Oakland Cemetery 248 Oakland Avenue, SE Atlanta, Georgia
On March 14, 2008, Oakland Cemetery was awakened from its eternal slumber. A tremendous tornado bore down on downtown Atlanta damaging landmarks such as CNN Center and the Peachtree Plaza Hotel. After ripping its way through downtown, the twister ripped through peacefully dreaming Oakland Cemetery, one of Atlanta’s oldest and certainly its grandest burial ground. The winds toppled many majestic namesake oaks which toppled and broke fragile marble monuments. The Archangel Gabriel, trumpet in hand to summon forth the sleeping masses for Judgment Day, atop the monument for Governor Joseph E. Brown, was thrown to the ground along with obelisks and columns throughout the cemetery.
Hundreds of monuments were damaged, but the Historic Oakland Foundation immediately went to work repairing and restoring the cemetery. Since the cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Place in 1979, the foundation has worked to maintain Oakland’s peaceful slumber. In fact, they have worked to improve the beauty of that slumber.
I knew nothing of this when I visited today to photograph this haunted cemetery and I was very pleasantly surprised. It’s been a very hot summer in the South and I expected to find an ancient, baking cemetery with dry patches of grass in the plots. To my relief, the cemetery is being transformed into a garden with lush plantings surrounding the ancient monuments. The effect is quite lovely. Lush magnolias and oaks (those not completely taken out by the tornado) shade lovingly restored memorials with rose bushes, juniper and flowers covering and in between the graves. Birds fill the trees and peer from perches atop statues and mausoleums. While only part of the cemetery has been restored to its garden-like setting, the work continues.
Founded in 1850 as the Atlanta Graveyard or City Burial Place, the cemetery began on just 6 acres and over time it expanded to the current 48 acres. Much of the expansion took place during the Civil War when the city’s military hospitals required a place to bury the dead. Following the fierce fighting around the city, space was needed as bodies were recovered from the battlefields. Confederate dead, both known and unknown found their final repose in the cemetery’s garden-like grounds. Near the south-east corner of the cemetery, the seven Union operatives who participated in the famous Great Locomotive Chase were hung before they were buried on the cemetery grounds.
In 1872, the name of the cemetery was changed to Oakland to recognize the majestic oaks that shaded the grounds. Statesmen, governors, businessmen, generals, clergy and their families found their final rest here side by side with unknown military dead and the indigent that were laid in the potter’s field. African-Americans and Jews also found their place within the walls of Oakland. But with the arrival of the mid-20th century, vandals and neglect began to take a toll. Now in the loving hands of the Historic Oakland Foundation, the cemetery has passed into its third century and its beautiful and peaceful slumber continues.
In such a grand cemetery, a place with some 70,000 interments, it’s no surprise that spiritual activity has been reported. Most of the stories seem to revolve around the Civil War. The most famous story is that of the roll call of the dead. A young man visiting the Confederate portion of the cemetery on a December day reported hearing soldiers’ names being called with faint voices answering “heah” and “present.” According to William Bender, the young man even heard his own name called. Alan Brown reports that one visitor witnessed the blue-clad figure of a soldier hanging in a tree, possibly one of the Union conspirators in the Great Locomotive Chase, while another witnessed a bleeding Confederate lying atop a grave.
Bender also relates a legend of the spirit of Jasper Newton Smith, a real estate investor whose likeness now sits in a chair atop his mausoleum. Legend tells that his spirit climbs out of his chair at night and walks the grounds, though Bender found no eyewitness accounts of this activity. Reese Christian does report a shadowy figure that was seen in the cemetery by a cemetery staff member at night.
In October of 2008, the statue of the Archangel Gabriel was restored to its perch atop the Brown monument. He stands, trumpet in hand, to call the dreaming citizens forth. Until that moment, he silently watches over the gardens of Oakland.
Bender, William N. Haunted Atlanta and Beyond. Toccoa, GA: Currahee Books, 2005.
The roots of both Athens and the University of Georgia are inextricably linked. Land for the university was purchased in 1801 by John Milledge who would later serve the state as governor. The land, on a hill overlooking Cedar Shoals on the Oconee River, was to house the state-supported university and parcels of land adjacent to the campus were sold to private interests. The town was incorporated as “Athens” in 1806 with a handful of residents, faculty and students. Athens grew quickly into a regional center for trade and education as well as a social center.
After the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves, Athens became a regional center for the African-America community. A school, The Knox School, was created and a prosperous African-American middle class emerged towards the end of the 19th century. The entire city saw rapid growth throughout the 20th century, some of it tied with the growth of the university. The city continues to expand with the university which has brought a world-class cultural experience to the region.
Alpha Gamma Delta House (Thomas-Carithers House) 530 South Milledge Avenue
Built as a private home in 1896 and used as a sorority house since 1939, this exuberant wedding-cake like house is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. William Winstead Thomas, a local engineer, built the house which was later bought by James Yancey Carithers as a wedding gift for his daughter, Susie. As legend tells, when Susie’s groom failed to show up for the ceremony on time, the distraught woman hung herself in the attic. The groom finally did show, having been delayed on the way to the nuptials, but Susie was dead. Her spirit has been seen throughout the house while girls living in her old room often become engaged, thus the suite’s name, “The Engagement Suite.”
Classic Center 300 North Thomas Street
When it was decided to build a performing arts center in Athens, the original plans called for the demolition of the warehouses and the old 1912 Firehouse Number 1 which were standing on the site. However, local citizens fought to have the firehouse incorporated in the design. The firehouse was remodeled and now serves as a box office for the performing arts center that stands around it. Captain Hiram Peeler had had a distinguished career as head of the Athens Fire Department when he plunged to his death in an elevator shaft in 1928. It is believed to be his spirit that remains in the firehouse. Reports of activity were reported in the building while it still served as a firehouse. The activity continued through the building’s use as the Chamber of Commerce and has continued while it serves as the Classic Center.
Actors in the dressing room of this restored theatre have reported odd activity in the dressing room. Sadly, that’s all the information I can find in terms of the paranormal. The Morton Theatre was built by African-American businessman Monroe Bowers “Pink” Morton starting in 1909. The theatre was one of the main anchors of “Hot Corner,” the intersection of Washington and Hull Streets, that was the center of African-American life in Athens. It opened as a vaudeville house for the black community and such names as Butterbeans and Susie, Louie Armstrong and Cab Calloway appeared there. The building has since been restored as a performing arts center for the community and is one of the few remaining black vaudeville houses in the nation.
Oconee Hill Cemetery 297 Cemetery Street
When the main city cemetery (now known as the Old Athens Cemetery) began sprawling close to the campus and the homes of the university president and professors, steps were taken to create a new cemetery nearby. Since it’s opening in 1855, the university has sprawled close to the cemetery with massive Sanford Stadium now looming across the street. The cemetery now hosts a number of prominent Georgians including two governors, eight university presidents and at least one ghost. The legend exists of a ghostly carriage appearing on the bridge between the old and newer portions of the cemetery.
Old Athens Cemetery Jackson Street
The original city cemetery before Oconee Hill Cemetery was created; the cemetery was created around 1810. The last burial occurred in 1898, not long after the university first tried to reclaim the land. This would be a struggle that would continue through the 1980s. The cemetery was deeded back to school in 2004 and in 2006 a preservation program was instituted under the university’s grounds department. Kathleen Wall mentions that the ghost of a young girl has been seen in the cemetery. The location was investigated by the Georgia Haunt Hunters team in 1998 and the team discovered some temperature fluctuations.
Phi Kappa Psi House 398 South Milledge Avenue
In researching Athens, I keep coming across locations that are mentioned as being haunted, but there are few specifics given. This is one location that is briefly mentioned. Daniel Barefoot mentions that the brothers in this house have heard the crying of a baby. This Queen Anne style home was built in 1890.
Phi Mu House (Hamilton-Phinizy-Segrest House) 250 South Milledge Avenue
The legend of the Phi Mu House, according to the sorority, concerns a young woman named Anna Powell. Her husband shot himself, either purposefully or accidentally at the bottom of the stairs. At times, it is said, a cross will appear on the floor where this horrific incident took place. Anna’s spirit has been encountered frequently by sisters in the house. Knocking and sobbing have been heard in the house and one young woman had the door unlocked for her late one night by unseen hands. The house was constructed by Colonel Thomas Hamilton, reportedly Georgia’s first millionaire, and finished in 1858 by his widow, Sarah. It has served as a sorority house since 1964.
Taylor-Grady House 634 Prince Avenue
Built by Irish immigrant turned cotton merchant and planter, Robert Taylor, in 1844, the Taylor-Grady House was purchased by Major William S. Grady in 1863, at the height of the Civil War which he was fighting in. Major Grady was killed in the Battle of Petersburg and his spirit is said to have returned to his family’s home. Henry Grady, the major’s son, was a staunch advocate for the “New South” as managing editor for the Atlanta Constitution and a famed orator. As the only existing of Grady’s homes, the Taylor-Grady House was named a National Historic Landmark in 1976.
T. R. R. Cobb House 175 Hill Street
This noteworthy home with octagonal wings took the scenic route in its move from nearby Prince Avenue. It faced the wrecking ball in 1985, and was moved to Stone Mountain Park, just outside of Atlanta, to be restored as a part of the living history village there (which also has some notable haunted structures). After languishing 20 years, the home was returned to Athens and restored. A ghost story from this house was collected as part of the WPA Writers’ Project and recalls the spirit of “a gentleman wearing a gay dressing gown” who is seen descending the stairs and sitting in front of the fire in the drawing room. For further information, see my in-depth entry on this home, “A firebrand phantom.”
University of Georgia Campus
Joe E. Brown Hall
This 1932 building, built as a dormitory is home to a staircase to nowhere. Legend states that not long after the building was built, a student hung himself during Christmas break. His decomposing body was found when students returned. Though the mess was cleaned up, the blood stains were said to return. According to Daniel Barefoot, when the building was remodeled for office space, the room was sealed and the staircase leading to it blocked. In an article in the university newspaper, The Red and Black, a photograph of the staircase to nowhere was published in an article on campus legends. Supposedly knocking still issues from the sealed room.
Like many of the oldest campus buildings, the Lustrat House has served a variety of functions. Currently the office of Legal Affairs, the building initially served as a residence for professors. Towards the end of the 19th century, it was home to Dr. Charles Morris, chair of the English Department. When the university decided to relocate the house in 1903, Dr. Morris attempted to assuage officials away from that plan. He refused to move with the home. After his death, the family of Professor Joseph Lustrat began to see Dr. Morris has surprisingly taken up residence, sitting in his favorite chair by the fire.
The oldest building on campus still in its complete form according to Daniel Barefoot, Waddel Hall was built in 1821 as Philosophical Hall. The sounds of a tragic lovers quarrel are still heard in this building that now houses the university special events office. During World War I, a young man left his female love who fell for another in his absence. When he returned, he confronted his beloved and the quarrel ended in a murder-suicide.
Librarians certainly know their stuff. Having worked in a university library in college, I know this very well. If you have a question, see the reference library. This is why I’m delighted to see this article from Alabama’s Shelby County Reporter about the ghosts of the University of Montevallo.
I briefly covered the campus’ KING HOUSE in an entry last year. It pleases me to see this article but the fact that the information is from one of the university’s reference librarians means that it’s well researched. This particular librarian having been asked about the ghosts many times decided to lead a campus tour and provide the correct information behind the legends.
The King House predates the university having been built by Edmund King in 1823. The legend associated with this house and the nearby family cemetery concerns King’s spirit who is said to wander with a lantern and a shovel. The house is used by the university for housing special guests.
The university opened as the Alabama Girls’ Industrial School in 1896. Julia Tutwiler an outspoken advocate for prison reform and women’s education is credited as dreaming of the institution and working to create it along with the University of West Alabama in Livingston. The west wing MAIN RESIDENCE HALL was the first building constructed for the Girls’ School in 1897. During the construction, classes were held in Reynolds Hall which had been constructed in 1851 for the Montevallo Male Institute.
On the evening of February 4, 1908, Sophomore Condie Cunningham and her roommate were attempting to melt chocolate for fudge in a chafing dish. They missed one curfew bell and when the second bell rang at 10 PM, they tried to put away the dish. Alcohol from the burner spilled and ignited Cunningham’s dress. Startled, she ran and the flames burned her severely. She died two days later. According to the librarian, this information was gleaned from the minutes of a board of trustees meeting. This lines up with the legend.
Not long after Cunningham’s death, residents began to report the screams of cries of a young woman. The grains of the wood on the girl’s former dorm room began to show a screaming face and the door was replaced. The door still resides in storage and does bear some likeness to a screaming face.
The article mentions only the hauntings of the King House, KING CEMETERY and the Main Residence Hall. Alan Brown’s Alabama Ghostlore website does mention the haunting of REYNOLDS HALL. According to the article by Dr. Frank McCoy, Captain Henry Clay Reynolds (McCoy lists his rank as Colonel, though the school history on the Encyclopedia of Alabama says Captain), who served as the university’s first president, supervised the building during the Civil War. Reynolds Hall was used as a Confederate hospital and when Reynolds abandoned his post to participate in a nearby battle, Union troops massacred the wounded Confederates in the building. As a result, his spirit has not left.
Dear Mrs. Windham, it’s all your fault. –Elizabeth Parker’s dedication to Mobile Ghosts: Alabama’s Haunted Port City
Mrs. Windham, I can blame the following on you:
a deep and abiding obsession with ghosts
a deep and abiding love of Southern folklore
a library of some 260 “ghost books” including a number of your books
many hours spent reading ghost stories
my love for Christ Church and its magical cemetery at St. Simons Island, Georgia
an all-consuming blog
a conviction that storytelling can change the world
the desire to become a storyteller and change the world.
I blame all these things on you and for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Kathryn Tucker Windham, one of the foundations upon which Southern ghost writing is based, passed into the spiritual realm yesterday afternoon. Mrs. Windham dreamt of being a reporter in a time when proper young ladies did not do such a thing. Undeterred, she became a noted reporter and columnist, shattering a glass ceiling for millions of other women in Alabama and throughout the South. She published her first book of ghost stories in 1969, documenting and enshrining many notable Southern hauntings. Her dedication to telling and preserving these tales inspired countless young people including myself.
I first heard Mrs. Windham’s story of “The Eternal Dinner Party” in Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery told by a professional storyteller at the local library here in LaGrange. Soon after, I received a copy of 13 Georgia Ghosts and Jeffrey as a birthday gift from my grandparents. This book has remained a beloved treasure on my book shelf ever since. When I started this blog last year, I opened with a story I first heard from her.
I’d like to imagine that as Mrs. Windham passed over yesterday afternoon that she paused under the sprawling, moss-laden oaks of Bonaventure Cemetery. It was during a dinner party in a magnificent plantation home here at the end of the 18th century that a fire broke out. The hosts, undeterred by their personal disaster, calmly continued the party outside lit by the light of the burning house. At the end of the night, a toast was made:
“May the joy of this occasion never end,” the gentleman proposed. It seemed a strange toast on such a night.
The guests drank the toast and then, following the lead of their host, they shattered their glasses against the trunks of the Bonaventure oaks.
And here at Bonaventure people passing late at night still hear distinctly the sounds of a dinner party in progress: the clatter of dishes, the tinkle of silverware, the voices and laughter of guests, and then the shattering of crystal glasses.
Hearing these festive sounds, the passers-by nod and say,
“It’s still going on, the eternal dinner party at Bonaventure.”
In early America, life was generally centered on a handful of places including the local tavern. Serving as the social and governmental center, the tavern often was the ersatz community center, especially in sparsely inhabited areas. Residents of far-flung farms and plantations could meet other locals, find solace from the ennui of rural life, hear the news, pick up mail, or conduct government business in places where courthouses were unavailable. Travelers could find a drink, meal or sometimes a place for the night as well as possibly hear warnings of Indian movements in the region. Throughout the South, the seeds of many small towns and communities were planted by taverns.
In urban areas, the tavern was one of the primary settings for meeting people, doing business, or hearing and discussing the news of the day. In fact, much of the early work in the founding and building of this country was done in taverns; therefore, it’s no surprise that the tune for our national anthem, “To Anacreon in Heaven,” is an English drinking song. The First Continental Congress conducted much of its business in Philadelphia’s City Tavern and other drinking establishments around the city. The seeds of discontentment that would blossom into the American Tree of Liberty were watered with the beer, coffee, and spirits of taverns.
In Annapolis, long considered one of the most beautiful, cultured and cultivated cities in the colonies, many taverns took root, some of which are still in operation today. The city was incorporated in 1708 but its origins dated to some fifty years earlier with the founding of a small village by the Puritans. Governor Sir Francis Nicholson moved the colony’s government to this small settlement in 1694 from heavily Catholic St. Mary’s City. In planning the city, London-born Nicholson modeled it on Sir Christopher Wren’s designs for London after the Great Fire of 1666. He utilized Wren’s Baroque design for the city streets, with important places, like churches and houses of government, set within it with streets projecting out like spokes.
Reynolds Tavern 7 Church Circle
One of these circles surrounds St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, on its third building built in 1858. Facing the church is Reynolds Tavern, a fine example of an urban tavern. The building was constructed around 1747 to face the first St. Anne’s Church that was around 40 years old when the tavern was constructed. The structure was built by William Reynolds as a private residence and hat shop. At some point in the early history, part of the building was opened as the “Beaver and Lace’d Hat,” a tavern (I would presume the name is a reference to beaver felt which was prized for use in waterproof hats).
The license for the tavern was taken out by Mary Funnereau, who may have later married William Reynolds. The establishment was highly regarded as evidenced by the legend that George Washington was a frequent guest. One story tells of him professing his love to Mrs. Reynolds only to be pursued by Mr. Reynolds out of the building and down the street. More in line with the historical record, the Corporation of the City of Annapolis and the Mayor’s Court met in the tavern. The tavern operated until the building passed into the hands of William Reynolds’ son-in-law who used the building briefly as a boarding house. In 1812, the former tavern was taken over by the Farmers Bank of Maryland. When the bank realized the building was ill-suited as a banking house, a building for that purpose was constructed next door and the house renovated as a private house for the Cashier of the Bank.
The bank owned the edifice until 1932. Standard Oil considered tearing down the landmark for a service station but local citizens saved the house and it became a library. In the early 1970s, it returned to its roots and became a tavern and inn. With so many souls passing over its threshold, from slaves to servants, private citizens to future presidents, it’s no surprise that the tavern has paranormal activity.
The tavern hosted an investigation in 2004 that caused quite a stir. The Maryland Ghost and Spirit Society under the leadership of sensitive, Beverly Litsinger, held an overnight investigation that uncovered evidence of what Litsinger claimed was not one (as was previously believed), but five spirits in the structure. An account of the investigation in The Sun notes that activity was picked up by a bevy of monitors throughout the building and a dish was mysteriously broken in the kitchen. According to an article in The Capital, the owners were exhausted by all the commotion stirred up by the investigation and decided not to publicize any further paranormal investigations.
The owners, however, did find enough evidence of spiritual activity within the landmark. One of the most convincing pieces of evidence was human-shaped indentions in one of the upstairs beds. Numerous experiences had led up to the investigation including objects moving on their own volition, voices including one singing Christmas carols and human-shaped indentions appearing in an upstairs bedroom. The spirit was assumed to be that of Mary Reynolds, who had run the tavern after her husband, William’s, death. While the owners have discontinued investigations, stories are still told about the tavern and it can be assumed that the spirits continue to make their home within the brick walls of the Reynolds Tavern.
Middleton Tavern 2 Market Place
Looking out towards Annapolis harbor and built to serve many of the seamen coming into the city is the Middleton Tavern. The exact date for the building’s construction seems to be a point of contention, the form on the building for the Maryland Historical Trust estimates the building’s construction at around 1754, though the current owners of the tavern provide that the tavern was established in 1750. It is possible that the tavern predated the building, but no evidence is provided by the Trust. The site, however, was occupied by a ship carpenter’s yard as well as a dwelling and garden.
It is known that the building was constructed by Horatio Middleton as a dwelling house and at that time or soon thereafter opened as a tavern for seafaring men. Throughout its history, it did attract a notable clientele which may have included George Washington as well as Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. The building remained a tavern until it was converted into the Marx Hotel around the time of the Civil War. After almost a century of use as a tavern and inn, the building fell into disuse in the late 19th century and served a variety of commercial ventures. In 1968, the building underwent restoration and reopened as Middleton’s Tavern. The building was gutted by fire in 1970 and then 1973, but the shell of the building has been restored with a modern interior.
Like its older sister establishment, the Reynolds Tavern, the Middleton’s illustrious history has left a spiritual residue. In my research, I have not located any information on investigations, though the spiritual activity seems fairly well known. According to the Ghost Eyes – Most Haunted Places in America blog, there are three spirits witnessed in and around the tavern: a Revolutionary War soldier and a shadowy form are seen flitting throughout the first floor dining room while outside the tavern a gentleman in 18th century seaman’s attire has been seen staring out to sea.
Rams Head Tavern 33 West Street
While the building at 31-33 West Street that houses the Rams Head dates to around 1831, the site’s history is associated with Annapolis tavern history that stretches into the 18th century. Located just down the street from the Reynolds Tavern, the site was home to the “Crown and Dial” which opened in 1792 and two years later the “Sign of the Green Tree.” The site was utilized as a variety of businesses and the 31-33 West Street building also housed residences. The Rams Head Tavern opened in the building. The business has since expanded with locations opening throughout the region.
The site’s history as the site of historic taverns has given rise to the legend of “Amy.” The legend speaks of a young woman employed to “entertain” tavern guests who may have died while actually plying her trade, so to speak. In fact, what is said to be the bedpost of her bed still survives in the downstairs bar.
While the story has little historical evidence to prove it to be less than fiction, the stories of tavern employees are most definitely non-fiction. Servers have run into Amy’s apparition while Beverly Litsinger (who investigated the Reynolds Tavern above) captured her supposed shadowy image in a photograph. Another spirit mentioned as residing in the tavern is that of an elderly woman. Yet one other spirit is said to rattle the chain-link of the bar’s liquor cage. Among other activity, the staff finds silverware turned upside down and have drinks turned over. Perhaps these are spirits of temperance?
Other Haunted Taverns
A few other haunted taverns have popped up on my radar while doing the research for this article. Beverly Litsinger mentioned O’Briens at 113 Main Street as being “so haunted it’s ridiculous.” The Drummers Lot Pub at 16 Church Circle, the same street as the Reynolds Tavern is on the haunted pub tour, though I cannot find any other information regarding it. But if you’re in Annapolis, raise a glass of spirits to the spirits that may be all around you.