One of my goals with this blog is to provide coverage of ghost stories and haunted places in a comprehensive manner. Perhaps one of the best ways to accomplish this is to examine ghost stories county by county, though so far, researching in this manner has been difficult. In my 2015 book, Southern Spirit Guide’s Haunted Alabama, I wanted to include at least one location for every county, though a lack of adequate information and valid sources prevented me from reaching that goal. In the end, my book was published covering only 58 out of 67 counties.
Further research has uncovered information for a few more counties and on Halloween of 2017, Kelly Kazek published an article on AL.com covering the best-known ghost story for every county. Thanks to her excellent research, I’ve almost been able to achieve my goal for the state.
“Big Oak” Robert Fowler Memorial Park South River Street Geneva
Before the establishment of Geneva County, early settlers gathered under the massive, leafy branches of what is now known as the Big Oak or Constitution Oak. This live oak’s age and size have led to its inclusion in the list of Alabama Famous and Historic Trees. Supposedly the huge branches of the tree have been used for hangings and the spirits of those who died here may continue to haunt this location.
As workers were working on the restoration of Oakmont, a spirit in the house wanted more heat. After continuing to find a heater on in the home, construction workers taped the control knob so that the heat could not be turned on. However, the spirit thought otherwise and turned the heat on again.
Built in 1908 as a wedding gift for Mary Elizabeth and Charles Alexander Webb, it was not until Oakmont began the transformation into a bed & breakfast that the owners discovered that they might have to share the house with spirits. After the restoration, numerous spectral sounds began to be heard including tremendous crashes and disembodied footsteps. It doesn’t appear that this bed and breakfast is open any longer.
Smith, Terry L. and Mark Jean. Haunted Inns of America. Crane Hill Publishers, 2003.
Moundville Archaeological Park 634 Mound State Parkway Moundville
Between approximately 1120 C.E. and 1450 C.E., Moundville was the site of a large city inhabited by the Mississippian people, predecessors to the tribes that the Europeans would encounter when they began exploring the South about a century later. At its height, this town was probably home to nearly 1,000 inhabitants. Stretching to 185 acres, the town had 29 mounds of various sizes and uses: some were ceremonial while others were topped with the homes of the elite.
Visitors and staff have often mentioned a certain energy emanating from this site. A Cherokee friend of mine visited and while atop one of the mounds let out a traditional Cherokee war cry. Afterward, he noted that there was a palpable change in the energy. Dennis William Hauck speaks of the “powerful spirit of an ancient race” that “permeates this 317-acre site” in his Haunted Places: The National Directory. Southern Paranormal Researchers notes that park staff has witnessed shadow figures, odd noises, and doors opening and closing by themselves in the buildings on the site. Higdon and Talley add orbs and cold spots found throughout the location to the list of paranormal activity here.
Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory. NYC: Penguin, 2002.
Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
Southern Paranormal Researchers. Paranormal Investigation Report for Moundville Archaeological Park. 10 February 2007.
Legend of Huggin’ Molly Abbeville
For over a century, a legend has dwelled in the dark streets of Abbeville: the legend of Huggin’ Molly. This specter is thought to target children on the streets after dark. Most versions describe Molly as a large woman who prowls the dark streets in search of children walking alone. After pursuing a child, she would embrace them and scream in their ear. Most sources agree that this tale was perhaps created to frighten small children and keep them from staying out too late, though the story has remained. In fact, a restaurant named after the legendary figure has recently opened.
Smith, Michelle. Legends, Lore and True Tales of the Chattahoochee. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
Columbia Manor 306 South Main Street Columbia
During the Halloween season, this unassuming white frame house is home to nightmares of the fictional kind. However, this house is home to real nightmares as well. Built in 1864, this home has served several uses including serving as a hospital and later a sanitarium for those suffering from pellagra, a severe vitamin deficiency.
Following renovations to transform the house into a haunted attraction, the spirits have begun to act out. The owner of the house told the producers of the BIO Channel show, My Ghost Story, about tools that would go missing only to be found in their original location a short time later, mysterious footsteps, and the shade of an older gentleman that the owner and another volunteer saw standing in the house. He also mentioned the swinging of a chandelier in the foyer which a paranormal investigator has linked to the suicide by hanging of a nurse there.
“Enter at your own risk; they dare you.” Dothan Eagle. 18 August 2014.
“Haunting Columbia Manor.” Dothan Eagle. 19 October 2013.
My Ghost Story, Episode 3.3. Biography Channel. 29 October 2011.
Russell Cave National Monument 3728 CR-98 Bridgeport
One of the most significant archaeological sites in the state, Russell Cave has revealed evidence that this site has been in use by humans for at least 8,000 years. That evidence includes human remains, pottery shards, spear points, arrowheads, and charcoal from ancient fires. The remains of various animals, including some prehistoric species, have also been unearthed here.
Within the cave, some visitors have experienced an uneasy feeling, sometimes even sensing ghostly presences while others have heard spectral sounds and seen apparitions. With thousands of years of human occupation, it’s no surprise that spirits remain here.
Kidd, Jessica Fordham. “Russell Cave.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. 22 September 2010.
Penot, Jessica. Haunted North Alabama. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2010.
Bessemer Hall of History Museum 1905 Alabama Avenue Bessemer
While the Bessemer Hall of History Museum displays an eclectic mix of items from Bessemer’s past, including a cell door from the local jail where Martin Luther King, Jr. was brie y incarcerated, it appears that a former exhibit may still be haunting this building. For many years, the museum displayed the mummy of a local woman who had taken her life in 1906. Hazel Farris had shot and killed her husband during a domestic incident at their home in Louisville, Kentucky. After neighbors had summoned the police, Farris shot and killed three of them and fled the state.
Beautiful Hazel settled in Bessemer and confessed her crimes to a man with whom she had fallen in love. He betrayed her to the police, and Hazel ingested arsenic, ending her life. Her corpse was sent to a local funeral home which only put the unclaimed body in storage where it mummified. The funeral home began to charge admission to view the grisly final remains of Miss Farris, and over the course of many years; the mummy was loaned to various exhibitors. In 1974, the museum borrowed the mummy as part of a fundraiser, and the museum displayed it for quite some time.
After the mummy’s exhibition in 1981, the museum placed it in permanent storage. National Geographic produced a documentary about Hazel’s corpse in 2002 with various scientists examining it before it was eventually cremated. The old train depot that has housed the museum since 1994 has had some paranormal activity through the years, some of which has been attributed to Hazel. Lights turn off and on within the old building, and other odd sounds have been heard.
Brown, Alan. Haunted Birmingham. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2009.
Crider, Beverly. Legends and Lore of Birmingham and Central Alabama. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2014.
Old Stage Coach Inn Jackson Military Road Moscow
Also known as the Moore-Hill House, this circa 1834 stagecoach stop was the scene of a murder in 1881. A Mrs. Armstrong was killed by an African-American man with a grappling hook on a chain. After the gruesome killing, the cook ran out the back door and alerted the men working in the nearby fields. The supposed murderer was hunted down and lynched in the front yard. This event is believed to be the cause of paranormal activity in and around the house. Tradition speaks of a glowing orb that is seen in the front yard and the spirit of Mrs. Armstrong clanking down the stairs with the hook and chain that killed her.
When I initially wrote the above entry for my book way back in 2015, I struggled with how little information existed about this house and the grim murder that took place here. As I was visiting the library yesterday, I decided to take a second look at the research for this particular location. Evidently, I didn’t look hard enough the first time.
Situated on Andrew Jackson’s Military Road, a route constructed after the War of 1812 connecting Nashville, Tennessee with New Orleans, the Moore-Hill House was built for James Moore, an early politician in the state. For many years the house served as a stagecoach inn, but it was an incident in 1881 that gave the house a bit of a notorious reputation. According to family legend, a Mrs. Armstrong was killed by an African-American man with a grappling hook on a chain. After the gruesome killing, the cook ran out the back door and alerted the men working in the nearby fields. The supposed murderer was hunted down and lynched in the front yard. After consulting newspapers of the period, the events did not take place exactly as family memory recalls.
Two brief reports appearing in area newspapers in December of 1881 attest that the murder was bloodier that family legend recounts. An African-American man (described in one newspaper as a “crazy negro”) attempted to seize one of the Armstrong children. The child’s mother, Mrs. Winchester Armstrong,” and her mother tried to wrestle the child away and both were killed. The newspaper reports that the child’s mother was struck in the head with an ax. Moments later, Mr. Armstrong approached and shot and killed the assailant.
“A heart-rending murder…” Pickens County Herald and West Alabamian (Carrollton, AL). 7 December 1881.
Hill, Beulah and Pat Buckley. “History.” Accessed 6 June 2015.
“Horrible murder of two women by a crazy negro.” The Marion Times-Standard. 14 December 1881.
Lamar County Heritage Book Committee. Heritage of Lamar County, Alabama. Clanton, AL: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 2000.
Forks of Cypress Jackson Road Florence
Crowning a hill above Jackson Road are the skeletal remains of the graceful Forks of Cypress, built in the latter half of the 1820s. Until it burned in June 1966, the house was known as one of the grandest homes in the area. James Jackson, an Irish-born venture capitalist who moved to the area in 1818 and is considered the founder of the city of Florence constructed the home.
Even before a conflagration destroyed the house, it was known to be haunted, and spirits may continue to roam the picturesque ruins. The Jackson family cemetery not far from the house has also seen some paranormal activity. Debra Johnston records an incident whereby a visitor to the cemetery one afternoon encountered a young man on horseback. As he talked with the strange young man, he realized the young man was one of the sons of James Jackson. The visitor was astonished when he shook hands with the man and watched him vanish before his eyes.
Southwest of the ruins, a bridge spanned Cypress Creek until its recent demolition. Known as “Ghost Bridge,” the bridge was associated with a typical crybaby bridge story. The woods near the bridge, tradition holds, are supposed to be haunted by a spirit carrying a lantern, a possible holdover from a skirmish fought here during the Civil War.
Farris, Johnathan A. & Trina Brinkley. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for Forks of Cypress. 2 May 1997.
Johnston, Debra. Skeletons in the Closet: True Ghost Stories of the Shoals Area. Debra Johnston, 2002.
Henry Hill CR-25 Mount Hope
Almost as common as Cry Baby Bridges throughout the South are “Gravity Hills;” roads or hills where a car put in neutral will seemingly be pushed up an incline. Along County Road 25, just outside of the community of Mount Hope, is a dip in the road where legend has it a man named Henry was killed. Most legends have Henry’s car breaking down along this road and him trying to push it out of the way when he was struck and killed by another vehicle. When a car is stopped here, Henry still dutifully pushes the car to safety to prevent another driver from having to endure a similar end.
During the first few minutes of the first annual Haunted History Tour in the small town of Wetumpka, Alabama, my tour group was shuffled into a room in the unrestored portion of the town’s CHAMBER OF COMMERCE BUILDING (110 East Bridge Street). The dingy room was in rough shape and a collection of folding chairs was set out for tour participants. I glanced through a doorway into an adjoining room and was greeted by a scarecrow with a mischievous grin painted on its burlap face.
The thought ran through my head, “Someone has put out some tacky Halloween decorations out for this tour. Oh my God, I hope the rest of the tour isn’t like this!” My fears were allayed however when the guide began talking about how this scarecrow moved on its own around the third floor. Passersby on the streets outside have noted the scarecrow peering down on them from one of the third floor windows. When they look again the scarecrow is often looking down from a different window. Employees of the chamber of commerce have also noted the scarecrow’s erratic movement, even once finding it torn apart on the floor of the bathroom. Even more shocking was when the scarecrow reappeared “in pristine condition”—to use our guide’s words—the following day in its usual position overlooking downtown.
The scarecrow, along with the other spirited compatriots, is overseeing a revival that’s taking place in downtown Wetumpka and throughout the state of Alabama. The state is beginning to awaken from its long, sad economic dream state and confidently stride back towards a fully awakened existence. Utilizing its own history, hominess, natural hospitality, stories, and even its ghosts, Alabama is brushing off the dust of its past and creating a more hopeful future.
Some of you may have noticed my absence during October. Please forgive me, I have been traveling throughout Alabama taking part in investigations and ghost tours. The life of a blogger can be rather dull when you’re only writing about these places rather than experiencing them. Last Halloween I promised myself that I would leave my schedule open this year so I could take advantage of the various investigations and ghost tours that crop up during the Halloween season. With one exception, all my investigations and tours were in Alabama, a state that I have discovered really wants its stories told.
My first jaunt, the first weekend of October, took me to Sylacauga, the Marble City. Located in central Alabama, Sylacauga (pronounced sil-uh-CAW-guh), is about 45 miles south east of Birmingham. The town was built primarily on marble quarrying: carving up the fine marble vein that spans thirty miles under this section of Talladega County. Near the downtown, the COMER MUSEUM (711 North Broadway Avenue) is situated in an Art Deco-styled marble-clad building built in the 1930s as the town’s library. Sculptures and carvings from the local marble grace the entrance of the elegant building that serves as a virtual attic for the area squirrelling away and displaying an array of historic artifacts.
I was in town for an investigation at the museum with S.C.A.R.E. of Alabama, a group founded by authors Kim Johnston and Shane Busby (who wrote Haunted Talladega County together, Johnston is also the author of Haunted Shelby County, Alabama and Haint Blue: The Rockford Haunting). Members of the group include haunted collector and author Kevin Cain whose book, My Haunted Collection, is now a part of my Southern Spirit Library, he’s also written a number of supernatural fiction works; and Kat Hobson who hosts the radio show “Paranormal Experienced with Kat Hobson” on which I appeared a few months ago and will be appearing at the end of this month. The group hosted this investigation as part of a series of public investigations that they host as fundraisers for the places investigated.
On the route I decided to stop outside of Childersburg to check out DeSOTO CAVERNS & FAMILY FUN PARK (5181 Desoto Caverns Parkway). As I waited for the cave tour I watched a young father carry his child off the porch of the gift shop heading towards the family’s car. In his arms the child squirmed and cried in the depths of a temper tantrum. As they passed the statue of Hernando de Soto the father said, “Hey look, it’s Hernando de Soto!” The child only screamed louder. Goodness knows that de Soto inspired similar reactions from the natives when he marched through this area in 1540.
Scholars suggest that Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernando de Soto may have stopped in the area as he hacked his way through the forests and natives of the region. While there is no proof that he visited the cave, there is evidence that it was known to the local natives. Several native burials were located in the main room of the cave as well as the remains of a white trader who was killed after he carved his name in the cave which was considered sacred to the natives. Being a cave fan, I was happy when Johnston and Busby included the cave in their book on haunted Talladega County.
While I have had some creepy experiences in caves (see my experiences at Lost Sea Cave in Sweetwater, TN), I didn’t have anything odd happen. Johnston and Busby note that a young daughter of the cave’s owners had experiences with Native American spirits during her childhood on the property. Worried that these spirits may have been upset by the family’s use of the cave as a tourist attraction, the owners brought in members of the native tribes that once owned the land to cleanse the property and rebury the bones of their ancestors that had originally lain quietly in the cave. Apparently, the spirits have been appeased, though I do wonder if there is any residual energy that may cause some activity on occasion.
Sylacauga itself seems to be waking up however: a number of buildings in its downtown were occupied and open for business including what appeared to be several new restaurants. For dinner I considered BUTTERMILK HILL RESTAURANT(300 East 3rd Street) which occupies an early 20th century house just outside of downtown. Listed in Johnston and Busby’s book, the restaurant shares the house with an assortment of spirits and a dark history that includes a murder within the past decade. While the menu looks delectable, it was a bit pricey for my current budget, though I did take some pictures.
My second sojourn to Alabama took place over the penultimate weekend of October. Due to work on Friday, the trip turned out to be rather rushed and I didn’t have much time to really enjoy it the trip up. S.C.A.R.E. of Alabama sponsored an investigation of JEMISON-CARNEGIE HERITAGE HALL MUSEUM (200 South Street East) and the adjoining ARMSTRONG-OSBORNE PUBLIC LIBRARY (202 South Street East) in Talladega. Despite NASCAR races taking place the same weekend at the nearby (and cursed, supposedly) Talladega Superspeedway in Lincoln, the leafy streets of Talladega were quiet and still. South Street boasts some fine institutions and a handful of ghosts. On this peaceful night, antebellum MANNING HALL (205 South Street East), the huge, main edifice of the Alabama Institute for the Blind and Deaf, across the street from Heritage Hall was lit up like a beacon. Heritage Hall’s smaller, more feminine, Beaux-Arts façade was lit up as if in graceful answer to Manning Hall’s heavy, masculine Greek Revival colonnade. According to Johnston and Busby, Manning Hall does have some spirits of its own, quite possibly including the shade of the Institute’s founder, Dr. Joseph Johnson.
The Jemison-Carnegie Public Library was the dream of Louisa Jemison, a member of the prominent Jemison family who now have a handful of haunted places associated with them. Designed by noted Alabama architect Frank Lockwood, the library was built with a donation of land from Louisa Jemison and the Carnegie Foundation. When the library opened in 1908 local lore tells of a little 8-year-old girl sitting on the top step the first day and her being the first person to check out a book. The little girl, Gentry Parsons, would eventually pen her own books and donated many books to this library.
Good architecture has power. In creating beautiful spaces, the architect can physically manipulate those entering the space; the eyes and chin are raised and the dignity of the space encourages those entering to straighten their back out of respect. With better posture, those entering have their senses heightened and the feeling of awe can mellow into a sense of inspiration, lightness, refinement, and freedom. Like the great cathedrals of Europe, the architecture of Heritage Hall does exactly that. The high ceilings, airiness, and grace raises the senses of those walking up the front staircase and entering the front door. The main bay of the building is a large open space with a dramatic staircase directly ahead leading down to the main librarian’s desk.
After entering for the investigation I was greeted by the museum’s director and given an excellent tour of the building. The open space inside with the walls lined with art from local artists gives the place a sense of veneration and the art displays the tremendous talent throughout the region. I was also introduced to some of the paranormal activity that has been experienced here. With this building being a community center for such a long period of time, the energy that has passed and continues to pass through it has likely left a psychic imprint. That can be one explanation for the disembodied footsteps and doors opening and closing on their own accord. As a library, this building has also inspired passion for many people, people who return to this beloved spot in spirit. Some of the spirits believed to still oversee business here are Miss Willie, a former librarian; Tom Woodson, a long-time director of the museum who died a few years ago; and Louisa Jemison who may return to check on her beloved library.
Spooning Heritage Hall like a protective older sibling is the Armstrong-Osborne Public Library which opened in 1979. Sadly, the architects of the newer building did not take their cues from Lockwood’s design. The building is minimalist and angular with no ornamentation; utilitarian modernist at its worst. The interior is very typical late 20th century library design which emphasizes function over design. While the architecture is nothing to write home about, the institution itself seems to be very well stocked and the librarians and staff present were delightful and very interested in the investigation.
The library itself has experienced a modicum of strange activity particularly around the genealogy room and its adjacent hallway which are actually part of a 2006 addition to the building. That hallway is now the Hall of Heroes, honoring the many men and women of Talladega County who have served in the armed forces. The hall is lined with photographs ranging from World War I to the most recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. In this hallway the spirit of a woman has been seen while the sounds of a party sometimes emanate from the genealogy room itself when it’s empty. The investigation of the library and Heritage Hall didn’t really uncover much evidence-wise. After sitting with Ghost Boxes in the main reading room of the library we adjourned to the genealogy room and the Hall of Heroes. Fitted out with computers, microfilm readers, and shelves of books old and new, the genealogy room isn’t particularly creepy, even in the dark. We did an EVP session and at one point seemingly heard a “no,” though I was one of the few people to hear it. It may have also been gastric noises from one of the participants. After relocating to Heritage Hall we didn’t pick up much activity, though we had some K2 spikes when some of men began lounging on Miss Willie’s library desk.
Johnston, Kim and Shane Busby. Haunted Talladega County. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2015.
“History.”Talladega Armstrong-Osborne Public Library. Accessed 12 November 2016.
“Our History.” Jemison-Carnegie Heritage Hall Museum. Accessed 12 November 2016.
Wetumpka Area Chamber of Commerce. Wetumpka Haunted Heritage Tour. 28 October 2016.
The Lost Sea 140 Lost Sea Road Sweetwater, Tennessee
My post on Sweetwater, Tennessee’s The Lost Sea got an anonymous comment a couple weeks ago, “By the way there is nothing haunted about the cave. I work there and I can tell you half of the stuff above is a lie.” Just a day later, I received an interesting report from a visitor who had an experience.
In writing about haunted places, I regularly encounter people who will attest that a location is not haunted while also encountering people who have had experiences in that location they truly believe are paranormal. Who to believe? No one perceives the world around them in the same exact way. This becomes even more complicated when you factor in psychic sensitivities.
To say that a place is not haunted because you personally have not experienced anything is short-sighted and loses sight of people who may be able to sense things where you may feel nothing. It’s for this reason that physical evidence is very important. In this case, the reader who wrote to me about her experience also included two photographs. While I’m not expert on photographic evidence, both photos do contain some odd things. I cannot say for certain whether the photographs are paranormal or not.
This reader from Lakeland, Florida related her experience as follows:
Hi, I had an encounter at the Lost Sea Caves in Sweetwater, TN this past December. I also have pictures that I took. At the time of our visit, I told my husband that there was a young man following me (I have always been “sensitive” but because it scares me, I have never really given it any thought). All I could see of the young man was his face, and that he had a blue hat on. He was not threatening to me, but curious. I did some research when I got home and I learned of the young union [sic] soldier who was spying on the caves and was killed. I am positive that this is who my encounter was with.
I asked her to describe the face and the hat further.
As far as the description of the face and hat. He was young, had a thin, although not super skinny face and a mild complexion. His hat was a medium blue, what I would call a classic union battle cap. [from this description, I would venture it was a Union kepi] What stood out to me the most is that he was young, definitely not over 25. He also seemed kind and curious. I felt like he knew that I knew he was there.
I then ventured to ask if she saw him with her eyes or sensed him. She responded that she “sensed it, but it was the first time that I ever saw clear features.” She continued, “all of the other times, I could definitely sense the energy, but I couldn’t put a physical description on it.”
In my own entry from 2011, I alluded to the legend from the Civil War regarding a Union spy who attempted to sabotage the Confederate saltpeter mining and gunpowder making operation that was located in the cave. Since I wrote that article, I have discovered that there is quite a bit more information on that topic. Larry E. Matthews’ book, Caves of Knoxville and the Great Smoky Mountains, includes this story in their history of the cave.
The story comes from a diary kept by the Rev. J. H. Coltharp that was discovered before 1934. Sadly, the diary has been lost, but the details of the gunpowder production and the death of the Union soldier were recorded. According to this diary, the cave was the only location in the Knoxville area where saltpeter was mined for Confederate use. This gunpowder was surreptitiously carried to Knoxville and throughout the South by young men who would carry 50-pound cans of it.
The diary relates that the men working this operation felt relatively safe in the cave as Union troops—this region was occupied by Union troops starting in 1863—wouldn’t enter the cave for fear of getting lost. One Union soldier did manage to sneak past the Confederates stationed throughout the area to guard the cave and was discovered after he had placed dynamite in the cave to destroy it. “He was tied to a large gum tree near the cave and shot.”
Is this soldier the face that the young lady from Florida saw? We may never know.
I’d like to thank the young lady from Florida for sharing her story and photographs.
Coleman, Christopher K. Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2011.
Matthews, Larry E. Caves of Knoxville and the Great Smoky Mountains. Huntsville, AL: National Speleological Society. 2008.
Powell, Lewis O. Correspondence with a reader from Lakeland, Florida.9-14 March 2015.
Powell, Lewis O. “A sunless sea—Craighead Caverns and the Lost Sea.” Southern Spirit Guide blog. 6 December 2011.
N.B. This article was revised and expanded 7 March 2019.
In time for Halloween, two Tennessee locations–Ruby Falls and Bolivar’s Magnolia Manor (see my coverage in my article “13 More Southern Rooms with a Boo“–have announced that they’ve been declared certifiably haunted after being investigated by paranormal investigators.
Ruby Falls 1720 South Scenic Highway Chattanooga
If you’ve spent any time driving within 100 miles of Ruby Falls, you will recognize this name. Along with Rock City—located just up the mountain—Ruby Falls has engaged in an extensive advertising campaign along roadsides, on barn roofs, and in hotel lobby brochure racks throughout the Deep South. Their advertising campaigns have made Ruby Falls and Rock City synonymous with tourism throughout the region.
Ruby Falls—not to be confused with Anna Ruby Falls in Unicoi State Park in North Georgia—is a cave in Lookout Mountain that ends in a marvelous waterfall. The cave is accessible via elevator from a castle-like visitors’ center above. Earlier this month, paranormal investigators searched for evidence of the paranormal both in the visitors’ center and in the cave itself. After looking at the evidence, Stones River Paranormal determined that there are spirits in the location.
Ruby Falls Cave is actually part of a larger cave system: the Lookout Mountain Caverns. Lookout Mountain Cave was known for centuries by Native Americans in the area as well as early settlers and it was also heavily utilized during the Civil War. Sadly, the natural entrance to the cave was closed off when a railroad tunnel was constructed in the area. In the 1920s, a chemist and amateur spelunker, Leo Lambert, created the Lookout Mountain Cave Company to reopen the cave as a commercial venture. As workers were drilling an elevator shaft into Lookout Mountain Cave, a smaller cave was discovered above. Wriggling into the small cave, Lambert explored the passages and admired the cave’s intricate formations ultimately finding the falls at the end of the cave which he named for his wife, Ruby.
Both caves were opened as commercial, “show” caves but Ruby Falls Cave became much more popular. Tours were eventually ended to Lookout Mountain Cave and over time, lighting and music have been added to “enhance” the cave experience.
Stones River Paranormal discovered the presence of at least five spirits in the cave and its visitors’ center. Leo Lambert and his wife, Ruby, as well as the spirit of a security guard who died after falling down an elevator shaft were named as possible spirits within the facility. Oddly, the spirits of a few children may also be haunting the visitors’ center.
A couple years ago, I corresponded with Amy Petulla, co-author with Jessica Penot, of Haunted Chattanooga (which I reviewed here), and owner of the Chattanooga Ghost Tour. She provided me with a bit more information on the spirits at Ruby Falls:
The security guide that died there has a couple of ways of making his presence known. They say that his spirit is accompanied by the smell of sugar cookies, which his wife used to pack in his lunch every day. He is also a bit of a prankster and is fond of unscrewing the light bulb in a particular section of the cave.
I had a previous guide tell me that while he and his girlfriend were enjoying the fake haunted house that Ruby Falls puts on in October, something invisible grabbed his girlfriend’s glowstick necklace and yanked it up towards her head. There was no one close to them at the time. My guess is this was NOT the security guard, but another entity.
Jenkins, Gary C. “Ruby Falls.” The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. 25 December 2009.
Personal Correspondence with Amy Petulla. 15 May 2017.
Phipps, Sean. “Ruby Falls deemed an official haunted location.” com. 29 September 2014.
Ruby Falls. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 30 September 2014.
I recently had an inquiry from a friend who’s a student at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia regarding a “haunted road trip” he and his friends want to take next month. After consulting my resources, I’ve devised a suitable tour of the area’s numerous haunts.
This tour makes a circle through the Shenandoah Valley, beginning and ending in Winchester. It heads south on I-81 towards Staunton with a few stops along the way. After Staunton the tour heads east to include the famous Exchange Hotel in Gordonsville before returning to Winchester. The tour includes a range of haunted places from historic homes to government buildings, churches, battlefields, commercial buildings, cemeteries, a train depot, a former mental hospital and a cave. Some of these locations are open to the public while a few are private and should only be viewed from the street.
Of the cities on this tour, Winchester is perhaps the most interesting, historically speaking. The city was chartered in 1752 and during the 19th century was one of the most important cities in the region. It served as a market town and it is here that nine major roads converged along with the Winchester and Potomac Railroad. With the coming of the Civil War, the city’s location made it a prize coveted by both armies. It would famously change hands many times during the war with three major battles taking place here during the course of the war with a host of smaller battles and skirmishes taking place throughout the region. This bloody history has most certainly left a spiritual mark on the region and especially on Winchester.
Winchester’s ghosts have been documented primarily in Mac Rutherford’s 2007 book, Historic Haunts of Winchester: A Ghostly Trip Through the Past. This book is excellent in describing these hauntings more in depth. There is a ghost tour, Ghost Tours Old Town Winchester, Virginia, though they only have a Facebook page that doesn’t provide much information. (website).
STOP #1-ABRAM’S DELIGHT (1340 S. Pleasant Valley Road, Open daily M-Sat 10-4, Sun 12-4, Adults $5, website) One of the best places to understand the early history of Winchester is in the restored home of the Hollingsworth family, one of the first white families to settle in the area. Built by Abraham Hollingsworth in the mid-18th century, the house remained in the family until the City of Winchester purchased it in 1943. The house is apparently haunted by spirits of family members who once lived there. The family’s mill, which is now home to offices for the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society, is also the scene of some paranormal activity. Please see my blog entry (An independent spirit—Winchester, Virginia) for further information.
STOP #2-MOUNT HEBRON CEMETERY (305 E. Boscawen Street, Open daily 7:30 AM-6PM, website) Encompassing four different cemeteries, Mount Hebron holds some of the oldest burials in the city. Two of the cemeteries within its precincts date to the mid-18th century, while the large Stonewall Confederate Cemetery was created following the Civil War. This may also be the most haunted section of this cemetery. Visitors have noted the presence of a lone figure near the marker for the Patton Brothers, George and Tazewell (Col. George S. Patton was the grandfather of General George S. Patton who lead American forces during World War II). Wearing a military greatcoat and peaked hat, the figure walks towards the marker and disappears. Legend holds that the figure may be none other than Nazi Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. During the 1930s, Rommel was one of a number of German military leaders who spent time in the area studying the military tactics of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson.
While the Confederate dead—some of whom were unknown—were buried in the cemetery here, the Union dead were buried across Woodstock Lane in the National Cemetery. Mac Rutherford states that people living in the area and passersby just after sundown have seen grayish figures rising from the Confederate part of Mount Hebron and making their way across the street towards the National Cemetery.
STOP #3-DOWNTOWN WINCHESTER’S haunted sites may be explored easily on foot, so these are grouped together.
STOP #3A-RED LION TAVERN BUILDING (204-208 South Loudoun Street) This historic tavern building was constructed in 1784 by German Revolutionary War veteran Peter Lauck. He is known to have had seven daughters, one of whom may still be seen and heard in the building. People recently working in the building have been thanked by a soft, feminine voice saying, “danke.” The shadowy figure of a woman in colonial dress is also sometimes seen.
STOP #3B-CORK STREET TAVERN (8 West Cork Street, Open M-Sat 11-1AM, Sun 12-10, website) Occupying a pair of early 19th century residences, the Cork Street Tavern has a pair of ghosts, though there seems to be some uncertainty as to why they’re there. Much of the structure’s history is well-known except for the period during Prohibition when the building may have been used as a speakeasy and brothel. The spectral pair, nicknamed John and Emily by the restaurant staff, have both made their presence known with a variety of activity. Apparitions of both have been seen in the building while Emily’s voice has been heard calling, “John,” a number of times. A spirit has also been known to trip female patrons walking into the non-smoking section. The level of activity here is high enough that it lead an investigator to remark during a 2009 investigation that “nothing holds a candle to Cork Street.”
STOP #3C-SOUTH BRADDOCK STREET HAUNTS (Block of South Braddock between Cork and Boscawen) This block has spiritual activity from two different wars.
BRADDOCK STREET UNITED METHODIST CHURCH PARKING LOT (Intersection of South Braddock and Wolfe Streets, Southeast Corner) During the French and Indian War (1755-1762), Fort George, one of two forts built in the area under the purview of Colonel George Washington, stood near here. This piece of property was used for drilling recruits and Colonial soldiers have been seen in the area and in the building that once occupied this site.
Soldiers from the Civil War have been seen along this street. After the First Battle of Winchester on May 25, 1862 which was a Confederate victory, Union forces retreated along this street. According to Mac Rutherford, they held their formations along this street until they reached the center of town where they broke rank and ran for their lives. The reports of soldiers seen here usually include large formations of many soldiers.
STOP #3D-38 WEST BOSCAWEN STREET (private) One of Winchester’s most accomplished daughters, Patsy Cline, is associated with this building. It was here, at the G&M Music Store, where Cline bought her first guitar and made some of her first recordings. Visitors to the room that once housed the recording studio have experienced a coldness and claim to have felt the spirit of the famed singer.
STOP #3E-125 WEST BOSCAWEN STREET (private) The circa 1790 home at this site is now occupied by a law firm. Like many buildings throughout the city, this structure served as a hospital for the wounded during the Civil War. Employees of the businesses that have occupied this space over the past few decades have reported hearing footsteps regularly and feeling a cold chill in certain rooms.
STOP #3F-FULLER HOUSE INN (220 West Boscawen Street, private bed and breakfast inn, website) This magnificent home was constructed in 1854 incorporating the late 18th century servants quarters from the Ambler Hill Estate. On the eve of the Civil War, the house was purchased by prominent local dentist, Dr. William McPherson Fuller. This building was also commandeered for use as a hospital during the Civil War and that may explain the presence of a soldier who has been seen in the house.
STOP #3G-HANDLEY REGIONAL LIBRARY (100 West Piccadilly Street, Open M & W 10-8, T & F-Sat 10-5, Th 10-1, website) Opened in 1913, this glorious Beaux-Arts library was constructed as a gift to the city of Winchester from coal baron, Judge John Handley. The face of a man with a “drooping mustache” has been seen peering from the windows of the building’s rotunda. A full apparition of a man with a mustache and wearing a frock coat has been seen by library staff inside the building. Perhaps Judge Handley is checking up on his gift?
STOP #3H—KIMBERLY’S (LLOYD LOGAN HOUSE) (135 North Braddock Street, Open M-Sat 10-6, Sun 11-5, website) Lloyd Logan, a local tobacco merchant, built this home around 1850 and it was considered one of the finest homes in town. When war came, the house was commandeered for use by Union generals Franz Sigel and later Philip Sheridan. Under orders from General Sigel, Lloyd Logan was thrown in jail and the house and most of its contents were confiscated for army use. Logan’s wife and daughters were later removed from the house and unceremoniously dumped along the Valley Pike. This incident may contribute to the spiritual activity within the home.
From Braddock Street, look up at the two windows on the south side of the second floor. Passersby have seen the figure of a man pacing and throwing his hands into the air. One witness noted that the figure was “really clear, sort of gray and fuzzy. I think he was even pulling at his hair.” Employees of Kimberly’s have also seen the man in that room and state that he is accompanied by a woman crying in the corner.
STOP #3I—PHILLIP WILLIAMS HOUSE (formerly JOE’S STEAKHOUSE) (25 West Piccadilly Street, ) A Confederate officer is frequently seen staring out the windows of this circa 1845 mansion. Legend holds that this is the spirit of Colonel George S. Patton (the same one buried in Mount Hebron Cemetery above) who died here September 19, 1864 from injuries sustained during the Third Battle of Winchester. He is believed to have passed away on the second floor.
STOP #3J—INDIAN ALLEY Figures of very tall Indians have been witnessed along this street. There are a number of legends dating to the 18th century regarding very tall Native Americans who once lived in the area. Perhaps the spirits of these original inhabitants return? The Indians are generally seen during the first and last light of the day.
STOP #3K—BREWBAKER’S RESTAURANT (168 North Loudoun Street, Open T-Sat 11AM-2AM, Sun 11-9, website) With a core dating the late 18th century, this old commercial building has been home to a continuous line of restaurants since 1910. However, the history does not explain the apparition of a young woman who appears near the fireplace.
STOP #3L—151 NORTH LOUDOUN STREET (formerly OLDE TOWN ARMORY AND HEIRLOOMS) Built originally as the Arlington Hotel, this building houses a ghost that was known recently to make a bathroom run every morning. Past owners of this building would have the front door open by itself followed by the sound of footsteps racing into the store and up the stairs. The water in the bathroom would be turned on in the upstairs bathroom. After some time, the spirit began leaving a penny outside the bathroom door. In one case, the spirit left a penny on the floor and placed a penny on the breasts of a female mannequin being stored just outside the bathroom.
STOP #3M—TAYLOR PAVILION (125 North Loudoun Street, private) In its heyday, the Taylor Hotel offered the grandest accommodations in the city. Opening just a decade before the Civil War, the hotel provided accommodations to many of the generals leading troops through the area. Sadly, the spirit of one of the red-headed call girls who served at the hotel still lingers.
STOP #3N—VILLAGE SQUARE RESTAURANT AND V2 PIANO BAR AND LOUNGE (103 North Loudoun Street, Open M-Th 11:30-10, F-Sat 11:30-12, Sun 11:30-8, website) These two establishments occupy a series of haunted structures all built in the early 19th century. Spirits flit and float throughout the restaurant, but the V2 Piano Bar and Lounge haa the real story to tell. This building formerly housed Miller’s Apothecary which opened on this site in the mid-18th century. The apothecary was operated by the Miller family until 1992 when they decided to shutter the business. Subsequent owners of the building have all had run-ins with the resident spirits including Jeanette, a young woman who lived with the Miller family in the 18th century.
Perhaps one of the saddest stories of this location comes from the Civil War. Union soldiers from the 29th Pennsylvania Infantry were quartered in the upstairs rooms. A young African-American male was lynched by the group in a tree just outside the building. The pacing of boots and the shouts of arguing soldiers are still heard here.
STOP #3O—33 NORTH LOUDON STREET Be on the lookout for a young woman in Civil War era clothing hurrying along the street with a shawl wrapped around her shoulders near this address. She is believed to be the spirit of Tillie Russell, a local woman who legend calls, “The Angel of the Battlefield.”
A small engagement occurred at Rutherford’s Farm outside of Winchester on July 20, 1864 when Union forces attacked a Confederate division under command of General Stephen Ramseur, throwing it into confusion. Capt. Randolph Ridgeley of the 2nd Virginia Volunteer Infantry was seriously wounded during that attack as was discovered by Tillie Russell. She nursed him through the night and Ridgeley survived his wounds.
For years, people have seen the spirit of Miss Russell leaving the building at 33 North Loudoun pulling her shawl about her shoulders as she heads off towards the battlefield at Rutherford’s Farm.
STOP #3P—OLD COURT HOUSE CIVIL WAR MUSEUM (20 North Loudoun Street, Open M-Sat 10-5, Sun 1-5, Adults $5, website) Of all the buildings throughout the city impacted by the Civil War, the biggest impact was possibly on this building which was constructed in 1840 as the Frederick County Court House. The building served as a hospital and, after the Third Battle of Winchester, a prison for captured Confederates. Many of the scars left on this building including the graffiti left on the walls by soldiers from both sides have been preserved. The building has also been the scene of some rather intense spiritual activity.
Some spiritually sensitive passersby have witnessed gray forms huddled in the building’s courtyard where Confederate prisoners were kept. In the old courtroom, voices have been heard ranging from faint whispers to obnoxious shouting and the cries of the wounded that once crowded this space. During the building’s renovation, workers had tools and equipment moved. Three workers walked off the job when scaffolding was moved from one side of the room to another during a lunch break.
STOP #3Q—2 SOUTH LOUDOUN STREET (formerly OLDE TOWN CAFE) This large, brick building was originally the family home of the prominent Holliday family and this was the home of Frederick Holliday who served as governor during the 19th century. The building has seen a variety of uses including post office, a dry goods store and drug store. Since its use as a restaurant, the owners have discovered that the building is also the residence of two ghosts. A male spirit has been seen ascending the stairs from the basement, though he always just stops and stares upon reaching the top. A woman’s spirit has been seen entering the building’s front door and rearranging items on the shelves inside the restaurant.
STOP #4—WAYSIDE INN (7783 Main Street, private bed and breakfast inn with a restaurant, Larrick’s Tavern, open 12-9 Th-Sat and Sun 10-2, website) This building sits at the core of history of this small town. The motley of old buildings forming the tavern were built over a period ranging from the 18th century through to the late 19th century. The oldest portion of the building, containing Larrick’s Tavern, may have been constructed around 1750. The road in front was once part of the Great Wagon Road—the road used by settlers pouring into the American “backcountry.” In this area, the Great Wagon Road was originally a Native American trail called the Great Indian Warpath and used by a multitude of Native American tribes including the Cherokee.
In 1797, this collection of buildings became an inn for the many travelers passing on the road. Leo Bernstein, the garrulous personality who took over the inn the latter half of the 20th century, would always claim that this inn was the oldest continuously operating inn in the nation. There does seem to be a good deal of truth behind his claim. It is known that this inn was in operation as war raged up and down the valley during the Civil War and that the inn served both sides.
Like most buildings in the area, the inn has a number of Civil War related spirits, though there is the possibility that the inn may have been haunted before that time. Lord Fairfax, who had been given much the land in the area, did live nearby and died in Winchester (he’s buried at Christ Episcopal Church) is claimed as the spirit that moans on a nightly basis in the oldest portion of the inn. Bernstein describes the space in Sheila Turnage’s Haunted Inns of the Southeast, “Upstairs is about a three foot space. There was a set of steps going up there. The straw is still there.” The loft is located just above one of the bars and Turnage mentions that people gather to listen for the moan at 11:30 PM nightly.
Besides odd moans, the inn is home to numerous other spirits and employees and guests have witnessed much activity. Objects have moved on their own accord, a dishwasher had his apron untied repeatedly by unseen hands, and full apparitions have been seen including those of Civil War soldiers. Paranormal investigations have captured much evidence including EVPs of horses whinnying and photographs featuring specters.
STOP #5—WAYSIDE THEATRE (7853 Main Street, now closed) The sad fate of the Wayside Theatre echoes the fate of so many theatres throughout the country. The company was established in 1961, by Leo Bernstein, the owner of the Wayside Inn just down the street. The summer stock theatre provided training for actors such as Susan Sarandon, Peter Boyle, Kathy Bates and Donna McKechnie. After a precipitous drop in revenue, the theatre closed its doors in 2013.
The building was originally constructed as a cinema and it is from this period that the theatre’s ghost may come from. “George,” is supposedly the spirit of an African-American man who either worked in the theatre or was a caretaker at some point. His spirit is said to haunt the stage, balcony and basement of the building.
STOP #6—CEDAR CREEK AND BELLE GROVE NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK (Belle Grove, 336 Belle Grove Road, Open M-Sat 10-4, Sun 1-5, $12 Adults, website; Cedar Creek Visitor’s Center, 8437 Valley Pike, Open M-Sat 10-4, Sun 1-4, website) Historically and architecturally, Belle Grove is one of the most important houses in the region and listed as a National Historic Landmark. It is currently owned and operated by the National Trust and most sources state that the docents are discouraged from talking about the spirits which still reside here.
The history of Belle Grove begins in the late 18th century with the land being acquired by Isaac Hite, the grandson of Jost Hite, a German immigrant and one of the early pioneers in this area. Construction of the house began in 1794 and ended in 1797. The house remained in the Hite family until just before the beginning of the Civil War when it was bought by John and Benjamin Cooley. The first of two ghost stories begin with this family. Not long after acquiring the house, Benjamin Cooley married a local woman named Hetty. Not long after her arrival in the home, Hetty became the subject of ire from one of the slave woman working there.
Though the details are unclear, Hetty was attacked by the slave and her beaten body was thrown either into the smokehouse or the icehouse on the property. Hetty’s spirit reportedly returns frequently and has been seen throughout the house. According to two sources, she actually let a deliveryman into the house one afternoon after the home had been closed for the day. The deliveryman was returning the antique carpets which had been removed for cleaning. After arriving late, he was let into the house by a woman in a period dress who did not speak but only gestured to where the carpets should be placed. When the staff discovered the carpets had been returned and put in place, they called the cleaning company who put the driver on the phone. They were shocked to hear about the woman who let him in.
A few years after Mrs. Cooley’s death, the estate became the scene of the Battle of Cedar Creek. During that battle, Major General Stephen Ramseur of North Carolina was gravely wounded. He was taken to a room at Belle Grove where he passed away the following morning surrounded by some of his former classmates from West Point from both armies including George Custer. This scene was witnessed by a gentleman some years ago. While idly passing through the house, he glanced into a room to see a group of Civil War soldiers in both blue and grey standing around someone in a bed. Later, when he asked who had been presenting the tableaux that day, he was informed that nothing of the sort was taking place in the house.
Employees have told various paranormal writers that voices and other odd noises are regularly heard in the house, while singing is heard in the slave cemetery on the property.
Early on the morning of October 19, 1864, Confederate General Jubal Early launched an attack upon Union forces camping in the area. These forces under General Sheridan (who was headquartered at the Lloyd Logan House in Winchester, see stop #3H) had spent their time clearing the Shenandoah Valley of Confederates. Known as “The Burning,” this period included the destruction of much of the area. Early’s early morning attack was one of the last chances for Confederates to stop the decimation of the valley.
While Early’s attack was initially successful in beginning to route the Federals, Sheridan, hearing the sounds of battle from Winchester, jumped upon his horse and made a triumphant ride to Middletown to rally his troops to victory. At the end of the day, Early’s forces had been driven from the field.
The stories of spirits on this battlefield began not long after the battle ended. These stories included spectral soldiers on the battlefield both singly and in groups and even stories of headless horsemen. Michael Varhola notes, however, that the gentlemen he met working in the visitor’s center, refused to answer his questions about the battlefield being haunted.
STOP #7—GRAND CAVERNS (5 Grand Caverns Drive, Open 9-5, Adults $18, website) From the oldest continuously operating inn in the country to the oldest operating show cave, Grand Caverns has been open for tourists since 1806. I’ve covered this cave and its ghosts in a blog entry here.
STOP #8—PIEDMONT BATTLEFIELD (Battlefield Road) Outside of New Hope, near the community of Piedmont, is an open field that was the scene of a battle, the 5th of June 1864.
Around 5 AM, June 5, 1996, a group of reenactors camping on the southern edge of the battlefield were awakened by an unusual ruckus: the sounds of wagons approaching. In an effort to greet the approaching wagons, a few of the reenactors stepped towards a nearby fence. The sounds, the creak of wagon wheels, the tinkle of chains, the clop of horses hooves and their whinnies, increased for a moment as they apparently neared the awed witnesses then they suddenly ceased. Some of those present later discovered an overgrown trace or wagon road in the woods near the spot where they’d heard the sounds. It is believed that this road may have been in existence at the time of the battle.
Of course, there’s no way to know if the sounds were related to battle or simply spiritual residue from the road’s history. Either way, the reenactors will likely tell this story for years to come.
Like Winchester, Staunton has a myriad of haunted locales and a ghost tour. Black Raven Paranormal presents a handful of different tours; see their website for further information.
STOP #9—MRS. ROWE’S FAMILY RESTAURANT (74 Rowe Road) This popular restaurant has been investigated twice in the past few years after employees and guests have had run-ins with spirits. In addition to activity in the building’s attic and basement, the back dining room and men’s room have reportedly had activity. Two local news articles describe the activity as ranging from full apparitions to employees being touched.
STOP #10—DeJARNETTE CENTER (located behind the Frontier Culture Museum, 1290 Richmond Avenue, the center is closed and private property though one of the tours offered by the Ghosts of Staunton tours the grounds, don’t ask for further information at the Frontier Culture Museum, they can’t tell you much of anything) There’s a good deal of misinformation about this location. Of course, mental and psychiatric hospitals tend to be haunted, along with other medical facilities. Among those with a paranormal bent, there is a tendency to exploit these types of places and often repeat misinformation.
With the DeJarnette Center, there is a tendency to confuse it with Western State Hospital, which also may be haunted. Though their histories are intertwined, these are two separate facilities. Western State was founded early in the 19th century to handle the overflow from the Williamsburg Hospital which handled the insane and mental cases. The complex that once house Western State has recently been converted into condominiums called The Villages at Staunton.
During the first half of the 19th century, Western State was under the aegis of Dr. Joseph DeJarnette, a revolutionary figure in the field of mental health. His controversial legacy included institutionalizing a eugenics program that forcibly sterilized numerous patients throughout the state.
This facility opened in 1932 originally as the DeJarnette State Sanitarium, a private pay unit of Western State. The state assumed control of this facility in 1975 and renamed it the DeJarnette Center for Human Development. The facility experienced severe budget cuts starting in the mid-70s and continuing until the patients were moved into a newer, smaller facility adjacent to Western State in 1996. Since 1996, the site has been abandoned and waiting for the wrecking ball. Countless ghost stories have been told about the facility, though few have actually been published.
STOP #11—DOWNTOWN STAUNTON Like downtown Winchester, Staunton has a number of haunted places, though the information on them is not as readily available (as opposed to Winchester with Mac Rutherford’s book on its hauntings). I imagine many of these locations will be presented on the Ghosts of Staunton tour.
STOP #11A—STAUNTON COFFEE AND TEA (32 South New Street, Open M-F 7:30-6, Sat 8-5, Sun 8-4, website) This building was the scene of a homicide in August of 1951. Elmer Higgins, a heavy gambler who lived in an apartment on the building’s second floor was shot in the head, execution-style. The murder remains unsolved and it is believed his spirit remains on the premises.
STOP #11B—AMTRAK STATION (1 Middlebrooks Avenue) There has been a train station on this site since 1854. The first station was burned during the Civil War while the second station was destroyed April 28, 1890 by train. The New York Times described the event, “This morning about 3 o’clock a railroad wreck occurred at the Staunton (Chesapeake and Ohio) Station. The vestibule train, due here from the west at 1 o’clocl was two hours late. About 3 o’clock it came whirling on at a speed of seventy miles an hour, the engine having the appearance of a sheet of fire…As the train reached the passenger station the rear sleeper careened, striking the platform covering, tearing away the iron posts, and demolishing the whole platform structure.”
The train was carrying members of a traveling operatic troupe out of Cincinnati, Ohio. The only death to occur was one of the company’s singers, Miss Myrtle Knox who was badly mangled by the accident and bled to death.
Myrtle’s sad spirit has been spotted on the platform wearing a nightgown. Women with long blonde hair have had their hair tugged and it is believed that Myrtle’s spirit may be to blame for that as well.
An old rail car at the depot once contained a restaurant. Visitors to the station have seen odd lights, shadows and heard voices around the old Pullman car. Along the tracks the apparition of a Civil War soldier has been seen. A Confederate soldier was walking these tracks after having a bit too much to drink at a local saloon. He was hit by a train and killed.
STOP #11C—THE CLOCK TOWER BUILDING (27 West Beverly Street) This 1890 structure has been the scene of at least three deaths. Two early deaths on the premises, which was originally constructed as a YMCA facility, include a heart attack and a young woman who fell down a coal chute. Recently, someone fell to their death from the third floor in a possible suicide. These spirits are still said to linger in this old building.
STOP #12—MARY BALDWIN COLLEGE (Intersection of Frederick Street and New Street) According to the National Register of Historic Places nomination form for this college’s main building, Mary Baldwin is the oldest women’s institution of higher learning associated with the Presbyterian Church. The school was opened in 1842 as the Augusta Female Seminary. In the midst of the Civil War, Mary Baldwin and Agnes McClung, former students of the seminary were appointed as principals. They would serve the school through the latter half of the 19th century and Mary Baldwin’s contribution would be recognized in 1895 when the school was renamed for her. The spirits of Mary Baldwin and Agnes McClung may remain on campus along with a few other assorted spirits.
In the old Main Building, one of the first buildings constructed on campus, a male spirit named Richard likes to occasionally cause trouble. McClung Residence Hall, just behind the Main Building includes the rooms where Baldwin and McClung lived during their tenure here. Students living there have reported the spirits of both women, with one student even waking up to find a white figure hovering over her as she slept. The Collins Theatre, located inside the Deming Fine Arts Center, also features a spirit, possibly that of one of Mary Baldwin’s most illustrious alums, the actress Tallulah Bankhead. The spirit in the theatre is known to mess with the stage lights.
STOP #13—CIVIL WAR MUSEUM AND EXCHANGE HOTEL (400 South Main Street, Open M-Th & Sat 10-4, F 12-4, Sun 1-4, $7 Adults, website) The Exchange Hotel has, in recent years, become one of the Southern meccas for ghost hunters. Opened on the eve of the Civil War, this hotel became one of the premier hospitals for the wounded during the Civil War. With so many deaths here, it’s no wonder that the place is crawling with ghosts. In one of my early blog entries, I’ve covered this location. At one time, the museum offered ghost walks, but I can currently find no information about these. This haunting was also covered on the Biography Channel show, My Ghost Story, first season, episode six.
Abram’s Delight. Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society. Accessed 19 September 2014.
Armstrong, Derek Micah. “A true ghost story.” The News Virginian. 22 October 2012.
Ash, Linda O’Dell. “Respect the spirits, ‘Ghost Hunters International’ star Dustin Pari tells Wayside Inn paranormal investigators.” The Northern Virginia Daily. 7 November 2011.
Austin, Natalie. “Local ghost expert shares stories of the supernatural.” The Northern Virginia Daily. 30 October 2004.
Brown, Beth. Haunted Plantations of Virginia. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2009.
N.B. This article has been revised and edited 18 May 2019.
It’s not hard to imagine that investigating in pitch black darkness could be both terrifying and exhilarating. Ghost hunters are accustomed to stumbling about in dark spaces, but usually there is some dim light even if just from the moon or street lights outside. Within a cave there is no ambient light, and the inky darkness envelops you.
In an article from WHSV, the ABC affiliate out of Harrisonburg, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley, the founder of the Twisted Paranormal Society of Virginia talks about the adrenaline rush that he gets from investigating the shadier side of things. In his investigation report he says, “Once the interior lights were turned off, [Grand Caverns] took on a whole new appearance.”
According to the history on its website, Grand Caverns is the oldest continually operating show cave in the nation. Show caves are those caverns that have been opened—exploited some say—for tourists and commercial use.
Like so many caves, Grand Caverns was discovered when someone simply stumbled on it, in this case a hunter retrieving traps. Bernard Weyer discovered the cave in 1804, and within two years tours were being led through it. In the early days, standing in the thick darkness tourists imagined ghosts, demons and all those denizens of the underworld were just at their heels. The weird formations were transformed into manifestations of nightmares and named accordingly: Dante’s Inferno and George Washington’s Ghost among them. At Dante’s Inferno especially—a hole-like formation with rock that seemingly melts towards the mouth of Hell—tourists were warned of evil spirits there that would extinguish candles or torches: the only sources of light here.
Other areas inspired awe or whimsy. In one large room, grand balls were held, while the sacred space of The Chapel was actually used on occasion for religious services. These things brought the curious to visit these caverns for just over two centuries. When the Virginia countryside was overrun with battling armies during the Civil War, soldiers visited, easing their minds of the weariness of war.
The identities of the spirits within Grand Caverns are unknown. While the articles relating to the haunting point to the military visitors to the cave during the Civil War, it appears that the soldiers simply visited and none died or were killed within the cave. Twisted Paranormal’s investigation did produce some results that may indicate the presence of spirits here, though their investigation was only 3 hours long. The group presents some of the evidence they captured on their website including some photographs with orbs and video of EMF detectors being set off with no one around. Unexplained flashing lights were also encountered.
Adams, Cindy. “Strange activity found in Grottoes Grand Caverns by paranormal investigators.” Examiner.com. 26 June 2012.
In Xanadu did Kublai Khan A stately pleasure-dome decree: Where Alph, the sacred river, ran Through caverns measureless to man Down to a sunless sea. –Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Kublai Khan” (1797)
The Lost Sea 140 Lost Sea Road Sweetwater, Tennessee
Many moons ago a large, prehistoric jaguar stumbled into this cave in eastern Tennessee between the modern metropolises of Chattanooga and Knoxville. The large cat may have wandered in but it never saw the light again. Lost in the inky darkness of the cave, the cat stumbled, fell and died. Its remains and a couple paw prints remained undisturbed until two curious cavers discovered them in Craighead Caverns in 1939. Since then, according to Christopher Coleman’s Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, “visitors have felt something akin to the tail of a large animal brush against them. Locals swear that a phantom jaguar haunts the cave.”
On a weekday morning in early December, I was visiting the cave long past the usual tourist season. The visitor’s center was quiet with a few employees putting up Christmas decorations. As a child, I always collected travel brochures when I went on family vacations and brochures for The Lost Sea were always available. I was thrilled to be finally visiting and even more thrilled to see that I was getting a private tour as one of the few visitors that morning.
I descended the futuristic tunnel with my guide to the caverns and he began his spiel: explaining the stalagmites and stalactites and how they were formed. We entered a round room called the “Council Room” where the Cherokee who once owned the cave may have gathered. The ceiling of this room bears beautiful and rare ornamentations known as “anthodites,” a fragile, flower-like formation. The Cherokee were among the earliest explorers of the cave and they left behind some artifacts. In the 1820s, the property was owned by a Chief Craighead for whom the cave was named. At some point after this time the cave was “discovered” by the white pioneers moving into the old Cherokee lands. Initially, families living in the area used the large, cold and dark cave rooms for food storage, but eventually an operation was set up to extract saltpeter for gunpowder.
As with so many caves throughout the South, during the Civil War the cave’s saltpeter works became strategically important. In fact, the ceilings still bear signatures that were left there by soldiers and visitors. According to an old diary from the period, the cave’s guard was infiltrated by a Union spy who intended on blowing up the whole operation. Once discovered, the spy was dragged out of the cave, tied to a large gum tree and shot. Of course, some have tied this story with the spirits that may haunt the cave, though, as of yet, there’s no real evidence to make that connection.
Following the tumult of the Civil War, the cave saw a variety of uses including mushroom farm, a setting for moonshine operations and as a fallout shelter during the Cold War. In 1947, the cave opened as the Cavern Tavern, a nightclub in the Big Room just inside the historical entrance of the cave. The tavern owners installed a bar and a dance floor with a band in an adjacent room which aided the acoustics. Patrons entering the tavern would traverse a steep staircase to descend into the club and once they’d had a few drinks and danced the night away, would again have to traverse the staircase again. According to the guide, resulting injuries from drunk patrons forced the closer of the club after a few months.
We were standing in the Hanging Rock Chamber (a round room created by a whirlpool with a ceiling of jagged rock) as the guide told me about the club in the adjacent Big Room. The room is not usually open during regular tours, though it is used as part of the Wild Cave Tours and groups spending the night within the cave stay here. No mention of legends had come up at this point, so I decided to ask about ghosts.
“I’ve read that there are a few legends of ghosts associated with this cave.”
The guide looked rather uneasy so I added a postscript, “I’d be interested in hearing anything you may know if you’re not forbidden to talk about it.” The guide relaxed a bit.
“I’ve had some experiences here.” He went on to explain that he had had an experience in the Big Room. He was in the cave with a group spending the night and was seated on the infamous staircase reading. He was startled by a sudden drop in temperature at which point he said he heard voices around him whispering. He jumped up and went outside for a little while.
He went on to relate the experience of a maintenance man who was gathering bags of trash in the same room. The maintenance man heard the sound of footsteps following him as he moved through the room. As he began to leave, a voice uttered his name from just behind him. He fled.
The guide and I began to leave the Hanging Rock Chamber, but I wanted to get a photograph of the entrance to the Big Room. Since we were on a private tour, I was allowed to venture into the room to see the dance floor and the staircase. The way into the room was steep and I was out of breath by the time we were inside. The room felt colder and there was an odd, possibly chaotic energy there. My instincts said, “You shouldn’t be here.” I ignored them and took a few pictures, though I could tell the guide wanted to go as well. As we hurried out, I remarked on the energy. He felt it too.
I recalled something a guide said when I was visiting Kentucky’s monstrous Mammoth Cave last year. After turning out the lights we were treated to the pitch black darkness that can only be found in caves and at the deepest reaches of the ocean. The guide spoke of how caves can wreck havoc on the senses, especially where there is the sound of water: the ears can be tricked into hearing voices. In the case of Craighead Caverns, the cave is quite humid and there are large amounts of water, though mostly in the lower reaches. In the upper reaches, I occasionally heard water dripping, but it was fairly sporadic and not noisy enough to be mistaken for voices.
We discussed spirits as we moved through the caverns towards the Lost Sea. My guide mentioned that he occasionally saw shadowy figures dart through the caverns. I inquired about the spirits of the ancient jaguar and the Union spy. He had heard the stories but didn’t elaborate any further.
The guide returned to his spiel about the discovery of the Lost Sea. As it turns out, the sea really was lost for quite a time. A young man playing in the cave in 1905 was the first to discover the large, flooded chamber. When he told others about it, they tried to find the room, but were met only with passages that were flooded. As Ben Sands grew older he continued to tell about the lost sea that only he had seen. It wasn’t until many years later that the sea was found and the entire cave developed as a commercial “show cave.” It opened as The Lost Sea in 1965.
The sea itself is immense. The only words I could utter when it was first revealed were, “Oh my!” As we got out on the second largest underground lake (as they call it) in the world, I did feel a bit of a chill peering into the darkness beyond the boat. The lake is lit with occasional lights along the edge and this allows visitors to see the large Rainbow Trout that have been stocked within the lake, but it is still fairly dark. Seeing the large, dark shape in the water of the first trout approaching the boat was a bit disconcerting and soon the water around the boat was swarming with them. They’re fed on every tour and that has contributed to their large size.
After exiting the boat the guide and I began our ascent back to the entrance. We paused for a moment near a dark, narrow passage that was another part of the Wild Cave Tour. The guide mentioned that he didn’t like to walk that area alone and he offered to let me take a quick look. We walked a few yards into the passage and something in the back of my mind kept repeating, “You don’t need to be here.” My guide remarked that he felt another energy change and felt a heaviness in his chest. I didn’t sense any of that, but it felt warmer in the space, a feeling that I somehow equated in my mind with hot breath. I knew I did not want to go any further so I took a quick picture and we returned to the trail.
Overall, the cave tour is quite pleasant. Where some cave experiences can be overdone (using music, colored lights and other nonsense), this cave is perfectly lovely and it has been left in its mostly natural state. The wonder of nature’s creation and the cave’s unique history shows through. My guide (and he knows who he is) was friendly and very interesting. I’m grateful he shared his experiences with me. If you’re looking for an interesting tour in East Tennessee, be sure to stop at Exit 60 for The Lost Sea!