A blogiversary banshee

I know dark clouds will gather round me,
I know my way is rough and steep,
But beauteous fields lie just before me,
Where gods redeem, their vigils keep.

-–“Wayfaring Stranger,” traditional American folksong

Eight years ago, I started on a journey. I had been laid off and was terribly depressed and needed a distraction. On August 17, 2010 I posted the first entry on my blog; the first step on a long journey. At the time, I wasn’t really sure of what I was doing, but I was enjoying it, nonetheless.

I’m still treading that path which is rough and steep, though it has ultimately been rewarding as I discover and explore marvelous Southern ghost stories. Also along this path I’ve been interviewed by newspapers and on radio shows, I’ve written a book, I’ve done speaking engagements, and I’ve led ghost tours in Birmingham. I’m truly grateful for the people I’ve met along the way who have shared their own stories and those readers who sit a spell and read what I have written.

Here on my 8th “blogiversary,” I’m sitting at my favorite Starbucks working on yet another outgrowth of my blog: storytelling. My home of LaGrange, Georgia, has always been supportive of the performing arts and over the last few decades, some of the leaders had the foresight to establish a storytelling here. The first weekend of March, nationally-known storytellers gather here to spend a few days spinning yarns at the Azalea Storytelling Festival.

With the inspiration from this vast array of tellers and the support of a noted teller that I have had the privilege to know for many years, I am pleased to announce I will be “spreading the Gospel of Southern Ghosts” at two upcoming events in October.

In searching for stories to start with, I returned to a story I have always loved from North Carolina: the Tarboro Banshee. When I first came across this story in Daniel Barefoot’s first volume of his “Haunted Hundred” series, I immediately thought this would be a great story to tell.

I have been looking into the story’s origins as well, trying to craft my own version. It seems that this story was first recorded as a part of a WPA folklore project in the 1930s. I have not been able to find any history to corroborate the events of the story, beyond this “very literary sounding text” that W. K. McNeil included in his 1985 Ghost Stories from the American South. The version here is a combination of the original WPA story, some details from Barefoot’s rendering, and my own research into the story’s circumstances.

Please note that this is a departure from my usual style of writing about haunted places. In keeping with the elements of oral tradition, I have made some adjustments to the story to suit my own tastes.

The Tarboro Banshee

In 1999, Hurricane Floyd slammed into Cape Fear, North Carolina. As well as damaging the coast, the storm brought torrential rains further inland causing many rivers and streams to swell. The Tar River, in the eastern portion of the state, rose beyond its banks flooding portions of the city of Rocky Mount and the downstream towns of Tarboro and Princeville. After the waters receded, locals recalled an old tale of a banshee along the river and wondered if she was still exacting vengeance for the death of David Warner.

A FEMA truck on a street in Tarboro following Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Photo by Eric Wedeking.

During the time of the American Revolution, Warner built and operated a mill at a bend in the Tar River, possibly near Tarboro. While most of his history is lost in the shifting sands of time, legend recalls that he was born an Englishman. After settling on the frontier, the British crown roundly abused him and his neighbors and many switched their allegiance to the democratic ideals being touted in Boston and Philadelphia.

As war broke out in 1775, Warner began working his mill to feed the Patriot army. Often, the waterwheel rolled late into the night with the scene lit only by the dim lantern light spilling out of the mill’s open door broken by Warner’s huge shadow as he labored.

On a humid August afternoon in 1781, Warner was busy in his mill when a neighbor stopped by with grave news. “The British are coming! Close your mill and hide! They know you for a rebel, and they will kill you.”

Looking at his thick wrists, built by the heavy labor of milling, Warner replied, “I’d rather stay and wring a British neck or two.”

“Surely you cannot fight the whole army single-handedly!”

“Then I’ll stay and be killed. What is my life?” Warner solemnly nodded and returned to his work.

Later that evening the waterwheel continued to groan as it turned. Like moths to a flame, the mill’s meager light attracted the attention of a party of five British scouts.

Knowing he was being observed, Warner remarked out loud, “Make certain you pack every precious ounce of flour to deliver to General Greene. I hate to think of those British hogs eating a single mouthful of gruel made from America’s corn.”

Rushing in, the scouts seized Warner, cursing and thrashing him as a traitor. It took the strength of all five of them to bring the huge miller to the floor. Once he was down, they began to bicker as to what to do with him. One of the scouts, who had a particularly evil bent, ghoulishly suggested that they should execute him.

Restrained on the floor, Warner spoke up. “If you take my life, hear me clear that a banshee will be summoned and will grieve over my death forevermore. In her despair she will hunt you down, as you did me, and she will see that every last one of you dies a terrible death.”

As boys growing up in Britain, the scouts had often heard tales of the terrifying banshees that would wail as death omens for certain Irish and Scottish families. These entities also protected family members as they traveled and settled throughout the world. Memories of these tales shook four of the scouts, and they argued that they should take the rebel to their commanding officer, but the evil one held fast.

“Why wait,” he said, “We have been sent to make the way safe. We will get rid of this rebel before he continues to make trouble.”

Deferring to the evil scout, the redcoats bound Warner with rope and escorted him to the river’s edge where they boarded a small rowboat. A millstone was found and secured around his neck. Warner stoically sat as the boat was rowed towards the middle of the river.

Without ceremony they pushed Warner overboard and hauled the millstone into the cool waters of the Tar. The millstone jerked him underwater pulling him towards death and the muddy river bottom.

The group watched as Warner’s final breath bubbled to the surface and all remained quiet. The warning of a banshee was just pure bluster.

Suddenly, from the watery grave a shrill scream began to emerge. The sound quickly grew into a wail and it began to echo up and down the river until the pines and hardwoods reverberated with the mournful, vengeful cry. The awful sound pierced the scouts’ brains with a sensation of utter terror. As they looked, dumbstruck, into the depths of the river, the darkness began to draw together into a shape.

A beautiful woman emerged from the inky blackness. Her dark clothing and long, blonde hair billowed around her. Her face was beautiful, though it was contorted into a grimace of pain and grief. Her mouth was pulled open as she wailed and keened.

Stumbling for the oars, the scouts hastily rowed their boat away from the terrifying scene. After bumping into the shore, they tumbled out of the boat and fled to the safety of the piney forest around the mill, their ears still filled with the horrible screams.

When the scouts’ army unit arrived the following day, they set up camp around the abandoned mill. Amongst themselves, the five argued if they should tell their commanding officer of the previous night’s events. In the end, the evil soldier stated that they should keep quiet.

That silence lasted until sunset. Once darkness fell upon the army tents, the mill, and the riverbank, the banshee’s wail began anew. The soldiers were intrigued by the spectral wails and gathered by the riverside to wonder at the odd scene, while the scouts huddled in their tents.

Two of the scouts finally had enough went to their commanding officer’s tent and confessed to having killed the miller. Outraged, the commanding officer called all five to his tent where he dressed them down and ordered that they remain behind to work the mill as punishment.

The army unit moved on the next day leaving the five scouts laboring in the mill and dreading the oncoming night. As night drew around them, the banshee began her wailing over the river and drew close to the rumbling waterwheel. The scouts were suddenly terrified to see the misty apparition in the doorway. Suddenly, two of the scouts stiffened and appeared to be in a trance. Slowly, zombie-like, the young scouts walked out of the mill into the darkness and vanished.

The remaining scouts continued working the mill the following day, worried of their fates come nightfall. Again, the banshee began her wailing over the river and drew close to the rumbling waterwheel. She appeared in the doorway as the scouts cowered in fear. Again, two of the scouts stiffened and appeared to be in a trance. Slowly, zombie-like, the young scouts walked out of the mill into the darkness and vanished.

The evil scout was alone now, and, with fright, he continued to work the mill. As night drew around the mill, he heard the familiar screaming coming from the river. As the screams continued to torment him, he began to lose his grip on reality and ran screaming into the forest calling the miller’s name. The next day his body was discovered floating, bloated and bloody, near where David Warner had been executed in the muddy waters of the Tar.

Since those dark days of revolution, Warner’s mill has disappeared, but residents along the Tar River say that on humid August evenings as the katydids chatter and the rain crow calls for rain, a shrill scream is still heard to echo up and down the river until the pines and hardwoods reverberate with the mournful, vengeful cry.

Sources

  • Barefoot, Daniel. North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Volume 1: Seaside Spectres. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2002.
  • Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, 3rd NYC: Checkmark Books, 2007.
  • McNeil, W. K. Ghost Stories from the American South. Little Rock, AR: August House, 1985.

Haunted North Carolina, Briefly Noted

North Carolina has a plethora of haunted, mystic, and legendary places. Some of these locations were covered in the early days of my blog, though they have been updated and rewritten when necessary.

Biltmore Greensboro Hotel
111 West Washington Street
Greensboro

Built in 1903, the building that now houses the Biltmore was constructed as an “up-to-date and well appointed” office building for a textile manufacturer. When that company moved its offices to larger quarters, the building hosted other businesses and a post office before becoming an apartment building. According to a local ghost tour, during this time the apartments were used by ladies of the evening. After a disastrous fire, new owners in the late 1960s sought to turn the building into an upscale hotel. They hired noted local interior designer, Otto Zenke (who may be the spirit inhabiting the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department), to create an elegant and sumptuous boutique hotel that was opened under the name The Greenwich Inn. After renovations in 1992, the hotel reopened as the Biltmore Greensboro.

Two deaths within the building have left spiritual impressions on the Biltmore. During the building’s initial incarnation as offices for the Cone Export and Commission Company, which operated a number of a local textile mills, a young accountant, named as Philip in local legend, was discovered dead one morning in an alley outside. The reason for his death never came to light and speculation purports that he may have discovered inconsistencies in the company’s books. In fact, questions remain as to if Philip was murdered or died by his own hand.

Room 332 is believed to have once served as Philip’s office and his restless spirit has been blamed for activity in and around that room. Guests have been disturbed by the sounds of footsteps in the corridor that sound like someone walking on a bare wooden floor, despite carpeting. Others have seen the spirit standing at the foot of their beds or at the window.

The spirit of Lydia, a former resident and perhaps, a lady of the evening, also makes her presence known. Room 223 is her former room and guests have complained that the light in the room’s bathroom often turns itself on along with the faucet. The door to the room has problems staying closed while housekeepers continue to find long strands of red hair next to the sink in the bathroom, as well. A mother staying in the room several years ago reported that her son encountered a “pretty red-headed lady” in the bathroom. That room has been decorated in pink and gifts of lipstick have been left in the closet in order to appease the feminine specter.

Sources

  • Biltmore Greensboro Hotel. “History.” Accessed 4 May 2018.
  • Bordsen, John. “Find the most haunted place in these Carolina towns.” Dispatch-Argus. 31 October 2010.
  • Ford, Hope. “Haunted Biltmore: the Ghost Stories of Greensboro’s Hotel.” 4 July 2016.

Harper House
Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site
5466 Harper House Road
Four Oaks

With the exception of the coast, North Carolina was spared much of the fighting during the Civil War. It’s hard to imagine what John Harper and his family endured when they found their farm embroiled in battle in 1865. The family’s home was commandeered as a field hospital and their inner sanctum was disturbed by the screams and cries of the wounded, blood staining the floor, and piles of amputated limbs stacking up outside. The Harper family abandoned their home not long after the battle; perhaps due to the phantom screams and cries that were still heard in the house at night. The Harper House and the Bentonville battlefield have been preserved as a state park and visitors and staff continue to encounter paranormal phenomena.

Harper House on the Bentonville Battlefield, 2009, by Straitgate. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

One of the most interesting encounters was experienced in 1990 by a family who visited the Harper House. The family was guided by a woman through what they believed was a living history reenactment with wounded soldiers being brought into the house and treated as well as a civilian man who appeared as John Harper. When the family described what they saw to the staff at the visitor’s center, they were told that there was no such living history exhibition at the house.

Sources

  • Barefoot, Daniel W. North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Vol. 2: Piedmont Phantoms. Winston-Salem, NC, John F. Blair, 2002.
  • Toney, B. Keith. Battlefield Ghosts. Berryville, VA: Rockbridge Publishing, 1997.

High Hampton Inn
1525 Highway 107, South
Cashiers

Set amid some 1400 acres in the Appalachians, the High Hampton Inn looks over a sheer mountainside that rises above a 55-acre lake. When I visited a few years ago, I was struck by the serenity and beauty but also the old-fashioned charm that seemed to envelop the resort. That same beauty and charm have given rise to a legend concerning a white owl.

High Hampton began as a hunting lodge for the wealthy Hampton family of South Carolina and in 1922, an inn was constructed on the property and the grounds opened to the public. Prior to the ownership of E.L. McKee, who built the inn, the property was owned by noted surgeon, Dr. William Halstead. Halstead did much to expand the property, purchasing nearby land and farms, among them the property of Louisa Emmeline Zachary.

The High Hampton Inn, 2006, by RichardKenni. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Upon her marriage, Zachary’s property passed to her husband, Hannibal Heaton, who sold it to Halstead despite his wife’s threats to kill herself if he did. Shortly after the sale, Heaton discovered his wife’s body hanging in a barn with a large barn owl flying about. According to legend, a large white owl continues to haunt the grounds of the High Hampton Inn.

Sources

  • High Hampton Inn Historic District. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 8 February 2011.
  • Williams, Stephanie Burt. Haunted Hills, Ghosts and Legends of Highlands and Cashiers, North Carolina. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2007.

Horace Williams House
610 East Rosemary Street
Chapel Hill

The Horace Williams House, 2007, by Jerrye and Roy Klotz, MD. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

An interest in phrenology, the study of how the shape of the head affects intelligence and character, led to the interesting octagon design of the Horace Williams House. Construction on the home was begun in the mid-1850s by University of North Carolina chemistry professor Benjamin Hedrick, whose designs were based on the book, A Home for All or the Gravel Wall and Octagon Mode of Building, by phrenologist Orson Fowler. Fowler posited that the design of the home affected and influenced harmony between those living in the home. Subsequently, this book was important in the building of many octagon homes throughout the nation.

The home passed through a few hands until it ended up with Professor Horace Williams, a beloved and noted professor of philosophy. Upon Williams’ death in 1940, the home and contents were left to the university and the house has been preserved as a museum. Native American and Civil War artifacts discovered around the house indicate that some spiritual activity may be caused by a range of people who have inhabited the property in the past. Activity in the home includes the appearance of a professorial apparition of a gentleman, most likely that of Williams.

Sources

  • Ambrose, Kala. Ghosthunting North Carolina. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2011.
  • Bordsen, John. “Find the most haunted place in these Carolina towns.” Dispatch-Argus. 31 October 2010.

Körner’s Folly
413 South Main Street
Kernersville

After a paranormal investigation of Körner’s Folly revealed evidence that the house may be haunted, the 85-year old granddaughter of the home’s builder Jule Körner, stated that, “he would be thrilled to death to know this was haunted. He always liked things that were out of the ordinary.” Indeed, Körner’s legacy is unique. The house was begun in 1878 and “completed” in 1880, though Körner continued to remodel the house until his death in 1924. Jule Körner made his name as an advertising painter for Bull Durham Tobacco but was also talented as a designer and he put his talents on display throughout the house.

Körner’s Folly, photo by Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy of the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

It is believed that a number of spirits may dwell within this unparalleled edifice. Visitors and staff have spotted a woman as well as a child in Victorian clothing, but much of the activity is aural. During some recent paranormal investigations digital recorders have picked up a number of voices. One voice responded with curiosity to an investigator asking about setting up for EVPs, “What is EVP?” Another recorder picked up a voice saying. “Hauuuuunted.” According to the house museum’s paranormal advisor the spirits in the home are curious and happy to remain in this unique place. Strange stuff, indeed.

Sources

  • Ambrose, Kala. Ghosthunting North Carolina. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2011.
  • History of Körner’s Folly. Körner’s Folly Website. Accessed 6 February 2011.
  • “Paranormal News: Korner’s Folly Certified Haunted.” Ghost Eyes: Most Haunted Places in America Blog. Accessed 6 February 2011.
  • Renegar, Michael and Amy Spease. Ghosts of The Triad: Tales from the Haunted Heart of the Piedmont. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011.

Old Burying Ground
Ann Street
Beaufort

Among the oldest cemeteries in the state, Beaufort’s Old Burying Ground lies in a verdant peace under ancient oaks. Established in the early 18th century, this burying ground holds victims of the Tuscarora War which was fought in the area from 1711-1715. Other conflicts are also well-represented including the War of 1812, and the American Civil War which provides a member of the Union Army’s Colored Infantry.

Old Burying Ground, 2012, by Carl Griffith. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Perhaps the most poignant grave here is that of a little girl. Bearing the inscription, “Little girl buried in rum keg,” this small plot is the origin of many stories, including a ghost legend. The girl was the progeny of a local family who longed to see Britain. Despite her mother’s worries, the girl’s father took her abroad with a promise that he would return the child to her mother. When the child passed during the journey home, the father preserved the frail corpse in a keg of rum. Instead of placing the small body in a coffin for burial, the parents decided to bury the child in the keg of rum.

The small grave is marked with trinkets and toys visitors have left as offerings to the little girl’s spirit and she is said to stroll the burying ground after dark. A member of the local historical society noted that the legend is bunk, but ghost tours continue to tell the story.

Sources

  • Ambrose, Kala. Ghosthunting North Carolina. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2011.
  • Bordsen, John. “Find the most haunted place in these Carolina towns.” Dispatch-Argus. 31 October 2010.
  • Brown, Nic. “North Carolina’s Old Burying Ground.” Garden & Gun. April/May 2015.
  • Shaffer, Josh. “Tale of Beaufort girl buried in rum keg lures visitors.” Charlotte Observer. 7 October 2012.

‘Twas the Night Before Halloween—Recycled Revenants

‘Twas the night before Halloween and all through the blog, little was stirring…

This move from Blogger to this new site has been tedious and time-consuming. I’ve tossed out a great deal of junky posts and put many posts aside that need to be updated and refreshed leaving me with many bits and pieces that should be republished in a different context. This is a selection of recycled pieces for Halloween.

Rock Creek Cemetery
North Capitol Street
Washington, DC

Nestled in the Rock Creek Cemetery is St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Yard, the oldest burying ground in Washington, DC. Surrounding the churchyard is the nineteenth century Rock Creek Cemetery which houses graves for many of Washington’s elite including Evalyn Walsh McLean who haunts her former home, now the Indonesian Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue. The work of famous American architects and sculptors is scattered throughout the cemetery including a statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in a setting by architect Stanford White. The memorial was built by author and historian Henry Adams in memory of his wife, Marian “Clover” Hooper Adams. Commonly known as Grief, Adams hated the name and wrote in a letter to the sculptor’s son, Homer:

Do not allow the world to tag my figure with a name! Every magazine writer wants to label it as some American patent medicine for popular consumption—Grief, Despair, Pear’s Soap, or Macy’s Mens’ Suits Made to Measure. Your father meant it to ask a question, not to give an answer; and the man who answers will be damned to eternity like the men who answered the Sphinx.

The Adams Monument, 2007, by Danvera. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Legend states that visitors near the statue are often overcome with a feeling of despair and others have seen the wraith of Clover Adams near the statue. The late Mrs. Adams may also be in spiritual residence in the Hay-Adams Hotel (see my entry on the hotel here). This sculpture is interesting in the fact that a copy of it, placed in Druid Ridge Cemetery in Pikeville Maryland is also associated with a ghost. Druid Ridge has a number of spirits associated with it, but “Black Aggie” is perhaps the best known. The copy of Saint-Gaudens’ sculpture was created by sculptor Edward L. A. Pausch and placed on the grave of the wife of Felix Agnus. For decades the sculpture attracted vandals and the legend grew that the figure’s eyes would glow red and those looking into the eyes were struck blind. Another tale told of a fraternity pledge crushed to death when he spent the night in the statue’s embrace. Disturbed by the activity the statue attracted, the family had it removed and it was given to the Smithsonian and now resides in the courtyard of the haunted Cutts-Madison House on Lafayette Square which faces the Decatur House across the square.

Sources 

  • Adams Memorial (Saint-Gaudens). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 22 December 2010.
  • Beauchamp, Tanya. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for Rock Creek Church Yard and Cemetery. Listed 12 August 1977.
  • Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits. NYC: Checkmark Books, 2007.
  • Taylor, Troy. Beyond the Grave: The History of America’s Most Haunted Graveyards. Alton, IL: Whitechapel Press, 2001.
  • Varhola, Michael J. Ghosthunting Virginia. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2008.
  • Varhola, Michael J. and Michael H. Varhola Ghosthunting Maryland. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2009.

East Coast/West Coast
138 St. George Street
St. Augustine, Florida

This modest commercial building once housed Kixie’s Men’s Store and some odd activity. The shop employed a young tailor, Kenneth Beeson who would later serve as mayor for the city. While working late one evening he noticed a door opening by itself followed by the sweet scent of funereal flowers. After experiencing odd activity for a while, Beeson put out a tape recorder and set it to record just before he left. When he returned the following morning, he was shocked to discover a plethora of sounds including marching feet and guttural growls. Disturbed by these incidents, Beeson had a priest exorcise the building. The activity ceased.

Sources 

  • Cain, Suzy & Dianne Jacoby. A Ghostly Experience: Tales of St. Augustine, Florida. City Gate Productions, 1997.
  • Lapham, Dave. Ghosts of St. Augustine. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 1997.

Western & Atlantic Railroad Tunnel
Chetoogeta Mountain
Tunnel Hill, Georgia

As the railroad spread its tentacles throughout the nation before the tumult of the Civil War, a route was needed from Augusta, Georgia to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Numerous obstacles stood in the way, but the biggest was Chetoogeta Mountain. Plans for a railroad tunnel dated to the second half of the 1830s, but work did not commence until 1848 with work completed two years later. The new tunnel was instrumental in Atlanta’s growth as a railroad hub and was a strategic feature for the Confederacy to protect during the Civil War.

The tunnel’s strategic importance led to a series of skirmishes being fought here leading up to the Battle of Atlanta. Following the war, the tunnel remained in service until 1928 when a new tunnel was built a few yards away. The old tunnel became overgrown with kudzu and was largely forgotten until 1992 when preservationists fought to save the tunnel. It is now the centerpiece of a park that features reenactments of the skirmishes fought at the site.

Entrance to the old Western & Atlantic Railroad Tunnel, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV, All rights reserved.

It is often re-enactors who have encountered anything supernatural at the site. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of documented accounts of spirits at Tunnel Hill. At least four books and a handful of good articles document the high levels of activity at this site. Accounts include the apparitions of soldiers seen both inside the tunnel and around it. Ghostly campfires, disembodied screams, spectral lantern light and the smell of rotting flesh (minus the presence of actual rotting flesh) have all been reported by re-enactors and visitors alike.

Sources

  • DeFeo, Todd. “Antebellum railroad tunnel still a marvel after all These years.” com. 22 June 2009.
  • Kotarski, Georgiana C. Ghosts of the Southern Tennessee Valley. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2006.
  • Underwood, Corinna. Haunted History: Atlanta and North Georgia. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2008.
  • Western and Atlantic Railroad Tunnel. Tunnel Hill Heritage Center. Accessed 28 November 2010.

Old Talbott Tavern
107 West Stephen Foster Avenue
Bardstown, Kentucky

Old Talbott Tavern, 2008, by C. Bedford Crenshaw. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Continuously open since the late 18th century except for a period in the late 1990s when the tavern was being renovated following a disastrous fire, the Old Talbott Tavern has hosted an impressive array of visitors ranging from Daniel Boone to General George Patton. Perhaps one of the famous guests who has never checked out is outlaw Jesse James who stayed frequently in the tavern while visiting his cousin who was the local sheriff. With the claims of Jesse James’ spirit which may also roam the halls of Selma, Alabama’s St. James Hotel, James’ spirit may split the hereafter between two favorite locales. But James’ spirit is not the only spirit acting up in the Old Talbott Tavern. Other ghosts may include formers guests, owners and their families.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Kentucky. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2009.
  • Brown, Alan. Stories from the Haunted South. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2004.
  • Starr, Patti. Ghosthunting Kentucky. Cincinnati, OH, Clerisy Press, 2010.

Old Louisiana State Capitol
100 North Boulevard
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

When the state capitol was moved from New Orleans to Baton Rouge in 1846, the city donated land atop a bluff over the Mississippi for the capitol building. Architect James Dakin designed a Neo-Gothic building very much unlike the other state capitols which were often modeled on the U.S. Capitol building in Washington. The magnificent crenellated and be-towered structure was used as a prison and garrison for soldiers under the city’s Union occupation and during this time it caught fire twice leaving it a soot-stained shell by the war’s end. The building was reconstructed in 1882 but abandoned in 1932 for Governor Huey Long’s new state capitol.

Old State Capitol, 2009, by Avazina. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Even before the capitol burned during the war, there was a ghost gliding through its halls. Pierre Couvillon, a legislator representing Avoyelles Parish, enraged by his colleagues’ corruption, suffered a heart attack and died. Though he was buried in his home parish, his spirit was said to reside in the capitol; perhaps checking up on his colleagues. When the capitol building underwent restoration in the 1990s, the spirit or spirits in the building were stirred up and activity has increased. Staff members and visitors have reported odd occurrences. One security guard watched as movement detectors were set off through a series of rooms while nothing was seen on the video.

Two organizations investigated the building in 2009 and uncovered much evidence. Louisiana Spirits Paranormal Investigations picked up a number of interesting EVPs including someone singing the old song, “You Are My Sunshine.” Everyday Paranormal, in their investigation had a few encounters in the basement of the building, the area used as a prison during the Union occupation. It seems that there are many spirits within the crenellated walls of the Old Capitol.

Sources

  • Duvernay, Adam. “Several Baton Rouge sites said to be haunted.” The Daily Reveille. 27 October 2009.
  • Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans. Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2007.
  • Louisiana Spirits Paranormal Investigations. Old State Capitol, Baton Rouge, LA. Accessed 11 November 2011.
  • Manley, Roger. Weird Louisiana. NYC: Sterling Publishers, 2010.
  • Old Louisiana State Capitol. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 9 November 2011.
  • Southeastern Students. “Old State Capitol Still Occupied by Former Ghosts.” com. 29 October 2009.

Jericho Covered Bridge
Jericho Road at Little Gunpowder Falls
Harford County Near Jerusalem, Maryland

Jericho Covered Bridge, 2009, by Pubdog. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Straddling the county line between Harford County and Baltimore County over the Little Gunpowder Falls is the Jericho Covered Bridge, constructed in 1865. According to Ed Okonowicz in his Haunted Maryland, there are legends of people seeing slaves hanging from the rafters inside this nearly 88-foot bridge. Certainly, there is an issue with this as the bridge was constructed in 1865, after the end of both slavery and the Civil War. Other, more realistic legends, speak of a woman seen on the bridge wearing old-fashioned clothing and people having their cars stop inexplicably in the middle of the bridge.

Sources

  • Jericho Covered Bridge. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 20 January 2011.
  • Ed. Haunted Maryland. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2007.
  • Varhola, Michael J. and Michael H. Varhola. Ghosthunting Maryland. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2009.

Corinth Battlefield
Corinth, Mississippi

Following the Confederate’s disastrous attack in April of 1862 on the Union forces at Shiloh, Tennessee (for a battle description see my entry on the Beauregard-Keyes House in New Orleans), the Union army laid siege for two days to the vital railroad town of Corinth, just over the state line. To save his army from annihilation, General P.T.G. Beauregard gave the appearance of reinforcement troops arriving and being put in place while efficiently moving his troops out of the city to nearby Tupelo. The Union army entered the city the following day to find it devoid of Confederates. In October of the same year, Confederates tried once again and failed to capture the city losing some 4,000 men (including dead, wounded and missing) in the process.

The railroad junction at the heart of Corinth. Photo 2013, by Ron Cogswell. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The battlefield on which these two battles were fought is now incorporated into the mid-sized city of Corinth. Portions of the battlefield and earthworks are now preserved as the Corinth unit of Shiloh National Military Park. As one might expect, some of those portions have spiritual artifacts remaining. Some of the best stories from Civil War battlefields come from re-enactors who have experiences while re-enacting battles and one of the primary reports of ghosts from the Corinth battlefield comes from a re-enactor whose story was documented by Alan Brown. This particular re-enactor heard the sound of a phantom cavalry and a few nights later, the sound of someone rummaging through her tent while camping on the battlefield.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Stories from the Haunted Southland. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2004.
  • Second Battle of Corinth. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 27 January 2011.
  • Siege of Corinth. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 27 January 2011.

North Carolina Zoological Park
4401 Zoo Parkway
Asheboro, North Carolina

North Carolina lawyer and folklorist Daniel Barefoot has done much to preserve North Carolina and Southern legends and ghost stories in his books. His series, North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred provides a single ghost story or legend from each of the state’s one hundred counties. From Randolph County, smack dab in the middle of the state, comes the legend of the aptly named, Purgatory Mountain, now home to the NC Zoo. The state-owned zoo is the largest walk-through habitat zoos in the world and a major attraction in the region.

NC Zoo sign, 2010, by Eleazar. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

During the Civil War, much of rural North Carolina was resistant to seceding from the Union and, as a result, the state was the final state to secede. Still, many citizens, including the peaceable Quakers of Randolph County resisted joining the butternut ranks. Recruiters were sent to these areas to nudge and sometimes force the inhabitants to join. One particular recruiter in this area earned the nickname, “The Hunter,” for his harsh methods.  He rounded up a group of Quaker boys, tied them roughly and marched them to Wilmington to join the army, but a few escaped and returned, bedraggled to their rural homes. When the recruiter returned, this group of escaped boys shot him outside of his cabin at Purgatory Mountain. His malevolent spirit is still supposedly stalking the crags of his mountain home.

Sources

  • Barefoot, Daniel W. North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Vol. 2: Piedmont Phantoms. Winston-Salem, NC, John F. Blair, 2002.
  • North Carolina Zoo. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 11 April 2012.

Carter House
1140 Columbia Avenue
Franklin, Tennessee

By some accounts, the Battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864, was one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Some historians have even deemed it the “Gettysburg of the South.” Fought right on the edge of the town of Franklin, the battle hit very close to the home front and absolutely hammered the farm of the Carter family which was located at the center of the main defensive line. During the furious fighting, the Carters, neighbors and slaves cowered in the basement of the house, emerging after the battle to witness the carnage spread through their yard and around their house. The house and outbuildings still bear bullet holes, attesting to their experience.

Fanny Courtney Carter, who was 8 years old when the battle overtook her family’s farm, later recalled the day following the battle: “Early the next morning after the Battle I went to the field. The sight was dreadful. It seemed I could scarcely move for fear of stepping on men either dead or wounded. Some were clod and stiff, others with the lifeblood ebbing out, unconscious of all around, while others were writing in agony and calling ‘Water! Water!’ I can hear them even now.” Fanny’s brother, Tod, who had enlisted in the Confederate army was found some yards from the house, his body riddled with eight bullets, but still clinging to life. The family brought him into the parlor of his home where he died on December 2.

Carter House by Hal Jesperson, 2009. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The pastoral fields that once surrounded the Carter House as well as the town of Franklin that saw so much blood that November day have mostly been lost to development though the spiritual imprint of the battle is still felt throughout the city. The spirit of Tod Carter may be one of the more active spirits at the Carter House. He has been seen sitting on the edge of the bed where he may have died and according to Alan Brown, he took a tour of the house, correcting the tour guide when she didn’t use the correct name or date and disappearing before he and the guide could descend to the basement.

Apparently he’s not the only lingering spirit. Poltergeist activity in the house has been attributed to Tod’s sister, Annie. Objects have moved from room to room and one visitor on a tour watched a figurine that jumped up and down.

Sources

  • Battle of Franklin (2009). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 13 December 2010.
  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Tennessee: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena Of the Volunteer State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2009.
  • O’Rear, Jim. Tennessee Ghosts. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2009.

Rockledge Mansion
440 Mill Street
Occoquan, Virginia

The town website for Occoquan (pronounced OK-oh-qwahn), Virginia states that the city, “has an inordinate amount of spooks per capita” and then goes on to list a number of locations in the town with ghosts. Among this remarkable collection of haunted locations is the magnificent Georgian mansion, Rockledge, which commands a literal rock ledge above Mill Street. The town was founded in the mid-eighteenth century as a port on the Occoquan River and during the Civil War this northern Virginia town served as a post office between the North and the South.

Rockledge Mansion by AlbertHerring, 2008. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Quite possibly the work of colonial architect, William Buckland, Rockledge was built in 1758 by local industrialist John Ballandine. In the yard of this house the ghost of a Confederate soldier has been seen and possibly heard. One witness saw the soldier then noticed peculiar wet footprints on the front steps that appeared to be from hobnail boots, the kind that would have been worn by soldiers during the war. Many people have heard loud footsteps in the house as well as someone knocking at the door. So far, no source has identified this soldier.

Sources 

  • Occoquan History. com. Accessed 16 November 2010.
  • Occoquan, Virginia. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 13 December 2010.
  • Streng, Aileen. “Benevolent ghost believed to haunt mansion.” com. 27 October 2010.
  • Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for Rockledge Mansion. Listed 25 June 1973.

Berkeley Castle
WV-9
Berkeley Springs

Berkeley Castle by Jeanne Mozier. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Berkeley Springs, also known as “Bath,” has attracted visitors who come to take the waters of the mineral springs located there. Overlooking this quaint town from a commanding position on Warm Spring Mountain sits Berkeley Castle, seemingly a piece of medieval Britain transplanted. Modeled and named after Britain’s own Berkeley Castle, the castle was built as a wedding gift from Colonel Samuel Suit for his bride, Rosa Pelham. The Colonel, who was quite a bit older than his bride, died before the castle was finished and his widow finished the building. She lived in the castle after his death and squandered the fortune she inherited and died penniless well away from the castle, but legends speak of her return.

The castle was purchased by paranormal investigators in 2000 but sold fairly shortly after that. Once open for tours, the castle is now primarily a private residence, though it may be rented for weddings, parties and other events.

Sources

  • Fischer, Karin. “Castle in Eastern Panhandle could be in need of a new lord this spring.” Charleston (WV) Daily Mail. 21 November 2000.
  • History Berkeley Castle. Berkeley Castle. Accessed 19 March 2011.
  • Robinson, James Foster. A Ghostly Guide to West Virginia. Winking Eye Books, 2008.

“Dude, Scary Lady!”—New Bern, North Carolina

The British do love their ghosts. A few grainy seconds of Snapchat video that may show a ghost at New Bern, North Carolina’s Tryon Palace, has been making waves in Britain and here, “across the pond.” Articles in the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror, both British newspapers known for their snarky and sensational, tabloidesque reporting, discuss the “chilling” video. Two visitors from Goldsboro, NC were touring the palace with their cellphone capturing everything on video. In one of the building’s parlors, the camera scans over a doorway that is first seen empty. As the camera scans back over the same doorway, a woman in period clothing is seen walking past. The video is captioned, “Dude Scary Lady.”

The woman appears for about a second as she walks quickly past the doorway holding a basket, or perhaps, a hat to her side. The figure reminds me of the servant girl that French painter Jean-Etienne Liotard painted in his circa 1745 painting, The Chocolate Girl. Could these two young visitors have captured the image of a ghost?

Jean-Etienne Liotard’s 1745 painting of a servant girl with a cup of chocolate. The “scary lady” in the Tryon Palace video is similarly dressed.

Tryon Palace is a reconstruction of North Carolina’s colonial capitol and governor’s residence. It was constructed overlooking the Trent River just before it meets the Neuse River which quickly spills into Pamlico Sound. From this powerful vantage point, the Royal Governor could reign over his colonial subjects in this wild, new land. Royal Governor William Tryon hired English architect, John Hawk, to design a graceful and substantial public palace fitting for the King’s representative in the colony. This handsome Georgian palace was constructed over about three years, from 1767-1770, much to the chagrin of the locals who bore the costs of the building through increased taxation.

Construction caused considerable discord among the citizenry, particularly the farmers in the western Piedmont region. Angered by corrupt and greedy tax collectors, these harried farmers, frontiersmen, and landowners rose against the royal government officials in what is now called the War of Regulation. Fought between 1765 and 1771, this series of backcountry skirmishes led to an actual battle fought at Great Alamance Creek in May 1771, one of the many blights on the King’s name leading to the American Revolution.

Tryon Palace, 2017, by Smallbones. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Governor Tryon only occupied the completed palace for about a year before being reassigned as governor of the colony of New York. Governor James Hassell occupied the royal capitol followed by Josiah Martin who fled on the eve of the Revolution. After rebels seized the building, it served as the governmental seat of North Carolina until Raleigh was established as the state capital in 1792. Afterward, the building was infrequently used for other functions including a boarding house, school, and Masonic lodge. In February 1798, hay stored in the basement caught fire and destroyed the main building.

Interest in reconstructing the palace surfaced almost a hundred years later and was discussed until the mid-20th century when money was finally raised to rebuild it. Building on the original foundations, the structure arose through the 1950s. The palace now serves as a focal point for history in this most historic of North Carolina cities. Today, costumed interpreters guide visitors through the recreated rooms and moments of daily life from the colonial period.

Despite my years of collecting ghostlore from throughout the South—including numerous stories from New Bern—I have yet to encounter stories from Tryon Palace. Of course, that doesn’t mean there are not stories, just that they don’t appear in any of the material I have. According to the articles from the British papers, there are tales of a young servant girl dying in the 1798 fire who may remain in residence in the reconstruction. This is not unheard of as there are stories of ghosts from the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, Virginia, the history of which parallels the history of Tryon Palace—it was destroyed by fire during the American Revolution and subsequently recreated for Colonial Williamsburg in the 1930s.

As for the video that recently surfaced, there is nothing to indicate that the “scary lady” is a spirit. With the number of costumed interpreters roaming through the palace, the figure in the video is most likely one of them. Having served as a costumed interpreter, I have been asked several times if I was a ghost. While we can sometimes be a bit scary, we’re still perfectly alive, thank you very much!

Sources

Of Werewolves and White Screamers—Dickson County, Tennessee

Sometimes aimless searching online produces serendipitous results. Thus, this was the case when I stumbled upon a mention of a place called “Werewolf Springs.” Reporter Josh Arntz of the Dickson Herald wrote a fabulous article about the legend of Werewolf Springs in 2011. He has since done some excellent reporting on several haunted locations within Dickson County. What’s interesting about this legend, is the possible connection with the more well-known story of the White Bluff Screamer located roughly 5 miles away in the same county.

The Dickson County Courthouse in Charlotte, the oldest courthouse still in use in the state of Tennessee. Photo by Brian Stansberry, 2008, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Dickson County retains its rural character despite being within (about 35 miles) listening distance of Nashville’s country music. Several sites within the county are the subject of ghost stories and legends including Montgomery Bell State Park (the location of Werewolf Springs), the small town of White Bluff (where the legend of the White Screamer may be found), and the Clement Railroad Hotel Museum in Dickson (the childhood home of Governor Frank Clement whose parents owned the hotel).

The legend of Werewolf Springs begins with a circus train passing through Dickson County in the late 1860s. The train derailed near the community of Burns, southeast of Dickson, and some of the animals escaped. Among the escapees were a pair of half-human, half-wolf creatures who were exhibited under the moniker, “The Wolfmen of Borneo.” Circus employees caught all the other escaped animals, though the wolfmen were nowhere to be found.

A couple of years later, two locals traveling on a nearby road—where modern State Route 47 now runs from Burns to White Bluff—found themselves being stalked by a large creature. The two men, a local landowner and a hired hand, attempted to outrun the creature, but it caught up with them, and the duo split up and fled into the forest.

The creature pursued the hired hand, and the landowner was shocked to hear the man’s screams and cries as he was presumably torn apart. The hired hand’s body was never located. A mob of locals, I imagine classically armed with pitchforks and torches, formed from nearby farms and towns to bring justice to this dreadful creature. Near the springs where the duo had encountered the beast, the mob led a live goat to a clearing where it was tied to bait the monster. Extinguishing their torches and lanterns, the posse waited with bated breath for the hungry creature to make its appearance.

The prowling creature eventually appeared. The group opened fire then quickly lit their torches and lanterns to see if they had bagged their quarry. The clearing was empty. The creature, goat, and two members of the posse had vanished into the thick night air. With terror, the group dispersed fearing to pursue the mysterious creature any further.

Later, a big game hunter attempted to kill the creature of Wolfman Springs. Setting himself up in a nearby cabin, he slept soundly the first two nights, but on the third night, he heard howling in the distance. A short time later, the frightened hunter began to hear the creature outside his cabin. When it appeared to pass by one of the windows, he aimed and fired. The gunshots only served to rile the creature’s wrath, and it broke down the door. The hunter fired all but two rounds at hairy bipedal, but it only seems to anger more with every shot. With only two rounds left in the chamber, dawn arrived, and the light from the rising sun caused the creature to flee into the shadows of the forest.

Replica of the cabin where the Cumberland Presbyterian Church was founded in Montgomery Bell State Park. Photo 2006, by Leylander, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Just as the sun rose to banish this creature of the night, Arntz sheds some light on the legend and the history of the area. Wolfman Springs is actually Hall Springs which is located in one of the areas of MONTGOMERY BELL STATE PARK (1020 Jackson Hill Road, Burns) that is only accessible by a hike. The springs are named for the Hall family who had a homestead near the springs. The family’s home is long gone, but a small family cemetery remains nearby. A few weeks after the appearance of the Wolfman Springs article, Arntz followed up with an article about a descendant of the Hall family who grew up near the infamous springs. She denied that she ever heard anyone speak of a mysterious creature in the area.

The land that the state park now occupies was purchased by a National Park Service in 1935 to develop the Montgomery Bell National Recreation Demonstration Area. The park’s namesake is local manufacturing entrepreneur, Montgomery Bell, who was instrumental in building the local iron-smelting industry. Interestingly, even he has been pulled into the Wolfman legend. Some tellers of the story feature Mr. Bell as the local landowner, though this wouldn’t be possible as he passed away before the Civil War.

The railroad tracks where the train derailed still run their original course along the southern edge of the park. Evidently, there were several train derailments on this stretch of line, though none that specifically involved a circus train.

What is the origin of this odd story? I can attest that in my research in Southern ghost and folklore, stories involving these type of creatures appear less frequently than ghost stories. Among these stories are the tales of the Pig Woman in Cecil County and a goat-man creature in southern Maryland; the “Bunny Man” who supposedly haunts a bridge in Virginia; the infamous Mothman of Point Pleasant, West Virginia; the Skunk Ape spotted in Florida; the Lizard-Man of South Carolina; Sasquatch activity that may be associated with the haunting of Spring Villa in Opelika, Alabama and throughout the nearby Tuskegee National Forest in Macon County; and the goat-man creature that has led, like a siren, a handful of young people to their deaths at Pope Lick Trestle in Kentucky. Among these stories, I only know of one other wolfman or werewolf-like creature, and that is a story from Talbot County, Georgia that Nancy Roberts documented in her 1997 opus, Georgia Ghosts.

Interestingly, just five miles from Montgomery Bell State Park and within the same county is the small town of White Bluff. For some time, stories have circulated regarding a creature or entity that is known to prowl the community emitting a terrifying scream. Known as the White Bluff Screamer, the explanations appear to fall into two camps: one believing that the screamer is a banshee while the other camp believes the screamer is a cryptid.

Alan Brown, one of the more venerable writers on Southern ghostlore, makes the argument for the banshee camp in his 2009 work, Haunted Tennessee. Relating the “standard version” of the story, he tells of a settler building a cabin in an isolated hollow near town. However, the man and his family were plagued by a high-pitched screaming that woke them every night. Determined to bring peace, the man took his rifle and hunting to pursue the source of the screams. As the man entered the forest, the screams began anew, and the dogs bounded towards them. Though a short time later the dogs returned frightened with their tails between their legs. The settler continued towards the wailing and climbed a hill to get a view of the surrounding landscape. Reaching the summit, the hunter’s ears were besieged with the screaming once again, though this time is seemed to come from the man’s cabin. He sprinted back to his home and discovered his family’s mangled remains.

The story is not really about a banshee as they are rarely known as malevolent spirits, mostly as heralds of death. A banshee would not typically use her wails to distract a man to kill his family. According to West Virginia writer Rosemary Ellen Guiley in her 2007 compendium, Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, a banshee (or Bean Shide in Gaelic, literally “woman of the fairies”) is “a female death omen spirit of Ireland and Scotland that attaches itself to families…and manifests to herald an approaching death in the family.” She continues, “the banshee most commonly is heard singing or crying, but is not seen.” Speaking with an Irish friend of mine, he noted that banshees are generally considered harbingers and occasionally provide protection to family members when traveling alone or at night. According to him, “the only legends of the banshee killing is if she is disturbed whilst combing her hair. She is reputed to throw her comb, piercing the heart and killing her victim.”

Guiley states that legends of banshees followed the Scots and Irish immigrants who settled throughout the South. One primary legend that appears in Southern folklore is the story of the Tarboro Banshee. Originating in the town of Tarboro, North Carolina on the banks of the Tar River, the story recalls the days during the American Revolution when a patriotic miller operated a grist mill on the banks of the river. Refusing to abandon his operation at the approach of the British, he was captured and drowned in the river, but not before warning his captors of a banshee that would avenge his death.

As the miller sank beneath the brackish water of the river, a wail arose from the watery grave. A feminine form began to take shape in the mist over the river while an agonizing cry was heard on the river banks. The beautiful maiden terrorized the British soldiers responsible for the miller’s death, eventually leading all to grisly deaths. Legend still speaks of the lovely creature appearing over the river waters still mourning the miller’s early departure from this world.

Returning to Middle Tennessee, I need to acknowledge the other camp of thought on the White Bluff Screamer, the camp that believes that the creature may be a cryptid and not a spirit. The authors of the 2011 Nashville Haunted Handbook remark that the creature is commonly heard and sometimes even seen. “Some who see the creature report that it is a white, misty apparition that flits through the woods quickly and ominously in the night…Others report that the source of the screams is an actual creature that resembles an alpaca [a domesticated relative of the llama]: a white furry beast that walks on all fours and stands about six feet tall with a face resembling a camel.” It should also be noted that alpacas can produce a high-pitched whine or scream when frightened.

Screaming is also a purported characteristic of the Sasquatch or Bigfoot. Some witnesses have been able to record the mysterious screaming that may be produced by a sasquatch. This leads me to believe that there may be a connection between this screaming creature and the Sasquatch, though the description that this creature is a quadruped rather than a biped puts that connection into jeopardy.

Returning to the creature that may haunt “Werewolf Springs,” in recent years screaming has been reported in the area. Josh Arntz in his Werewolf Springs article ends with a report from a local teacher who “heard ‘the most blood-curdling scream’ from a wild animal at 1 a.m.” near the park inn on Lake Acorn. The teacher also reported to have heard “plenty of eerie sounds while walking through the park’s woods at night.”

There are several creatures native to the area that can produce human-like screams in the night including fox and bobcat. Regardless of whether these stories contain any truth, they have left a marvelous mythological legacy on the landscape.

Sources

  • Arntz, Josh. “The half-wolf, half-man of Werewolf Springs.” Dickson Herald. 28 October 2011.
  • Arntz, Josh. “Hall Springs resident debunks werewolf myth.” Dickson Herald. 28 December 2011.
  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Tennessee: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Volunteer State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2009.
  • Corlew, Robert E. “Montgomery Bell.” Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. 25 December 2009.
  • Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, 3rd NYC: Checkmark Books, 2007.
  • Manley, Roger. Weird Tennessee. NYC: Sterling Publishing, 2010.
  • Morris, Jeff; Donna Marsh; and Garret Merk. Nashville Haunted Handbook. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2011.
  • Nichols, Ruth D. “Montgomery Bell State Park.” Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. 25 December 2009.

Just whistling Dixie—Rural Hall, North Carolina

Payne and Edwards Roads
Rural Hall, North Carolina

The ritual is thus: drive out at night to the bridge where Edwards Road crosses over Payne Branch, stop your car in the middle of the bridge, and put it into neutral. Open the windows and begin to whistle “Dixie.” Supposedly the engine will die and you will be unable to restart the car until it is pushed from the bridge.

Author Michael Renegar tells of a friend of his who performed this ritual and was frightened by the results. This friend, a young man and two female companions ventured out to haunted Payne Road one night looking for a thrill. The trio performed the ritual on the bridge and lo, and behold, the car sputtered and died. The young man got out and pushed the car off the bridge and was able to crank the car, despite the feeling of being watched that emerged once he exited the vehicle. Reportedly, the vehicle never acted the same after that. Besides the scary moments the trio experienced on the bridge, the three also noted that when they drove past one of the old cemeteries an angel on the edge of the cemetery faced away from the road, but was facing them as they drove past the second time.

Burt Calloway and Jennifer FitzSimons record an earlier encounter on the bridge where a young man was hoping to impress his date by pitting his bravado against the spirited forces at this bridge. The young couple performed the ritual and the young man left his date sitting in the car as he strutted around the lonely bridge provoking the spirits to come out. A thunderstorm was rolling up and lightning revealed something to the young man. He stumbled, terrified back to the car and attempted to crank it. It refused to start and the young man just sat stunned in the driver’s seat. His date, not too pleased with his sudden fear, cranked the car and drove them away from the bridge. The young man only revealed to his date that he saw a ghost during the lightning’s flash.

The stories of Payne and Edwards Roads have circulated in this rural area of Forsyth and Stokes Counties for decades. The legendary history has entered the digital realm where it is discussed and argued among the more than 3500 members of the Legend of Payne Road group on Facebook. To add more fuel to the fiery legends that exist about this location, the viral website Only In Your State published an article last Friday repeating many of the disputed legends of these haunted roads.

First off, there is a great deal of confusion regarding the exact location of the hauntings. Edwards Road branches off from Broad Street in Rural Hall. Google Maps notes that the road is NC-1903 until after it intersects Forsto Road at which point it becomes NC-1961. Apparently, the haunted portion of the road is located south of Payne Branch where the road has a series of curves before crossing over Payne Branch. Edwards Road terminates at Payne Road just north of the bridge. Payne Road east of Edwards is NC-1961, while the western section is NC-1962. At some point, part of Payne Road may have been renamed Edwards Road, but that is only speculation, however the roads do appear to have been named for the families that once owned the land: the Paynes and the Edwards.

The Only In Your State article notes three legends associated with this road, though, like all legends, these legends change from storyteller to storyteller and article to article. The first legend involves the story of Payne Edwards, a cruel plantation owner whose daughter was impregnated by a slave. After killing the slave Edwards began to practice devil worship and eventually killed his entire family and burned the plantation killing all the remaining slaves.

A different version of the story casts Payne Edwards as the head of a large household here in the 1930s. After losing his mind he decided to murder his family and tied his wife to a chair in the living room. One by one he escorted his children and had them kiss their mother before he took them upstairs and slit their throats. The wife was able to escape and was beheaded by Edwards who then threw the couple’s infant child into a well.

While these stories are both grotesquely fascinating, they are utter balderdash. One of the best sites for a well-researched view of this story is the blog of the North Carolina Room of the Forsyth County Public Library. Last Halloween, one of the research librarians presented these two stories from Payne Road and checked their validity against the historic records. She found no record of Payne Edwards, though an early settler in the area, Robert Payne, owned land in the area. According to the Federal Census, Robert Payne was also a slave owner and had several children, though most apparently survived him.

The detail of a man murdering his entire family is also quite interesting. This detail is borrowed from an actual murder that occurred nearby in 1929. On Christmas Day, Charlie Lawson systematically killed his wife and six of his seven children (his oldest son was away from the family farm) and then shot himself a short time later. Lawson’s reasons for the murders went to the grave with him, though family and acquaintances have speculated that domestic issues including possible incest may have led to the tragedy. This gruesome mass murder elicited awe and curiosity from locals for many years and the family’s farmhouse was open as a tourist attraction for many years. Interestingly, these murders occurred roughly 5 miles from Payne and Edwards Roads on Brook Cove Road outside of Germanton. Though the family’s ramshackle farmhouse was demolished decades ago, there are still reports of paranormal activity in the area linked to the family’s murder.

While this tragedy did not occur in the Payne/Edwards Road area, there are a number of documented tragedies that have occurred here. In 1955, Milus Frank Edwards—who lived at the curve in Edwards Road just south of the bridge—committed suicide with a stick of dynamite. From the Gastonia Gazette, 7 October 1955:

Man Takes Life with Dynamite

Danbury—(AP)—A 73-year-old Stokes county man committed suicide yesterday with a dynamite explosion.

Sheriff Harvey Johnson said Milus Frank Edwards of Rt. 1, Rural Hall, apparently parked his pickup truck in a shed at his home, climbed into the truck bed and set off a stick of dynamite near his head.

A coroner’s jury ruled that death was self-inflicted.

Aubrey Edwards, son of the dead man, said his father had made several threats to end his life.

Sadly, this was among a handful of suicides to plague this family. According to the North Carolina Room blog, Mr. Edwards had four siblings also take their own lives. The blog poster further speculates that this is the beginning of the urban legends that surround these roads.

A more recent misdeed in the area can only be used to back up the tragic nature of this place. In December 1992 several men picked up a young woman in Winston-Salem. The young woman was driven to an old logging road off Payne Road. She was tied to a tree, raped, possibly tortured, and stabbed to death. More than a decade later one of the men involved was found guilty, though that conviction was later overturned based on DNA evidence.

This photograph appears in the 1990 book, Triad Hauntings, and is identified as the “Payne Road House,” though I cannot positively identify it as the haunted farmhouse.

While many of the legends that have accumulated around this area appear to be mostly fantasy embellished with fact, the experiences of locals and investigators cannot be denied. Writer Edrick Thay includes an interesting post-script to this research in his 2005 book, Ghost Stories of North Carolina. In a chapter entitled “The Haunted Farmhouse,” Thay recounts an investigation of an abandoned farmhouse by Haunted North Carolina Paranormal Investigators and Research that the group first looked into in 2002. Thay attempts to disguise the location saying that the lead investigator “refuses to disclose the farm’s location, except to say that it may or may not be around Winston-Salem.” Later details of the history make it certain that this is the old Edwards farmhouse outside of which Frank Edwards died by his own hands. “With this abandoned farm, the sheer number of the deaths from suicide and foul play over the last 50 years is staggering.” The investigator continues noting “gruesome accounts of people exploding themselves with sticks of dynamite, of the Mafia-style executions of two individuals beneath the awnings of an outbuilding and of the torture and grisly murder of a prostitute.”

During the several investigations the group has conducted here they have encountered high levels of activity in and around the old farmstead. On the first investigation several investigators were touched by unseen hands. One had their backpack grabbed and a nearby video camera proved her experience while another was touched on the hand leaving a red welt. Voice recorders used throughout the investigation recorded a number of EVPs including one with “many plaintive voices calling ‘help us!’” Perhaps the most interesting moment occurred when four investigators simultaneously witnessed a shadowy apparition moving along the banks of the nearby creek.

This investigation was conducted some years ago before the farmhouse and outbuildings were destroyed by vandals and an arsonist. Payne and Edwards Roads have both been paved and the mysterious haunted bridge has been replaced by a culvert. Despite these intrusions of modernity, teens and the curious still drive this road at night legend tripping. Hopefully they’re not just whistling Dixie.

Sources

  • Breedlove, Michael. “Local Haunts: Investigating the haunted side of the Twin Cities.” Winston-Salem Monthly. 29 September 2014.
  • Calloway, Burt & Jennifer FitzSimons. Triad Hauntings.Winston-Salem, NC: Bandit Books, 1990.
  • The Legend of Payne Road.” North Carolina Room— Forsyth County Public Library. 29 October 2015.
  • “Man takes life with dynamite.” Gastonia Gazette. 7 October 1955.
  • “Prosecutors confident they can convict Penland anew.”Asheville Citizen-Times. 1 August 2005.
  • Rakestraw, Emory. “Driving down this haunted North Carolina road may give you nightmares.” Only In Your State. 26 August 2016.
  • Renegar, Michael. Roadside Revenants and Other North Carolina Ghosts and Legends. Fairview, NC: Bright Mountain Books, 2005.
  • Renegar, Michael. Tar Hell Terrors: More North Carolina Ghosts and Legends. Fairview, NC: Bright Mountain Books, 2011.
  • Thay, Edrick. Ghost Stories of North Carolina. Auburn, WA: Lone Pine Publishing, 2005.
  • Whitmire, Tim. “Lawyers: DNA tests show Penland wrongly Convicted in ’92 killing.” Asheville Citizen-Times. 9 July 2005.

Getting Personal–Cherokee, North Carolina

Nota Bene: My thoughts regularly return to my second home, Cherokee, NC and recently these wonderful memories have been jarred again. This is a freshly edited account from 2012 of some of my paranormal experiences in Unto These Hills Cast Housing, a place lovingly referred to as “The Hill,” and at the Oconaluftee Indian Village.

“To the Cherokee, the supernatural is just natural.” a Native friend said in and I think it succinctly sums up the attitude of the Cherokee towards the spirit world. They are simply blasé about it; it is just another facet of the world that exists around them. Overall, this world is very different from the world of Western thought where magic and superstition, in the name of science, are banished to the remote deserts of distasteful fiction. Working here among the Cherokee has been a challenge to how I think about the paranormal.

Since late May I have been working in Cherokee, North Carolina, at the heart of the Qualla Boundary Reservation, as a reenactor at the Oconaluftee Indian Village. The village is a recreation of a mid-18th century Cherokee village and is operated by the Cherokee Historical Association which also operates the outdoor historical drama Unto These Hills where I spent three glorious summers in college. While I’m working in the Village, I’m living in cast housing for the drama (known as “The Hill”). When I worked up here previously, I heard stories from the Mountainside Theatre and a few stories from The Hill, even having an experience of my own (which I discussed here). Returning some nine years later with a paranormal blog, I began asking for stories just after arrival and I’ve been bowled over as the stories have poured forth.

The Cherokee possess a deeply engrained spirituality and connection with nature. Certainly they are so much more open to the interactions between the living world and the spirit world and in inquiring about their experiences, their responses are often related in a mundane tone than those I would find elsewhere. From an early age, children here are warned by parents and elders about sgi-li or boogers and how they should not fear them. Children will be taught about the Yun-wi Tsuns-di or Little People, mischievous and protective beings that live all around. Their world is populated by wonderful, scary and magical creatures like the Nunne-hi, Uktena and the witch, Spearfinger, who steals children’s livers while they slumber. Truly the world of the Cherokee is a marvelous place of signs and omens, spirits and boogers, good and bad medicine. To truly appreciate the Cherokee universe, one must adjust their worldview and see it through very different eyes. These are also eyes that see spirits everywhere and not just in specific, “haunted” locations.

 It’s unusual for me to have paranormal experiences. I’ve had a few throughout my life, but they are scattered and fairly rare. But since my arrival here in May, I’ve had a variety of unusual experiences; personal experiences that have, at times, even left me questioning my own sanity. Perhaps I’m too eager to experience things. After all, I’m fascinated by ghosts and I’m surrounded by people who have unusual experiences frequently. However, I do believe these experiences should be documented, thus adding to the plethora of information available on the weird world that we live in.

Only a couple weeks into my stay I had my first experience. Two of my fellow reenactors were hanging out on the lower porch of the Boys Dorm. Joining them, we discussed, joked and laughed about a number of things including ghosts. The hours stretched on and we found ourselves still chatting around three in the morning. Everyone else on The Hill appeared to be in bed. My two friends were sitting and I was standing at the top of the porch stairs with my back to them.

The porch of the Boys Dorm where something poked me. Photo September 2012 by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

I felt a finger poke me in the middle of my back. It had definite pressure and it lasted for a moment just as someone would poke someone to get their attention. I immediately felt with my hand, in the event that it was an insect, but the pressure had been too much to be from that. There was nothing there and I turned to see if someone was standing behind me. The Hill was quiet and empty. Nothing else stirred. I mentioned it to my two companions, both of whom are Native American. Both simply raised their eyebrows and one addressed the spirit, “Thank you for letting us know you’re here. “Please, leave us alone.” he said calmly.

Until just a couple weeks ago that was my only experience on The Hill this summer. The drama had its final performance and most of the cast left fairly quickly to resume their normal lives. I’ll remain, with the other reenactors, until the Village closes. Only a few people were left and I was off to watch a movie with a few people in the day room of the Boys Dorm (on the opposite end of the building from where I was poked). While walking up the hill towards the building I hear the whinny of an Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio). Being a birder, usually I would have thought, “Eastern Screech Owl, very cool!” but being in Cherokee, the sound sent a shiver through me. The whinny of the owl is considered to be an omen of death to the Cherokee. In accordance with Cherokee tradition, I tied a knot in my shirt to acknowledge that I’d heard the “laugh of death” and I continued into the building.

The Boys Dorm. The Day Room where I saw something pass the window is at the top of the building at the left side of this picture. Photo September 2012 by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

While watching the movie I turned to one of the young ladies sitting near me. I had intended on saying something when I saw something white and vaguely human-shaped move past the window next to her. For a moment I watched to see if it would happen again and nothing happened. I waited also to see if someone else saw it. Alas, no one else saw anything; they were all intently watching the movie. I turned to the window behind me and looked towards the door expecting someone to enter, but there was nothing but darkness. After mentioning the incident and finding that no one had witnessed the figure but me, I stepped outside to see if anyone else was about on The Hill, nothing else stirred. Perhaps this was the same sgi-li or booger that I’d heard before entering the building.

Just last week I’d headed out with a native friend to see the Thomas Divide Lights, we saw them and spent the time discussing many of the haunted places in Cherokee. When she dropped me off back on The Hill, we spent some time talking in the parking lot, directly in front of the Boys Dorm porch where I’d been poked. As we stood talking, I began seeing a dark shape move back and forth across the porch. This was all in my peripheral vision. When I looked directly towards the porch, there was nothing there. I began to wonder if I was seeing the frames of my glasses but I was not sure. I asked my companion if she was seeing anything. “You mean the thing on the porch?” she replied.

“Yeah.”

“Yep, there’s something up there. I keep seeing it out of the corner of my eye.” And she was not wearing glasses. Nothing else was stirring.

In the Village there seems to be a good deal of activity that’s being witnessed by employees, myself included. Just last week during my lunch break I decided to lie down and close my eyes on the porch just off the costume shop. Twice I heard the definite sounds of footsteps on the porch. Raising my head, the footsteps ceased. These were definite footsteps from a hard soled shoe on the deck. I was alone on the porch.

Within the Village I spend most of my time in one of the cabins. Interestingly, this seems to be the cabin that has been the subject of numerous stories. One afternoon while returning to the cabin with some firewood I glanced up to see a figure enter the cabin. Usually, it’s not uncommon to find tourists or other employees in or around my cabin when I return. I sped up my pace to greet the visitor, but arrived to find the cabin empty.

The beds in the cabin are sometimes too inviting and I may nap when there’s no one around. While napping one afternoon I was awakened by the sound of a man’s voice speaking in Cherokee. Before opening my eyes, I imagined a small Cherokee man standing in the corner, though I could not understand what he was saying. I raised my head and no one was in the cabin. Getting up, I looked outside and even looked behind the cabin and no one was around. Nearby, nothing else stirred.

The entrance to the Oconaluftee Indian Village. The box office in under the round sign on the right and the gift shop is located on the left side. I saw a figure walking between these two sections. Photo September 2012 by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

My parents came up for a visit about a week before the drama ended. We saw the show together and I walked them to their car afterwards. They had parked in front of the Village visitor’s center and as we approached I saw a shadowy form move under the breezeway between the gift shop and the box office, an area that is not well lit. The figure passed behind a column and I fully expected to see someone emerge into the light on the opposite side of the column. No one did. My parents saw nothing, but I walked over to see if someone was walking around. Not a soul was there.

A native friend suggested that perhaps I may have become more sensitive as I have spent more time in the mountains. Or perhaps all of this is simply the product of an over-eager imagination. All I can say is that these things happened and I have no immediate explanation for them. Perhaps the spirits really are getting personal.

Haunt in the Horseshoe—Sanford, North Carolina

House in the Horseshoe State Park
288 Alston House Road
Sanford, North Carolina

By all accounts, Philip Alston was trouble. A member of the prominent Alston family, some might describe him as a spoiled brat. The house Alston constructed at this horseshoe bend in the Deep River was among the first large plantation homes constructed in this region when it was built in 1772. As revolutionary tensions heated up throughout the colonies, Alston sided with the Patriot cause. Though he was fighting for the same ideals, even the Patriots took umbrage with Philip Alston. Another Patriot, Robert Rowan, even spoke to the governor of his dislike for Alston’s “domineering” and “tyrannical” attitude.

With the outbreak of fighting, squabbles between neighbors took on more deadly overtones throughout the frontier. Planter David Fanning of South Carolina remained loyal to the British crown and steadfastly rooted out Patriots throughout the area. A small militia under Fanning’s command attacked Alston’s home on the morning of August 5, 1781 in retaliation for the death of one of his men at the hands of some of Alston’s comrades. That morning, Alston, his wife Temperance, two children, and a small band of his men were at the large white house. When Fanning’s men attempted to attack the house one of the Tories was quickly felled by a bullet to the heart. Soon gunfire poured from the home’s windows while Alston’s children cowered in a fireplace inside.

A cart of straw was set alight and pushed towards the house which began to burn. Fearful of being burned out of the house, Alston sent his wife with a flag of truce to arrange surrender. Fanning agreed to allow Alston and his men to surrender. The Tories plundered the bullet-riddled house but did not burn it.

House in the Horseshoe, 2007, by Jerrye and Roy Klotz, MD. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Philip Alston remained on his plantation for some years after the war and served in the state senate, though his roguish attitude lead to his fall from grace and in 1790, he was forced to sell his beloved home. Some believe that the rascal spirit of Alston may remain here in the form of footsteps heard in the home, disembodied whispers in the fireplace where the children were hidden, and orbs of light seen in the yard.

Source

  • Barefoot, Daniel W. Spirits of ’76: Ghost Stories of the American Revolution. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair. 2009.
  • Bishir, Catherine W. and Michael T. Southern. A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
  • Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory. NYC: Penguin, 1996.
  • House in the Horseshoe: Overview.” NC Historic Sites. Accessed 3 January 2016.
  • Thompson, Jessica Lee. “House in the Horseshoe.” North Carolina History Project. Accessed 3 January 2016.

A Tasteful Spirit—Greensboro, North Carolina

Guilford County Sheriff’s Office
400 West Washington Street
Greensboro, North Carolina

 In a recent article about the strange goings-on at the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office, the niece of Otto Zenke reported that his spirit may not approve of the vertical blinds used throughout the building. “He would never have approved of all those vertical blinds,” Ginia Zenke responded. “Not when his workrooms churned out beautiful draperies and furnishings for decades.” The sheriff’s office occupies a building that once served as noted interior designer Otto Zenke’s showroom and residence in his final years.

Brooklyn-born Otto Zenke arrived in Greensboro in 1937 to work for a furniture store. After going into business for himself with his brother in 1946, Zenke made a name for himself as one of the leading interior designers of the day as he worked on projects for wealthy clients in the area. He collected fine antiques and acquired the delicate, Italianate-styled Eugene Morehead House at 215 South Eugene Street which he turned into a local showplace. In the European style, the home’s library featured murals and paneling. The exquisitely executed gardens surrounding the house became a noted feature on the tours of local garden clubs. Sadly, city officials didn’t see this home as a treasure in their city.

In the 1960s as Greensboro began to execute a plan for “urban development” Zenke’s magnificent home and gardens sat smack dab in the middle of a proposed government center. The property was seized under eminent domain in 1968 and replaced with a Brutalist monstrosity by Argentine modernist Eduardo Catalano. The delicate cottage was razed over two days and the unadorned cast concrete walls of the government center rose over the next few years in its place. While the city did well in hiring a noted architect for the design, the bold architectural lines have always stood very harshly against the more classically based traditional architecture of the city; so much so that Preservation Greensboro remarked in its blog that the style, “has never been at ease” in the city.

Zenke, never one to back down from a challenge, moved across the street into the series of buildings that housed his showrooms and workshops. There, he created a fine residence that rivaled any in the city, though his heart still longed for the delicate cottage that he had lost. Otto Zenke died of cancer in 1984. Not long after his death, when the city bought Zenke’s last residence and converted it to the sheriff’s office, locals noted the irony of the situation.


The building behind the trees with the chimney is the sheriff’s office, formerly Otto Zenke’s residence.

Otto Zenke has a good reason to stalk the halls of the sheriff’s office and he seems to be particularly active. Law enforcement officials and staff have reported having items on their desks and in their offices rearranged, perhaps to suit Mr. Zenke’s taste. Some employees have had their names called by a male voice while working in the building after hours. Others have heard distinct footsteps rambling through empty rooms and hallways. While the spirit may not be malevolent, it does seem he may be a bit judgmental. If you work in the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office, you may want to keep your office tidy.

Sources

  • Associated Press. “Could ‘weird things’ at Guilford County Sheriff’s Office be a ghost?” Burlington Times-News. 13 September 2015.
  • Bishir, Catherine W. and Michael T. Southern. A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina. Chapel Hill NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
  • Zenke, Ginia. “Lost to progress: The Otto Zenke Buildings.” Let me get this straight… 25 March 2012.

Resting high on that mountain—Helen’s Bridge, Asheville

Helen’s Bridge
Over College Street between
Windswept Drive and Beaucatcher Road
Asheville, North Carolina

I know your life on earth was troubled
And only you could know the pain.
You weren’t afraid to face the Devil
You were no stranger to the rain.
Go rest high on that mountain…
 –“Go rest high on that mountain,” Vince Gill (1995)

The city drops away quickly as you drive up Beaucatcher Mountain from downtown Asheville. College Street—a main thoroughfare through the heart of downtown, forming one side of Pack Square—suddenly becomes a mountain road. As it dizzily traverses the side of the mountain, the road enters a gap spanned by a lonely, primeval bridge. Something about the patina of the stone and the flora growing around the bridge, make it appear to be a natural part of the landscape, as if it’s always been there. In truth, it has been here for a little more than a hundred years, enough time for the bridge to settle into the landscape and become ensconced in legend and lore. You have arrived at Helen’s Bridge.

Helen’s Bridge, October 2012, by Lewis O. Powell IV. All rights reserved.

The temperature here seems chillier; perhaps it’s the geography or perhaps it’s the wandering spirit of Helen; it’s hard to tell. While many are drawn to the bridge’s stark beauty it is the legend and lore that draws others. The legend speaks of a woman named Helen who lived near the bridge with her beloved daughter. After losing her daughter in a fire, the distraught Helen hung herself from the bridge. Some versions associate Helen with the nearby estate of Zealandia, where she was supposed to have been a mistress to one of the estate’s owners, and after becoming pregnant, hung herself in anguish. Researchers have found nothing to document the existence of an actual Helen, although author Alan Brown relates that some of the owners of Zealandia encountered the apparition of a woman on the stairs that they identified as Helen.

Teens have taken to trying to summon Helen by visiting the bridge at night and calling her name three times. It is reported that she will sometimes appear as a light or as an apparition. Others have reported that this ritual will sometimes cause car problems, ranging from odd mechanical issues to dead batteries. Florida author, Jamie Roush Pearce experienced problems with her car’s automatic locks after visiting the bridge and attempting to summon the sad spirit. Pearce briefly glimpsed a figure near her car and discovered the problem with the locks after leaving the site. After dealing with the issue for a week, she returned and asked Helen to leave her car alone. The lock problem has not reoccurred.

The bridge is immortalized in Thomas Wolfe’s 1929 novel, Look Homeward, Angel, when the main character, Eugene Gant walks with his girlfriend up Beaucatcher Mountain:

They turned from the railing, with recovered wind, and walked through the gap, under Philip Roseberry’s great arched bridge… As they went under the shadow of the bridge Eugene lifted his head and shouted. His voice bounded against the arch like a stone. They passed under and stood on the other side of the gap, looking from the road’s edge down into the cove.

Though Wolfe attempted to draw a thin veil over his hometown by renaming it Altamont, it was clear to the Ashevillians that he was depicting them in his novel. So much so that he is reported to have received death threats and did not return to the city for several years after the novel’s publication.

This rustic stone bridge was constructed as a carriageway for the Zealandia Estate in 1909. It was designed by R. S. Smith, who worked as an architect on the building of the nearby Biltmore Estate and was obviously fluent in the languages of Gothic, Tudor, and Elizabethan architecture.  In 1889, the same year that George Vanderbilt began construction on his magnificent manse that he would call Biltmore, John Evans Brown, who had spent his formative years in Asheville, began to build his estate here on Beaucatcher Mountain. Brown had left the city in 1849 to pursue his dreams of striking gold in the Golden West. When those dreams failed to pan out (pun intended), Brown set out for the green mountains of New Zealand where he found fortune in sheep and politics. He returned to his hometown with fortune in hand in 1888 and began construction on his estate.

Helen’s Bridge, December 2015, by Lewis O. Powell IV. All rights reserved.

Brown enjoyed his stately, mountainside view of Asheville for a few scant years before his death in 1895. The estate was purchased by Australian native Philip S. Henry in 1903 and this intellectual, art collector, and diplomat set about fashioning the estate into a showplace in this aristocratic resort community. Hiring architect R. S. Smith, Henry began to transform the lofty estate into a European-styled castle in the Tudor style. The carriageway with its notable bridge was constructed during this period. In 1924, Henry opened his estate for the public to see his art collection. Upon Henry’s death in 1933, the estate passed to his daughters and remained in the family until 1961.

When construction began on the nearby Interstate 240 corridor, plans originally called for slicing through part of Beaucatcher Mountain. Local preservationists quickly formed the Beaucatcher Mountain Defense Association to argue for the mountain’s preservation and even more specifically for the protection of Zealandia. A tunnel through the mountain was proposed instead. Though the state department of transportation tore down Philip Henry’s museum in 1976, the estate was named to the National Register of Historic Place in 1977 and was left alone. During the tunneling blasting supports were added to protect the bridge. In 1998 with the supports still in place and stones falling from the looming structure, the city considered demolishing the structure. Local history buffs and preservationists won the fight and the supports were carefully removed. The bridge was structurally sound and it has recently been bought by the city to use as part of a proposed greenway.

Helen’s Bridge, December 2015, by Lewis O. Powell IV. All rights reserved.

If you choose to visit Helen, be cautious as the area does have some traffic. There is a dirt turnout off Beaucatcher Road a few yards past the bridge ideal for parking. The top of the bridge is still closed off and Zealandia is private, so please confine your ramblings to the public thoroughfare underneath the bridge. Summoning spirits is never encouraged, especially if you wish to avoid car problems and please be kind to Helen, she’s been through a lot.

Helen’s Bridge, October 2012, by Lewis O. Powell IV. All rights reserved.

Sources

  • Bishir, Catherine W., Michael T. Southern, & Jennifer F. Martin. A Guide to the  Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.
  • Bordsen, John. “Find the most haunted place in these Carolina towns.” Dispatch-Argus. 31 October 2010.
  • Brendel, Susanne & Bettu Betz. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Zealandia. 12 January 1977.
  • Brown, Alan. Stories from the Haunted South. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2004.
  • Burgess, Joel. “City acquires historic bridge.” Asheville Citizen-Times. 25 November 2009.
  • “Death of Col. J. Evans Brown.” Asheville Citizen-Times. 9 July 1895.
  • Interstate 240 (North Carolina). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 30 December 2015.
  • “Saving Helen’s Bridge.” Asheville Community News. 1999.
  • Pearce, Jamie Roush. Historic Haunts of the South. Jamie Roush Pearce, 2013.
  • Tomlin, Robyn. “Zealandia Bridge Repairs Completed; Fixing historic bridge cost much less than originally forecast.” Asheville Citizen-Times. 1 June 1999.
  • Warren, Joshua. Haunted Asheville. Johnson City, TN: Overmountain Press, 1996.