Haunting Legislation–West Virginia

West Virginia State Penitentiary
818 Jefferson Avenue
Moundsville, West Virginia

N.B. According to this article from WTOV, the language in these bills covering the leases on the WV Penitentiary has been removed and the leases will remain in place in their current forms.

The biggest news in the Southern paranormal world in the past few days has been two pieces of legislation currently wending their way through the West Virginia state legislature. The bills, House Bill 4338 and Senate Bill 369, would terminate the current lease of the West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville held by the Moundsville Economic Development Council (MEDC). Furthermore, it would restrict leases to five years and allow the state to terminate a lease at any time. This threatens the use of the prison for tours, events, paranormal investigations, and seriously damages tourism in the northern region of the state.

The West Virginia State Penitentiary as seen from atop the Grave Creek Mound, 2016. Photo by Rhonda Humphreys, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The stern, Gothic edifice with a commanding view of the Ohio River has dominated the literal and economic landscape of the region for more than a century and a half. From its construction following the end of the Civil War, through years of housing the most dangerous inmates in the state and 94 executions, prison breaks, riots, and finally decommissioning in 1995 the Moundsville prison has been a major economic driver for the area. After the prison’s closure damaged the local economy, the Moundsville Economic Development Council signed a lease with the state department of corrections to employ the massive sandstone fortress in the tourism industry.

The MEDC opened the site for tours and eventually rolled out the red carpet for those wishing to explore the darker, paranormal side of the building. Paranormal television spread the gospel of the tremendous activity found throughout the building. Over the years, hundreds of investigators have walked among and interacted with the numerous spirits that continue to roam the halls of the West Virginia Penitentiary. In short, the site has become a paranormal mecca.

Several books have been written about the haunted prison including two excellent books by West Virginia investigator and writer Sherri Brake, and several articles by local paranormal blogger and investigator Theresa Racer. It should be noted that few hauntings become as well-known as to garner a single book, much less more than one book and numerous articles.

Despite all this interest, and the work conducted by MEDC to bring people to this often ignored region of West Virginia, legislators have not provided a reason for the inclusion of this action in the bills. In fact, there are a couple legislators who are working to remove the language regarding the prison from the bill. The bills are necessary to reform the state department of corrections, which is woefully in need of change; however, this change needs not have such a detrimental effect on the tourism industry in Moundsville.

Theresa Racer’s coverage of the WV State Penitentiary on her blog, Theresa’s Haunted History of the Tri-State.

Sources

Alabama Hauntings—County by County, Part II

One of my goals with this blog is to provide coverage of ghost stories and haunted places in a comprehensive manner. One of the best ways to accomplish that is to examine ghost stories county by county. So far, researching in this manner has been difficult. In my 2015 book, Southern Spirit Guide’s Haunted Alabama, I wanted to include at least one location for every county, though a lack of adequate information and valid sources prevented me from reaching that goal. In the end, my book was published covering only 58 out of 67 counties.

Further research has uncovered information for a few more counties and last Halloween, Kelly Kazek published an article on AL.com covering the best-known ghost story for every county. Thanks to her excellent research, I’ve been able to achieve my goal for the state.

See part I (Autauga County-Cherokee County) here.

Chilton County

Refuge Bridge
County Road 32 over Walnut Creek
Clanton

Stories of this rural, one lane bridge being haunted have spread across the internet for years. The only published source on this bridge, Rich Newman’s 2016 Haunted Bridges, appears to draw from these unverified reports. Visitors to the bridge at night are supposed to encounter ghost lights and a malevolent spirit that has been known to pursue those who dare to step out of their cars.

Sources

  • Newman, Rich. Haunted Bridges. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2016.

Choctaw County

Tombigbee River
Near Pennington

Year after year in the early spring, law enforcement near Pennington receives calls about a boat burning on the river. There was a boat that burned on the river near here in a spectacular fire in 1858, the famous Eliza Battle. The river had begun its annual journey outside its banks when the Eliza Battle set its course from Columbus, Mississippi to Mobile loaded with cotton and many passengers. Mrs. Windham describes the journey as starting on a gay note with a band playing as the ship steamed out of Columbus. As evening descended, fireworks were launched, but the weather soon deteriorated.

Tombigbee River below Moscow Landing in 1888, near the site of the Eliza Battle’s demise. Photo by Eugene Allen Smith.

The New York Times notes that a fire broke out around 2 AM on March 1st among the bales of cotton in the ship’s cargo hold. Spreading quickly, the fire severed the ship’s tiller rope rendering the vessel rudderless. As it burned, the boat drifted into the submerged forest along the banks of the river. Some of the passengers were able to grab onto the branches of the submerged trees while many others jumped into the frigid waters. Locals near the river were roused by the screams of the passengers and quickly organized to offer aid. The exact number of lives lost is still not known, but it estimated to be between 25 and 50. However, the burning Eliza Battle still reappears accompanied by the panicked screams of its passengers to remind us of the tragedy.

Sources

  • “Area rich in ghost stories, folk lore.” Demopolis Times. 30 October 2008.
  • “Burning of the Steamer Eliza Battle.” New York Times. 12 March 1858.
  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Ward, Rufus. “Ask Rufus: Ghosts of the Tombigbee.” The Dispatch (Columbus, MS). 25 October 2014.
  • Windham, Kathryn Tucker and Margaret Gillis Figh. 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama, 1969.

Clarke County

Mount Nebo Cemetery
Mount Nebo Road

The Alabama Ghost Trail website lists this rural cemetery as being haunted, though it seems that it may just be especially creepy. This cemetery features four unique gravestones created by local African-American inventor and “brilliant recluse” Isaac Nettles. In these gravestones for family members, Settles includes a “death mask” of the deceased and, in the case of his wife’s grave, the visages of their daughters. These faces, made from impressions done while the subjects were alive, appear to press through from inside the concrete markers. These markers are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and are at the heart of the folk art tradition in this state.

Sources

  • Ghost Trail.” SW Alabama Regional Office of Tourism and Film. Accessed 25 May 2015.
  • Semmer, Blythe and Trina Brinkley. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for the Isaac Nettles Gravestone. 24 August 1999.

Clay County

Hudson House (private)
Ashland

This abandoned farmhouse is not unlike the quietly decaying abandoned homes and buildings that line Southern byways, except that it is the only well-known haunting in this rural county. Constructed in 1905, this home was built by Charles and William Hudson for their brother, John. Visitors to the home have encountered the sounds of a baby crying, growling, and odd sounds emanating from within the empty house. While the address of this home has been widely publicized, please note that visiting this house without permission of the landowners does constitute trespassing.

Sources

Cleburne County

Bald Rock Group Lodge
Cheaha State Park
19644 AL-281
Delta

Nestled within the state’s oldest continuously operating state park, the Bald Rock Group Lodge was constructed as part of several park features built by workers of the New Deal-sponsored Civilian Conservation Corps in 1939. This historic structure was probed for paranormal activity by the Oxford Paranormal Society in 2007. The group captured some audio and video evidence including a replace lighting up mysteriously. Members of the investigative team also witnessed a door opening and then slamming shut by itself. This door was found to be dead bolted when the team examined it moments later.

Sources

  • Oxford Paranormal Society. Paranormal Investigation Report for Bald Rock Lodge—Mt. Cheaha. Accessed 21 May 2015.
  • Ress, Thomas V. “Cheaha State Park.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. 6 April 2010.
 

Coffee County

Old Coffee County Jail
329 Putnam Street
Elba

By their natures, jails and prisons often hold negative energy. As places of confinement, these places absorb the negative energy and attitudes from the criminals held here. The suicides and murders that sometimes take place within the walls of these facilities add to the negativity that accumulates. The Old Coffee County Jail has been the scene of several tragedies including suicides and the murder of the county sheriff here in 1979.

Built in 1912, this building served Coffee County for many decades until a flood in 1990 led to its closure. On the morning of March 1, 1979, as Sheriff C. F. “Neil” Grantham arrived for work, a young man approached and shot him three times, killing him just outside the building. The shooter was later apprehended and originally sentenced to death, though he was able to get his sentence commuted to life imprisonment.

Tragedy still haunts the halls of the jail which have been investigated by R.I.P. Investigations. Investigators have caught EVPs within the building as well as communicated with spirits through the use of a Spirit Box. One investigator encountered a malevolent entity which left three long scratches on his back.

Sources

Colbert County

Colbert Ferry Park
Natchez Trace Parkway Milepost 327.3
At the Tennessee River
Cherokee

As the Natchez Trace passed through the territory of the Chickasaw, a pair of native brothers and chiefs, George and Levi Colbert, set up “stands” or inns and a ferry across the river to provide for travelers. Later, the brothers’ surname would be used to name this county. The site of George Colbert’s stand and ferry is now Colbert Ferry Park.

Fire destroyed the stand many years ago, and nothing remains but spiritual activity. Here visitors have had their hair and clothing tugged, and they have heard disembodied voices. Author Bud Steed and his wife experienced some of this activity when they visited in 2011. Around the site, the woods continue to stalked by native spirits, and spectral canoes have been observed on the river.

Sources

  • Crutchfield, James A. The Natchez Trace: A Pictorial History. Nashville, TN: Rutledge Hill Press, 1985.
  • Steed, Bud. Haunted Natchez Trace. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2012.

Conecuh County

Castleberry Bank Building
Corner of Cleveland Avenue and West Railroad Street
Castleberry

Those who have been inside this building in the small town of Castleberry remark that there is a heaviness in the air. Lee Peacock, a local reporter and blogger, noted that the building gave him and the investigative team with him a sense of “claustrophobia.” Perhaps the feeling of dread and terror felt by a bank president during the Great Depression still pervades this place where he took his life.

The scent of cigar smoke and the low, muffled voices of men talking still cling to the air here. Originally constructed as a bank and serving later as a post office and town museum, the building is currently closed.

Sources

Coosa County

Oakachoy Covered Bridge site
Covered Bridge Road
Equality

Travelers on the road from Rockford, the seat of Coosa County, to Dadeville forded Oakachoy Creek here for decades. To aid travelers in crossing the creek, a small covered bridge was built here in 1916 and carried traffic across the creek until vandals burned the picturesque bridge in 2001.

While the bridge still stood, legend spoke of an African-American man being hung on this bridge. As a result of this heinous act, odd things would happen to vehicles parked on the bridge including door handles being shaken and engines dying inexplicably. With the loss of the bridge, this activity has expanded to the land around the bridge site and may include a shadow figure making its way through the forest.

Sources

  • Newman, Rich. Haunted Bridges. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2016.

Covington County

Old Covington County Jail
Behind the Covington County Courthouse
101 North Court Square
Andalusia

In contrast to the grace of the grand, Beaux Arts-style Covington County Courthouse, the building that once housed the jail is severe and linear, perhaps belying its residents’ fall from grace. The building is angular with a few Italianate touches to soften its harsh lines. The jail’s construction followed the completion of the courthouse in 1916. Among the many people whose shadows darkened the threshold, is country singer Hank Williams, who spent a few nights.

The old jail is now primarily the haunt of spirits. The Alabama Paranormal Research Team, led by Faith Serafin, probed the building twice in 2009 obtaining some interesting evidence. The group captured the distinct sound of cell doors closing and disembodied voices as well as observing a shadowy figure in an upper cell. When asked if she thought the building was haunted, Serafin told a local reporter, “That place is haunted beyond a shadow of a doubt. There’s too much evidence, and it’s haunted by more than a few ghosts.”

Sources

  • Conner, Martha A. & Steven M. Kay. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for Covington County Courthouse and Jail District. 28 January 1988.
  • Nelson, Stephanie. ”Ghostbusters.” Andalusia Star- News. 10 July 2009.
  • Serafin, Faith. Haunted Montgomery, Alabama. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.

Alabama Hauntings—County by County, Part I

One of my goals with this blog is to provide coverage of ghost stories and haunted places in a comprehensive manner. One of the best ways to accomplish that is to examine ghost stories county by county. So far, researching in this manner has been difficult. In my 2015 book, Southern Spirit Guide’s Haunted Alabama, I wanted to include at least one location for every county, though a lack of adequate information and valid sources prevented me from reaching that goal. In the end, my book was published covering only 58 out of 67 counties.

Further research has uncovered information for a few more counties and last Halloween, Kelly Kazek published an article on AL.com covering the best-known ghost story for every county. Thanks to her excellent research, I’ve been able to achieve my goal for the state.

Autauga County

Cross Garden
Autauga County Road – 86
Prattville

An odd collection of signs, crosses, and rusting appliances dots two hills along Autauga County Road 86; this is W. C. Rice’s Cross Garden, a testament to the South’s enduring religious fervor and one man’s personal religious devotion. After he was saved and healed of painful stomach issues in 1960, Rice began a journey to save those around him from eternal damnation. Created in 1976, the Cross Garden was maintained by Rice until his death in 2004.

Listed among Time Magazine’s “Top 50 American Roadside Attractions” in 2010, the Cross Garden has attracted a following fascinated with this place’s spiritual ambiance and the paranormal activity that supposedly permeates the area. There is a pair of visitors who claimed to have had their car held in place by an odd force. Others have heard strange sounds coming from some of the old appliances used in the display. Faith Serafin notes that in 2008 a man in a white robe seen stalking through the woods here.

Sources

  • Crider, Beverly. Legends and Lore of Birmingham and Central Alabama. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2014.
  • Cruz, Gilbert. “Miracle Cross Garden, Prattville, AL: Top 50 American Roadside Attractions.” Time Magazine. 28 July 2010.
  • Serafin, Faith. Haunted Montgomery, Alabama. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.

Baldwin County

Bay Minette Public Library
205 West 2nd Street
Bay Minette

Bay Minette Public Library, 2013, by Chris Pruitt. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

It is believed that the spirit of Bay Minette Public Library’s first librarian, Mrs. Anne Gilmer, is still on duty. A recent librarian encountered Mrs. Gilmer’s spirit while shelving books when she observed a book slowly pulling itself off a shelf and tumbling to the floor. This book was joined by others falling, by themselves, off the shelves. The librarian realized these books had been mis-shelved, and she returned the books to their proper places.

After her long tenure at the library, Mrs. Gilmer’s portrait was removed from its position above the library’s main desk. After some time, the portrait was returned to its original spot and employees began to notice the smell of roses. This same odor returns whenever something good happens in the library; perhaps as a sign of Mrs. Gilmer’s happiness. When the library was moved to the old Baptist church across the street, the librarian issued a verbal invitation for the ghost to join them in the new building just before workers moved Mrs. Gilmer’s portrait. When the elevator began to act strangely, librarians knew that Mrs. Gilmer was continuing her spectral duties in the new library.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. The Haunted South. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2014.

Barbour County

Kendall Manor
534 West Broad Street
Eufaula

Crowning the hill of West Broad Street, Kendall Manor, with its white Italianate architecture and cupola resembles the front of a grand steamboat. It is certainly an architectural masterpiece among the hundreds of stately homes in Eufaula. The house, completed just after the Civil War, was constructed for James Turner Kendall, one of the few merchants and planters in the area whose fortune survived the war. A story circulated among the servants about a spirit that appeared near the house as a harbinger of bad luck. The Kendall family thought nothing of it until James Kendall’s manservant saw the spirit of a man in a gray uniform astride a white horse. Reportedly, James Kendall passed away the following day.

Kendall Manor, 2014, by Lewis O. Powell IV. All rights reserved.

For many years, this grand house served as a bed and breakfast with a unique staff member. A spectral nursemaid, known as Annie, is apparently on duty and has often been spotted by the children in the house. One family member told of seeing the specter wearing a black dress and starched white apron scowling at him as he and his siblings raced their tricycles on the home’s veranda. It seems Kendall Manor has returned to being a quiet, private residence in recent years, so please respect the home’s occupants.

Sources

  • Floyd, W. Warner. National Register of Historic Place Nomination form for Kendall Hall. 24 August 1971.
  • Mead, Robin. Haunted Hotels: A Guide to American and Canadian Inns and Their Ghosts. Nashville, TN: Rutledge Hill Press, 1995.

Bibb County

Brierfield Ironworks Historic State Park
240 Furnace Parkway
Brierfield

Founded by a group of local businessmen in 1862—as the Civil War was ramping up—the Brierfield Ironworks quickly attracted the attention of the Confederate Government which was interested in the high-quality pig iron produced here. During the war, the ironworks saw the production of about 1,000 tons of pig iron per year. Later in the war was Union General James H. Wilson swept through central Alabama, destroying targets of military importance, Brierfield was targeted and destroyed. Production resumed here after the war and continued until the ironworks was closed in 1894.

The ruins of the Brierfield Furnace by Jet Lowe. Photo taken for the Historic American Buildings Survey, 1993.

In 1976, the county heritage association turned the ruins into a heritage park. Two years later, the state took over the park, moving several historic structures here including Mulberry Church, which arrived here from its original site near Centreville. Built in 1897, this church is where tradition holds that the daughter of a moonshiner eloped despite her father’s disapproval of her fiancé. At the completion of the couple’s vows, the bride’s father appeared, firing his gun into the church door. The bullet struck both the bride and her new husband who was standing behind her. As a reminder of this tragic incident, the bullet hole remains in the door while the living have encountered the specter of the young bride at the site of her death.

Sources

Blount County

Old Garner Hotel
111 1st Avenue East
Oneonta

Built in 1915, the John Garner Hotel was built to accommodate guests arriving in town via the train depot located nearby. The building now serves as home to several businesses that occupy the first floor of this three-story building. Southern Paranormal Investigators spent an evening in the building in 2007 and were awed by the “findings and activity detected” within. Occupants had reported the smell of brewing coffee and tobacco smoke while the sounds of furniture moving and papers shuffling have also been heard here when the building was empty. The paranormal investigation team captured a few EVPs and photographic anomalies leading them to conclude that possibly three different spirits are present in this old hotel.

Sources

  • Blount County Heritage Book Committee. Heritage of Blount County, Alabama. Clanton, AL: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 1999.
  • Southern Paranormal Researchers. Paranormal Investigation Report on The Lobby. Accessed 29 November 2012.

Bullock County

Josephine Arts Center
130 North Prairie Street
Union Springs

The old Josephine Hotel is now home to the Josephine Arts Center. Built in 1880, the Josephine Hotel was a social center here in rural Southeast Alabama. Phantom odors of cigar and cigarette smoke are often encountered in this building along with the sounds of revelry from former patrons.

A 2012 investigation revealed some paranormal activity. At one point during the probe, members of the paranormal team witnessed an orb of light moving through a hallway which they captured on video.

Sources

  • Alabama Paranormal Research Team. Paranormal Investigation Report for the Bullock County Courthouse. Accessed 29 November 2012.
  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Tour of Union Springs.” Union Springs, Alabama. Accessed 25 January 2013.

Butler County

Consolation Primitive Baptist Church and Cemetery
Oakey Streak Road
Red Level

On the morning of February 16, 2015, this historic church was lost to a fire. Local officials suspect that the church’s status as a haunted place led vandals to torch the small, rural building. Legend speaks of this place being the scene of a panoply of paranormal activity including demon dogs, or hellhounds; a banshee; and apparitions.

Organized in the 19th century, the church has not had an active congregation for many years, though a few locals maintained the building and cemetery and defended them against the rising tide of vandalism that had begun to overtake it. Teens and amateur “ghost hunters” had damaged the building by burning candles inside, carving their names on the structure, breaking windows, and even painting a pentagram on the floor of the lonely church. The Andalusia Star-News reports that 13 people were arrested in 2007 for burglary and criminal mischief after the police investigated reported illegal activity here.

Local investigator and author Shawn Sellers visited the church with his team in 2013. Upon arriving, two carloads of teens also appeared at the site. The group found the church standing open and showing signs of vandalism. One group of teens brought a Ouija board and attempted to make contact with spirits (something I cannot condone or recommend). A short time later, a man with a flashlight accosted the investigators and mysteriously disappeared after they attempted to speak with him.

Legends surrounding the church include the appearance of a banshee who wails as an omen that someone in the church will die. The grounds of the church are supposedly the domain of red-eyed “hellhounds,” as well as Confederate soldiers, two ghostly children, and a haunted outhouse where those who enter may be locked in. In 2012 reporters from The Greenville Advocate investigated the grounds and encountered nothing. In an article about the investigation, reporter Andy Brown suggested that the stories about this location are merely urban legend. I would like to speculate that if there is paranormal activity here, it may have been drawn by irresponsible use of Ouija boards and rituals being performed here by amateurs attempting to summon spirits.

It is unknown if the loss of the church building has affected the spiritual activity here. Visitors should be warned to use extreme caution when visiting this location and to respect the site and the cemetery.

Sources

  • Bell, Jake. “The Church.” Shawn Sellers Blog. 18 January 2013.
  • Brown, Andy. “Butler County church haunted by tall tales.” Greenville Advocate. 5 October 2012.
  • Edgemon, Erin. “Church said to be haunted burns in Alabama.” com. 17 February 2015.
  • “Fire wasn’t first brush with vandalism for historic church.” Andalusia Star-News. 17 February 2015.
  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Peacock, Lee. “Bucket List Update No. 165: Visit Consolation Church in Butler County.” Dispatches from the LP-OP. 28 July 2014.
  • Rogers, Lindsey. “Haunted Butler County church destroyed by fire.” WSFA. 16 February 2015.

Calhoun County

Boiling Springs Road Bridge
Boiling Springs Road over Choccolocco Creek
(This bridge is permanently closed to traffic)
Oxford

Known locally as “Hell’s Gate Bridge,” local lore related that visitors to this bridge at night could stop in the middle of the bridge, look back over their shoulders and see the fiery gates of Hell. Other lore tells of a young couple who drowned in the creek here. A traditional ritual said that stopping your car in the middle of the bridge and turning o the lights could summon one of the two people who drowned here. A sign of their presence would appear in the form of a wet spot left on the back seat of the car.

This wooden-decked, steel truss bridge was constructed between 1890 and 1930 and closed permanently in 2005. The Oxford Paranormal Society investigated the bridge in January 2007 and encountered an armadillo that was very much alive; no paranormal evidence was captured. When visiting this site, use extreme caution as the bridge is no longer maintained.

Sources

Chambers County

Oakwood Cemetery
1st Street
Lanett

Within this relatively modern cemetery stands a child-sized brick house complete with a front porch and chimney. The grave of Nadine Earles is among the most unique grave sites in the region. When four-year-old Nadine became ill with diphtheria just before Christmas in 1933, the child’s father had been building a playhouse as a gift for his daughter. After the child passed away on December 18th, the decision was made to erect the playhouse on the little girl’s grave. The playhouse has been well maintained ever since and remains filled with toys.

While not officially haunted, a recent interview with a friend revealed that she had a hard time photographing the grave when she visited. Using a smartphone camera, my friend’s attempts to photograph the grave resulted in black photographs. However, once she stepped away from the grave, the camera functioned properly.

Sources

  • Interview with Celeste Powell, LaGrange, GA. 23 July 2015.
  • Kazek, Kelly. “Alabama child’s playhouse mausoleum one of nation’s rare ‘dollhouse’ graves.” com. 5 June 2014.
  • Rouse, Kelley. “Little Nadine’s Grave.” Chattahoochee Heritage Project. 16 December 2011.
 

Cherokee County

Lost Regiment Legend
Lookout Mountain
Near the Blanche community

Extending from Chattanooga, Tennessee, through the northwest corner of Georgia, and into Alabama, the ridge of Lookout Mountain has played a prominent role in the history of the region. During the Civil War when its flanks were crawling with military activity, the mountain bore witness to several major battles and many skirmishes as the Union army attempted to extend its reach into the Deep South.

During this dark time, legend speaks of a group of Union soldiers getting lost in the mountain wilderness after a skirmish near Adamsburg, in DeKalb County. After retreating, the soldiers attempted to survive in the dangerous terrain. Fearful locals and enemy soldiers picked off a few of the men while others did not survive the harsh mountainous conditions. The last of these survivors was seen near the Blanche community in Cherokee County. Even decades after the disappearance of these soldiers, tales still circulate of sightings of the “Lost Regiment.” Others have discovered bootprints in the snow that suddenly stop, as if the men have vanished into thin air.

Sources

  • Hillhouse, Larry. Ghosts of Lookout Mountain. Wever, IA: Quixote Press, 2009.
  • Youngblood, Beth. Haunted Northwest Georgia. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2016.

Silver Spirits–Virginia

Silver Thatch Inn
3001 Hollymead Drive
Charlottesville, Virginia

It’s always exciting to find a new haunted location, especially one with a haunted history that has not been previously documented. Set among the pastoral landscape in the Virginia countryside just north of the bustle Charlottesville, the Silver Thatch Inn resembles many other historic Virginia homes with an original house and a series of additions extending from it.  Guests of the seven-room bed and breakfast have been reporting possible paranormal activity in their rooms for years, though the owner has never had an experience herself. The dearth of stories recently spurred the owner to invite members of the Twisted Paranormal Society to investigate.

The home’s history certainly qualifies it to be haunted. A two-story log cabin was constructed here—supposedly the site of a Native American village—by Hessian prisoners of war in 1780 during the dark days of the American Revolution. In the early 19th century, an addition was added and the house was converted for use as a boys’ school. After the Civil War, the house returned to use as a farmhouse, becoming the main house for the 300-acre Hollymead Farm. For nearly 30 years, the house was the home of the Dean of Men at the nearby University of Virginia before the farmland was sold for development in the 1960s. The home became a bed and breakfast in the latter part of the 20th century.

In a 1983 article for the Baltimore Sun, Geoffrey Fielding reported on a former Baltimore couple who purchased the Hollymead Inn, as it was then called. Interestingly, the article refers to the spirit of a Hessian soldier that guests had encountered while staying the night. The reporter even blamed the spirit for a missing wallet. Apparently, the ghost has not been reported on until now.

Hessian soldiers as rendered by Charles M. Lefferts, before 1923. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

During recent investigations of the inn, investigators encountered a large, looming shadow figure in the attic. The first group of investigators encountered a figure described as being about “seven feet tall, just standing behind [one of the other investigators]”. Assuming that the entity did not want the investigators there, the group exited the space. A second group also encountered the shadowy form. The inn’s owner remarked that after the investigators left, “we did see a shadow figure appearing to crawl across the floor at the top of the stairs.” Perhaps this is the spirit of Hessian soldier?

Investigators from Twisted Paranormal are convinced that the inn is haunted and the owner is preparing to host more paranormal events in the coming months.

Sources

Sawmill Specter

Newspapers in the 19th and early 20th centuries often printed ghost stories. This comes from an 1896 edition of the Atlanta Constitution. David Lake is located east of Mount Vernon, Alabama, in northern Mobile County, and feeds into the Mobile River. I haven’t been able to determine exactly where the sawmill in this article was located.

Please note that this article is typical for its period in its regard for African-Americans and uses language that would be considered racist today.

Atlanta Constitution
20 September 1896

GHOST OF DAVID’S LAKE

An Alabama Sawmill Made Worthless by a Spook

From The St. Louis Globe Democrat.

In the bottoms of the Tombigbee river, a few miles above its confluence with the Alabama, is a deep, lagoon-like lake, locally known as David’s lake. On the western shore of the lake are a shingle mill and a row of a half dozen shanties, intended as houses for the mill hands, all the property of the Seaboard Lumber Company, at Fairford, a few miles away.

The mill has been idle for some time and the shanties untenanted, owing to a depression in the market for cypress shingles. It has been necessary, however, in order to preserve the validity of certain insurance policies to keep a watchman constantly in charge there. Up to a short time ago the watchman was a certain crippled negro named John James.

A sawmill in Covington County, Alabama, circa 1911. Courtesy of the Hoole Special Collections Library, University of Alabama.

John James’s job was a negro’s ideal of a soft job. All the work he had to do was to light a lantern in the mill at dark, blow it out in the morning, and never under any circumstances to leave the mill unguarded. The company paid him $10 a month, furnished a dwelling, a mule and a plow, together with just as much land as he might want to cultivate. The lake was full of fish, toothsome and easy to catch.

Therefore, John James was much envied by his fellows. But on an unlucky evening about sundown he paddled his boat out in the lake to set some lines for big catfish. His wife saw him start, and when she looked again a little later there was the upturned boat, but no John James. The neighbors were hurriedly called and in the gathering gloom they dragged the bottom with grappling irons and brought to the surface the downed body of the watchman. How he happened to lose his balance or why he made no outcry will in all probability never be known.

Of course, the company over at Fairford regretted the affair, paid the widow John’s back salary, at once sent another negro as watchman and things seemed to move along about as before.

In a few days a company official chanced to go to David’s lake, and was surprised to find the new watchman gone, and also the company’s mule. The animal was found later at a station over on the railroad, where the operator stated it had been ridden early morning by a greatly agitated negro, who had left on the first train.

This thing mystified the company and was vexatious, because if the mill should burn in the absence of a watchman no insurance could be collected, and unguarded buildings have an unfortunate way of catching afire in that country. Another negro was at once sent down to the lake as watchman, and informed that if he wanted at any time to quit his job to give notice, so there would be interregnum. No. 2 went to David’s lake, and next the news came that he, too, was missing. Neither he nor his predecessor ever called for salary due them, nor has any trace of either been found.

At this the power that ruled the company held a serious conference. Something was scaring the negroes away, and it must be put an end to. So William Potlatch, one of the company’s most reliable negroes, was sent to the shingle mill with a six-shooter, which he was instructed to use should anything bother him.

William returned the very next morning. He was the worst scared negro in the state of Alabama. He told a confused story that no one could make heads or tails of about ghosts and John James. There was no confusion in his statement that no money could ever induce him to go back again.

Meanwhile stories began to float around to the effect that John James’s ghost was haunting the mill and lake. Of course, the company officials scorned such an idea, but for all its absurdity there was a serious side to the matter. If the place ever gained the reputation of being haunted no negro would work there and the mill would have to be torn down, as negro labor is the only available or possible to be procured. The company determined to lay the ghost at once and forever, and to that end sent down a party well equipped with all proper material for exorcism. The party was composed of Tom Smith and Henry McIntosh, white men of known bravery and coolness, also two negroes, whom the presence of the whites might induce to stand firm in the presence of danger. All were armed and carried a supply of food and whisky [sic].

They reached the mill at David’s lake in the afternoon, taking possession of the shanty next to and almost adjoining the one formerly occupied by John James. After supper, when the dark came, they lit a lantern and all sat out on the little gallery of their quarters. There they gossiped, told tales and drank whisky [sic] until they were in a proper mood to defy the natural or the supernatural. After the supply of tales had run out they took to shooting craps down on the floor.

It must have been near midnight.

One of the negroes was praying energetically to all the powers controlling fortune that he might throw a nine-spot, and thereby win the mean to buy his gal new shoes, when suddenly the door of John James’s shanty opened and shut violently. The players looks up at once. A piece of a moon over in the far west gave dim light. One of the negroes exclaimed:

“Lamb o’ God, looky yondah.”

From out of the shadow in front of the James shanty came the form of a man, walking as though lame and carrying a long pole. Both the negroes at once broke for the woods. Smith and McIntosh stood their ground like the nervy men they were. The shade neither looked to right nor left, but hobbled straight on across an open space and toward the lake, where several skiffs were moored. As through with one impulse and movement, Smith and McIntosh fired at the thing, but with no more apparent result than if they had shot at the stars. There was only the plunge of their bullets heard out in the lake.

“Spook or no spook, I’m going to run that feller down,” said Smith, and as he started McIntosh followed him.

They saw the ghost loosen one of the skiffs and paddle out into the lake. Its motion had seemed to be a slow walk, and yet, running hard as they could, they did not catch up with it. They, in their turn, jumped into a skiff and paddled fiercely after. About where John James’s body was found the first boat stopped, and its mysterious occupant began to shove the long pole down into the water. The pursuers drew nearer and nearer, until there was barely a boat length between them and their object. All at once they heard a terrible, awesome cry, shrilled and piercing. Simultaneously each man felt a shock as though from an electric battery—a shock so severe and overpowering that they collapsed and fell unconscious in the bottom of the skiff.

It was daylight when they revived. They had floated at least two miles below the mill. They were so weak and nervous, so numbed and dazed, they had barely strength to paddle to shore, nor has either one fully recovered to this day.

Now, for one who doubts these things, or who is curious about them, here are the lake and the mill, and the Seaboard company anxious to assist investigation. Also, the position of watchman is open. Who wants it?

LONG LEAF.

Haunted Tennessee, Briefly Noted

Cherry Mansion
265 West Main Street
Savannah

The great Alabama storyteller, Kathryn Tucker Windham, provides the account of three people who witnessed an odd event while sitting on the porch of the Cherry Mansion one evening in 1976. Around 11 PM, the trio watched as a man in a white suit and wide-brimmed hat approached the historical marker in front of the house. The man read the marker and then, in full view of the spectators on the porch, vanished.

Cherry Mansion, 1974, by Jack Boucher for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

The house is magnificently sited on an ancient bluff overlooking the Tennessee River. This home was constructed around 1830 by David Robinson, possibly as a gift to his daughter who was the wife of businessman William Cherry. An ardent Unionist during the Civil War, Cherry offered the use of his home to several Union generals in 1862 who used it in the days leading up to the Battle of Shiloh, which took place about 9 miles south of Savannah. General Charles Ferguson Smith, suffering from a recent leg injury passed away in the house during that time.

On the morning of April 6th, legend holds that General Ulysses Grant’s breakfast was interrupted by an overture of cannon-fire announcing the Confederates’ surprise attack on Union forces camped at Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River. Furious fighting over a sunken road where Union Generals Benjamin Prentiss and W. H. L. Wallace defended their position against heavy artillery fire from Confederate batteries gave a head wound to Wallace and the area to be nicknamed, “The Hornet’s Nest.” Wallace was taken to Cherry Mansion to receive medical attention.

Legend holds that Wallace’s devoted wife, Martha Ann, had received a premonition of her husband’s death and traveled to Tennessee in hopes that he was unharmed. Arriving in the midst of the battle, she was stunned to find that her husband had been wounded and took up residence at his side in Cherry Mansion. When her husband died a few days later, she was still at his side. People passing the mansion have reported seeing the form of a gentleman in a uniform looking out one of the upstairs windows. This form is widely believed to be that of General Wallace.

This home is a private residence.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Tennessee: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Volunteer State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2009.
  • Charles Ferguson Smith. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 30 December 2017.
  • Cherry Mansion. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 30 December 2017.
  • Coleman, Christopher K. Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2010.
  • Hammerquist, Gail. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for the Cherry Mansion. February 1976.
  • West, Mike. “Tennessee home to tragic Civil War ghost story.” Murfreesboro Post. 26 October 2008.
  • Windham, Kathryn Tucker. 13 Tennessee Ghosts and Jeffrey. Tuscaloosa, AL: U. of AL Press, 1977.

Cocke County Memorial Building
103 North Cosby Highway
Newport

This unassuming building in the small town of Newport in Eastern Tennessee bears the weight of a tragedy. The sadness of this tragic moment in the mid 1960s still echoes now, more than fifty years later.

Cocke County Memorial Building, 2011, by Dwight Burdette. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Opened in 1931 as an American Legion post, the Cocke County Memorial Building was constructed to memorialize locals who had given their lives in the First World War. The building includes a gym with a stage, as well as office and meeting space for the post and the community at large.

On July 9, 1964, near the Cocke County community of Parrottville, a witness observed a plane with a “violet red light burning on the fuselage.” A short time later other witnesses saw the plane flying low with smoke trailing from it. The plane veered off course and crashed on a wooded mountain slope. Moments before the impact, witnesses observed something falling from the aircraft. A search revealed that one of the plane’s emergency exits had been opened and a passenger had fallen. That passenger, as well as the plane’s remaining passengers and crew, a total of 39 souls, perished in the accident.

As Newport had no large facilities to accommodate the remains of the 39 who had died in the accident, investigators and rescue personnel commandeered the Cocke County Memorial Building for use during the operation. Since most of the bodies were in pieces, remains were spread out on the gym floor to aid in identification. After studying the wreckage of the plane and the remains, authorities ascertained that a fire had broken out in the passenger compartment in mid-air. After two weeks, the investigators and the human remains left the Memorial Building, but spirits have lingered.

Author John Norris Brown, who once maintained the excellent blog, Ghosts and Spirits of Tennessee (the website is no longer extant, though it can still be found on the Web Archive), was one of the first people to document this haunting in Newport. Though some of his facts about the plane crash were incorrect, he described some of the experiences visitors to the building have experienced: “[they have] felt presences, heard voices, as well as the screams of a woman, and the cries of babies. Feelings of being watched are said to be almost unbearable in the building.”

In an article in Supernatural Magazine, paranormal investigator Anthony Justus describes the experiences of him and his paranormal team during a 2008 investigation. While investigating the building’s sub-basement, Justus encountered an entity that he described as “an intelligence without form.” He eloquently continued: “I saw nothing, heard little but I felt it. A deep resonant cold that chilled me to the bone. I felt threatened and oppressed. As I left the area, I felt its heavy presence behind me, following up those rickety stairs, so close I could feel it on my neck. It was death, it was sadness and it was hate, a predatory thing that lurked in the darkness.”

Later, the team members found balls from a Bingo game being thrown from the bleachers in the gym, bouncing and rolling across the wooden floor. During this time, Justus caught a glimpse of a young boy standing in the corner of the room who disappeared as he approached. The most spectacular event of the evening was noted as being a moment when a set of doors that were locked violently threw themselves open gouging the plaster walls and cracking one of the wooden doors. It seems that the spirits from the plane crash are unhappy at being stuck in this plane of existence.

Sources

Cragfont
300 Cragfont Road
Castalian Springs

Cragfont was built to impress. Constructed of stone on a bluff over a spring that feeds into nearby Bledsoe’s Creek, this was the first stone house constructed on the Tennessee frontier. With craftsmen and artisans brought from Maryland, James Winchester began work on his home in 1798, finishing around 1802. Besides providing a fine home for his family, Cragfont served as a gathering spot for locals and as a stop for travelers.

Cragfont, 2008, by Brian Stansberry. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

James Winchester was already an accomplished individual when he built his home, having served as a Patriot officer during the American Revolution. In the latter years of the 18th century, Winchester had served in the North Carolina Constitutional Convention and worked towards the establishment of the state of Tennessee, after which he served in the newly created legislature. During the War of 1812, Winchester left Cragfont to serve his country. He died here in 1826.

A home that has witnessed the whirlwind of history that Cragfont has witnessed must surely be haunted. Caretakers of the home have noted that furniture and objects apparently move during the night when the house is locked up, while beds will appear to have been slept in. Both visitors and staff have reported seeing apparitions and hearing disembodied footsteps and voices within the house.

Sources

  • Brown, John Norris. “Cragfont Mansion Hauntings.” Ghosts & Spirits of Tennessee. Accessed 31 January 2011.
  • Coop, May Dean. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for Cragfont. 16 June 1969.
  • James Winchester. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 31 December 2017.
  • Morris, Jeff; Donna Marsh; & Garett Merk. Nashville Haunted Handbook. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2011.
  • MTSU Center for Historic Preservation. Cragfont, Sumner County, Tennessee, Historic Structure Report. July 2012.

Hunt-Phelan House
533 Beale Street
Memphis

Legend holds that at the height of a yellow fever epidemic in 1873, the Hunt family fled their Memphis home after entrusting a chest of gold to a manservant, Nathan Wilson. Upon their return, Wilson was found dead in his room and the chest missing. The only clue to the whereabouts of the chest being mud on the servant’s boots indicating that he may have buried the chest. Stories have emerged that Wilson’s specter is sometimes seen around the house and will guide fortunate witnesses to the buried fortune.

Hunt-Phelan House, 2010, by Thomas R. Machnitzki. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Marking the Lauderdale Street end of the “infamous section” of Beale Street where Blues music first developed, the Hunt-Phelan House has just as infamous a history. Built in 1832 by George Wyatt, during the Civil War the house was used a headquarters for Confederate General Leonidas Polk while planning the Siege of Corinth, Mississippi and a few months later after the fall of Memphis, the house was headquarters for Union General Ulysses S. Grant while he planned the Vicksburg Campaign. The house then served as a Freedmen’s Bureau and was finally returned to the family by President Andrew Johnson in 1865. More recently, the house was operated as The Inn at Hunt-Phelan featuring four-star accommodations and restaurants.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Tennessee: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Volunteer State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2009.
  • Coleman, Christopher K. Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2010.
  • Lester, Dee Gee. “Hunt-Phelan House.” Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. 25 December 2009.
  • Lovett, Bobby L. “Beale Street.” Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. 25 December 2009.

Orpheum Theatre
203 South Main Street
Memphis

At the other end of the “infamous section” of Beale Street from the Hunt-Phelan House is the dazzling Orpheum Theatre. Opened in 1928, the “New” Orpheum replaced the opera house that originally occupied this site from 1890 until its destruction by a fire in 1923. The Orpheum is among the ranks of hundreds of theatres throughout the country designed by the Chicago architectural firm of Rapp and Rapp, which designed hundreds of theatres throughout the country some of which, like the Paramount in Ashland, Kentucky; and the Tivoli in Chattanooga, are known to be haunted.

The proscenium arch of the Orpheum Theatre, 2010, by Orpheummemphis. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Grand Opera House was added to the Orpheum circuit in 1907. Made up of the finest theatres from coast to coast, the Orpheum circuit featured the top vaudeville headliners, bringing them to Memphis audiences for almost two decades. Following a performance by singer Blossom Seeley on October 17, 1923, the theatre was gutted by a fire causing approximately $250,000 (about $3.5 million in today’s dollars) in damage. A new, state-of-the-art theatre was constructed on the site opening on November 19, 1928. This new theatre continued to bring cream of the crop stars to Memphis as well as films, which were accompanied by a huge Wurlitzer organ.

As any good theatre has a ghost, it’s no surprise that the Orpheum features some very well-known ghost stories. Around the time that the theatre was sold to the Memphis Development Foundation in 1976, Vincent Astor, a local historian, took some friends to the theatre to show them the Wurlitzer organ. While the group was watching him play, someone asked about the little girl they observed playing in the lobby. Wearing a white dress, black stockings, and with long braids, but no shoes, this girl was repeatedly seen in the theatre sometimes sitting in a specific seat in the balcony.

During an investigation by a class from the University of Memphis, a Ouija board was used to contact the playful spirit. At that time, the spirit was identified as “Mary,” a little girl who died in 1921. In a video posted by the theatre, Astor relates that, including Mary, there may be as many as seven spirits within the theatre.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Tennessee: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Volunteer State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2009.
  • Coleman, Christopher K. Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2010.
  • Orpheum Memphis. “Orpheum Ghost Stories with Vincent Astor.” YouTube. 29 October 2012.
  • Orpheum Theatre (Memphis). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 2 January 2018.
  • Williamson, James Floyd, Jr. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the Orpheum Theatre. January 1977.

Railyard Revenant—West Virginia

Facebook can be a marvelous resource for ghost stories, if you can stand wading through unsourced posts, over-eager amateur ghost hunters with blurry ghost photos, and memes asking if you believe in ghosts. The information on this haunting came from a post on the Haunted West Virginia page that included the original article along with the name of the paper and the date.

The Norfolk and Western Railroad got into the coal business in the late 19th century. After the purchase of the Flat-Top Coal Land Association and the massive coal fields under its control, the railroad reorganized the organization into the Pocahontas Coal and Coke Company and began to expand its railroads into the coal fields of southern West Virginia. As the company began cutting into this remote region, towns were established including the small town of Williamson.

Aerial view of Williamson in 1990. Taken by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. Notice the railroad cutting through the middle of town.

At a point along the Tug Fork River, at this point the border between West Virginia and Kentucky, a marge railyard was established with a town being established around it. The railroad still cuts through the heart of this small town with the large railyard still in operation, though the railroad’s name has changed from the Norfolk and Western to Norfolk Southern. The town is now the county seat for Mingo County.

On September 1, 1935, the paper in Bluefield, West Virginia, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, reported on paranormal activity experienced in the railyard.

But today comes the strangest ghost tale every published. The wonder of it is some of the big newspapers have not grabbed it, for it sure is a knockout. Many Norfolk and Western railroad men vouch for the truth of the story, men whose word is as good as their bond.

This amazing happening has its setting on Williamson yard, and has been told and retold until around the Mingo county seat the kiddies are sometimes put to sleep thinking of the yarn.

But we will not [sic] longer keep the reader in suspense.

From the inferno of the boiler of a Norfolk and Western yard engine in use in Williamson yard may be heard the pitiful cries of baby. Of course, there is no baby in that firebox. Even a child need not be told that.

But often during the dead hours of night from the firebox the engineer and fireman almost stand speechless as the faint cry of an infant is emitted from the seething furnace of their locomotive.

Billy Dotson, veteran engineer, is said to have been the first to hear the baby cry, but since, others claim to have heard the voice distinctly.

One theory advanced is that a long time ago a young baby in some maner [sic] was tossed into the firebox of this particular engine, and that its tiny spirit remains.

Anyway, you have the story. It is not for us to offer a solution of this amazing phenomena.

Panoramic view of the Williamson Railyard, 2013. Photo by Magnolia677, courtesy of Wikipedia.

As far as I can find, this is the only reporting on this incident. It is unknown as to if the activity in the Williamson Railyard has ceased.

Sources

  • Norfolk and Western Railway. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 16 January 2018.
  • Williamson, West Virginia. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 16 January 2018.
  • “Writer unfolds a new ghost story.” Bluefield Daily Telegraph. 1 September 1935.

From a dumpster fire to a Husk—Savannah

12 West Oglethorpe Avenue
Savannah, Georgia

In 2006, a ghost tour guide told a reporter from the Houston Chronicle that this one address in Savannah has seen “more conversions than Billy Graham,” a reference to the nationally known evangelist. Of course, these were conversions to one of Savannah’s true religions: belief in the paranormal. According to this tour guide, this site has played host to a panoply of tragedies and, as a result, now hosts paranormal activity.

During this particular tour, guests were allowed to step up to the front door of this forlorn house and take photographs in hopes of capturing evidence of the home’s ghosts. Reportedly, some guests experienced battery drain with their cameras and even motorized wheelchairs. Others were shocked at what appeared in their photos.

This particular site—within Savannah’s massive historic district—has seen a tremendous evolution since the city’s founding in 1733. As noted by a monument in the median of West Oglethorpe within sight of the house, this property was initially the city’s first Jewish cemetery. A burial spot for the local Jewish community was later established some distance away, though, the graves were left at this site, which evolved into a residential area.

The house at 12 West Oglethorpe is an unassuming Georgian home with an elegant circular porch. Among the numerous homes in Georgia’s oldest city, the house is not as old as some of its neighbors, dating only to around 1898. Built as a home, the structure’s modest history includes the building’s use as an Elks Lodge and later, a performing arts school, until the building was abandoned in 1985.

During the time that the house sat boarded up, ghost stories began to circulate and the home became a fixture on many ghost tours. Here, guides would relate the sad tale of Dr. Brown, a physician who occupied the house in 1876, during the last of the yellow fever epidemics to strike the city. Patients visiting the house brought the illness into the home and one by one, the doctor’s family died after succumbing. Grief stricken, the good doctor sealed himself in one of the upstairs rooms and starved to death.

This is a great story, but total bunk. Yellow fever, which does feature in some local ghost stories, is not spread from human to human contact, but spread by mosquitos. Local tour guide and author, James Caskey was not able to locate any reference to a doctor living on this site (this house didn’t exist in 1876) or anywhere in this area named Brown. While this story isn’t true, that doesn’t discount the paranormal activity here. Some of the activity described by Caskey in his authoritative 2008 book, Haunted Savannah,  includes the apparition of an elderly man seen peering from an upstairs window—despite the fact that there was no floor underneath that particular window—odd sounds being heard by the neighbors, and several strange anomalies appearing in photographs.

A year after Caskey’s book was published, a dumpster fire set by teenage pranksters ignited the modern addition at the back of the house. Photos of the damage show the addition with broken, charred windows and a missing roof. Neighbors, worried about the building’s safety pressed the city for action, though they were thwarted by the slow-turning wheels of government and absentee owners.

Caskey makes an appearance in a recent episode of Haunted Towns on Destination America. The show follows the Tennessee Wraith Chasers as they visit cities and towns throughout the country with haunted reputations attempting to suss out why these places have earned such reputations. Their episode on Savannah concentrates on the legends surrounding Wright Square, located just around the corner from 12 West Oglethorpe. Caskey is interviewed early in the episode where he notes that legend of the square and the house may be connected.

Wright Square, just around the corner from 12 West Oglethorpe. Photo by XEON, 2013, courtesy of Wikipedia.

He also remarks that the house has never been investigated, spurring the show’s investigators to investigate themselves. In fact, another local guide and investigator, Ryan Dunn, explored the house in 2010 and had a frightening encounter. On the second floor Dunn’s camera “powered down for no apparent reason.” He continues, “As I looked up, I saw a black shadow person cross the hallway in front of me from one bedroom to the other.” He describes the shadow figure as being three dimensional and roughly shaped like a person, but with no discernable features.

Dunn also includes a fascinating tale from the 2009 fire. After extinguishing the fire, local firefighters held a fire watch in order to ensure that the fire did not reignite. Staying in the house overnight, the firefighters began to tell ghost stories and daring each other to creep up the stairs to the “haunted room” where Dr. Brown supposedly died. One firefighter bravely entered the room and let out a scream. Dashing down the stairs, the firefighter remained in his vehicle out front for the rest of the evening, refusing to reveal what he encountered in the room.

During the Tennessee Wraith Chasers’ investigation, they meet a property manager working on the renovation of 12 West Oglethorpe who told them the story of Dr. Brown. While the story is being told, the crew’s camera unexpectedly cuts out. After getting their camera up and running, the property manager tells the investigators that he had had one peculiar incident while working in the house where his name had been called by a disembodied voice. The paranormal team did a sweep of the house including the basement where a temperature gauge registered a temperature of 66.6 degrees. During the evening investigation, the group experienced battery drain, captured a few EVPs, and heard a disembodied voice.

The building opened its doors on January 5th as the Savannah outpost of the Charleston restaurant Husk. In the award-winning hands of chefs Sean Brock and Tyler Williams, Husk opened in Charleston, South Carolina in 2010 in a historic haunted home next door to haunted landmark, Poogan’s Porch. Serving Nouveau Southern cuisine, the chefs playfully rework classic Southern dishes and ingredients bolstered by research into the gastronomic history of the region. The restaurant has also made a point to occupy historic structures in order to preserve the historic built environments in addition to food ways and incidentally, the spirits, of each city where it operates.

Sources

  • Caskey, James. Haunted Savannah: The Official Guidebook to Savannah Haunted History Tour, 2008. Savannah, GA: Bonaventure Books, 2007.
  • Cowen, Diane. “Spirited Savannah.” Houston Chronicle. 19 March 2006.
  • Curl, Eric. “Three downtown Savannah historic commercial buildings closed to public and awaiting restoration.” Savannah Morning News. 16 November 2013.
  • Dunn, Ryan. Savannah’s Afterlife: True Tales of a Paranormal Investigator. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2014.
  • “Savannah.” Haunted Towns. Season 1, Episode 3. Originally aired 9 August 2017.
  • Whiteway, Maria. “Husk is here!” Connect Savannah. 10 January 2018.

Spectral Selfies in the News

In the past few weeks, several people visiting haunted places here in the South have been photobombed in a spectral fashion. Visitors to St. Francisville, Louisiana’s The Myrtles Plantation and Homestead, Florida’s Hotel Redland have captured images of someone in their photographs, someone who wasn’t physically present when the photos were taken.

Six friends visiting The Myrtles decided to take a group selfie just outside of the house. Upon closer inspection, the photographer noticed the face of a seventh woman peering from behind a window pane behind the group. While all the women in the group are smiling, the women in the window pane appears to be scowling. Photographs of the this nature are easy to fake, so I cannot say this photograph is authentic. Surely, this is not the first photograph taken at The Myrtles to possibly show something spectral. In 2015, I published a photograph taken by an acquaintance that appears to show someone sitting on the staircase.

The Myrtles, 2005, by Bnet504. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Perhaps the most famous haunted places in the country, The Myrtles (7747 US-61, St. Francisville, Louisiana) is a late 18th-century plantation with a tragic history. Of course, much of that tragic history has literally come back to haunt the home. The house is preserved as a museum, bed & breakfast, and haunted attraction. In my opinion, at least some of that tragic history has been created to make the haunting more interesting. I looked into these stories in a blog entry several years ago.

It’s interesting that the other selfie that has been published in the news is from a place that also has a doubtful history. The history of the Hotel Redland (5 South Flagler Avenue, Homestead, Florida) is not as long or as varied as The Myrtles, though it has also left spectral impressions. Those spectral impressions led a friend of a hotel staff member to investigate the hotel recently. During the investigation, the visitor snapped a selfie standing in the lobby. In the selfie, a face appears which the British tabloid, the Daily Mirror, described as resembling the horror movie villain, Michael Myers, from John Carpernter’s movie franchise, Halloween.

My opinion on the photograph is that this is a case of pareidolia, when the brain tries to make sense of something chaotic by finding patterns in it. In this case, light reflected in the window pane creates a “face,” within the reflection.

The first building on this site was constructed in 1904 as a boarding house for railroad employees called the Homestead Inn. This building’s history was rather quiet until the fateful day of November 10, 1913. I’ll allow the Miami Metropolis to take over the story from here:

A few minutes before 2 o’clock in the afternoon the large steam roller, being used in rolling the streets, puffed down in front of the Homestead Inn, and it was only a few seconds later that the roof of the hotel was discovered on fire, having caught from a flying spark from the engine. Soon the entire fire-fighting population of the town was on the scene, and all efforts were brought to bear to save the burning building, but to no avail. However, the furnishings were carried to safety and the loss of the building is just about covered by insurance.

Flames spread to five adjoining buildings destroying several other businesses. The paper ends the article by mentioning that a fire caused by sparks from the same steamroller had damaged the city’s other hotel across the street that morning. “It is likely that some action will be taken to curb the chances of another such conflagration starting from the same cause.”

Hotel Redland, 2011, by Ebyabe. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

While the damage to the structure led to much of it being rebuilt, the story of this dramatic fire continued to be told and expanded. The story of the fire as told now sets the scene late at night where the fire takes the lives of a number of guests soundly asleep in their rooms. These same guests now haunt the hotel.

An article in the August 16th Miami New Times detailed a paranormal investigation of the hotel by the South Florida team of PRISM Miami, lead by investigator David Rodriguez. That article hints at the hotel actually being haunted, though the details are somewhat vague.

Sources

A haunt in Hamilton County, Florida

Old Hamilton County Jail
501 Northeast 1st Avenue
Jasper, Florida

When it closed in 1984, Jasper, Florida’s Hamilton County Jail was the oldest operating jail in the state. In the 91 years it was operational, this building witnessed tremendous tragedy and sadness, such emotion that imprinted itself on the walls of the structure. Even before its closure, ghost stories about the jail circulated throughout Hamilton County, in fact, the National Register for Historic Places nomination form mentions that the building has a haunted reputation within the local folklore

Old Hamilton County Jail, 2007, by Ebyabe. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Built by the Pauly Jail Company, a St. Louis-based company that constructed jails throughout the country, the jail in Jasper includes a tower suitable for carrying out justice. The historians who wrote the National Register nomination weren’t sure if executions had actually been conducted within the building, though local rumors insist to that fact. Local historian Johnny Bullard stated in a 2014 article that three people met their fates here. He further notes that one or two of these executions were among the last hangings east of the Mississippi.

A 2016 article quotes the president of the Hamilton County Historical Society as saying that no executions took place within the walls of the buildings, but that gallows were constructed for that purpose outside the building. Notice of a 1916 execution at the jail appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat. Interestingly, the paper did not use the name of the criminal, only addressing him as “the murderer of Deputy Raiford Royals,” “the condemned,” and “black man.” While noting that the execution took place on a specially constructed scaffold outside the jail, the article remarks that there was some joy during this most somber of occasions: “As the fatal moment drew near he [Walter Durham, the condemned] laughed and joked with his executioners—smiling even in the very face of death. He claimed he was ‘right with God,’ and was ‘going yonder’—pointing upward. He then asked the negroes present to sing a hymn, himself joining in, and the large crowd was curiously quiet while the mournful dirge floated on the passing breeze.”

After being allowed to pen a brief letter to his parents in Hahira, Georgia, the noose was adjusted around his neck and Mr. Durham called for one of his ministers to pray with him. That minister had departed, but a white minister, the Reverend W. B. Tresca of the local Methodist church stepped forward to offer a prayer. The sheriff stepped forward and “launched the soul of the murderer into eternity.” The National Register form offers that Durham’s execution may have been swift and public because of the local outcry over Deputy Royals’ death.

In addition to executions, it is also noted that several other deaths occurred here including a suicide. However, the wife of a deputy sheriff who lived here gave birth to both of her sons in the building, adding some moments of levity to the building’s dark history.

Old Hamilton County Jail, 2007, by Ebyabe. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Investigators have been combing the jail for years looking for evidence of paranormal activity. Newspapers have documented some of the encounters that have occurred here. In 2010, a female investigator entered a bedroom that had once housed members of the warden’s family and sensed a spirit. She told the Gainesville Sun that she felt “a strong pressure on my shoulders and chest. And then my stomach starts to turn and I get this tingling feeling in my legs.”

Historian Johnny Bullard demurred when asked if he had personally had any experiences within the jail. He visited the old jail once with a friend late at night. He told the Suwannee Democrat, “I heard something. I saw something that moved…like a shadow, and I didn’t stick around. It was frightening enough to me that I did not stay around.” He continued, saying that others have heard some frightening sounds including voices and footsteps in the empty building.

Sources

  • Arteaga, Allison. “Paranormal investigators help North Florida.” Gainesville Sun. 16 October 2010.
  • Bulger, Peggy & Larry Paarlberg. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for the Old Hamilton County Jail. 16 May 1983.
  • Northeastern Florida Paranormal Investigators. Investigation Report for Old Hamilton County Jail. September 2010.
  • “Public execution of a negro at Jasper.” Tallahassee Democrat. 17 September 1916.
  • Taylor, Joyce Marie. “A spooky time at the haunted old jail in Jasper.” Suwannee Democrat. 23 October 2014.