Bryn Mawr College Dorm

Most colleges have their fair share of spooky stories. possibly sparked by the high emotions of the average college student. Some of the stories told on campuses are undoubtedly urban legends, but some have a real basis in historical fact. Such is the story of Lilliam Vickers whose spirit is said to haunt College Hall, her former dormitory. [Note: it might actually be Merion Hall that she haunts.}

Lillian apparently believed that she had leprosy and sought to effect her own cure by covering her entire body with alcohol. One way or another, she caught on fire and ran down the hall from the bathroom near her room, covered in flames. Though hall mates rushed to cover the burning girl in blankets to smother the flames, their efforts failed and Lillian died of her injuries a few hours later. It was December 20, 1901.

Though there was some speculation that Lillian's death was a suicide, but an article appearing in the New Oxford Item on 12/27/1901, denies the suicide claim.

New Oxford Item: 12/27/1901

Girl Burned to Death

Fair Student at Bryn Mawr College Roasted Alive

Philadelphia, Dec. 21. Miss Lillian Vickers, of Los Angelas, Cal., a young student at Bryn Mawr College, was burned to death yesterday in her room in College Hall. The girl was fairly roasted alive, her entire body being charred to a crisp.

Just how the accident occurred no one is able to say. Miss Vickers retired to the bathroom, situated near her own apartment. Half an hour later she came rushing forth, enveloped in flames, screaming for help. Several of her fellow students ran to her assistance and endeavored to beat out the flames, which were gradually but surely consuming the entire person of the young girl. Like a flaming torch the unfortunate girl ran about the hallway, while the frantic students who had responded to her cries for help, threw shawls, wraps and blankets over the burning girl in their efforts to smother the flames.

Medical assistance was promptly summoned, but when the physicians arrived, Miss Vickers was unconscious from the terrible burns. The flames had been beaten out, but not before the skin was charred to a crisp.

The girl was taken to her room and everything possible was done to alleviate her suffering. Miss Vickers lingered for about five hours, and died without regaining consciousness.

It was said that Miss Vickers, believing that she was suffering from leprosy, covered her skin with alcohol to remove the disease. She poured a large quantity of the spirits on her, and while thus covered the alcohol caught fire, and before she could help herself was enveloped in a mass of flames. Another rumor had it that Miss Vickers committed suicide but this was strongly denied.


Most of the papers covering this story followed the lines above pretty closely, but the Philadelphia Inquirer told a rather different story, probably due to the family's reputation and wealthy connections.


Philadelphia Inquirer: 12/21/1901

Girl Student Fatally Burned in Bath Room

Her Robe Catches Fire from Fallen Match and Death Follows Quickly

Cries for Help Heard

Those Who Ran to her Rescue Found her Lying in a Swoon


Had Been an Inmate of Bryn Mawr College for Three Years


Bryn Mawr, Pa., Dec. 20. Miss Lillian Vickers, one of Bryn Mawr College.s most popular students, was so badly burned by the ignition of her bath robe this morning that she died a few hours later from her injuries. No one was present at the time, but the college authorities and Coroner Ashton, of Montgomery County, agreed on the theory that the young woman dropped a match which ignited the rug beneath her feet.


As was her custom, Miss Vickers went to her bathroom in Merion Hall shortly before 8 o'clock this morning. A few minutes later the students on the floor heard her scream for help. The frantic cry was also heard by Miss Hilles, who had charge of the hall, and with several other young women she ran to the bath room. Miss Vickers had fallen in a swoon upon the floor. A few burning remnants of her robe lay by her side.


Word was immediately sent to Dr. Christy, of Bryn Mawr, who came in all haste to the scene. Although he labored with her until 1 o'clock, his efforts were futile. The young student died at 1.15 without being able to tell how the sad accident had occurred.


No Inquest Necessary


Her body was removed to the undertaking establishment of J. W. Pierce, of Ardmore and Coroner Ashton, of Norristown, notified. He arrived at the college at 8 o'clock tonight and after an investigation aid that the evidences of death were so purely accidental that he did not consider an inquest necessary.


The college authorities and the Coroner joined in the opinion that a match which Miss Vickers had evidently dropped to the floor was the origin of the blaze that caused her death. This theory was decided upon inasmuch as a  half-burned rug near the faucets of the bath tub was found on the floor and that her flesh was burned most severely at the extremities.


Her Father Wealthy


Miss Vickers was 22 years old and the daughter of John L. Vickers of Los Angelas, California, who is an extensive ranch owner in Arizona. he went West from Pennsylvania about 20 years ago. His daughter, however, had spent much of her time in Philadelphia with her aunt, Mrs. S. L. Oberholtzer, of 1905 Tioga street. She prepared for college at the Philadelphia Collegiate Institute and entered Bryn Mawr College three years ago. Miss Vickers was in the junior class and one of its most talented members. She was given particularly to literature and had done much in a literary way.


Miss Vickers was a charming brunette and was well-known in Philadelphia social circles. It was her intention tomorrow to leave for New York, where she expected to spend a portion of the holidays.


No arrangements for her funeral will be made until tomorrow, when advice is expected from her parents in Los Angelas.


The 1900 census shows her as 21 years old, residing at Bryn Mawr, having been born in New Jersey. It appears that an older sister Florence may have been attending Bryn Mawr at the same time as she also appears on the census at age 26. Though their parents are not shown on the census, Lillian's father was born in Pa and her mother in Illinois. A little further research turns both girls up in the 1880 census in Illinois, living with their mother Anna C. Vickers and their maternal grandmother, Hannah Childs. The father, John, is shown in 1880 as a resident of Tombstone village in Pima, Arizona.

As an interesting side light on this story, the Pennocks of Primitive Hall site states that a letter was written to Lillian's father by M. Carey Thomas, Bryn Mawr president at the time, in which he stated that her death had been a suicide and that for several weeks leading up to her death, she had been withdrawn and depressed, believing herself to have leprosy, contracted from a visiting missionary. Thomas had assigned two girls to keep watch over her, but on the day of her death, she had alluded her chaperones, doused herself with alcohol and set herself on fire.