Safe and secure from all alarms.
–“Leaning on the everlasting arms” gospel hymn by Anthony Showalter and Elisha Hoffman, written in Dalton in 1887.
While we were visiting Old City Hall (114 North Pentz Street) in downtown Dalton, Georgia, two of the young girls in our group let out some horror movie-worthy screams and went running. As they ran past him, Richard Ruland remarked, “There’s no, ‘dude, run!’ in ghosthunting!” Half-laughing, half-screaming, the girls said that one of their K2 meters had gone all the way to red causing their fright.
In his fatherly way, Ruland calmly took the girls back to the doorway where the meter had glowed red. He noted that there was likely an alarm on the door and showed them the alarm pad next to it. The meter, once again, glowed red when he held it next to the pad and the whole thing was debunked.
I have been reading about the Dalton Ghost Tour for many years. When Connie Hall-Scott published her book, Haunted Dalton, Georgia, in 2013, I immediately purchased it from Amazon. While I liked the ghost tour on Facebook, I did not have the chance to check it out for myself, so when I saw a promotion for the first tour of the season with special guest Richard Ruland, I jumped at the chance.
I was well rewarded.
Dalton is billed as the carpet capital of the world and rightfully so, this region of North Georgia produces 80 percent of the tufted carpet manufactured in this country. Driving through this section of I-75, the interstate is lined with carpet factories and outlets with billboards hawking all types of flooring.
Downtown Dalton, removed from the bustle of the interstate, is a very typical Southern downtown with a marvelous collection of historic structures. Locals have recently beautified the sidewalks and renovated many buildings to bring people and businesses back to the historic core. While people are returning, the streets were very quiet on this Saturday evening.
The tour began on a wooden deck next to the Perfect Cup Coffeeshop (112 West Crawford) in West Crawford Street and has a great view of the magnificent Art Moderne-styled Wink Theatre across the street. In the half-light of evening, a small group gathered to hear Mr. Ruland describe his experiences investigating the paranormal throughout his home-state of Tennessee and the South.
The wide-ranging talk covered everything from the dangers of Ouija board use to spiritual cleansing techniques. Ruland, a psychic medium, is a noted paranormal personality who has appeared on My Ghost Story and Aftershocks, and hosts (with J.B. Coates, one of his fellow investigators) Let’s Talk About It, a wide-ranging paranormal show on Facebook. With his wife (and the best investigator he has worked with) Billy Jo, Ruland demonstrated his abilities by pointing out the presence of several spirits in the immediate vicinity including a man who was not happy with our sitting on the deck. As there were a number of children present, Ruland demonstrated some of his equipment and urged them to use various pieces during the tour.
Out of this talk, the tour began with Connie Hall-Scott describing the history of Dalton. During the course of the tour, the historic gravity of the few blocks that we covered was evident. On this land that had once been home to the Cherokee, there had been murder and mayhem over the course of two centuries; with many events leaving psychic scars on the land and buildings.
Among this dark history, the Wink Theater’s (121 West Crawford Street) presence adds a sense of levity. The theater began as a dream for J. C. H. Wink, a dream to provide locals with a place of amusement away from the horrors of the war elsewhere. The theatre opened its doors in September of 1941, months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the horrors of war to this country.
For many, the Wink was a center of social life in town. Hall-Scott recalls in her book the many unnecessary trips to the restroom she made and how she often felt that something was “off” in that room. Little did she know where that thought would lead her.
The Wink Theater closed its doors in 1981 after a showing of Disney’s The Black Hole, certainly foreshadowing for the dark period of the theater’s history that would follow. While the living had forsaken the decaying building, spirits remained. When the suggestion of replacing the building with an ignominious parking lot was floated, many locals stepped in to save the building from destruction, including Hall-Scott’s father, who purchased the building and began restoration.
Since the building’s reopening, it continues to be a center of the community in a spiritual sense as the centerpiece of the Dalton Ghost Tour’s ghost stories and in its function as a church.
Sitting on the deck across from the theater, it struck me the amazing amalgam of history that had occurred in the few blocks that the tour covered. Not only that, but how much of that history is still with us in spectral form. From the angry man Ruland pointed out as standing near us to the suicide victim in the old Hotel Dalton, from the Wink Theater’s doors that regularly unlock themselves, the lynching victims near the Gordon Street Bridge, to the spirits of the old Dalton depot, these spirits span the region’s history.
Hall-Scott seemed to have a story for nearly every building we passed. Standing on the corner of North Hamilton and West King Streets, she pointed out that she had stories from nearly every business lining this busy portion of North Hamilton, evidence of her wide-ranging knowledge of the city’s haunted history.
All along the way, the youngsters on the tour excitedly chattered about the equipment they held. Ruland happily watched over them and shared in their possible connections with the spirit world. Several times he remarked that these kids were doing things they will remember for a long while. I can personally say that spending time with these kindred spirits in Dalton, both living and dead, will be something I remember for a long while.
Dalton Ghost Tours are held on Friday and Saturday nights through September and October. Friday night tours begin at 8 PM and Saturday night tours will have a special guest and begin at 7 PM. All tours begin at the wooden deck on West Crawford Street across from the Wink Theater. Tickets may be purchased onsite, $15 for adults and $10 for kids.
- Deaton, Thomas M. “Dalton.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 25 September 2009.
- Hall-Scott, Connie. “Dalton Ghost Tour.” Dalton, Georgia. 1 September 2018.
- Hall-Scott, Connie. Haunted Dalton, Georgia. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.