Haunted Charlottesville and Surrounding Counties Susan Schwartz with photographs by Cliff Middlebrooks Jr. Schiffer Publishing, 2019
In her introduction to this book, Pamela K. Kinney succinctly describes the Charlottesville region as being among the many “ghost-ridden territories” in the state of Virginia. Susan Schwartz sets out to prove this in her book, Haunted Charlottesville and Surrounding Counties. Covering some familiar haunts and many that are unfamiliar, Schwartz has laid out a brilliant new guide to this most important region.
Not far from the geographical heart of Virginia, the Charlottesville area encompasses a historically important region within state and national history. Before the arrivals of Europeans, this area was the homeland for several noted Native American tribes and afterwards became one of the first frontiers for new settlers. The growing pains of nationhood were distinctly felt here in the form of military action during the Revolution and the Civil War. Among these hills and valleys lived presidents, planters, statesmen, scholars, industrialists, and many others who may remain in spiritual form.
Prior to this book, the region’s spiritual fabric has only been described in one book, L. B. Taylor’s 1992 Ghosts of Charlottesville and Lynchburg…and nearby environs. While Mr. Taylor’s numerous volumes on the ghosts of Virginia are excellent, his book is nearly 30 years old. Ghost stories need regular tending, with information being updated to include not only new encounters, but fresh historical research which may shed light on these hauntings. Indeed, new stories should also be added as they come to light.
Schwartz masterfully navigates readers to some 77 locations in 12 counties. In the process of this tour, Schwartz examines some familiar hauntings such as Castle Hill Manor, Tuckahoe Plantation, and Gordonsville’s Exchange Hotel with stops that she serendipitously discovered as she traveled the backroads in search of ghosts. From abandoned roadside stores to a small deli in the community of Troy in Fluvanna County, Schwartz provides a fresh and lively commentary on these newly discovered haunts.
As she guides readers to these locations, Schwartz does well to cite her sources by including in-line citations. Often, I’m left to puzzle over where an author got their information, but Schwartz sees to it that there is no question. Her bibliography forms an excellent guide to the foundations of her book and is exceedingly useful for researchers like me.
Overall, this book is a spectacular guide to these “ghost-ridden territories” in central Virginia for everyone from the paranormal dilettante to the serious, academic researcher and provides well-marked trails for all to follow to explore the haunted past of the Charlottesville region.
There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in proportion. –Edgar Allan Poe, “Ligeia,” 1838
The South is a very strange place. Even after years of researching and writing about the South, I continue to find masses of odd stories, not just from ghostlore, but stories regarding cryptids, UFOs, aliens, dreams, premonitions, and other high strangeness. While the South isn’t any more active than any other region in the world, it seems that Southerners, who are natural storytellers, have created a stranger version of their world through their storytelling.
My hometown of LaGrange, Georgia has its own strange and storied landscape. Growing up here, I heard stories and tales of haunted places, but was never able to confirm much of this. After starting this blog, I have pursued some of these stories, but rarely with much success. When I got the call from the director of the Troup County Historical Society several months ago, asking if I would be interested in creating this tour, I jumped at the chance. It has always been a dream to create a ghost tour locally, but I never had the backing of such an august group.
As cliché as it may be to say, this tour is a labor of love. Not only has led me to ponder local history, but my own personal history here, as well as reinforcing my love for this little West Georgia town.
The tour winds through downtown LaGrange stopping by a number of historic and haunted locales as well as other places of strangeness, which doesn’t just include ghostlore. During the mid-1990s, this area was the scene of a large number of UFO sightings, leading ufologists to dub it the “Troup-Heard Corridor.” During this time, locals not only witnessed strange things in the skies, a few even had some very close encounters with possible aliens.
Indeed, the strangeness also includes the discovery, in the late 1960s, of an ancient Sumerian tablet, now known as the Hearn Tablet. Discovered by a local housewife in her garden, this apparent ancient receipt in the form of a small lead tablet is certainly out of place and produces many questions as to how it ended up here in West Georgia.
From downtown, the strangeness extends all the way to the august halls of LaGrange College, the oldest private institution of higher learning in the state. Recently, a pair of young ladies were working in the college’s Smith Hall late in the evening. The first entered and was walking towards her office when she suddenly tripped over something. Looking around, she tried to identify what she had tripped over, but nothing was there. She realized that it felt as if someone had stuck their leg out to purposefully trip her. Shrugging off the incident, she continued to her office and set to work.
The second young lady arrived a few minutes later, entering the office with a curious expression. She noted that she had had a strange thing happen to her on her way in, describing being tripped in the same manner that the first had. The pair returned to work, now wary of the prankster spirit that has haunted the halls of this building for years.
Stories have circulated for years about a spirit within Smith Hall, but many of the stories don’t exactly add up or stand up to historical scrutiny. Nonetheless, students and staff continue to have experiences here and within several other college buildings. All of these stories contributing to make LaGrange very strange.
The Strange LaGrange Tour steps off at 7 PM on Friday nights from the Legacy Museum on Main, 136 Main Street, in downtown LaGrange. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, $15 for kids ages 5-12, and can be reserved at the tour’s Eventbrite page. Each tour will last approximately 2 hours and will involve quite some walking, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and clothing. Come walk with us!
There was a time when even the august pages of The New York Times published ghost stories. In 1908, this curious item appeared:
The New York Times 2 June 1908
GHOST IN GOVERNOR’S HOUSE __________
Wife and Daughter of Gov. Smith of Georgia Say They Saw It.
Special to the The New York Times
ATLANTA, Ga., June 1.—The ghostly gray-garbed figure of a young woman, which appears at all hours of the night, is causing the inmates of the Executive Mansion of Georgia much perturbation.
Gov. Smith is away nearly all the times engaged in a heated contest for re-election, and the mysterious ghost has been appearing to Mrs. Smith and her daughters.
The gray-garbed lady is said to be young and very beautiful. She was first seen by Miss Mary Brent Smith about three weeks ago, about 12 o’clock at night, as the latter returned to the mansion. When Miss Smith entered that hall she noticed the gray figure before a long mirror. Miss Smith approached, but the figure melted away.
Miss Smith in alarm told her mother, but the latter ridiculed her daughter. A few nights later, as Mrs. Smith and her daughter were together, the gray-gowned woman appeared to both of them. Mrs. Smith and her daughter were so overcome they fainted. To a physician Mrs. Smith related the story of the vision. Since then it is said the ghostly woman has appeared frequently.
The negroes say the figure is the ghost of Miss Price, the niece of Gov. A. D. Candler, who died in the mansion when her uncle was Governor. It is said Miss Price was very happy in the mansion, and when dying said she would revisit the place, where she was so happy while in this life.
There are several interesting things to note about this article, first off, I find it interesting that the residents of the Governor’s Mansion are referred to as “inmates,” perhaps it reflects on the status of women in this period? Secondly, it’s noted that the lowly, unnamed reporter who wrote this story evidently sought out local African-Americans to comment on the apparition, something that doesn’t often happen with articles of this time.
As for the historical context of this article, the governor in this article is Hoke Smith, who made his name as the owner of the Atlanta Journal. During that time he used his position to back Grover Cleveland during the presidential election of 1892. Following his election to the presidency, Cleveland appointed Smith as Secretary of the Interior. Returning to Georgia in 1896 after serving as secretary, he allied himself with the now notorious populist firebrand politician, Tom Watson. Smith was elected governor in 1907.
While he worked hard to appease Watson by disenfranchising the vote of African-American Georgians, Watson was still not pleased and in 1908 threw his support behind Joseph M. Brown, son of Georgia’s Civil War governor, Joseph E. Brown, thus necessitating long absences from his wife and the governor’s mansion.
The spirit is identified as Miss Price, the niece of Governor Allen D. Candler. A search of period papers brought up a notice of Miss Alice Price being ill on January 4, 1899. Ten days later, on January 14, there is a notice that Miss Price passed away. She was related to the governor through his wife and was visiting from Macon “to assist with the social honors at the executive mansion.”
Notably, young Miss Price died from typhoid fever which, according to the paper, she acquired from poor sanitation at the governor’s mansion.
The illness of Miss Price was caused by the poor sanitary arrangements which existed in the executive mansion at the time of Governor Candler’s inauguration. Before the days of the Atlanta waterworks a windmill supplied the mansion with water, the pipes being distributed through the house from a tank.
When the windmill was discontinued this tank was allowed to remain, and it is thought the decaying wood caused the illness of the young lady. After she became ill plumbers were put to work, and the water now reaches the mansion without passing through the tank.
This indicates a misunderstanding of how typhoid is spread. Decaying wood does not cause typhoid, it is spread by water contaminated with human fecal material from someone carrying the bacteria, which speaks to the early problems of water utilities and sanitation. It should also be noted that the governor’s mansion was torn down in 1923 because of the building’s poor condition. The site of the old mansion is now occupied by the Westin Peachtree Plaza at 210 Peachtree Street, NW.
LaGrange Art Museum 112 Lafayette Parkway LaGrange, Georgia
N.B. Starting on Friday, June 7th, I will be giving ghost tours of my hometown, LaGrange, Georgia. “Strange LaGrange” will cover all types of oddities, ghosts, UFOs, and strange history throughout downtown. This location is one of the primary stops.
In the January 1, 1892 edition of the LaGrange Reporter, an article appeared hailing a new structure that would be constructed later that year; “the new building will be an ornament to the town – barring its hideous use – and an honor to the county.”
The phrase, “barring its hideous use” is quite curious, though apt when you consider that this building, now dressed in a penitent’s white, opened as the Troup County Jail. This building recalls the cruel history of executions at a time when they were carried out by local governments, rather than at the state level as they are now.
The Pauly Jail Building Company of St. Louis, Missouri, which today remains in the business of constructing correctional facilities, designed and built this jail along with hundreds of similar structures across the South and throughout the country.
The contract to build the jail was awarded in January of 1892 for the sum of $13,500. Construction likely commenced shortly thereafter and was completed by September.
To test the quality of the steel cells, the Troup County Commissioners summoned a machinist and tools from Georgia Tech to test the steel cells. The LaGrange Reporter notes that Mr. Frank Hudson “entered the steel cells with his compliment of tools, and, after boring, sawing and chiseling for two hours, without making an appreciable impression, desisted.”
On September 15th, the “county’s boarders,” as they were deemed by the paper, were moved into the new building. They were given haircuts, a bath, and new uniforms to correspond with their new quarters. The paper continues:
It was a gala day for these unfortunates, and they greatly enjoyed the change from the close, dark, and generally uncomfortable cells in the old structure to their bright, white, clean quarters in the new. It was like going into another and a better world, although they are more prisoners than before, so far as means of escape are concerned. They left their filth and much of their gloom behind. Light, air and larger space will make their confinement henceforth more endurable.
About five years after the jail opened, the Atlanta Constitution took the Troup County Commissioners to task in a brief article on January 1, 1898:
Recently, it has been published that the commissioners of Troup county, in order to provide against the public execution, and with the view of saving the city of LaGrange from the usual crowd which an execution draws together, decided to erect a gallows inside the jail building, where it would be in full view of the two condemned men who were to be hanged therefrom.
The LaGrange Reporter very sensibly urges the commissioners to meet and change this order, taking the ground that the prisoners have some rights as well as the citizens, and that they should not be compelled to pass several days in constant view of the dread instrument which is to execute the sentence of law.
It is hoped that the views of The Reporter will be listened to by the county commissioners, and that some other plan should be adopted. To have a private execution it is not necessary that the jail corridor be used.
[The “two condemned men” in this article were George Gill and Will Smith who were sentenced to death for murder. They were supposed to have been executed on January 7, but their sentence was suspended for 30 days, and later commuted to life in prison by the governor.]
The Troup County Commissioners did not take heed of the opinions of the LaGrange Reporter or the Atlanta Constitution and change their decision to hold executions inside the jail.
The first execution to take place inside this building was that of Edmund Scott, August 2, 1901. Scott, an African-American, was put to death for the deaths of Lena and Carry Huguley in West Point, Georgia (in southern Troup County) in 1900. He claimed the shooting was accidental and that one of the young ladies had been his sweetheart.
According to articles in both the LaGrange Reporter or the Atlanta Constitution, Scott was “ready to go.” During his confinement, he had met with pastors from the Methodist Church and the pastor of the Presbyterian Church met with him the morning of his execution. The Constitution provides a good description of the hanging:
The hanging took place inside of the jail at 12:18 o’clock. The gallows is built over the space between the iron cages and the brick wall of the building. Thirty or forty persons saw the hanging. Scott was dressed in a black suit with a standing collar and black tie. He walked up the ladder to the top of the cells without assistance and was calm. He had but little to say and spoke in a low voice. Rev. J. Kelsey, pastor of the colored Baptist Church, offered an earnest prayer. The black cap was then placed over his head. As the noose was being arranged Scott asked:
“Who is placing the rope about my neck?”
The sheriff’s deputy replied:
“The man,” said Scott, “who places the rope about my neck will die.”
The sheriff sprung the trap and Scott’s body went down. Death came in fifteen minutes and the body was cut down in sixteen minutes from the time it dropped. His neck was not broken.
The note that Scott’s neck was not broken is particularly cruel. The use of a drop in hangings is meant to provide a relatively quick and humane death to the condemned with the short, sharp, shock of a jerk of the rope. However, this requires some mathematical calculations involving the height and weight of the condemned and a specific length of rope. If the rope is too short, the condemned will strangle to death. If it’s too long, the condemned could be decapitated.
The next man to die here was Ingram Canady, Jr. who was executed here for the rape of a white woman. Canady, or Canida as his name is sometimes rendered, was hung March 20, 1908. His last words were recorded by the Atlanta Constitution:
I don’t know anything in the world about it; I am ready to meet death, and know my soul will be saved. I don’t know a thing in the world about the crime, and am innocent. All be good; expect to meet you in heaven.
Just before the trap was sprung he said, “The old Master will straighten all mistakes.”
TheReporter noted that again, his neck was not broken. Canady died of strangulation after sixteen minutes.
On January 2, 1909, Lucius Truitt was hanged for the murder of Dock Tatum during a robbery and home invasion. Walter Thomas died here on June 10 of the next year for the rape of a child.
The final man to die here was 22-year-old John Marvin Thompson, who was hanged in July 26, 1918 for the slaying of Troup County Sheriff William Shirey. The sheriff led a raid on an illegal liquor still in the southern part of the county. Thompson, who owned the still, opened fire on the raiding party and the sheriff was killed.
Before “a small crowd of friends of Thompson, his father, and the newspaper men,” Thompson ascended towards the fateful noose. His last words were recorded by the Atlanta Constitution:
I want all of you to know that I am dying innocent of what I am accused of. I have done things that I ought not to have done in my life, and God will forgive me for all I have ever done and take me home.
To his father he said, “Tell all of my people good-bye for me, papa.” His father responded, ““I am sorry for you, John; I wish I could go with you.”
The reporter for the Constitution notes that, “No struggle whatever occurred after the trap was spring, his neck evidently having been broken by the fall.” Thompson was the first and only white man hung in the county as well as being the last man to die a state sanctioned death in the jail. Several years later, the state revoked the privileges of localities to conduct their own executions and executions were removed to state correctional facilities.
With the construction of a new jail facility, the inmates were moved elsewhere in 1939, and the structure was converted to use as an office for the local newspaper, The LaGrange Daily News.” The building also served as a furniture store until the local Callaway Foundation granted funds to convert the building into an art facility.
I’m still trying to understand the original layout of the building. So far, research has pointed to this first section as being used as a residence for the jailer and his family. I have been told that there was no interior connection between the buildings, therefore to reach the cellblock, the jailer would have to leave his residence and use an outside door to enter.
It should be noted that there is no evidence that the building tower, which resembles a finger uplifted in moral admonishment, is not a “hanging tower.” In the newspaper accounts of executions in the building, all of the hangings took place within the cellblock, and not in the jailers’ personal space.
The second section contained the cellblock. This section was also two stories and prisoners were separated by race. Contemporary sources say that white male prisoners were held on the first level with women, juveniles, and people of color being held on the second. On a recent tour of the building, I was able to see the basement space located underneath this section. As we closely looked at the original brick walls, we were able to see names carved into the brick, perhaps by restless inmates.
The conversion to an art museum, reconfigured the building to include office space in the front section with connecting doors between the two buildings. In a space where inmates wiled away their sentences, visitors now contemplate works of art. Sighs of the condemned have been replaced with the joyful chatter of children enrolled in the museum’s educational programs. Growing up here, I spent time at the museum attending an arts camp and classes.
With my curiosity about ghosts, I’d always wondered if the museum was haunted. A co-worker reported to me that she had seen faces peering from the tower windows at night. When I worked for the LaGrange Daily News some years ago, I interviewed the museum’s director and asked about activity. She responded that there were often odd sounds, especially at night.
When I started work on my upcoming ghost tour of downtown, I talked with the current director. She shared with me that she would frequently smell the odor of tobacco smoke in the entrance hall of the museum, which is a smoke free facility and has been for many years. I also spoke with the maintenance man who said he regularly heard footsteps in the building when he was alone at night. He noted that he would walk throughout trying to find the source, but to no avail.
In preparation for my tour, I visited the museum with a sensitive friend. As we walked up the front steps he noted that there were three spirits in residence. Upon entering the gallery portion (which had once been the cellblock), he saw an African-American man standing against one of the walls. He attempted to communicate, but the spirit didn’t want to talk. Walking to the other side of the gallery, we felt a chill in the air where the sensitive detected the presence of a hunched back man.
We attempted communication with the first spirit again. This time, he was a bit more forthcoming and revealed that his cell had been at the back of the space. He proclaimed his innocence, saying that he was defending himself. Still, he was reticent to speak.
Heading to the second floor of the gallery, we encountered a feminine presence, which the sensitive noted was related to a man incarcerated here, “either a mother or an older sister.”
This building, which once was so hideous, now rings with the chatter and laughter of children, or the silent contemplation of adult art patrons. It is my sincere hope that whoever the spirits are in this old building, they have finally found the peace.
“The Contract Given.” LaGrange Reporter. 8 January 1892.
“Edmund Scott Hanged.” LaGrange Reporter. 9 August 1901.
Hanging. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 27 May 2019.
Hearn, Daniel Allen. Legal Executions in Georgia: A Comprehensive Registry, 1866-1964. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2016.
“John Thompson hung for Murder of Sheriff.” Atlanta Constitution. 27 July 1918.
Johnson, Forrest Clark; Glenda Major, and Kaye Lanning Minchew. Travels Through Troup County: A Guide to its Architecture and History, LaGrange, GA: Family Tree,
“Negro Hanged at LaGrange.” Atlanta Constitution. 21 March 1908.
“New Jail Received.” LaGrange Reporter. 16 September 1892.
“Scott Hanged in LaGrange.” Atlanta Constitution. 3 August 1901.
“That Jail Corridor Hanging.” Atlanta Constitution. 1 January 1898.
“To Be Hung To-day.” LaGrange Reporter. 20 March 1908.