Specters on Stage—Guide to Haunted Southern Theatres

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more.

—Williams Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5

The world of the theatre is filled with mysticism, superstition, and spirits. As a theatre person, nearly every theatre I have worked in has this mysterious side, especially in the connection to the spirit world. In his Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans, author Jeff Dwyer contends that one can be almost certain that a theatre will be haunted.

There are few certainties in ghost hunting. But when it comes to haunted places, ships and theaters offer ghost hunters the greatest opportunities for encounters with the spirit world. Theaters often harbor the ghosts of actors, writers, musicians and directors because something about their creative natures ties them to the place where they experienced their greatest successes or failures. Stagehands and other production staff may haunt backstage areas where they worked and, perhaps suffered a fatal accident. They may also be tied to room where props are stored. The ghosts of patrons remain long after death because they love the theater or, more likely, they loved an actor who performed regularly at that location.

Much of the mysticism in theatre revolves around actors, especially in how they take on a character. Even the language of an actor bears parallels with the language of ghosts and spirits. Some actors will describe an experience akin to possession when they are inhabiting another’s body and lose themselves. Certainly, within the ritual of preparing for a show, there may be a ritual in applying makeup, getting into costume, and warming up. I’ve watched as some actors will walk the set, absorbing the energy of the world of the play, all of which resembles summoning. If the play utilizes masks, actors may put on the mask in a nearly religious manner. Onstage, the actors are in tune with the energy that surrounds them, including that from other actors, the set, the audience, the crew, and the audience. Once the actor has finished his hour of strutting and fretting upon the stage, these spirits are banished to the world of fiction. But, are they really? Perhaps some of these spirits linger in the theatre?

As for the directors, writers, musicians, technical crew members, and the backstage functionaries, many imbue their work with their own passion, thus leaving a little bit of themselves behind in their work. Even once these people pass on, they may return to the theatres to feed their passion in the afterlife.

The practice of leaving a ghost light onstage when the theatre is dark is wrapped up in superstition and practicality. Some will argue that the light assures the theatre’s spirits that the theatre is not abandoned and provides light for their own performances. In a way, this could be a sacrifice to the genius loci, or the spirit of a location. As for practicality, non-superstitious thespians will contend that a ghost light provides illumination to prevent injuries if someone enters the darkened space.

Theatres are often inherently dangerous places where actors, crew, and even some patrons can, and do, get injured. Indeed, there have been numerous accidents throughout history where deaths have occurred on or just off stage sometimes leaving spirits in limbo within the space. The haunting of the Wells Theatre in Norfolk, Virginia comes to mind. One of the spirits in this 1913 theatre may be that of a careless stagehand who became entangled in the hemp rope-operated fly system (a system that is still in use) and accidentally hung himself. Other deaths may be blamed on medical conditions that have claimed have claimed lives while people are at work.

As for lingering spirits of theatre patrons, a love for theatre or a particular space may be reason enough to return in the afterlife. Though it seems that most of the hauntings by members of the audience are residual in nature with phantom laughter and applause sometimes being heard.

Contributing to theatres’ haunted natures, some theatres occupy spaces that were not intended to be performance spaces. These repurposed buildings may already be haunted, and the spirits adapt to the new use of the location. Among the numerous examples of these types of theatres are the Baltimore Theatre Project in Maryland in an old building originally constructed for a men’s fraternal organization and the Hippodrome State Theatre in Gainesville, Florida, formerly a post office and courthouse.

Over the decade I have worked on this blog, I have covered a number of theatres and theatre spaces. In addition to places that have formerly served as theatres, I have added movie houses, larger structures that include a theatre, structures that are associated with theatres, and the Maryland home of the Booth family, which included some of America’s most famous and infamous actors in the 19th century.

Alabama

Lyric Theatre Birmingham Alabama
Balconies of the Lyric Theatre. Photo by Andre Natta, 2006, courtesy of Flickr.

District of Columbia

Tivoli Theatre Washington DC
Tivoli Theatre, 2005, by D Monack. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Florida 

Floirda Theatre Jacksonville Florida
Florida Theatre, 1927. Photo courtesy of the Jacksonville Historical Society.

Georgia 

Wink Theatre Dalton Georgia
Wink Theater, 2018. Photo by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Kentucky 

Louisville Palace Theatre Kentucky
The house and stage of the Louisville Palace. The theater is designed to ensconce the audience in a Spanish Baroque courtyard. The ceiling is an atmospheric ceiling with clouds. In the 1960s, this balcony was enclosed as a second theater, but this alternation was removed in the 1990s restoration. It’s not hard to imagine spirits spending their afterlife in such a magnificent edifice. A handful of spirits have been reported here including a man in 1930s clothing that has been seen in this balcony. When approached by ushers, the man disappears. Photo taken in 1928, courtesy of the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Louisiana

Shreveport Municipal Memorial Auditorium Louisiana
The elaborate facade of the Shreveport Municipal Memorial Auditorium. Photo by Michael Barera, 2015, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Maryland 

Maryland Theatre Hagerstown
The modern entrance to the Maryland Theatre, 2014. Photo by Acroterion, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Mississippi

Temple Theatre Meridian Mississippi
Temple Theatre, 2008. Photo by Dudemanfellabra, courtesy of Wikipedia.

North Carolina 

Carolina Theatre Greensboro North Carolina
Greensboro’s Carolina Theatre in 2008. Photo by Charles Brummitt, courtesy of Wikipedia.

South Carolina

Riviera Theatre Charleston SC ghosts haunted
Riviera Theatre, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV. All rights reserved.

Tennessee

The proscenium arch of the Orpheum Theatre, 2010, by Orpheummemphis. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Virginia

Hanover Tavern Virginia
Hanover Tavern, 2007 by BrandlandUSA. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

West Virginia 

Apollo Theatre Martinsburg West Virginia
Apollo Theatre, 2009, by Acroterion. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Spirited Southern Tidewater—Review of Kinney’s Haunted Surry to Suffolk

Haunted Surry to Suffolk: Spooky Location Along
Routes 10 and 460
Pamela K. Kinney
Anubis Press, 2020

The South is a veritable garden of ghostly delights. After researching the region for many years, I continue to be delighted at the depth and the range of stories that have been unearthed and documented. As one of the earliest created of the colonies, Virginia possesses an embarrassment of riches in terms of ghostlore and haunted places.

While many of the Old Dominion State’s ghosts have been documented through the works of authors such as Marguerite Dupont Lee and L. B. Taylor, Jr., there are still areas that have not been properly documented. In recent years, Pamela K. Kinney has taken the lead in documenting the state’s haunted locales. She has produced a book on the state as a whole (Haunted Virginia: Legends, Myths, and True Tales), two books on the haunting of Richmond, two editions on the Historic Triangle (which I have reviewed here and here), a book on Petersburg, and she encouraged the writing of a book on the Charlottesville region.

Kinney’s spirited repertoire has recently been expanded with the publication of her Haunted Surry to Suffolk: Spooky Location Along Routes 10 and 460, which once again explores a neglected region of Virginia’s ghostlore.

The Virginia Tidewater is one of three main regions of the state. Covering the coastal areas of the state, the Tidewater boarders much of the Chesapeake Bay and all those places affected by the tides. This region includes the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula (known as the Eastern Shore), the three peninsulas jutting into the bay (the Northern Neck, Middle Peninsula, and the Virginia Peninsula), and the Southern Tidewater ranges from Virginia Beach to Hopewell laying south of the James River.

However, the Tidewater region’s documented ghostlore is spotty. Much of this region is rural (specifically the Eastern Shore, Northern Neck, and the Middle Peninsula) and it usually follows that rural regions have less documented ghostlore than urban areas. This case is no exception. The Virginia Peninsula, the most historic area and most urbanized of the entire region, has an exceptional amount of documented ghostlore. Coverage of the Southern Tidewater is mostly spotty, with decent documentation for Virginia Beach and Norfolk, though far less as you move west along the James River.

In looking into this region a couple years ago, there was relatively little information on haunted locations and ghost stories. Pamela Kinney has filled in this information marvelously with her new book.

The history of European settlement here begins just after the settlement of Jamestown. The area’s location adjacent to the Virginia Peninsula spurred the growth of plantations and eventually the cities of Suffolk, Surry, and Smithfield. As political divisions were established, the area was divided into two counties: Surry and Isle of Wight, and one independent city, Suffolk. Over time, this area has been crossed by two major roads, US Route 460 and Virginia Route 10.

book cover Pamela Kinney Haunted Surry to SuffolkAmong the hauntings that Kinney covers in her book are Bacon’s Castle, one of the oldest brick structures in the country, and St. Luke’s Church in Smithfield, one of the oldest churches. While much of the paranormal activity at Bacon’s Castle has been thoroughly documented, Kinney deftly sketches out the home’s history and hauntings before adding her own experiences investigating there. Other nearby plantations such as Chippokes and Smith’s Fort are included as well to round out the paranormal experiences in Surry County.

St Luke's Church Smithfield Virginia
An 1885 illustration of St. Luke’s Church in Smithfield from The History: American Episcopal Church 1587-1883 by William Stevens Perry.

From Surry, Kinney takes the reader through Isle of Wight County to explore Smithfield and includes several local businesses, a cemetery, St. Luke’s Church, and a couple Civil War fortifications. In Suffolk, the author covers some of the stops on the local ghost tour before heading towards the Great Dismal Swamp, which straddles the state line between Virginia and North Carolina. Within the swamp, Kinney covers the plethora of myths, legends, and mysteries emanating from this impenetrable natural area. Throughout, she adds her own experiences from visits and investigations, making this a fabulous resource on the hauntings of this region.

Haunted Surry to Suffolk: Spooky Location Along Routes 10 and 460 is available as an eBook and in print from Amazon.

North Carolina Theatre Haunt Briefs

Needing a project to carry me through this quarantine, I’ve decided to return to some original blog roots. Just after establishing this blog in 2010, I created a series of articles highlighting ten haunted places within each of the 13 states that I cover. Over time, these articles have been picked apart, rewritten, expanded, and used elsewhere. When I moved this blog, I did not move over those articles. Because I have a backlog of incomplete articles and bits and pieces that haven’t been published I’m creating a new breed of these articles during this quarantine.

Back in 2013 I began work on a book project that was to be a guide to the South’s haunted theatres. I finished a number of entries, but life got in the way and the book was never completed. I still have hopes that I will finish this project, especially being that I have added a number of theatres to my list in the past seven years. These entries would have been included in the North Carolina section of the book.

Benton Hall
300 D Street
North Wilkesboro

There is one name from Wilkes County that is oft repeated, Tom Dula (pronounced Dooley). The tale of Tom Dula includes all the makings of a Victorian melodrama: murder, illicit affairs, a lustful soldier and even a few cases of syphilis added into the mix. The 1868 trial and subsequent execution of the amorous Mr. Dula received coverage in national papers including The New York Times and is the subject of a number of songs and ballads like the 1958 Kingston Trio hit, “Tom Dooley.” Dooley’s sad tale is also associated with a number of hauntings in the area including the Old Wilkes County Jail in nearby Wilkesboro, though Benton Hall, the home to the Wilkes Playmakers is not haunted by Dooley’s shade.

The Wilkes Playmakers have kept the legend alive in their performances of the play, Tom Dooley: A Wilkes County Legend, performed in Benton Hall, the company’s adapted performance space. In addition to a handful of organizations that use the old edifice, the theatre company also shares its space with spirits. Benton Hall was originally opened in 1913 as North Wilkesboro Elementary School and its auditorium was renovated into a performance space in the 1990s. Much of the activity appears to be residual and related to the hordes of children who were educated in this building over the decades. Theatre staff report that they have heard the sounds of children playing when alone in the building.

Author Michael Renegar mentions one odd phenomenon that has occurred with some frequency: phantom smells in the building. Interestingly, the smell depends on the gender of the person encountering the odor. Women will smell something sweet like flowers or cloves while men will smell something akin to rotting potatoes. Renegar posits that the spirit possibly prefers the company of women to men.

Sources

  • Absher, R.G. Ghosts of the Yadkin Valley. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2009.
  • Renegar, Michael. Roadside Revenants and Other North Carolina Ghosts and Legends. Fairview, NC: Bright Mountain Books, 2005.
  • Tom Dula. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 17 March 2013.
  • Wilkes Playmakers. “Background.” Accessed 17 March 2013.

Carolina Theatre
224-232 North Tryon Street
Charlotte

Preservationists have been working for some time to rehabilitate the formerly grand theatre and it can be imagined that the restoration will raise spirits both literally and figuratively. One theatre technician called the theatre “a little tea party with all sorts of guests.” He encountered one guest, who he dubbed “Fred,” in and around the booth at the top of the house. He believes the spirit to be a former technician. Other, more shadowy forms have been spotted flitting throughout the ruined house while photographers have captured anomalies on film.

Carolina Theatre Charlotte North Carolina
The hulking remains of the Carolina Theatre in 2015. Renovations have since started. Photo by Fortibus, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Carolina Theatre, a small, but distinctive movie and vaudeville house, opened in 1927 as part of Paramount’s Publix Theatre chain. Patrons viewed films in the atmosphere of an open-air Spanish patio. Murals and antiques helped set the style inside while such great names as Ethel Barrymore, Bob Hope, and Elvis graced the stage. The theatre saw a major overhaul in 1938 and another renovation in the early 1960s removed much of the original interior. The theatre limped on into the next decade and closed in 1975.

The building was a target for arsonists in 1980 and two years after being added to the National Register of Historic Places, the lobby was demolished, and it was removed from the Register. Almost as an early Christmas gift, the city council voted in 2013 to sell the theatre to the Foundation for the Carolinas which will restore the theatre and operate it as a performing arts center. Work started in 2017 to transform the forlorn theatre into the centerpiece of a civic performance and gathering space. It was also announced that a large hotel will be built atop the theatre. The spirits are delighted, I’m sure.

Sources

  • Carolina Theatre Preservation Society. “Explore the Carolina Theatre.” Accessed 25 March 2013.
  • Lambeth, Cheralyn. Haunted Theatres of the Carolinas. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2009
  • Price, Mark. “Who’s there in the dark?” Charlotte Observer. 31 October 2011.
  • Price, Mark. “Will renovation of the Carolina Theatre oust the ghosts rumored to dwell within?” Charlotte Observer. 23 October 2017.
  • Stabley, Susan. “Foundation’s purchase of Carolina Theatre gets OK from Charlotte City Council.” Charlotte Business Journal. 18 December 2012.
  • Williams, Stephanie Burt. Ghost Stories of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County: Remnants of the past in a New South. Winston-Salem, NC: Bandit Books, 2003.

Carolina Theatre
310 South Greene Street
Greensboro

Cheralyn Lambeth, author of Haunted Theatres of the Carolinas, asserts that there’s no factual evidence behind the Carolina Theatre’s ghost story. The story itself is of recent vintage and she could find no evidence backing it up. Though I have been able to find evidence that this story is true.

Carolina Theatre Greensboro North Carolina
Greensboro’s Carolina Theatre in 2008. Photo by Charles Brummitt, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Carolina Theatre opened on Halloween night, 1927, as the flagship theatre for the Publix-Saenger Theatre Corporation and it hosted the finest acts of the Keith vaudeville circuit. As that art form died out during the Depression, the theatre began showing films and providing other forms of entertainment. Through the middle of the 20th century, the theatre carried on, entertaining the citizens of the region in grand style.

The theatre reopened in 1977 after being refurbished by the United Arts Council as a performance space. Fire destroyed a stairwell on July 1, 1981, and authorities discovered the body of a woman. A few days later, this woman was identified as 47-year-old Melvallene Reva Ferguson, who was reported to have suffered from mental illness. Ms. Ferguson is believed to have entered the theatre the night before the fire broke out. Legend holds that it is her ghost that haunts the theatre.

Following the fire of 1981, the theatre has been restored and reinvigorated and continues to provide the finest in entertainment for further generations.

Lambeth relates one story told to her by a theatre staff member. As he was locking up one evening a voice wished him goodnight. Thinking it was the voice of another staff member who had been working with him, he wished the staff member goodnight in return. Upon making his way to the parking lot, the other staff member’s car was not there. He realized he had been alone in the building.

Goodnight Melvallene, rest well!

Sources

  • “1 killed in theater fire.” Charlotte Observer. 2 July 1981.
  • Carolina Theatre. “History.” Accessed 7 April 2013.
  • Lambeth, Cheralyn. Haunted Theatres of the Carolinas. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2009.
  • York, John. “Fire victim identified.” Charlotte Observer. 3 July 1981.

Carolina Theatre
222 1st Avenue, Northwest
Hickory

Throughout the centuries, theatres have often served as centers of the community. This is most certainly the case with Hickory’s Carolina Theatre. Opening in 1934, during the roughest years of the Great Depression, the theatre was built to provide both live entertainment and first-run films. Throughout the country, many of these type theatres, downtown theatres built for live performance and films, fell on hard times in the late 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Being forced to compete with new multiplex operations in newer developments away from the heart of town, these older theatres—often with just a single screen—could not compete. Many of these theatres closed and were shuttered to deteriorate in gloomy darkness. The Carolina Theatre was not one of them.

Perhaps it was the love of patrons—the memories of first dates and kisses in its darkened house, or of hearts stolen by matinee idols—that kept the theatre alive, but it was also good business decisions made by the theatre’s management. The theatre adapted well to the changing economic climate. In 1974, the theatre added a screen by enclosing the balcony, and nearly a decade later it converted to a second-run movie house: thus reducing pressure from the newer first-run houses. The theatre has recently seen renovations to update its facilities for another generation of theatre-goers.

However, there is some tragic history here in the heart of Hickory. One legend that has circulated among theatre employees tells of a young actress carrying on an affair with a married actor. When the actor’s wife learned of the illicit goings-on, she confronted the actress at the theatre. One of the women shot the other, though it differs depending on the version of the legend. People entering the theatre’s dressing room where the murder occurred have felt a spirit present. Interestingly, this is comparable to the legend of the Athens Theatre in DeLand, Florida where an actress fell in love with the theatre’s married manager and she was killed when his wife confronted her.

Another story from the Carolina involves the door to the theatre’s office. Often, when the theatre is quiet, or just after closing time, staff members will hear the door slam. This has been attributed to the spirit of a theatre manager who died within the office. It’s also noted that the office is often quiet cold, even on days when the rest of the theatre is quite warm.

Sources

  • Carolina Theatre. “Our History.” Accessed 7 April 2013.
  • Lambeth, Cheralyn. Haunted Theatres of the Carolinas. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2009.

Cary Arts Center
100 Dry Avenue
Cary

Little has been documented about ghostly goings-on at the Cary Arts Center, formerly Cary High School. Kala Ambrose mentions in her Ghosthunting North Carolina that spirits were seen and felt when the building served as a school, but few details are provided. The school was constructed in 1939 by the Works Progress Administration and the large, Georgian building was purchased by the city in 2006. After a few years of renovations, the building was opened in 2011 as the Cary Arts Center. Among other arts groups, it provides facilities for the Cary Players.

Sources

  • Ambrose, Kala. Ghosthunting North Carolina. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2011.
  • Cary Arts Center (Former Cary High School). Triangle Wiki. Accessed 7 April 2013.

Frank Thompson Hall
Campus of North Carolina State University
Raleigh

Frank Thompson was quite an athlete. This engineering major was captain of both the university’s baseball and football teams. When he was killed in action in France during the First World War, the university felt the need to pay homage to this scholar-athlete by naming the new gymnasium building for him. With the building of Reynolds Coliseum, the graceful, Beaux Arts-style gymnasium was no longer needed, so it was converted into a theatre facility. Over its decades of use as a theatre, students have taken to attributing odd and possibly paranormal activity to Frank Thompson, though there is no real reason why he would be haunting this elegant structure.

Postcard Frank Thompson Gymnasium NC State University Raleigh North Carolina
An undated postcard of Thompson Hall. Postcard in the Massengill Postcard Collection, North Carolina State Achives.

The NC State University Theatre blog records an odd incident that happened to the theatre’s scenic designer while he was painting a set one afternoon in the studio theatre. The designer noted that there were few people in the building at this particular time. He stood back to look at what he had just painted when he felt a strong gust of air rapidly pass by him. He thought for a moment that someone had walked past him rapidly; problem was that he was alone in the theatre. He checked the doors to see if an open door had caused a cross breeze; again, that was not the case. While he’s not able to attribute this to a paranormal cause the designer has still been left quite puzzled. He also notes that while this event was the first unexplainable thing to happen to him in the theatre building, many others have their own stories.

[N.B. I have noted the date of this particular blog entry, April Fool’s Day, though nothing about the blog entry reads as a joke to me.]

Sources

  • Cook, Ellie. “I ain’t afraid of no ghost.” NC State University Theatre blog. 1 April 2010.
  • NCSU. “Frank Thompson Hall.” Accessed 4 April 2013.

Alabama Haunt Briefs

Needing a project to carry me through this quarantine, I’ve decided to return to some original blog roots. Just after establishing this blog in 2010, I created a series of articles highlighting ten haunted places within each of the 13 states that I cover. Over time, these articles have been picked apart, rewritten, expanded, and used elsewhere. When I moved this blog, I did not move over those articles. Because I have a backlog of incomplete articles and bits and pieces that haven’t been published I’m creating a new breed of these articles during this quarantine.

The Alabama article, the first to be posted, was recreated after I finished my Alabama book as the “Southern Spirit Guide to Haunted Alabama.” This article contains new entries that I have not covered in this blog.

Hank Williams Boyhood Home and Museum
127 Rose Street
Georgiana

One of Alabama’s most important native sons, Hiram King “Hank” Williams, Sr. played a major role in taking country music from the rural backwaters and byways of the South to nationwide popularity. He created a sound that combined the folksy sound of Jimmie Rodgers with stylistic elements of African-American blues, taught to him by Rufus “Tee Tot” Payne, all combined with honest, straight-talking, and evocative lyrics that are now the standard for country music lyricism. Williams’ hard drinking and even harder living lead to an early death at the age of 29 while traveling to West Virginia. While he sang, “I’m Leavin’ Now,” it seems that Williams’ spirit may remain earthbound. His lonesome spirit appears at several sites associated with his life including Birmingham’s Redmont Hotel.

Hank Williams Boyhood Home Georgiana Alabama
Hank Williams’ Boyhood Home, 2010, by Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy of the George F. Landregger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Born in rural Butler County in 1923, young Hank’s early childhood was fraught with difficulties. Hank’s father, a long-term patient at the veterans’ hospital in Pensacola, Florida suffering from a brain injury sustained during his service in World War I, left Lily, Hank’s mother, to fend for herself and her little family. They were offered this home in Georgiana in 1930 after the family lost their cabin and all their possessions in a fire.

Williams lived here with his family during perhaps the most significant time in his musical development. During the four years the family occupied this house, Williams is said to have practiced his guitar underneath it while sitting on “an old car seat.” Williams’ son, Hank Jr., writes of an encounter with his father’s spirit at this home in his song, “127 Rose Avenue.” Can this be considered actual evidence of a haunting? Perhaps, or maybe it’s simply Hank Junior’s lyrical way of memorializing his late father.

Sources

  • Butler County Heritage Book Committee. Heritage of Butler County, Alabama. Clanton, AL: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 2003.
  • Lange, Jeffrey J. “Hank Williams Sr.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. 19 March 2007.
  • Serafin, Faith. Haunted Montgomery, Alabama. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.

Lafayette Lanier Elementary School and Langdale Auditorium
6001 20th Avenue
Valley

Following the Civil War, local industrialists began establishing textile mills throughout the South. In order to provide for their employees—and also as a way of making them and their families beholden to the mill owners and managers—these industrialists established mill villages. These villages provided most everything an employee and their families would require including housing, schools, churches, and stores. Valley, Alabama is made up of a series of mill villages on the western bank of the Chattahoochee River.

Langdale Auditorium Valley Alabama
Langdale Auditorium stands next to Lafayette Lanier Elementary. Photo 2016, by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

One of the oldest of these villages is centered on the Langdale Mill that was established in 1866. While the village has a number of late-19th century buildings, many of the most prominent buildings were constructed in the early 20th century. Lafayette Lanier Elementary School and the adjoining Langdale Auditorium were constructed around 1935. Though the mill across the street has closed, both buildings are still used for their initial functions and known to be haunted.

Kenneth W. Allen, a local paranormal investigator, penned a book, Southern Alabama Hauntings, in 2013. An employee with local law enforcement and first responders, Allen was in a great position to collect tales of strange doings in the area. With these stories, he also investigated several of these locations to further prove rumors of them being haunted.

In the book, Allen includes the experience of a local police officer who was sent to investigate a possible intruder in the school. He made his way through the first floor and found no one so he headed up to the second floor. Stepping into the second-floor corridor, he spotted a figure darting into one of the classrooms. He drew his weapon and called for backup. When three other officers arrived, they proceeded into the classroom that the suspect had disappeared into only to find the room empty. Over the years, teachers, staff, and students have seen an odd figure on the second floor. One story reveals that the figure is that of one of the school’s principals.

The auditorium has its own panoply of ghosts. Besides footsteps that reportedly resound throughout the old building, the spirits enjoy playing with toys that are kept in storage. Allen tells one story of a teacher who put toys away only to find them out again when she entered the storage room a short time later.

Sources

  • Allen, Kenneth W. Southern Alabama Hauntings. CreateSpace: 2013.
  • Binkley, Trina. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for the Langdale Historic District. May 1999.

Mount Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery
7400 Tabor Road
Gadsden

A recent conversation with a Northeast Alabama resident led me to begin uncovering stories from this cemetery. Located northeast of Gadsden on Lookout Mountain, this small country church has an old cemetery located just across the road. Consulting the Find-A-Grave page on this cemetery, it seems that the first burial occurred in 1886 and continuing to the present day.

As for the spookier side of this cemetery, it is reported that strange lights are sometimes seen here. I would note that these are likely cemetery lights, which are seen in and around cemeteries worldwide. Additionally, disembodied voices are heard.

A search on this location brought up a frightening account on GhostsofAmerica.com. While I cannot vouch for the validity of this account, it seems to me to ring true. According to this account, a group of curious people decided to visit the cemetery after finding it listed on a haunted places website. As they stepped out of their car, the group began to hear strange whistling, screaming, and a thumping noise. Frightened, the group piled back in their car as the sounds grew closer. Before the group drove away, a hand appeared, pressing against the passenger window.

Please respect this holy burial ground, and tread lightly taking only memories with you.

Sources

Old Bibb County Jail
21 Court Square, West
Centreville

When I wrote my Alabama book, the Old Bibb County Jail was facing a death sentence. Local officials had made the decision to demolish the forlorn building on the town square. Sadly, the death sentence was imposed, and the building has been razed.

Built in 1910, this imposing Renaissance Revival structure had seen many a prisoner pass through its barred cells until its closure in 2004. Indeed, it also saw executions as well, with the last occurring in 1949. Perhaps this is why the building may be haunted. A 2009 investigation report from the Tuscaloosa Paranormal Research Group suggests that paranormal activity in the old jail ranges from full body apparitions to odd sounds and a feeling of being watched.

Sources

  • Floyd, W. Warner. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for the Centreville Historic District. 21 December 1977.
  • McClanahan, Mike. “Old Bibb County Jail set to be demolished, citizens protesting decision.” WIAT. 5 June 2015.
  • Reed, Jon. “See inside 105-year-old abandoned Alabama jail.” com. 15 June 2015.
  • Tuscaloosa Paranormal Research Group. Bibb County Jail. 14 November 2009.

Peerless Saloon & Grille
13 West 10th Street
Anniston

The Peerless Saloon may have had few peers when it opened in 1899, though now there are quite a few options for spirits in Anniston. However, the Peerless has few peers regarding ghosts, legends, or history. From 1899 until Prohibition, the Peerless offered an opulent place to enjoy a cocktail and possibly buy some time with a lovely woman upstairs.

Peerless Saloon Anniston Alabama
The Peerless Saloon in all its Victorian glory, 2014. Photo by Chris Pruitt, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Gentlemen entering the Peerless in the early 20th century were greeted by Lucinda Talley from her perch at the top of the stairs. She reigned as a queen over her brothel for a little more than 20 years before she met her death here. In 1920, as police chased a saloon patron upstairs, she unknowingly stepped into the line of a police bullet; some suspect she has not left her post.

After sitting abandoned and decaying for many years, the saloon was restored and reopened in 1992. Mrs. Talley’s upstairs domain now features an events space called the Atlanta Room. Staff members have glimpsed Lucinda still at her post at the top of the stairs and in the Atlanta Room. It may also be her spirit who occasionally breaks glasses behind the bar. The Oxford Paranormal Society visited The Peerless some years ago capturing a few visual anomalies on video.

Sources

  • Barton, Donna. “Local filmmakers tackle the legend of Lucinda.” Anniston Star. 1 March 2015.
  • “History.” Peerless Saloon. <http://www.southernmusic.net/peerless2.html>. Accessed 6 June 2015.
  • Kazek, Kelly. “Few historic stagecoach inns and taverns survive across Alabama, take a tour.” com. 14 August 2014.
  • Oxford Paranormal Society. Peerless Saloon. Accessed 6 June 2015.

Swift-Coles Historic Home
17424 Swift-Coles Lane
Bon Secour

This late 19th century home presents a glimpse into life on the Alabama coast in the early 20th century. When Charles Swift moved to the area in 1885, he purchased a small dogtrot house—a house featuring an open hallway through the middle— with four rooms on either side. During the Swift family’s occupation, they transformed the home into a luxurious 16-room mansion. The house remained in the family until 1976 when a local entrepreneur bought and restored it.

Swift-Coles House Bon Secour Alabama
Swift-Coles House, 2015, by Sandy Forsman. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In 2008, the house was investigated by Bon Secour Paranormal Investigations. An article from the Mobile FOX affiliate details the investigation and reveals that the apparition of a female servant has been seen on the stairs, while Civil War soldiers have been seen in the front yard. The article reports that throughout the night the team experienced “small, but strange phenomena.”

Sources

  • Jackson, John. “Baldwin County’s tidewater mansion: the historical Swift-Coles home.” Gulf Coast Visitor’s Guide. 20 August 2013.
  • Rockwood, Mike and Charissa Cowart. “Ghost hunters, Swift-Coles House.” FOX10. 31 October 2008.

Trinity Lutheran Church
1024 Quintard Avenue
Anniston

A “benign, Casper-like, presence” may haunt Trinity Lutheran Church, according to the church’s pastor. A Halloween 2010 article in the Anniston Star details the haunting of this 1920s-era church and the parish house next door. The legend of this church dates to the church’s construction as Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church. A priest supposedly died in a bedroom of the parish house, and he has continued to return for many years. Another priest living in the parish house later summoned the police after hearing heavy footsteps walking towards his bedroom. When police arrived, no one was found in the home. Now a Lutheran church, members and staff have continued to hear footsteps and have sensed the presence of the long- dead priest.

Sources

  • Buckner, Brett. “Ghost of the parsonage: It is said that Trinity Lutheran is haunted by a benign spirit.” Anniston Star. 30 October 2010.