban legends or myths usually involve a mysterious story or rumour that is widely accepted as true but isn’t always based on fact. Some well-known examples include the Tokoloshe, Slenderman and Bloody Mary. The University of Pretoria has many scary, fascinating and entertaining legends, from hauntings to Jacaranda fever, but many seem to have been forgotten by the majority of students. One of the most well-known hauntings on Campus is the infamous fifth floor of the Humanities building and even though the beliefs students have about Jacarandas are not exactly a scary urban legend, many students have cherished their beliefs around them. The scarier and creepier legends had to be dug out of the hidden nooks, crannies and minds of UP students and staff. Many, if not most of these myths cannot be proven factually and are based on rumours and stories that have been circulating the campus for years. UP Campus Tours shared some myths and legends they’ve heard of and learned about and that they do not share on normal campus tours.

Image: Pxhere

The Star-crossed nun

It is rumoured that a nun uses UP’s war tunnels to move around campus and frighten students. According to Maxine Werth, an Honours student in Heritage and Cultural Studies, from Public Relations at UP Campus Tours, “the premise of the story goes that there was a nun and a monk back when we had a monastery and a nunnery and that is where the story of the forbidden love started.” The nunnery was allegedly at Nerina and the Monastery was stationed at the Chapel. Danolien van der Berg, an Honours student in Heritage and Cultural studies, from Human Relations at UP Campus Tours added that “The nun had a very tragic end to her life […] she doesn’t haunt the campus, but she moves around on campus […] there are war tunnels that are said to open on the grounds of Nerina, so it is said that she uses these war tunnels to move around on campus.” Nerina students reported having allegedly seen her around campus in the general area of Nerina and the Drama building.


Image: OpenLibrary – Anna Neethling-Pohl





Lost Lady of Drama

The sightings of a female ghost near the Drama department might be that of another legendary figure, Anna Neethling- Pohl, a South African actress, film producer and author, who died in 1992 at the age of 86. She was an influential Drama lecturer at UP from the 1950s to the 1970s. She did not die in Pretoria, but “… the drama kids will tell you that Anna Neethling-Pohl moves around the drama department,” relays van der Berg. Whether she haunts the Drama Department or not, her legend continues to live on through her work and influence.

The frightening fifth floor

The story of the fifth floor in Humanities building is a classic myth on campus and there are many variations to an already vague story and has become mixed with other legends such as the Star-crossed nun and monk. There is no official story about what happened on the fifth floor that made it haunted. Van der berg tells us that “…the elevators used to open on the fifth floor, at first it was just black plastic covering everything, and you could kind of see behind the gate and first years would all freak out because they believe it is haunted […] but it is just the archives […]. That is what is on the fifth floor.” Yet students really believe it is haunted and Werth asks whether “… you have ever noticed that the elevator does, as it goes past the fifth floor, like a little shake and then there is a cool shiver that passes by you?” Van Der Berg responds by saying that “The myth has definitely had an effect on the fifth floor of the humanities and the reaction people have towards it”.

Secret rooms and hidden passageways

There are bound to be hidden rooms and passageways on campus that have been used for less than savoury activities or remain completely mysterious. “Underneath the campus, they have a big collection of plants and dried out species, maybe some taxidermy animals […] it is just kind of scary to think there is a vault […] Kind of like a grave for science artefacts,” Werth says. She also told PDBY that there is a “… trap-door or basement underneath Kya Rosa and people wonder what exactly happened under the trap door […] but we found bottles there […] So you can only guess what was going on…” Kya Rosa is the first building the university was based in, Werth said, “and was dismantled from Skinner street and moved here in 1985, complete with the exact same furnishings, because the university wanted to preserve it.” Werth then revealed an entrance to a hidden passage in the Humanities building behind a closet door “… this really scare s us […] but there is this creepy closet over here, and we do not know where it leads to […] but we swear that this cold air rises up from the fifth floor […] It is creepy, cold and sometimes you hear moaning in there as well.” It is a bare concrete, dusty and dark passage that leads to an unknown point in the building.



Giovanna Janos

Century-old War Tunnels

The war tunnels are claimed to be real by UP Campus Tours but the UP Archives have no documents to confirm their existence. One of these tunnels can supposedly be accessed around the area of the Chapel and allegedly opens up in Nerina, they were built as an emergency escape route during WW1. WW1 occurred from 1914 until 1918 which means that if the tunnels were built as an escape route during the war, they are now over a hundred years old. Werth thinks that they “…are kept secret because the university does not want students to go underneath.” Van der Berg and Werth go on to explain that “…the tunnels are now closed off under the campus […] some say that the engineering students get to go into one section of the tunnels […] apparently the war tunnels on the engineering side of campus are used for big machines and workshops […] but this is not confirmed and could be just another student myth […] but this only scratches the surface of the actual war tunnels that go underneath this campus and nobody has gone through them in years.”

Legendary stories

Some legends on campus aren’t necessarily scary and haunting some are legendary stories involving what students did. One story is about the fountain with the buck in front of the Old Arts Building which was altered to make the pool smaller in the aftermath of the behaviour of some of the students. Werth explains that “ around the 1980s, students decided that they were going to throw as much washing powder and bubble bath into the pool and make as much foam as possible. It foamed up the entire place all the way up to the engineering building […] And then the Rector decided that such a big pool wasn’t necessary”.

Flower Power

Lastly, the Jacaranda trees have a special place in the heart of UP students and there are various beliefs around them. The most prevalent belief is that if a Jacaranda flower falls on your head that means you will have good luck, and if a Jacaranda falls on your head after you wrote your test, you will pass. Around the time of the 1960s to the 1980’s “…students loved sitting underneath the Jacaranda trees and sometimes they would shake it and get a Jacaranda flower to fall on their head…” Werth explains. The stories students have about Jacarandas have changed over many years but still remain a prominent superstition students have. In 1945, the 5 October edition of “Die Perdeby” reported that “Jacaranda fever afflicts Tukkies, student activities totally disrupted…” the documents from UP Archives further expresses that, “hundreds of students had been gravely afflicted and their condition was critical – confined to the chairs in front of thei r desks.” This piece describes how students would be busy studying for their exams when the Jacarandas bloom. Werth adds to that with a related myth which states that “… if the Jacaranda trees are blooming … and you have not started studying for exams you are going to fail”. Urban myths and legends can be found throughout the world and they are sometimes frightening and unsettling but can also be light-hearted. Today, many students do not know about these urban legends and myths that can be found on Campus but those that survived over the years in the minds of students are continually retold and moulded. It will be interesting to see what the urban legends at UP will look like in 50 years. Some students and staff frequenting the campus today might be legends tomorrow.






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