Northwestern State University recently installed a marker for Isabella, the university’s resident ghost. The marker is located on Normal Hill, the oldest part of the campus, near the three columns that were once part of the Bullard mansion.
The marker was paid for by a grant from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, which awards grants for Legends and Lore roadside markers.
Isabella is a beloved fixture at Northwestern and bridges the early history of the campus, when it was the site of the Academy of the Sacred Heart, to the modern day. Origin stories vary, but legend has it that Isabella has inhabited the campus since the Civil War era.
Prior to NSU’s establishment as the Louisiana State Normal School in 1884, the site of the campus was home to the Bullard family and a mansion the family completed in 1832. In 1850, the property was acquired by Bishop Auguste Martin who ceded the buildings and acreage to the Academy of the Sacred Heart for an expanded school and convent. The Academy operated for several years until declining enrollment in post-Civil War years forced its closure in 1875.
Isabella, according to legend, has occupied the campus’s oldest buildings since the days of the Sacred Heart Academy, moving locations as buildings burned or were torn down. When Caldwell Hall burned in 1982, more than 750 students gathered on Halloween night and performed a ceremony to aid Isabella in her transition to the Old Women’s Gymnasium, now home to the National Center of Preservation Technology and Training. But some sightings have been reported around Varnado Hall and the three columns on Normal Hill that are all that remain of the Bullard mansion.
NSU students will celebrate Halloweek beginning Monday, Oct. 23 with a series of events, including “Chasing Isabella” and the Myths and Legends event beginning at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 24 where they can learn more about Isabella and additional NSU lore.
On Oct. 31, 2019, NSU’s Student Government unveiled a portrait of Isabella painted by Camilo Mantilla, then a graduate student, that hangs in the Sylvan Friedman Student union. She is viewed by the NSU family as a spirit who watches, welcomes and helps preserve Northwestern’s rich history.