Ghosts: A Natural History: 500 Years of Searching for Proof Roger Clarke St. Martin’s Press
If you go to Atlanta, the first question people ask you is, “What’s your business?” In Macon they ask, “Where do you go to church?” In Augusta, they ask your grandmother’s maiden name. But in Savannah the first question people ask you is “What would you like to drink?” –John Berendt, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
In the South, lineage is everything. It’s not just in Augusta, Georgia where your grandmother’s maiden name may be important, but almost everywhere you will be asked, “Who’s your daddy?” or “Who’s your kin?” In the South, your social standing is determined by your parents and who you are related to. Only if you are very accomplished can judgments be made solely upon your own merits without consideration to your family and relations. Of course, this can all be traced to the Old World origins of Southern aristocracy.
If a Southerner were to inquire about the lineage of ghost-hunting, they should be duly impressed; for it is a long and venerable lineage, one that British film critic Roger Clarke traces in his recent book Ghosts: A Natural History: 500 Years of Searching for Proof. Within these pages is a host of important figures whose curiosities have extended into the realm of ghosts. Clarke provides an introduction to Robert Boyle, one of the fathers of modern chemistry, as he extends his curiosity into the existence of spirits and meets with philosopher Lady Anne Conway and noted clergyman Joseph Glanvill to discuss the existence of such anomalies.
After an exploration of the curious events at the Hampshire estate of Hinton Ampner, Clarke introduces us to the large household of the Reverend Samuel Wesley in the rectory at Epworth. Plagued by a spirit that the family eventually named “Old Jeffrey,” this household would eventually produce the Methodist movement lead by the Reverend Wesley’s son, John, with the aid of his brother, Charles. This brief, albeit well-documented case was even commented upon by poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey and its queer details have since elicited modern study. It is also necessary to note that John Wesley would spend a few years ministering in the Georgia colony. A statue of the earnest Wesley now presides over passing ghost tours in Savannah’s Reynolds Square.
Of course, no introduction to British ghost-hunting would be complete without an introduction to a similar family in Essex, in an old rectory called Borley. The family of the Reverend Bull was plagued by spiritual activity that attracted the attention of an early paranormal investigator, Harry Price. His examinations into the home and its legendary history would attract worldwide fascination and skepticism.
As Clarke deftly traces the branches and twigs of ghost-hunting’s British line, he weaves together the famous, the infamous, and a host of curious laity into a legion of ghost-hunters. This family is bound by late night ghost stories exchanged in country parsonages and the palaces of the aristocracy, amateur scholars inquiring of the haunted in dusty volumes, and creepy séances held in the parlors of London. It’s a magical web of spiritual study that existed until the world’s skepticism was aroused, and this web of inquiry was forced underground. Public interest in spiritual study still rears its head, more recently through the vein of popular culture.
Sadly, Clarke’s book only explores the world of ghost hunting from a British perspective. America in and of itself has a rich history steeped in the paranormal and since the 19th century has been at the forefront of spiritual study. Notable instances in America’s contribution to this venerable lineage include the Bell Witch case in Tennessee; the fascination with spiritualism held by Mary Todd Lincoln and the séances she conducted in the White House; the Surrency Poltergeist in Georgia; the Fox sisters and their spiritual communications; the Spiritualist movement of the 1920s; the creation of Cassadaga, a mecca for mediums in Florida; Sarah Winchester and her mystery house; and Louisiana’s Myrtles Plantation, America’s Borley Rectory. However, the remnants of Puritanism and the criticism of the validity of the field throughout the nation have done much to suppress in-depth studies.
This book provides a detailed and entertaining exploration of British ghost-hunting. If I were teaching classes about the paranormal, this book would be first on the list of assigned reading. I imagine that eventually this will be counted among the foundational books in paranormal literature. It will certainly hold a prized place on my bookshelf.
Thanks to St. Martin’s Press, I’m offering a single copy of this book to one lucky reader. To enter, please comment on this post with your favorite entry in this blog. I’ll put all of the names in a hat and select one to receive a copy of this marvelous book. This giveaway will end November 4th.
This article was originally published on 18 December 2012. This is a rewrite and edit.
Myrtles Plantation 7747 US Highway 61 St. Francisville, Louisiana
I’ve tried to avoid writing about The Myrtles for some time. Certainly of famous haunted properties in the United States—if not the world—The Myrtles ranks very high, if not at the top. There is plenty written about this location, almost to the detriment of other hauntings nearby. As it is now the Halloween season, The Myrtles has been popping up frequently in articles recounting various authors’ versions of the top hauntings in the country.
It seems that every book about American ghosts includes this haunting while it has become a mecca for ghost hunting organizations. Nearly every paranormal reality show has also featured the location. The Myrtles may very well be one of the best-documented hauntings of our time. So why avoid it?
Interestingly, one of the pieces that got me into writing about ghosts is an article about The Myrtles. It appears in Troy Taylor’s 2001 book, The Haunting of America. When I first encountered Taylor’s piece on The Myrtles, I presumed it to be a straightforward exploration of this most famous of hauntings. It’s not a straightforward profile of hauntings and it’s not exactly the haunting that he’s concerned with; it’s the history. Taylor’s piece reads like a newspaper expose as he uncovers the reality behind The Myrtles.
Southerners are natural storytellers, but they enjoy hearing a good story just as much. One only has to witness the long line of Southern storytellers and writers to see this fact: from Joel Chandler Harris to Tennessee Williams, and Eudora Welty to dear Kathryn Tucker Windham, the South has had more than its fair share of gifted storytellers. But, as Taylor (a Yankee from Illinois, bless his heart) states early in the piece, “some of the people who have owned the house have never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.” This is certainly a sentiment found throughout the South.
The stories that are told about The Myrtles are fraught with tragedy. According to guides, some ten murders have taken place within the confines of the home. The most famous of these is the tale of a slave, Chloe. Amongst the enslaved people on plantations there was a hierarchy; with the house servants—those that worked directly with the family—being the most important but also the longer lived slaves than those toiling in the heat of the fields. Chloe was one of the more fortunate slaves, working in the house and helping care for the children of Clark Woodruff, the owner of Laurel Grove (as The Myrtles was called at that time). According to legend, she was also on intimate terms with Mr. Woodruff and possibly a guest of his bed.
Continuing the legend, Mr. Woodruff began to make advances towards another slave, and Chloe feared that she would be banished to the fields (and certain death). Soon, she was listening at the doors hoping to learn of her fate. It was there that she was caught by Mr. Woodruff and as punishment, one of her ears was cut off. Afterwards, she began wrapping a long green cloth around her head like a turban to cover her shame.
Chloe then devised a plan to endear herself to the Master and his family. She would poison the master and his family, and then miraculously cure them. She baked a cake containing the poison of oleander leaves, but the master did not eat it. However, his pregnant wife and two young daughters did, and all three died. For her misdeeds, Chloe was hung in one of the ancient oaks on the property by an angry mob. Along with the spirits of her victims, Chloe’s green-turbaned spirit still supposedly walks the property.
This story is marvelous and operatic in proportions. But, sadly, it is just that, an antebellum soap opera. Troy Taylor dug into the records of the families who owned The Myrtles and found no record of a slave with that name. The victims in the story: Clark Woodruff’s pregnant wife and her two children: a boy and a girl, not two daughters as the tale recounts, did not die from poisoning and lived long, fruitful lives. Most likely they did eventually pass in the home, though, which might easily add their spirits to the spiritual jambalaya that may exist at this property.
More digging by Taylor produced the facts that most of the other tales of murder are also the product of great Southern storytellers, with the exception of the murder of William Winter who was shot and killed at the home in 1871.
In cases where the history is debunked, that often debunks the haunting as well. In the case of The Myrtles, however, I don’t believe that is so. It appears there may be quite a bit of activity within this home. Another piece of which may have been captured recently.
While taping a story for WGNO, the ABC affiliate serving the New Orleans area, something appears on tape behind reporter Vanessa Bolano. The video segment is a “stand up” filmed in the French Room of the house. As Ms. Bolano is speaking, something whizzes by behind her. The reporter slowed down the footage to reveal the misty object moving at very high speed.
The video has begun making news both here and in Britain where it has been a headline in both The Daily Mail and The Sun. The latter even taking a single frame of the video and reporting that it resembles a face. While yes, it does resemble a face in that particular frame, it’s also in motion and only resembles the face for a brief moment. It appears to me to be a case of pareidolia—that is simply the brain trying to make sense of something random like someone seeing the face of Christ in a bit of burned toast. The New York Daily News article linked below features the video.
Again, it should be said that regardless of my misgivings about the home’s history, it does appear that The Myrtles has a great deal of activity, some of which may have been captured by this hapless reporter. If you love great Southern ghost stories or want to experience great Southern ghost stories, by all means, book a stay at The Myrtles, just don’t believe all the storytellers’ words.
Durante, Thomas. “Did ABC reporter catch a GHOST on camera while reporting from one of America’s most haunted houses?” The Daily Mail. 12 December 2012.
I’m feeling a bit of umbrage for the spirits of the Upstate region of South Carolina. A recent Halloween related article appeared on the website of a Charlotte, NC news station (I’d rather not just call them out) regarding haunted places in the region. Included with the article is a slideshow of 43 locations that are purported to be haunted. But that’s all that’s included: a slideshow. The slides show pictures of some of these haunted hotspots with a name and town, but no further information. While it’s all fine and good to say a place is haunted, it is a serious disservice to pronounce a place haunted but provide no further information regarding it.
There is a link within the article to a list of haunted places on the website of a local paranormal investigation organization. While it’s obvious that this list is the only source for the locations included in the slideshow, what I find so annoying is the fact that the organization’s source is the notorious Shadowlands Index of Haunted Places. After briefly comparing the lists, it became very clear that the paranormal organization’s list was simply cut and pasted from the Shadowlands list.
My problems with Shadowlands stems from the fact that it is made of user submitted entries. Someone, anyone, can go to the website and submit information on a haunted place. The information submitted is not checked or vetted, it is added to the list and readers often take this information as fact. It is such shoddy information gathering and publishing that I’m working hard to combat with this blog.
To post information about hauntings in such a willy-nilly manner is not just disrespectful for the spirits which may haunt these locations, but shows a lack of respect for the locations and their respective histories. Reputable sources on this region are not lacking and most are still in print. In fact, the article quotes the author of one of those primary sources. So, a much better list can be provided with a modicum of research.
While my coverage here is not as lengthy as the news station’s list, hopefully this article will help to provide a far better alternative. For your consideration, I’m presenting a few of the more interesting—and documented—stories from the Upstate region.
Abbeville, the county seat and namesake for the county, is a fascinating town with a number of hauntings including its historic opera house which I covered a few years back.
Burt-Stark Mansion 400 North Main Street Abbeville
Sometimes called the “Grave of the Confederacy,” the Burt-Stark Mansion was the scene of the Confederacy’s final council of war; where Jefferson Davis met with some of his cabinet officials and generals following the fall of Richmond and General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. The Confederate government was in disarray, and its officials on the run through the war-weary South.
Varina, Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ wife, had arrived at Major Armistead Burt’s elegant Abbeville home in mid-April with her family in tow. She stayed with the Burts for a little more than a week before continuing their journey into Georgia. On May 2nd, Jefferson Davis arrived in Abbeville. Stopping by a small cabin on the edge of town, Davis asked for a drink of water from the lady of the house. As he drank, a small child wandered across the porch towards him. The woman asked, “Ain’t you President Davis?” After he answered in the affirmative, the woman nodded at the child, “he’s named for you.”
Producing a small gold coin from his pocket, Davis handed it to the woman saying, “Please keep this for him and tell him about it when he’s old enough.” Davis whispered to Postmaster General John H. Reagan and told him that that was the last coin he had to his name.
Soon after, Davis took up residence at the Burt home where his wife had stayed previously. Later that afternoon, the remaining cabinet met in the parlor. It was there that Davis responded, “all is indeed lost,” conceding to the loss of the Confederacy.
The mansion has been preserved as a museum, and due to the nature of the final meeting of the Confederate cabinet is now listed as a National Historic Landmark. Though very little paranormal activity had been witnessed in the mansion, due to the numerous other hauntings in Abbeville it was decided to allow a paranormal investigation team to investigate the home in 2007. According to John Boyanoski’s description of the investigation in his More Ghosts of Upstate South Carolina, the team came away with a great deal of evidence.
Members of the Heritage Paranormal team felt the presence of a man in the bedroom where Davis had slept. Moments later, one of the lead investigators witnessed the clear outline of a woman in period dress descending the staircase. Lending credence to his experience, the team’s equipment near the staircase registered some disturbances at the time the investigator saw the specter. In the separate kitchen building, the team detected two spirits, possibly those of slaves.
Bearss, Edwin C. National Historic Landmark nomination form forBurt-Stark Mansion. 28 April 1992.
Boyanoski, John. Ghosts of Upstate of South Carolina. Mountville, PA: Shelor & Son Publishing, 2006.
Burt-Stark Mansion. “About Us.” Accessed 13 October 2014.
Anderson Municipal Business Center 601 South Main Street Anderson
Unlike the Burt-Stark Mansion with its flood of history, the Anderson Municipal Business Center is a rather utilitarian government building with little history. The building opened in August 2008 and odd events began to occur less than a year after it opened. The security person in charge of the building—a 15 year veteran of the local police department—began to notice odd things on the security monitor installed in the Anderson credit union office. A white blur appeared on the video and would flit around the room. It returned night after night.
The room was checked for bugs and the camera was cleaned, but the white blurs continued to return. Workers in the office reported hearing odd sounds after hours including knocking and the sounds of furniture being moved. A customer, who supposedly knew nothing of the activity, reported the feeling of being grasped by the shoulder. The activity lasted for a few months, but then petered out by late 2009.
The property has a fairly quiet history, certainly nothing that would explain the odd white blurs that appeared for a period.
“Ghostly images leave people wondering.” 30 October 2011.
Smith-Miles, Charmaine. “Anderson employee to appear on TV’s ‘My Ghost Story.’” Anderson Independent Mail. 13 April 2011.
Ford Road Bridge Ford Road at Peoples Creek Gaffney
It was obvious that the killer wanted to play when he called reporter Bill Gibbons of The Gaffney Ledger on a day in early February 1968. He instructed the reporter to pull out three pieces of paper and then gave the reporter directions to find the bodies of two of his victims. The killer even provided the victims’ names. The reporter summoned the sheriff and traveled to the two sites provided by the caller, finding bodies at each location. The body of the third victim had been previously found, and the woman’s husband had been convicted of the murder. Gaffney woke to the fact that it had a serial killer on its hands.
The killer would kill once more before he was arrested. Lee Roy Martin, the killer, was found guilty and sentenced to four terms of life imprisonment. He was killed by another inmate in 1972.
Just below the lonely Ford Road Bridge over Peoples Creek, one of Martin’s victims was found. Her nude body lay on the creek bank with her face in the water. She had been raped and strangled with a belt. Over the years, locals have reported hearing a woman screaming and moaning below the bridge where the body was found. An investigation conducted as part of the filming of Haunted Echoes: The Gaffney Strangler, a documentary that was posted on YouTube, did not hear any screams, just the trilling of bullfrogs in the creek.
Dalton, Robert W. “Gaffney Strangler terrorized town 40 years ago, murdering 4 women.” Spartanburg Herald-Journal. 5 July 2009.
Gibbons, Bill. “Search underway here for slayer of 2 women; Tip to newsman leads officers to scene.” The Gaffney Ledger. 9 February 1968.
Johnson, Tally. Ghosts of the South Carolina Upcountry. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2005.
Herdklotz Park 126 Beverly Road Greenville
Jason Profit, owner and operator of Greenville Ghost Tours, describes Herdklotz Park in his book, Haunted Greenville, South Carolina, as having “all the ingredients for an active paranormal soup.” This tranquil city park was once home to the Greenville Tuberculosis Hospital, which closed in the 1950s after operating for some 20 years. For some time, the building sat abandoned but was then reopened in the 1990s for a brief period of time as part of a prison work-release program.
As with many abandoned buildings of this nature, the building served as a playground for teens and the occasional vandal who would leave with stories of the supernatural there. Of course, the building also attracted the local homeless. It is believed that they may have accidentally caused the fire that destroyed the building in November of 2002. The remains of the building were demolished.
But, the spirits have remained. Jason Profit recounts an EVP session that he held on the steps of the old hospital (the building’s foundation remains intact) in 2008. He was able to capture the sounds of what he described as “a busy lunchroom. It sounded like the echoing of voices in a hallway or large room.” He reports that many residents of the neighborhood around the park have witnessed shadow people in their homes and in the area that may be related to the old hospital. In a 2009 report for the local CBS affiliate WSPA, Profit states, “I would have to say that beyond a shadow of a doubt that Herdklotz Park is one of the most haunted parks you’re going to find in Upstate South Carolina.”
Cato, Chris. “Greenville County Park Haunted by Hospital’s Ghosts?” WSPA. 31 October 2009.
Profit, Jason. Haunted Greenville, South Carolina. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011.
Ninety Six National Historic Site 1103 Highway 248 Ninety Six
Scholars still argue as to how Ninety Six got its odd name, some say it’s that the town was 96 miles from the Cherokee village of Keowee (which is incorrect) and some say that it’s a reference to the many creeks in the area. Nevertheless, this oddly named village was the scene of a siege during the American Revolution. General Nathanael Greene led his Patriot troops against loyalists entrenched in the village. Despite having far more troops, Greene’s 28-day siege failed to capture the village, and he withdrew his troops. Perhaps, though, he did leave some spirits behind. Residents living near the battlefield and re-enactors camping on the battlefield have heard voices throughout the site.
Toney, B. Keith. Battlefield Ghosts. Berryville, VA: Rockbridge Publishing, 1997.
Colony Theatre 315 West Main Street Easley
Ghost stories often grow out of odd bits of natural phenomena. That may just well be the story behind this small town movie theatre in the Upstate. A member of the family who built this theatre in 1948 and owned it until it closed claimed the “ghost” was simply the curtains in the projection room being blown by air from the projector. Though, locals have a different theory: it’s the ghost of a woman who hanged herself on this site before the building of the theatre.
In his marvelous collection of ghost stories from the Upstate region, Ghosts of Upstate South Carolina, John Boyanoski documents the story of a passerby who saw the spirit peering from a window of the empty theatre one night. While driving home to Greenville from a football game in Clemson one night in 1989, the driver slowed to admire the old, art moderne-style theatre. Looking up, he saw a woman staring out of one of the building’s second floor windows. She didn’t move and she appeared to have a faint glow about her. He continued driving and then turned around to catch a second glimpse. The theatre was quiet and dark. Nothing appeared in the windows. Even after parking and walking around the front of the building, nothing stirred.
At the time of this writing the theatre serves as a church and remains as a landmark along South Carolina Highway-93 through Easley. The theatre is owned by Robinson’s Funeral Home and it plans to maintain the theatre as a local landmark.
Boyanoski, John. Ghosts of Upstate of South Carolina. Mountville, PA: Shelor & Son Publishing, 2006.
Robinson, Ben. “Colony Theater not in danger from Robinson’s expansion.” Easley Progress. 16 December 2011.
Old Main Building Campus of Wofford College Spartanburg
Wofford College, a private, independent school associated with the Methodist Church, has about 130 faculty and staff members, 1,500 students, and more than a handful of ghosts. The old campus features some noted historic structures including the campus’ centerpiece, the Old Main Building which may have a few of its own spirits flitting about the halls. South Carolina folklorist, Tally Johnson, an alumnus of the school, witnessed Old Main’s legendary “Old Green Eyes” when he was a student. He and another student crept into the auditorium one night and witnessed the odd pair of lights that appear above the drapes over one of the auditorium’s windows. The “eyes” appeared and Johnson and his companion were unable to find a source for the lights.
The odd, green orbs have not been identified and there’s no apparent explanation. Regardless, that’s not the only odd activity. The blog of the college’s archives recounts that the spirit of Dr. James Carlisle—one of the first faculty members and president of the school for the latter half of the 19th century—has been seen and heard prowling the halls.
Brabham, William C. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the Wofford College Historic District. 29 August 1974.
Johnson, Tally. Ghosts of the South Carolina Upcountry. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2005.
Stone, Phillip. “Are there ghosts at Wofford?” From the Archives. 31 October 2011.
With the Halloween season already in full swing, media has started pumping out news items profiling our spectral friends throughout the country. Here’s a sampling of recent paranormal news from the South.
Gainesville Public Library 127 Main Street, NW Gainesville, Georgia
If anything, the Gainesville Public Library does not outwardly appear to be a classic haunted building. The red brick, Brutalist-style building resembles countless modern library buildings throughout the country, but it includes something that many of those libraries do not have: a few ghosts. One of those spirits made an appearance during an investigation last weekend.
The library has been known to be haunted for some time and Nancy Roberts wrote about it in her 1997 book, Georgia Ghosts. The primary spirit Roberts wrote about has been called “Miss Elizabeth” or the “Lady of the Library” by the library staff. One staff member encountered her one night as she was closing. A strange young lady stood near the elevator, “she was only a few feet from me! Her brown hair, which was soft around her face, fell to her shoulders. She was about medium height and wore a long, dark dress, either navy or black.” The staff member turned away momentarily and when she turned back, the strange woman had vanished.
Other staff members described Miss Elizabeth in a 2011 Gainesville Times article as “wearing a long, dark skirt with a white shirt and a dark shawl. Her dark hair is pulled away from her plain face; on her neck she wears a broach.” In addition to seeing this fleeting apparition, the spirit is blamed for turning lights off and on, moving books and possibly riding on the elevator.
While the library building is not old, the property upon which it sits has quite a bit of history. At times during the history of the town, the property was a homestead and also contained a family cemetery. In the 1920s, the graves were moved and a hotel built on the site. The hotel was torn down to build the library.
During the recent investigation, however, it wasn’t Miss Elizabeth who made an appearance; it was the spirit of a small child. During the library sponsored investigation lead up by members of the Southeastern Institute for Paranormal Research, investigators encountered a spirit in the children’s section named Emma. One group heard the giggle of a child, while someone in a different group was touched lightly on the arm and then later another participant had her hair lightly tugged. A sensitive in the group stated that the spirit was a little girl with curly blonde hair dressed in a style reminiscent of the 1950s.
The sensitive remarked that the child seemed to be happy, loved book and “was glad someone had come to play with her.”
Gunn, Jerry. “Ghost hunters seek spirits at Gainesville Library.” Access North Georgia. 20 September 2014.
Gunn, Jerry. “Paranormal investigators meet a girl named Emma.” Access North Georgia. 5 October 2014.
Roberts, Nancy. Georgia Ghosts. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1997.
Old Clay County Jail 21 Gratio Place Green Cove Springs, Florida
The Florida Times-Union has recently deemed the Old Clay County Jail to be a place where it is always Halloween. Paranormal investigators have deemed the building to be one of the most active that many of them have seen.
Built by the Pauly Jail Company in 1894, the building saw its last inmate in 1972. The building now serves as home to the Clay County Archives. Like most corrections facilities, this building has seen the worst of society and a number of tragedies in its long history. Among the tragedies was the assassination of a sheriff, an inmate suicide, five executions and another suicide on the front lawn.
Reports of activity from the jail include voices, apparitions and hair-pulling. Activity has become so well known that the Clay County Historical Archives website features a page describing the haunted conditions of the building.
Buehn, Debra W. “Old Clay County Jail stars in Local Haunts’ TV show Sunday.” Florida Times-Union. 1 April 2010.
I must sheepishly admit (pun intended) that I was not familiar with Shepherdstown, West Virginia until I stumbled across the website for Shepherd University with a recounting of its campus ghosts. Upon googling local ghosts, a marvelous article from the Shepherdstown Chronicle popped up with the above quote from a local historian. Of course, that got me excited.
Shepherdstown is located in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia in Jefferson County. Of the counties in West Virginia, Jefferson County seems to be one of the most paranormally active, most certainly in the area of Harpers Ferry. Standing in the large shadow of Harpers Ferry ghosts, I imagine that is why there really isn’t much written about Shepherdstown’s ghosts.
Settlement of the area began in the early 18th century with Thomas Shepherd being granted over 200 acres in the area. He set aside a portion of that acreage for a town which was chartered in 1762 and is—“arguably” as Wikipedia says—the oldest chartered town in West Virginia. The town was named Mecklenburg and would remain under that name until after the Civil War.
One of the city’s oldest remaining structures is the ENTLER-WELTZHEIMER HOUSE, also known as the “YELLOW HOUSE” (East High Street, Shepherd University Campus) which is now owned by Shepherd University. Not only is the yellow house one of oldest in the city, but the ghost story told about it may be one of the oldest documented ghost stories in the city as well. The story was mentioned in a Shepherd College (as it was called at that point) yearbook in 1928. An article in the student newspaper, the Shepherd College Picket, in 1954 also covers the tale.
In 1910, the Yellow House was the home of a local cobbler, George Yontz and his furry companion, a cat named Ham. When Mr. Yontz’s body was found not far from the cabin, locals assumed he had been killed for his money (many thought him to be very wealthy), though none was found when the house was searched. Since his death, the cobbler’s taps of his cobbler’s tools have been heard in and around the house.
The student newspaper mentions that a family moved into the house not long after Yontz’s death and their cat heard the tapping in the attic. The cat headed up the stairs and not long after came streaking back down and out the door. The cat was not seen again.
The house is built on the site of what was a fort built in the area during the French and Indian War. The house was purchased by the university in 1926 and has been used for a variety of educational uses—including as a Home Economics Cottage—until recently. The university was recently granted money to preserve the house.
Just down the street and around the corner from the Yellow House is McMURRAN HALL (NE corner German and King Streets), one of the grandest buildings on the university campus. McMurran is where Shepherd College was founded in 1871 and its clock tower is featured in the university logo. This grand, Greek Revival building was constructed as the town hall by Rezin Shepherd, the great-grandson of Thomas Shepherd, the town’s founder. Construction began on the eve of the Civil War and building stood incomplete when the wounded from the Battle of Antietam (17 September 1862)—considered one of the bloodiest battles fought on American soil—began arriving in Shepherdstown. Public and private buildings were commandeered for use as hospitals including the unfinished town hall. Perhaps it is the spirit of one of these men who passed in this building that’s seen peering from the clock tower at night.
At the other end of the block, where German Street intersects Princess Street, the corner is graced with the lovely, old ENTLER HOTEL (129 East German Street), also called Rumsey Hall and now home to the Historic Shepherdstown Museum. The first building on this property was a home for the Entler family which was destroyed by fire in 1912. The subsequent buildings constructed here remain and these housed the Entler Hotel.
Shepherdstown’s location along a main road from Baltimore to the interior of the southeast, brought a great deal of traffic through the area in the early 19th century. This hotel was opened primarily to serve the wealthier travelers, though the nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places notes that there was gambling and other gaming taking place in the inn’s yard. Continuing, it notes that one businessman, having lost his money in a card game, shot himself at the back of the hotel.
This was not the only tragedy here, in 1809 after a duel just across the Potomac River, Peyton Smith was brought here. The duel was held following a card game between Smith and Joseph Holmes, both members of noted Virginia families. The wounded Smith was placed in Room 1 and cried out for his mother before he passed. His mother arrived from Winchester after her son’s passing. People in the building continue to hear Smith’s pathetic cries.
Walking south down Princess Street, visitors will find an old carriage repair shop that formerly housed the CARRIAGE HOUSE CAFE (107 South Princess Street). This building has housed a variety of businesses and the spirit of a former owner is said to remain on the property.
A bit further down East German Street, another corner is graced by a grand building in this case it is the Beaux-Arts style, the old 1906 Jefferson Security Bank. The bank was converted to a restaurant some years ago and now houses the YELLOW BRICK BANK RESTAURANT (201 East German Street). Table 25 was the scene of some activity in the 1990s when a patron reported to the restaurant’s manager that she couldn’t sit at the table because of the ghost. The bartender also reported that he had glasses fall from the glass rack and break.
Of course, for Shepherdstown, I think these hauntings are just the tip of the iceberg. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for more reports from this lovely little town.
Engle, Georgia Lee. “Restless spirit roams campus, haunts High Street Cottage.” Shepherd College Picket. 28 October 1954.
Lehman, Mary Corcoran. “Entler Hotel.” Historic Shepherdstown and Museum. Accessed 2 October 2014.
McGee, Ted. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Rumsey Hall (Entler Hotel). 6 October 1972.
Molenda, Rachel. “Town serves as home to ghosts from past.” The Shepherdstown Chronicle. 28 October 2011.