Haunting Huntsville, Alabama

Early in this blog’s history I explored (or tried to) the ghosts of Huntsville, Alabama. The problem was that there was very little available. I found a few poorly written and unsourced articles that basically just repeated each other in terms of information. Besides those articles, there was very little, or so I thought. Just days before I posted the entry, Jessica Penot’s marvelous Haunted North Alabama had been released and in it, there were good, reliable information on a number of Huntsville’s hauntings plus information on locations that were not included in the few articles on the subject. After getting my copy of Ms. Penot’s book, I also began reading her blog which has included more locations in Huntsville. Since, I’ve kept an eye out for articles relating to Huntsville. In my usual search through Google News, I was surprised to find two articles about Huntsville tonight.

The first article, from the local ABC station, WAAY, concerns a business located on courthouse square, Huntsville’s historic heart. In many towns and cities in the South (and really throughout the nation), the courthouse or main square is also ground zero for hauntings, often due to the historic fabric that may be intact there. Huntsville is no exception, with a starkly modern courthouse sitting amid historic commercial buildings. The business is a pizzeria, SAM & GREG’S PIZZERIA AND GELATERIA (119 North Side Square), which is located in one of those historic commercial buildings.

The pizzeria’s website describes the building as having been built in the early nineteenth century and being one of the original buildings on the square. It continues by saying that the building has served as a general store, a dress shop and a gallery before becoming a pizzeria. The article states that the main floor of the pizzeria is quite normal, but it’s the large, unrestored room upstairs that has activity. The building was recently investigated by the Alabama Paranormal Association who certified the building as haunted.

The pizzeria’s location reminded me of an article from Jessica Penot’s blog, Ghost Stories and Haunted Places, regarding the MADISON COUNTY COURTHOUSE (100 North Side Square). A brief internet search does not reveal the history of the current courthouse building, but I would assume from the architecture that it was built anytime between the 1960s and the 1980s. I did discover, however, that the building sits on the site of the original courthouse that was constructed in 1818. According to the blog’s entry, apparitions have been seen in the building along with orbs and odd sounds and lights. One of the spirits may be that of Horace Maples, an African-American who was lynched by a mob on the courthouse lawn.

Madison County Courthouse, 2011, by Spyder_Monkey. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The second article I stumbled across concerns an upcoming investigation at the VETERANS MEMORIAL MUSEUM (2060 Airport Road, SW) a museum displaying memorabilia from wars dating back to the American Revolution. Interestingly, the article points out that the investigation will not be in search of spirits that haunt the museum, but those attached to the artifacts within, specifically those from World Wars I and II. While it has been known that spirits may attach themselves to objects, interest in this has increased in the paranormal community, especially with the recent television show, Haunted Collector. The show features investigator John Zaffis who investigates a variety of hauntings usually centered on a specific object.

Tucked away in my files on the paranormal South is another article on an investigation at another Huntsville location, MERRIMACK HALL PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (3320 Triana Boulevard). Opened in 2007, the performing arts center is located in an 1898 structure that once served as the company store for the mill village serving Merrimack Mills. This building and some 200 mill houses are all that remain of this important textile hub.

The investigation, conducted by the Alabama Paranormal Society, appears to have uncovered some interesting evidence. Among the evidence mentioned in the article, odd bangs heard in response to questions, a mysterious drop in temperature in the theatre and orbs are seen on video wheeling about the building. According to the article, the building may be inhabited by multiple spirits.

I imagine this is just the tip of the iceberg of haunted Huntsville.

Sources

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Oldest Spirits–González-Alvarez House

González-Alvarez House
14 St. Francis Street
St. Augustine, Florida

N.B. This entry was originally posted October 13, 2010. Since I now have many more sources at my disposal, I tried to add to the research I’ve presented here, but no further sources could be immediately found, so I’m reposting this with only minor changes. It’s interesting to note that this location is not found in most books on the ghosts of St. Augustine. I still find the video that inspired this post absolutely fascinating. Regular readers may also recognize my “most haunted” rant here, as well.

It is said that St. Augustine, Florida is the most haunted city in America, at least according to a number of authors. As I mentioned in this blog’s very first entry, I find this description to be somewhat distasteful. On one count, the term “haunted” really can’t be any further qualified. Something is either haunted or it isn’t; it’s like death: one is either dead or alive not “more dead” or “more alive.” Therefore, a location either has spiritual activity or not. Certainly, what authors mean is that St. Augustine has more spiritual activity and that may be the case.

Taking this further, though, the phrase “most haunted” is tossed around easily. When cities or locations are rated or ranked as “most haunted,” the basis for this conclusion is often not presented. What makes New Orleans more haunted than Savannah? Why is St. Francisville, Louisiana’s The Myrtles the most haunted place in the nation? Based on what? Granted, a good deal has been published on all three locations, but what criteria make them “more haunted?” Certainly, these locations may have a number of spirits and be very spiritually active, but they are no more haunted than any other location.

González-Alvarez House, 2008, by Ebyabe. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Additionally, there’s also the issue of research and documentation. Of the three previously mentioned locations, all of them have been well researched and documented, but does that make them any “more haunted” than a location that is not well documented. That’s one of the goals of this blog: to document Southern locations that may be quite active, though perhaps not as well documented. In addition, I’m also adding to the scholarship on locations that are well documented by synthesizing the available information.

The González-Alvarez House is called “The Oldest House” in America and is located in America’s “Oldest City.” The only part of that statement that bears even partial truth is the fact that St. Augustine is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the continental United States. There are Native American cities, notably the Acoma and Taos Pueblos in New Mexico that are far older, but St. Augustine is the oldest European settlement. The González-Alvarez House is not the oldest house in America by any stretch of the imagination. There are far older houses in New England and even as far south as Virginia, but the house sits on a site with far more history than its early 18th century walls can attest to. In fact, this house may not even be the oldest house in St. Augustine. The moniker dates to a time when the house was believed to date to the 16th century.

While the location of the González-Alvarez House may have been inhabited as far back as the initial founding of the city in 1565, archaeologists can only prove inhabitants at the site as far back as the early 17th century. Regardless, the centuries of hope, despair, madness, birth, death, pain and joy have left both physical and spiritual scars on the house.

I was first acquainted with “The Oldest House” on a visit to St. Augustine as a child. An avid collector of travel brochures, seeing racks of brochures in a hotel lobby would give me heart palpitations and soon my little fist would be clutching a stack to take home. Among the brochures I gathered on this trip was one from “The Oldest House.” We didn’t visit, but I was certainly fascinated by the numerous “oldest” places throughout the city.

That memory wasn’t jarred until I came across this video on YouTube one evening. The video’s creator doesn’t provide much information on the video itself, but I found it to be quite intriguing. The first part of the video shows a series of haunted locations in the city including “The Oldest House.” The second part of the video (starting around 3:35) is from a camera placed in a room of one of the houses on the site (there is a handful of buildings located on the site) where supposedly some 50 people were slaughtered by the Spanish, though I can find no reference to this event in any materials I have found). The piece of video, taken during the day, shows what appears to be the shadowy figure of a man, with his hands behind his back, walking through doorway on the right and disappearing into the other room. What I find remarkable is the fact that the figure, unlike an actual shadow, does not fade when it walks into the sunlight in the next room. Perhaps this video is faked, I don’t think so and it’s an excellent fake if it is.

Postcard, c. 1914.

In his marvelous guide to haunted America, Haunted Places: The National Directory, Dennis William Hauck presents some of the activity that has been witnessed in the house. According to him, objects move about the house on their own accord specifically in Maria’s Room. This report is backed up by Dave Lapham in his Ancient City Hauntings. Lapham reports that objects throughout the house move according to one long-time staff member. Hauck also includes strange lights seen in various rooms and the experience of a tourist whose poodle was upset inside the house. Apparently, once the dog was taken outside it was fine. It is believed that animals can sense spirits and may sometimes be upset by them. Interestingly, none of the accounts of spiritual activity include figures such as the one in the video, though there are relatively few accounts of activity that I could find.

As stated earlier, the site of the house had been inhabited for some time when the existing house was constructed. The date of construction, however, is in question and could be anytime between 1703 and 1727. Documentary evidence indicates that this house was home to Tomàs Gonzàlez y Hernàndez and his wife, Maria Francisca Guevara y Domínguez. Gonzàlez was a Canary Island-born sailor who served as a soldier. When Spain ceded Florida to the English in 1763, the Gonzàlez family fled the city and the house stood vacant until 1775 when Englishman Major Joseph Peavett purchased the house. Peavett enlarged the house and following his death in 1786, the house was acquired by a Spaniard, Gerònimo Àlvarez. The Àlvarez family owned the house for nearly a century and in 1884, the house was purchased by dentist, Dr. C. P. Carver who began opening the house for tours and who also began calling the house, “The Oldest House.” The house came under the ownership and operation of the St. Augustine Historical Society in 1918 and has been operated as a museum ever since.

The Gonzàlez-Alvarez House was named a National Historic Landmark, 15 April 1970.

Sources

  •  Gonzàlez-Alvarez House. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 12 October 2010.
  • Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory: Ghostly Abodes, Sacred Sites, UFO Landings, and Other Supernatural Locations, 2nd Edition. NYC: Penguin, 2002.
  • Lapham, Dave. Ancient City Hauntings: More Ghosts of St. Augustine. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2004.
  • Oldest buildings in the United States. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 12 October 2010.
  • Snell, Charles. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for The Gonzàlez-Alvarez House. Listed 15 April 1970.

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Preserving Haunted History–Tennessee

Temperance Building
Walden and Roane Avenues
Harriman, Tennessee

Historic preservation and hauntings go hand in hand. Most often, those places known for their paranormal activity are also places that have preserved a great deal of their history: Savannah, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; St. Augustine, Florida and Natchez, Mississippi would most certainly qualify. This notion has made strange bedfellows at times with historians, scholars and preservationists teaming up with ghost hunters and paranormal investigators to help preserve historic locations. This was recently seen in an article from Britain’s Daily Mail, though the author takes it in more of a tongue in cheek fashion.

Temperance Building, 2010. Photo by Brian Stansberry, courtesy of Wikipedia.

I’d be interested to know how the citizens of Harriman, Tennessee and their efforts to restore their city hall reached the ears of the British Press. One wonders if they hacked the cellphones of the local city government in order to extract some of the details. Really, a story made the rounds via the Reuters News agency in a more respectful article by Tim Ghianni.

Harriman, Tennessee is a quiet town in East Tennessee, just off of Interstate 40 near Knoxville. The town was founded in 1889 by leaders in the Temperance Movement, the Victorian movement to free the country from the vise-grip of the vice of alcohol. Hopefully this utopia would provide a cleansing presence among the moonshiners of Appalachian Tennessee. In the Panic of 1893, the East Tennessee Land Company, which had been established to create the city, was forced into bankruptcy, though the Temperance leaders involved in the town marched forward. The large Romanesque revival structure on Roane Avenue was constructed to house the land company and with its closure, the building became the main hall for American Temperance University.

In the second year of the university’s existence (1894), it boasted some 345 students but that number dwindled by 1908 and the university shut its doors. The large building then served as a jail and went through a number of other uses before being occupied by the City of Harriman as a City Hall. Recently, the over 120-year-old building has required more and more maintenance; work that a city in the grips of the economic recession that has plagued the US can ill afford.

Locals have described the antique edifice as haunted for quite some time. The building is listed in John Norris Brown’s encyclopedic Ghosts and Spirits of Tennessee website. Brown mentions that shadowy apparitions have been reported in the structure which have been identified as some of the early city leaders. These reports brought out the investigative team from G.H.O.S.T., the Ghost Hunters Of Southern Tennessee to investigate the building recently.

During their investigation, the team captured possible video evidence of spiritual activity as well as EVPs which they presented to the city council. In displaying this evidence, they have suggested that the city consider hosting tours and paranormal investigators with the city taking half of that revenue for use in restoring the building. This is a concept which has been employed successfully elsewhere including the Old Jail in Charleston, South Carolina.

Tennessee State Prison
6410 Centennial Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee

The article about the Temperance Building’s ghost was posted by Courtney Mroch of the blog, Haunt Jaunts, on the Haunt Jaunts Facebook page. A fan posted a link to a petition to save the Tennessee State Prison on the site’s wall and I made the connection between the two. While the petition is not concerned with the old correctional facility’s ghosts, it’s an important building that should be preserved.

Main Building of the Tennessee State Prison, 2006. Photo by Pepper6181, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Not long after Harriman’s Temperance Building was constructed, Tennessee’s new state prison was opened in Nashville. The Tennessee State Prison opened in 1898 to replace the old prison, which had been built in 1830. The new prison was constructed using prisoner labor and after opening, outbuildings were constructed using salvaged materials from the old prison. The day the prison opened, some 1400 prisoners were transferred into the facility which had been built to house only 800.

For almost a century, the prison operated at more than capacity and the treatment of prisoners was one of the issues driving the creation of Riverbend Maximum Security Institution nearby. When the prison closed in 1992, an injunction was issued preventing the state from ever using the prison to house inmates again. While the building has sat abandoned, it has been used as a set for a variety of movies including Earnest Goes to Jail and The Green Mile. It has also been used for television and recently was used for the video for Pillar’s “Bring Me Down.” Following the prison’s closure, it was opened to tourists, but the deteriorating buildings have become dangerous and are closed to the visitors. Guards now patrol the grounds keeping away the criminal and the curious.

Like hospitals and battlefields, most prisons tend to have paranormal activity. Visitors to the Tennessee State Prison have reported numerous sounds including the sound of the heavy metal doors closing. Other visitors have encountered apparitions of prisoners in the corridors and exercise yards while people passing by have reported seeing faces peering from the windows.

Throughout the US, historic prisons are being restored and maintained as museums to prison life and the inmates. Not only does this site possess an interesting and important history, but the Gothic-revival structure is architecturally significant. Additionally, these prisons bring tourists and ghost hunters to the area. Please consider signing the petition to save this important location.

Sources

  • American Temperance University. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 18 January 2012.
  • Brown, John Norris. “Temperance Building.” Ghost & Spirits of Tennessee. Accessed 18 January 2012.
  • Ghianni, Tim. “Ghost Hunters to raise money for ‘haunted’ Temperance Building in Harriman, Tenn.” The Huffington Post. 15 January 2012.
  • Harriman, Tennessee. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 18 January 2012.
  • Keneally, Meghan. “Modern-day ghostbusters hoping to save their haunted house with guided tours may have a problem: lack of scary ghosts.” Daily Mail. 17 January 2012.
  • Morris, Jeff, Donna Marsh and Garett Merk. Nashville Haunted Handbook. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2011.
  • Save the Old Tennessee State Prison. com. Accessed 18 January 2012.
  • Tennessee State Prison. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 18 January 2012.

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