Tree That Owns Itself 277 South Finley Street Athens, Georgia
…the Tree was happy… –Shel Silverstein, “The Giving Tree,” 1964
When I read Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree as a child many moons ago, I found the story disturbing. There is more than a bit of sadness in this story of altruism, and I found that disquieting. Perhaps this was one of my first introductions into that grey area where noble ideals spar with reality, morality and immorality square off, or the dramatic tension begrudgingly lies between the blacks and whites of good and evil.
The legend of Athens, Georgia’s Tree That Owns Itself exists in this same grey realm of fact and legend. When I stumbled across this 1916 article while browsing the historic newspaper collection of the Digital Library of Georgia, I was happy to be able to add this story to my collection on Athens. Unfortunately, the bottom corner of the paper has been torn and part of the paragraph describing the phantom is lost.
GHOST HAUNTS TREE THAT OWNS ITSELF _____ AT LEAST THAT IS STORY COMING OUT FROM ATHENS, AND THERE IS MUCH SPECULATION OVER REPORT. _____
Atlanta, July 1—Has the ghost of William Jackson come back to haunt the Tree That Owns Itself?
That’s the tale they are telling in Athens, Ga., where on a big hill in the center of the city stands a giant white oak, the only tree that owns itself, trunk, twig and leaf, together with eight feet of land on all sides.
Early in the nineteenth century William Jackson was one of the largest plantation owners of Clarke county. Under the white oak, which is four or five hundred years old, he used to sit and direct his slaves at work. When he died, this paragraph was found in his will:
“For and in consideration of the great love I bear this tree and the great desire I have for its protection for all time, I convey entire possession of itself and all land within eight feet of the tree on all sides.”
Now comes the report that a phantom has been seen beneath the Tree That Owns Itself.
[page torn]…mist of a man, fading is-
[page torn]…a man with powdered
[page torn]…a broad hat
[page torn]…and laces and frills sitting there under the tree, with one hand resting gently on the bark.
Was it the ghost of William Jackson?
Ask the boys of that college town—they don’t know.
A surprisingly thorough article on Wikipedia examines the legend and its inconsistencies, noting that the first documented version of the tree’s legend appeared in the Athens Weekly Banner in 1890. That article, couched in the heroic language of the period, describes the tree as seeming to “stand straighter, and hold its head more highly and proudly as if we knew that it ranked above the common trees of the world.” The 1890 article continues with the history of the tree but noting that the tree’s deed of ownership is mysteriously missing from the county’s records.
Since 1916, the original tree succumbed to rot and fell on October 9, 1942. The Athens Junior Ladies Garden Club took up the cause of the tree and replaced it with a sapling grown from one of the original oak’s acorns. The current tree sometimes deemed “Son of the Tree That Owns Itself,” continues to flourish from its space on South Finley Street. The tree is now surrounded with a retaining wall and a chain barrier with a plaque denoting the tree’s ownership of itself. Perhaps Col. William Jackson still appears on occasion to rest beneath the stately branches that he gave so much for?
“Deeded to itself.” Athens Weekly Banner. 12 August 1890.
“Ghost haunts tree that owns itself.” Daily Times-Enterprise (Thomasville, Georgia). 1 July 1916.
There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in proportion. –Edgar Allan Poe, “Ligeia,” 1838
The South is a very strange place. Even after years of researching and writing about the South, I continue to find masses of odd stories, not just from ghostlore, but stories regarding cryptids, UFOs, aliens, dreams, premonitions, and other high strangeness. While the South isn’t any more active than any other region in the world, it seems that Southerners, who are natural storytellers, have created a stranger version of their world through their storytelling.
My hometown of LaGrange, Georgia has its own strange and storied landscape. Growing up here, I heard stories and tales of haunted places, but was never able to confirm much of this. After starting this blog, I have pursued some of these stories, but rarely with much success. When I got the call from the director of the Troup County Historical Society several months ago, asking if I would be interested in creating this tour, I jumped at the chance. It has always been a dream to create a ghost tour locally, but I never had the backing of such an august group.
As cliché as it may be to say, this tour is a labor of love. Not only has led me to ponder local history, but my own personal history here, as well as reinforcing my love for this little West Georgia town.
The tour winds through downtown LaGrange stopping by a number of historic and haunted locales as well as other places of strangeness, which doesn’t just include ghostlore. During the mid-1990s, this area was the scene of a large number of UFO sightings, leading ufologists to dub it the “Troup-Heard Corridor.” During this time, locals not only witnessed strange things in the skies, a few even had some very close encounters with possible aliens.
Indeed, the strangeness also includes the discovery, in the late 1960s, of an ancient Sumerian tablet, now known as the Hearn Tablet. Discovered by a local housewife in her garden, this apparent ancient receipt in the form of a small lead tablet is certainly out of place and produces many questions as to how it ended up here in West Georgia.
From downtown, the strangeness extends all the way to the august halls of LaGrange College, the oldest private institution of higher learning in the state. Recently, a pair of young ladies were working in the college’s Smith Hall late in the evening. The first entered and was walking towards her office when she suddenly tripped over something. Looking around, she tried to identify what she had tripped over, but nothing was there. She realized that it felt as if someone had stuck their leg out to purposefully trip her. Shrugging off the incident, she continued to her office and set to work.
The second young lady arrived a few minutes later, entering the office with a curious expression. She noted that she had had a strange thing happen to her on her way in, describing being tripped in the same manner that the first had. The pair returned to work, now wary of the prankster spirit that has haunted the halls of this building for years.
Stories have circulated for years about a spirit within Smith Hall, but many of the stories don’t exactly add up or stand up to historical scrutiny. Nonetheless, students and staff continue to have experiences here and within several other college buildings. All of these stories contributing to make LaGrange very strange.
The Strange LaGrange Tour steps off at 7 PM on Friday nights from the Legacy Museum on Main, 136 Main Street, in downtown LaGrange. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, $15 for kids ages 5-12, and can be reserved at the tour’s Eventbrite page. Each tour will last approximately 2 hours and will involve quite some walking, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and clothing. Come walk with us!
There was a time when even the august pages of The New York Times published ghost stories. In 1908, this curious item appeared:
The New York Times 2 June 1908
GHOST IN GOVERNOR’S HOUSE __________
Wife and Daughter of Gov. Smith of Georgia Say They Saw It.
Special to the The New York Times
ATLANTA, Ga., June 1.—The ghostly gray-garbed figure of a young woman, which appears at all hours of the night, is causing the inmates of the Executive Mansion of Georgia much perturbation.
Gov. Smith is away nearly all the times engaged in a heated contest for re-election, and the mysterious ghost has been appearing to Mrs. Smith and her daughters.
The gray-garbed lady is said to be young and very beautiful. She was first seen by Miss Mary Brent Smith about three weeks ago, about 12 o’clock at night, as the latter returned to the mansion. When Miss Smith entered that hall she noticed the gray figure before a long mirror. Miss Smith approached, but the figure melted away.
Miss Smith in alarm told her mother, but the latter ridiculed her daughter. A few nights later, as Mrs. Smith and her daughter were together, the gray-gowned woman appeared to both of them. Mrs. Smith and her daughter were so overcome they fainted. To a physician Mrs. Smith related the story of the vision. Since then it is said the ghostly woman has appeared frequently.
The negroes say the figure is the ghost of Miss Price, the niece of Gov. A. D. Candler, who died in the mansion when her uncle was Governor. It is said Miss Price was very happy in the mansion, and when dying said she would revisit the place, where she was so happy while in this life.
There are several interesting things to note about this article, first off, I find it interesting that the residents of the Governor’s Mansion are referred to as “inmates,” perhaps it reflects on the status of women in this period? Secondly, it’s noted that the lowly, unnamed reporter who wrote this story evidently sought out local African-Americans to comment on the apparition, something that doesn’t often happen with articles of this time.
As for the historical context of this article, the governor in this article is Hoke Smith, who made his name as the owner of the Atlanta Journal. During that time he used his position to back Grover Cleveland during the presidential election of 1892. Following his election to the presidency, Cleveland appointed Smith as Secretary of the Interior. Returning to Georgia in 1896 after serving as secretary, he allied himself with the now notorious populist firebrand politician, Tom Watson. Smith was elected governor in 1907.
While he worked hard to appease Watson by disenfranchising the vote of African-American Georgians, Watson was still not pleased and in 1908 threw his support behind Joseph M. Brown, son of Georgia’s Civil War governor, Joseph E. Brown, thus necessitating long absences from his wife and the governor’s mansion.
The spirit is identified as Miss Price, the niece of Governor Allen D. Candler. A search of period papers brought up a notice of Miss Alice Price being ill on January 4, 1899. Ten days later, on January 14, there is a notice that Miss Price passed away. She was related to the governor through his wife and was visiting from Macon “to assist with the social honors at the executive mansion.”
Notably, young Miss Price died from typhoid fever which, according to the paper, she acquired from poor sanitation at the governor’s mansion.
The illness of Miss Price was caused by the poor sanitary arrangements which existed in the executive mansion at the time of Governor Candler’s inauguration. Before the days of the Atlanta waterworks a windmill supplied the mansion with water, the pipes being distributed through the house from a tank.
When the windmill was discontinued this tank was allowed to remain, and it is thought the decaying wood caused the illness of the young lady. After she became ill plumbers were put to work, and the water now reaches the mansion without passing through the tank.
This indicates a misunderstanding of how typhoid is spread. Decaying wood does not cause typhoid, it is spread by water contaminated with human fecal material from someone carrying the bacteria, which speaks to the early problems of water utilities and sanitation. It should also be noted that the governor’s mansion was torn down in 1923 because of the building’s poor condition. The site of the old mansion is now occupied by the Westin Peachtree Plaza at 210 Peachtree Street, NW.
LaGrange Art Museum 112 Lafayette Parkway LaGrange, Georgia
N.B. Starting on Friday, June 7th, I will be giving ghost tours of my hometown, LaGrange, Georgia. “Strange LaGrange” will cover all types of oddities, ghosts, UFOs, and strange history throughout downtown. This location is one of the primary stops.
In the January 1, 1892 edition of the LaGrange Reporter, an article appeared hailing a new structure that would be constructed later that year; “the new building will be an ornament to the town – barring its hideous use – and an honor to the county.”
The phrase, “barring its hideous use” is quite curious, though apt when you consider that this building, now dressed in a penitent’s white, opened as the Troup County Jail. This building recalls the cruel history of executions at a time when they were carried out by local governments, rather than at the state level as they are now.
The Pauly Jail Building Company of St. Louis, Missouri, which today remains in the business of constructing correctional facilities, designed and built this jail along with hundreds of similar structures across the South and throughout the country.
The contract to build the jail was awarded in January of 1892 for the sum of $13,500. Construction likely commenced shortly thereafter and was completed by September.
To test the quality of the steel cells, the Troup County Commissioners summoned a machinist and tools from Georgia Tech to test the steel cells. The LaGrange Reporter notes that Mr. Frank Hudson “entered the steel cells with his compliment of tools, and, after boring, sawing and chiseling for two hours, without making an appreciable impression, desisted.”
On September 15th, the “county’s boarders,” as they were deemed by the paper, were moved into the new building. They were given haircuts, a bath, and new uniforms to correspond with their new quarters. The paper continues:
It was a gala day for these unfortunates, and they greatly enjoyed the change from the close, dark, and generally uncomfortable cells in the old structure to their bright, white, clean quarters in the new. It was like going into another and a better world, although they are more prisoners than before, so far as means of escape are concerned. They left their filth and much of their gloom behind. Light, air and larger space will make their confinement henceforth more endurable.
About five years after the jail opened, the Atlanta Constitution took the Troup County Commissioners to task in a brief article on January 1, 1898:
Recently, it has been published that the commissioners of Troup county, in order to provide against the public execution, and with the view of saving the city of LaGrange from the usual crowd which an execution draws together, decided to erect a gallows inside the jail building, where it would be in full view of the two condemned men who were to be hanged therefrom.
The LaGrange Reporter very sensibly urges the commissioners to meet and change this order, taking the ground that the prisoners have some rights as well as the citizens, and that they should not be compelled to pass several days in constant view of the dread instrument which is to execute the sentence of law.
It is hoped that the views of The Reporter will be listened to by the county commissioners, and that some other plan should be adopted. To have a private execution it is not necessary that the jail corridor be used.
[The “two condemned men” in this article were George Gill and Will Smith who were sentenced to death for murder. They were supposed to have been executed on January 7, but their sentence was suspended for 30 days, and later commuted to life in prison by the governor.]
The Troup County Commissioners did not take heed of the opinions of the LaGrange Reporter or the Atlanta Constitution and change their decision to hold executions inside the jail.
The first execution to take place inside this building was that of Edmund Scott, August 2, 1901. Scott, an African-American, was put to death for the deaths of Lena and Carry Huguley in West Point, Georgia (in southern Troup County) in 1900. He claimed the shooting was accidental and that one of the young ladies had been his sweetheart.
According to articles in both the LaGrange Reporter or the Atlanta Constitution, Scott was “ready to go.” During his confinement, he had met with pastors from the Methodist Church and the pastor of the Presbyterian Church met with him the morning of his execution. The Constitution provides a good description of the hanging:
The hanging took place inside of the jail at 12:18 o’clock. The gallows is built over the space between the iron cages and the brick wall of the building. Thirty or forty persons saw the hanging. Scott was dressed in a black suit with a standing collar and black tie. He walked up the ladder to the top of the cells without assistance and was calm. He had but little to say and spoke in a low voice. Rev. J. Kelsey, pastor of the colored Baptist Church, offered an earnest prayer. The black cap was then placed over his head. As the noose was being arranged Scott asked:
“Who is placing the rope about my neck?”
The sheriff’s deputy replied:
“The man,” said Scott, “who places the rope about my neck will die.”
The sheriff sprung the trap and Scott’s body went down. Death came in fifteen minutes and the body was cut down in sixteen minutes from the time it dropped. His neck was not broken.
The note that Scott’s neck was not broken is particularly cruel. The use of a drop in hangings is meant to provide a relatively quick and humane death to the condemned with the short, sharp, shock of a jerk of the rope. However, this requires some mathematical calculations involving the height and weight of the condemned and a specific length of rope. If the rope is too short, the condemned will strangle to death. If it’s too long, the condemned could be decapitated.
The next man to die here was Ingram Canady, Jr. who was executed here for the rape of a white woman. Canady, or Canida as his name is sometimes rendered, was hung March 20, 1908. His last words were recorded by the Atlanta Constitution:
I don’t know anything in the world about it; I am ready to meet death, and know my soul will be saved. I don’t know a thing in the world about the crime, and am innocent. All be good; expect to meet you in heaven.
Just before the trap was sprung he said, “The old Master will straighten all mistakes.”
TheReporter noted that again, his neck was not broken. Canady died of strangulation after sixteen minutes.
On January 2, 1909, Lucius Truitt was hanged for the murder of Dock Tatum during a robbery and home invasion. Walter Thomas died here on June 10 of the next year for the rape of a child.
The final man to die here was 22-year-old John Marvin Thompson, who was hanged in July 26, 1918 for the slaying of Troup County Sheriff William Shirey. The sheriff led a raid on an illegal liquor still in the southern part of the county. Thompson, who owned the still, opened fire on the raiding party and the sheriff was killed.
Before “a small crowd of friends of Thompson, his father, and the newspaper men,” Thompson ascended towards the fateful noose. His last words were recorded by the Atlanta Constitution:
I want all of you to know that I am dying innocent of what I am accused of. I have done things that I ought not to have done in my life, and God will forgive me for all I have ever done and take me home.
To his father he said, “Tell all of my people good-bye for me, papa.” His father responded, ““I am sorry for you, John; I wish I could go with you.”
The reporter for the Constitution notes that, “No struggle whatever occurred after the trap was spring, his neck evidently having been broken by the fall.” Thompson was the first and only white man hung in the county as well as being the last man to die a state sanctioned death in the jail. Several years later, the state revoked the privileges of localities to conduct their own executions and executions were removed to state correctional facilities.
With the construction of a new jail facility, the inmates were moved elsewhere in 1939, and the structure was converted to use as an office for the local newspaper, The LaGrange Daily News.” The building also served as a furniture store until the local Callaway Foundation granted funds to convert the building into an art facility.
I’m still trying to understand the original layout of the building. So far, research has pointed to this first section as being used as a residence for the jailer and his family. I have been told that there was no interior connection between the buildings, therefore to reach the cellblock, the jailer would have to leave his residence and use an outside door to enter.
It should be noted that there is no evidence that the building tower, which resembles a finger uplifted in moral admonishment, is not a “hanging tower.” In the newspaper accounts of executions in the building, all of the hangings took place within the cellblock, and not in the jailers’ personal space.
The second section contained the cellblock. This section was also two stories and prisoners were separated by race. Contemporary sources say that white male prisoners were held on the first level with women, juveniles, and people of color being held on the second. On a recent tour of the building, I was able to see the basement space located underneath this section. As we closely looked at the original brick walls, we were able to see names carved into the brick, perhaps by restless inmates.
The conversion to an art museum, reconfigured the building to include office space in the front section with connecting doors between the two buildings. In a space where inmates wiled away their sentences, visitors now contemplate works of art. Sighs of the condemned have been replaced with the joyful chatter of children enrolled in the museum’s educational programs. Growing up here, I spent time at the museum attending an arts camp and classes.
With my curiosity about ghosts, I’d always wondered if the museum was haunted. A co-worker reported to me that she had seen faces peering from the tower windows at night. When I worked for the LaGrange Daily News some years ago, I interviewed the museum’s director and asked about activity. She responded that there were often odd sounds, especially at night.
When I started work on my upcoming ghost tour of downtown, I talked with the current director. She shared with me that she would frequently smell the odor of tobacco smoke in the entrance hall of the museum, which is a smoke free facility and has been for many years. I also spoke with the maintenance man who said he regularly heard footsteps in the building when he was alone at night. He noted that he would walk throughout trying to find the source, but to no avail.
In preparation for my tour, I visited the museum with a sensitive friend. As we walked up the front steps he noted that there were three spirits in residence. Upon entering the gallery portion (which had once been the cellblock), he saw an African-American man standing against one of the walls. He attempted to communicate, but the spirit didn’t want to talk. Walking to the other side of the gallery, we felt a chill in the air where the sensitive detected the presence of a hunched back man.
We attempted communication with the first spirit again. This time, he was a bit more forthcoming and revealed that his cell had been at the back of the space. He proclaimed his innocence, saying that he was defending himself. Still, he was reticent to speak.
Heading to the second floor of the gallery, we encountered a feminine presence, which the sensitive noted was related to a man incarcerated here, “either a mother or an older sister.”
This building, which once was so hideous, now rings with the chatter and laughter of children, or the silent contemplation of adult art patrons. It is my sincere hope that whoever the spirits are in this old building, they have finally found the peace.
“The Contract Given.” LaGrange Reporter. 8 January 1892.
“Edmund Scott Hanged.” LaGrange Reporter. 9 August 1901.
Hanging. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 27 May 2019.
Hearn, Daniel Allen. Legal Executions in Georgia: A Comprehensive Registry, 1866-1964. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2016.
“John Thompson hung for Murder of Sheriff.” Atlanta Constitution. 27 July 1918.
Johnson, Forrest Clark; Glenda Major, and Kaye Lanning Minchew. Travels Through Troup County: A Guide to its Architecture and History, LaGrange, GA: Family Tree,
“Negro Hanged at LaGrange.” Atlanta Constitution. 21 March 1908.
“New Jail Received.” LaGrange Reporter. 16 September 1892.
“Scott Hanged in LaGrange.” Atlanta Constitution. 3 August 1901.
“That Jail Corridor Hanging.” Atlanta Constitution. 1 January 1898.
“To Be Hung To-day.” LaGrange Reporter. 20 March 1908.
300 North Thomas Street Athens, Georgia
Classically, ghosts are supposed to rattle chains, and the spirit haunting Athens’ Classic Center continues this classic spectral occupation. Firemen working in this old firehouse regularly heard the rattle of the chains hanging in the basement. Even after the building was taken over by the chamber of commerce, employees would hear the rattle of chains and the chamber’s executive vice president ventured downstairs once to find the chain “swinging back and forth, not just a little motion, but very noticeably.”
Initial designs for Athens’ new performing arts center called for the demolition of the old Firehouse No. 1 which had been built in 1912, but local residents insisted that the structure be saved. The firehouse was saved and now houses the arts center’s box office, meeting space, and the spirit of an old fire department captain, Hiram Peeler. He left behind a widow and nine children.
Born in 1861, just as the Civil War was commencing, Hiram Peeler distinguished himself in the Athens Fire Department which he joined in 1881. Still serving at the advanced age of 67 in 1928, Peeler responded to a fire at McDorman-Bridges Funeral Home with his company. Whilst searching the building, he stepped through the open doors of the elevator and fell down the shaft. He died of his injuries two days later and was buried in Oconee Hill Cemetery (which may also be haunted).
Identifying spirits is a tricky endeavor, but many who have worked in the building, from firefighters and later to arts center staff, seem convinced that the spirit is Capt. Peeler’s. One of the fire chiefs who worked in the building before the construction of a new fire station reports that his men “heard footsteps and the kitchen door creaking late at night when there was no one there and all the doors were locked.” He continues, “I really thought I heard someone on the stairs one night, and I wasn’t the only person who heard it.” The original hardwood floors of the station remain as well as original pieces of firefighting equipment.
Perhaps those floors and equipment keep Capt. Peeler’s spirit on duty. Members of the center’s staff have seen a firefighter in an old-fashioned uniform within the building. One security guard helping to set up for a function one evening exited the elevator in the old building near a display of the fire chief’s old horse-drawn wagon. As he stepped off the elevator, he glanced towards the wagon and saw and older gentleman in a dark uniform standing next to the wagon. Continuing down the hall, he realized that no one should have been in the building. When he turned, the area was empty.
Tracy Adkins includes a particularly haunting moment from a 2012 investigation of the old firehouse in her book, Ghosts of Athens. While the investigator and her daughter explored a conference room, a Classic Center employee felt her eyes begin to burn and sting. “It was like smoke was being blown into them.” Perhaps Peeler is giving these investigators the sensation that he felt at the time of his death.
The tradition of front porch storytelling is alive in Tallapoosa, thanks to Susan Horsley-Pitts who is actively trying to revive it with her walking tour of local ghost stories. Having spent much of my childhood on the front porch of my grandparents’ front porch on LaGrange Street in Newnan, Georgia, I fully appreciate her efforts.
I failed to dress appropriately for the near-freezing temperatures that we encountered on the tour, but the chilling stories took my mind off the cold. Winding through the darkened streets of this small town, many of the stops were private homes with porches where spirits still linger. At an old building that has been divided into apartments, the spirit was known to play with one of the front doors. One evening during the ghost walk, a child played with the door, opening and closing it as Horsley-Pitts spun the story. Distracted, she asked the child to close the door and the child tried to do it, though something held on to the other side of the door. Both she and the child had to pull the door closed together.
This ghost walk first came to my attention last year as I was trying to find stories from every one of Georgia’s 159 counties. Google produced few results for many of the more rural counties like Haralson County, but it did pop up this ghost walk. I was disappointed to find that the tour only ran during the Halloween season, but I was determined to take it. I finally had the chance to make the drive last and take the tour last Saturday, and it was well worth it.
Tallapoosa appears to be a typical Southern small-town, though that façade belies a twisted and fascinating history. The town has experienced several boom and bust cycles starting in the early 19th century when gold was discovered in the area and settlers named the settlement Possum Snout. Some of the white men who settled in the area remained and built farms and plantations. Exploiting the natural lithium springs and the arrival of the railroad, Ralph Spencer, a Connecticut businessman, endeavored to turn this backwoods community into a resort town and constructed the Lithia Springs Hotel.
Advertising in papers throughout much of the country, Spencer attracted tourists, some of whom built residences here, earning the town the tagline, “a Yankee city under a Southern sky.” Building on this success, Spencer recruited some 200 Hungarian and Eastern European families from Pennsylvania to create a winemaking community which was named Budapest. Both ventures were successful, though land fraud brought down Spencer’s first venture while the winemaking venture ceased in 1907 with the passage of statewide prohibition.
While the production of legal alcohol ceased, some locals took up the production of moonshine and Tallapoosa began to develop a reputation as a rough place that featured gambling and prostitution fueled by illegal alcohol. During this time, Tallapoosa earned the nickname, “Little Phenix City,” after America’s first “Sin City,” Phenix City, Alabama.
Reminders of this rough patch remain in the form of spirits, such as those still encountered at the Tallapoosa Police Department(15 East Alabama Street). Originally the site of the town jail, this building has been the scene of several tragedies involving the deaths of officers and civilians. Officers with the department have reported hearing moaning and growling in basement offices.
At the beginning of the tour, Horsley-Pitts commented that the town changes after dark and this is was the ever-present theme throughout the walk. These simple and straightforward tales told on silent city streets or amongst the shadows on dark and eerie residential lanes lent a ghoulish gravitas to the journey. Possible paranormal activity added an excitement to the proceedings with lights seen by some in one empty house and curtains that may have opened on their own in the window of another.
The whole tour was carried out in an understated, though well-crafted manner that was ultimately quite elegant. Even calling the tour a “walk” lends a sense of hominess to the whole effect. Wonderful memories of this evening will remain with me for some time.
As if to underscore the creepiness of the evening, the scoreboard in the gymnasium of the old Tallapoosa High School, located across the street from the park where the tour starts, continued to go off throughout the evening. As Horsley-Pitts and I talked after the tour’s conclusion, the scoreboard continued to blare at regular intervals. Perhaps it’s marking a win for the front porch phantoms of Tallapoosa.
Tallapoosa Ghost Stories: A Walking Tour will be offered on Friday and Saturday nights for the last time this year at 9 PM. Tickets may be purchased at Papou’s Pizza (2178 US-78). See the tour’s Facebook page for further information.
Scarring takes on many forms. On the human body scars can be physical reminders of accidents or trauma or they can work their way deep into the viscera, affecting emotions, the spirit, or the psyche.
With the physical environment, while we may see the visible degradation of a landscape, but we don’t often consider the spiritual scars that may be left after traumatic events. Ghastly murders, battles, accidents, massacres, and the like rend the spiritual fabric of a place, causing activity that we may deem as beyond the reach of the normal.
In 1977, an intrepid writer published her experiences in a spiritually scarred landscape in The Atlanta Journal and Constitution Magazine.
Joined by a brave friend, the writer sat on the marshy edge of Dunbar Creek on St. Simons Island, Georgia as night descended. Intoxicated by the pungent salty odor of the marshes, the thrum of insects, and the calling of marsh birds, the pair began to hear the rhythmic clank of metal. Out of this aural soup the sound of the thwack of bare feet on the muddy creek bank began to rise and soon a descant of chanting began to ring above that rhythm.
The pair could not distinguish the language, but the chanting was filled with pain, despair, and longing for freedom. Frightened out of their wits, the two fled to the safety of their Volkswagen.
This place, known as Ebo Landing, has been known to be haunted since the grim day in May 1803 when a host of Ebo tribesmen drowned themselves rather than submit to the slavery of their new white masters in this strange land.
The tribesmen had been ripped from their homeland in what is now Nigeria and forced to endure the cruel Middle Passage where they were stuffed into the bowels of crude slave ships. Emerging into the sunlight, they were marched onto the auction block in Savannah to be sold in front a sea of white faces.
Having been purchased by representatives of St. Simons Island planters Thomas Spaulding and John Couper, the tribesmen were taken aboard a schooner for transport to their owners’ plantations.
In some versions of the legend during the voyage south, the tribesmen rebelled and, after they threw the crewmen overboard, the ship became grounded at the mouth of Dunbar Creek. Nonetheless, the voyage ended at this lonely, marshy spot.
Still chained together the tribesmen walked into the water chanting to their deity Chukwu, “the Water Spirit brought us here, the Water Spirit will take us home.” Roswell King, the overseer from Pierce Butler’s nearby plantation and subsequently the founder of Roswell, Georgia, wrote of the incident that the men simply, “took to the swamp.”
This collective suicide was not a vainglorious act and it has been enshrined in folklore both in African-American and African culture. Over time, the story has evolved with the tribesmen transforming themselves into birds and flying home. During the Great Depression, a version of this story was documented by the Works Progress Administration’s Writers’ Project. An elderly resident of the island told this version of the story:
Ain’t you heard about them? Well, at that time Mr. Blue he was the overseer and . . . Mr. Blue he go down one morning with a long whip for to whip them good. . . . Anyway, he whipped them good and they got together and stuck that hoe in the field and then . . . rose up in the sky and turned themselves into buzzards and flew right back to Africa. . . . Everybody knows about them.
This fantastic account has been utilized by a number of prominent African-American writers including Toni Morrison.
The Ebo Landing site is still unmarked by any type of sign or monument, though the place remains spiritually scarred and locals still speak of the clanking of chains, the thwack of bare feet in the mud, and the ghostly chanting heard here.
The grim specter of slavery has left spiritual scars on the landscape throughout the South. In Effingham County, west of Savannah, is the small town of Springfield. Just outside town, the lazy waters of Ebenezer Creek slowly wend their way among pine and cypress towards the Savannah River.
However, these normally lethargic waters flowed violently and turbulently after heavy rains in December of 1864. After his capture of Atlanta, General Sherman was moving swiftly towards Savannah, which he would offer as a Christmas present to President Lincoln.
Through winter rains that turned Georgia roads into quagmires of red mud, Sherman’s generals cut four swathes through the landscape destroying military targets, industry, and civilian property as they moved. As the blue tide swept through the state, newly freed slaves began to trickle in behind the soldiers. Bound up in the jubilation of freedom, these masses of men, women, and children began to oppress the soldiers’ movements.
General Jefferson Davis, a Union general with no relation to the Confederate President, led the 14th Corps as they slogged through the swamps along the Savannah River. Arriving at the banks of Ebenezer Creek, Davis found the creek at near flood stage. He ordered his engineers to erect a pontoon bridge to allow his men to cross but posted armed sentinels to prevent the refugees from crossing.
Confederates had been dogging the Union invaders and rumors spread that General Joseph Wheeler’s men where rapidly approaching, heightening the urgency to cross the rain-swollen creek.
Irritated by the former slaves slowing his advance, the pro-slavery Union general ordered that the bridge be cut after the last man crossed. The corps’ chaplain described the scene:
There went up from that multitude a cry of agony. Someone shouted, “Rebels,” and they made a wild rush…some of them plunged into the water and swam across. Others ran wildly up and down the bank, shaking with terror.
A private from Minnesota noted that at least a hundred former slaves “huddled as close to the edge of the water as they could get, some crying, some praying, and all fearful that the rebels would come before they could get over.”
Improvising rafts and ropes, many waded out into the water and some made it across, but others were swept into the swift current. Horrified by the scene, soldiers tossed logs and branches into the muddy waters, but could not save all who were pulled downstream.
Some of Wheeler’s men did eventually appear and they fired upon the terrified throng huddled on the creek bank. A few slaves were killed, while many of the others were recaptured and returned to their owners.
Union soldiers, stunned by the bitter scene, reported the incident to their superiors, but General Davis was never brought to justice for his role in the humanitarian crisis.
Just like on the banks of Ebo Landing, locals continue to report spiritual scars among the pines and cypress along Ebenezer Creek. Here, anguished screams and cries are still heard at this spot where so many died trying to wade in the water towards the nebulous promise of freedom.
Davis, Burke. Sherman’s March. NYC: Random House, 1980.
Green, Michelle. “Keeping watch at Ibo Landing.” Atlanta Journal and Constitution Magazine. 30 October 1977.
Hobbs, Larry. “Igbo Landing a defiant act for freedom.” The Brunswick News. 22 July 2017.
Igbo Landing. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 6 November 2018.
Miles, Jim. Civil War Ghosts of Central Georgia and Savannah. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
Powell, Timothy B. “Ebos Landing.” The New Georgia Encyclopedia. 15 June 2004.
Stone Mountain Park
1000 Robert E. Lee Boulevard
Stone Mountain, Georgia
When the Spanish Franciscan missionary, Pedro de Chozas, made his way through the South local natives spoke of a mountain further inland that was “very high, shining when the sun set like a fire.” This exposed, granite mountain dome, or monadnock, is one of the largest in the world, and was regarded with wonder by the Native Americans in the surrounding area.
Located between the territories occupied by the Cherokee and the Muscogee peoples, the dome was located at the junction of several major trails and served as a meeting spot. In previous millennia, this sacred spot served as ceremonial and religious site. In fact, its summit had been walled in by an earlier people, though the wall, nor the reasons for its construction, have survived.
From the earliest settlement of white men in the area, the mountain attracted tourists and businessmen with interests in quarrying the high-quality stone. A pair of brothers, William and Samuel Venable, purchased the mountain in the late 19th century and established a quarrying business. In 1915, with interest being revived around the nation for the Ku Klux Klan by D.W. Griffiths’ film, The Birth of a Nation, a cross-burning was held at the summit to mark the reorganization of the KKK in Georgia.
A year later, the Venables deeded the mountain’s north face to the United Daughters of the Confederacy to create a monument for the Confederacy. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who would later carve the heads of four presidents at Mount Rushmore, was commissioned to create the carving which would memorialize Confederate president Jefferson Davis and generals Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson. Work halted in 1925 with the firing of Borglum and 47 years would pass before the carving was completed.
After the mountain was purchased by the state of Georgia in 1958, a park was established at the base of the mountain glorifying the Old South and the Confederacy. Over time, the park has cast off these themes and criticism has been leveled at the carving itself, most recently in light of the removals of Confederate monuments throughout the country.
The first surviving written account of the mountain describes it as, “one solid rock of circular form about one mile across. Many strange tales are told by the Indians of the mountain.” As I have conducted research on Southern hauntings for years, I have searched in vain for ghost stories from the mountain itself. While the Antebellum Plantation within the park is known to have many spirits within the historic structures that comprises it, I have found nothing about spirits on the mountain.
In doing a search of the pages of the Atlanta Constitution that has recently been made available on Newspapers.com, I was delighted to come across the following article. Besides the description of this very strange apparition, what is interesting about this article is the inclusion of folklore about who and who cannot see ghosts.
One concern with this article is the first name of the man quoted throughout. His name is given as “Neger,” which, to me, seems too close to the pejorative “n-word.” Therefore, I have replaced his first name with “N.”
Atlanta Constitution 30 March 1946
‘Ghost of Stone Mountain’ Walks, Declares Woman ‘Born in a Caul’
On ‘Sunrise Side’ of Big Rock
By Bill Boring
Constitution Staff Writer
STONE MOUNTAIN, March 19. Only people born in a caul have seen the ghost of Stone Mountain and N. Johnson is not one of them. But his wife is and she has seen the ghost on many occasions. Through N., she imparts this description of him.
N. calls him the “ha’nt of the rock” and described him as being neither white nor black but of a strange neutral color, and his eyes are not eyes at all but burning embers set in a skull and he always wears a flowing immaculate white robe.
Only people born in a caul have ever seen a ghost of any kind and while N. was not born in a caul, he has some grounds for setting himself up as an authority on spooks. His wife has seen many ghosts and always passed along her knowledge of them to him and, moreover, N. has had the rare privilege of checking the reaction of himself, a person who will never see a ghost, to the presence of one.
The first time N.’s wife saw the ghost of Stone Mountain, she suddenly shut up like a clam and didn’t say a word until he got home. N. knew that some strange thing had happened, for he had an odd feeling of walking through steam and his hat shot up from his forehead because his hair had stood straight up.
When they got home, his wife said: “Did you see that man in white walking between us?”
And so forever after when they would be walking and his wife would see the ghost N. would have that strange feeling of walking steam and he would be stricken by fear.
“Only people who can’t see ghosts are afraid of them,” says N.. “My wife was never afraid.”
N. says that the ghost haunts the “sunrise side” of Stone Mountain and that horses, which are particularly sensitive to ghosts, will never go around this side of the mountain and neither will dogs, which are more sensitive to ghosts than are horses, he says.
“Have you ever been walking with a dog when the dog would suddenly stop, for no reason at all,” says N., “and the dog would flip his tail between his legs and slink off in the opposite direction? The dog is seeing a ghost.”
Ghosts, according to N., take many shapes and forms. There are human ghosts and there are animal ghosts. There are headless human ghosts and headless animal ghosts. And then there are ghosts that just look like a whiff of smoke. You can never tell just what kind of ghosts you’re likely to run across.
There’s nothing much you can do about ghosts, according to N. They’re harmless and usually go away once whatever is bothering them has been removed. But there are several ways of laying them once they get to haunting you.
One way is to put a hole in a dime, slip a string through it and wear the dime as anklet. Another is to put sever rocks on an eastern window sill. Still another charm against ghosts is to sleep with a knife under your pillow; or the Bible.
Boring, Bill. ‘Ghost of Stone Mountain’ Walks, Declares Woman ‘Born in a Caul.’ Atlanta Constitution. 20 March 1946.
Freeman, David B. Carved in Stone: The History of Stone Mountain. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1997.
Stewart, Bruce E. “Stone Mountain.” The New Encyclopedia of Georgia. 25 May 2004.
“Stone Mountain.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 2 November 2018.
A few months ago, I accepted a retail job at the Atlanta airport. As a resident of LaGrange, I’m required to drive an hour to Atlanta and take MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) to the airport because there is no airport employee parking. Most of my rides on MARTA have been uneventful, though in August I had an odd experience.
I finished working a mid-shift at my store and boarded a MARTA train to start my journey home around 4:30 in the afternoon. Sitting down in my seat, I pulled out my phone to check Facebook like everyone else. The ride from the airport to the first station, College Park, was unremarkable and I did look up as the train pulled into the station. As usual, there was a group of people waiting to board the train when the doors opened.
As I watched, a young man boarded the train and I noticed he was oddly dressed. His clothes were flashy, and his hair was tied up in a scarf on his head. He walked down the aisle and sat in the seats opposite me. I glanced over and noticed he was wearing house shoes and carrying a bunch of shopping bags, notably a bag from Steve Madden. The man slumped down in his seat and appeared to doze off.
Not wanting to stare, I looked out the window a bit and looked at my phone as the train rumbled on to the East Point station. As the train ground to a stop, I started to get up, but as I turned my head, I was shocked to see the seats across the aisle from me were empty. Looking back through the car, no one had their hair tied up in a scarf, in fact, there were only three or four people.
I wondered how I could have missed him getting up and moving. With all his bags surely, I would have noticed if he changed seats. I got off the train still looking for the oddly dressed man with the sensation that I may have just had a paranormal experience. I also wondered at the bigger question: does Steve Madden have an advertising contract with the spirit world?
While it may seem odd that a spirit might be haunting something as ordinary as a MARTA train, this is not the first story I’ve heard about MARTA. In 2011, Creative Loafing published an article covering Atlanta hauntings. The article opened with a story from an office-worker who had an experience on MARTA in the 1980s.
After leaving work early on a winter afternoon, the office-worker took a seat on MARTA heading home. He was listening to music on his headphones when he noticed movement next to his reflection in the window. He felt a bit annoyed that a “40ish, black-haired man in a business suit” was sitting next to him on the almost deserted car. He turned his head to look at the passenger and the seat was empty.
The office-worker thought the incident was curious but was not frightened. Still he wonders what exactly he saw. I’m left wondering about the gentleman with his hair tied up in a scarf and the Steve Madden bag. Did we experience a perfectly normal experience that simply appeared out of the ordinary or were these experiences paranormal? I’m not sure we’ll ever really know.
Homan, Curt. “The hauntings of Atlanta.” Creative Loafing. 27 October 2011.
Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park
900 Kennesaw Mountain Drive
When the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain was fought in 1864, much of the area north of Atlanta was sparsely settled. Over the past few decades as the Atlanta Metro area has expanded, growth has even overtaken the quiet stillness of this place where tens of thousands fought to stop Sherman’s advance on Atlanta.
Residential and commercial developments have been constructed and roads cut across parts of the battlefield. It was along one of these roads that a father and son had an interesting experience one night in October of 2007. As the duo drove along, the driver braked as something appeared to start crossing the road in front of the car.
Both Civil War enthusiasts, they were shocked to see a horse with a rider emerge from the darkness. Dressed in the uniform of a Union cavalry officer, the rider held a saber aloft as if to make that point even more apparent. The specter passed through a fence on the opposite side and vanished.
The driver told Atlanta’s 11 Alive News, “My son and I were in a state of almost sheer panic, but we managed to maintain and get on the way home very quickly.”
It has been noted that many residents living in homes built on the battlefield have experienced strange things. After this article appeared, one of these residents wrote in to the paranormal blog Phantoms & Monsters:
I’ve got a bad back and haven’t worked in over a year, so I spend a lot of time in bed. Earlier this year, late spring or early summer, I was in a half-awake state and I noticed the hazy form of what appeared to be someone in Civil War clothing on a horse standing in my bedroom. It was there for only a second and kind of dematerialized. I remember it being a kind of yellowish color.
I wasn’t scared and thought it was probably not so much a ghost but the energy of something that happened here during the Civil War. I am 3 miles from the epicenter of the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain and probably less than a mile from the cavalry battleground at Mud Creek.
Several years ago, I spoke with a family who lived in one of these haunted houses. After moving in and experiencing paranormal activity, they asked their neighbors about it only to find out that they lived with the same thing.
The wife told me that she took the trash out one night. As she rounded the corner of the house, she came face to face with a figure in the dark. Startled, she quickly realized that the figure was dressed in an old-fashioned uniform. Not knowing how to react, she dropped the bag of trash at his feet saying, “here you go!” and ran back into the house. She failed to mention if the ghost put the trash in the receptacle.
Crawley, Paul. “Ghost rider at Kennesaw Mtn.?” 11Alive News. 1 November 2007.
Strikler, Lon. “Mailbag: the Kennesaw Mountain ghost rider.” Phantoms and Monsters. 8 November 2009.