Do ghosts like gelato?—Richmond, Virginia

Stoplight Gelato Café
405 Brook Road

In 2013, as he was renovating the old commercial building in Richmond’s historic Jackson Ward, Bryce Given had some unexpected paranormal experiences. He told Richmond BizSense that he was sitting near the front of the shop facing the rear of the building when he saw a white figure that repeatedly moved up the stairs and came back down. It eventually disappeared but it left Given wondering what he had just witnessed.

“The first time I saw it, I was checking all the street lights and car lights’ reflections and ruled all that out. It was just too bizarre.”

When he bought the hundred-year-old building to open a gelato café, he did not consider that one of the obstacles to opening the new business might come from the other side. However, he later noted that he had not had any further paranormal experiences and that perhaps the spirit approved of his work. “I haven’t seen him in a few months, so I think he approves of the renovations I’m doing.”

405 Brook Road Richmond Virginia
405 Brook Road in 1978, photo by John G. Zehmer for the Richmond Department of Planning and Community Development. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

According to neighborhood lore, the building operated as “a horse depot” and the owner committed suicide in the 1930s as business declined due to the prevalence of automobiles. Perhaps, this is the spirit that was checking up on the building’s renovations?

A reporter for the local CBS affiliate, WTVR, looked into the building’s history and discovered that R. D. Harlow operated a grain and tack business here in the early 20th century. Perhaps this is the business owner who committed suicide? After his ownership, the building passed through a few different hands and operated as several businesses. Given believed that whatever was there approved of what he was doing with the building.

“I have a good feeling about the apparition—or spirit—that may be here.” He mused. “But now that the bricks are fixed, and everything is stable and solid again, I may not see him again.”

Discovering a spirit in the building was just one of the surprises on the years long journey that Given and his mother made while trying to open this gelato café. After buying the building in 2010, Bryce Given spent years working on the renovations before succumbing to cancer in 2015. Despite her grief, his mother, Barbara, oversaw completion of the renovations and the opening of the café in 2016. In early 2019, she sold the café to a young couple who have continued the business. If spirits are still active in the building, nothing has been noted, so I’m left thinking that perhaps the spirit may be appeased by the gelato.

Sources

Robinson, Mark. “Café’s first visitor loves the new haunt.” Richmond BizSense. 25 June 2013.

Encounters in Hollywood—Richmond, Virginia

Hollywood Cemetery
412 South Cherry Street

Most of the sources on Richmond’s famed Hollywood Cemetery speak only of the vague legendary hauntings with no personal experiences. There are legends surrounding the large stone Monument of Confederate War Dead that marks the resting place for tens of thousands of Confederate soldiers. Supposedly the soft moaning of the dead is heard here. There is also the cast iron dog marking the grave of a little girl that continues to guard her in death. But there are almost no documented personal experiences here save for one that I discovered in a back corner of the internet.

Ghostvillage.com hardly is a back corner of the internet, though with its thousands of pages of content, some things can seemingly get lost in the shuffle. The website was established in 1999 by author Jeff Belanger and has grown by leaps and bounds as more and more people have shared their paranormal encounters from all over the globe. Among the encounters is one from a sheriff’s deputy who worked off duty at Hollywood Cemetery.

Hollywood Cemetery Richmond Virginia James Monroe Tomb
James Monroe’s Gothic Revival metalwork tomb, 2017. Photo by William M. Ferriter, courtesy of Wikipedia.

One of this deputy’s first experiences happened at the tomb of President James Monroe. While patrolling the cemetery grounds late at night, a group of officers were standing beside the president’s grave. Looking at the size of the grave, the deputy remarked, “He must have been a short son of a…” Out of nowhere, a swarm of flies began to attack him, and he fled towards his van, followed by the flies. Perhaps the president was sensitive about his height?

The deputy notes another experience near the Monument of Confederate War Dead where he regularly encountered a cold spot.

Hollywood Cemetery Richmond Virginia Confederate Pyramid
The pyramidal Monument to the Confederate Dead, 2011. Photo by David Broad, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Another notable experience involved the cemetery’s maintenance shed. The deputy was sick in the shed’s bathroom and vomiting into the toilet. He heard the door open and the sound of footsteps with the hair on the back of his neck beginning to stand up. Out loud he said, “Please leave me alone today, people, I’m not feeling well” and the sensation stopped.

Hollywood Cemetery Richmond Virginia
Hollywood Cemetery with the Richmond skyline and James River beyond, 2007. Photo by Andrew Bain, courtesy of Wikipedia.

There is no doubt that there are many spirits still roaming the cemetery’s rustic and hilly 135 acres. Among those at rest here are many notables including President John Tyler, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, 28 Confederate generals including J.E.B. Stuart, and many noted authors, diplomats, and businessmen. Some 18,000 Confederate soldiers are also buried here. The cemetery was first envisioned in 1847 with its first burial in 1848. Based on the concept of the rural cemetery, a 19th century idea that was used for many major urban cemeteries around the country, it is now maintained as an arboretum and remains an active cemetery for the living and the dead.

Sources

“Launched into eternity”—Richmond, Virginia

Virginia State Capitol
1000 Bank Street
Richmond, Virginia
 

The mass of human beings who were in attendance were sent, mingled with the bricks, mortar, splinters, beams, iron bars, desks, and chairs to the floor of the House of Delegates and in a second more, over fifty souls were launched into eternity!
Richmond Dispatch, 28 April 1870

Under the headline “HORRIBLE CALAMITY” the Richmond Dispatch was admittedly at a loss of words for the events that had occurred at the state capitol the previous day. A mass of spectators had gathered in a second-floor courtroom to bring about an end to mayoral tensions in the city when the room seemingly disintegrated throwing the mass of humanity through the floor into the room below. The reporter who had been given the sad duty of reporting the events was taken aback in “palsied horror in the undertaking of the narration.” Continuing, he remarked, “To describe it would be beyond the power of man, and with those who witnessed it its recollection will remain indelibly vivid as long as life shall last.”

Virginia State Capitol Richmond
The state capitol building a few years after the disaster. From the 1879 American Cyclopaedia.

The city of Richmond, over the past decade had witnessed the heights of glory when it was named the capital of the Confederacy to the depths of despair as war waged around it. A portion of the city was left a smoking ruin after the war and the city had to endure the indignities of Reconstruction before self-rule was once again allowed. It was the issues of this self-rule that was the cause of this court session.

Under Reconstruction, the city’s mayor was appointed by the state’s Federal military commander. Appointed in 1868, George Chahoon immediately undertook a purge of former Confederates in the city government and stiffened many local ordinances, causing a good deal of consternation among the city’s citizens. When Reconstruction ended in the state in 1870, the new governor appointed newspaper publisher Henry K. Ellison as mayor. Chahoon and his supporters refused to leave office and with much of the loyalty of the police force, battled the forces of the new mayor and his acolytes.

The Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals undertook the case and was poised to announce the verdict on April 27th in the second-floor courtroom inside the state capitol building. Just after 11 AM, the clerk entered the packed courtroom with the two mayors and their counsels were already sitting along with reporters for all the city’s major papers. A piece of the ceiling fell into the courtroom followed by one of the girders supporting the spectator-laden gallery. As the gallery’s structure crashed into the floor, the room’s entire floor gave away sending those gathered and debris to the floor of the House of Delegates chamber below. “In a moment, a few survivors clinging to the windows and fragments of hanging timber, and the bare and torn walls were all that remained to mark the place where only a moment before there was a scene of life, vigor, and hope.”

Virginia State Capitol disaster 1870 Harper's Weekly Virginia State Capitol Richmond
The disaster as illustrated in Harper’s Weekly, 14 May 1870.

Within the twisted rubble lay 62 dead or gravely wounded who would die from their injuries in short order and nearly 250 were injured. Among the casualties were Patrick Henry’s grandson and three members of the state’s General Assembly. The injured included both the men vying for mayor; Henry H. Wells, a former governor; and a former Confederate general, Montgomery Corse.

The cause of disaster was attributed to a poorly designed floor for the courtroom, which had been added to the building some years previous. The architect failed to provide proper support for the courtroom’s floor which had developed a noticeable sag. With the political turmoil brought about by the Civil War and Reconstruction, the sag was overlooked. After the disaster, consideration was made to demolish the capitol, though others decided to repair the noble Thomas Jefferson and Charles-Louis Clerisseau designed structure.

Virginia State Capitol Richmond
The state capitol in 2015. Photo by Farragutful, courtesy of Wikipedia.

For many years since the disasters there have been murmurs of paranormal activity within the halls of the venerable state capitol. L.B. Taylor, Jr., the state’s major chronicler of its mysterious events, was the first author to note “some say the eerie cry of mournful voices, muted under tons of debris, can still be heard in the hallowed corridors of the Capitol.” Pamela K. Kinney echoes this description in her 2007 Haunted Richmond.

It wasn’t until the 2013 publication of Paul Hope’s Policing the Paranormal, that the Capitol’s haunting activity has enjoyed a detailed description. Hope, a former member of the Capitol’s police force, records the experiences of many of the force’s officers throughout the complex of buildings that comprise the Capitol complex. At least some of the activity experienced in the building centers on the Old House of Delegates Chamber, the room which witnessed the tragic events of 1870.

Virginia State Capitol Richmond Old House of Delegates Chamber
Old House of Delegates Chamber in 2010. Photo by AlbertHerring, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Only a few days into his training for the Capitol police force, Hope was assigned to work a graveyard shift along with one of the longtime officers. The nightly patrol of the building provided the young officer with his first brush with the odd activity of the Capitol at night. Entering the magnificent Rotunda occupied by Jean-Antoine Houdon’s marble likeness of George Washington, the pair made their entry into the Old House Chamber. Hope notes that the room had a constant mysterious chill, so much so that the doors of the room were sometimes opened to help cool the other parts of the building during the sweltering Southern summers.

Virginia State Capitol Richmond plaque
The plaque in the Old House of Delegates Chamber that the officers were reading when they observed a shadow in the gallery. Photo 2008 by AlertHerring, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Scanning the dark chamber with their flashlights, the training officer encouraged Hope to read the plaque memorializing the 1870 collapse. As the pair stood silently reading the plaque, Hope saw a dark shadow move and then disappear in the gallery above them. The other officer saw this as well and the pair scanned the gallery with their flashlights to determine that no living humans were up there. No one appeared in the gallery, and the pair resumed their patrol after only a brief acknowledgement of the strange moment.

Perhaps one of the souls that was “launched into eternity” here in 1870 has remained within this old chamber for eternity.

The Old House of Delegates Chamber is not the only haunted space within the Capitol building, Hope reports experiences throughout the building and on the surrounding grounds.

Sources

  • George Chahoon. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 19 January 2020.
  • Hope, Paul. Policing the Paranormal: The Haunting of Virginia’s State Capitol Complex. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2013.
  • “Horrible Calamity.” Richmond Dispatch. 28 April 1870.
  • HUIS 1501. “The Virginia Capitol Disaster of 1870.” UVADisasters Wiki. Accessed 19 January 2020.
  • Kinney, Pamela K. Haunted Richmond. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2007.
  • Taylor, L.B., Jr. The Ghosts of Richmond…and Nearby Environs. Progress Printing, 1985.
  • Virginia State Capitol. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 19 January 2020.

A Conjuring—Kentucky

Kentucky Historical Society
100 West Broadway Street
Frankfort, Kentucky

While I’m not a fan of Zak Bagans and his programs like Ghost Adventures, I have recently been charmed by the first season of his show, Deadly Possessions, which highlights haunted objects in his haunted museum in Las Vegas and throughout the country. The second episode examined something called the “Conjured Chest,” a piece of furniture owned by the Kentucky Historical Society. The story is fascinating, and I found that a descendent of the family that donated the piece has written a book about it.

The piece doesn’t look like a typical haunted object. It’s an Empire-styled mahogany chest of drawers with four drawers and crystal knobs with no hint of creepiness. This piece has brought death or serious injury to sixteen, possibly seventeen, people, though no one would presume something from such a staid antique.

Lobby Kentucky Historical Society Frankfort
Lobby of the Kentucky Historical Society where the chest is now on display. Photo 2008 by Chris Light. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The legend of the piece can be traced to the 1830s when the piece was created. A wealthy member of the young state’s aristocracy had a slave construct this chest for his newborn son. The slave, named Remus in the family’s recounting of the legend, was beaten to death when his master, Jeremiah Graham, was displeased by the piece. The master’s other slaves, angered by his callousness, devised a Hoodoo conjure in retribution. After sprinkling owl blood within the drawers, a curse was placed ensuring that anyone whose clothes were placed within the drawers would die.

The first to die from the effects of the conjure was the newborn son of Jeremiah Graham. The second was the son of Jeremiah’s brother, who was stabbed around his 21st birthday. The piece was passed through the family with a succession of members dying after putting clothes into the chest. A few of the victims did not die but were gravely injured or suffered severe illnesses. One victim was not a family member, but rather a neighbor who tempted fate by putting his hunting clothes within one of the fateful drawers. He was killed in a gun accident just a year after the end of World War II.

The seventeenth victim possibly gave her life in order to lift the conjure. Sallie, an African-American maid who worked for the Mayne family was asked to lift the conjure and going through with a ritual she announced that someone would have to give their life to lift the curse. In 1946, she passed away unexpectedly. Since no one has put their clothes in the chest since that time, it is unknown if the curse has lifted. In 1976, Virginia Mayne donated the piece to the Kentucky Historical Society, carefully including notes about the lifting of the conjure with the owl wings used in the ritual in the top drawer.

Cover of Conjured Chest
Cover of Beverly Mayne Kienzle’s 2017 book, The Conjured Chest, with a photograph of the infamous chest.

Virginia Mayne’s daughter, Beverly Mayne Kienzle, was called by producers for Zak Bagans’ show, the retired Harvard professor began to research the story, so she could comfortably talk about the piece. Her research revealed that the facts of the legend are mostly true, though there are some questions about the details of the chest’s origins. With her research, Mrs. Kienzle put together a short book on her findings, which may also dispute some of the stories floating about on the internet.

For now, the conjured chest, as it is known, remains on display in the Kentucky Historical Society, its drawers remaining empty so as to not tempt fate.

Sources

  • Kienzle, Beverly Mayne and Virginia Cary Hudson. The Conjured Chest: A Cursed Family in Old Kentucky. Beverly Mayne Kienzle, 2017.
  • MY Entertainment. “Episode 2: The Conjure Chest and St. Valentine’s Day Massacre Wall.” Originally aired: 9 April 2016.

Street Guide to the Phantoms of the French Quarter— Pirate Alley

The French Quarter has been lived in and died in; human energy has been manifested continuously and freely for 250 years. Where we find presently a sedate restaurant, we would have found—20 years ago, 50 years ago, 100 years ago or more—a dry goods store, a grocery, a saloon, a coffeehouse, a patisserie, an apothecary, a gambling joint, a silversmith, a printer, a jeweler, a letter-writer, a whorehouse, a bank. They may have disappeared along with their proprietors, but they’ve left behind an aura that infuses the atmosphere.

–Andy Peter Antippas, A Guide to the Historic French Quarter (History & Guide). 2013.

New Orleans’ French Quarter—the Vieux Carré to locals—is among a handful of locales in the South that possesses a high concentration of haunted places. Encompassing nearly two-thirds of a square mile (.66 to be exact), the French Quarter has been said to have spirits in nearly every building and site. Even looking at the documented hauntings here, the number is quite impressive.

The French Quarter is generally defined as the section stretching from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue and from the Mississippi River northwest to North Rampart Street. This section of the city is where the city was originally founded by the French in 1718. With buildings and sites spanning three centuries, the French Quarter is easily the most paranormally active neighborhood in the entire city.

This series of articles is meant to act as a street by street guide to those hauntings. While some of these stories have gained quite a bit of notoriety in the literature, like Royal Street’s LaLaurie Mansion, and Bourbon Street’s Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, some stories have only been explored in the literature once or twice. This is an attempt to synthesize information from the many sources that exist on the French Quarter into a succinct guide.

For more haunted places in the French Quarter visit the main page for my series, “Phantoms of the French Quarter.”

Sources

  • Antippas, Andy Peter. A Guide to the Historic French Quarter (History & Guide). Charleston SC, Arcadia Publishing, 2013. Kindle Edition.

Pirate Alley

Running from Chartres Street and Royal Street between St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo, Pirate Alley was originally called Orleans Alley South, as it is an extension of Orleans Street. Despite the official 1964 name change, there has always been contention on whether the name is singular (“Pirate”), plural (“Pirates”), or possessive (“Pirate’s” or “Pirates’”). A 2017 article in the Times-Picayune examines this issue and weighs in on the side of the paper’s own style-guide, which deems the name as the singular and non-possessive “Pirate Alley.”

Pirate Alley New Orleans
A view down Pirate Alley towards Chartres Street. Photo 2007, by Infrogmation. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Of course, this also begs the question as to the identity of the pirate for whom this alley is named. Most sources point to the infamous Jean Lafitte, the privateer and pirate whose legend is inextricably linked to New Orleans’ history. In his classic history of New Orleans street names, John Chase notes:

The other passage—Pirates’ Alley—is named in fanciful recollection of the legendary Jean Lafitte and his motley bank of pirogue-mounted cutthroats, the Baratarians. Lafitte’s outfit had no more connection with Pirates’ Alley than with the teachings of the church, which the passage flanks on the uptown side. But the name fascinates all visitors.

While tour guides continue to promulgate legends that Lafitte and his men met and did business along this passage, there is no evidence that it actually happened. In Lafitte’s time, this alley was the seat of power for both the church, in the form of the cathedral, and the law, which was issued and enforced from the Cabildo (see my entry on this building and its ghosts at 701 Chartres Street) and the prison behind it. While the romantic notion of a pirate rebelliously conducting his business in the shadow of the church and the law is a fascinating image, it is unlikely to have actually happened as such.

Jean Lafitte

In examining the ghostly tales of New Orleans, there are two names that are frequently encountered: Jean Lafitte and Marie Laveau. If even half the stories of their hauntings are true, these two must be the busiest spirits in New Orleans, making appearances and causing paranormal shenanigans throughout the city and the Gulf Coast Region.

Jean Lafitte
An anonymous, early 19th century portrait purported to be Jean Lafitte. From the Rosenberg Gallery.

About thirty years after Lafitte’s death, one researcher remarked, “I found in my researches, twenty years ago, romantic legends so interwoven with facts that it was extremely difficult to the historical truth from the traditional.” So couched in legend is the life of Jean Lafitte that scholars have argued about so much of his life, and writing a biography is a difficult exercise in speculation and conjecture. Even contemporary sources disagree and contradict one another.

Lafitte’s place of birth is argued to have been southwest France, though others have posited that he may have been born in the colony of Saint Domingue in what is now Haiti. Biographer William C. Davis argues that both Jean and his older brother, Pierre (who worked alongside his brother in New Orleans) were born in the town of Pauillac in the Gironde region of France, and that Pierre ventured to Saint Domingue around the turn of the 19th century where he eventually fled the turmoil for the prosperity of La Louisiane.

Jean Lafitte possibly appears on the scene around the time of the sale of the Louisiana Territory to the United States in 1803. Around this time, Pierre, possibly with the help of his brother, began to deal in slaves and also evade the newly established American trade laws. This piracy, which was all too common along the Gulf coast, created a reputation for the brothers. Their knowledge of the intricacies of the bayous and waterways of the area led them to providing aid—in terms of knowledge, material goods, and fighting men—to American forces during the War of 1812. This aid was provided on the condition that the brothers would be granted pardons for their crimes.

The notorious brothers were forced out of business by the government which forced them to close their business matters in New Orleans. They continued their pirating, though in different places: Pierre establishing a base off the coast of Mexico before being killed in 1821 and Jean dealing in Colombia before his death in 1823. William Davis notes that the legacy of the brothers was more as folk heroes.

Sources

  • Chase, John. Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children…And Other Streets of New Orleans. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 2007.
  • Davis, William C. “Jean and Pierre Lafitte.” 64 Parishes. Accessed 9 January 2020.
  • Davis, William C. The Pirates Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf. NYC: Harcourt, 2005.
  • Scott, Mike. “Pirate Alley: A history of the New Orleans street and its name(s).” Times-Picayune. 5 April 2017.

Pirate’s Alley Café
622 Pirate Alley

Since the mid-18th century, this space behind the Cabildo, the seat of Spanish rule in the city, was occupied by the Spanish Calabozo or Calaboose, a royal prison. This building remained until it was demolished in the late 1830s. It was here that both Lafitte brothers and some of their men were imprisoned. Some of the structures that now stand here were constructed thereafter, though may still be the residence of the spirits of some of those incarcerated here.

Pirate's Alley Cafe New Orleans
A bartender at the Pirate’s Alley Cafe prepares an absinthe drink in this 2008 photo by Infrogmation. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In an interview with the café’s owner, author James Caskey was told that one of the spirits in Pirate’s Alley Café tends towards “naughty” antics. While some bars and restaurants in the city regularly leave out an offering to appease the spirits, the spirit here was not impressed by the bread and water. The bar experienced doors slamming and light bulbs shattering until someone had the idea of leaving out a glass of rum. The antics quieted down after that. The spirit was also blamed for harassing a female bartender as it undid her bra and her top, exposing the poor employee.

Sources

  • Caskey, James. The Haunted History of New Orleans: Ghosts of the French Quarter. Savannah, GA: Manta Ray Books, 2013.
Pirate Alley New Orleans
The three haunted buildings on Pirate Alley. Faulkner House Books is the yellow building. Photo 2007, by Infrogmation. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Faulkner House Books
624 Pirate Alley

William Faulkner arrived in New Orleans as a poet and left as a novelist. During his stay here in 1925, he rented the street-level floor of this home and wrote his first novel, Soldiers’ Pay, with influence and support from his friend, writer Sherwood Anderson. This building now appropriately houses a bookstore named for him where some have encountered the odor of pipe smoke, attributed to Faulkner.

Sources

  • Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans, Revised Edition. Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2017.
Pirate Allet New Orleans
A view of the haunted buildings of Pirate Alley from Pere Antoine Alley across St. Anthony’s Garden. The yellow building is Faulkner House Books, while the red building next door is the house at 626 Pirate Alley. Photo 2007, by Infrogmation. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

626 Pirate Alley (private)

During one of the many epidemics that swept through New Orleans during the 1850s, a little girl contracted one of these illnesses. To aid in her recuperation, the child lay on a chaise lounge in front of one of the large third floor windows of this home. Jeff Dwyer was granted a tour of the home and sensed a great deal of sadness near one of the windows. Others have reported seeing the face of the child pressed up against the windows overlooking St. Anthony’s Garden across the street (for information on the haunting of this garden, see my entry on Royal Street).

Sources

  • Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans, Revised Edition. Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2017.

Moaning and crying—Ashland, Kentucky

This is the twelfth and final entry in my Twelve Days of Southern Spirits Series celebrating traditional ghost story telling over Christmas. 

Ashland Cemetery
1518 Belmont Street
Ashland, Kentucky

In his 2011 book, Ghost Stories of Eastern Kentucky: A Pocketful of Poltergeists, Bill Carpenter collects accounts of paranormal experiences from a variety of people. This same format was utilized by Kentucky’s most famous ghost storyteller, Williams Lynwood Montell in his groundbreaking books, starting with his 1987 volume, Ghosts Along the Cumberland. While this format—collecting personal experiences and publishing them raw and unedited—is especially useful in collecting folklore, for researchers like myself that often look at hauntings from the standpoint of location, it can be maddening. Searching through stories that take place in unidentified private residences can be tedious, however, there can be rewards.

Bill Carpenter’s book includes several accounts from people who have had similar experiences in Ashland Cemetery, the main cemetery in the small town of Ashland, of which two are particularly interesting.

The first account, from a 29-year-old Boyd County woman, tells of several teenagers exploring the cemetery at night. The teens were only walking around and reading graves which inevitably led one of them to begin telling ghost stories. As they talked, they began to hear sounds from the darkness around them. After they began to feel a distinct chill in the air, the group began to run for the entrance. As they neared the gate, a cry was heard, that cry turned into a moan causing the frightened teens to run faster.

Ashland Cemetery Kentucky
The gates of Ashland Cemetery. Photo by JC, 2006 and courtesy of Find-a-grave.com.

Another local woman recalled her visit to the cemetery to see the gravestones of the children killed in what was dubbed the “Ashland Tragedy.” On Christmas Eve 1881, the bodies of three teenagers were discovered in a burning home. Robert and Fannie Gibbons and their friend, Emma Carico were beaten to death in the Gibbons family home which was set on fire to conceal the murder. Three local men were arrested, tried, and convicted of the murders. A lynch mob wishing to enact justice executed one of the men, while the other two were moved to nearby Catlettsburg for their safety.

The two convicts were later boarded onto a ship in Catlettsburg along with some two hundred guards. As the ship passed Ashland, a large crowd gathered on the shore demanding that the convicts be turned over. A ferry loaded with local men approached the ship and fired their guns only to be answered with a hail of gunfire from the guards, killing four locals.

After reading about the tragic events, a local woman decided to visit the teenage murder victims’ graves in Ashland Cemetery. The Gibbons siblings are buried side by side with Emma Carico’s grave across the road. As she stood at the graves of the Gibbons siblings, the woman bent down to brush grass from the stones. Touching the grave of Fannie Gibbons, she heard the scream and cry of a young girl. Looking around, no one was nearby. Again, she bent down to touch the stone and heard sobbing and a scream.

A look at the Ghosts of America page for Ashland, Kentucky reveals several more oddly similar accounts. An account from Ray notes that he was visiting the cemetery to put flowers on the grave of a relative. During his visit, Ray heard an odd buzzing from his hearing aid and when he adjusted it a voice came through the device asking, “What do you want from us?”

Martin recalled that he would sometimes walk past the cemetery at night when he visited his grandmother who lived nearby. “We would hear screams come out of the cemetery that would put cold chills up our spine.”

If you decide to walk past the old cemetery at night, listen out for the screams of the dead.

Sources

  • Ashland, Kentucky Ghost Sightings. GhostsofAmerica.com. Accessed 4 January 2020.
  • Carpenter, Bill. Ghost Stories of Eastern Kentucky: A Pocketful of Poltergeists. Baltimore, MD: Publish America, 2011.
  • Kleber, John E. ed. The Kentucky Encyclopedia. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1992.

A spirited retirement—Memphis

This is the eleventh entry in my Twelve Days of Southern Spirits Series celebrating traditional ghost story telling over Christmas. 

The Green Beetle
325 South Main Street
Memphis, Tennessee

Following a paranormal investigation of Memphis’ oldest bar, The Green Beetle, one of the investigators from the Memphis Ghost Investigation and Spirit Rescue Team spoke of the spirit of the tavern’s original proprietor, “He’s already crossed over, but this is his retirement.”

She was speaking of Frank Liberto, the son of Italian immigrants who opened The Green Beetle in 1939, just a few blocks from the famed Orpheum Theatre (which has its own ghost). Liberto cooked in the kitchen while his wife, Mary, held down the front of the restaurant. Over the years, the tavern attracted the likes of entertainers like Elvis, Hank Williams, and Desi Arnaz, though with urban flight that began in the 1960s, the business’ reputation began to decline. The tavern became a dive bar and the clientele became rowdier, often breaking into fights.

Green Beetle Memphis Tennessee
The Green Beetle has been situated in this building at the corner of South Main Street and Vance Avenue since 1939. The tavern is located next door to this corner store. Photo 2013, by Thomas R. Machnitzki, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Liberto closed the business in 1971, but not before changing the deed to ensure that all the building be forever called “The Green Beetle.” The building passed through a number of hands before being acquired by Liberto’s grandson who wished to reopen his grandfather’s business. It seems that despite having passed, Liberto is still watching over his business.

The investigators made contact with the spirit of an “older gentleman who they say had gray hair and a lively personality.”

“He’s charming and very handsome,” one of the group’s sensitives remarked. She also remarked that he often spent time in the building’s basement. “I feel the older gentleman might come down here a lot to spend time with his grandson.”

But the owner’s spirit isn’t the one slinking around the old bar, investigators discovered the spirit of a woman, Marilyn, who often expresses her displeasure. “We picked up a female, that’s at the bar a lot and she hates the music, especially when it’s loud.” Team members surmised that she possibly lived in an apartment above the bar and died from hitting her head. She “is something of a barfly who likes being around people at the tavern.”

A bartender complained that “we’re going through a lot of wine glasses because whatever hangs out here likes to throw them off my wine rack behind the bar.” He went further to note that the glasses don’t just fall from the rack that they “shoot off the wine rack and shatter.” Additionally, Marilyn likes to play with patrons by tapping them on the shoulder.

To make her spirited retirement, the investigators informed the bartender that he needed to “set out a wine glass and pour her a little drink and give her a little respect. And play some nice music.”

If you’re looking to sip with spirits in Memphis, you may also enjoy the spirited atmosphere of Earnestine and Hazel’s just down the street from The Green Beetle.

Sources

Clocking in for the afterlife–Kentucky

This is the ninth entry in my Twelve Days of Southern Spirits Series celebrating traditional ghost story telling over Christmas. 

Danville-Boyle County Public Library
307 West Broadway Street
Danville, Kentucky
 

Last year I began work on a series looking at haunted libraries throughout the South. While Kentucky was published, I have only just come across the information on this library.

Starting as many public libraries, the Danville Library originally started as a subscription library in 1893 occupying a rented space. In 1920, the library board purchased a downtown building as a permanent location. In 1936, that building was demolished and replaced with the Young-Rodes Library building. That small structure has been augmented in later years with the addition of several more attached structures to create the large library that exists today.

Danville-Boyle County Public Library
This house was torn down to build additions to the Danville Public Library. Part of the Young-Rodes Library can be seen at the right. Photograph taken circa 1988 by Ron Logue for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

A 1999 article in the Advocate Messenger notes that the library has had some anomalous activity. Several years previous to the article a library employee passed away. Shortly after their passing, an employee working on payroll discovered that the employee had been punched into the timeclock. Two weeks later, the deceased employee’s time card was punched out. The librarian insists that there is no way the employee’s card could have been punched in or out by someone else.

Since that time, there has been some other “strange happenings” occurring with or near the time clock.

Sources

  • Clay, Julie. “Specters of the past still haunt area cities.” Advocate Messenger. 31 October 1999.
  • Fairchild, Dave. “Boyle County Public Library’s history and future.” Advocate Messenger. 2 May 2018.

Looking for Little Egypt—Richmond, Kentucky

This is the eighth entry in my Twelve Days of Southern Spirits Series celebrating traditional ghost story telling over Christmas. 

I went and bought myself a ticket and I sit down in the very first row-wo-wo.
They pulled the curtain up and when they turned the spotlight way down low-wo-wo.
Little Egypt came out strutting wearing nothing but a button and a bow-wo-wo.
–“Little Egypt (Ying-Yang),” 1961, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller

In Richmond, Kentucky, one does not need to buy a ticket to see, or rather experience, “Little Egypt.” You simply need to follow a brief ritual. After driving out to one of the more rural areas of Four Mile Road, perhaps to the bridge that crosses Otter Creek, one opens their windows and calls either, “Little Egypt, Little Egypt, come ride with me,” or repeats her name three times.

Supposedly the spirit of Little Egypt will enter the car and make her presence felt while you drive for a bit. After a breezy drive—your windows should remain down—you return to drop the spirit off where you picked her up. If you don’t open your windows, there is a chance that the spirit may cause an accident.

So much of this sounds like the plentiful urban legends that reside on roadsides throughout the country, but there may be something to this forlorn Kentucky spirit.

Madison County Kentucky courthouse Richmond
The Madison County Courthouse in downtown Richmond, near where Four Mile Road begins. Photo by Russell and Sydney Poore, 2007. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Four Mile Road branches off from East Irvine Street in downtown Richmond before it winds through the Kentucky countryside, ending as a mundane dirt road. The story of Little Egypt is anything but mundane, it is as colorful as a field of goldenrod in the spring.

Like so much urban legend, the story takes many forms. Author Rebecca Patrick-Howard presents three versions of the legend in her book on haunted Madison County. In one, Little Egypt was a 16-year-old local girl who was raped and murdered, and her spirit continues to look for the men who murdered her by riding in the cars of passersby. Another version recalls that the girl lived on a local farm and when she announced she was pregnant by one of her cousins, she ran out of the house and into the road where she was killed.

The third version of the story had the girl being abducted, killed, and her dismembered remains being scattered on nearby farm fields. Those travelling along the road are supposed to call her name at the farm and drop her spirit off at the bridge.

Patrick-Howard includes the accounts of several people who have experienced odd things around Four Mile Road, things that could be attributed to the spirit of Little Egypt. One story involved two college girls who performed the ritual at the bridge and didn’t experience anything at first. Then, suddenly, their radio began flipping through channels. Frightened, the girls sped back to their dorm room.

A local amateur paranormal investigator decided to go legend tripping with his friend, though they took a decidedly different route. They visited a cemetery on the road, opened their windows and then closed them. As they drove away, both young men experienced intense pressure on their heads. The pressure was relieved as they got further down the road.

For a Halloween story last year, one of the local news stations, WBON, sent a reporter out to perform the ritual and film the results. The reporter only got some creepy feelings on the lonely bridge, though a passerby did share an odd story. This woman mentioned that people having breakdowns in the area have been aided by a strange man in coveralls who seems to appear and disappear into thin air. The woman noted that he had helped her own daughter, who was not from the area and unfamiliar with the legends.

Perhaps Little Egypt now has a friend along lonely Four Mile Road?

Sources

“Hard to dance with the devil in your back”–Virginia

This is the seventh entry in my Twelve Days of Southern Spirits Series celebrating traditional ghost story telling over Christmas. May you have a blessed New Year!

Braley Pond Campground
Forest Development Road 96
West Augusta, Virginia

Regrets collect like old friends
Here to relive your darkest moments
I can see no way, I can see no way
And all of the ghouls come out to play
And every demon wants his pound of flesh…
–“Shake it out,” (2011) Florence + the Machine

Deep within George Washington and Jefferson National Forests in Virginia, a paranormal investigator had a frightening experience at a popular campground some miles from civilization.

Elliott's Knob Virginia
A view of Elliott’s Knob, the highest point in Augusta County, in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest a few miles south of Braley Pond. Photo by Aneta Kaluza, 2006. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The group of investigators had arrived around 4:30 in the afternoon of October 25, 2003 to investigate Braley Pond Campground. Stepping out of their vehicles, the lead investigator noted that the atmosphere was “so heavy as to be almost palatable, and I knew immediately that [this feeling] was not my own. I was feeling something that belonged to someone else.”

As the group neared the dam, a couple of group members became physically ill and the entire group retreated. Two of the investigators decided to return to the campground after nightfall to investigate further.

Arriving around 11:30 PM, the pair sensed the same heaviness in the atmosphere that they had experienced on the first visit. Moving on, they felt as if whatever had been there before was lying in wait for their return. As they tenuously made their way towards the dam, one of them saw an orb of light in a nearby pine tree. “Roughly thirty or forty feet in the air, looking as though it were nestled in the branches of one of the big pines that flank the opening to the path, was a brightly glowing fluorescent green light.”

After the light mysteriously blinked out, the pair began to hear violent splashing in the water below. Sensing that something was coming after them, the pair took off for the safety of their vehicle. As they ran, one of the investigators was knocked off the bridge into the water. “I don’t know how to explain it except for he literally flew upwards and to the left, as if something had hit him right in the middle of his back, like using his forward momentum, and he went off the side of the bridge into the water.” The pair would later discover that their audio equipment picked up a mysterious screech just before the man was thrown into the water.

When the lead investigator stopped to check on her companion, he was fine but encouraged her to continue running back to the truck. As she stood up on the side of the pond, she began to feel something crawling on her back. She recalled that it moved like an inchworm and felt as if it had tentacles.

Continuing back to the truck, she screamed that something was on her. Both investigators piled back into the vehicle and nothing was found on the investigator, though she continued to feel the thing creeping along her body.

Over the next few months, the lead investigator was plagued by nightmares and dark feelings and images that would surface in her mind periodically. The pair returned to the campground several more times and witnessed odd events, but none as dramatic as the events of that first night. When the lead investigator felt oddly drawn to visit alone, she found herself walking trancelike around the parking lot and suddenly found herself in the restroom without any memory of getting there.

Several weeks later, she and her husband heard a terrifying scream from her eight-year-old son in another room. The boy had witnessed the image of a man standing in the corner “with multiple holes in his chest; wet and covered in blood.”

Following this frightening vision, the dark feelings began to retreat. Revisiting the campground a few years later, the investigator did not sense anything there.

According to the Mysterious Universe website, campers and hikers in the area have encountered sudden feelings of nausea and dread, orbs of light, shadow figures, the sounds of splashing water, and a feeling of being drawn into the water.

What could be the cause of the darkness here? The answer may lie in tragedies that have occurred here. Mysterious Universe notes that the quiet pond has been the scene of suicides, which I have not been able to confirm, but it was here that a vicious gang-related murder took place in May of 2003, some months before the terrifying investigation took place.

On the evening of May 21, 2003, two young men picked up 19-year-old Christopher Kennedy in nearby Staunton. Kennedy had reportedly become a member of the Los Angeles-based street gang, the Crips. After being picked up by two other members, the group drove to the Braley Pond Campground. A short time previous, Kennedy admitted to his grandfather that he had joined the gang and expressed his anxiety that he was “too young to die.” An account of the murder in the Staunton, Virginia News Leader says, “Kennedy first left with Noa and Tinsley voluntarily and might have realized he was going to be killed on the way out to Braley Pond.”

Once they arrived at the pond, Kennedy was stabbed 12 times in the chest and back at the water’s edge. It was there that his partially submerged body was found. In the initial reports of the murder, police speculated that Kennedy had tried to leave the gang.

Details of the murder would line up with some of paranormal activity reported here: feelings of nausea and dread, splashing of water, and the investigator’s son’s vision of a wet man with holes in his chest and covered in blood.

Allow me to speculate a bit on this haunting. I sincerely hope that Kennedy’s spirit is at rest, and it seems that his residual energy may be felt at the campground. The lead investigator, who is sensitive, noted in her journal that she felt “another presence ‘behind’ the original one. This one didn’t feel like the others. In fact, it didn’t feel human.” This leads me to believe that perhaps this inhuman spirit may be an elemental, or nature, spirit angered by the intense violence that took place in its domain. In fact, it was this spirit’s ire that attached itself to the investigator and haunted her.

If you visit the Braley Pond Campground, enjoy the scenery, but beware that this beauty has a darker side.

Sources