“We fired our guns and British kept a’comin”–Chalmette Battlefield

We fired our guns and the British kept a’comin.
There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago.
We fired once more and they began to runnin’ on
Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.
from “The Battle of New Orleans” by Jimmie Driftwood, recorded by Johnny Horton in 1959.

Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve
8606 West St. Bernard Highway
Chalmette, Louisiana

The Battle of New Orleans by American painter, Thomas Moran, 1910.

Situated a few miles southeast of the city of New Orleans, the Chalmette Battlefield is the site of America’s greatest victory in the War of 1812. The British first threatened the city with the arrival of a flotilla just off of Lake Pontchartrain. The Americans attempted to block the British from landing but were defeated in the brief Battle of Lake Borgne on December 18, 1814. An attack by the Americans on the British position, once they landed on the 23rd, was successful only in keeping the British on their toes, though their maintained their position. General Andrew Jackson’s American troops dug in and created earthworks on Chalmette Plantation right along the Rodriguez Canal and bounded on both sides by cypress swamps and the Mississippi River that became known as “Line Jackson.”

Undated map of the battle line and line of attack. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

At the Ursuline Convent in New Orleans (see my entry on the convent here), prayers were raised by the sisters to the Virgin Mary to ensure an American victory and protect the city. The sisters had prayed a few years earlier in 1812 when fire ravaged the city. Miraculously, the flames were swept away from the convent by a sudden change in direction. The sisters’ prayers were answered on the morning of January 8th when the British launched their main attack in darkness and heavy fog. Perhaps as an answer to the sisters’ prayers, the fog lifted to reveal the troops marching towards the American’s fortifications. Exposed to brutal artillery fire, the British lost many of their senior officers quite early on leaving the soldiers in the field without direction. Despite being outmanned by British forces, the Americans held their ground and incurred few losses. The British, on the other hand, lost 291 soldiers including two generals with over 1,200 wounded and nearly 500 captured or missing.

This decisive American victory served as the final engagement of the War of 1812, despite its occurrence after the end of the war. The war officially ended in Belgium with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on Christmas Eve, 1814, some two weeks previous to the battle. Following the tumult of battle, the site returned to its agrarian origins and the Beauregard House was built on part of the battlefield around 1830. The entrenchments, especially those in the area around the National Cemetery, were reused by Confederate and later, Union, forces during the Civil War. Towards the end of the war, a national cemetery was established for the burial of Union troops who had died in the area. The cemetery has seen over 15,000 burials and is now closed. Attempts to memorialize the site date to 1855 when construction began on a marble tower on the battlefield which was completed in 1908.

Modern photo of the battlefield with the remains of the “Line Jackson” earthworks, battle monument and the Beauregard House. From the National Park Service.

The Battlefield and National Cemetery now comprise a unit of the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve, which preserves a series of cultural and natural resources that represent the rich history and ecology of the region. The park is named for the nineteenth century pirate, Jean Lafitte, who worked in some of the areas preserved in the park and who also came to the aid of the American’s before and during the battle. The spirit of Lafitte is one of the spirits that is said to haunt Destrehan Plantation which I wrote about in the entry on the River Road plantations of Louisiana.

Battlefields appear frequently in paranormal literature. Seemingly, the more important the battle, the more haunted the battlefield and the Chalmette Battlefield is no exception. Though finding good information on the haunting of this battlefield is not as easy. There are two primary sources for information on the ghosts of the battlefield: Jeff Dwyer’s excellent Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans and a blog from the Southern Area Paranormal Society. Outside of these sources, there is information on the haunted, but its validity is questionable.

Jeff Dwyer’s book provides good information on the battle, but he doesn’t say too much about what supernatural elements have been experienced there. He states that cold spots have been felt and that sensitive people have felt a “pulling sensation as if gravity has increased many times.” My skeptical side is apt to not usually believe “feelings” that people may get in a location, especially if that’s the only indication of paranormal activity.

The other main source for what is taking place in the battlefield involves a good deal more information. The Southern Area Paranormal Society discusses the battlefield and two nearby forts in their blog. Activity they mention on the battlefield include apparitions and voices. They also mention that activity has been reported in the Beauregard House including the sound of footsteps and possible shadow people.

Sources

  • The Battle of New Orleans. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 19 November 2010.
  • Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans. Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2007.
  • Greene, Jerome A. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for Chalmette Unit. Listed 6 July 1987.
  • Jean Lafitte. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 22 November 2010.
  • Manley, Roger. Weird Louisiana: Your Travel Guide To Louisiana’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. NYC: Sterling, 2010.
  • Southern Area Paranormal Society. Fort Beivnue, Chalmette Battlefield & Fort Pike. 19 May 2009.

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Revenants of the Rawls Hotel–Alabama

Rawls Hotel
116 South Main Street
Enterprise, Alabama

It seems that ghosts can be good for business; they are a paranormal economic stimulus if you will. With the rise of interest in the paranormal in recent years, businesses are playing up their more supernatural elements in order to attract business. This is certainly evident at the Rawls Hotel in Enterprise, Alabama. A quick visit to the hotel’s website produces a link dedicated to the hotel’s ghosts.

Street facade of the Rawls Hotel, 2013. Photo by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Two recent articles, in the Dothan Eagle and The Southeast Sun, an online newspaper out of Enterprise, have featured investigations of this hotel by the Southern Paranormal Researchers, a Montgomery, Alabama based paranormal group. According to another article from 2002 posted on the hotel’s website, reports of activity at the Rawls began just after World War I (about 1919) and have continued ever since. This activity includes everything from apparitions to the sounds of children’s laughter heard in some of the hallways to objects being moved and lights coming on by themselves. During the hotel’s renovation in the late 1970s, one very interesting event occurred: Hayden Pursley who was working to restore the hotel was hanging window treatments in the ballroom. Pursley returned the next day to find that the window treatments had been taken down. He put them back up to find them down again the next day. When he attempted to put them up a third time, he was hit by a board that flew across the room.

Rear facade of the Rawls Hotel, 2013. Photo by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

The Rawls Hotel was opened initially as the McGee Hotel in 1903 by Japheth and Elizabeth Rawls. It was a small structure built to serve the needs of railroad passengers. After the death of Mr. Rawls, the hotel passed to his nephew who undertook an expansion of the hotel: adding a third floor and wings onto the original building and creating a grand atmosphere. The hotel remained at the heart of Enterprise society functions until it closed in the early 1970s. Towards the end of that decade the hotel was purchased by Mr. Pursley who restored and renovated the hotel, returning it to its former glory.

Southern Paranormal Researchers (SPR) have previously investigated the Rawls Hotel and according to their investigation report, gathered a good deal of evidence. Among the events that were witnessed, were lights coming on by themselves, the sound of a child screaming and an investigator having her hair played with. The investigators also used dowsing rods to explore the hotel. Dowsing is an ancient technique that uses either a Y-shaped rod or two L-shaped rods that has been used to find water sources and spirits. Often when using the two L-shaped rods, investigators will loosely hold the rods by the short end of the “L” and ask the spirits to communicate by crossing the rods. During an investigation of the Rawls by SPR, the investigators believed they contacted the spirit of Hayden Pursley who passed in 2004.

SPR has created an internet radio show, “Down at the Crossroads,” that they host live on Thursday nights at 8 PM CST on their website. I will be a guest this upcoming Thursday, the 18th discussing this blog. Please listen in if you have a chance.

Sources

  • Brand, Carol. “In search of spirits at historic Rawls Hotel.” www.RawlsBandB.com. 2002.
  • Braun, Melissa. “Haunting in historic Enterprise hotel.” The Southeast Sun. 27 October 2010.
  • “History of The Rawls.” www.RawlsBandB.com. Accessed 13 November 2010.
  • “Meet the Ghosts.”  www.RawlsBandB.com. Accessed 13 November 2010.
  • Phillips, Greg. “Paranormal investigators examine, praise Historic Enterprise hotel.” Dothan Eagle. 23 October 2010.
  • Southern Paranormal Researchers. Investigation Report for The Rawls Hotel. Accessed 13 November 2010.

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Spirited Soldiers and Sailors–West Virginia

Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building
200 South Kanawha Street
Beckley, West Virginia

So far, West Virginia has been this blog’s Achilles heel. While Mississippi has not been well documented in terms of its ghosts, it seems that West Virginia is in the same quandary. So far, I’ve found 2 books about the ghosts of Mississippi and 4 on the ghosts of West Virginia. Therefore, whenever I find anything on either state I get excited.

Halloween is a wonderful time to pull newspaper articles on ghosts and I was excited to find a great article on the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building in Beckley, West Virginia. The article, “Stories of Beckley’s ghosts to be told Friday” from The Register-Herald, is regarding a fundraiser presentation for Theatre West Virginia which has just recently moved into the building. The presentation, called “Beckley’s Ghosts, Legends & Lore,” included storytellers describing experiences with the paranormal, including their own, in Beckley. The article then turns to the stories about the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building.

The article quotes Scott Worley, Raleigh County Historic Landmarks commissioner and historian, as stating that many people have had strange experiences in the building. He includes a story about a phantom saxophone solo that was heard during a show in the theatre. Of course, no one with a saxophone was in the building at the time.

A quick search online produced an investigation report from Eastern States Paranormal, a ghost hunting organization out of Virginia. The investigation, evidently conducted this year but otherwise no date is provided, produced some very interesting results. While the first few hours of the investigation was fairly quiet, the final few hours were particularly active starting during the group’s break with a noise like “a herd of elephants r[unning] across the stage.” For the next few hours the group was bombarded with many noises including “footsteps and doors closing…along with knocks, bangs and every other thing you could expect at a ghost hunt.”

According to the background information provided in the investigation report, the theatre opened in 1931 as a memorial to the veterans of World War I. During the opening ceremony, a set of makeshift bleachers collapsed injuring some including a tuba player who survived despite a broken neck. “Bob,” the tuba player, at some point later took up residence in an apartment in the basement of the building and it is there that his apparition has been seen. James Foster Robinson’s 2008 book, A Ghostly Guide to West Virginia, provides a brief mention of this building and simply identifies the ghost as a “gentleman ghost cloaked in gray” though he also mentions that music and children’s laughter are also heard in the building.

The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building is owned by the Raleigh County Commission which has just recently handed over use of the building to Theatre West Virginia, a noted theatre company in the area. At the moment, the company is renovating the building for future use.

UPDATE 14 July 2011 

In an earlier article, I covered this location in Beckley and recently, a little bit more information has been released about it. Briefly, the building is a theatre opened in 1931 as a memorial to veterans of World War I. During the opening ceremonies for the building, hastily erected bleachers collapsed with a few injuries but no deaths. Legend holds that one of those injured was a band member named Bob. For the remainder of his life, Bob suffered neck problems and was offered a small apartment in the basement of the building. After his death, his spirit has reportedly been encountered.

As I pointed out in the original article, the structure was investigated by Eastern States Paranormal who encountered a great deal of evidence. Patricia Marin, a writer on the paranormal for Examiner.com recently wrote an article about some of the evidence from that investigation that has recently been publicized by the group. The investigation began slowly, but when the group took a break they heard a sound similar to “a herd of elephants running across the stage.” After that, activity filled the space. Sounds included someone, possibly Bob, walking across the stage, response knocking and a sound akin to tap dancing. Some of this evidence has been posted to the website of Eastern States Paranormal, here.

Theresa Racer’s marvelous blog, Theresa’s Haunted History of the Tri-State, includes an entry on this location and provides a few more details on the history and the haunting of this structure. According to her, the building has served a variety of uses including a temporary courthouse, county library, YMCA and community center. After my last entry on the building, a good friend of mine who is from Beckley revealed that he had taught art classes in the building.

Racer includes the rumor that the building may be built near a Civil War era graveyard which was used by a local hospital during the war. She notes that two locations nearby, the old Beckley Junior High School (occupied by Mountain State University) and a radio station, may all be haunted by Civil War era spirits associated with the cemetery.

According to Marin’s Examiner article, the building will be taken over by Theatre West Virginia next month.

Sources

  • Eastern States Paranormal. Soldiers and Sailors War Memorial Theater. Accessed 8 November 2010.
  • Kuykendall, Taylor. “Stories of Beckley’s ghosts to be told Friday.” The Register-Herald. 28 October 2010.
  • Lannom, Andrea. “County hands TWV control of Soldiers and Sailors Building. The Register-Herald. 25 June 2010.
  • Marin, Patricia. “Eastern States Paranormal investigates haunted theatre in West Virginia.” Examiner.com. 6 July 2011.
  • Racer, Theresa. “Soldier’s Memorial Theater, Beckley.” Theresa’s Haunted History of the Tri-State. 2 March 2011.
  • Robinson, James Foster. A Ghostly Guide to West Virginia. WV: Winking Eye Books, 2008.

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The haunts of Williamsburg, Virginia

Williamsburg, Virginia is one of three locations, the others being Jamestown and Yorktown, that form the Historic Triangle of Virginia. These three locations tell the story of the nation’s colonial development from its first settlement to the defeat of the British at Yorktown, ending the American Revolution. Williamsburg was founded as Middle Plantation, a fortified plantation in 1632. When the capital of the Virginia Colony was moved there in 1698, it was renamed Williamsburg. The city was at the heart of much of the anti-British movement in the South that led to the American Revolution.

With the loss of status as a capital in 1780, Williamsburg reverted to being a small provincial town. The town remained a sleepy, provincial town until the dream of Episcopal priest, the Rev. W. A. R. Goodwin began to take shape and return the town to its colonial appearance. With such a concentration of historic structures, these were preserved and more modern structures removed and replaced with recreations of the original structures. This recreation of colonial Williamsburg, now under the control of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is now one of the premier tourist attractions in Virginia.

Of course, with such a concentration of historic structures, Williamsburg has a good deal of paranormal activity. Some of the hauntings in Williamsburg are well documented such as the Peyton Randolph and Wythe Houses, but others aren’t. It is my belief that these hauntings are just the tip of the iceberg. I’ll be certainly working on trying to find more about the hauntings of Williamsburg.

Brafferton Building
College of William & Mary Campus

Brafferton Building, 2007. Photo by Ser Amantio di Nicolao, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Built in 1723 with funds provided by English scientist Robert Boyle with the intent to spread the Gospel to the Indians, the Brafferton Building saw many young Native American men pass through its halls and sleep in its rooms. Now serving as the college president’s and administrative offices, the building may still have the spirits of these young Native Americans still roaming it. When the building served as a dormitory for both students and faculty, reports came out of the building of footsteps late at night accompanied by the sound of sobbing and even the sound of Indian drums. Over the centuries the school has been in operation, students have seen the site of a young Native American running bare-chested and barefooted near this building. This building sits near the Wren Building featured later in this entry and across from the President’s House which is haunted by the spirit of a French soldier.

Chiswell-Bucktrout House
East Francis Street

Chiswell-Bucktrout House, 1959. Photo by Gottscho-Schleismer, Inc. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Built around 1764 (deed books and other records for Williamsburg were destroyed during the Civil War so houses usually cannot be dated exactly), this house was occupied by Colonel John Chiswell when he was accused of murder in 1766. While free on bail awaiting trial, Colonel Chiswell died mysteriously in the house. Now used as lodging, stories have surfaced from this house of people being awakened by spirits touching and talking to them.

Gaol
310 South England Street

Gaol in 1936 before it was restored. Taken for the Historic American Building Survey, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

According to Dennis William Hauck’s Haunted Places: The Nation Directory, the old Williamsburg Gaol is haunted by the ghosts of two women who are heard in animated conversation on the second floor of the jailer’s quarters.

Ludwell-Paradise House
Duke of Gloucester Street

Ludwell-Paradise House. Taken for the Historic American Building Survey, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Built around 1755 possibly on the site of a much earlier house, the Ludwell-Paradise House was also the first house purchased for restoration by Dr. Goodwin and his partner in the venture, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. In 1805, the house was occupied by Lucy Paradise nee Ludwell. Stories of the former London socialite’s odd quirks quickly spread through town. Among them, Lucy’s penchant for bathing several times a day and her habit of borrowing new hats from other ladies in town to compliment her own dresses. She was also known for conducting carriage tours from a carriage on her back porch that was rolled back and forth by a servant. In 1812, she was committed to the state’s mental asylum, the nearby (and still extant) Public Hospital, where she died two years later. When the house was occupied by one of the vice presidents of the Colonial Williamsburg foundation, they reported hearing the sound of someone running bathwater and bathing on the second floor. Evidently, Lucy continues her eccentric rituals.

Nicholson House
York Street

Nicholson House. Taken for the Historic American Building Survey, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Some believe the spirit found in the Nicholson house is that of an itinerant musician, Cuthbert Ogle who is known to have died in the house shortly after arriving in town. Among the scant evidence of Ogle’s existence is an advertisement in the local paper announcing his arrival in 1755 and that he would be teaching “Ladies and Gentlemen to play on the Organ, Harpsichord or Spinet.” A little less than a month later, records indicate that Ogle was dead leaving a little money and a few things. Residents of the house have spoken of feeling a male presence in the house, being tapped on the shoulder by an unseen force and a mysterious scratching coming from the walls of the house.

Old Capitol
Duke of Gloucester Street 

Old Capitol Building from an undated postcard, courtesy of Wikipedia.

At the foot of Duke of Gloucester street stands the stately Old Capitol building. The third capitol to stand on this spot, this structure witnessed the some of the first contractions in the birth of the nation. According to Michael Varhola, there are many ghost stories associated with this building, but the main one that he describes is the legend that at the stroke of midnight on July Fourth, the spirits of Patrick Henry and other Revolutionary leaders assemble once again. A fanciful legend at most.

Orrell House
East Francis Street

Orrell House. Taken for the Historic American Building Survey, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Sheila Turnage documents an odd experience a family had while staying in the Orrell House. While the entire family was watching TV one evening in the living room of this house, they heard the sound of water running in the bathroom. The father went into the bathroom and turned it off. Upon returning to the living room the sound of water was heard once again. Returning to the bathroom, the water was found to be running again. Again, the father turned it off and returned to the living room. Once again the water turned on and the father turned it off. After hearing glass breaking in the bathroom, the father returned to find that a glass had been removed from the medicine cabinet, removed from its plastic wrapping and then thrown to the floor. Turnage also notes that activity had not been previously reported in the house.

Peyton Randolph House
Corner of North England and Nicholson Streets

Peyton Randolph House in 2008. Photo by Jrcla2, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Peyton Randolph House is one of the best-documented houses in Williamsburg in terms of its spiritual activity and may also be one of the most active locations in the area. Built around 1715 by Sir John Randolph, a member of the House of Burgesses, the house was passed to his son, Peyton who would serve as speaker of the House of Burgesses and later, first president of the Continental Congress. Since his ownership the house passed through many hands and was the scene of many deaths, perhaps some that have left a spiritual imprint on the house. Former residents, as well as guides and docents, have reported numerous odd sounds as well as apparitions including a man in colonial dress.

Public Records Office
Duke of Gloucester Street

Public Records Office. Taken for the Historic American Building Survey, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

When the Capitol burned in 1747, many of the colony’s records were destroyed. Legislation was later passed to construct the Public Records Office or Secretary’s Office to house and protect records. Construction began in 1748 and the building was used for records until they were moved to the new capital, Richmond, in 1780. Since that time, the building has served a variety of purposes including as a residence. Legend tells us of a family occupying the building in the early twentieth century who myopic daughter was killed when she stepped in front of a carriage. Since that time, her spirit has been seen lingering around the building she once called home.

Raleigh Tavern
Duke of Gloucester Street

Raleigh Tavern in 2008. Photo by Jrcla2, courtesy of Wikipedia.

In order to recreate Williamsburg as it appeared before the American Revolution, much of the city had to be completely rebuilt as was the case with the Raleigh Tavern. Opened in 1717, this respected tavern served as a meeting place for many involved in the creation of the nation as well as the first meeting site for the fraternity Phi Beta Kappa. In 1859, the old tavern burned and was not rebuilt. When Colonial Williamsburg purchased the site it was occupied by two brick stores which were razed and after finding the remains of the tavern’s original foundation, the tavern arose once again in its original footprint. The building reopened in 1932 and apparently many of the tavern’s spectral residents resumed their parties. Reports of these spectral parties surfaced first in 1856 and have continued since.

Wren Building
College of William & Mary Campus

Wren Building on the campus of the College of William & Mary. Photo taken 2007 by Highereditor2, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Known as the oldest functioning academic building in the nation, this structure is at the heart of one of the most venerable institutions of higher learning in the nation. As noted earlier, this building has two other haunted structures nearby: the Brafferton Building and the President’s House. Possibly designed by English architect, Sir Christopher Wren, construction on this edifice began in 1695. As one would expect of a building so old, there is evidently some spiritual activity including odd sounds that resonate throughout the structure. Daniel Barefoot in his Haunted Halls of Ivy, describes a professor whose lectures was interrupted by odd noises from the floors above. When the professor and his class investigated, no sources was discovered.

Wythe House
Palace Green

George Wyeth House, 2007. Photo by Ser Amantio di Nicolao, courtesy of Wikipedia.

In Williamsburg, it seems that the more important the history of a location, as that of the Payton Randolph House, the more likely it is to be haunted. Such is the case with the George Wyeth (rhymes with “with”) House. The home of George Wyeth, patriot leader, Continental Congress leader and one of the Virginia signers of the Declaration of Independence, this large, Georgian house has seen much historical activity in its eight rooms. There are numerous reports of spectral activity as well including people being tapped on the shoulder by an unseen person, apparitions seen throughout the house and even a docent feeling hands trying to push her down the stairs.

Sources

  • Barefoot, Daniel W. Haunted Halls of Ivy: Ghosts of Southern Colleges and Universities. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2004.
  • Brafferton (building). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 5 November 2010.
  • Colonial Williamsburg. George Wyeth House. www.history.org. Accessed 6 November 2010.
  • Colonial Williamsburg. Ludwell-Paradise House. www.history.org. Accessed 6 November 2010.
  • Colonial Williamsburg. Peyton Randolph House. www.history.org. Accessed 6 November 2010.
  • Colonial Williamsburg. Raleigh Tavern. www.history.org. Accessed 6 November 2010.
  • Colonial Williamsburg. Wren Building. www.history.org. Accessed 6 November 2010.
  • Hauck, William Dennis. Haunted Places: The National Directory. NYC: Penguin, 2002.
  • Stephenson, Mary A. Chiswell-Bucktrout House Historical Report, Block 2 Building 17 Lot 253-254. Colonial Williamsburg  Foundation Library. 1959    
  • Taylor, L. B., Jr. The Ghosts of Tidewater…and nearby environs. Progress Printing Co., 1990.
  • Taylor, L. B., Jr. The Ghosts of Williamsburg and Nearby Environs. Progress Printing Co., 1983.
  • Varhola, Michael J. Ghosthunting Virginia. Cincinnatti, OH: Clerisy Press, 2008.

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