The Trail of the Bell Witch—US 41 in Tennessee, Part I

The Georgia state line to Smyrna

Tennessee’s most celebrated haunting is the tale of the Bell Witch. For a period of about four years—from 1817 to 1821—the family of John Bell living on the Red River in Robertson County was plagued by a mysterious and mischievous entity. While the hauntings are supposed to have died down in 1821, paranormal activity has persisted in the area that is still ascribed to the famous “witch.” It is through this area, now the town of Adams, where US 41 passes a short distance from the Bell family’s former property.

US 41 Tennessee sign

US Route 41 cuts diagonally through Middle Tennessee from Chattanooga across the Cumberland Plateau through Murfreesboro and Nashville to cross over the state line into Guthrie, Kentucky. Part of this route was established around 1915 with the creation of the Dixie Highway which ran from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan south to Miami, Florida. This portion of the Dixie Highway was designated as US 41 in 1926, with the announcement of the original numbered highway system. While the road has been supplanted by I-24 throughout Tennessee, this highway provides a much more scenic, and haunted, route through the state.

This article explores US 41 from where the road crosses the Georgia state line into East Ridge and Chattanooga, to Smyrna in Rutherford County just before the road passes into Davidson County and Nashville. Part II of this article will cover the remaining portion of the route from Nashville to the Kentucky state line.

East Ridge

Southeast of downtown Chattanooga, US 41 crosses into Tennessee from Georgia into the city of East Ridge.

Mount Olivet Cemetery
Mount Olivet Drive

Located on a hill above the busy rush of US 41, Mount Olivet Cemetery provides an attractive and peaceful oasis from the hustle below. With graves dating to the mid-19th century, this Catholic cemetery also possesses some spectral residents. According to investigator and author Mark E. Fults, he and a friend saw several specters during a late-night walk of this burial ground some 30 years ago. At one mausoleum, the pair saw “a petite, waif-like woman peering sadly through the barred windows.”

At another mausoleum, the investigators witnessed what Fults describes as “ectoplasm.” “There was a faint phosphorescent green mist directly up against the barred windows with images forming within it. As we watched, a hand appeared and then dissolved into the mass of energy. When a watchful eye materialized, we both were gripped with a sickening ache to the solar plexus…we backed away thoroughly nauseated and eager for fresh air.” Fults reports that his friend “was sick for days afterwards, as the energy tried to possess him.”

Mount Olivet Cemetery East Ridge Tennessee
Mount Olivet Cemetery, 2011, by MyrticeJane. Courtesy of Find-A-Grave.

After viewing this ghostly light show, the friends saw a large, black dog observing them from the edge of the woods. As they toured the cemetery, this dog was hiding behind monuments and trees and scurrying between them on two legs. Fults believes this was a watcher spirit keeping vigil over the dead who rest here.

Please note, this cemetery is active and well-maintained. Late night investigations are discouraged, and such a visit would likely be considered trespassing by the local authorities.

Sources

    • Fults, Mark E. Chattanooga Chills, Second Edition. Mark E. Fults, 2012.
Bachman Tunnels Chattanooga Tennessee postcard
A postcard view of the Bachman Tunnels published between 1930-1945 by W. M. Cline & Co. Courtesy of the Tichnor Brothers Collection, Boston Public Library.

The passage into Chattanooga is made through the Bachman Tunnels, which were bored through Missionary Ridge in the late 1920s, opening officially in 1929. While there are no published ghost stories regarding these nearly one-hundred-year-old tunnels, I suspect that there is probably some mysterious activity associated with them.

Chattanooga

Tennessee’s fourth largest city, Chattanooga is situated on the banks of the Tennessee River at Moccasin Bend. Archaeological excavations have revealed that humans have lived in this spot for millennia. Prior to the arrival of Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto in 1540, the area was a major center for Mississippian culture. In the historic era, the area came under control of the Cherokee People.

White settlers began to filter into the area in the 1830s displacing the native people and creating Ross’ Landing on the river near present day downtown. As they were removed in 1838 on the Trail of Tears, many Cherokee People stopped here before continuing towards the west. As the settlement grew, the town became an important center of river commerce. The introduction of the railroad brought more settlers and strategic importance to the city. The outbreak of the Civil War brought military activity here and the city was captured by Union troops in 1863 after several major battles were fought in the area, including the Battle of Chattanooga, the battle of Lookout Mountain, and the Battle of Chickamauga.

Chattanooga Tennessee from Lookout Mountain
Chattanooga sits under the aim of a cannon atop Lookout Mountain. Photo 2009 by Brian Stansberry. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

As a result of Union attention during the war, the city became quite industrialized during the latter part of the 19th century. As many of the industries began to move elsewhere towards the middle of the 20th century, the city began to clean up its pollution and remake itself as a tourist town. Today, all of these layers of history have left spiritual marks in terms of ghosts and hauntings.

Sources

  • Ezzell, Timothy P. “Chattanooga.” Tennessee Encyclopedia. 8 October 2017.

Passing into Chattanooga, US 41 runs along West Main Street before turning south onto Broad Street. Downtown, there are a number of hauntings, many of which are featured on the Chattanooga Ghost Tour (see my review here). Among the sites where one might find paranormal activity are the Chattanooga Public Library, Engel Stadium, the Hamilton County Jail, and the Southside Saloon and Bistro.

After turning onto Broad Street, US 41 runs concurrent with US 11 (the Lee Highway), US 64, and US 72 along the Tennessee River at the base of Lookout Mountain. The site of heavy fighting during the Civil War Battle of Lookout Mountain, the flanks of the mountain are dotted with haunted places including Ruby Falls Caverns.

Still running parallel to the Tennessee River, US 41 passes near Raccoon Mountain Caverns, a short distance outside of Chattanooga.

Raccoon Mountain Caverns
319 West Hills Drive

Tradition holds that locals were first drawn here by a cool breeze blowing up through rocks on the grounds of the Grand Hotel Farm in the 1920s. Local caver and entrepreneur Leo Lambert, who incidentally discovered and developed Ruby Falls Caverns, was tipped off about the possible existence of a cave and began exploring it in 1929. After finding the cave’s famous Crystal Palace Room with its dramatic and impressive formations, he immediately set about opening the cave to tourists. In 1931, Tennessee Caverns opened to serve the tourist traffic from US 41. Later, the cave was renamed Crystal City Caves later and other attractions were added at the cave’s entrance including a sky bucket ride called the Mount Aetna Skyride.

Raccoon Mountain Caverns Chattanooga Tennessee
Raccoon Mountain Caverns, 2017, by Lewis O. Powell, IV, all rights reserved.

On the night of November 30, 1966, 39-year-old Willie Cowan, the attraction’s night watchman was killed in a fire that destroyed the skyride, as well as the cave’s ticket office and gift shop. In the years since his death, his spirit has been sensed within the cave and the rebuilt gift shop and ticket office. Many guides passing through the cave have smelled Cowan’s cigar smoke, heard his whistling, and several have glimpsed his figure on the route of the cave tours. While touring the cave, author Amy Petulla saw a light during a moment where the lights were turned off to provide visitors with the experience of pitch darkness. The spirit appears to be fairly active around the anniversary of Cowan’s death.

Sources

    • Matthews, Larry E. Caves of Chattanooga. Huntsville, AL: The National Speleological Society, 2007.
    • Penot, Jessica and Amy Petulla. Haunted Chattanooga. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011.

Haletown

Just before the road dips south to cross the Tennessee River in Haletown, it passes the now infamous Hales Bar Dam.

Hales Bar Dam
1265 Hales Bar Road

Located on a sand bar extending into the Tennessee River, Hales Bar Dam was constructed to provide hydroelectric power to the area. This sand bar is part of a 33 mile stretch of river made dangerous by a number of whirlpools, so the dam’s construction also included a lock on the river to improve navigation. Work commenced in 1905 and was initially expected to last up to two years. When the dam remained incomplete after two years of work, the first contractors withdrew from the project. Another contractor was selected the following year and construction of the power house, the main surviving element of the dam, was begun. Difficulty with the foundation of the structure led to numerous budget overruns and problems for work crews. Despite the issues, however, the dam was completed and began operation in 1913.

Fissures in the structure’s limestone bedrock and innumerable leaks led to a host of issues plagued the dam as it continued to operate over the proceeding decades. In the early 1960s, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) made the decision to abandon it once construction of the Nickajack Dam was completed to the south. Parts of the dam’s facilities were demolished in the years following, though the power house has remained as a main feature of the Hales Bar Marina.

Hales Bar Dam powerhouse Haletown Tennessee
The Hale’s Bar Dam powerhouse, 2007. By Tyler Holcomb, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Over the past couple decades, the abandoned dam has attracted the attention of paranormal investigators who have discovered that it is now the residence of spirits. That attention has led to investigations by television paranormal teams from the shows Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures who have all walked away with tremendous evidence. During filming for an episode of Zak Bagans’ Ghost Adventures in 2011, a sudden storm erupted damaging part of the marina and several boats and vehicles. Bagans presumed that the sudden storm was another manifestation of the curse of Chief Dragging Canoe, which is sometimes blamed for local paranormal activity, though there seems to be little evidence to support this correlation.

The dam is haunted by a variety of spirits ranging from children to shadow people to a former dam foreman. Investigators have reported hearing footsteps, voices, and many EVPs have been captured within the structure and throughout the surrounding marina.

Sources

    • Archambault, Paul. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Hales Bar Dam. 30 May 2008.
    • Glover, Greg. “Weather provides new twist for Ghost Adventures.” 28 February 2011.
    • Phipps, Sean. “An overnight paranormal investigation of Hales Bar Dam.” com. 12 March 2017.

After crossing the Tennessee River in Haletown, US 41 continues through Jasper and heads towards Monteagle.

Monteagle

Located at the meeting point of three counties—Grundy, Marion, and Franklin–the town of Monteagle is situated on the Cumberland Plateau. It was on the edge of this plateau that John Moffat, an organizer in the temperance movement, bought a huge tract of land in 1870. In 1882, the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly was created here. This organization, built on the ideas of the Chautauqua Movement, was founded to promote the “advancement of science, literary attainment, Sunday school interest and promotion of the broadest popular culture in the interest of Christianity without regard to sect or denomination.” The assembly constructed buildings throughout town to support and house the masses of people attending and who continue to be drawn to this city on the edge of the Cumberland Plateau.

Sources

“Monteagle Mountain” Stretch of I-24

Goin’ down Monteagle Mountain on I-24
It’s hell for a trucker when the Devil’s at your door
He’ll tempt you and tell you, “Come on, let her roll,
‘Cause the mountain wants your rig, and trucker, I want your soul.”

–Thomas Richard McGibony, “Monteagle Mountain,” released by Johnny Cash on his 1990 album, “Boom Chicka Boom.”

The notoriety of this stretch of interstate highway has garnered the attention of a Johnny Cash song. The song tells the story of a long-haul trucker carrying a load from Nashville to Florida dreading traversing the infamous road around Monteagle. As he starts down the steep grade, his brakes fail, and he is forced to steer the big rig into one of the runaway truck ramps. After stopping on the ramp, and realizes he is alive, and  grateful to God “’cause when there’s a runaway on Monteagle, some truckers don’t survive.”

For decades, truckers and other drivers dreaded this scenic, but treacherous section of I-24 just before and after the town of Monteagle. Truckers traversing the steep grade sometimes had their brakes go out and more than a few went hurtling off the mountain highway. Despite improvements by the state’s Department of Transportation, drivers still fear the road.

Historically, the path of the interstate was deemed US 41 dating back to the road’s incorporation as the US numbered highway system, with this stretch dating to the earlier Dixie Highway.

In his 2009 book, Ghosts of Lookout Mountain, Larry Hillhouse includes an oft-told tale from this infamous stretch. As young drivers sometimes eased their trucks down the mountain, some encountered a strange sight. Hillhouse explains that “suddenly a figure appeared in the middle of road. The figure was a man, dressed in light blue overalls and wearing a black cowboy hat, and he was always waving his arms furiously, as if to flag them down.” The drivers downshifted to another gear before realizing there was yet one more hairpin turn that they had to navigate. Having already downshifted, the driver avoided certain danger. Of course, the figure that warned them by darting into the road was nowhere to be seen.

These young drivers would tell an assembled group of older truckers who might nod knowingly and tell them that they had seen the spirit of old Cowboy Lewis. They would explain that he was an unlucky trucker who had lost his life at that curve many years ago and had been buried at that spot. If you happen to decide to test out your vehicle’s brakes on this treacherous terrain and you see the cowboy hat wearing figure dart in front of you, heed his warning, there is a dangerous curve ahead.

Sources

    • Hillhouse, Larry. Ghosts of Lookout Mountain. Weaver, IA: Quixote Press, 2009.
    • Monteagle Mountain. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 31 July 2022.
    • “New I-24 lanes opened at Monteagle.” The Tennessean. 12 July 1989.

US 41 enters the town of Monteagle from the east and becomes Main Street for a short distance before heading north. Just before it becomes Main Street, the highway passes the massive DuBose Conference Center.

DuBose Conference Center
635 College Street

Constructed for the DuBose Memorial Church Training School, an Episcopalian seminary, this Mission style structure has provided lodging and facilities for theological students and later visitors visiting the retreat center for almost a hundred years. Over those years, this building may have acquired several spirits as well.

DuBose Conference Center Monteagle Tennessee
DuBose Conference Center, 2014, by Skye Marthaler. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Author Annie Armour documents the experiences of a few visitors here in her book, Haunted Sewanee. One guest witnessed a fog creep into her room in the middle of the night. Slowly, the fog began to form the shape of a young woman who eventually took a seat in a rocking chair and started rocking. The guest watched until the fog faded, though the chair continued rocking for some time. Armour interviewed the daughter of the center’s executive director who would sometimes find herself in the building alone. In those moments, she heard the sounds of footsteps and doors opening and closing, despite the fact that she was entirely alone within the huge facility.

Sources

    • Armour, Annie. Haunted Sewanee. CreateSpace Publishing, 2017.
    • Casteel, Britt. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the DuBose Conference Center. 15 August 1990.

Edgeworth Inn
19 Wilkins Avenue

According to authors Robert and Anne Wlodarski, the spirit haunting this 1896 home turned bed and breakfast is called “Uncle Harry.” The home was one of the many “cottages” constructed for the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly. This entity is reported to have been active as far back as the 1930s, when he once flipped a punch bowl during a reception. Decades later, as a team from the Travel Channel was filming in the inn, Uncle Harry levitated a plastic punch bowl and set it down on the head of a producer. This mischievous spirit has been accused of showing his displeasure whenever changes are made within the building.

Sources

    • Wlodarski, Robert James and Anne Powell Wlodarski. Dinner and Spirits: A Guide to America’s Most Haunted Restaurant, Taverns, and Inns. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse Publishing, 2000.

Passing out of Monteagle, the road continues northwest into the town of Manchester, the seat of Coffee County.

Manchester

Manchester City Cemetery
West High Street

Manchester City Cemetery Tennessee
Manchester City Cemetery, 2009, by Susan Clemons. Courtesy of Find-A-Grave.

Some years ago, a reporter from the local Manchester Times had an eerie experience in the city cemetery following an evening candlelight tour. He wrote in the paper a few years later, “As we neared the end of the presentation and moved to the newer part of the cemetery, I was stopped by what seemed like the voices coming from a nearby group. There was, however, no group near us. The sounds were faint and at the same time seemed right behind me. Still, I couldn’t pin down any particular direction they were coming from. Later I asked my wife and she too had heard something strange but hadn’t wanted to mention it.”

Sources

    • Coffelt, John. “Haunted Manchester: Times readers details some of the spookiest sites in the area.” Manchester Times. 31 October 2018.

Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park
732 Stone Fort Drive

Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park Manchester Tennessee
View from atop one of the earthworks at Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park, 2006. Photo by Brian Stansberry, courtesy of Wikipedia.

As US 41 leaves Manchester, it passes by Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park. This state park preserves an ancient Native American site with stone structures and earthworks built at the confluence of the Duck and Little Duck Rivers. The Manchester Times reports that a visitor to the park after hours under a full moon heard the sound of a person running through an open field. The visitor stood there listening to the strange sound, though they did not see anyone around. As the sound passed them they felt a slight breeze.

Sources

    • Coffelt, John. “Haunted Manchester: Times readers details some of the spookiest sites in the area.” Manchester Times. 31 October 2018.
    • Old Stone Fort (Tennessee). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 17 July 2022.

In Rutherford County, the road enters the Nashville Metropolitan area of which Murfreesboro is now the largest suburb.

Murfreesboro

Now the sixth-largest city in the state, Murfreesboro dates its beginnings to the late 18th century when Colonel William Lytle provided land to build a public square, cemetery, and a Presbyterian church. The town was chartered by the state legislature in 1811 and was deemed the county seat of Rutherford County. A few years later, the first courthouse was built in the center of the public square. This building served as the state capitol for nearly a decade until the capitol was moved to nearby Nashville.

Three battles fought here during the Civil War brought national notoriety to the small town. The second of those battles, the Battle of Stones River fought on New Year’s Eve 1862 until January 2, 1863, brought death and devastation to a huge area north of town. In the 1920s, a small percentage of this battlefield was designated by the National Park Service as a military park. The park is in two portions on both sides of US 41, just north of downtown.

Murfreesboro remained a busy center of trade into the mid-20th century. As Nashville has sprawled beyond its limits, the city has developed as a suburb. In the 1990s, much of that development was centered on land around the battlefield park, making this battlefield one of the most endangered in the country. As this dark and bloody ground has been developed, residents and the employees of businesses built here have reported paranormal activity.

Sources

  • Huhta, James K. “Murfreesboro.” Tennessee Encyclopedia. 8 October 2017.

Historic Rutherford County Courthouse
Public Square

The first courthouse in the center of Murfreesboro’s Public Square was constructed in 1813. It was in this building that the state legislature met for nearly a decade after the town was deemed the state capital. That first building was replaced after fire destroyed it in 1822. The current building replaced the second courthouse and dates to 1859. During its lifetime it has witnessed a tremendous panoply of history play out within its walls and on the square surrounding it.

During the Civil War, hostilities found their way to the halls of the building as Confederate forces under General Nathan Bedford Forrest raided the Union-occupied town. On July 13, 1862, the Union-occupied courthouse was quickly surrounded by rebel troops who eventually broke their way through the doors. With soldiers from Company B of the 9th Michigan trapped on the upper floors, soldiers from the 1st Georgia Cavalry started a fire to smoke out the Yankees. Trapped, the Michigan soldiers surrendered, and Forrest’s successful raid became a feather in the general’s cap.

Historic Rutherford County Courthouse Murfreesboro Tennessee
Historic Rutherford County Courthouse, 2007, by MArcin K. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

During the Union occupation of the city, the courthouse lawn saw several executions as military leaders tried to contain the rebellious local population and deal with Confederate spies and informants. Later, locals lynched a 19-year-old African-American man here in 1881. Houston Turner was arrested for an attack on a white woman and was being transported to Nashville by the county sheriff when the entourage was surrounded by a mob demanding the prisoner be turned over to them for justice. The sheriff, seeing no alternative, turned him over to the mob who immediately exacted “justice” by hanging him on the courthouse lawn.

Another death occurred here in 1923 when a vaudeville actor billing himself as “The Human Fly” attempted to free-climb the building. After reaching the top of the cupola to the delight of the assembled crowd, the man fell as he began his descent, landing on the roof and breaking his neck.

With so many contentious deaths and an accidental one, plus serving as the focus of more than a century of county history, it’s no surprise that specters continue to rove the antebellum halls and grounds of the courthouse. Over the years, county employees in the building have described physical interactions with spirits that sometimes throw books from shelves, upend furniture, open and close doors, push the living, or play with the elevator. One sensitive investigator reported that the spirit of a lonely young Confederate soldier held her hand. The young man had died within the courthouse during a time when it served as a makeshift hospital and sought comfort from the living investigator. Outside the building, people visiting and working in the businesses surrounding the square also deal with spirited activity that may possibly stem from their proximity to the courthouse.

Sources

    • La Paglia, Peter S. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the Rutherford County Courthouse. 10 May 1973.
    • Rennick, Lee. “4 haunted places in Murfreesboro.” Rutherford County Source. 28 October 2021.
    • Sircy, Allen. Southern Ghost Stories: Murfreesboro: Spirits of Stones River. Amazon Kindle, 2020. eBook.

Big B Cleaners
7 South Public Square

When it comes to places that are likely to be haunted, I’m certain that a dry cleaners would be last on most people’s list. Though, in Murfreesboro, a city rife with history and hauntings, even the cleaners has paranormal activity. Situated on the Public Square facing the haunted Historic Rutherford County Courthouse, the business occupies a pair of old commercial buildings that were home to a furniture store, a saloon, a shoe store, and a theater at varying points in the past. A dry cleaners opened in number 7 in the late 1950s and expanded into number 9 sometime later.

It has been rumored for many years that Big B Cleaners is haunted. In fact, employees called in a paranormal investigative team some years ago to pinpoint the reason why they were dealing with activity. During the investigation by the Shadow Chasers of Middle Tennessee, the group captured EVPs and a pair of investigators saw a shadowy figure on the second floor. “All of a sudden, hair started rising up, and I saw a black figure. He was dark. As a matter of fact, he was darker than the dark. He was going back and forth looking at me. I asked my friend if she saw him, and she said she did.” The pair surmised that the figure tended to stay in a corner of the building and that it may be the spirit of a former owner.

Sources

    • Sircy, Allen. Southern Ghost Stories: Murfreesboro: Spirits of Stones River. Amazon Kindle, 2020. eBook.
    • Willard, Michelle. “Haunting history in Murfreesboro.” The Murfreesboro Post. 30 September 2012.

Oaklands Historic House Museum
900 North Maney Avenue

Oaklands Murfreesboro Tennessee
Oaklands, 2021, by rossograph. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Occupied by the prominent Maney family for almost a century, Oaklands began as a simple two-room structure in the early 19th century. Over time, family members added rooms and renovated older sections to create the large home that stands today. During General Forrest’s raid on the town in July of 1862, a skirmish was fought on the front lawn. The family later opened their home to care for the wounded from the Battle of Stones River. When the home faced demolition in the late 1950s, a group of local women saved it and it now serves as a house museum and event space. Visitors and staff in the house have experienced paranormal activity here since the home’s restoration. Disembodied footsteps, voices, and apparitions of the home’s spectral occupants have been reported.

Sources

    • Coop, May Dean. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Oaklands. 9 June 1969.
    • Morris, Jeff; Donna Marsh and Garrett Merk. Nashville Haunted Handbook. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2011.
    • Sircy, Allen. Southern Ghost Stories: Murfreesboro: Spirits of Stones River. Amazon Kindle, 2020. eBook.

Stones River Country Club
1830 Northwest Broad Street (US 41)

According to author Allen Sircy, who has exhaustively catalogued haunted places throughout the Nashville area in a number of recent books, the clubhouse of the Stones River County Club has paranormal activity. Founded in 1946, as the Town and Country Club and later renamed Stones River Country Club, the club occupies property where fighting occurred during the Battle of Stones River. A local legend speaks of the spirit of a nurse that has been seen in the area who may allegedly  haunt the clubhouse. Sircy reports that an employee told him that a woman working with the banquet staff saw “a woman in an old-timey dress…multiple times in the ballroom.”

Sources

    • Sircy, Allen. Southern Ghost Stories: Murfreesboro: Spirits of Stones River. Amazon Kindle, 2020. eBook.

Bombshells Hair Studio
803 North Thompson Lane #105A

The Gateway Village development hosts a variety of commercial enterprises and businesses, including Bombshells Hair Studio, and occupies a section of the old battlefield. According to Allen Sircy, this hair salon and parts of the development are haunted.

In the twelve years the salon has been open, the owner, her stylists, and employees have experienced a plethora strange activity. The shop’s security system detected much of that activity in the first few months the business was open. The owner was frequently summoned to the shop very early in the morning after the system registered that doors were open or that there was motion inside the building. Staff and patrons have seen the image of a dark-haired women who is known to sometimes grab people.

The spirit is blamed for opening and closing doors, odd sounds, and breaking electrical equipment here. One night, the usually mischievous spirit was helpful when a stylist left a candle burning at her station. When the owner tried to set the alarm before she left, the panel noted that there was an issue with an unused back door. When she went to look at the door, she discovered the candle and extinguished it. After that, there were no further problems setting the alarm. The owner told Allen Sircy, “I think they were trying to warn me.” While the identity of this spirit has not been established, perhaps she is the nurse that is thought to haunt the Stones River County Club.

Sources

    • Sircy, Allen. Southern Ghost Stories: Murfreesboro: Spirits of Stones River. Amazon Kindle, 2020. eBook.

Stones River National Battlefield
3501 Old Nashville Highway

In his memoirs of the Civil War, Private Sam Watkins of the First Tennessee Infantry wrote of the Union’s pyrrhic victory at Stones River, “I cannot remember now or ever seeing more dead men and horses and captured cannon all jumbled together than that scene of blood and carnage…the ground was literally covered with blue coats dead.”

On New Year’s Eve 1862, forces met along the West Fork of Stones River where they fought for control of the town of Murfreesboro. Union forces under General William Rosecrans and Confederate forces under General Braxton Bragg battled for three days with casualties of more than 10,000 men killed, wounded, captured or missing on each side. After the carnage, about 15% of the battlefield was preserved by the National Park Service in the 1920s. Much of the remaining battle-scarred land has been developed leaving paranormal activity in homes, businesses, neighborhoods, and commercial developments throughout the area.

Stones River Battlefield Murfreesboro Tennessee
A broken cannon lies amid the karst formations at the Slaughter Pen, 2005, by Hal Jesperson. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

On the preserved portion of the battlefield, there are two primary morbidly-named paranormal hotspots: the Slaughter Pen and Hell’s Half Acre. Battlefield tour stop #2 is the Slaughter Pen where Union soldiers under the command of General Philip Sheridan held out on the first morning of the battle despite suffering tremendous losses. The terrain consists of limestone rocks that form natural knee- and waist-high trenches. Throughout the area visitors have encountered shadow figures, apparitions, strange feelings, and spectral sounds that have been heard amongst the wooded stone outcroppings.

Stones River Battlefield Murfreesboro Tennessee
The Hazen Brigade Monument on Hell’s Half Acre, 2009, by Own work. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Fighting near what is now tour stop #5, led this section of battlefield to be deemed Hell’s Half Acre. Just six months after the battle, the Hazen Brigade Monument was constructed here, and it remains the oldest Civil War monument in existence. Like the rest of the battlefield, this area is paranormally active and haunted by a headless horseman. During the battle, Union General Rosecrans’ chief of staff, Colonel Julius Peter Garesché was decapitated by a Confederate cannonball while riding his horse near the Round Forest. This horrific moment has been preserved within the spiritual fabric of the battlefield.

Sources

    • Blue & Grey Magazine. Guide to Haunted Places of the Civil War. Columbus, OH: Blue & Grey Magazine, 1996.
    • Bush, Bryan and Thomas Freese. Haunted Battlefields of the South. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2010.
    • McWhiney, Grady. “Stones River, Tennessee.” in The Civil War Battlefield Guide, 2nd Kennedy, Frances H. editor. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.
    • O’Rear, Jim. Tennessee Ghosts. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2009.
    • Sircy, Allen. Southern Ghost Stories: Murfreesboro: Spirits of Stones River. Amazon Kindle, 2020. eBook.

North of Murfreesboro, US 41 passes through Smyrna and La Vergne before crossing the county line into Davidson County and Nashville proper.

Smyrna

Sam Davis House
1399 Sam Davis Road

On November 27, 1863, Union authorities marched 21-year-old Sam Davis to gallows they had erected in Pulaski, Tennessee. On his birthday, this young man bravely faced death as a Confederate spy. In the intervening years, the young man has been deemed a Confederate hero and martyr while his home has been designated as a shrine and preserved as it was when the young man willingly marched off to certain death.

Sam Davis Home Smyrna Tennessee
The Sam Davis Home, 2012, by Robert Claypool. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Within the home, visitors and staff have heard the sounds of weeping. Others have encountered the apparitions of Davis’ mother and grandmother. These active spirits have become known for causing mischief within the home. Staff members and visitors alike have noted that the property is permeated with the spirits of Davis, his family, and their enslaved people.

Sources

    • Morris, Jeff; Donna Marsh and Garrett Merk. Nashville Haunted Handbook. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2011.
    • Ong, Linda. “Spirits still linger at Smyrna’s Sam Davis Home.” 31 October 2019.
    • Whittle, Dan. “Spirits make presence known at Sam Davis Home.” Murfreesboro Post. 13 October 2014.

Join me for the rest of this haunted journey along US 41 in Part II as I explore Nashville to the Kentucky state line.

‘What a jump he made’—Danville, Virginia

Old 97 Wreck Site
Riverside Drive (US 58 BUS) between Farrar Street and Highland Court
Danville, Virginia

They give him his orders at Monroe, Virginia,
Saying, “Steve, you’re way behind time,
“This is not 38, but it’s Old 97,
“You must put her into Spencer on time.”

He looked round and said to his black, greasy fireman,
“Just shovel in a little more coal.
And when we cross that White Oak Mountain,
You can watch Old 97 roll.”

It’s a mighty rough road from Lynchburg to Danville,
And a line on a three-mile grade.
It was on this grade that he lost his air brakes;
You can see what a jump he made.

He was going down the grade making 90 miles an hour,
When the whistle broke into a scream.
He was found in the wreck with his hand on the throttle,
And was scalded to death by the steam.

And then a telegram come to Washington station,
This is what it read,
“Oh, that brave engineer that run 97,
“He’s a lyin’ in old Danville dead.”

Oh, now all you ladies better take a warning,
From this time on and learn.
Never speak harsh to your true-loving husband,
He may leave you and never return.

–“The Wreck of Old 97,” by G. B. Grayson and Henry Whitter

This old, Appalachian ballad obscures the true horror of the events of September 27, 1903 behind a jaunty, cheerful tune and lyrics that hardly echo the true tragedy that occurred in this ravine next to the Dan River. Indeed, the song’s lyrics do not accurately describe the accident.

On that warm Sunday Southern Railway’s Fast Mail, or “Old 97,” as it was affectionately dubbed, met with several delays leaving Washington, D.C. on its journey south to Atlanta. This did not bode well for the Southern Railway’s reputation or its bottom line. The Fast Mail was generally known for running on time, in fact many residents along the route set their watches by the train’s regular schedule; plus, the company would face steep fines from the U. S. Postal Service for delivering the mail late.

The delays in leaving Washington caused the train to pull into its scheduled stop in Monroe, Virginia nearly an hour late. At this stop the train changed engines and crews. Engine No. 1102, which had been delivered to the railroad just a month previous, was quickly coupled with the rest of the short mail train consisting of a tender (loaded with coal to fuel the engine), two postal cars, an express car, and a baggage car at the end. In the postal cars mail sorters collected the bags of mail along the route and sorted it to insure it reached the proper destination. The express car carried freight including a crate of live canaries on this particular trip; while the baggage car carried additional mail that had been previously sorted, and the train’s safe.

locomotive drawings for engine no. 1102
Technical drawing for Engine No. 1102 that pulled Old 97 on that fateful day in 1903.

At Monroe, Joseph Andrew Broady, known by his nickname, “Steve,” was put in charge as engineer. Responsible for overseeing the actual operation of the locomotive he set the speed and operated the brakes when necessary. Steve Broady had been hired by the railway only recently. Despite his greenness to the company, he was an experienced engineer, though there is some contention as to why he was put in charge of the Old 97 train that day. Broady was experienced on this particular route and knew the dangers that he would encounter, especially on the Stillhouse Trestle that led into downtown Danville, but up to this day, he had only handled heavier freight trains which handled much differently from the light mail train he was running on this day.

Despite the opening lyrics of the song, in which Broady is ordered to pull the train into Spencer, North Carolina on time, he was given orders in Monroe to do the opposite. The orders noted that the train was going to run late and that he was not to make up for the lost time.

Broady was joined by fireman Albion C. “Buddy” Clapp and a student fireman, John Madison Hodge, who would feed coal into the engine when necessary. As a result of their hard work, these men would often be covered in soot and grease from the coal, thus the descriptive line in the song, “his black, greasy fireman.” With Broady maintaining the operation of the engine, the train’s conductor would oversee the operation of the train as a whole, and this task was given over to John Thomas Blair. Broady’s crew was completed by the addition of a flagman, James Robert Moody, who rode in the final car and would signal to oncoming trains if the train stalled on the track.

To handle the mail, eleven postal workers were on board. They were Jennings Dunlap, Percival Indermauer, John H. Thompson, Paul M. Argenbright, W. Scott Chambers, Daniel P. Flory, Napoleon C. Maupin, Frank E. Brooks, Charles E. Reames, Louis Spies, John L. Thompson, and in addition to express messenger W. R. Pinckney. The train pulled out of the station at Monroe before safe locker Wentworth Armistead could get off. He was in charge of securing the trains’ safes and remained at the station to ensure that the train’s safes could not be opened and robbed en route. The addition of the safe locker brought the number of souls aboard the train to eighteen.

What may have transpired in the cab of Old 97 as it traversed the rolling landscape south towards Danville is unknown. In the intervening years since the accident, much blame has been heaped on Steve Broady, with many (including the song) describing him as reckless and negligible. Historian Larry Aaron seems to think that this estimation is incorrect, and that he was well respected by his peers and that the blame for the incident may be due to his inexperience at handling such a train rather than his carelessness.

1895 Southern Railway map
Closeup of the route of Old 97 on an 1895 Southern Railway map. The train travelled the line between Washington to Spencer, North Carolina, located a short distance north from the Salisbury stop on this map.

The railroad’s southern route into Danville was precarious as the train would have to navigate the Stillhouse Trestle over Stillhouse Creek just before crossing the Dan River. On the approach to the trestle, the train descended a grade of about three miles and could build up a decent amount of momentum. At the side of grade was a sign warning the engineer to slow down and the railway’s rules (which Broady had been tested on) required the engineer to slow the train’s speed on trestles and bridges. The trestle immediately curved to the left, bringing the train parallel with the river and the mill complex that occupied the river’s north bank. After following the river for a short distance, the train would then cross a bridge over the river and directly into downtown Danville.

Dnaville Virginia Amtrak Station
The Danville Station as seen in 2012. This station would have been the next stop on Old 97’s journey on Sept. 27, 1903, but it crashed before it arrived. Photo by See This, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Even before the train entered North Danville, residents near the track noted the train sped by unusually fast.

One local resident, E. H. Chappell, later described his experience years later saying that he had gone out to his well for a drink of water.

It was a roaring sound and while I couldn’t see the track from where I stood because it ran through a deep fill at that point, I saw a great pillar of billowing dust, moving very fast. It was the train, of course, and she was making a weird, unusual noise. I remember I turned to my mother, who was with me, and said, “She’ll never make the trestle.”

A later author described the piercing scream of the train’s whistle as she roared towards the Stillhouse Trestle.

The whistle…gave a series of blasts on the approach to Lima and finally set up a constant broken wailing down the three-mile grade to the Dan Valley. It was the death cry of a runaway locomotive and it chilled the hearts of all who heard it. People turned in their yards, ran out on their porches, stopped still along the streets in North Danville. All eyes turned in the direction of the approaching train. With bated breath and anxious hearts, they waited.

Sanborn fire insurance map 1899
This 1899 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Danville shows the curve of the Stillhouse Trestle just north of the Riverside Cotton Mill. This is the curve where the accident occurred.

Of what happened next, one eyewitness simply said, “It just split the curve.” Steve Broady likely realized that the train was moving far too fast to make the curve and desperately tried to apply the brakes and put the engine into reverse. But, it was all too late. The engine jumped the curve bringing all four cars with it as it arced through the air and into the ravine 75 feet below. The engine landed first digging into the ground and the cars splintering on top. The final car rolled onto its side though it remained mostly intact. In a heartbeat, ten lives were snuffed out while all the others were injured, some critically. Within days, one of the injured men passed away bringing the casualties to eleven.

Locals, having heard the tremendous crash, began to rush to the scene. The alarm bell of the mill next to the trestle was sounded and church bells began to ring. Crowds, many dressed in their Sunday best, were greeted by broken and twisted wood and metal piled in the ravine with smoke and steam filtering out from the buried engine. Victims, their bodies mangled and some even scalded by the steam, lay entwined with the wreckage, with the living crying out for aid. The canaries that had been confined to a crate in the express car were flitting about the wreckage lending bright pops of yellow to the surreal scene.

Wreck of Old 97
Locals, still in Sunday clothes, look at the train wreck. Photo courtesy of the Encyclopedia Virginia.

A rescue effort was soon underway as locals began to sift through the wreck searching for the living the dead. Steve Broady was found near the creek at the bottom of the ravine, rather than still in the engine as the song describes. One of his rescuers reported that:

The skin came off his arm just like a chicken that’s scalded. Somebody came from the houses above, and two or three men helped me pick up the engineer and put him on the bank. He drawed two or three breaths and that was the end of him.

Historian Larry Aaron notes that:

The sights and sounds on that Sunday afternoon destroyed not only the train but also whatever charm the day would have held. The crashing sound and shaking ground; the dust, debris, smoke and fire; the mournful cries of wounded and dying men; the sheet-covered bodies on mattresses; the wagons hauling the wounded to the Home for the Sick; the proud locomotive steeped in mud; and the postal cars shredded like paper—all created a surreal scene. For a host of onlookers, that serene Sunday afternoon became a nightmare to remember.

As darkness fell in Danville, “flares and lanterns hung on trees and poles” lent their light to the tragic scene as well as the harsh light of an engine that was parked on the trestle. Within hours of the disaster crews began to repair the trestle, completing their work in time for a train to pass the next morning. The engine was pulled from the dirt and set upright. After major repairs, it was returned to service.

Wreck of the Old 97 Danville Virginia
The wreck of the Old 97 in 1903. This photo was taken shortly after the engine was pulled into an upright position.

The memories of that horrible day have lingered in Danville for more than a century. The song “Wreck of Old 97” came into existence some years after the tragedy along with questions over its authorship. Musicians continue to cover the jaunty song, repeating the sad story of Old 97’s tragic jump.

In the decades that have passed since the accident the trestle has been torn down and the mill next to it was destroyed by fire recently. Riverside Drive, which carries US 58 BUS, now runs parallel with the Dan River and speeds right by the overgrown ravine where the wreck occurred. US 58, along with US 29, is one of the two major US highways serving modern Danville. In 1947, a historical marker was placed next to the busy road describing the crash as “one of the worst train wrecks in Virginia history.” It also incorrectly reports the death toll as nine.

Perhaps echoes of the wreck continue to be experienced today? A short time after the horrid events, locals began to report that lights were seen in the ravine, moving like the lanterns brought out by rescuers as darkness fell. Even as the spot became treacherous and overgrown, the lights continued to appear. Some reported to still hear the shriek of the train’s whistle on the disaster’s anniversary without a train nearby.

In his Ghosthunting Virginia, author Michael Varhola describes a trip to Danville to check out the site. As he spoke with several locals, he was met with no reports of activity at the site nowadays. Perhaps the echoes of that tragic day have begun, like memories, to fade into the mist of time?

In total,  eleven men who lost their lives in the wreck and they were: Joseph Andrew “Steve” Broady, John Thomas Blair, James Robert Moody, Albion C. “Buddy” Clapp, John Madison Hodge, John L. Thompson, Paul M. Argenbright, W. Scott Chambers, Daniel P. Flory, Louis Spies, and Wentworth Armistead.

Sources

  • Aaron, Larry G. The Wreck of the Old 97. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2010.
  • Taylor, L. B., Jr. The Ghosts of Virginia, Vol. II. B. Taylor, Jr.: 1994.
  • Varhola, Michael J. Ghosthunting Virginia. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2008.
  • The Wreck of Old 97. The Historical Marker Database (HMdb.org). Added 25 August 2021.
  • Wreck of the Old 97.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 9 July 2022.

A holy ghost at St. Philip’s

St. Philip’s Episcopal Church
146 Church Street
Charleston, South Carolina

St Philips's Church Charleston SC ghosts haunted
St. Philip’s Church, 2012. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

In 2017, British newspapers broke the story of a visitor to New Bern, North Carolina’s Tryon Palace who captured video of a woman in period clothing walking past a doorway. Exclaiming “Dude, scary lady,” the visitor thought that they had just captured a ghost, though the house museum is staffed with docents in period clothing.

The British papers have again broken a story about ghostly phenomena in the Carolinas, this time concerning the image of a ghostly figure captured within the churchyard of St. Philip’s Church in Charleston, South Carolina. It seems a recent visitor to the Holy City took a photograph while on a ghost tour. This article displays the recent photo as well as its older counterpart.

The tour stopped in a popular location just outside the gates of the historic churchyard surrounding the National Historic Landmark church. There, the guide told the story of Sue Howard Hardy, a Charleston socialite who died and was buried here in 1888 after enduring complications from a difficult childbirth. On June 10, 1987, Harry Reynolds, a local resident, was eager to test out a new camera he had purchased. He stopped by the old cemetery and stuck his new camera through the bars on the gate and took a number of pictures. When he got his developed photos back, he was shocked to see a figure bending over a grave in the photo in an attitude of mourning.

Hardy Grave St Philip's Church Charleston SC
The grave of Sue Hardy in St. Philip’s Churchyard. Photo taken 2011 by Lewis O. Powell, IV. All rights reserved.

Reynolds sought to identify the mysterious figure and easily located the grave. After doing some research on Mrs. Hardy, he realized that the grave also likely contained the remains of her stillborn child whose birth led to her death six days later. Reynolds had taken his photograph on the anniversary of the child’s unfortunate birth. Over time, the strange photo has been discussed in paranormal circles and shared on many ghost tours as they stop by the gates of St. Philip’s. The articles mention that some pregnant guests have experienced issues after seeing the photo on the tour.

Near the gates where the tours commonly stop, the church has put up a small sign proclaiming, “The only ghost at St. Philip’s is the Holy Ghost,” perhaps in an effort to counteract the ghost tales that have become so popular.

Sign at St. Philip's Church, Charleston SC
The sign just inside the fence of St. Philip’s Churchyard. Photo taken 2011 by Lewis O. Powell, IV. All rights reserved.

An article appearing in the British Daily Mirror and the Daily Star, has publicized a new photograph that may also be of the wraith of Mrs. Hardy. In the photo, a translucent figure in a diaphanous white gown seems to be strolling with its head bowed through the cemetery. Unfortunately, the photo is quite blurry and has likely been cropped, which make it difficult to identify the angle from which it was taken, though I believe it was probably taken through the fence near the church’s ghost plaque, which would put it within sight of Mrs. Hardy’s grave. Neither papers reveal when the photo was taken, which might aid in identifying the figure. Is this Mrs. Hardy’s spirit or someone or something else?

Containing over 3,000 burials, the churchyard of St. Philip’s is among the many haunted sites in Charleston’s historic district. The church’s congregation dates to 1680 and its first dedicated building was constructed in 1682 on the site of what is now St. Michael’s Church at the corner of Meeting and Broad Streets (which is also haunted). The congregation relocated to Church Street in 1723 and that building was destroyed by fire in 1835. The current building opened in 1838 and has been dubbed the “Westminster Abbey of South Carolina” for the number of notable people buried within its precincts.

St. Philip's Church Charleston SC
The row of graves seen in the 1987 photo. Photo taken 2011 by Lewis O. Powell, IV. All rights reserved.

The churchyard features the graves of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Edward Rutledge; several members of the Continental Congress, Christopher Gadsden and Isaac Motte; a Vice President of the United States, John C. Calhoun; author DuBose Heyward; and many assorted politicians, governors, and other noted names. Who knows how many of these holy ghosts remain to walk in old St. Philip’s Churchyard?

Sources

Phantom Encounter on the Flint—Georgia

Flint River
Dooly County, Near Vienna, Georgia

About 10 miles from Vienna (pronounced VY-enna), the waters of the Flint River feed into manmade Lake Blackshear near the community of Drayton. At one of the campgrounds on the shores of the river, a pair of teen boys had a frightening encounter around 2012. One of the young men related his story on the YourGhostStory website. While many of these stories may be fiction, this story does have a ring of truth.

The pair ventured outside around 2 AM and they ended up parking near the campground’s store around 3. As they talked inside the truck, they felt the back-end dip as if someone was standing on the back bumper. Looking back, they saw a dark, seemingly hooded figure. Jumping out, the driver left to see what it was while his passenger locked his door and screamed that they should get out of there. The driver returned to the truck frightened that he didn’t find anything there. The pair did not witness anything else out of the ordinary that night.

Flint River Mitchell County Georgia
A view of the Flint River as it flows through Mitchell County, Georgia. Photo 2015, by Michael Rivera, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Rivers and streams often seem to attract paranormal activity and the Flint River is no exception. See my entry, “A Big Fish of a Ghost Tale—Albany, Georgia,” for another Flint River story.

Sources

  • Dark Hooded Figure in Ga.” YourGhostStories.com. 14 May 2012.
  • Miles, Jim. Haunted Central Georgia. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2017.

Directory of Haunted Southern Burial Grounds and Cemeteries

Some paranormal investigators theorize that cemeteries and burial sites should not be haunted because spirits are not thought to remain near their earthly remains. However, this thinking can easily be proven wrong with the sheer number of cemeteries and burial sites that are said to be haunted. This directory lists all cemeteries covered within this blog.

Alabama

de Soto Caverns, Childersburg, Alabama
Interior of De Soto Caverns with a replica of a native burial in place. Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV, all rights reserved.

District of Columbia

Adams Memorial Rock Creek Cemetery Washington DC
The Adams Monument, 2007, by Danvera. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Florida

Pinewood Cemetery Coral Gables Florida
Graves in the forest at Pinewood Cemetery. Photo 2007, by Deathbecomezher, courtesy of Find-A-Grave.

Georgia

Christ Church Frederica St. Simons Island Georgia
The azaleas are now blooming in the cemetery at Christ Church. Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Kentucky 

Ashland Cemetery Kentucky
The gates of Ashland Cemetery. Photo by JC, 2006 and courtesy of Find-A-Grave.com.

Louisiana

Basin Street New Orleans entrance gate to St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 ghosts haunted
Basin Street entrance gate to St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Photo by Infrogmation, 2007, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Maryland

Baker Cemetery Aberdeen Maryland
Sign for the Baker Cemetery, 2004. Photo submitted to Find A Grave by MarissaK.

Mississippi 

North Carolina

Nikwasi Mound Franklin North Carolina
The Nikwasi Mound, 2012, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

South Carolina

Grave of Rosalie Raymond White in Magnolia Cemetery Charleston SC ghosts haunted
Grave of Rosalie Raymond White in Magnolia Cemetery. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Tennessee

One of the host of angels at Old Gray. This one adorns the monument Ora Brewster. Photo 2010 by Brian Stansberry. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Virginia

Mount Hebron Cemetery Winchester Virginia
Entrance and Gate House for Mount Hebron Cemetery. Photo 2010,
by Karen Nutini, courtesy of Wikipedia.

West Virginia

National Haunted Landmarks of Maryland, Part I

Most people have heard of the National Register of Historic Places which was established in 1966 by the Historic Preservation Act. Maintained by the National Park Service (NPS), this list denotes places of historical importance throughout the country and within all U.S. territories and possessions. Since its establishment, it has grown to cover nearly 95,000 places.

While the National Register is widely known, the National Historic Landmark (NHL) program is little known. This program denotes buildings, districts, objects, sites, or structures that are of national importance, essentially a step-up from a listing on the National Register. The criteria for being designated as a National Historic Landmark includes:

  • Sites where events of national historical significance occurred;
  • Places where prominent persons lived or worked;
  • Icons of ideals that shaped the nation;
  • Outstanding examples of design or construction;
  • Places characterizing a way of life; or
  • Archeological sites able to yield information.

Among the listings on this exclusive list are the Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia; Central Park, the Empire State Building, and the Chrysler Building in New York City; and the White House in Washington. Currently, there are only 2,500 landmarks included on the list.

The state of Maryland has more than 1,500 listings on the National Register and has 76 National Historic Landmarks. In addition to these listings, there are seven other nationally important sites that are owned and operated by the National Park Service, so they are technically National Historic Landmarks, though because they are fully protected as government property and do not appear on the list of NHLs.

This article looks at the Maryland landmarks and other protected properties with reported paranormal activity. This article has been divided up and this looks at the first eleven landmarks on the list.

National Historic Landmarks, Part I

Clara Barton National Historic Site
5801 Oxford Road
Glen Echo

Clara Barton House, Glen Echo, Maryland
The Clara Barton House, 2006, by Preservation Maryland. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

While this site is owned and operated by the National Park Service, it is listed on the list of National Historic Landmarks as well. I have covered this location in my article on “Montgomery County Mysteries.”

Brice House
42 East Street
Annapolis

Brice House Annapolis Maryland
Recent view of the Brice House taken in 2009. The house is made up of five parts, the large main house, two pavilions with “hyphens” that connect the pavilions to the main house. Photo by Wikipedia user, Pubdog Courtesy of Wikipedia.

This masterpiece of Georgian architecture is also counted as part of the National Historic Landmark listed Colonial Annapolis Historic District. I have briefly covered the paranormal activity here in my article, “Brice House Photos—Annapolis.”

Chestertown Historic District

Hynson-Ringgold House (private)
106 South Water Street
Chestertown

Located on the Chester River on the state’s Eastern Shore, Chestertown was a major port town for several decades in the latter half of the 18th century. As a result, the town is graced with a number of grand merchant’s homes, including the Hynson-Ringgold House, which now comprise this NHL historic district.

Hyson-Ringgold House Chestertown Maryland
The Hynson-Ringgold House, 2011, by Kriskelleyphotography, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The earliest part of this lovely Georgian house was constructed in 1743. As it passed through the hands of various owners, it has gained many additions. Over the years it has been owned by and attracted luminaries who, and who possibly even remain to haunt it. Since the 1940s, the house has served as the home for the president of Washington College.

Rumors of the house being haunted have been circulated since the 1850s, though the only documented story speaks of a maid who lived and worked in the home in 1916. After having her faced touched while she tried to sleep in the attic garret, she eventually refused to sleep in her room.

Sources

  • Chestertown Historic District. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 29 January 2022.
  • Daniels, D. S. Ghosts of Chestertown and Kent County. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2015.
  • Hynson-Ringgold House. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 29 January 2022.

College of Medicine of Maryland—Davidge Hall
University of Maryland School of Medicine
522 West Lombard Street
Baltimore

Davidge Hall is the oldest medical school building in continuous use in the country, as well as possessing the oldest anatomical theater in the English-speaking world. This elegant, Greek-revival structure was built in 1812 and its anatomical theater reminds us of the dicey issue of anatomical training in early America. While it was important for future physicians to understand anatomy by dissecting human cadavers, there were no established protocols for actually procuring these bodies. Even the most well-established medical institutions and educators often turned to “resurrection men” to steal bodies from local cemeteries and burying grounds, which obviously caused a great deal of consternation among the families of those who were recently deceased.

Dr. John Davidge, an Annapolis-born physician for whom this building was later named, began providing training to local medical students in 1807. Not long after opening his school, which included an anatomical theater, an angry mob interrupted a dissection, stole the corpse and they may have also demolished the building. Following the riot, a bill officially establishing a medical school was passed by the state’s General Assembly. The use of stolen bodies in the College of Medicine ended in 1882 when a bill was passed providing medical schools in the state with the bodies of anyone who had be buried with public funds, including criminals and the indigent.

Davidge Hall College of Medicine Maryland Baltimore
Davidge Hall, 2011, by KudzuVine, courtesy of Wikipedia.

According to Melissa Rowell and Amy Lynwander’s Baltimore Harbor Haunts, there are reports of disembodied voices and strange sounds within the building. Perhaps the spirits of some of those who were dissected remain here?

Sources

Colonial Annapolis Historic District

Middleton Tavern Annapolis Maryland ghosts haunted
Middleton Tavern, 1964. Photograph for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

The city of Annapolis dates to 1649 when a small settlement named Providence was established on the shore where the Severn River enters the Chesapeake Bay. Throughout the 18th century, the village grew into a prosperous port and administrative city. Its importance was recognized when it was named as the temporary capital of the United States following the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

Reynolds Tavern Annapolis Maryland
Reynolds Tavern, 1960. Photograph by Jack Boucher for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

With its dearth of colonial buildings, much of its historic district was promoted to a National Historic Landmark in 1965. Of course, with much of the historic built environment remaining many of these structures are haunted. Two taverns among them—Middleton Tavern and Reynolds Tavern—that I covered in my article, “One national under the table’—The Haunted Taverns of Annapolis.”

USS Constellation
Pier 1, 301 East Pratt Street
Baltimore

USS Constellation 2008 ghosts haunted
The USS Constellation at its permanent berth in Baltimore Harbor, 2008. Photo by Nfutvol, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The last remaining sail-powered warship designed and built by the United States Navy, the USS Constellation was constructed here in Baltimore in 1854 and includes parts from the first Constellation constructed in 1797. Since the ship was decommissioned and preserved as a museum ship in 1955, stories have come from visitors and staff alike of ghosts and assorted paranormal activity being witnessed on board. The same year the ship opened to the public, a photographer remained aboard the ship late one night hoping to capture the image of one of the ship’s ghost. He was rewarded with the image of a 19th century captain striding upon the deck captured on film. I have covered his story here.

B & O Ellicott City Station Museum
2711 Maryland Avenue
Ellicott City

There is perhaps no better place to meet one of Ellicott City’s spectral residents than the old Baltimore & Ohio Train Station in downtown. One local resident discovered this fact as he walked to work one foggy morning. Just outside the old station he was approached by a young boy who was apparently lost. The resident told the little boy he would help him find his mother. Taking his hand, they began to walk towards the restaurant where the man worked. Oddly, the man didn’t take any heed to the boy’s old-fashioned clothing, but as they neared the restaurant the child let go of the man’s hand. As he turned the man was shocked to see no one behind him. The little boy had vanished.

B & O Station Ellicott City Maryland
Ellicott City’s B&O Station, 2020, by Antony-22, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Ellicott City Train Station was witness to the first rail trip ever made in this country on May 24, 1830. That day a horse drawn rail car opened rail service spanning the twenty-six miles between Baltimore and Ellicott City. That day, the station was being built and would be completed in 1831. Over the last nearly two hundred years, as rail service has come and mostly gone in the United States, this station has remained standing and is now one of the oldest remaining train stations in the world and the oldest in this country. Throughout its history it has seen the comings and goings of the citizens of Ellicott City including many sad farewells and happy greetings, all of them leaving their psychic traces on the thick stone walls.

The little boy encountered by the restaurant employee is not the only spectral resident that has been seen here. Staff and visitors alike continue to have odd experiences in the museum.

Sources

Fort Frederick
11100 Fort Frederick Road
Big Pool

Amidst the hostilities of the French and Indian War (1754-1763), Fort Frederick was constructed on the Maryland frontier to provide shelter and protection attacks from Native Americans and the French. During the Pontiac Uprising of 1763, hundreds of frontier residents found shelter within the fort. During the American Revolution, the fort was pressed into service as a POW prison, housing up to a thousand British and Hessian soldiers at one point. After the founding of the fledgling United States, it was no longer needed and sold at public auction. As fighting broke out during the Civil War, however, the fort was once again pressed into service, although it was quickly found to be unnecessary. The state of Maryland acquired the site as a park in 1922.

Fort Frederick Big Pool Maryland
Fort Frederick State Park, 2009, by Acroterion, courtesy of Wikipedia.

While the fort saw mercifully little action, many deaths occurred within its walls from disease. From these grim times of illness, spirits have been left who continue to roam the old battlements and grounds. Among them, a “Lady in White” has been seen drifting through the fort.

Sources

Hammond-Harwood House
19 Maryland Avenue
Annapolis

Annapolis has a wealth of colonial brick mansions, all of which are a part of the Colonial Annapolis Historic District, and several of which are important enough to afford individual listings as National Historic Landmarks, including Brice House, the William Paca House, the Chase-Lloyd House (just across the street), and the Hammond-Harwood House. These homes may also share an architect in common, William Buckland. Unfortunately, some of the homes are only attributed to his had as documentation has not survived.

Hammond-Harwood House Annapolis Maryland
The Hammond-Harwood House, 1936, by E. F. Pickering for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

The Hammond-Harwood House is considered most likely to have been designed entirely by Buckland. In fact, the front elevation of the house can be seen in painter Charles Wilson Peale’s contemporary portrait of the architect. On the table at Buckland’s side is a piece of paper with a drawing of the home. It is known, however, that the home’s design was adapted by Buckland from a plate in Andrea Palladio’s 1570 magnum opus, I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura (Four Books of Architecture).

Construction on this home for Matthias Hammond, a wealthy planter with fifty-four tobacco plantations, in 1774. The magnificent manse remained a private home for a succession of wealthy families until St. John’s College purchased the house in 1924. A non-profit took over operation of the home in 1940 and it remains a house museum.

Over the years, a legend has sprung up regarding Matthias Hammond’s fiancée. It is believed that Hammond may have never occupied the house once it was completed and the legend states that he neglected his fiancée during the construction, much to her chagrin. Tired of waiting for completion on the mansion, she broke off the engagement, though she later returned to him as a mistress. Witnesses have spotted a woman in colonial dress peering from the windows of the home and have claimed that the spirit may be the aggrieved mistress. Upon her death, she was buried on the property in a secret crypt. According to writer Ed Ockonowicz’s interview with the home’s manager, this legend is not true.

Sources

Kennedy Farm
2406 Chestnut Grove Road
Sharpsburg

In the dark years prior to the Civil War, John Brown began to formulate plans to liberate the enslaved population. In 1858, he cast his eyes on the small town of Harpers Ferry, Virginia with its Federal armory. His plan was to use his motley crew of men to capture the armory and use the arms stashed there to arm local slaves and foment rebellion. He rented a small farm that had once been home to the late Dr. Booth Kennedy several months before the planned attack. In this spot on the Maryland side of the Potomac River Brown and his men drew up plans for his raid and gathered arms. The raid was put into action on October 16, 1859 and lasted until the arrival of General Robert E. Lee with a detachment of Marines from Washington.

Kennedy Farm Sharpsburg Maryland
The farmhouse at the Kennedy Farm after a recent renovation, 2019, by Acroterion, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The raiders holed themselves up in a fire engine house which came under fire from the Marines. Eventually the soldiers were able to break their way inside and arrested all the remaining raiders including Brown himself. Brown was quickly put on trial for his leadership in the raid and was executed in nearby Charles Town roughly a month and a half after the failed raid began, on December 2. Since his death, his spirit has been drawn back to many of the places associated with the raid, including the Kennedy Farm.

In 1989, a reporter from the Washington Post interviewed a student who was renting a room inside the historic farmhouse. He reported hearing the sounds of footsteps climbing the stairs to the farmhouse’s second floor where the conspirators slept in the days leading up to the raid. He told the reporter, “it sounds like people are walking up the stairs. You hear snoring, talking and breathing hard. It makes your hair stand up on end.” The student and his roommate would often play video-games late into the evening to avoid going to bed, after which activity usually started. In the years since the interview, a number of people associated with the building have also had frightening experiences there.

Sources

Maryland State House
State Circle
Annapolis

Located at the center of State Circle, the Maryland State House is the oldest state capitol building still in use, having been built in the final decades of the 18th century. Construction began on the building in 1772 and it was finally completed in 1797, after being delayed by the American Revolution. Even in its incomplete state, the building was used between 1783 and 1784 as a meeting place for the national Congress of the Confederation.

The building’s most prominent feature is the central drum topped with a graceful dome and cupola. So prominent is this feature that it appeared on the back of the Maryland state quarter when it was produced in 2000. This dome plays a part in the capitol’s ghost story.

Maryland State House Annapolis
Maryland State House, 2007, by Inteagle 102704, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Legend speaks of a plasterer, Thomas Dance, who was killed while he worked on the building when he fell from the scaffold upon which he was working. According to a guide from the Annapolis Ghost Tour, the contractor refused to pay Dance’s pension and outstanding wages to his family and confiscated his tools, leaving his family destitute.

While it is not known what has kept Mr. Dance’s spirit bound to the state house, he is blamed for much of the paranormal activity within the building. The spirit of a man seen walking on the balustrade at the top of the dome and within the building at night is believed to be Dance. Flickering lights and blasts of chilly air experienced by the living here are also blamed on him.

Sources

 

Montgomery County Mysteries–Maryland

When I put together my spectral tour of US 29, I realized that a number of locales along the route haven’t been covered in this blog with Montgomery County, Maryland being one of those. Located just outside of the District of Columbia, Montgomery County has become a major Washington suburb in recent decades. It is also home to a number of fascinating hauntings.

Bethesda

Old Georgetown Road

A 2003 article discussing Maryland paranormal investigator Beverly Litsinger has a brief list of haunted places throughout the state including this road in Montgomery County. The article notes that people have had “disturbing sightings of a ghostly being” along this road. It goes on to say that several Civil War-era homes along the road are also haunted. No further information is available.

Sources

  • Brick, Krista. “Ghost-tracker has plenty of weird tales.” Frederick News-Post. 27 October 2003.

Glen Echo

Carousel at Glen Echo Park
7300 Macarthur Boulevard

The Glen Echo Park Carousel sports a menagerie of animals, including 39 horses, four ostriches, four rabbits, and a deer, tiger, giraffe, lion, and perhaps several spirits flitting amongst them.

Glen Echo Carousel, Glen Echo Park, Glen Echo, Maryland
The carousel in 2018, by Skdb. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Glen Echo Park opened as an amusement park in 1911 following a couple of decades as a National Chatauqua Assembly. The grounds were outfitted with dozens of rides as the premier park for family fun in the Washington, D. C. area. In 1921, park owners contracted the carousel building firm of Gustav and William Dentzel of Philadelphia to install this carousel for the delight of park patrons. For years, the animals and their accompanying Wurlitzer organ gave rides to guests until the park closed in 1968. After the park was acquired by the National Park Service in 1971, the carousel was restored and continues to delight riders to this day.

Karen Yaffe Lottes and Dorothy Pugh include in their 2012 book, In Search of Maryland Ghosts: Montgomery County, the experiences of a gentleman who spoke of seeing spirits at the carousel as an adolescent. In the 1960s, while this gentleman was around the age of thirteen, he began sneaking out of the house late at night and his excursions often took him to Glen Echo Park. On a couple occasions he heard the sound of the carousel’s organ playing and saw shadowy forms within the carousel’s round house. As he peeked through the windows, he saw a large group of people inside riding and standing around the ride. Oddly, this group was comprised of African-Americans and they were dressed in clothing reminiscent of the 1930s or 40s. On both occasions, the young man was frightened by this vision and fled the scene. This story is odd in that the park was not open to patrons of color until the late 1960s, just before it closed.

Sources

Clara Barton National Historic Site
5801 Oxford Road

Groundbreaking nurse, Clara Barton, spent the final fifteen years of her life residing in this odd building in Montgomery County. The wooden portion of the building had been prefabricated in the Midwest for use at disaster sites. In the case of this structure, it had been put together after the devastating flood in Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1889 where the building served as the Locust Street Red Cross Hotel. After its emergency use came to an end, it was dismantled and shipped to Washington, D. C. with the expectation that it would be used for the next emergency. In 1891, it was erected in Glen Echo with some modifications and additions for use as the headquarters of Barton’s fledgling Red Cross.

Clara Barton House, Glen Echo, Maryland
The Clara Barton House, 2006, by Preservation Maryland. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Unfortunately, Barton’s dream of a fine headquarters was thwarted for several years by the lack of transportation and communications infrastructure but in 1897, the building finally became the national headquarters. Ever modest in her own personal needs, Barton took a bedroom at the back of the building. It is here that she spent the final years of her life of service to others.

Now, a National Historic Site operated by the National Park Service, visitors and, I suspect some staff (despite the Park Service’s official line that none of its sites are haunted), have encountered a woman in a green period dress, who may be the apparition of the famed Clara Barton, still going about her duties from the other side.

Sources

Olney

Olney Theatre Center
2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road

It seems that the spirits of the Olney Theatre Center don’t haunt the theatre itself, but rather one of the buildings where theatre staff and artists reside during performance seasons.

The company was initially created as a summer stock on a rural estate with Ethel Barrymore as its first associate director. Over the years it has attracted many of the leading lights of American stage and film, including Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Tallulah Bankhead, and the inimitable Helen Hayes, the First Lady of the American Stage.

An 1889 family home on the property, named Knollton, has served as cast housing since the founding of the company. Cast and staff who have lived in the old house have reported a variety of paranormal activities including apparitions and spectral sounds.

Sources

  • Lottes, Karen Yaffe and Dorothy Pugh. In Search of Maryland Ghosts: Montgomery County. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2012.
  • Olney Theatre Center. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 29 January 2022.

Rockville

Beall-Dawson House
103 West Montgomery Avenue

As the county’s Clerk of Court, Upton Beall wanted the prominence of his position reflected in his family home. He had this elegance home built in 1815 in this small crossroads village. Beall’s prominence even brought a visit from Lafayette during his 1824 grand tour of Maryland. The house remained in the Beall family until the 1930s when it was sold away from the family. It was later acquired by the county historical society who have used it as a museum for many decades.

Beall-Dawson House, Rockville, Maryland
The Beall-Dawson House, 2020, by Dbenford. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

As with many house museums, this house possesses its fair shares of creaks, groans, and disembodied footsteps, typical occurrences in many old houses. Some years ago, a docent working in the kitchen saw the apparition of a black man in old-fashioned clothing kneeling on the floor of the carriage entrance room laying bricks. The brick floor was laid in a herringbone pattern, with the bricks set in sand. This same apparition has been seen by a handful of people over the years. Has this man returned to worry about his carefully crafted floor?

Sources

Echoes of a crime–University of Memphis

John Willard Brister Hall
University of Memphis Campus
Memphis, Tennessee

Students, staff, and campus police have been perplexed by screams heard within the old Brister Library for years. Constructed in 1928 and named for one of the school’s early presidents, Brister Hall was, according to legend, the scene of the rape and killing of a student in a dark corner. University officials, however, contend that a student was raped in the building, but she was not killed.

Brister Library University of Memphis Tennessee
Brister Hall, 2014. Photo by Chris6320, courtesy of Wikipedia

Odd screams still persist. An article from the school’s newspaper, The Daily Helmsman, notes the experiences of one of the school’s deans while she was in the library on Halloween night, 1985. “I was doing research in the library. I heard this howling all over the library, and it sounded like an animal. Any other time I would assume it was wind, but it was Halloween — and in a spooky library.” The graduate student summoned a library staff member who also heard the piercing screams but was so unnerved that he didn’t investigate further.

Sources

  • Cunningham, Laura. Haunted Memphis. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2009.
  • Sisung, Ryan. “Ghosts haunting U of M.” The Daily Helmsman. 31 October 2003.

Death on Wheels–Jackson, Mississippi

Hinds County Courthouse
407 East Pascagoula Street

For about fifteen years, death traveled on wheels throughout the state of Mississippi. During that time, a portable electric chair crisscrossed the state as counties needed to execute inmates. The chair along with portable generators and an executioner would set up in county courthouses or jails in order to do their gloomy work and then move on to the next date with death.

There’s something cruel and disturbing in how Mississippi seemed to delight in their use of “Old Sparky.” Even how the deaths are reported in the local papers is tinged with a sense of pride. Between 1940 and 1954, 73 people met their fates while embraced in the chair’s wooden arms.

Mississippi's portable electric chair
The state’s executioner, Jimmy Thompson, poses with “Old Sparky” with an assembly of young boys. Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

When the instrument was first used in 1940, photographs were proudly published in Jackson’s Clarion-Ledger showing the inmate being strapped in and then a second photograph as the first surge of electricity surged through his body. One blogger noted that photography during executions has been banned throughout the country and that they are exceedingly rare with this being one of only two such photos, the other being the infamous photograph of Ruth Snyder being put to death in New York’s infamous Sing Sing.

Despite being stored in the state capitol building in Jackson, death did not claim a victim there until the 9th of February 1944. Just after midnight 23-year-old Elijah Parker was led into the basement of the Hinds County Courthouse to meet his fate.

Clarion-Ledger
9 February 1944
Page 1

PARKER DIES HERE
IN ELECTRIC CHAIR

The Wages of Sin Is Death

With the final words, “Yes, Father,” plainly visible on his lips, Elijah Parker, 23-year-old Madison county negro, died in the state’s portable electric chair at 12:27 this morning for his part in the slaying of T. Henry Gober over a year and half ago.

The negro was led to the chair by Deputy Sheriffs J. T. Naugher and Bob Stone, and as he entered the basement where the electrocution took place he clasped a Catholic prayer book tightly between his hand-cuffed hands.

His pearly white teeth shone brilliantly behind a faint grin as he sat down in the chair, and he watched intently as officials strapped him securely in the chair. Just before his left arm was strapped to the chair, he handed the prayer book to Father Mathis.

Father Mathis uttered a short prayer and then leaned over close to the negro and said, “be sorry for your sins,” to which the negro replied, “Yes, Father.” These were his last words.

Switch Thrown

Seconds later the state’s official electrocutioner, C. W. Watson threw the switch that shot 2,300 volts of electricity through the negro’s body. The chair gave a quick lurch and the strap holding Parker’s left leg to the chair broke loose, and his fists clenched tight.

Fifty-five seconds later, Dr. S. J. Hooper stepped forward, held a stethoscope to the negro’s heart and shook his head indicating that the negro was not dead. Seconds later more voltage was sent through the negro’s body and then Dr. Cecil Walley stepped up and examined the negro and indicated that he was still not dead. Dr. Hooper then examined him and pronounced him dead.

Sheriff L. M. (John) Gordon read the death warrant to the negro in the jail before he was brought down to the basement. Officials said that the negro remained calm until the last and offered no struggle as he was led to his death.

Spectators Look-on

Some several dozen spectators watched what was the first electrocution to be held in Hinds county.

Elijah Parker became the twentieth person to die (the first in Jackson) in the state’s portable electric chair since that method of electrocution was first installed in Mississippi several years ago.

Fifteen persons died in the chair while Jimmy Thompson served as the official electrocutioner and five have met death since C. W. Watson has been electrocutioner.

Although the sheriff of Hinds county is the official custodian of the chair, Parker became the first person to die in it in Hinds county.

Parker was convicted in November 1942 by a Hinds county jury for his part in the bludgeon-slaying of T. Henry Gober, well-known Madison county farmer, in the early morning hours of July 23, 1942, and was subsequently sentenced to death in the state’s portable electric chair by Judge Jeptha F. Barbour, then circuit judge.

Two teen-age accomplices of Parker were tried at the same time and sentenced to life imprisonment in the state penitentiary. Since that time one died at Parchman.

The Hinds county judgement was affirmed by the State Supreme Court when an appeal was taken to that body, and later when the case was carried to the U. S. Supreme Court that body declined to hear it.

The case was returned to the State Supreme Court and the date of execution was reset for February 9, today.

_____

Elijah Parker’s last request was to have the following song words published:

LET MY LAST DAY BE MY BEST
CHORUS

Lord let my last day be my best.
Lord let my last day be my best
And I know good Lord,
You will do the rest.

If I was dying without Jesus,
On my side it would be miserable,
To think about the death I died.

But I have found Jesus,
And now I am satisfied,
Going to work right on;
Until the day I die.

When I am dying friends and relatives
Standing at my bedside crying then
Lord let my last day be my best.

The appearance of the Hinds County Courthouse is foreboding. It is faced with limestone giving the impression that it is a single carved piece of stone rendered in the Art Deco style. Construction commenced in January 1930 and ended in December of that year. The building contained not only courtrooms, and county offices, but a jail and an apartment for the jailer.

Hinds County Courthouse Jackson Mississippi
The Hinds County Courthouse, 2018, by Michael Barera. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

With such a history, the building is no doubt haunted, though there are no modern published reports of paranormal activity within this building. However, an article appeared in a 1947 Clarion-Ledger noting that several custodians had encounters here.

Clarion-Ledger
20 February 1947
Page 1

Do State’s ‘Chair’ Victims Return?

GHOST HAUNTS HINDS
COUNTY COURT HOUSE

Laugh if you will and scoff if you must, but a ghost last night made its grim appearance in the basement of the Hinds County Court House.

The eerie apparition was seen at about 8 p.m. by P. E. Brent, custodian of the building. The ghost has been reported by several negroes during recent weeks as roaming the basement in the vicinity of the spot where the state’s portable electric chair claims its doomed. But last night was the first time a white man actually saw the melancholy, shadowy figure.

Brent had just left the boiler room where he makes an hourly check. He walked toward the stairway and suddenly halted, sweat forming on his forehead, his muscles tense. Standing a few yards away, facing him, was the transparent outline of a man, about 5 feet 9 inches in height. A black hood covered the figure’s head and shoulders. There were no slits for the eyes or nose.

Brent gathered courage and walked slowly toward the immobile figure, amazed at what he saw and determined to solve the mystery. But as he approached, the figure slowly disintegrated before his eyes, leaving nothing but a vivid memory in the custodian’s mind.

“I don’t believe in ghosts,” Brent said after the strange experience. “But I’m convinced that some sort of apparition in the form of a man with a black hood was standing near the stairway when I emerged from the boiler room.”

Several colored janitors have quit their jobs at the court house during recent months because of their belief that the basement is haunted.

The three present employees, however have taken rather philosophical views of their shadowy colleague. All of them claim they have seen the ghost several times.

On one recent occasion, Ben Britton, one of the negro janitors saw a man walking toward the door. He followed him, since it was late at night and no one was supposed to be in the building. The figure neared the door, opened it and walked out. When Ben got to the door he said he found it locked.

On another occasion, Alec Pools, his co-worker, saw a figure which he said looked like a boy. He told him not to play in the basement. The “boy” turned around and started walking toward him. As Alec started to run, the “boy” disappeared.

Pleas Britton, the third janitor said he saw the ghost practically every week, but added that he “knew he won’t hurt me.”

“He’s one of us,” the negro said. “He couldn’t make heaven or hell and he’s just wandering around. He never does anything. He just wanders around sort of mournful-like. I know he won’t hurt me.”

I pray that if the spirits of any of those who died by way of Mississippi’s death on wheels remain in the Hinds County Courthouse, I sincerely hope they are at peace.

This is not the only spirit from a victim of “Old Sparky” that may continue to haunt the location of their execution. Please see my coverage of Marty’s Blues Cafe in downtown Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Sources

Guarding the “subterranean residents”—Memphis, TN

Old Raleigh Cemetery
4324 Old Raleigh-LaGrange Road
Memphis, Tennessee

The subterranean residents of Memphis’ Old Raleigh Cemetery have had their resting place battered for years. Vandals, trash-dumpers, and the elements have taken their toll here. The cemetery has attracted a handful of people over the years each with a wish to preserve and protect this most historic of cemeteries.

Old Raleigh Cemetery Memphis Tennessee
Two graves in the Old Raleigh Cemetery, 2013. Photo by Thomas R. Machnitzki, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The community of Raleigh was established on the Wolf River two years prior to the establishment of Memphis on the Mississippi. Raleigh was the county seat until Memphis’ growth led to it being moved to the much larger city after the Civil War. Raleigh Cumberland Presbyterian Church was one of the earliest churches in the community and established this cemetery. Throughout its history, many prominent persons have been laid here for their eternal rest including members of the Shelby family—the county was named for prominent patriot and politician Isaac Shelby—and the second mayor of Memphis, Isaac Rawlings.

The church has been gone for many years, though the cemetery remains. It has been neglected for quite some time and efforts through the years have attempted to clean it up. One of the first attempts to reclaim the cemetery took place in 2010 and was organized by a pair of paranormal investigators. An article in the Commercial Appeal noted that at the time the 7-acre cemetery was “a tangle of forest and underbrush.”

Old Raleigh Cemetery Memphis Tennessee
Old Raleigh Cemetery, 2013. Photo by Thomas R. Machnitzki, courtesy of Wikipedia.

While working there, one of the investigators heard a disembodied man’s voice say, “he’s my family.” Later, while cutting underbrush another voice urged him to “cut the trees.” These voices provided the first clues that the dead here may not rest easy. Over the years, several paranormal groups have explored the spot’s paranormal activity.

Back in April, it was announced that the cemetery has been deeded to Jack Brewer, a member of Memphis Ghost Hunters. He told local WREG News that he plans to raise money to reclaim the cemetery from nature and maintain it as well as hosting historical and paranormal tours to continue attracting interest in this hallowed spot.

Sources

  • Bradley, Barbara. “Raleigh Cemetery a hotbed of activity.” Commercial Appeal. 30 October 2010.
  • Goggans, Louis. “New life for Old Raleigh.” Memphis Flyer. 3 April 2014.
  • Moon, Melissa. “Memphis ghost hunter takes over county’s oldest cemetery to preserve history, conduct paranormal investigations.” 28 April 2021.
  • Williams, Edward F. III, “Shelby County.” Tennessee Encyclopedia. 8 October 2017.
  • Wright, Winnie. “Volunteers organize to repair vandalized historic Memphis cemetery.” FOX13 Memphis. 21 June 2020.