Death in a sunny clime–New Orleans

Museum of Death
227 Dauphine Street
New Orleans, Louisiana

For details on other hauntings on this street see my “Street Guide to the Phantoms of the French Quarter—Dauphine Street.”

So many of the buildings of the French Quarter have exuberant, life-giving architecture. Lacy ironwork, medallions, fluted columns, and fanlights add their own organic touches to buildings, however, the building housing the Museum of Death lacks those touches and is, well, architecturally dead. Here there is nothing but angular lines without any frilly curves or decorative flourishes. And, it is certainly appropriate. To make a point in all this death, a skeleton stares out of the rather blank rectangular window above the entrance.

Museum of Death New Nrleans
The Museum of Death building provides a great contrast to its more decorative neighbors. Photo taken in 2023 by Infrogmation, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Museum of Death started in sunny California; certainly, a place that is life-affirming, which only makes tragic death even more shocking. In 1995, Catherine Shultz and her husband, J. D. Healy compiled a collection of morbid artifacts, opening a museum in San Diego in 1995. Their collection includes a range of macabre items ranging from mortuary training videos, crime scene photos, and coffins to furniture and clothing associated with the 1997 Heaven’s Gate mass suicide. One of the most grotesque items is the head of French murderer, Henri Landru, which was separated from his body with a guillotine in 1922.

In 2014, the museum opened this location in New Orleans where the sunshine is interspersed with rain which adds a verdancy to the landscape. Perhaps death doesn’t seem as out-of-place here, but the building’s architecture is still jarring. The museum exhibition at this location includes Dr. Jack Kervorkian’s suicide machine amongst the strange, bizarre, and morbid.

Museum of Death New Orleans
Closeup of the entrance to the Museum of Death, 2023, by LittleT889, courtesy fo Wikipedia.

On a recent Reddit post, a museum visitor notes that the atmosphere inside the museum feels quite odd, “You can feel the vibe change as you walk through the door.” They continued, “You can definitely feel it. Some people feel dizzy, others take a quick see and leave, twice I’ve seen people walk in and straight back out. Your experience will be very interesting to say the least.”

It’s not hard to imagine that the museum is haunted by an array of negative and strange vibes, which would be altogether appropriate for a Museum of Death.

Sources

Where ghosts are just another service—New Orleans

For details on other hauntings on the street see my “Street Guide to the Phantoms of the French Quarter—North Rampart Street.”

French Quarter Courtyard Hotel & Suites
1101 North Rampart Street
New Orleans, Louisiana

There are ghost stories to be found among the thousands of reviews on sites like TripAdvisor. Back in 2011, a couple staying at the French Quarter Courtyard Hotel & Suites found that the hotel offered everything they wanted, but threw in some ghosts to round out their experience. On one morning, the young woman awoke to see “about 6 or 7 round happy faces just watching us sleep.” After rubbing her eyes, the figures were still in the front room. When she looked again, “there they were, smiling, turning their heads from side to side, just watching us sleep.”

New Orleans Courtyard Hotel & Suites
New Orleans Courtyard Hotel & Suites in 2013, by Infrogmation, courtesy of Wikipedia.

She told her partner the next day about her experience and he laughed at her, thinking her to be crazy. The following morning, he awoke to have the same puzzling experience. The guests seemed to have enjoyed the hotel and all it has to offer, including the ghosts.

The hotel occupies a home that was long known as the Dupaquier House. The home was designed by G. A. D’Hemecourt in 1879 for Dr. A. Dupaquier and his family who lived in the home for many years. In 1971, the home was reincarnated as a jazz club where many modern greats including Ellis Marsalis and his son, Wynton performed. The club was renovated and reopened as Menefee’s Restaurant in 1982.

Sources

A hotel on edge–New Orleans

Best Western Plus French Quarter Courtyard Hotel
920 North Rampart Street
New Orleans, Louisiana

For details on other hauntings on the street see my “Street Guide to the Phantoms of the French Quarter—North Rampart Street.”

Tile North Rampart Street marker New Orleans
Tile North Rampart Street marker, by Infrogmation, 2007, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The atmosphere of a room on the second floor of the Best Western French Quarter Courtyard Hotel remains on edge. The tensions and negative energies left over from a shooting that happened some years ago still echo in this hotel on the edge of the French Quarter.

According to author Allen Sircy, in the 1970s a wealthy businessman picked up a pair of young hustlers and brought them back to his hotel room to take advantage of their services. When the hustlers attempted to rob their client, he produced a gun shooting and killing both young men. He was arrested in their murder but was let off pleading self-defense.

A longtime hotel employee told Sircy that while the hotel doesn’t advertise itself as being haunted, guests staying in the particular second-floor room have had a variety of experiences. One guest reported that she heard footsteps around her bed before she felt someone climb in with her. Jumping up, she turned on the light to reveal that she was entirely alone.

A search for the details of this murder have so far been fruitless.

Sources

  • Sircy, Allen. Southern Ghost Stories: New Orleans. Amazon Kindle edition. 2023.

A haunt with a hammer in his hand–West Virginia

Big Bend Tunnel
John Henry Historical Park
3263 WV 3
Talcott, West Virginia

 

A Haunted Southern Book of Days–12 September

This article is a part of an occasional blog series highlighting Southern hauntings or high strangeness associated with specific days. For a complete listing, see “A Haunted Southern Book of Days.”

 

Guess I’ll die with a hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord.
–“John Henry,” traditional folksong

Many stories, songs, and legends celebrate John Henry, an African American steel driver endowed with massive muscles and extraordinary brute strength. As a steel driver, John Henry wielded a hammer to cut holes in solid rock that were utilized for planting explosives to blast away the rock. His death came after a demonstration pitting his strength against a steam-powered rock drill. After beating the machine, John Henry’s heart gave out and he died.

John Henry lies dead after beating the steam drill Palmer Hayden
Painting “John Henry lies dead after beating the steam drill” by Palmer Hayden. Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Most details of John Henry’s story have been lost as the story has passed into legend. Indeed, there is still disagreement about where his final labor was performed. Some scholars have suggested that it was here at the Big Bend or Great Bend Tunnel just outside Talcott, West Virginia. Near a large bend in the Greenbrier River, this tunnel was blasted through Big Bend Mountain for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad (C&O) starting in 1870. Completed in 1873, the tunnel extends roughly a mile and a quarter long though the mountain, preventing trains from having to navigate seven miles around the mountain.

Big Bend Tunnel
Big Bend Tunnel, 2023, by Theresa Racer-Cheshire. All rights reserved.
Interior of the Big Bend Tunnel, 2023, by Theresa Racer-Cheshire. All rights reserved.

The tunnel officially opened on 12 September 1873, though additional work was required on its interior. The inside was originally supported by timber beams, with the red shale constantly cracking and falling into the shaft. According to Rosemary Ellen Guiley, an entire train crew was killed by one collapse. Within several years, more work was ordered to shore up the walls by lining the entirety of the tunnel with six-million bricks.

Guiley tells the story of one of the brick masons working on the tunnel, Alfred Owen. As he finished work one afternoon, he began to hear the clink of a hammer. Looking around, he spied a dark figure swinging a hammer near the opening. As the figure continued to work, Owen attempted to sneak by towards the exit. After slipping on wet rocks, he looked up and the figure had vanished.

John Henry statue
John Henry statue erected next to the entrance to the Big Bend Tunnel in 1972. Photo 2007, by jpmueller99. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In 1972, a local civic organization erected a statue and plaque next to this tunnel honoring John Henry. According to local legend, not long after the tunnel opened reports began to circulate speaking of the sounds of the folk hero’s hammer striking the iron stakes. Sometimes the chant of Henry’s fellow workmen are heard continuing to encourage him. Even in death, John Henry is still swinging his hammer.

Sources

  • Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Big Book of West Virginia Ghost Stories. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2014.
  • John Henry (folklore). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 21 January 2024.
  • Lane, Ron “Great Bend Tunnel.” e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 13 February 2012.
  • Quackenbush, Janette. West Virginia Ghost Stories, Legends, and Haunts. 21 Crows Dusk to Dawn Publishing, 2017.

Ill Defined and Unknown Cause of Morbidity and Mortality–North Carolina

Broughton Hospital
1000 South Sterling Street
Morganton, North Carolina

A Haunted Southern Book of Days–12 April

This article is a part of an occasional blog series highlighting Southern hauntings or high strangeness associated with specific days. For a complete listing, see “A Haunted Southern Book of Days.”

 

The strange phrase, “Ill Defined and Unknown Cause of Morbidity and Mortality” is typed in all caps on Betty Jo Eller’s death certificate. Essentially, the doctors at Broughton Hospital has no idea why this “petite and attractive” 31-year-old died on April 12, 1962 in her bed at the psychiatric facility. A short time earlier, Miss Eller’s twin sister, Bobbie Jean, had been discovered dead in a different ward. The bodies of these women bore no indication that they had been injured or even murdered, both had apparently passed away at nearly the exact same time, sending doctors into a tizzy to determine the cause.

The two young ladies were born with a stillborn brother, Billie, on August 19, 1930, in the Wilkes County, NC community of Purlear. Their father, Adolphus Worth, presumably was prominent in the community as a Baptist minister, though the family is buried in a Methodist church cemetery. It appears that the twins were diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent time at the hospital previously. When they died, they had only been in the hospital for less than a month after being withdrawn and refusing to eat, classic symptoms of schizophrenia, at home.

Once their nearly simultaneous deaths were discovered, the Associated Press picked up the story which was published in papers across the country.

Avery Building Broughton Hospital Morganton North Carolina
Avery Building at Broughton Hospital, 2019. Photo by Warren LeMay, courtesy of Wikipedia.

As with many mental facilities, Broughton Hospital is no stranger to strange tales. It was the second mental institution established in North Carolina after the opening of the state’s first mental hospital in Raleigh. In the early 19th century, the treatment of mental conditions and disorders in this country was primitive to say the least. One of the first advocates for proper and modern care was the Maine-born Dorothea Dix. As a young educator, she was exposed to the harsh conditions imposed on the mentally ill when she visited a jail near Boston to teach a Sunday school class. Writing later, she was horrified to find, “Insane persons confined…in cages, closets, cellars, stalls, pens! Chained, naked, beaten with rods, and lashed into obedience!” Within two years, she was addressing the Massachusetts state legislature and achieving success in the male-dominated political realm.

After finding success in Massachusetts, she began traveling the nation advocating for the mentally ill wherever she went. She arrived in Raleigh in 1848 where she began lobbying for a state institution. In North Carolina, she plead for $100,000, half of the state’s budget, to create a hospital there. She faced an uphill battle not unlike the battle she faced elsewhere, but here she found an in for her legislation. In the same hotel where Dix was staying in Raleigh, she discovered the wife of legislator James C. Dobbins who was dying. Dix sat with her, comforting her, and reading from the Bible. When she expressed that she was near death, Dix asked for her husband’s support for her hospital bill.

Following his wife’s death, Dobbins made an impassioned plea for support of the bill in a speech that is considered a “legendary oration” in the state. The bill was overwhelmingly passed and a mental hospital in Raleigh began to take shape. Dix’s efforts were not forgotten when that institution was later named for her.

In 1875, a new hospital was ordered to reach the underserved areas in the western part of the state. The Western North Carolina Insane Asylum opened 29 March 1883 on 283 acres in Morganton. When the main building was found to be insufficient, more buildings were added in quick succession to provide room for a rapidly increasing number of patients. In 1890, the superintendent, Dr. Patrick Livingston Murphy, succeeded in changing the name of the hospital to the State Hospital at Morganton to reduce the stigma of the word “insane.” In 1959, the name was again changed to Broughton Hospital to honor the 60th governor of the state, Governor J. Melville Broughton.

In the latter part of the 20th century, endeavoring to end the abuses and the negligence in the country’s mental institutions, the federal government ordered reforms to the system and Broughton’s population plummeted from several thousand to several hundred.

As with many institutions of its type, Broughton maintains a population of dead residents who remain in spirit. Although many of its stories have not been documented, one of the hospital’s nurses set out to change that. Margaret M. Langley, R. N. collected numerous stories from her fellow employees and staff members and published them in a series of three books. It seems that the old hospital and its sprawling campus provides fertile grounds for paranormal activity. Langley includes her first paranormal experience in her first volume.

While working in Ward 27 South, the geriatric division, with an LPN, Langley stopped at the ward’s nurse’s station. At this time, the ward was a large room with twenty-five beds arranged around the nurse’s station all separated by curtains. A hallway connected this ward with an adjacent ward. As the nurse and LPN talked, Langley looked down the hallway and stopped mid-sentence. The LPN looked up and down the hallway where Langley was staring. “In the middle of the hallway a large cloud of mist floated.” Stunned, the pair watched “the mist fade away and disappear.” While a large patient bathroom was located just off that hallway, no one was in it and the mist did not appear to be shower steam.

A travel nurse related a haunting story to Langley: Some years ago, an unstable patient in one of the Broughton buildings located near “the highway” found their way into a stairwell where they hanged themselves in one of the windows. Presumably, this is one of the buildings near NC Highway 18. For years thereafter, drivers have seen the image of a woman hanging in the window; the sight sometimes causing accidents. These accidents occurred so frequently that hospital officials boarded up the window.

Throughout the hospital’s grounds spirits are active everywhere. In the employee’s cafeteria building, staff members have had their names called when they were alone. One staff member reported working in the cafeteria shortly before her shift started. As she cleaned tables and chairs, she began to hear the sounds of a piano playing and the doors opening and closing. Freaked out, she retreated to the employee smoking shack until her shift started and she was no longer alone.

In the early 2010s, a new modern building was added to the hospital grounds. Two construction workers told Langley stories of hearing the screams of a woman as they worked. One worker was working in the utility tunnels underneath the building when he began to hear this sustained screaming. Frightened, he asked a co-worker to help him check out the noise. They checked all of the tunnel where they were authorized to go with no avail. No one else was found there. Another worker on the top of the building heard the screams of a woman while he was welding; screams that were loud enough to be heard through all his welding gear.

In 1962, the Eller sisters were admitted to Broughton. The doctors seemed to have determined that one of the sisters was dominating the other. One of them would begin starving herself, influencing and forcing the other to do the same thing. Just a day before their unexpected deaths, the sisters were separated. Bobbie Jean remained in Ward 8, while Betty Jo was moved to Ward 12. Around 1 AM, a CNA was making rounds when she discovered that Bobbie Jean was dead. The doctor who was summoned, quickly sent someone to check on her sister in Ward 12. Betty Jo was found in the repose of death.

Both young ladies were known to be mischievous and staff in both wards have suggested that the pair may be behind the paranormal activity taking place there. In Ward 8, where Bobbie Jean passed away, staff and patients have witnessed a small blue orb of light hovering outside the dayroom windows. Two patients reported seeing the light outside their windows playing among the branches of the trees before disappearing. Another patient felt someone touching her and one night was pushed out of bed by an unseen force. The same patient had something play with her anklet, pulling it and allowing it to snap back. On Ward 12, staff members, including Ms. Langley, were unnerved by a feeling of being watched. Hopefully, the sisters are finding fun in their phantasmic hijinks.

Broughton’s sister hospital is Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro which I have also covered here.

Sources

  • Anthony, Robert G., Jr. and Ruth E. Homrighaus. “Psychiatric Hospitals.” org. 2006.
  • Broughton Hospital. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 19 January 2024.
  • Connelly, Bill. “Identical twins had similar illnesses, unexplained affinity.” Winston-Salem Journal. 14 April 1962.
  • Langley, Margaret M. Haunted Broughton More Tales from the Graveyard Shift. CreateSpace Publishing, 2010.
  • Langley, Margaret M. Haunted Broughton Book III, History and Horror. CreateSpace Publishing, 2016.
  • Langley, Margaret M. Haunted Broughton Tales from the Graveyard Shift. CreateSpace Publishing, 2009.
  • North Carolina State Board of Health, Office of Vital Records. Certificate of Death for Betty Jo Eller. 12 April 1962.
  • Smiley, David L. “Dorothea Dix.” 1 January 1996.
  • “Twins may have ‘willed to die.’” Winston-Salem Journal. 14 April 1962.
  • “Wilkes Baptist Minister Dies.” Greensboro Daily News. 8 November 1966.

“The most gallant gentleman”—The Headless Horseman of Stones River

Stones River National Battlefield
3501 Old Nashville Highway
Murfreesboro, Tennessee

N. B. I have briefly covered this battlefield in Part I of my coverage of US 41.

A Haunted Southern Book of Days–31 December

This article is a part of an occasional blog series highlighting Southern hauntings or high strangeness associated with specific days. For a complete listing, see “A Haunted Southern Book of Days.”

 

Soon Ah will be done with the troubles of the world!
–African American Spiritual

On New Year’s Eve 1862 just outside of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, soldiers rang in 1863 not with fireworks and celebrations, but with gun and cannon fire and the misery of battle. Here, at the West Fork of Stones River, two mighty armies clashed, with Union General William S. Rosecrans attempting to wrest control of Murfreesboro from Confederate forces under General Braxton Bragg.

Rosecrans, situated in Nashville, to the west of Murfreesboro, had been ordered by Union General in Chief Henry Halleck to seize the town, saying, “the Government demands action, and if you cannot respond to that demand some one else will be tried.” On the evening of December 30, both armies were poised to battle just outside the town. As darkness fell, the bands on both sides began playing their evening music with soldiers singing along from their tents and pallets. One of the bands struck up the song, “Home, Sweet Home,” and the other band ceased, then joined the familiar tune. Of this moment, a Confederate soldier mused in his journal, “Who knows how many hearts were bold next day by reason of that air?”

The opening Confederate salvos of the battle were fired at dawn catching many Union soldiers while they cooked breakfast. For three days, until 2 January, the armies would batter each other, making this battle perhaps the bloodiest as both sides endured more casualties than in any other of the war.

Lt. Col. Julius “Jules” Garesché, chief of staff to General Rosecrans, knew he had a Sword of Damocles hanging over his time here on earth. Perhaps he knew going into battle that he would soon be “done with the troubles of the world,” perhaps not, nevertheless he believed he had been presented with premonitions indicating that his end would be violent.

Julius Garesche
Julius Peter Garesché.

He spent much of this first day of battle at Rosecrans’ side directing troops on the battlefield. Garesché had known Rosecrans since their time at West Point together. While Rosecrans was notorious for his outspoken and brusque manner, he and his chief of staff had no quarrels.

Garesché was born Julio Pedro Garesché de Rocher in Havana, Cuba in 1821 to French parents. As Catholics, his parents sent him to study at the Jesuit Georgetown College (now Georgetown University) in the District of Columbia where he anglicized his name. He was appointed to attend West Point after his graduation, where he met Rosecrans, who was about two years younger than him. After being stationed unhappily in various posts, he served with distinction in the Mexican-American War (1846-48).

While in Newark, New Jersey, he organized the local St. Vincent de Paul Society and wrote ardently defending Catholic values. His activism was honored when he was named a Knight of St. Sylvester by Pope Pius IX. Wearing his religion on his sleeve, one of Rosecrans’ biographers described him as seeming, “without earthly ambition, half mystic, half saint; he denied himself reasonable comforts to help the poor…the Confederates considered him the ‘most gallant gentleman in the army.'” In fact, he led his military superior, Rosecrans, to become a Catholic.

Yet, Garesché believed he was bound to die in a violent manner. Some years before, he was tasked by his father with patrolling some land in Missouri removing squatters. His small group found a precariously situated cabin perched above the Missouri River and settled in for the evening. During the night, the waters washed away much of the ground underneath the cabin and the three men fled just moments before the structure crumbled into the river below. His brother, Frederick in training as a priest, augured that that incident was an omen that he would die violently. Other incidents and arguments with superiors cemented that sense of foreboding.

In May of 1861 while talking with an acquaintance about relatives who had joined the Confederate cause, Garesché damned these kin to hell. Confessing his sin to his brother, his brother prophesied that he would die in his first battle.

The morning of the battle found Garesché celebrating mass with his fellow soldiers before cannon fire signaled the battle beginning. Early that afternoon he found himself overseeing the violence along the Murfreesboro Pike near area called the Round Forest. A short time later, he was seen entering the grove of trees and dismounting to read from his prayer book. Within minutes, Garesché was dead.

Cannon Stones River Battlefield
Cannon on the Stones River Battlefield, 2014, by Kenneth Everett. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

As Confederate forces massed on nearby Wayne’s Hill covered the field with cannon fire, Rosecrans, his chief of staff, and two orderlies rode towards the railroad tracks to examine the scene. Noting the presence of the general on the field, Confederates took aim. A cannon ball whizzed past the general and struck his chief of staff in the head shearing off everything except for his lower jaw and parts of his beard. The mortal injury sprayed the surprised general with blood and brain matter. Garesché’s horse carried his rider’s body a short distance before he slid off.

An officer approached the general, splattered with his friend’s blood asking what he was doing, to which the dazed general muttered, “I am very sorry. We cannot help it, brave men die in battle. This battle must be won.”

Burial of Lt. Col. Garesché on the Stones River Battlefield
An etching of the night burial of Lt. Col. Garesché’s remains on the Stones River Battlefield. From Frank Leslie”s Illustrated Famous Leaders and Battle Scenes of the Civil War, 1896. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

Later that evening, Brigadier General William S. Hazen recovered his comrade’s body describing it in a later letter, “I saw but a headless trunk: an eddy of crimson foam had issued where the head should be. I at once recognized his figure, it lay so naturally, his right hand across his breast. As I approached, dismounted, and bent over him, the contraction of a muscle extended his hand slowly and slightly towards me. Taking hold of it, I found it warm and lifelike. Upon one of the fingers was the class ring, that (to me) beautiful talisman of our common school.”

Garesché’s body was transported to Washington, D.C. where he lies with his wife in Mount Olivet Cemetery.

Julius Garesché's grave in Washington's Mount Olive Cemetery
This monument with its toppled obelisk marks Julius Garesché’s grave in Washington’s Mount Olive Cemetery. Photo by Duke, 2015. Courtesy of Find-A-Grave.

Since those horrific days at Stones River, visitors, locals, and railroad employees have had experiences with what one local ghosthunter described as the “thousands of spirits” residing on the battlefield. Among them is the headless spirit of Julius Garesché astride his horse. According to a longtime park employee, “Garesché is the ‘star’ among all our reported sightings. We have a dramatic increase in tourists and inquiries each year as Halloween approaches.”

According to Allen Sircy’s 2020 Southern Ghost Stories: Murfreesboro: Spirits of Stones River, the stories of the headless horseman have become legendary in the area. He notes that some witnesses have heard the hoofbeats of a horse only to see the spirit nearby. Others have reported seeing a headless soldier pacing near the Round Forest or the National Cemetery located on the battlefield, perhaps Garesché sometimes returns without his mount?

One may wonder, in imagining his death, did Garesché imagine spending his afterlife as a specter on this notoriously haunted battlefield?

Sources

  • Daniel, Larry J. Battle of Stones River: The Forgotten Conflict between the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the Union Army of the Cumberland. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2012. eBook edition.
  • Julius Peter Garesché. Catholic Encyclopedia at NewAdvent.org. Accessed 6 January 2024.
  • Julius Peter Garesché. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed Accessed 6 January 2024.
  • National Park Service. “The Battle of Stones River.” Stones River Battlefield, Tennessee. Accessed 6 January 2024.
  • Pittard, Homer. “The Strange Death of Julius Peter Garesche.” LatinAmericanStudies.org. No date.
  • Sircy, Allen. Southern Ghost Stories: Murfreesboro: Spirits of Stones River. Amazon Kindle, 2020. eBook.
  • Whittle, Dan. “Part II: Ghostly Encounters.” Murfreesboro Post. 14 October 2013.

A New Year’s Beast–A Haunted Southern Book of Days

A Haunted Southern Book of Days–1 January

This article is a part of an occasional blog series highlighting Southern hauntings or high strangeness associated with specific days. For a complete listing, see “A Haunted Southern Book of Days.”

In the last days of 1953 in rural Bladen County, North Carolina, something began attacking dogs, killing them, and leaving their mutilated remains and a mystery behind. Not far from Bladenboro, a resident of Clarkton saw a “sleek, black, about 5 feet long” creature skulking away after killing a dog on the 29th of December. On New Year’s Eve two dogs were “torn into ribbons and crushed” in Bladenboro. On the 1st of January 1954, two more dogs were found in Bladenboro killed in a similar fashion. As the strange deaths added up over the next couple weeks, hunters from all around attempted to kill the mysterious creature.

Throughout the swamps and woodlands of Bladen County, the hunters pursued a monster without really knowing exactly what it was. The local bobcat population suffered a bit as they were thought to be to blame. However, others doubted that a small bobcat could have caused the devastation wrought on the canine victims. Some suggested a mountain lion or a panther, as some of the descriptions seemed to point to, though there was still some doubt.

Beast of Bladenboro Robeson County North Carolina
A front page article reporting the mysterious killing of five pigs and three chickens in nearby Robeson County. From The Robesonian, 15 December 1954.

Once the deaths seemed to cease, interest in the “beast” went with it. Late in 1954, a farmer in Robeson County (adjacent to Bladen County) found five pigs and three chickens crushed and mutilated like the dogs that been killed earlier, though new attacks were not forthcoming. And more attacks were reported. Local newspapers again took up the crusade against the creature, peppering the news with speculation which soon came to an end. The story is now mostly forgotten outside of the paranormal community and Bladen County.

Sources
Beast of BladenboroWikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 1 January 2024.
• Hotz, Amy. “The Beast of Bladenboro.” Wilmington Star-News. 29 October 2009.
• Price, Mark. “A vampire-like beast is called NC’s ‘creepiest urban legend’.” Charlotte Observer. 7 February 2018.

Alabama’s Haunted Thirteen

Thirteen years ago, I started this blog and early on, I did a series of articles highlighting places in each of the thirteen states I cover. Those early articles have mostly been updated and separated into their own articles. Please enjoy this updated version of those early articles.

Bladon Springs Cemetery
Bladon Springs Road
Bladon Springs

 

A Haunted Southern Book of Days–9 January

This article is a part of an occasional blog series highlighting Southern hauntings or high strangeness associated with specific days. For a complete listing, see “A Haunted Southern Book of Days.”

 

Located near the Tombigbee River, this cemetery and its well-known ghost story recall another disaster that occurred here. In 1913 as the steamboat James T. Staples neared the bend in the river near here, it was rocked by an explosion sending twenty-six souls and the ship to the bottom of the river. Shrouded in mystery, however, are the events leading up to the sinking.

Bladon Springs Cemetery Alabama
Gates of Bladon Springs Cemetery, by Judyanne Waters, 2015. Courtesy of Find-A-Grave.

The ship’s captain, Norman Staples—the ship was named after his father—had lost the ship to creditors after experiencing a financial reversal in December 1912. Depressed with the loss of his ship, Norman Staples committed suicide just after the New Year. A few days later, the crew of the ship began to see the shadowy form of the ship’s former owner in the boiler room. Legend says that that crew quit and had to be replaced before the ship steamed north. Just prior to the ship’s explosion, the rats aboard reportedly began to flee the doomed ship.

Norman Staples was laid to rest in this cemetery along with his wife and three of their children, none of whom reached the age of six. Norman’s sad spirit is said to patrol the grounds of this cemetery, his eyes never averting from the river where his beloved ship went down.

Sources

  • Ward, Rufus. “Ask Rufus: Ghosts of the Tombigbee.” The Dispatch (Columbus, MS). 25 October 2014.
  • Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory. NYC: Penguin, 2002.
  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.

 

D. E. Jackson Memorial Hospital
30338 Lester Road
Lester

If you hear screams emanating from this old, defunct Limestone County medical facility, they may not be ghosts. Over the past few years, this hospital has been transformed into a charity haunted house attraction at Halloween. According to local newspapers, this facility opened in the 1940s and served the Lester area until the 1990s. It was used as a drug rehab facility until it closed for good sometime thereafter. Prior to its closure, former staff whispered about paranormal activity. Volunteers working in the haunted house have reported hearing voices and seeing a locked door open on its own accord. Additionally, a lady in white has been spotted in and around the building.

Sources

  • Hollman, Holly. “Haunted hospital a prescription for frightening fun.” Decatur Daily. 1 October 2010.
  • Nicole, Ashleigh. “Northern Alabama’s Haunted Attraction: Lester Haunted Hospital.” Newsbreak. 24 September 2023.
  • Scripps, Lora. “Haunted hospital ready to scare you out of your wits.” News-Courier (Athens, AL). 22 September 2011.

 

George O. Baker House (private)
600 Dallas Avenue
Selma

As the Battle of Selma raged outside the George O. Baker House in April of 1865, seventeen women and children huddled within this 1854 Italianate home. Two gravely wounded soldiers took shelter here, and both were cared for despite being from opposite sides. The Confederate soldier was taken to the nearby hospital while the Union soldier languished in the hall. According to the home’s owner, “he was reported to be a kind one as some of the children here received peanuts from him just before he expired.” The blue-clad soldier died on the floor of the hall just under the staircase. His blood stains are still visible.

Over the years, many types of paranormal activity have been reported ranging from shadow figures to orbs to footsteps. One young man visiting the house some years ago, later told his mother he didn’t want to return because the “real old gentleman in the funny suit” had frightened him. Authors Higdon and Talley note that the house seems overwhelmed by a sense of sadness. The house has been investigated twice by two different paranormal teams and is featured on the Alabama Ghost Trail series on YouTube with a video of the owner speaking about the home’s ghost. Please respect the owners and residents of this private home.

Sources

  • Alabama Ghost Trail. “Baker Home.” YouTube. 19 July 2009.
  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.

 

Kenan’s Mill
188 Dallas County Road 236
Selma

While investigating Kenan’s Mill with the Alabama Paranormal Association, author and investigator Dale Langella felt something touch her in the charcoal kiln. “That never happens to me. I never get so freaked out like that and scream. I’ve been grabbed by spirits before, but I guess I just wasn’t expecting that,” she told a reporter from the Selma Times-Journal. The spirits here seem to enjoy physically touching visitors. In her book, Haunted Alabama Battlefields, Langella describes the myriad ways that visitors have been touched.

One young lady visiting the mill one evening felt something grab her leg and heard a male voice saying, “Help me.” Looking down, the young lady was shocked to see a wounded Confederate soldier clutching her leg. Other visitors have felt a burning sensation on their buttocks or felt something tug at their clothing; all this in addition to apparitions and odd flashes of light that sometimes appear throughout the site. The Selma Times-Journal quotes Langella as remarking that the site is “highly active.”

Built in the 1860s, the mill remained in the Kenan family until it was donated to the Selma-Dallas County Historic Preservation Society in 1997. This site was quite active during the Civil War, serving as a collection point for Confederate forces throughout central Alabama; as a result, the grounds were used as a field hospital. After the war, the mill served many farmers in the local area. The mill is now operated as a museum.

Sources

  • Johnson, Ashley. “Paranormal society finds activity in Selma.” Selma Times-Journal. 29 August 2012.
  • Langella, Dale. Haunted Alabama Battlefields. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.

 

Kenworthy Hall (Carlisle-Martin House) (private)
AL 14
Marion

Among the most unique Southern plantation homes, Kenworthy Hall was built for cotton planter and factor Edward Kenworthy Carlisle. The home was once the seat of a 440-acre estate and plays host to a classic Alabama ghost tale. Designed by noted British-American architect Richard Upjohn, the house is modeled on an Italian villa and features a unique square tower that figures into the home’s ghost story. As one of Upjohn’s masterpieces, the house was named a National Historic Landmark in 2004.

Kenworthy Hall Marion Alabama
Kenworthy Hall with its campanile-like tower. Undated photo taken for the Historic American Building Survey (HABS). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Kathryn Tucker Windham’s story of Kenworthy Hall centers on Edward Carlisle’s daughter, Anne. The young woman enjoyed spending time in the room at the top of the home’s tower. As young men across the South were signed up or called for military duty in the days leading to the Civil War, Anne’s beau was one of the first young men in the area to sign up.

He promised his lady that his slave would carry news to her and would carry a red flag if he had been killed. Keeping vigil in the tower room, Anne spotted the slave returning one afternoon bearing a red flag. She uttered a cry and threw herself over the railing of the staircase. Tradition speaks of that anguished cry still being heard on moonlit nights. Please respect the owners and residents of this private home.

Sources

  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Mellown, Robert & Robert Gamble. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Kenworthy Hall. January 2003.
  • Windham, Kathryn Tucker and Margaret Gillis Figh. 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama, 1969.

 

McIntire-Bennett House (private)
1105 Sycamore Street
Decatur

One of the most storied houses in Alabama, the McIntire-Bennett House played a prominent part in state history throughout the 19th century. Completed around 1836 on a bluff overlooking the Tennessee River, the house’s strategic location brought it to prominence during the Civil War. As control of the city passed between Confederate and Union forces, the house served as headquarters for various generals, which is perhaps the reason why it was one of a handful of buildings left standing in town after the war. Following the war, the house was purchased by Joseph Hinds who served as U.S. Consul General to Brazil. Here, Hinds’ daughter Grace was born in 1879. She would marry British Lord Curzon and become a well-known socialite in the Gilded Age.

McIntire-Bennett House Decatur Alabama
McIntire-Bennett House, 1976. Photo by Alex Bush for the Historic American Building Survey (HABS). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Legend holds that while the house was under Union control, it was receiving considerable fire from snipers located in the Old State Bank (see my entry on the bank here) building downtown. When one of the soldiers was shot and killed, his comrades had no way of disposing of the body. The soldiers cut a hole in the floor of the parlor and buried their friend under the house. The home’s current owner has been under the house, and his wife told the local paper, “There is dirt under there, and a hole cut out.”

The bedroom directly above that parlor is known as the “Ghost Room,” and it is here that a female wraith is said to appear to those in the room alone. She is supposed to lead people to the parlor and stand over the grave of the unfortunate soldier. While the home’s current owners have not encountered the female entity, they note that the room is apparently always much cooler than the rest of the house. The house remains a private residence, please respect the privacy of the owners and residents.

Sources

  • Gamble, Robert. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Rhea-McIntire House. 11 June 1984.
  • Godbey, Catherine. “Pre-Civil War era home features ghost room, tales of Union soldier buried there.” Decatur Daily. 4 December 2011.
  • Norman, Michael and Beth Scott. Historic Haunted America. NYC: TOR, 1995.

 

Old Morgan County Courthouse
24 Courthouse Square
Somerville

The oldest courthouse remaining in the state, this courthouse was built in 1837 to serve Morgan County. When the county seat moved to the bustling town of Decatur in 1891, the records were removed by an armed guard under cover of night to prevent locals from sabotaging the move.

Old Morgan County Courthouse Somerville Alabama
Old Morgan County Courthouse, by Chris Pruitt, 2012. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In 2007 this historic courthouse, now a museum and community center, was investigated by the local Somerville Paranormal Apparition Team (SPAT). Among the evidence discovered in this Federal-style building were a handful of EVPs.

Sources

  • Floyd, W. Warner. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Somerville Courthouse. No Date.
  • Huggins, Paul. “Somerville’s ghost hunters.” Decatur Daily. 20 August 2007.

 

Phenix City Riverwalk
By the Chattahoochee River
Phenix City

The banks of the Chattahoochee River here have seen human activity for centuries. Evidence discovered in this area indicates that Native American villages had thrived along this river for centuries before white occupation. In the early 19th century, the eastern bank here saw the development of Columbus, Georgia, which would be incorporated in 1828, while this side of the river remained Indian territory inhabited mostly by Muscogee Creek and Yuchi people with a smattering of white pioneers.

Historic Marker Phenix City Riverwalk Phenix City Alabama
Historic Marker on the Phenix City Riverwalk, by Mark Hilton, 2013. Courtesy of the Historic Marker Database.

A historical marker along the Riverwalk commemorates the execution of six Muscogee and Yuchi men who were accused of attacking the village of Roanoke in Stewart County, Georgia. Roanoke was mostly destroyed, several white settlers were killed, and the six accused men were hung here for the attack in November of 1836.

This section of the river saw much development as the end of the navigable portion of the Chattahoochee River. Cotton and other goods from nearby plantations were loaded here on ships bound for the Gulf of Mexico, and Wilson’s Raiders swept this area in April of 1865, towards the end of the Civil War.

The Chattahoochee Riverwalk on both sides of the river apparently has a variety of activity. On this side of the river, walkers and bikers have been followed by shadowy spirits that have caused some bikers to have accidents. As this section of the river has seen so much historical activity, it is difficult to determine the identity of the spirits.

Sources

  • Serafin, Faith. Haunted Columbus, Georgia: Phantoms of the Fountain City. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2012.

 

Rowand-Johnson Hall
Campus of the University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa

Hurrying towards a class in Rowand-Johnson Hall some years ago, a student passed an elegant older woman on the sidewalk. Being a proper Southerner, he smiled and wished her a good morning. The woman smiled in acknowledgment and said nothing. Entering the lobby of the building he noted that the woman he saw was the same as the woman whose portrait graced the room: Marian Gallaway. He stopped into the office of the head of the theatre department saying, “I just saw Marian Gallaway.”

The department head replied, “Unlikely, she’s been dead for eleven years.”

Rowand-Johnson Hall, built in 1955, houses the university’s Department of Theatre and Dance and two theatres: the Marian Gallaway and the Allen Bales Theatres. The theatre names pay homage to two beloved professors: Dr. Bales, a speech professor and noted actor and director, and Mrs. Gallaway, longtime director of the University Theatre. While Dr. Bales is not believed to be among the numerous spirits on this most haunted of campuses, Mrs. Gallaway’s spirit has become a part of the campus’ ghostlore tradition.

When in doubt, young student actors will implore Mrs. Gallaway for guidance. “How’s my blocking, Mrs. Gallaway?” they will ask and glance towards the projection booth where her spirit is supposed to appear. Though, sources do not provide if her appearance answers their question. Mrs. Gallaway also still attends performances and is sometimes seen sitting in the second row by theatre patrons who recognize her from her portrait in the lobby. Other legends note that when theatre students are lollygagging and avoiding learning lines or studying that Mrs. Gallaway will slam doors and make loud noises in the building to correct these wayward students. Great theatre directors will even direct from the grave, it seems.

Sources

  • Cobb, Mark Hughes. “Who haunts the halls of Tuscaloosa?” Tuscaloosa News. 25 October 2009.
  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Tuscaloosa. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2012.
  • “UA Campus Tour: Rowand-Johnson Hall.” University of Alabama. Accessed 21 March 2013.

 

Samford Hall
Campus of Auburn University
Auburn

 

A Haunted Southern Book of Days–7 February

This article is a part of an occasional blog series highlighting Southern hauntings or high strangeness associated with specific days. For a complete listing, see “A Haunted Southern Book of Days.”

 

Standing at the heart of Auburn University and the university’s history is Samford Hall with its spectral guard still watching over things from the building’s bell tower. It was on this site that East Alabama Male College was founded in 1859 in a building that would be fondly dubbed “Old Main.”

Samford Hall Auburn University Alabama
Samford Hall, Auburn University, 2017. Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV, all rights reserved.

With the coming Civil War, Old Main–along with the Presbyterian Church, now the university chapel (see my article on the chapel here)—was utilized as a Confederate hospital. Legend holds that the front lawn was stacked with the bodies of the dead some twenty-five feet across and about six feet high while awaiting interment in nearby Pine Hill Cemetery.

During this harrowing time, a Confederate guard watched over the living and dead below, from the pair of bell towers of Old Main. When Old Main was destroyed by fire in 1887, it was replaced by a larger, more elaborate building featuring two towers of different size. Though the original building is gone, the guard has been spotted upon his perch many times. One student hurrying past the tower one evening looked up to see a man with a rifle on his shoulder in the bell tower. A local mother who allowed her young son to play on the lawn in front was shocked when her son reported seeing a man in the tower who said that he had helped burn the building.

Sources

  • Kazek, Kelly. “Who wins the Ghost Bowl? An Alabama vs. Auburn challenge for Halloween.” com. 23 October 2013.
  • Ollif, Martin T. “Auburn University.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. 18 August 2008.
  • Sheehan, Becky. “Paranormal research team resurrects regional history.” Auburn Plainsman (Auburn University). 28 October 2013.
  • Serafin, Faith, Michelle Smith and John Mark Poe. Haunted Auburn and Opelika. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011.

 

Shelby Springs Confederate Cemetery
Shelby County Road 42
Calera

Visitors among the quiet ranks of grave markers here have had a variety of experiences including full apparitions, unexplained lights after dark, and physical contact from unseen forces. This cemetery was established in 1863 not far from the Confederate hospital relocated here from Vicksburg, Mississippi after the city’s fall. While most of the graves here belong to Confederate soldiers, tradition holds that a few unmarked graves beyond the fence at the back of the cemetery are those of Union soldiers.

Sources

  • Johnston, Kim. Haunted Shelby County, Alabama. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Shelby County Heritage Book Committee. Heritage of Shelby County, Alabama. Clanton, AL: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 1999.

 

Smith Hall
Campus of University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa

Within the hallowed halls of Smith Hall, much weirdness has been reported. From disembodied footsteps to the sounds of horses and carriage moving through the building, students and staff have had countless experiences in this building. Others have heard the droning of a lecturing professor and noisy students while a laboratory assistant working in the building’s basement was once pushed into and then locked in a closet by an unseen force.

Smith Hall University of Alabama Tuscaloosa
Alabama Museum of Natural History in Smith Hall, University of Alabama. Photo by AlabamaGuy2007, 2008, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Built in 1910, this magnificent Beaux-Arts structure was constructed to house Alabama Museum of Natural History as well as laboratories and classrooms. Named for Eugene Allen Smith, a university professor and Alabama State Geologist, the museum houses some of his personal effects, including his personal carriage, and perhaps his spirit may be one of those remaining here.

Sources

  • Crider, Beverly. “Crimson Hauntings: The Ghosts of UA.” com. 10 May 2012.
  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Tuscaloosa. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2012.
  • Windham, Kathryn Tucker. Jeffrey’s Latest 13: More Alabama Ghosts. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1982.

 

Weaver Castle (private)
625 Lauderdale Street
Selma

A handy man installing a ceiling fan in this historic home was asked, “What are you doing?” When he looked to see who was asking, he discovered an empty room. A resident some years ago had her dog reprimanded by an unseen presence. Her dog began barking, and a voice demanded, “Dog, shut up!” Her children were upstairs when that happened and had not been downstairs.

Weaver Castle Selma Alabama
Weaver Castle, by Altairisfar, 2011. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

William M. Weaver constructed this German Gothic style home in 1868 on property that had seen fighting during the Battle of Selma. Weaver passed away here in 1898 of, as the Alabama Ghost Trail asserts, a broken heart following the death of his son from kidney disease. Please respect the owners and residents of this private home.

Sources

  • Alabama Ghost Trail. “Weaver Castle.” YouTube. 19 July 2009.
  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.

The blood of the lamb–Gloucester, Virginia

Are you washed in the blood,
In the soul-cleansing blood of the lamb?
Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow?
Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?

— “Are Your Washed in the Blood?” by Elisha Hoffman (1878)

Church Hill (private)
John Clayton Memorial Highway (VA 14)
Gloucester Courthouse, Virginia

Along the banks of the Ware River, Mordecai Cooke established his plantation in 1658, calling it Mordecai’s Mount. Towards the end of the 17th century, Cooke’s son donated a small parcel of land to the local parish to construct a church and thus Ware Episcopal Church was built a short distance away from the home. The house on a hill above the church soon earned the name, Church Hill.

With the marriage of a Cooke daughter, the estate passed into the hands of the Throckmorton family. The home may have been rebuilt several times before the current frame structure was built in the 19th century. While the house may have changed, a legend has persisted involving one of the young Throckmorton daughters.

Young Elizabeth Throckmorton traveled to London with her father at a young age. The impressionable girl soon found herself in the thrall of a young English gentleman. After her return home, she continued corresponding with him, despite her father’s objections. Thinking that the young man might only be interested in his fortune, Elizabeth’s father began quietly intercepting the letters.

Distressed by the sudden end to the love letters from across the pond, Elizabeth fell into a depression. As she pined for her English gentleman, her health deteriorated. As the first cold winds of winter blew in November of that year, Elizabeth fell into an eternal sleep. Her family dutifully washed and cleaned her body in a light gown and placed her into a simple coffin barefoot. A grave was dug on the edge of the garden and the coffin lowered after a simple service likely led by the rector of Ware Church.

Ware Parish Church Gloucester Virginia
Ware Church, taken for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Following the burial of their beloved daughter, the family retired to their home to bundle up as the first storm of winter blew in. However, local grave robbers had their sights set on the fresh grave and the young lady who may have been buried with family jewels. In the dead of night, they stole into the small family burying ground to disinter its newest resident.

Once the pine coffin was pulled out the ground, the lid was pried off and the body of the young lady was exposed. Her earrings and necklace were easy to remove, though her ring was steadfastly held on her swollen finger. The thieves turned to using a knife to cut the ring off. After several strokes, the thieves were surprised when the body seemed to jerk to life, coughing and sputtering and crying out in pain. The frightened thieves fled the bloody scene.

Front door of Ware Church Gloucester Virginia
Front door of Ware Church, 2016. Photo by Voxinterior, courtesy of Wikipedia.

In confusion and pain, Elizabeth rose from her coffin and blindly began to make her way towards the house. The freezing wind blew, and her light gown gave no protection from the cold. Her feet were frozen by the newly fallen snow in her path as she unsteadily crawled towards the dark hulk of her family’s home.

As the family’s enslaved people woke in the dark of the morning a lump under the snow at the door was revealed as the frozen form of young Elizabeth with blood congealed around her mangled hand. Further grief-stricken by the gruesome discovery, the family reburied their daughter’s remains, though her spirit continues to walk beyond her grave.

Legend tells us that Elizabeth’s wraith continues to walk when the first snows of the season come. Within the house, inhabitants have heard the sounds of her light footsteps and preparations being made in the home’s fireplaces. Shortly the crackle of fires is heard issuing from the cold and empty chimneys. Often the next morning, drops of fresh blood are found in the snow outside leading from the cemetery up to the doorstep. Later inhabitants of the home have also reported that the empty house has been seen ablaze with light on dark and stormy nights. Perhaps trying to warm the young girl who froze to death several centuries before.

Church Hill is a private home. Please respect the privacy of its residents, both the living and the dead.

Sources

  • Church Hill.” Colonial Ghosts Blog. 15 August 2017.
  • Lee, Marguerite DuPont. Virginia Ghosts, Revised Edition. Berryville, VA: Virginia Book Company, 1966.
  • Taylor, L. B., Jr. Ghosts of Virginia’s Tidewater. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011.

As the caisson goes limping along—Sharpsburg, MD

West Main Street
Sharpsburg, Maryland

Sharpsburg, Maryland is a small, quaint town with a haunting legacy. On the morning of September 17, 1862, fighting broke out just outside of town which developed into the bloodiest battle in American military history, the Battle of Antietam. By the end of that day, more than 22,000 men were dead, wounded or missing. The Confederate armies were packed into many of the buildings and spaces in the small village in an attempt to dislodge the Union armies massed north of town and continue with an invasion of Pennsylvania. The battle ended with the armies having held their own, though it was considered a victory for the Union. Within a few days, General Robert E. Lee’s troops were withdrawn from the wasted and pillaged village.

Much of the town remains as it was on that fateful day, including spirits of the soldiers and locals who were killed in the battle. Locals and visitors still encounter apparitions to this day. One image of the battle is repeated on West Main Street in the heart of Sharpsburg. Near the town’s primary intersection of Main and Mechanic Streets, the image of a military battery struggling with a damaged artillery caisson has been encountered.

Local tour guides, Mark and Julia Brugh describe this scene in their 2015 book, Civil War Ghosts of Sharpsburg, “one repeated sighting on Main Street in Sharpsburg, just west of the town square, is of a broken artillery caisson that is dragged by a team of horses and pushed by the remnants of a unit of men who appear fatigued and strained by the ardor of battle. The men and horses struggle to move the heavy load with smashed and broken wagon wheels up a long sloping rise as the street heads to the west. Sometimes the story is reported with a single broken-down caisson and cannon; other times there are two cannons, one of them described as severely smashed or bent at the barrel.”

Downtown Sharpsburg Maryland
Buildings on Main Street at the town square in Sharpsburg, 2012. Photo by Acroterion, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Brughs explain this this sighting is one of the first ghost stories they learned, and they continue to hear from a variety of people who have seen this spectral scene. One witness described the men in great detail including the insignia of a palm tree on the soldiers’ uniforms. However, this seeming incongruous detail led to the Brugh’s identification of these soldiers. The palm tree was the palmetto that is emblematic of South Carolina soldiers. The state’s flag depicts a palmetto tree reminiscent of the fort built to defend Sullivan’s Island during the American Revolution, which was constructed of palmetto logs and sand and was able to repel British artillery bombardment.

During the Battle of Antietam, a South Carolina artillery battery under the command of Capt. Hugh R. Garden did not have the protection of palmetto logs as they were bombarded by Union artillery. Civil War historian Stephen W. Sears describes the scene on Cemetery Hill, on the eastern edge of the town:

“…one gun was disabled by a direct hit on the muzzle and a second knocked out when a shell smashed its carriage. Presently Garden’s ammunition ran out and the guns were hauled off the hill by hand, the horses hitched up, and the battery went clattering back through the streets of Sharpsburg under the lash of the drivers, the gun with the splintered wheels dragged along in a great dust cloud by its straining team.”

Civil War era limber and caisson
A limber and artillery caisson from “Instruction for Field Artillery” (1864) by Wm. H. French, Wm. F. Barry, and H.J. Hunt.

Long before Sharpsburg was founded, Main Street was the Great Wagon Road leading German Palatine, Swiss Protestant, and Scotch-Irish immigrants from Pennsylvania south to the Carolinas and Georgia. Sharpsburg was established here in 1763 and named for Horatio Sharpe, the Propriety Governor of the Province of Maryland. Satisfied with this sylvan farming community, some of the travelers put down roots here. The construction of the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal nearby running parallel to the Potomac brought business to community, but it did not wake from its slumber until the Union Army began to rain artillery on that September morning.

With its innocence lost through the tumult of the battle, the town has retained its quiet demeanor as well as energy from that time that is spontaneously revived in the streets.

Sources

  • Brugh, Mark P. & Julia Stinson Brugh. Civil War Ghosts of Sharpsburg. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2015.
  • Great Wagon Road. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 2 September 2023.
  • Sears, Stephen W. Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam. NYC: Houghton Mifflin, 1983.
  • Sharpsburg, Maryland. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 2 September 2023.