“The glory that was the Poinsett”—Greenville, South Carolina

Westin Poinsett Hotel
120 South Main Street
Greenville, South Carolina

N. B. I first covered the Poinsett in “A Carolina Cornucopia,” published 9 January 2012, and that article was republished under “‘Twas the Night Before Halloween–Recycled Revenants,” 30 October 2017. This article has been revised and expanded.

The Greenville News mourned the loss of the Mansion House hotel in its February 3, 1924 edition. With a headline reading that the “Passing of the Mansion House recalls interesting local history,” the article notes that the hundred-year-old building saw many distinguished visitors pass through its doors. Statesman John C. Calhoun was such a frequent visitor that room 32 was known as the Calhoun Room and generally reserved just for him. The article ends by extolling the virtues of the Mansion House with hope that the million-and-a-half-dollar hotel that replaces it will “acquire the reputation that was enjoyed by its predecessor…and Greenville of another hundred years will look backward to the glory that was the Poinsett.”

advertisement Poinsett Hotel Greenville South Carolina haunted ghost 1925
An advertisement from The Greenville News for an evening of dancing held at the Poinsett Hotel in 1925.

In June 1925, the Poinsett Hotel opened its doors with a reception, dinner, and dance as locals and visitors alike examined the glittering 12-story skyscraper. The hotel’s developers had hired William Lee Stoddart, one of the leading architects at that time, to design the building. Stoddart’s reputation was primarily built on his designs for hotels and offices, many of which were scattered throughout the South. Designs included the Winecoff Hotel (now The Ellis Hotel) in Atlanta, the Francis Marion Hotel in Charleston, the Lord Baltimore Hotel in Baltimore, and the John Sevier Hotel in Johnson City, Tennessee (all of which are known to be haunted). The hotel’s name honored one of the state’s favorite sons, Joel Roberts Poinsett, the Charleston-born statesman, politician, and diplomat.

Poinsett Hotel Greenville South Carolina haunted ghost
Poinsett Hotel, 2017, by Upstateherd. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Despite its brilliant opening, the hotel struggled to succeed until J. Mason Alexander took over the reins of the business in 1930. During his 30-year tenure, the hotel began to turn a profit becoming a fixture in the city. However, the glory that was the Poinsett had faded by the mid-1970s as business left for motels and chain hotels on the outskirts of the town. The hotel closed its doors in 1975 and sat dormant until it was acquired by a developer and renovated for use as a retirement home. For a decade, the grand dame hosted aging grand dames and gentlemen, though management was plagued with problems including fire code violations. In the January 1, 1987 edition of The Greenville News, the grand dame said farewell in a picture story. For 13 years, the abandoned structure attracted the homeless and thrill seekers.

The hotel reopened in 2000 after a multi-million-dollar restoration and it has now returned to prominence as one of Greenville’s most luxurious hotels.

So far, some guests enjoying the luxurious amenities have encountered other, non-paying guests in the hotel. Jason Profit, in his book, Haunted Greenville, South Carolina, relates stories from two guests. A businessman was awakened during the night by odd sounds from his bathroom. Twice, he discovered the light on after he knew he had shut it off. The second time, the sounds seem to be coming from the hallway and the businessman opened the door. Peering into the empty hallway, he glimpsed an elderly man disappearing around the corner. Upset, he called the front desk to demand that whoever was cleaning at that time of the night needed to be quieter. The desk clerk informed the businessman that no one was cleaning and he was the only guest staying on that floor.

A young woman staying in the hotel had an even scarier experience. After checking in with her boyfriend, the young woman was alone in the room hanging clothes in the closet. Suddenly, something pushed her into the closet and the door shut behind her.

She tried desperately to open it, but the knob felt as though it was being held from the other side (pun intended). Nearly 15 minutes passed while she attempted to escape. When she got out, she called her boyfriend to inform him that she would not be staying any longer in the hotel.

Whether the spirits of former guests, elderly residents or vagrants, the entities stalking the halls are unidentified, though they only add to the luster that is the glory of the Poinsett Hotel.

There are several other haunted places in Greenville that I have covered in this blog. Connolly’s Irish Pub on East Court Square is covered in my “Dining with Spirits” article and Herdklotz Park, the former site of the Greenville Tuberculosis Hospital, is covered in my article, “Feeling Umbrage for the Upstate.”

Sources

  • Morrison, R. F. “Passing of the Mansion House recalls interesting local history.” The Greenville News. 3 February 1924.
  • National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for the Poinsett Hotel. No date.
  • “Poinsett Hotel opening is affair of much brilliance.” The Greenville News. 23 June 1925.
  • “The Poinsett Hotel: Two grand ladies say farewell.” The Greenville News. 1 January 1987.
  • Profit, Jason. Haunted Greenville, South Carolina. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011.
  • William Lee Stoddart. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 19 January 2019.

A restaurant revenant—Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

1905 City Hall
300 South Second Street
Bay St. Louis

N.B. This was originally published 3 June 2014 as part of “Louisiana and Mississippi: Newsworthy Haunts–6/3/14.”

Two hurricanes, Camille in 1969 and Katrina in 2005, wrecked much of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi including its graceful 1905 city hall. Camille, which made landfall next door in Waveland, blew off the building’s cupola and Katrina also severely damaged the building when it made landfall nearby. Since its restoration, something else may be occasionally wreaking havoc inside the building.

Bay St. Louis Mississippi city hall haunted ghost
Bay St. Louis City Hall a short time after construction. Undated postcard. Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Originally, the building housed the mayor’s office, city council chambers, police department, and jail. Over the years, many city departments have occupied the building which, after Katrina’s destructive blow to the city, required extensive restoration. After its Georgian splendor was restored in 2014, the building now houses offices with a Greek and Italian restaurant, Mezzo Mezzo (formerly Sonny’s Cypress Café), occupying the entire first floor. It is here, where the old jail was once located, that quite a bit of paranormal activity has been experienced.

Bay St. Louis Mississippi city hall haunted ghost Hurricane Katrina damage
Bay St. Louis City Hall, September 19, 2005, after Hurricane Katrina. Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

An article from a local TV station, WLOX, quotes a restaurant staff member as saying, “We’ve had a lot of things move around, we’ve had glasses fly around. Doors just open and close real quick, and all of our doors have safety mechanisms which [means] you can’t actually open them. There’s just so many things that happened here on a regular basis that just didn’t seem normal.” A staff member interviewed by G-COM, states that mason jars and glasses sometimes fly off the counter and shatter on the floor.

After initially attempting to ignore the activity, the owner and staff decided to call in a paranormal team. G-COM (Ghost Chasers of Mississippi), investigated and captured evidence of three possible spirits in 2014. They produced a video of their investigation which was posted on YouTube. The investigation yielded a number of EVP and some fruitful flashlight sessions.

For the café’s owner, however, the spirits are not fearsome, “nothing bad has really happened, it’s really kind of cool,” she said.

Stories point to an incident in 1928 which may provide the origin of some of the building’s activity. That year, a man incarcerated in the jail shot his way to freedom, killing a man in the process. After he was recaptured, the prisoner became the last person executed by hanging in Hancock County, when he was hung in the Hancock County Courthouse a short distance away. That building may also be haunted by his restless spirit.

Sources

Spiritual Spirits—Athens, Alabama

Donnell House
601 South Clinton Street
Athens, Alabama

N.B. Originally published as part of “Newsworthy Haunts 5/10/13—Alabama’s Battlefields and Charleston’s Jail,” 10 May 2013; republished as part of “’Twas the Night Before Halloween—Recycled Revenants,” 30 October 2017.

Originally called Pleasant Hill, this home was built by the Reverend Robert Donnell, a Presbyterian minister and native of North Carolina. Donnell moved into his newly completed home in 1840 and died here in 1855. The house remained in his family until 1869 when it passed out of the family and became home to the Athens Male Academy. It later became a public school and is now surrounded by Athens Middle School. The house is occasionally opened to the public.

haunted Donnell House Athens Alabama ghosts spirits
The Donnell House, 1935, by Alex Bush for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

During the Civil War, this home was commandeered by Union troops under Colonel John Basil Turchin, a Russian soldier who led the Sack of Athens in 1862. The Donnell family remained in the house during this time with Rev. Donnell’s 16-year-old daughter Nannie lying sick in bed while the troops camped on the lawn. Reportedly, she was kept awake by the soldiers’ constant carousing and music. Even after the soldiers were asked to settle down so the girl could sleep, they defiantly responded, “Better she should go to Heaven listening to Yankee music!” Young Nannie died of scarlet fever a short time later.

The executive director of the house, Jacque Reeves, author of the book Where Spirits Walk, has stated that Rev. Donnell’s spirit remains here. “He is having Bible study, and his mother is making biscuits for the guests,” she writes. According to author Shane Black, one couple touring the home was greeted by an “austere” gentleman who welcomed them to his home. Nannie Donnell is also thought to be here as well, with playful laughter and the crying of a child heard coming from her former bedroom. These spirits may also be joined by others, including Union and Confederate soldiers and slaves.

I have covered two other haunted places in Athens including Founders Hall on the Athens State University Campus, and the Houston Memorial Library is the representative haunting for Limestone County in my Haunted Alabama County by County series.

Sources

  • Black, Shane. Spirits of Athens: Haunting Tales of an Alabama Town. NYC: iUniverse. 2009.
  • Kazek, Kelly. “Paranormal investigators visit Civil War sites in Alabama; ghost says, ‘huh?’AL.com. 9 May 2013.
  • Floyd, W. Warner. National Register of Historic Places form for Donnell House. 1 August 1973.
  • History. The Donnell House. Accessed 14 May 2015.
  • Langella, Dale. Haunted Alabama Battlefields. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.

“It came upon a midnight clear”—A West Virginia Christmas Tale

Old Grafton Road
(WV-310)
Between Grafton and Fairmont

Late one Christmas Eve a trucker was hauling a load of dry powdered glass to the Owens-Illinois Glass Plant in Fairmont, West Virginia. After passing through Grafton, the trucker drove north on West Virginia Route 310, also known as Old Grafton Road; passing the Tygart Valley River as it parallels the route for part of the journey. After it parallels Old Grafton Road, the river swings northwest before it meets the West Fork River to create the Monongahela River in Fairmont.

Monongahela River Fairmont West Virginia
Monongahela River in Fairmont. After picking up the phantom hitchhiker on Old Grafton Road, the trucker would have crossed this river to reach downtown Fairmont. Photo by Tim Kiser, 2006. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In the vicinity of Valley Falls Road, the trucker noticed an odd figure on the side of the road waving him down. Stopping, the driver stepped down out of his rig to find a young woman standing in the cold in a red gown. She was wet, and her hair matted. She asked to be taken to Fairmont.

Despite being late with his delivery, the driver knew he could not leave the young woman by the side of the road. Helping her into the passenger seat of his cab, he grabbed one of his coats and put it around her shoulders for warmth. After climbing into the driver’s seat, the trucker asked where in Fairmont the woman wanted to be taken. Quietly she replied that she wanted to be dropped off at the Cook Hospital.

While he may have known that Cook Hospital had been replaced by a modern hospital, the driver was anxious to get his haul to the glass plant. Stopping in front of the old building at the intersection of Gaston Avenue and 2nd Street, the driver stepped down from the cab, and walked around to help the young lady down. Opening the door, the driver was stunned to see the seat was empty except for his coat.

Heading to the glass plant with his haul, the driver told the manager his strange tale. He was fired for his tardiness anyway.

Hearing of folklorist and Fairmont resident, Ruth Ann Musick, the unemployed driver contacted her with the hope that she could lend credence to the his tale. Musick was indeed familiar with the tale and agreed to call the managers of the glass plant on the driver’s behalf. The driver was rehired after Musick’s call. The moral of this story is that if you cannot be fired if you run into beings from West Virginia folklore.

This is far from the typical ghostly hitchhiker scenario because of its details. This story was detailed in a 2015 article in the Clarksburg, West Virginia Exponent Telegram that looks at folktales throughout the Mountain State. The story has been passed around by many folklorists. I stumbled across this wonderful story in a December 16 post from the Haunted West Virginia page on Facebook.

What makes this story unique are the details that fits this typical type of story into the West Virginia landscape and the involvement of Ruth Ann Musick. It is possible to roughly date this story through its precise details. The Owen-Illinois Glass Plant opened in Fairmont in 1910 making bottles. With the construction of a large factory on 40 acres east of town, the company expanded production and the plant began running 24 hours a day, which would account for a trucker making a Christmas Eve delivery.

According to a recent article in The Fairmont News, production ramped up over the decades to where, in the 1970s, the plant employed nearly 1000 employees. In 1978, the company began to phase out operations at the plant, laying off the bulk of the plant’s employees by 1980. The plant was shuttered in 1982. Last year, it was announced that the site of the former plant will be developed into a business park.

The Cook Hospital in the story still stands, though it no longer operates as a hospital. The large Italianate building was built in 1903 for Dr. John R. Cook as a 100-bed hospital. A nursing residence was added in the 1920s and the hospital served as a training ground for nurses. The hospital closed in the late 1930s with the construction of Fairmont General Hospital. In the intervening years, the building has also been used as offices for the Marion County Board of Education. In 2017, it was announced that the building would be renovated for use as low-income housing.

The Exponent Telegram version of the story adds a detail with the trucker dropping the young woman off at the Marion County Courthouse instead of the Cook Hospital. A folklorist quoted in the article also points out the fact that regardless of where the spirit requested to be dropped off, spirits aren’t known to cross water. However, the story would require that the trucker drive over the Monongahela River to reach downtown Fairmont where the hospital and courthouse are located. The folklorist concedes that perhaps the man’s coat weighted the spirit down.

Marion County Courthouse Fairmont West Virginia
Marion County Courthouse in downtown Fairmont, West Virginia. Photo by Tim Kiser, 2006. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Ruth Ann Musick, the folklorist who came to the trucker’s defense, is an eminent figure in the preservation of the state’s folklore. She originally came to Fairmont State College (now Fairmont State University) to teach mathematics and English in 1946. During her more than two decades at the school she delved into folklore, becoming a passionate champion of West Virginia’s peculiar tales. As well as creating classes about folklore, she revived the West Virginia Folklore Society and started and served as editor for the West Virginia Folklore Journal.

As a collector of the stories and tales that sprang from the rocky soil of the Mountain State, she published several collections that are still in print including The Telltale Lilac Bush and Other West Virginia Ghost Tales and Coffin Hollow and Other Ghost Tales. The folklorist quoted in the Exponent-Telegram articles notes that Musick knew 21 versions of this story, so the trucker was right in contacting her to strengthen his excuse. We can also use Musick to add a date to this story. According to her Wikipedia entry, Musick was diagnosed with spinal cancer and passed away July 2, 1974. Coupled with the dates from the glass plant and Musick’s death, that would likely set this story sometime in the late 1960s or very early 1970s.

Sources