Alabama Hauntings—County by County, Part I

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.

For a further look at Alabama ghosts, please see my Alabama Directory.

See part I (Autauga-Cherokee Counties) here.
See part II (Chilton-Covington Counties) here.
See part III (Crenshaw-Franklin Counties) here.
See part IV (Geneva-Lawrence Counties) here.
See part V (Lee-Monroe Counties) here.
See part VI (Montgomery-Sumter Counties) here.
See part VII (Talladega-Winston Counties) here.

Autauga County

Cross Garden
Autauga County Road – 86
Prattville

An odd collection of signs, crosses, and rusting appliances dots two hills along Autauga County Road 86; this is W. C. Rice’s Cross Garden, a testament to the South’s enduring religious fervor and one man’s personal religious devotion. After he was saved and healed of painful stomach issues in 1960, Rice began a journey to save those around him from eternal damnation. Created in 1976, the Cross Garden was maintained by Rice until his death in 2004.

Listed among Time Magazine’s “Top 50 American Roadside Attractions” in 2010, the Cross Garden has attracted a following fascinated with this place’s spiritual ambiance and the paranormal activity that supposedly permeates the area. There is a pair of visitors who claimed to have had their car held in place by an odd force. Others have heard strange sounds coming from some of the old appliances used in the display. Faith Serafin notes that in 2008 a man in a white robe seen stalking through the woods here.

Sources

  • Crider, Beverly. Legends and Lore of Birmingham and Central Alabama. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2014.
  • Cruz, Gilbert. “Miracle Cross Garden, Prattville, AL: Top 50 American Roadside Attractions.” Time Magazine. 28 July 2010.
  • Serafin, Faith. Haunted Montgomery, Alabama. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.

Baldwin County

Bay Minette Public Library
205 West 2nd Street
Bay Minette

Bay Minette Public Library, 2013, by Chris Pruitt. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

It is believed that the spirit of Bay Minette Public Library’s first librarian, Mrs. Anne Gilmer, is still on duty. A recent librarian encountered Mrs. Gilmer’s spirit while shelving books when she observed a book slowly pulling itself off a shelf and tumbling to the floor. This book was joined by others falling, by themselves, off the shelves. The librarian realized these books had been mis-shelved, and she returned the books to their proper places.

After her long tenure at the library, Mrs. Gilmer’s portrait was removed from its position above the library’s main desk. After some time, the portrait was returned to its original spot and employees began to notice the smell of roses. This same odor returns whenever something good happens in the library; perhaps as a sign of Mrs. Gilmer’s happiness. When the library was moved to the old Baptist church across the street, the librarian issued a verbal invitation for the ghost to join them in the new building just before workers moved Mrs. Gilmer’s portrait. When the elevator began to act strangely, librarians knew that Mrs. Gilmer was continuing her spectral duties in the new library.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. The Haunted South. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2014.

Barbour County

Kendall Manor
534 West Broad Street
Eufaula

Crowning the hill of West Broad Street, Kendall Manor, with its white Italianate architecture and cupola resembles the front of a grand steamboat. It is certainly an architectural masterpiece among the hundreds of stately homes in Eufaula. The house, completed just after the Civil War, was constructed for James Turner Kendall, one of the few merchants and planters in the area whose fortune survived the war. A story circulated among the servants about a spirit that appeared near the house as a harbinger of bad luck. The Kendall family thought nothing of it until James Kendall’s manservant saw the spirit of a man in a gray uniform astride a white horse. Reportedly, James Kendall passed away the following day.

Kendall Manor, 2014, by Lewis O. Powell IV. All rights reserved.

For many years, this grand house served as a bed and breakfast with a unique staff member. A spectral nursemaid, known as Annie, is apparently on duty and has often been spotted by the children in the house. One family member told of seeing the specter wearing a black dress and starched white apron scowling at him as he and his siblings raced their tricycles on the home’s veranda. It seems Kendall Manor has returned to being a quiet, private residence in recent years, so please respect the home’s occupants.

Sources

  • Floyd, W. Warner. National Register of Historic Place Nomination form for Kendall Hall. 24 August 1971.
  • Mead, Robin. Haunted Hotels: A Guide to American and Canadian Inns and Their Ghosts. Nashville, TN: Rutledge Hill Press, 1995.

Bibb County

Brierfield Ironworks Historic State Park
240 Furnace Parkway
Brierfield

Founded by a group of local businessmen in 1862—as the Civil War was ramping up—the Brierfield Ironworks quickly attracted the attention of the Confederate Government which was interested in the high-quality pig iron produced here. During the war, the ironworks saw the production of about 1,000 tons of pig iron per year. Later in the war was Union General James H. Wilson swept through central Alabama, destroying targets of military importance, Brierfield was targeted and destroyed. Production resumed here after the war and continued until the ironworks was closed in 1894.

The ruins of the Brierfield Furnace by Jet Lowe. Photo taken for the Historic American Buildings Survey, 1993.

In 1976, the county heritage association turned the ruins into a heritage park. Two years later, the state took over the park, moving several historic structures here including Mulberry Church, which arrived here from its original site near Centreville. Built in 1897, this church is where tradition holds that the daughter of a moonshiner eloped despite her father’s disapproval of her fiancé. At the completion of the couple’s vows, the bride’s father appeared, firing his gun into the church door. The bullet struck both the bride and her new husband who was standing behind her. As a reminder of this tragic incident, the bullet hole remains in the door while the living have encountered the specter of the young bride at the site of her death.

Sources

Blount County

Old Garner Hotel
111 1st Avenue East
Oneonta

Built in 1915, the John Garner Hotel was built to accommodate guests arriving in town via the train depot located nearby. The building now serves as home to several businesses that occupy the first floor of this three-story building. Southern Paranormal Investigators spent an evening in the building in 2007 and were awed by the “findings and activity detected” within. Occupants had reported the smell of brewing coffee and tobacco smoke while the sounds of furniture moving and papers shuffling have also been heard here when the building was empty. The paranormal investigation team captured a few EVPs and photographic anomalies leading them to conclude that possibly three different spirits are present in this old hotel.

Sources

  • Blount County Heritage Book Committee. Heritage of Blount County, Alabama. Clanton, AL: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 1999.
  • Southern Paranormal Researchers. Paranormal Investigation Report on The Lobby. Accessed 29 November 2012.

Bullock County

Josephine Arts Center
130 North Prairie Street
Union Springs

The old Josephine Hotel is now home to the Josephine Arts Center. Built in 1880, the Josephine Hotel was a social center here in rural Southeast Alabama. Phantom odors of cigar and cigarette smoke are often encountered in this building along with the sounds of revelry from former patrons.

A 2012 investigation revealed some paranormal activity. At one point during the probe, members of the paranormal team witnessed an orb of light moving through a hallway which they captured on video.

Sources

  • Alabama Paranormal Research Team. Paranormal Investigation Report for the Bullock County Courthouse. Accessed 29 November 2012.
  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Tour of Union Springs.” Union Springs, Alabama. Accessed 25 January 2013.

Butler County

Consolation Primitive Baptist Church and Cemetery
Oakey Streak Road
Red Level

On the morning of February 16, 2015, this historic church was lost to a fire. Local officials suspect that the church’s status as a haunted place led vandals to torch the small, rural building. Legend speaks of this place being the scene of a panoply of paranormal activity including demon dogs, or hellhounds; a banshee; and apparitions.

Organized in the 19th century, the church has not had an active congregation for many years, though a few locals maintained the building and cemetery and defended them against the rising tide of vandalism that had begun to overtake it. Teens and amateur “ghost hunters” had damaged the building by burning candles inside, carving their names on the structure, breaking windows, and even painting a pentagram on the floor of the lonely church. The Andalusia Star-News reports that 13 people were arrested in 2007 for burglary and criminal mischief after the police investigated reported illegal activity here.

Local investigator and author Shawn Sellers visited the church with his team in 2013. Upon arriving, two carloads of teens also appeared at the site. The group found the church standing open and showing signs of vandalism. One group of teens brought a Ouija board and attempted to make contact with spirits (something I cannot condone or recommend). A short time later, a man with a flashlight accosted the investigators and mysteriously disappeared after they attempted to speak with him.

Legends surrounding the church include the appearance of a banshee who wails as an omen that someone in the church will die. The grounds of the church are supposedly the domain of red-eyed “hellhounds,” as well as Confederate soldiers, two ghostly children, and a haunted outhouse where those who enter may be locked in. In 2012 reporters from The Greenville Advocate investigated the grounds and encountered nothing. In an article about the investigation, reporter Andy Brown suggested that the stories about this location are merely urban legend. I would like to speculate that if there is paranormal activity here, it may have been drawn by irresponsible use of Ouija boards and rituals being performed here by amateurs attempting to summon spirits.

It is unknown if the loss of the church building has affected the spiritual activity here. Visitors should be warned to use extreme caution when visiting this location and to respect the site and the cemetery.

Sources

  • Bell, Jake. “The Church.” Shawn Sellers Blog. 18 January 2013.
  • Brown, Andy. “Butler County church haunted by tall tales.” Greenville Advocate. 5 October 2012.
  • Edgemon, Erin. “Church said to be haunted burns in Alabama.” com. 17 February 2015.
  • “Fire wasn’t first brush with vandalism for historic church.” Andalusia Star-News. 17 February 2015.
  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Peacock, Lee. “Bucket List Update No. 165: Visit Consolation Church in Butler County.” Dispatches from the LP-OP. 28 July 2014.
  • Rogers, Lindsey. “Haunted Butler County church destroyed by fire.” WSFA. 16 February 2015.

Calhoun County

Boiling Springs Road Bridge
Boiling Springs Road over Choccolocco Creek
(This bridge is permanently closed to traffic)
Oxford

Known locally as “Hell’s Gate Bridge,” local lore related that visitors to this bridge at night could stop in the middle of the bridge, look back over their shoulders and see the fiery gates of Hell. Other lore tells of a young couple who drowned in the creek here. A traditional ritual said that stopping your car in the middle of the bridge and turning o the lights could summon one of the two people who drowned here. A sign of their presence would appear in the form of a wet spot left on the back seat of the car.

This wooden-decked, steel truss bridge was constructed between 1890 and 1930 and closed permanently in 2005. The Oxford Paranormal Society investigated the bridge in January 2007 and encountered an armadillo that was very much alive; no paranormal evidence was captured. When visiting this site, use extreme caution as the bridge is no longer maintained.

Sources

Chambers County

Oakwood Cemetery
1st Street
Lanett

Within this relatively modern cemetery stands a child-sized brick house complete with a front porch and chimney. The grave of Nadine Earles is among the most unique grave sites in the region. When four-year-old Nadine became ill with diphtheria just before Christmas in 1933, the child’s father had been building a playhouse as a gift for his daughter. After the child passed away on December 18th, the decision was made to erect the playhouse on the little girl’s grave. The playhouse has been well maintained ever since and remains filled with toys.

While not officially haunted, a recent interview with a friend revealed that she had a hard time photographing the grave when she visited. Using a smartphone camera, my friend’s attempts to photograph the grave resulted in black photographs. However, once she stepped away from the grave, the camera functioned properly.

Sources

  • Interview with Celeste Powell, LaGrange, GA. 23 July 2015.
  • Kazek, Kelly. “Alabama child’s playhouse mausoleum one of nation’s rare ‘dollhouse’ graves.” com. 5 June 2014.
  • Rouse, Kelley. “Little Nadine’s Grave.” Chattahoochee Heritage Project. 16 December 2011.
 

Cherokee County

Lost Regiment Legend
Lookout Mountain
Near the Blanche community

Extending from Chattanooga, Tennessee, through the northwest corner of Georgia, and into Alabama, the ridge of Lookout Mountain has played a prominent role in the history of the region. During the Civil War when its flanks were crawling with military activity, the mountain bore witness to several major battles and many skirmishes as the Union army attempted to extend its reach into the Deep South.

During this dark time, legend speaks of a group of Union soldiers getting lost in the mountain wilderness after a skirmish near Adamsburg, in DeKalb County. After retreating, the soldiers attempted to survive in the dangerous terrain. Fearful locals and enemy soldiers picked off a few of the men while others did not survive the harsh mountainous conditions. The last of these survivors was seen near the Blanche community in Cherokee County. Even decades after the disappearance of these soldiers, tales still circulate of sightings of the “Lost Regiment.” Others have discovered bootprints in the snow that suddenly stop, as if the men have vanished into thin air.

Sources

  • Hillhouse, Larry. Ghosts of Lookout Mountain. Wever, IA: Quixote Press, 2009.
  • Youngblood, Beth. Haunted Northwest Georgia. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2016.

Sawmill Specter

Newspapers in the 19th and early 20th centuries often printed ghost stories. This comes from an 1896 edition of the Atlanta Constitution. David Lake is located east of Mount Vernon, Alabama, in northern Mobile County, and feeds into the Mobile River. I haven’t been able to determine exactly where the sawmill in this article was located.

Please note that this article is typical for its period in its regard for African-Americans and uses language that would be considered racist today.

Atlanta Constitution
20 September 1896

GHOST OF DAVID’S LAKE

An Alabama Sawmill Made Worthless by a Spook

From The St. Louis Globe Democrat.

In the bottoms of the Tombigbee river, a few miles above its confluence with the Alabama, is a deep, lagoon-like lake, locally known as David’s lake. On the western shore of the lake are a shingle mill and a row of a half dozen shanties, intended as houses for the mill hands, all the property of the Seaboard Lumber Company, at Fairford, a few miles away.

The mill has been idle for some time and the shanties untenanted, owing to a depression in the market for cypress shingles. It has been necessary, however, in order to preserve the validity of certain insurance policies to keep a watchman constantly in charge there. Up to a short time ago the watchman was a certain crippled negro named John James.

A sawmill in Covington County, Alabama, circa 1911. Courtesy of the Hoole Special Collections Library, University of Alabama.

John James’s job was a negro’s ideal of a soft job. All the work he had to do was to light a lantern in the mill at dark, blow it out in the morning, and never under any circumstances to leave the mill unguarded. The company paid him $10 a month, furnished a dwelling, a mule and a plow, together with just as much land as he might want to cultivate. The lake was full of fish, toothsome and easy to catch.

Therefore, John James was much envied by his fellows. But on an unlucky evening about sundown he paddled his boat out in the lake to set some lines for big catfish. His wife saw him start, and when she looked again a little later there was the upturned boat, but no John James. The neighbors were hurriedly called and in the gathering gloom they dragged the bottom with grappling irons and brought to the surface the downed body of the watchman. How he happened to lose his balance or why he made no outcry will in all probability never be known.

Of course, the company over at Fairford regretted the affair, paid the widow John’s back salary, at once sent another negro as watchman and things seemed to move along about as before.

In a few days a company official chanced to go to David’s lake, and was surprised to find the new watchman gone, and also the company’s mule. The animal was found later at a station over on the railroad, where the operator stated it had been ridden early morning by a greatly agitated negro, who had left on the first train.

This thing mystified the company and was vexatious, because if the mill should burn in the absence of a watchman no insurance could be collected, and unguarded buildings have an unfortunate way of catching afire in that country. Another negro was at once sent down to the lake as watchman, and informed that if he wanted at any time to quit his job to give notice, so there would be interregnum. No. 2 went to David’s lake, and next the news came that he, too, was missing. Neither he nor his predecessor ever called for salary due them, nor has any trace of either been found.

At this the power that ruled the company held a serious conference. Something was scaring the negroes away, and it must be put an end to. So William Potlatch, one of the company’s most reliable negroes, was sent to the shingle mill with a six-shooter, which he was instructed to use should anything bother him.

William returned the very next morning. He was the worst scared negro in the state of Alabama. He told a confused story that no one could make heads or tails of about ghosts and John James. There was no confusion in his statement that no money could ever induce him to go back again.

Meanwhile stories began to float around to the effect that John James’s ghost was haunting the mill and lake. Of course, the company officials scorned such an idea, but for all its absurdity there was a serious side to the matter. If the place ever gained the reputation of being haunted no negro would work there and the mill would have to be torn down, as negro labor is the only available or possible to be procured. The company determined to lay the ghost at once and forever, and to that end sent down a party well equipped with all proper material for exorcism. The party was composed of Tom Smith and Henry McIntosh, white men of known bravery and coolness, also two negroes, whom the presence of the whites might induce to stand firm in the presence of danger. All were armed and carried a supply of food and whisky [sic].

They reached the mill at David’s lake in the afternoon, taking possession of the shanty next to and almost adjoining the one formerly occupied by John James. After supper, when the dark came, they lit a lantern and all sat out on the little gallery of their quarters. There they gossiped, told tales and drank whisky [sic] until they were in a proper mood to defy the natural or the supernatural. After the supply of tales had run out they took to shooting craps down on the floor.

It must have been near midnight.

One of the negroes was praying energetically to all the powers controlling fortune that he might throw a nine-spot, and thereby win the mean to buy his gal new shoes, when suddenly the door of John James’s shanty opened and shut violently. The players looks up at once. A piece of a moon over in the far west gave dim light. One of the negroes exclaimed:

“Lamb o’ God, looky yondah.”

From out of the shadow in front of the James shanty came the form of a man, walking as though lame and carrying a long pole. Both the negroes at once broke for the woods. Smith and McIntosh stood their ground like the nervy men they were. The shade neither looked to right nor left, but hobbled straight on across an open space and toward the lake, where several skiffs were moored. As through with one impulse and movement, Smith and McIntosh fired at the thing, but with no more apparent result than if they had shot at the stars. There was only the plunge of their bullets heard out in the lake.

“Spook or no spook, I’m going to run that feller down,” said Smith, and as he started McIntosh followed him.

They saw the ghost loosen one of the skiffs and paddle out into the lake. Its motion had seemed to be a slow walk, and yet, running hard as they could, they did not catch up with it. They, in their turn, jumped into a skiff and paddled fiercely after. About where John James’s body was found the first boat stopped, and its mysterious occupant began to shove the long pole down into the water. The pursuers drew nearer and nearer, until there was barely a boat length between them and their object. All at once they heard a terrible, awesome cry, shrilled and piercing. Simultaneously each man felt a shock as though from an electric battery—a shock so severe and overpowering that they collapsed and fell unconscious in the bottom of the skiff.

It was daylight when they revived. They had floated at least two miles below the mill. They were so weak and nervous, so numbed and dazed, they had barely strength to paddle to shore, nor has either one fully recovered to this day.

Now, for one who doubts these things, or who is curious about them, here are the lake and the mill, and the Seaboard company anxious to assist investigation. Also, the position of watchman is open. Who wants it?

LONG LEAF.

A Southern Feast of All Souls—The Souls of Sloss

Sloss Furnaces
20 32nd Street, North
Birmingham, Alabama

Perhaps one of the most iconic haunted places in the state of Alabama, this National Historic Landmark site is reminiscent of Birmingham’s history. Birmingham was built on industrial facilities like this producing iron during the latter half of the 19th and into the 20th centuries. While the facility opened in 1882, nothing remains of the original furnaces. The oldest building on this site dates to 1902 with much of the equipment installed and added in later years. This facility closed in 1971, and local preservationists began work to save the facility soon after. Their efforts paid off, and the facility is open as a museum and events facility.

Sloss Furnaces, 2011, by Matthew Gordon. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
There is always a chance for death in industrial sites, even more so around molten metal in a furnace. In 1887 Theophilus Jowers assistant foundryman at the Alice furnace (one of the first furnaces on this site), fell to his death into the molten iron in the furnace. Some of his remains—his head, bowels, two hip bones and some ashes—were fished out of the molten iron. Jowers’ death remains one of the most spectacular and grisly, though many more men died throughout the time that the furnaces were in operation.

 

After Jowers’ death, his spirit was observed by co-workers. Kathryn Tucker Windham quotes one former employee, “We’d be getting ready to charge the furnace, and we’d see something, something like a natural man walking around on the hearth. Just walking slow and looking around like he was checking to make sure everything was all right.” Windham describes the first time that Jowers’ son saw his father’s spirit in 1927. The grown son took his own son for a drive over the First Avenue Viaduct and there, while watching the action at the furnace, they observed a man walking through the showers of sparks and flames.

Two more spirits are believed to be in residence at this site, but their stories are less historically based. A white deer that has been seen on the grounds is believed to be the spirit of a pregnant girl who committed suicide by throwing herself into the furnace. The other “apocryphal”—as Alan Brown describes him—spirit is that of a fiendish foreman named James “Slag” Wormwood. Like Jowers and the pregnant girl, Wormwood supposedly fell to his death into one of the furnaces, though it is suspected that he was really pushed by an angry employee. It is Wormwood’s angry spirit that is responsible for pushing employees and visitors even today.

The furnaces are known as a hotbed of paranormal activity and were investigated for the first time in 2005 by Ghost Chasers International out of Kentucky. They were joined by psychic Chip Coffey who would soon make his name working on the A&E show, Paranormal State. During the investigation, Coffey made contact with the spirit of a man who had lost a limb in an accident there. Moments after losing contact with the spirit, team members noticed blood on Coffey’s hands. After investigating him for scratches or another injury that could have produced blood, nothing was found. Over the past 10 years of paranormal investigations at the site, a slag heap of evidence has been captured here.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Birmingham. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2009.
  • History.” Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark. Accessed 12 June 2015.
  • Parks, Megan. “Sloss Fright Furnace: The haunts heat up in Alabama.” USA Today. 14 October 2014.
  • Windham, Kathryn Tucker. The Ghost in the Sloss Furnaces. Birmingham, AL: Birmingham Historical Society, 2005.

Birmingham’s Haunted Five

After my recent entry on Alabama, I had a comment on Facebook, “Interesting, but there’s more than the library in Birmingham…” Indeed.

I’ve previously covered two magnificent Birmingham theatres: the Alabama and Lyric; and the Tutwiler Hotel, in addition to the Linn-Henley Library which I covered in the Haunted Alabama entry. So here are a few more locations to add to the Birmingham list.

When Alan Brown wrote his 2009, Haunted Birmingham, he noted that this city’s ghostlore “is not nearly as rich as that found in much older cities.” Certainly, Birmingham is the youngest of Alabama’s large cities, having only been founded in 1871. Still, the city has some very interesting ghostlore including the iconic Sloss Furnaces.

Sloss Furnaces
20 32nd Street, North

Perhaps one of the most iconic haunted places in the whole state, this National Historic Landmark site is iconic of Birmingham’s history. Birmingham was built on industrial facilities like this producing iron during the latter half of the 19th and into the 20th centuries. While the facility opened in 1882, nothing remains of the original furnaces here. The oldest building on this site dates to 1902 with much equipment installed and added in later years. This facility closed in 1971 and local preservationists began work to save the facility. Their efforts paid off and the facility is open as a museum and events facility.

Sloss Furnaces, 2006. Photo by Timjarrett, courtesy of Wikipedia.

There is always a chance for death in industrial sites, even more so around molten metal in a furnace. In 1887, Theophilus Jowers, assistant foundryman at the Alice furnace (one of the first furnaces on this site) fell to his death into the molten iron in the furnace. Some of his remains—his head, bowels, two hip bones and some ashes—were fished out of the molten iron. Jowers’ death remains one of the most spectacular and grisly, though many more men died throughout the time that the furnaces were in operation.

After Jowers’ death, his spirit was observed by co-workers. Kathryn Tucker Windham quotes one former employee, “We’d be getting ready to charge the furnace, and we’d see something, something like a natural man walking around on the hearth. Just walking slow and looking around like he was checking to make sure everything was all right.” Windham describes the first time that Jowers’ son saw his father’s spirit in 1927. The now grown son took his son for a drive over the First Avenue Viaduct and there, while watching the action at the furnace, they observed a man walking through the showers of sparks and flames.

Two more spirits are believed to be in residence at this site, but less historically based. A white deer that has been seen on the grounds is believed to be the spirit of a pregnant girl who committed suicide by throwing herself into the furnace. The other “apocryphal”—as Alan Brown describes him—spirit is that of a fiendish foreman named James “Slag” Wormwood. Like Jowers and the pregnant girl, Wormwood supposedly fell to his death into one of the furnaces, though it is suspected that he was really pushed by an angry employee. It is Wormwood’s angry spirit that is responsible for pushing employees.

The furnaces are known as a hotbed of paranormal activity and were investigated for the first time in 2005 by Ghost Chasers International out of Kentucky. They were joined by psychic Chip Coffey who would soon make his name working on the A&E show, Paranormal State. During the investigation, Coffey made contact with the spirit of a man who had lost a limb in an accident there. Moments after losing contact with the spirit, team members noticed blood on Coffey’s hands. After investigating him for scratches or another injury that could have produced blood, nothing was found. Over the past 10 years of paranormal investigations at the site, a slag heap of evidence has been produced.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Birmingham. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2009.
  • History.” Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark. Accessed 12 June 2015.
  • Parks, Megan. “Sloss Fright Furnace: The haunts heat up in Alabama.” USA Today. 14 October 2014.
  • Windham, Kathryn Tucker. The Ghost in the Sloss Furnaces. Birmingham, AL: Birmingham Historical Society, 2005.

East Lake Park
400 Graymont Avenue, West 

On the 1st December 1888, Richard Hawes accompanied his daughter to the newly built lake here. Sometime later, he left without the seven-year-old. On December 4th, two boys playing on a boat in the lake discovered the child’s half-naked body in the water. The discovery caused a sensation among the citizens who thronged the funeral home where she was taken to view the body. Eventually, she was identified as May Hawes. As his train pulled into Birmingham, Richard Hawes, May’s father, was arrested.

May Hawes’ body as pictured in a local paper, 1888.

Richard Hawes was aboard the train with his new bride and still in his wedding suit. He told investigators that he had divorced his wife and was paying for the support of the children. His new wife, from Columbus, Mississippi, was described as being prostrate with grief after finding that her new husband was suspected of murder. Hawes’ wife Emma and daughter, Irene, age six. As newspapers stirred the city’s emotions, Emma’s body was found in a lake in the Lakeview neighborhood. Outrage overtook countless Birminghamians who gathered outside the city jail demanding Hawes be brought to justice immediately. A militia that had been called out to protect the jail eventually opened fire on the crowd killing ten including the city’s postmaster and wounding many others. A few days later, the pathetic body of Irene Hawes was found in the same lake where her mother had been found.

Postcard of East Lake from the roller coaster that once perched on the shores, 1909.

After a swift trial, Richard Hawes faced the gallows and was hung for the murder of his wife and two daughters. Hawes’ second wife was granted from her depraved husband. The lake in Lakeview where Emma and Irene were drowned is now a golf course while East Lake is the centerpiece of East Lake Park, which became a city park 1917. Little May Hawes is still seen in and around the lake where she is sometimes called the “Mermaid of East Lake.”

Sources

  • East Lake Park. Accessed 12 June 2015.
  • Jones, Pam. “The Hawes Murders.” Alabama Heritage. Spring 2006.
  • Kazek, Kelly. “’Tis the season: Haunting tales from ghost tours in 3 Alabama cities.” com. 2 October 2012.

Arlington Antebellum Home & Gardens
331 Cotton Avenue

Described as the “Birthplace of Birmingham,” Arlington is the oldest remaining home in Jefferson County. The core of this house was constructed in 1822 with additions being made to the house in 1842. As it served as the headquarters for Union General James H. Wilson during the closing months of the Civil War, the house was spared while the orders for the destruction of the University of Alabama, the arsenal at Selma and iron works throughout the region were issued from this home. As can be expected in a house of this age, there is some paranormal activity. Alan Brown notes that docents have heard doors slamming and witnessed rocking chairs rocking on their own accord.

Arlington by Jet Lowe. Photo for the Historic American Buildings Survey, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Birmingham. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2009.
  • Floyd, W. Warner and Mrs. Catherine M. Lackmond. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Arlington. 9 September 1970.

Carraway Methodist Medical Center
1600 Carraway Boulevard

This defunct hospital was, for many years, one of Birmingham’s leading medical facilities. In the 2000s, the hospital was plagued with financial difficulties that lead to its closure in 2008. The facility has been deteriorating since and it has attracted homeless people, vandals, copper thieves and some ghost hunters. A November 2014 article by Kelly Kazek reports on an investigation conducted by investigator and author, Kim Johnston. After touring the facility with the owner, Johnston reported that the Emergency Room had a “palpable heaviness.” Her group did have the experience of hearing muffled voices in the cardiac surgery area of the third floor. Even after bringing in local police, no one was found to be in that area. This building is closed and tresapssers will be prosecuted, please only observe from a distance.

Sources

  • Carraway Methodist Medical Center. Acc. 6 Jun 2015.
  • Kazek, Kelly. “Abandoned Alabama Part 2: The ghost of cities past.” com. 28 Nov 2014.

The Hotel Highland at Five Points South
1023 20th Street, South

Originally constructed as the Medical Arts Building in 1931, this building served as offices for surgeons and dentists for many years. In the 1980s, a former cardiac surgeon renovated the Art Deco structure into a hotel, the Pickwick Hotel. During this time, stories emerged of a nurse still making rounds on the eighth floor. Sheila Turnage quotes a former director of sales who said that the elevator would mysteriously be called to the eighth floor unexpectedly. The hotel was transformed into a boutique hotel in 2007.

Sources

  • Turnage, Sheila. Haunted Inns of the Southeast. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2001.
  • “History of the Hotel” The Hotel Highland at Five Points South. Accessed 18 May 2015.

A spirited ‘leap of faith’—Update on the Tennessee Brewery

Tennessee Brewery
495 Tennessee Street
Memphis, Tennessee 

The Tennessee Brewery will be saved. A local businessman and school board member has taken up the cause of the massive, decaying Romanesque structure and is transforming it into a residential building that will join the efforts to remake this specific part of town into an arts district.

In April of last year, when last I wrote about this story, plans were underway to hold a beer garden in the old building under the name “Tennessee Brewery Untapped.” This effort was successful in arousing local interest in the structure. The owner at that time had indicated that he would likely demolish the building by the end of the summer unless a buyer came forward. “If not for Untapped, I don’t think people would have focused on the building,” said Billy Orgel, the building’s new owner.

2011 view of the Tennessee Brewery by Reading Tom. Courtesy of Flickr.

Orgel, CEO of cell phone tower developer, Tower Ventures and also a Shelby County School Board member, led a small group of investors in purchasing the building. Plans have been made to turn the building into lofts with a small amount of possible commercial space on the ground floor. The new owner has said that project will require “a leap of faith by a lot of people.”

There’s no word on what the brewery’s spirits may think of this, though the building’s new owner doesn’t believe there may be anything there. After being approached by a production company wishing to produce something about the building’s haunted history for the Discovery Channel, Orgel responded, “we said we are not interested. We’re not really sure if anything ever even happened in there.” Perhaps the spirits are just enjoying a cold one before resuming their regular haunting activity.

Sources

  • Maki, Amos. “Brewery developer calls for ‘leap of faith.” Memphis Daily News. 14 January 2015.
  • Poe, Ryan. “Developer unveils details about Tennessee Brewery’s future.” Memphis Business Journal. 3 October 2014.
  • Sells, Toby. “Tennessee Brewery plans unveiled.” Memphis Flyer. 13 January 2015.

Alcohol and apparitions–North Carolina and Kentucky

N.B. This article was edited and updated 13 February 2019.

Triangle Brewing Company
918 Pearl Street
Durham, North Carolina

The South has always had a tradition of alcohol-making: from the bourbons of Kentucky and whiskies of Tennessee, from modern micro-breweries to the backwoods moonshine that was created when legal liquor production was outlawed. With the rise of Southern wine-making and micro-breweries, many of these businesses have taken to occupying historic structures alongside ghosts.

At some point in the past, a man in Durham, North Carolina died and his body was dumped in a trash bag. When renovations were conducted in the old warehouse that now houses Durham’s Triangle Brewing Company, the human remains were found in a trash bag partially buried in the floor of the basement. Time had taken a toll, leaving only bones and teeth which could not be identified by the Durham Police Department. Not even a date could be established for the remains.

Presumably, the remains were buried in a local cemetery, though with spirited libations and good cheer, the anonymous man is now celebrated as the “patron saint” of a brewery and it may still be his spirit that rambles about the building. According to the spirit’s page on the brewing company’s website, he’s a good sort of spirit who occasionally whispers, moves things, and knocks darts off the dart board. The owners of the brewery have decided to keep him on and have dubbed him “Rufus.”

When he gets a bit rowdy, they pour a beer down the drain to sooth his antics.

Unfortunately, the Triangle Brewing Company will be closing with one last toast in April. Hopefully, Rufus will find a new home.

Sources

  • Rufus. Triangle Brewing Company. Accessed 23 April 2014.
  • Shaffer, Josh. “Durham brewery celebrates 7 years of Rufus the sudsy specter.” The News-Observer. 16 March 2014.

Talon Winery Tasting Room
7086 Tates Creek Road
Lexington, Kentucky 

Unlike the anonymous spirit spreading cheer around the Triangle Brewing Company, Talon Winery’s resident spirit has possibly been identified: none other than famed Lexington transvestite, Sweet Evening Breeze.

James Herndon—known best as “Sweet Evening Breeze” or “Miss Sweets”—is considered “the city’s most colorful character.” The transgender blog, TransGriot, states that Herndon “often wore makeup, occasionally performed or appeared on Main St. on Saturdays in drag, and was apparently quite effeminate. Long before there was RuPaul, Lexington’s Sweet Evening Breeze was titillating and gaining respect from the locals.” The biographical sketch ends by stating that Herndon “cut a path as an openly gay man, drag queen, and possibly a transgendered person.”

In an article from LEX18, Lexington’s NBC affiliate, Herndon is described—somewhat incorrectly—as “a man who liked to wear wedding dresses back in the 1950s.” The article quotes the owner of the winery, “if they go to the stairway that’s where they see the white wedding dress with the dark hair.”

According to what little history that can be found on the winery, the house was built in the 1790s, quite possibly by Isaac Shelby, the state’s first governor. Of course, some of the previous owners have remained in the house and staff reports that children have been seen peering from the windows of the house.

Sources

  • “Agritourism and wine: A natural pairing.” Agritourism Monthly. February 2014.
  • Jones, Jeff. “Sweet Evening Breeze.” Transgriot Blog. 8 February 2007.
  • “Mystery Monday: Haunted Wine Tasting Room.” 31 March 2014.

The Packing Plant is Packed In

Cape Fear Meat Packing Plant
Navassa, North Carolina

The old and haunted Cape Fear Meat Packing Plant is no more. In its stead, speeding cars will traverse the final leg of Interstate 140, the Wilmington Bypass.

This region saw a great deal of industrial growth in the late 19th and early 20th century as the South tried to resurrect itself following the Civil War. Business was booming so much so that even the title banner of the local paper, The Wilmington Morning Star, is set on a background of industrial buildings, a ship and a locomotive. Wilmington—just across the marshes of the Cape Fear River—was a booming industrial town at that time.

The banner of The Wilmington Morning Star with its optimistic industrial background.

Navassa saw growth from its connection with a small, uninhabited island between Jamaica and Haiti called Navassa Island. The turpentine industry, which was supported by the huge swaths of pine trees in the region, sent much of its product to the West Indies but had nothing to fill the ships returning, until huge amounts of guano—bird and bat excrement—were discovered on this tiny island. In North Carolina, the first fertilizer plant opened in this area in 1869 with other plants opening in turn. Around these plants, the community of Navassa grew up.

An editorial in 1917 praised the building of the new meat packing plant in Navassa and hailed the coming of a new industry to the region, “a new opportunity as broad as North Carolina.” The editorial continues with all the verbose pomp of the era:

We make obeisance and acknowledge allegiance and loyalty to King Cotton and Lady Nicotine, but they have not yet established a capital of one iota of the magnitude and grandeur of any of the swineopolitan centres [sic] of the livestock and grain domain. We simply mention this is order to emphasize the possibilities in energetically and practically promoting the livestock and packing house industries as a potential means of making Wilmington the Chicago of the South. [The Wilmington Morning Star, 9 December 1917]

The editorial also notes that the new meat packing plant was expected to be completed the next year.

This plant was built for the Cape Fear Meat Packing Company which opened on the heels of the Carolina Packing Company which opened a plant in Wilmington just a few short months before the Navassa plant opened. The Cape Fear Meat Packing Company was formed by G. Herbert Smith in partnership with his son in law, Walter L. Griffith. With its opening, the plant rode of a tide of optimism, the company did not survive very long. On May 14, 1921, G. Herbert Smith was found dead in the bathroom of his home. From his untimely death, ghost stories began to swirl.

Most legends pointed to Smith’s death as being a suicide, though the newspaper account the day after his death indicates his death was accidental.

There were many reports current during the afternoon that he had committed suicide, but these were scouted by friends of the family who were familiar with the circumstances. There is every indication, friends state, that he was preparing to take a bath, either upon his arrival early Saturday morning, or later in the day when getting up, and that he was overcome by escaping gas from a water heater. The coroner declared there was nothing to indicate, insofar as he could learn, other than that death was accidental. [The Wilmington Morning Star, 15 May 1921]

Smith was found in the bathroom of his home in Wilmington clad in underwear. He had returned from a business trip to Richmond, Virginia and wasn’t feeling well. His body was discovered by his wife who had noticed the gas fumes coming from the bathroom.

The Cape Fear Packing Company lingered on for a few years after Smith’s death, declaring bankruptcy in October of 1922. Just before the turn of the new year, the company was purchased by the Southern Packing Company, which used the plant as a slaughterhouse. Recent articles indicate that the plant was closed a short time after that, though contemporary papers do not seem to indicate when the plant closed.

For decades, the structure sat abandoned gathering graffiti, curious teenagers and ghost stories. Among those stories, it was said that Smith had committed suicide within the building by hanging. For decades, this was noted as the only death associated with the building, besides the legions of pigs that had been slaughtered there. In 1982, one of the curious teens attracted to the building fell to his death from atop the concrete building. A 2006 article from the Wilmington Star-News, quotes Navassa mayor Eulis Willis as believing that many more deaths could be associated with the building.

While the building is almost universally acknowledged as being haunted, there are no published stories regarding the site. I’d most definitely like to hear locals or investigators familiar with the site as to what the activity was.

For now, the sad history of the haunted slaughter house has come to an end.

Sources

  • Navassa Island. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 20 April 2014.
  • Navassa, North Carolina. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 20 April 2014.
  • “An Opportunity as Broad as North Carolina.” The Wilmington Morning Star. 9 December 1917.
  • “Progress That Makes the Way for More Progress.” The Wilmington Morning Star. 17 June 1917.
  • “Southern Packing Corporation Absorbs Cape Fear; Plant Here to be Merged with Old Carolina.” The Wilmington Morning Star. 29 December 1922.
  • Spiers, Jonathan. “Former meat packing plant, said to be haunted, gives way to Wilmington Bypass.” Port City Daily. 17 April 2014.
  • Tatum, Crystal S. “Haunted histories.” Star-News. 18 October 2006.
  • Wilmington, North Carolina. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 20 April 2014.
  • “Wilmington Shocked By Sudden Death of Prominent Citizen.” The Wilmington Morning Star. 15 May 1921.

The Distant Past and the Very Near Future—Tennessee Brewery

Tennessee Brewery
495 Tennessee Street
Memphis, Tennessee

I covered the Tennessee Brewery about two years ago as part of an article on abandoned and possibly haunted buildings in Memphis. There have been developments with the Sears Crosstown Building as the local arts community has begun using the building for arts functions. The Sterick Building remains closed and for sale as far as I know while the Tennessee Brewery has been scheduled a date with destiny.

The owners of the building have announced that the building will be demolished on August 1st if no one steps forward to purchase the abandoned structure before then. However, innovative plans have recently been hatched to temporarily use the building ahead of the possible demolition in an effort to arouse interest. Six weeks of events, titled “Tennessee Brewery Untapped,” will be held in the building and expected to draw a crowd. Live music will echo through the aging halls of the brewery while beer—the products of local micro-breweries—will be served in a café that will operated in the building. Other events will include food trucks, mobile retail, movie screenings and workshops.

The massive Tennessee Brewery, 2010, by C ammerman. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

With so many people expected to crowd into the massive structure, it will be interesting to see how the spirits react. Laura Cunningham in Haunted Memphis states that the spirits “appear to be angry.” This is assumed from the loud noises that can sometimes cause the building to shake while some investigators have been touched, pinched and pushed.

Interestingly, in a 2012 article for the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Michael Einspanjer, founder of Memphis Paranormal Investigators states that “the spirits stuck in the building just couldn’t let go in life, they aren’t threatening.” The article notes that Einspanjer’s group has investigated the brewery at least 12 times and he states that the building is “a very haunted place.”

In looking through the material on the haunting of the brewery, it is very interesting to note that most sources do not speculate as to why the brewery may be haunted. Spurred on by the articles relating to Tennessee Brewery Untapped, I decided to check Newspapers.com to see what may be found relating to the brewery’s history. Indeed, I came up with a few very interesting leads.

The first event dates to 1888, just before the brewery’s construction. Papers in early August report a massive fire at the brewery that destroyed parts of the brewery as well as adjacent structures. The current structure dates to 1890. No deaths are reported in any of the articles, though a massive fire may have left a spiritual imprint on the site.

The second event dates to 1903 and involves at least one death. On April 15 of that year, Adolph Heinz, a German citizen and employee of the brewery was shot and killed. The article appeared in countless papers, obviously pulled from wire services and does not state exactly where the shooting took place. Reportedly, an African-American man named Gary Morgan asked Heinz to bring him a pail of beer. When Heinz refused, Morgan—“a negro with a picturesque police record”—shot him. The article notes that members of the local German community assembled to hunt down Morgan to lynch him. As of yet, nothing has turned up to reveal if Morgan was apprehended.

A third event was reported by the Associated Press in 1950. Prior to December 17th, an employee at the brewery fell from a stairway at the brewery and was killed when his head struck the floor. Perhaps his spirit is among the spirits remaining in the building.

Tennessee Brewery Untapped is scheduled to begin April 24th and run through June 1st.

Sources

  • Cunningham, Laura. Haunted Memphis. Charleston: History Press, 2009.
  • Douglas, Andrew. “Group pushes to save old Tennessee Brewery building.” 31 March 2014.
  • “FLAMES IN A BREWERY: The Tennessee Brewery at Memphis Badly Damaged—Other Fires Yesterday.” Chicago Daily Tribune. 11 August 1888.
  • “Killed in fall.” Kingsport Times-News. 17 December 1950.
  • Meek, Andy. “New Partners Sign On to Tennessee Brewery Effort.” Memphis Daily News. 4 April 2014.
  • Meek, Andy. “Plans Coming Together for Tennessee Brewery Untapped.” Memphis Daily News. 26 March 2014.
  • “One of the Kaiser’s Subjects Killed by Memphis Negro.” The Atlanta Constitution. 16 April 1903.
  • Pickrell, Kayla. “Haunted Memphis: Brewery a piece of history.” The Commercial Appeal. 24 July 2012.
  • Poe, Ryan. “Tennessee Brewery Untapped gets beer license.” Memphis Business Journal. 2 April 2014.