“The glory that was the Poinsett”—Greenville, South Carolina

Westin Poinsett Hotel
120 South Main Street
Greenville, South Carolina

N. B. I first covered the Poinsett in “A Carolina Cornucopia,” published 9 January 2012, and that article was republished under “‘Twas the Night Before Halloween–Recycled Revenants,” 30 October 2017. This article has been revised and expanded.

The Greenville News mourned the loss of the Mansion House hotel in its February 3, 1924 edition. With a headline reading that the “Passing of the Mansion House recalls interesting local history,” the article notes that the hundred-year-old building saw many distinguished visitors pass through its doors. Statesman John C. Calhoun was such a frequent visitor that room 32 was known as the Calhoun Room and generally reserved just for him. The article ends by extolling the virtues of the Mansion House with hope that the million-and-a-half-dollar hotel that replaces it will “acquire the reputation that was enjoyed by its predecessor…and Greenville of another hundred years will look backward to the glory that was the Poinsett.”

advertisement Poinsett Hotel Greenville South Carolina haunted ghost 1925
An advertisement from The Greenville News for an evening of dancing held at the Poinsett Hotel in 1925.

In June 1925, the Poinsett Hotel opened its doors with a reception, dinner, and dance as locals and visitors alike examined the glittering 12-story skyscraper. The hotel’s developers had hired William Lee Stoddart, one of the leading architects at that time, to design the building. Stoddart’s reputation was primarily built on his designs for hotels and offices, many of which were scattered throughout the South. Designs included the Winecoff Hotel (now The Ellis Hotel) in Atlanta, the Francis Marion Hotel in Charleston, the Lord Baltimore Hotel in Baltimore, and the John Sevier Hotel in Johnson City, Tennessee (all of which are known to be haunted). The hotel’s name honored one of the state’s favorite sons, Joel Roberts Poinsett, the Charleston-born statesman, politician, and diplomat.

Poinsett Hotel Greenville South Carolina haunted ghost
Poinsett Hotel, 2017, by Upstateherd. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Despite its brilliant opening, the hotel struggled to succeed until J. Mason Alexander took over the reins of the business in 1930. During his 30-year tenure, the hotel began to turn a profit becoming a fixture in the city. However, the glory that was the Poinsett had faded by the mid-1970s as business left for motels and chain hotels on the outskirts of the town. The hotel closed its doors in 1975 and sat dormant until it was acquired by a developer and renovated for use as a retirement home. For a decade, the grand dame hosted aging grand dames and gentlemen, though management was plagued with problems including fire code violations. In the January 1, 1987 edition of The Greenville News, the grand dame said farewell in a picture story. For 13 years, the abandoned structure attracted the homeless and thrill seekers.

The hotel reopened in 2000 after a multi-million-dollar restoration and it has now returned to prominence as one of Greenville’s most luxurious hotels.

So far, some guests enjoying the luxurious amenities have encountered other, non-paying guests in the hotel. Jason Profit, in his book, Haunted Greenville, South Carolina, relates stories from two guests. A businessman was awakened during the night by odd sounds from his bathroom. Twice, he discovered the light on after he knew he had shut it off. The second time, the sounds seem to be coming from the hallway and the businessman opened the door. Peering into the empty hallway, he glimpsed an elderly man disappearing around the corner. Upset, he called the front desk to demand that whoever was cleaning at that time of the night needed to be quieter. The desk clerk informed the businessman that no one was cleaning and he was the only guest staying on that floor.

A young woman staying in the hotel had an even scarier experience. After checking in with her boyfriend, the young woman was alone in the room hanging clothes in the closet. Suddenly, something pushed her into the closet and the door shut behind her.

She tried desperately to open it, but the knob felt as though it was being held from the other side (pun intended). Nearly 15 minutes passed while she attempted to escape. When she got out, she called her boyfriend to inform him that she would not be staying any longer in the hotel.

Whether the spirits of former guests, elderly residents or vagrants, the entities stalking the halls are unidentified, though they only add to the luster that is the glory of the Poinsett Hotel.

There are several other haunted places in Greenville that I have covered in this blog. Connolly’s Irish Pub on East Court Square is covered in my “Dining with Spirits” article and Herdklotz Park, the former site of the Greenville Tuberculosis Hospital, is covered in my article, “Feeling Umbrage for the Upstate.”

Sources

  • Morrison, R. F. “Passing of the Mansion House recalls interesting local history.” The Greenville News. 3 February 1924.
  • National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for the Poinsett Hotel. No date.
  • “Poinsett Hotel opening is affair of much brilliance.” The Greenville News. 23 June 1925.
  • “The Poinsett Hotel: Two grand ladies say farewell.” The Greenville News. 1 January 1987.
  • Profit, Jason. Haunted Greenville, South Carolina. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011.
  • William Lee Stoddart. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 19 January 2019.

A restaurant revenant—Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

1905 City Hall
300 South Second Street
Bay St. Louis

N.B. This was originally published 3 June 2014 as part of “Louisiana and Mississippi: Newsworthy Haunts–6/3/14.”

Two hurricanes, Camille in 1969 and Katrina in 2005, wrecked much of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi including its graceful 1905 city hall. Camille, which made landfall next door in Waveland, blew off the building’s cupola and Katrina also severely damaged the building when it made landfall nearby. Since its restoration, something else may be occasionally wreaking havoc inside the building.

Bay St. Louis Mississippi city hall haunted ghost
Bay St. Louis City Hall a short time after construction. Undated postcard. Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Originally, the building housed the mayor’s office, city council chambers, police department, and jail. Over the years, many city departments have occupied the building which, after Katrina’s destructive blow to the city, required extensive restoration. After its Georgian splendor was restored in 2014, the building now houses offices with a Greek and Italian restaurant, Mezzo Mezzo (formerly Sonny’s Cypress Café), occupying the entire first floor. It is here, where the old jail was once located, that quite a bit of paranormal activity has been experienced.

Bay St. Louis Mississippi city hall haunted ghost Hurricane Katrina damage
Bay St. Louis City Hall, September 19, 2005, after Hurricane Katrina. Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

An article from a local TV station, WLOX, quotes a restaurant staff member as saying, “We’ve had a lot of things move around, we’ve had glasses fly around. Doors just open and close real quick, and all of our doors have safety mechanisms which [means] you can’t actually open them. There’s just so many things that happened here on a regular basis that just didn’t seem normal.” A staff member interviewed by G-COM, states that mason jars and glasses sometimes fly off the counter and shatter on the floor.

After initially attempting to ignore the activity, the owner and staff decided to call in a paranormal team. G-COM (Ghost Chasers of Mississippi), investigated and captured evidence of three possible spirits in 2014. They produced a video of their investigation which was posted on YouTube. The investigation yielded a number of EVP and some fruitful flashlight sessions.

For the café’s owner, however, the spirits are not fearsome, “nothing bad has really happened, it’s really kind of cool,” she said.

Stories point to an incident in 1928 which may provide the origin of some of the building’s activity. That year, a man incarcerated in the jail shot his way to freedom, killing a man in the process. After he was recaptured, the prisoner became the last person executed by hanging in Hancock County, when he was hung in the Hancock County Courthouse a short distance away. That building may also be haunted by his restless spirit.

Sources

Spiritual Spirits—Athens, Alabama

Donnell House
601 South Clinton Street
Athens, Alabama

N.B. Originally published as part of “Newsworthy Haunts 5/10/13—Alabama’s Battlefields and Charleston’s Jail,” 10 May 2013; republished as part of “’Twas the Night Before Halloween—Recycled Revenants,” 30 October 2017.

Originally called Pleasant Hill, this home was built by the Reverend Robert Donnell, a Presbyterian minister and native of North Carolina. Donnell moved into his newly completed home in 1840 and died here in 1855. The house remained in his family until 1869 when it passed out of the family and became home to the Athens Male Academy. It later became a public school and is now surrounded by Athens Middle School. The house is occasionally opened to the public.

haunted Donnell House Athens Alabama ghosts spirits
The Donnell House, 1935, by Alex Bush for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

During the Civil War, this home was commandeered by Union troops under Colonel John Basil Turchin, a Russian soldier who led the Sack of Athens in 1862. The Donnell family remained in the house during this time with Rev. Donnell’s 16-year-old daughter Nannie lying sick in bed while the troops camped on the lawn. Reportedly, she was kept awake by the soldiers’ constant carousing and music. Even after the soldiers were asked to settle down so the girl could sleep, they defiantly responded, “Better she should go to Heaven listening to Yankee music!” Young Nannie died of scarlet fever a short time later.

The executive director of the house, Jacque Reeves, author of the book Where Spirits Walk, has stated that Rev. Donnell’s spirit remains here. “He is having Bible study, and his mother is making biscuits for the guests,” she writes. According to author Shane Black, one couple touring the home was greeted by an “austere” gentleman who welcomed them to his home. Nannie Donnell is also thought to be here as well, with playful laughter and the crying of a child heard coming from her former bedroom. These spirits may also be joined by others, including Union and Confederate soldiers and slaves.

I have covered two other haunted places in Athens including Founders Hall on the Athens State University Campus, and the Houston Memorial Library is the representative haunting for Limestone County in my Haunted Alabama County by County series.

Sources

  • Black, Shane. Spirits of Athens: Haunting Tales of an Alabama Town. NYC: iUniverse. 2009.
  • Kazek, Kelly. “Paranormal investigators visit Civil War sites in Alabama; ghost says, ‘huh?’AL.com. 9 May 2013.
  • Floyd, W. Warner. National Register of Historic Places form for Donnell House. 1 August 1973.
  • History. The Donnell House. Accessed 14 May 2015.
  • Langella, Dale. Haunted Alabama Battlefields. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.

“It came upon a midnight clear”—A West Virginia Christmas Tale

Old Grafton Road
(WV-310)
Between Grafton and Fairmont

Late one Christmas Eve a trucker was hauling a load of dry powdered glass to the Owens-Illinois Glass Plant in Fairmont, West Virginia. After passing through Grafton, the trucker drove north on West Virginia Route 310, also known as Old Grafton Road; passing the Tygart Valley River as it parallels the route for part of the journey. After it parallels Old Grafton Road, the river swings northwest before it meets the West Fork River to create the Monongahela River in Fairmont.

Monongahela River Fairmont West Virginia
Monongahela River in Fairmont. After picking up the phantom hitchhiker on Old Grafton Road, the trucker would have crossed this river to reach downtown Fairmont. Photo by Tim Kiser, 2006. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In the vicinity of Valley Falls Road, the trucker noticed an odd figure on the side of the road waving him down. Stopping, the driver stepped down out of his rig to find a young woman standing in the cold in a red gown. She was wet, and her hair matted. She asked to be taken to Fairmont.

Despite being late with his delivery, the driver knew he could not leave the young woman by the side of the road. Helping her into the passenger seat of his cab, he grabbed one of his coats and put it around her shoulders for warmth. After climbing into the driver’s seat, the trucker asked where in Fairmont the woman wanted to be taken. Quietly she replied that she wanted to be dropped off at the Cook Hospital.

While he may have known that Cook Hospital had been replaced by a modern hospital, the driver was anxious to get his haul to the glass plant. Stopping in front of the old building at the intersection of Gaston Avenue and 2nd Street, the driver stepped down from the cab, and walked around to help the young lady down. Opening the door, the driver was stunned to see the seat was empty except for his coat.

Heading to the glass plant with his haul, the driver told the manager his strange tale. He was fired for his tardiness anyway.

Hearing of folklorist and Fairmont resident, Ruth Ann Musick, the unemployed driver contacted her with the hope that she could lend credence to the his tale. Musick was indeed familiar with the tale and agreed to call the managers of the glass plant on the driver’s behalf. The driver was rehired after Musick’s call. The moral of this story is that if you cannot be fired if you run into beings from West Virginia folklore.

This is far from the typical ghostly hitchhiker scenario because of its details. This story was detailed in a 2015 article in the Clarksburg, West Virginia Exponent Telegram that looks at folktales throughout the Mountain State. The story has been passed around by many folklorists. I stumbled across this wonderful story in a December 16 post from the Haunted West Virginia page on Facebook.

What makes this story unique are the details that fits this typical type of story into the West Virginia landscape and the involvement of Ruth Ann Musick. It is possible to roughly date this story through its precise details. The Owen-Illinois Glass Plant opened in Fairmont in 1910 making bottles. With the construction of a large factory on 40 acres east of town, the company expanded production and the plant began running 24 hours a day, which would account for a trucker making a Christmas Eve delivery.

According to a recent article in The Fairmont News, production ramped up over the decades to where, in the 1970s, the plant employed nearly 1000 employees. In 1978, the company began to phase out operations at the plant, laying off the bulk of the plant’s employees by 1980. The plant was shuttered in 1982. Last year, it was announced that the site of the former plant will be developed into a business park.

The Cook Hospital in the story still stands, though it no longer operates as a hospital. The large Italianate building was built in 1903 for Dr. John R. Cook as a 100-bed hospital. A nursing residence was added in the 1920s and the hospital served as a training ground for nurses. The hospital closed in the late 1930s with the construction of Fairmont General Hospital. In the intervening years, the building has also been used as offices for the Marion County Board of Education. In 2017, it was announced that the building would be renovated for use as low-income housing.

The Exponent Telegram version of the story adds a detail with the trucker dropping the young woman off at the Marion County Courthouse instead of the Cook Hospital. A folklorist quoted in the article also points out the fact that regardless of where the spirit requested to be dropped off, spirits aren’t known to cross water. However, the story would require that the trucker drive over the Monongahela River to reach downtown Fairmont where the hospital and courthouse are located. The folklorist concedes that perhaps the man’s coat weighted the spirit down.

Marion County Courthouse Fairmont West Virginia
Marion County Courthouse in downtown Fairmont, West Virginia. Photo by Tim Kiser, 2006. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Ruth Ann Musick, the folklorist who came to the trucker’s defense, is an eminent figure in the preservation of the state’s folklore. She originally came to Fairmont State College (now Fairmont State University) to teach mathematics and English in 1946. During her more than two decades at the school she delved into folklore, becoming a passionate champion of West Virginia’s peculiar tales. As well as creating classes about folklore, she revived the West Virginia Folklore Society and started and served as editor for the West Virginia Folklore Journal.

As a collector of the stories and tales that sprang from the rocky soil of the Mountain State, she published several collections that are still in print including The Telltale Lilac Bush and Other West Virginia Ghost Tales and Coffin Hollow and Other Ghost Tales. The folklorist quoted in the Exponent-Telegram articles notes that Musick knew 21 versions of this story, so the trucker was right in contacting her to strengthen his excuse. We can also use Musick to add a date to this story. According to her Wikipedia entry, Musick was diagnosed with spinal cancer and passed away July 2, 1974. Coupled with the dates from the glass plant and Musick’s death, that would likely set this story sometime in the late 1960s or very early 1970s.

Sources

Encounter at Plant Hall–Tampa, Florida

Plant Hall—Universityof Tampa
401 West Kennedy Boulevard

Tampa, Florida

Several years ago, I wrote about Plant Hall at the University of Tampa. Originally constructed by Henry Plant as the grand Tampa Bay Hotel, this whimsical edifice had trouble turning a profit, and sold to the city of Tampa. In 1933, the building was converted for use as the University of Tampa, which remains its use today.

About a year after I posted the article, I received an anonymous comment telling a chilling story. This has been edited for clarity.

Several years ago, my husband and I were vacationing and visiting my sister in Florida. On one afternoon we were looking for something to do and my sister suggested we check out the Plant Museum in Tampa. My husband knew I loved architecture and especially grand,old, buildings. I was very excited.

We went in and began walking around. I could just imagine what it must have been like in its heyday. I saw the grand staircase and couldn’t help but walk up several flights ahead of my husband. Then I came to a strange hallway that seemed out of place and as I started walking down the hallway, I felt uncomfortable and I felt just a little bit cold (I thought probably because of all the windows). I felt I had gone to a part of the building that was off-limits to the public and decided to turn back.

A curving corridor. Photo 2009 by Gordon Tarpley. Released under a Creative Commons License.

My husband was still on the first floor. As I headed toward the top of the stairway of the third-floor landing, I felt that there was a young girl in a long, white dress nearby. I think I sensed her on the way up too, but I thought I must have quite a vivid imagination and tossed it aside.

Then I reached the top of the stairway and looked down the 3 flights and I heard a man whisper, “Go ahead, why don’t you just jump?” I ignored it and heard it again. “Why don’t you just jump?” This scared the hell out of me.

A grand staircase inside Plant Hall. Photo 2009 by Gordon Tarpley. Released under a Creative Commons License.

The railing I was clutching now seemed so flimsy and low to my body that I could easily fall right over. I felt dizzy and very frightened. I held the railing deliberately and I kept my grip all the way down until I made my way back to my husband. I told him, “I want to leave this place, now!”

In the car, on the way back to my sister’s house, I explained what happened.

This experience has stayed with me for years even though I have put it out of my mind. Recently I saw something on TV today that reminded me of it again. That’s when I decided to look up the history of the Plant Museum and found this web site with the two things I remembered most; the grand stairway and that cold corridor. Does anyone know if, in the history of the hotel, did a young girl, maybe 12-14 years old, fall to her death there? Or commit suicide?

While I cannot validate any of this, especially since the commenter is anonymous, it seems to ring true to me.

Several years ago, I visited Tampa. While I strolled downtown with my partner, I suddenly was greeted with the sight of minarets poking up through the tree canopy across the river. The sight stopped me in my tracks. Just the way that I imagine Henry Plant planned it.

The minarets of Henry Plant’s Tampa Bay Hotel, now the University of Tampa’s Plant Hall, rises above the Hillsborough River across from downtown Tampa. Photo 2014 by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Front Porch Phantoms—Tallapoosa, Georgia

The tradition of front porch storytelling is alive in Tallapoosa, thanks to Susan Horsley-Pitts who is actively trying to revive it with her walking tour of local ghost stories. Having spent much of my childhood on the front porch of my grandparents’ front porch on LaGrange Street in Newnan, Georgia, I fully appreciate her efforts.

Front porch of a business featured on the Tallapoosa Ghost Stories: A Walking Tour. While this location isn’t haunted, it’s quite creepy. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

I failed to dress appropriately for the near-freezing temperatures that we encountered on the tour, but the chilling stories took my mind off the cold. Winding through the darkened streets of this small town, many of the stops were private homes with porches where spirits still linger. At an old building that has been divided into apartments, the spirit was known to play with one of the front doors. One evening during the ghost walk, a child played with the door, opening and closing it as Horsley-Pitts spun the story. Distracted, she asked the child to close the door and the child tried to do it, though something held on to the other side of the door. Both she and the child had to pull the door closed together.

This ghost walk first came to my attention last year as I was trying to find stories from every one of Georgia’s 159 counties. Google produced few results for many of the more rural counties like Haralson County, but it did pop up this ghost walk. I was disappointed to find that the tour only ran during the Halloween season, but I was determined to take it. I finally had the chance to make the drive last and take the tour last Saturday, and it was well worth it.

Tallapoosa appears to be a typical Southern small-town, though that façade belies a twisted and fascinating history. The town has experienced several boom and bust cycles starting in the early 19th century when gold was discovered in the area and settlers named the settlement Possum Snout. Some of the white men who settled in the area remained and built farms and plantations. Exploiting the natural lithium springs and the arrival of the railroad, Ralph Spencer, a Connecticut businessman, endeavored to turn this backwoods community into a resort town and constructed the Lithia Springs Hotel.

Advertising in papers throughout much of the country, Spencer attracted tourists, some of whom built residences here, earning the town the tagline, “a Yankee city under a Southern sky.” Building on this success, Spencer recruited some 200 Hungarian and Eastern European families from Pennsylvania to create a winemaking community which was named Budapest. Both ventures were successful, though land fraud brought down Spencer’s first venture while the winemaking venture ceased in 1907 with the passage of statewide prohibition.

Head Avenue was deathly quiet last Saturday night. Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV, all rights reserved.

While the production of legal alcohol ceased, some locals took up the production of moonshine and Tallapoosa began to develop a reputation as a rough place that featured gambling and prostitution fueled by illegal alcohol. During this time, Tallapoosa earned the nickname, “Little Phenix City,” after America’s first “Sin City,” Phenix City, Alabama.

Reminders of this rough patch remain in the form of spirits, such as those still encountered at the Tallapoosa Police Department (15 East Alabama Street). Originally the site of the town jail, this building has been the scene of several tragedies involving the deaths of officers and civilians. Officers with the department have reported hearing moaning and growling in basement offices.

At the beginning of the tour, Horsley-Pitts commented that the town changes after dark and this is was the ever-present theme throughout the walk. These simple and straightforward tales told on silent city streets or amongst the shadows on dark and eerie residential lanes lent a ghoulish gravitas to the journey. Possible paranormal activity added an excitement to the proceedings with lights seen by some in one empty house and curtains that may have opened on their own in the window of another.

The whole tour was carried out in an understated, though well-crafted manner that was ultimately quite elegant. Even calling the tour a “walk” lends a sense of hominess to the whole effect. Wonderful memories of this evening will remain with me for some time.

As if to underscore the creepiness of the evening, the scoreboard in the gymnasium of the old Tallapoosa High School, located across the street from the park where the tour starts, continued to go off throughout the evening. As Horsley-Pitts and I talked after the tour’s conclusion, the scoreboard continued to blare at regular intervals. Perhaps it’s marking a win for the front porch phantoms of Tallapoosa.

Tallapoosa Ghost Stories: A Walking Tour will be offered on Friday and Saturday nights for the last time this year at 9 PM. Tickets may be purchased at Papou’s Pizza (2178 US-78). See the tour’s Facebook page for further information.

Two Spiritually Scarred Landscapes in South Georgia

Scarring takes on many forms. On the human body scars can be physical reminders of accidents or trauma or they can work their way deep into the viscera, affecting emotions, the spirit, or the psyche.

With the physical environment, while we may see the visible degradation of a landscape, but we don’t often consider the spiritual scars that may be left after traumatic events. Ghastly murders, battles, accidents, massacres, and the like rend the spiritual fabric of a place, causing activity that we may deem as beyond the reach of the normal.

In 1977, an intrepid writer published her experiences in a spiritually scarred landscape in The Atlanta Journal and Constitution Magazine.

Joined by a brave friend, the writer sat on the marshy edge of Dunbar Creek on St. Simons Island, Georgia as night descended. Intoxicated by the pungent salty odor of the marshes, the thrum of insects, and the calling of marsh birds, the pair began to hear the rhythmic clank of metal. Out of this aural soup the sound of the thwack of bare feet on the muddy creek bank began to rise and soon a descant of chanting began to ring above that rhythm.

The pair could not distinguish the language, but the chanting was filled with pain, despair, and longing for freedom. Frightened out of their wits, the two fled to the safety of their Volkswagen.

This place, known as Ebo Landing, has been known to be haunted since the grim day in May 1803 when a host of Ebo tribesmen drowned themselves rather than submit to the slavery of their new white masters in this strange land.

A scenic view of a marsh on St. Simons Island, by Paul Conklin, 1973. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

The tribesmen had been ripped from their homeland in what is now Nigeria and forced to endure the cruel Middle Passage where they were stuffed into the bowels of crude slave ships. Emerging into the sunlight, they were marched onto the auction block in Savannah to be sold in front a sea of white faces.

Having been purchased by representatives of St. Simons Island planters Thomas Spaulding and John Couper, the tribesmen were taken aboard a schooner for transport to their owners’ plantations.

In some versions of the legend during the voyage south, the tribesmen rebelled and, after they threw the crewmen overboard, the ship became grounded at the mouth of Dunbar Creek. Nonetheless, the voyage ended at this lonely, marshy spot.

Still chained together the tribesmen walked into the water chanting to their deity Chukwu, “the Water Spirit brought us here, the Water Spirit will take us home.” Roswell King, the overseer from Pierce Butler’s nearby plantation and subsequently the founder of Roswell, Georgia, wrote of the incident that the men simply, “took to the swamp.”

This collective suicide was not a vainglorious act and it has been enshrined in folklore both in African-American and African culture. Over time, the story has evolved with the tribesmen transforming themselves into birds and flying home. During the Great Depression, a version of this story was documented by the Works Progress Administration’s Writers’ Project. An elderly resident of the island told this version of the story:

Ain’t you heard about them? Well, at that time Mr. Blue he was the overseer and . . . Mr. Blue he go down one morning with a long whip for to whip them good. . . . Anyway, he whipped them good and they got together and stuck that hoe in the field and then . . . rose up in the sky and turned themselves into buzzards and flew right back to Africa. . . . Everybody knows about them.

This fantastic account has been utilized by a number of prominent African-American writers including Toni Morrison.

The Ebo Landing site is still unmarked by any type of sign or monument, though the place remains spiritually scarred and locals still speak of the clanking of chains, the thwack of bare feet in the mud, and the ghostly chanting heard here.

Postcard, circa 1930-45, showing Ebo Landing in the moonlight. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Tichnor Brothers Collection.

The grim specter of slavery has left spiritual scars on the landscape throughout the South. In Effingham County, west of Savannah, is the small town of Springfield. Just outside town, the lazy waters of Ebenezer Creek slowly wend their way among pine and cypress towards the Savannah River.

However, these normally lethargic waters flowed violently and turbulently after heavy rains in December of 1864. After his capture of Atlanta, General Sherman was moving swiftly towards Savannah, which he would offer as a Christmas present to President Lincoln.

Through winter rains that turned Georgia roads into quagmires of red mud, Sherman’s generals cut four swathes through the landscape destroying military targets, industry, and civilian property as they moved. As the blue tide swept through the state, newly freed slaves began to trickle in behind the soldiers. Bound up in the jubilation of freedom, these masses of men, women, and children began to oppress the soldiers’ movements.

General Jefferson Davis, a Union general with no relation to the Confederate President, led the 14th Corps as they slogged through the swamps along the Savannah River. Arriving at the banks of Ebenezer Creek, Davis found the creek at near flood stage. He ordered his engineers to erect a pontoon bridge to allow his men to cross but posted armed sentinels to prevent the refugees from crossing.

Confederates had been dogging the Union invaders and rumors spread that General Joseph Wheeler’s men where rapidly approaching, heightening the urgency to cross the rain-swollen creek.

Irritated by the former slaves slowing his advance, the pro-slavery Union general ordered that the bridge be cut after the last man crossed. The corps’ chaplain described the scene:

There went up from that multitude a cry of agony. Someone shouted, “Rebels,” and they made a wild rush…some of them plunged into the water and swam across. Others ran wildly up and down the bank, shaking with terror.

A private from Minnesota noted that at least a hundred former slaves “huddled as close to the edge of the water as they could get, some crying, some praying, and all fearful that the rebels would come before they could get over.”

Improvising rafts and ropes, many waded out into the water and some made it across, but others were swept into the swift current. Horrified by the scene, soldiers tossed logs and branches into the muddy waters, but could not save all who were pulled downstream.

Some of Wheeler’s men did eventually appear and they fired upon the terrified throng huddled on the creek bank. A few slaves were killed, while many of the others were recaptured and returned to their owners.

Union soldiers, stunned by the bitter scene, reported the incident to their superiors, but General Davis was never brought to justice for his role in the humanitarian crisis.

Just like on the banks of Ebo Landing, locals continue to report spiritual scars among the pines and cypress along Ebenezer Creek. Here, anguished screams and cries are still heard at this spot where so many died trying to wade in the water towards the nebulous promise of freedom.

Sources

  • Davis, Burke. Sherman’s March. NYC: Random House, 1980.
  • Green, Michelle. “Keeping watch at Ibo Landing.” Atlanta Journal and Constitution Magazine. 30 October 1977.
  • Hobbs, Larry. “Igbo Landing a defiant act for freedom.” The Brunswick News. 22 July 2017.
  • Igbo Landing. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 6 November 2018.
  • Miles, Jim. Civil War Ghosts of Central Georgia and Savannah. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Powell, Timothy B. “Ebos Landing.” The New Georgia Encyclopedia. 15 June 2004.

Spirit of the Mountain—Stone Mountain, Georgia

Stone Mountain Park
1000 Robert E. Lee Boulevard
Stone Mountain, Georgia

When the Spanish Franciscan missionary, Pedro de Chozas, made his way through the South local natives spoke of a mountain further inland that was “very high, shining when the sun set like a fire.” This exposed, granite mountain dome, or monadnock, is one of the largest in the world, and was regarded with wonder by the Native Americans in the surrounding area.

Located between the territories occupied by the Cherokee and the Muscogee peoples, the dome was located at the junction of several major trails and served as a meeting spot. In previous millennia, this sacred spot served as ceremonial and religious site. In fact, its summit had been walled in by an earlier people, though the wall, nor the reasons for its construction, have survived.

Stone Mountain, circa 1910, from “Granites of the Southeastern Atlantic States,” by Thomas Watson.

From the earliest settlement of white men in the area, the mountain attracted tourists and businessmen with interests in quarrying the high-quality stone. A pair of brothers, William and Samuel Venable, purchased the mountain in the late 19th century and established a quarrying business. In 1915, with interest being revived around the nation for the Ku Klux Klan by D.W. Griffiths’ film, The Birth of a Nation, a cross-burning was held at the summit to mark the reorganization of the KKK in Georgia.

A year later, the Venables deeded the mountain’s north face to the United Daughters of the Confederacy to create a monument for the Confederacy. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who would later carve the heads of four presidents at Mount Rushmore, was commissioned to create the carving which would memorialize Confederate president Jefferson Davis and generals Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson. Work halted in 1925 with the firing of Borglum and 47 years would pass before the carving was completed.

After the mountain was purchased by the state of Georgia in 1958, a park was established at the base of the mountain glorifying the Old South and the Confederacy. Over time, the park has cast off these themes and criticism has been leveled at the carving itself, most recently in light of the removals of Confederate monuments throughout the country.

The first surviving written account of the mountain describes it as, “one solid rock of circular form about one mile across. Many strange tales are told by the Indians of the mountain.” As I have conducted research on Southern hauntings for years, I have searched in vain for ghost stories from the mountain itself. While the Antebellum Plantation within the park is known to have many spirits within the historic structures that comprises it, I have found nothing about spirits on the mountain.

The north face of Stone Mountain with its carving, 2015. Photo by Pilotguy251, courtesy of Wikipedia.

In doing a search of the pages of the Atlanta Constitution that has recently been made available on Newspapers.com, I was delighted to come across the following article. Besides the description of this very strange apparition, what is interesting about this article is the inclusion of folklore about who and who cannot see ghosts.

One concern with this article is the first name of the man quoted throughout. His name is given as “Neger,” which, to me, seems too close to the pejorative “n-word.” Therefore, I have replaced his first name with “N.”

Atlanta Constitution
30 March 1946

‘Ghost of Stone Mountain’ Walks,
Declares Woman ‘Born in a Caul’

On ‘Sunrise Side’ of Big Rock

By Bill Boring
Constitution Staff Writer

STONE MOUNTAIN, March 19. Only people born in a caul have seen the ghost of Stone Mountain and N. Johnson is not one of them. But his wife is and she has seen the ghost on many occasions. Through N., she imparts this description of him.

N. calls him the “ha’nt of the rock” and described him as being neither white nor black but of a strange neutral color, and his eyes are not eyes at all but burning embers set in a skull and he always wears a flowing immaculate white robe.

Only people born in a caul have ever seen a ghost of any kind and while N.  was not born in a caul, he has some grounds for setting himself up as an authority on spooks. His wife has seen many ghosts and always passed along her knowledge of them to him and, moreover, N.  has had the rare privilege of checking the reaction of himself, a person who will never see a ghost, to the presence of one.

The first time N.’s wife saw the ghost of Stone Mountain, she suddenly shut up like a clam and didn’t say a word until he got home. N. knew that some strange thing had happened, for he had an odd feeling of walking through steam and his hat shot up from his forehead because his hair had stood straight up.

When they got home, his wife said: “Did you see that man in white walking between us?”

And so forever after when they would be walking and his wife would see the ghost N. would have that strange feeling of walking steam and he would be stricken by fear.

“Only people who can’t see ghosts are afraid of them,” says N.. “My wife was never afraid.”

N. says that the ghost haunts the “sunrise side” of Stone Mountain and that horses, which are particularly sensitive to ghosts, will never go around this side of the mountain and neither will dogs, which are more sensitive to ghosts than are horses, he says.

“Have you ever been walking with a dog when the dog would suddenly stop, for no reason at all,” says N., “and the dog would flip his tail between his legs and slink off in the opposite direction? The dog is seeing a ghost.”

Ghosts, according to N., take many shapes and forms. There are human ghosts and there are animal ghosts. There are headless human ghosts and headless animal ghosts. And then there are ghosts that just look like a whiff of smoke. You can never tell just what kind of ghosts you’re likely to run across.

There’s nothing much you can do about ghosts, according to N. They’re harmless and usually go away once whatever is bothering them has been removed. But there are several ways of laying them once they get to haunting you.

One way is to put a hole in a dime, slip a string through it and wear the dime as anklet. Another is to put sever rocks on an eastern window sill. Still another charm against ghosts is to sleep with a knife under your pillow; or the Bible.

Sources

  • Boring, Bill. ‘Ghost of Stone Mountain’ Walks, Declares Woman ‘Born in a Caul.’ Atlanta Constitution. 20 March 1946.
  • Freeman, David B. Carved in Stone: The History of Stone Mountain. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1997.
  • Stewart, Bruce E. “Stone Mountain.” The New Encyclopedia of Georgia. 25 May 2004.
  • Stone Mountain.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 2 November 2018.

Metro Atlanta Revenant Transit Authority

A few months ago, I accepted a retail job at the Atlanta airport. As a resident of LaGrange, I’m required to drive an hour to Atlanta and take MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) to the airport because there is no airport employee parking. Most of my rides on MARTA have been uneventful, though in August I had an odd experience.

Interior of a MARTA car. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, October 2018. All rights reserved.

I finished working a mid-shift at my store and boarded a MARTA train to start my journey home around 4:30 in the afternoon. Sitting down in my seat, I pulled out my phone to check Facebook like everyone else. The ride from the airport to the first station, College Park, was unremarkable and I did look up as the train pulled into the station. As usual, there was a group of people waiting to board the train when the doors opened.

As I watched, a young man boarded the train and I noticed he was oddly dressed. His clothes were flashy, and his hair was tied up in a scarf on his head. He walked down the aisle and sat in the seats opposite me. I glanced over and noticed he was wearing house shoes and carrying a bunch of shopping bags, notably a bag from Steve Madden. The man slumped down in his seat and appeared to doze off.

Not wanting to stare, I looked out the window a bit and looked at my phone as the train rumbled on to the East Point station. As the train ground to a stop, I started to get up, but as I turned my head, I was shocked to see the seats across the aisle from me were empty. Looking back through the car, no one had their hair tied up in a scarf, in fact, there were only three or four people.

I wondered how I could have missed him getting up and moving. With all his bags surely, I would have noticed if he changed seats. I got off the train still looking for the oddly dressed man with the sensation that I may have just had a paranormal experience. I also wondered at the bigger question: does Steve Madden have an advertising contract with the spirit world?

Riding alone in a MARTA car. Is there anything behind me? Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, October 2018. All rights reserved.

While it may seem odd that a spirit might be haunting something as ordinary as a MARTA train, this is not the first story I’ve heard about MARTA. In 2011, Creative Loafing published an article covering Atlanta hauntings. The article opened with a story from an office-worker who had an experience on MARTA in the 1980s.

After leaving work early on a winter afternoon, the office-worker took a seat on MARTA heading home. He was listening to music on his headphones when he noticed movement next to his reflection in the window. He felt a bit annoyed that a “40ish, black-haired man in a business suit” was sitting next to him on the almost deserted car. He turned his head to look at the passenger and the seat was empty.

The office-worker thought the incident was curious but was not frightened. Still he wonders what exactly he saw. I’m left wondering about the gentleman with his hair tied up in a scarf and the Steve Madden bag. Did we experience a perfectly normal experience that simply appeared out of the ordinary or were these experiences paranormal? I’m not sure we’ll ever really know.

Source

  • Homan, Curt. “The hauntings of Atlanta.” Creative Loafing. 27 October 2011.

Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Experiences–Georgia

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park
900 Kennesaw Mountain Drive
Kennesaw, Georgia

When the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain was fought in 1864, much of the area north of Atlanta was sparsely settled. Over the past few decades as the Atlanta Metro area has expanded, growth has even overtaken the quiet stillness of this place where tens of thousands fought to stop Sherman’s advance on Atlanta.

Union Cavalry sergeant 1866 Oliver H. Willard Kennesaw battlefield Georgia haunted ghosts
A Union Cavalry sergeant, 1866, by Oliver H. Willard.

Residential and commercial developments have been constructed and roads cut across parts of the battlefield. It was along one of these roads that a father and son had an interesting experience one night in October of 2007. As the duo drove along, the driver braked as something appeared to start crossing the road in front of the car.

Both Civil War enthusiasts, they were shocked to see a horse with a rider emerge from the darkness. Dressed in the uniform of a Union cavalry officer, the rider held a saber aloft as if to make that point even more apparent. The specter passed through a fence on the opposite side and vanished.

The driver told Atlanta’s 11 Alive News, “My son and I were in a state of almost sheer panic, but we managed to maintain and get on the way home very quickly.”

__________

It has been noted that many residents living in homes built on the battlefield have experienced strange things. After this article appeared, one of these residents wrote in to the paranormal blog Phantoms & Monsters:

I’ve got a bad back and haven’t worked in over a year, so I spend a lot of time in bed. Earlier this year, late spring or early summer, I was in a half-awake state and I noticed the hazy form of what appeared to be someone in Civil War clothing on a horse standing in my bedroom. It was there for only a second and kind of dematerialized. I remember it being a kind of yellowish color.

I wasn’t scared and thought it was probably not so much a ghost but the energy of something that happened here during the Civil War. I am 3 miles from the epicenter of the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain and probably less than a mile from the cavalry battleground at Mud Creek.

Illinois Monument at Cheatham Hill Kennesaw battlefield Georgia haunted ghost
The Illinois Monument at Cheatham Hill, 2013. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Several years ago, I spoke with a family who lived in one of these haunted houses. After moving in and experiencing paranormal activity, they asked their neighbors about it only to find out that they lived with the same thing.

The wife told me that she took the trash out one night. As she rounded the corner of the house, she came face to face with a figure in the dark. Startled, she quickly realized that the figure was dressed in an old-fashioned uniform. Not knowing how to react, she dropped the bag of trash at his feet saying, “here you go!” and ran back into the house. She failed to mention if the ghost put the trash in the receptacle.

Sources

  • Crawley, Paul. “Ghost rider at Kennesaw Mtn.?” 11Alive News. 1 November 2007.
  • Strikler, Lon. “Mailbag: the Kennesaw Mountain ghost rider.Phantoms and Monsters. 8 November 2009.