Front Porch Phantoms—Tallapoosa, Georgia

The tradition of front porch storytelling is alive in Tallapoosa, thanks to Susan Horsley-Pitts who is actively trying to revive it with her walking tour of local ghost stories. Having spent much of my childhood on the front porch of my grandparents’ front porch on LaGrange Street in Newnan, Georgia, I fully appreciate her efforts.

Front porch of a business featured on the Tallapoosa Ghost Stories: A Walking Tour. While this location isn’t haunted, it’s quite creepy. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

I failed to dress appropriately for the near-freezing temperatures that we encountered on the tour, but the chilling stories took my mind off the cold. Winding through the darkened streets of this small town, many of the stops were private homes with porches where spirits still linger. At an old building that has been divided into apartments, the spirit was known to play with one of the front doors. One evening during the ghost walk, a child played with the door, opening and closing it as Horsley-Pitts spun the story. Distracted, she asked the child to close the door and the child tried to do it, though something held on to the other side of the door. Both she and the child had to pull the door closed together.

This ghost walk first came to my attention last year as I was trying to find stories from every one of Georgia’s 159 counties. Google produced few results for many of the more rural counties like Haralson County, but it did pop up this ghost walk. I was disappointed to find that the tour only ran during the Halloween season, but I was determined to take it. I finally had the chance to make the drive last and take the tour last Saturday, and it was well worth it.

Tallapoosa appears to be a typical Southern small-town, though that façade belies a twisted and fascinating history. The town has experienced several boom and bust cycles starting in the early 19th century when gold was discovered in the area and settlers named the settlement Possum Snout. Some of the white men who settled in the area remained and built farms and plantations. Exploiting the natural lithium springs and the arrival of the railroad, Ralph Spencer, a Connecticut businessman, endeavored to turn this backwoods community into a resort town and constructed the Lithia Springs Hotel.

Advertising in papers throughout much of the country, Spencer attracted tourists, some of whom built residences here, earning the town the tagline, “a Yankee city under a Southern sky.” Building on this success, Spencer recruited some 200 Hungarian and Eastern European families from Pennsylvania to create a winemaking community which was named Budapest. Both ventures were successful, though land fraud brought down Spencer’s first venture while the winemaking venture ceased in 1907 with the passage of statewide prohibition.

Head Avenue was deathly quiet last Saturday night. Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV, all rights reserved.

While the production of legal alcohol ceased, some locals took up the production of moonshine and Tallapoosa began to develop a reputation as a rough place that featured gambling and prostitution fueled by illegal alcohol. During this time, Tallapoosa earned the nickname, “Little Phenix City,” after America’s first “Sin City,” Phenix City, Alabama.

Reminders of this rough patch remain in the form of spirits, such as those still encountered at the Tallapoosa Police Department (15 East Alabama Street). Originally the site of the town jail, this building has been the scene of several tragedies involving the deaths of officers and civilians. Officers with the department have reported hearing moaning and growling in basement offices.

At the beginning of the tour, Horsley-Pitts commented that the town changes after dark and this is was the ever-present theme throughout the walk. These simple and straightforward tales told on silent city streets or amongst the shadows on dark and eerie residential lanes lent a ghoulish gravitas to the journey. Possible paranormal activity added an excitement to the proceedings with lights seen by some in one empty house and curtains that may have opened on their own in the window of another.

The whole tour was carried out in an understated, though well-crafted manner that was ultimately quite elegant. Even calling the tour a “walk” lends a sense of hominess to the whole effect. Wonderful memories of this evening will remain with me for some time.

As if to underscore the creepiness of the evening, the scoreboard in the gymnasium of the old Tallapoosa High School, located across the street from the park where the tour starts, continued to go off throughout the evening. As Horsley-Pitts and I talked after the tour’s conclusion, the scoreboard continued to blare at regular intervals. Perhaps it’s marking a win for the front porch phantoms of Tallapoosa.

Tallapoosa Ghost Stories: A Walking Tour will be offered on Friday and Saturday nights for the last time this year at 9 PM. Tickets may be purchased at Papou’s Pizza (2178 US-78). See the tour’s Facebook page for further information.

Two Spiritually Scarred Landscapes in South Georgia

Scarring takes on many forms. On the human body scars can be physical reminders of accidents or trauma or they can work their way deep into the viscera, affecting emotions, the spirit, or the psyche.

With the physical environment, while we may see the visible degradation of a landscape, but we don’t often consider the spiritual scars that may be left after traumatic events. Ghastly murders, battles, accidents, massacres, and the like rend the spiritual fabric of a place, causing activity that we may deem as beyond the reach of the normal.

In 1977, an intrepid writer published her experiences in a spiritually scarred landscape in The Atlanta Journal and Constitution Magazine.

Joined by a brave friend, the writer sat on the marshy edge of Dunbar Creek on St. Simons Island, Georgia as night descended. Intoxicated by the pungent salty odor of the marshes, the thrum of insects, and the calling of marsh birds, the pair began to hear the rhythmic clank of metal. Out of this aural soup the sound of the thwack of bare feet on the muddy creek bank began to rise and soon a descant of chanting began to ring above that rhythm.

The pair could not distinguish the language, but the chanting was filled with pain, despair, and longing for freedom. Frightened out of their wits, the two fled to the safety of their Volkswagen.

This place, known as Ebo Landing, has been known to be haunted since the grim day in May 1803 when a host of Ebo tribesmen drowned themselves rather than submit to the slavery of their new white masters in this strange land.

A scenic view of a marsh on St. Simons Island, by Paul Conklin, 1973. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

The tribesmen had been ripped from their homeland in what is now Nigeria and forced to endure the cruel Middle Passage where they were stuffed into the bowels of crude slave ships. Emerging into the sunlight, they were marched onto the auction block in Savannah to be sold in front a sea of white faces.

Having been purchased by representatives of St. Simons Island planters Thomas Spaulding and John Couper, the tribesmen were taken aboard a schooner for transport to their owners’ plantations.

In some versions of the legend during the voyage south, the tribesmen rebelled and, after they threw the crewmen overboard, the ship became grounded at the mouth of Dunbar Creek. Nonetheless, the voyage ended at this lonely, marshy spot.

Still chained together the tribesmen walked into the water chanting to their deity Chukwu, “the Water Spirit brought us here, the Water Spirit will take us home.” Roswell King, the overseer from Pierce Butler’s nearby plantation and subsequently the founder of Roswell, Georgia, wrote of the incident that the men simply, “took to the swamp.”

This collective suicide was not a vainglorious act and it has been enshrined in folklore both in African-American and African culture. Over time, the story has evolved with the tribesmen transforming themselves into birds and flying home. During the Great Depression, a version of this story was documented by the Works Progress Administration’s Writers’ Project. An elderly resident of the island told this version of the story:

Ain’t you heard about them? Well, at that time Mr. Blue he was the overseer and . . . Mr. Blue he go down one morning with a long whip for to whip them good. . . . Anyway, he whipped them good and they got together and stuck that hoe in the field and then . . . rose up in the sky and turned themselves into buzzards and flew right back to Africa. . . . Everybody knows about them.

This fantastic account has been utilized by a number of prominent African-American writers including Toni Morrison.

The Ebo Landing site is still unmarked by any type of sign or monument, though the place remains spiritually scarred and locals still speak of the clanking of chains, the thwack of bare feet in the mud, and the ghostly chanting heard here.

Postcard, circa 1930-45, showing Ebo Landing in the moonlight. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Tichnor Brothers Collection.

The grim specter of slavery has left spiritual scars on the landscape throughout the South. In Effingham County, west of Savannah, is the small town of Springfield. Just outside town, the lazy waters of Ebenezer Creek slowly wend their way among pine and cypress towards the Savannah River.

However, these normally lethargic waters flowed violently and turbulently after heavy rains in December of 1864. After his capture of Atlanta, General Sherman was moving swiftly towards Savannah, which he would offer as a Christmas present to President Lincoln.

Through winter rains that turned Georgia roads into quagmires of red mud, Sherman’s generals cut four swathes through the landscape destroying military targets, industry, and civilian property as they moved. As the blue tide swept through the state, newly freed slaves began to trickle in behind the soldiers. Bound up in the jubilation of freedom, these masses of men, women, and children began to oppress the soldiers’ movements.

General Jefferson Davis, a Union general with no relation to the Confederate President, led the 14th Corps as they slogged through the swamps along the Savannah River. Arriving at the banks of Ebenezer Creek, Davis found the creek at near flood stage. He ordered his engineers to erect a pontoon bridge to allow his men to cross but posted armed sentinels to prevent the refugees from crossing.

Confederates had been dogging the Union invaders and rumors spread that General Joseph Wheeler’s men where rapidly approaching, heightening the urgency to cross the rain-swollen creek.

Irritated by the former slaves slowing his advance, the pro-slavery Union general ordered that the bridge be cut after the last man crossed. The corps’ chaplain described the scene:

There went up from that multitude a cry of agony. Someone shouted, “Rebels,” and they made a wild rush…some of them plunged into the water and swam across. Others ran wildly up and down the bank, shaking with terror.

A private from Minnesota noted that at least a hundred former slaves “huddled as close to the edge of the water as they could get, some crying, some praying, and all fearful that the rebels would come before they could get over.”

Improvising rafts and ropes, many waded out into the water and some made it across, but others were swept into the swift current. Horrified by the scene, soldiers tossed logs and branches into the muddy waters, but could not save all who were pulled downstream.

Some of Wheeler’s men did eventually appear and they fired upon the terrified throng huddled on the creek bank. A few slaves were killed, while many of the others were recaptured and returned to their owners.

Union soldiers, stunned by the bitter scene, reported the incident to their superiors, but General Davis was never brought to justice for his role in the humanitarian crisis.

Just like on the banks of Ebo Landing, locals continue to report spiritual scars among the pines and cypress along Ebenezer Creek. Here, anguished screams and cries are still heard at this spot where so many died trying to wade in the water towards the nebulous promise of freedom.

Sources

  • Davis, Burke. Sherman’s March. NYC: Random House, 1980.
  • Green, Michelle. “Keeping watch at Ibo Landing.” Atlanta Journal and Constitution Magazine. 30 October 1977.
  • Hobbs, Larry. “Igbo Landing a defiant act for freedom.” The Brunswick News. 22 July 2017.
  • Igbo Landing. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 6 November 2018.
  • Miles, Jim. Civil War Ghosts of Central Georgia and Savannah. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Powell, Timothy B. “Ebos Landing.” The New Georgia Encyclopedia. 15 June 2004.

Spirit of the Mountain—Stone Mountain, Georgia

Stone Mountain Park
1000 Robert E. Lee Boulevard
Stone Mountain, Georgia

When the Spanish Franciscan missionary, Pedro de Chozas, made his way through the South local natives spoke of a mountain further inland that was “very high, shining when the sun set like a fire.” This exposed, granite mountain dome, or monadnock, is one of the largest in the world, and was regarded with wonder by the Native Americans in the surrounding area.

Located between the territories occupied by the Cherokee and the Muscogee peoples, the dome was located at the junction of several major trails and served as a meeting spot. In previous millennia, this scared spot served as ceremonial and religious site. In fact, its summit had been walled in by an earlier people, though the wall, nor the reasons for its construction, have survived.

Stone Mountain, circa 1910, from “Granites of the Southeastern Atlantic States,” by Thomas Watson.

From the earliest settlement of white men in the area, the mountain attracted tourists and businessmen with interests in quarrying the high-quality stone. A pair of brothers, William and Samuel Venable, purchased the mountain in the late 19th century and established a quarrying business. In 1915, with interest being revived around the nation for the Ku Klux Klan by D.W. Griffiths’ film, The Birth of a Nation, a cross-burning was held at the summit to mark the reorganization of the KKK in Georgia.

A year later, the Venables deeded the mountain’s north face to the United Daughters of the Confederacy to create a monument for the Confederacy. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who would later carve the heads of four presidents at Mount Rushmore, was commissioned to create the carving which would memorialize Confederate president Jefferson Davis and generals Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson. Work halted in 1925 with the firing of Borglum and 47 years would pass before the carving was completed.

After the mountain was purchased by the state of Georgia in 1958, a park was established at the base of the mountain glorifying the Old South and the Confederacy. Over time, the park has cast off these themes and criticism has been leveled at the carving itself, most recently in light of the removals of Confederate monuments throughout the country.

The first surviving written account of the mountain describes it as, “one solid rock of circular form about one mile across. Many strange tales are told by the Indians of the mountain.” As I have conducted research on Southern hauntings for years, I have searched in vain for ghost stories from the mountain itself. While the Antebellum Plantation within the park is known to have many spirits within the historic structures that comprises it, I have found nothing about spirits on the mountain.

The north face of Stone Mountain with its carving, 2015. Photo by Pilotguy251, courtesy of Wikipedia.

In doing a search of the pages of the Atlanta Constitution that has recently been made available on Newspapers.com, I was delighted to come across the following article. Besides the description of this very strange apparition, what is interesting about this article is the inclusion of folklore about who and who cannot see ghosts.

One concern with this article is the first name of the man quoted throughout. His name is given as “Neger,” which, to me, seems too close to the pejorative “n-word.” Therefore, I have replaced his first name with “N.”

Atlanta Constitution
30 March 1946

‘Ghost of Stone Mountain’ Walks,
Declares Woman ‘Born in a Caul’

On ‘Sunrise Side’ of Big Rock

By Bill Boring
Constitution Staff Writer

STONE MOUNTAIN, March 19. Only people born in a caul have seen the ghost of Stone Mountain and N. Johnson is not one of them. But his wife is and she has seen the ghost on many occasions. Through N., she imparts this description of him.

N. calls him the “ha’nt of the rock” and described him as being neither white nor black but of a strange neutral color, and his eyes are not eyes at all but burning embers set in a skull and he always wears a flowing immaculate white robe.

Only people born in a caul have ever seen a ghost of any kind and while N.  was not born in a caul, he has some grounds for setting himself up as an authority on spooks. His wife has seen many ghosts and always passed along her knowledge of them to him and, moreover, N.  has had the rare privilege of checking the reaction of himself, a person who will never see a ghost, to the presence of one.

The first time N.’s wife saw the ghost of Stone Mountain, she suddenly shut up like a clam and didn’t say a word until he got home. N. knew that some strange thing had happened, for he had an odd feeling of walking through steam and his hat shot up from his forehead because his hair had stood straight up.

When they got home, his wife said: “Did you see that man in white walking between us?”

And so forever after when they would be walking and his wife would see the ghost N. would have that strange feeling of walking steam and he would be stricken by fear.

“Only people who can’t see ghosts are afraid of them,” says N.. “My wife was never afraid.”

N. says that the ghost haunts the “sunrise side” of Stone Mountain and that horses, which are particularly sensitive to ghosts, will never go around this side of the mountain and neither will dogs, which are more sensitive to ghosts than are horses, he says.

“Have you ever been walking with a dog when the dog would suddenly stop, for no reason at all,” says N., “and the dog would flip his tail between his legs and slink off in the opposite direction? The dog is seeing a ghost.”

Ghosts, according to N., take many shapes and forms. There are human ghosts and there are animal ghosts. There are headless human ghosts and headless animal ghosts. And then there are ghosts that just look like a whiff of smoke. You can never tell just what kind of ghosts you’re likely to run across.

There’s nothing much you can do about ghosts, according to N. They’re harmless and usually go away once whatever is bothering them has been removed. But there are several ways of laying them once they get to haunting you.

One way is to put a hole in a dime, slip a string through it and wear the dime as anklet. Another is to put sever rocks on an eastern window sill. Still another charm against ghosts is to sleep with a knife under your pillow; or the Bible.

Sources

  • Boring, Bill. ‘Ghost of Stone Mountain’ Walks, Declares Woman ‘Born in a Caul.’ Atlanta Constitution. 20 March 1946.
  • Freeman, David B. Carved in Stone: The History of Stone Mountain. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1997.
  • Stewart, Bruce E. “Stone Mountain.” The New Encyclopedia of Georgia. 25 May 2004.
  • Stone Mountain.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 2 November 2018.