Specters on Stage—Guide to Haunted Southern Theatres

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more.

—Williams Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5

The world of the theatre is filled with mysticism, superstition, and spirits. As a theatre person, nearly every theatre I have worked in has this mysterious side, especially in the connection to the spirit world. In his Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans, author Jeff Dwyer contends that one can be almost certain that a theatre will be haunted.

There are few certainties in ghost hunting. But when it comes to haunted places, ships and theaters offer ghost hunters the greatest opportunities for encounters with the spirit world. Theaters often harbor the ghosts of actors, writers, musicians and directors because something about their creative natures ties them to the place where they experienced their greatest successes or failures. Stagehands and other production staff may haunt backstage areas where they worked and, perhaps suffered a fatal accident. They may also be tied to room where props are stored. The ghosts of patrons remain long after death because they love the theater or, more likely, they loved an actor who performed regularly at that location.

Much of the mysticism in theatre revolves around actors, especially in how they take on a character. Even the language of an actor bears parallels with the language of ghosts and spirits. Some actors will describe an experience akin to possession when they are inhabiting another’s body and lose themselves. Certainly, within the ritual of preparing for a show, there may be a ritual in applying makeup, getting into costume, and warming up. I’ve watched as some actors will walk the set, absorbing the energy of the world of the play, all of which resembles summoning. If the play utilizes masks, actors may put on the mask in a nearly religious manner. Onstage, the actors are in tune with the energy that surrounds them, including that from other actors, the set, the audience, the crew, and the audience. Once the actor has finished his hour of strutting and fretting upon the stage, these spirits are banished to the world of fiction. But, are they really? Perhaps some of these spirits linger in the theatre?

As for the directors, writers, musicians, technical crew members, and the backstage functionaries, many imbue their work with their own passion, thus leaving a little bit of themselves behind in their work. Even once these people pass on, they may return to the theatres to feed their passion in the afterlife.

The practice of leaving a ghost light onstage when the theatre is dark is wrapped up in superstition and practicality. Some will argue that the light assures the theatre’s spirits that the theatre is not abandoned and provides light for their own performances. In a way, this could be a sacrifice to the genius loci, or the spirit of a location. As for practicality, non-superstitious thespians will contend that a ghost light provides illumination to prevent injuries if someone enters the darkened space.

Theatres are often inherently dangerous places where actors, crew, and even some patrons can, and do, get injured. Indeed, there have been numerous accidents throughout history where deaths have occurred on or just off stage sometimes leaving spirits in limbo within the space. The haunting of the Wells Theatre in Norfolk, Virginia comes to mind. One of the spirits in this 1913 theatre may be that of a careless stagehand who became entangled in the hemp rope-operated fly system (a system that is still in use) and accidentally hung himself. Other deaths may be blamed on medical conditions that have claimed have claimed lives while people are at work.

As for lingering spirits of theatre patrons, a love for theatre or a particular space may be reason enough to return in the afterlife. Though it seems that most of the hauntings by members of the audience are residual in nature with phantom laughter and applause sometimes being heard.

Contributing to theatres’ haunted natures, some theatres occupy spaces that were not intended to be performance spaces. These repurposed buildings may already be haunted, and the spirits adapt to the new use of the location. Among the numerous examples of these types of theatres are the Baltimore Theatre Project in Maryland in an old building originally constructed for a men’s fraternal organization and the Hippodrome State Theatre in Gainesville, Florida, formerly a post office and courthouse.

Over the decade I have worked on this blog, I have covered a number of theatres and theatre spaces. In addition to places that have formerly served as theatres, I have added movie houses, larger structures that include a theatre, structures that are associated with theatres, and the Maryland home of the Booth family, which included some of America’s most famous and infamous actors in the 19th century.

Alabama

Lyric Theatre Birmingham Alabama
Balconies of the Lyric Theatre. Photo by Andre Natta, 2006, courtesy of Flickr.

District of Columbia

Tivoli Theatre Washington DC
Tivoli Theatre, 2005, by D Monack. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Florida 

Floirda Theatre Jacksonville Florida
Florida Theatre, 1927. Photo courtesy of the Jacksonville Historical Society.

Georgia 

Wink Theatre Dalton Georgia
Wink Theater, 2018. Photo by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Kentucky 

Louisville Palace Theatre Kentucky
The house and stage of the Louisville Palace. The theater is designed to ensconce the audience in a Spanish Baroque courtyard. The ceiling is an atmospheric ceiling with clouds. In the 1960s, this balcony was enclosed as a second theater, but this alternation was removed in the 1990s restoration. It’s not hard to imagine spirits spending their afterlife in such a magnificent edifice. A handful of spirits have been reported here including a man in 1930s clothing that has been seen in this balcony. When approached by ushers, the man disappears. Photo taken in 1928, courtesy of the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Louisiana

Shreveport Municipal Memorial Auditorium Louisiana
The elaborate facade of the Shreveport Municipal Memorial Auditorium. Photo by Michael Barera, 2015, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Maryland 

Maryland Theatre Hagerstown
The modern entrance to the Maryland Theatre, 2014. Photo by Acroterion, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Mississippi

Temple Theatre Meridian Mississippi
Temple Theatre, 2008. Photo by Dudemanfellabra, courtesy of Wikipedia.

North Carolina 

Carolina Theatre Greensboro North Carolina
Greensboro’s Carolina Theatre in 2008. Photo by Charles Brummitt, courtesy of Wikipedia.

South Carolina

Riviera Theatre Charleston SC ghosts haunted
Riviera Theatre, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV. All rights reserved.

Tennessee

The proscenium arch of the Orpheum Theatre, 2010, by Orpheummemphis. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Virginia

Hanover Tavern Virginia
Hanover Tavern, 2007 by BrandlandUSA. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

West Virginia 

Apollo Theatre Martinsburg West Virginia
Apollo Theatre, 2009, by Acroterion. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

North Carolina Theatre Haunt Briefs

Needing a project to carry me through this quarantine, I’ve decided to return to some original blog roots. Just after establishing this blog in 2010, I created a series of articles highlighting ten haunted places within each of the 13 states that I cover. Over time, these articles have been picked apart, rewritten, expanded, and used elsewhere. When I moved this blog, I did not move over those articles. Because I have a backlog of incomplete articles and bits and pieces that haven’t been published I’m creating a new breed of these articles during this quarantine.

Back in 2013 I began work on a book project that was to be a guide to the South’s haunted theatres. I finished a number of entries, but life got in the way and the book was never completed. I still have hopes that I will finish this project, especially being that I have added a number of theatres to my list in the past seven years. These entries would have been included in the North Carolina section of the book.

Benton Hall
300 D Street
North Wilkesboro

There is one name from Wilkes County that is oft repeated, Tom Dula (pronounced Dooley). The tale of Tom Dula includes all the makings of a Victorian melodrama: murder, illicit affairs, a lustful soldier and even a few cases of syphilis added into the mix. The 1868 trial and subsequent execution of the amorous Mr. Dula received coverage in national papers including The New York Times and is the subject of a number of songs and ballads like the 1958 Kingston Trio hit, “Tom Dooley.” Dooley’s sad tale is also associated with a number of hauntings in the area including the Old Wilkes County Jail in nearby Wilkesboro, though Benton Hall, the home to the Wilkes Playmakers is not haunted by Dooley’s shade.

The Wilkes Playmakers have kept the legend alive in their performances of the play, Tom Dooley: A Wilkes County Legend, performed in Benton Hall, the company’s adapted performance space. In addition to a handful of organizations that use the old edifice, the theatre company also shares its space with spirits. Benton Hall was originally opened in 1913 as North Wilkesboro Elementary School and its auditorium was renovated into a performance space in the 1990s. Much of the activity appears to be residual and related to the hordes of children who were educated in this building over the decades. Theatre staff report that they have heard the sounds of children playing when alone in the building.

Author Michael Renegar mentions one odd phenomenon that has occurred with some frequency: phantom smells in the building. Interestingly, the smell depends on the gender of the person encountering the odor. Women will smell something sweet like flowers or cloves while men will smell something akin to rotting potatoes. Renegar posits that the spirit possibly prefers the company of women to men.

Sources

  • Absher, R.G. Ghosts of the Yadkin Valley. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2009.
  • Renegar, Michael. Roadside Revenants and Other North Carolina Ghosts and Legends. Fairview, NC: Bright Mountain Books, 2005.
  • Tom Dula. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 17 March 2013.
  • Wilkes Playmakers. “Background.” Accessed 17 March 2013.

Carolina Theatre
224-232 North Tryon Street
Charlotte

Preservationists have been working for some time to rehabilitate the formerly grand theatre and it can be imagined that the restoration will raise spirits both literally and figuratively. One theatre technician called the theatre “a little tea party with all sorts of guests.” He encountered one guest, who he dubbed “Fred,” in and around the booth at the top of the house. He believes the spirit to be a former technician. Other, more shadowy forms have been spotted flitting throughout the ruined house while photographers have captured anomalies on film.

Carolina Theatre Charlotte North Carolina
The hulking remains of the Carolina Theatre in 2015. Renovations have since started. Photo by Fortibus, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Carolina Theatre, a small, but distinctive movie and vaudeville house, opened in 1927 as part of Paramount’s Publix Theatre chain. Patrons viewed films in the atmosphere of an open-air Spanish patio. Murals and antiques helped set the style inside while such great names as Ethel Barrymore, Bob Hope, and Elvis graced the stage. The theatre saw a major overhaul in 1938 and another renovation in the early 1960s removed much of the original interior. The theatre limped on into the next decade and closed in 1975.

The building was a target for arsonists in 1980 and two years after being added to the National Register of Historic Places, the lobby was demolished, and it was removed from the Register. Almost as an early Christmas gift, the city council voted in 2013 to sell the theatre to the Foundation for the Carolinas which will restore the theatre and operate it as a performing arts center. Work started in 2017 to transform the forlorn theatre into the centerpiece of a civic performance and gathering space. It was also announced that a large hotel will be built atop the theatre. The spirits are delighted, I’m sure.

Sources

  • Carolina Theatre Preservation Society. “Explore the Carolina Theatre.” Accessed 25 March 2013.
  • Lambeth, Cheralyn. Haunted Theatres of the Carolinas. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2009
  • Price, Mark. “Who’s there in the dark?” Charlotte Observer. 31 October 2011.
  • Price, Mark. “Will renovation of the Carolina Theatre oust the ghosts rumored to dwell within?” Charlotte Observer. 23 October 2017.
  • Stabley, Susan. “Foundation’s purchase of Carolina Theatre gets OK from Charlotte City Council.” Charlotte Business Journal. 18 December 2012.
  • Williams, Stephanie Burt. Ghost Stories of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County: Remnants of the past in a New South. Winston-Salem, NC: Bandit Books, 2003.

Carolina Theatre
310 South Greene Street
Greensboro

Cheralyn Lambeth, author of Haunted Theatres of the Carolinas, asserts that there’s no factual evidence behind the Carolina Theatre’s ghost story. The story itself is of recent vintage and she could find no evidence backing it up. Though I have been able to find evidence that this story is true.

Carolina Theatre Greensboro North Carolina
Greensboro’s Carolina Theatre in 2008. Photo by Charles Brummitt, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Carolina Theatre opened on Halloween night, 1927, as the flagship theatre for the Publix-Saenger Theatre Corporation and it hosted the finest acts of the Keith vaudeville circuit. As that art form died out during the Depression, the theatre began showing films and providing other forms of entertainment. Through the middle of the 20th century, the theatre carried on, entertaining the citizens of the region in grand style.

The theatre reopened in 1977 after being refurbished by the United Arts Council as a performance space. Fire destroyed a stairwell on July 1, 1981, and authorities discovered the body of a woman. A few days later, this woman was identified as 47-year-old Melvallene Reva Ferguson, who was reported to have suffered from mental illness. Ms. Ferguson is believed to have entered the theatre the night before the fire broke out. Legend holds that it is her ghost that haunts the theatre.

Following the fire of 1981, the theatre has been restored and reinvigorated and continues to provide the finest in entertainment for further generations.

Lambeth relates one story told to her by a theatre staff member. As he was locking up one evening a voice wished him goodnight. Thinking it was the voice of another staff member who had been working with him, he wished the staff member goodnight in return. Upon making his way to the parking lot, the other staff member’s car was not there. He realized he had been alone in the building.

Goodnight Melvallene, rest well!

Sources

  • “1 killed in theater fire.” Charlotte Observer. 2 July 1981.
  • Carolina Theatre. “History.” Accessed 7 April 2013.
  • Lambeth, Cheralyn. Haunted Theatres of the Carolinas. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2009.
  • York, John. “Fire victim identified.” Charlotte Observer. 3 July 1981.

Carolina Theatre
222 1st Avenue, Northwest
Hickory

Throughout the centuries, theatres have often served as centers of the community. This is most certainly the case with Hickory’s Carolina Theatre. Opening in 1934, during the roughest years of the Great Depression, the theatre was built to provide both live entertainment and first-run films. Throughout the country, many of these type theatres, downtown theatres built for live performance and films, fell on hard times in the late 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Being forced to compete with new multiplex operations in newer developments away from the heart of town, these older theatres—often with just a single screen—could not compete. Many of these theatres closed and were shuttered to deteriorate in gloomy darkness. The Carolina Theatre was not one of them.

Perhaps it was the love of patrons—the memories of first dates and kisses in its darkened house, or of hearts stolen by matinee idols—that kept the theatre alive, but it was also good business decisions made by the theatre’s management. The theatre adapted well to the changing economic climate. In 1974, the theatre added a screen by enclosing the balcony, and nearly a decade later it converted to a second-run movie house: thus reducing pressure from the newer first-run houses. The theatre has recently seen renovations to update its facilities for another generation of theatre-goers.

However, there is some tragic history here in the heart of Hickory. One legend that has circulated among theatre employees tells of a young actress carrying on an affair with a married actor. When the actor’s wife learned of the illicit goings-on, she confronted the actress at the theatre. One of the women shot the other, though it differs depending on the version of the legend. People entering the theatre’s dressing room where the murder occurred have felt a spirit present. Interestingly, this is comparable to the legend of the Athens Theatre in DeLand, Florida where an actress fell in love with the theatre’s married manager and she was killed when his wife confronted her.

Another story from the Carolina involves the door to the theatre’s office. Often, when the theatre is quiet, or just after closing time, staff members will hear the door slam. This has been attributed to the spirit of a theatre manager who died within the office. It’s also noted that the office is often quiet cold, even on days when the rest of the theatre is quite warm.

Sources

  • Carolina Theatre. “Our History.” Accessed 7 April 2013.
  • Lambeth, Cheralyn. Haunted Theatres of the Carolinas. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2009.

Cary Arts Center
100 Dry Avenue
Cary

Little has been documented about ghostly goings-on at the Cary Arts Center, formerly Cary High School. Kala Ambrose mentions in her Ghosthunting North Carolina that spirits were seen and felt when the building served as a school, but few details are provided. The school was constructed in 1939 by the Works Progress Administration and the large, Georgian building was purchased by the city in 2006. After a few years of renovations, the building was opened in 2011 as the Cary Arts Center. Among other arts groups, it provides facilities for the Cary Players.

Sources

  • Ambrose, Kala. Ghosthunting North Carolina. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2011.
  • Cary Arts Center (Former Cary High School). Triangle Wiki. Accessed 7 April 2013.

Frank Thompson Hall
Campus of North Carolina State University
Raleigh

Frank Thompson was quite an athlete. This engineering major was captain of both the university’s baseball and football teams. When he was killed in action in France during the First World War, the university felt the need to pay homage to this scholar-athlete by naming the new gymnasium building for him. With the building of Reynolds Coliseum, the graceful, Beaux Arts-style gymnasium was no longer needed, so it was converted into a theatre facility. Over its decades of use as a theatre, students have taken to attributing odd and possibly paranormal activity to Frank Thompson, though there is no real reason why he would be haunting this elegant structure.

Postcard Frank Thompson Gymnasium NC State University Raleigh North Carolina
An undated postcard of Thompson Hall. Postcard in the Massengill Postcard Collection, North Carolina State Achives.

The NC State University Theatre blog records an odd incident that happened to the theatre’s scenic designer while he was painting a set one afternoon in the studio theatre. The designer noted that there were few people in the building at this particular time. He stood back to look at what he had just painted when he felt a strong gust of air rapidly pass by him. He thought for a moment that someone had walked past him rapidly; problem was that he was alone in the theatre. He checked the doors to see if an open door had caused a cross breeze; again, that was not the case. While he’s not able to attribute this to a paranormal cause the designer has still been left quite puzzled. He also notes that while this event was the first unexplainable thing to happen to him in the theatre building, many others have their own stories.

[N.B. I have noted the date of this particular blog entry, April Fool’s Day, though nothing about the blog entry reads as a joke to me.]

Sources

  • Cook, Ellie. “I ain’t afraid of no ghost.” NC State University Theatre blog. 1 April 2010.
  • NCSU. “Frank Thompson Hall.” Accessed 4 April 2013.

Reynolda Revenant—Winston-Salem, NC

Reynolda House and Gardens
2250 Reynolda Road
Winston-Salem, North Carolina

I have recently begun checking Wikipedia’s page for the day to see if I can tie historic events with haunted places. Today, February 3rd, happens to be the day that Wake Forest University was established in 1834. A quick search of my notes indicates that I have not been able to find anything on hauntings at the university proper, though it seems that the historic Reynolda property, now owned by the university, has a ghost.

The Reynolds name is tightly woven into the history of the Winston-Salem region. It was here in 1875, that J. R. Reynolds established his tobacco business, one that would grow into one of the largest and most influential tobacco companies in the world. Seeking to create a country estate that would mimic the country houses of Britain, Reynolds began creation of an estate that included a village, main house, formal gardens, and a farm, just outside of Winston-Salem; a place that would provide solace to the hard-working family.

Katherine Smith Reynolds
Katherine Smith Reynolds, wife of R. J., around 1900. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Mr. Reynolds’ marriage to Katherine Smith was important for both business and personal reasons. Ms. Smith served as Mr. Reynolds’ personal secretary while she also oversaw some of the details of his personal life. Historians have suggested that the creation of Reynolda was largely overseen by Mrs. Reynolds. After acquiring the property in 1910, the power couple set about transforming the thousand acres into a grand estate.

In a move similar to George Vanderbilt in the creation of his Biltmore Estate in Asheville, the Reynolds intended to create a farm that would promote and demonstrate the latest in agricultural techniques and a model school that would help to further develop the region. The farm, gardens, and village were created first followed by the construction of the main house which was completed around 1917.

Reynolda Winston-Salem North Carolina
The main house at Reynolda around 1915. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

By the time the family moved into the main house, Mr. Reynold’s health was declining, and he passed away in the house in 1918. Following her husband’s death, Mrs. Reynolds took the reins of the estate until her death in 1924. The estate remained in the family until Mary Reynolds Babcock, the daughter of R. J. and Katherine, began to present potions of the property to Wake Forest. A private organization was created to open the main house and it created a collection of American art that is exhibited within the home. Much of the gardens have since been restored and are cared for by the university.

gardens at Reynolda Winston-Salem NC
Spring in the gardens at Reynolda, 2009. Photo by Tom Photos, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Since much of the estate has been open to the public there has been speculation of the existence of ghosts on the property. Visitors to the gardens have reported encountering a mysterious Lady in White on the grounds. Some visitors have even reported the revenant on horseback, and not always wearing white. Others have reported that she appears enveloped in a strange mist.

Paranormal investigator and author, Michael Renegar investigated these claims some years ago. While conducting an EVP session, he asked the question, “Is that you causing that heavy feeling in the air?” His question was answered by a faint, but clear female’s voice responding, “What is that supposed to mean?”

Libby Holman 1930
Smith Reynold’s wife, Libby Holman from the May 1930 edition of Theatre Magazine. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Renegar and his fellow investigators initially felt that the apparition might be Libby Holman, the chanteuse second wife of Zachary Smith Reynolds. Smith was R. J. Reynolds’ adventurous and social son who was mysteriously shot in the house during a birthday bash for a friend in 1932. Holman initially faced charges in his murder along with his personal assistant and best friend, Ab Walker. Scandalous rumors indicated that Holman and Walker may have been involved with one another, giving them a reason to want Smith dead, though charges were later dropped.

After meeting with several people who had seen the Reynolda revenant, Renegar discovered that they all identified the woman as Katherine Reynolds. Certainly, it’s no surprise that the woman who poured her heart and soul into this estate might prowl the grounds after dark, just as she once did after her husband’s death.

In his 2011 book, Ghosts of The Triad, which Renegar co-authored with Amy Spease, the authors note that the Lady in White may not be the only paranormal activity at Reynolda. A policeman investigating an alarm call at the main house heard the sounds of a party going on in the basement accompanied by the distinct sound of a bowling ball striking pins. When he checked out the basement, it was devoid of living souls. Perhaps Smith is carrying on with his 1932 birthday party in the main house while his mother still wanders her beloved gardens.

Sources

  • Breedlove, Michael. “Local haunts: Twin City ghost tales.” Winston-Salem Monthly. 29 September 2014.
  • LaRochelle, Peggy S. and Hellen Moses. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the Reynolda Historic District. June 1980.
  • Renegar, Michael and Amy Spease. Ghosts of The Triad: Tales from the Haunted Heart of the Piedmont Region. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011.

The bully bull of Roan Mountain—North Carolina

Rhododendron Gardens
NC-1348
Bakersville, North Carolina

Rhododendron Roan Mountain North Carolina
Rhododendron on the flanks of Roan Mountain with a bald rising above. Photo by Daniel Martin, 2008, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Straddling the state line between North Carolina and Tennessee is the scenic and imposing form of Roan Mountain. For centuries, this massif with a number of high peaks, has been a celebrated place of legend and history. Native American tribes inhabiting these mountains told stories of these peaks. The Cherokee spoke of a massive wasp, Ulagu, which once inhabited an inaccessible cave and was eventually killed by warriors with help from the Great Spirit. The Catawbas spoke of three tremendous battles fought on the mountain where they were victorious. With all the blood that was shed, the streams ran red and the rhododendron that initially bloomed white, turning crimson in memory of the slain.

As Europeans began to explore the area, naturalists descended on the high flanks of this mountain including the French botanist André Michaux, who may have named the mountain after the Rhone River of France. A few years after his explorations, Scotsman James Fraser scouted the plant life here under the auspices of the Russian government. During this time, he discovered a species of fir tree, Abies fraseri, commonly known as the Fraser fir, and he also named the crimson rhododendron the Catawba Rhododendron, or Rhododendron catawbiense.

In the early 20th century, the Appalachian Trail was routed over the ridge of the mountain, creating the highest segment of the trail in its nearly 2,200-mile trek from Georgia to Maine.

On the North Carolina flanks of the mountain, is the Rhododendron Gardens, considered the world’s largest grove of rhododendron, which sits below the grassy balds of the mountain. These balds have provided places for early settlers to leave livestock to roam, particularly cattle.

In 1975, a legend about a bull appeared in the Kingsport (TN) Times-News, that was reportedly collected from a lady living near Bakersville.

In the early days of the region’s settlement, settlers would often release livestock into the fields and forests to graze, marking the ears of the cattle with notches to indicate ownership. One of the wealthier settlers, called the “Baron” in one version, drove larger and larger herds up the mountain every season. Other settlers became increasingly worried that the Baron’s large herd would overgraze the bald. Leading the Baron’s herd was a magnificent prize bull.

Roan Mountain North Carolina
The view of Roan Mountain looking east from Toll House Gap. Photo by Brian Stansberry, 2008. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The bull was large and absolutely dominated the grazing herds. Other bulls grazing on the balds were bullied by the Baron’s bull; often ending up maimed or dead after the prize bull proved his dominance. There was nothing the other settlers could do when the Baron’s herd arrived with the huge bull at its fore except shake their heads and pray for the success of their herds.

Many years after the Baron began grazing his herds, the large herd arrived with the bullying bull leading the way. As the cattle surged forward, a shot rang out from the tree line. Falling to its knees and bellowing in pain, the bull quickly keeled over, its life draining out into the thick grass.

Since that fateful day, the mountain’s flanks still echo with the animal’s bellow and the ring of its cowbell.

stereoscopic view Rhododendron Roan Mountain North Carolina Tennessee
A 1905 stereoscopic view of Toll House Gap and the Cloudland Hotel. View published by the Keystone View Company. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Justin Guess’ 2012 eBook on Carter County places this story and the spectral sounds in Rhododendron Gardens, though Rogers Whitener’s 1975 article places this near the site of the Cloudland Hotel. The hotel was situated at Toll House Gap, just up the mountain from the gardens, on the state line. Stories are told that a white line was painted through the hotel’s dining room and those imbibing alcohol were forbidden from taking their drinks into North Carolina, which was dry at that time.

Sources

  • Guess, Justin H. Weird Tri-Cities: Haunted Carter County, Tennessee. Kindle Edition, 2012.
  • Roan Mountain (Roan Highlands).” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 1 February 2020.
  • Whitener, Rogers. “Ghost herd of Roan Mountain.” Kingsport Times-News. 30 March 1975.
  • Wright, Laura. “The Ghost Bull on Roan Mountain.” Virginia Creeper. Accessed 1 February 2020.

Cherry-picked history—Goldsboro, North Carolina

This is the fourth entry in my Twelve Days of Southern Spirits Series celebrating traditional ghost story telling over Christmas.  

Cherry Research Farm (formerly Cherry Hospital)
604 Farm Road
Goldsboro, North Carolina

Ghost stories pop up in unusual places. These stories are often so entwined with history that these tales and stories pop up in places that are often unexpected. Today’s example is a story that appears in Modern Farmer magazine. While its pages usually discuss practical subjects such as antibiotic use in chickens or soy production, an article about sustainable agriculture research in North Carolina piqued my interest. It seems that the haunted grounds of Cherry Hospital in North Carolina have become an agricultural research station since the hospital’s move to its new, urban facility.

Cherry Hospital Goldsboro North Carolina
An undated postcard of Cherry Hospital.

“You must have heard,” the agricultural scientist remarks in the article, “Cherry Hospital has a strange history.” The history of the hospital recalls the brutal treatment of the mentally ill, and even worse, the archaic views of race that persisted in the South in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Throughout the 19th century, states established facilities to deal with the mentally ill and those who stood apart from society. Mental illness encompassed people who thought beyond their social station, independent women, those with “unnatural sexual desires,” and masturbators; as well as the depressed, anxious, and those with more serious mental illnesses. During Reconstruction, many of these facilities were actively segregated and new facilities created for African-Americans. This is where Cherry Hospital was established.

The North Carolina Asylum for Colored Insane opened its doors in 1880. The facility operated specifically for African-Americans until the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 when the Cherry Hospital—as it was renamed in 1959 for former governor R. Gregg Cherry—was forced to open its doors to all North Carolinians. Thousands of acres surrounding the hospital were cultivated by patients in what is now deemed “horticultural therapy.” These vast acres have been overseen by the state’s Department of Agriculture since 1974.

An undated postcard of Cherry Hospital.
An undated postcard of Cherry Hospital.

However, Cherry Hospital’s treatment of its patients has not always just included the genial sounding horticultural therapy. Patients have endured a cavalcade of therapeutic abuses including electroshock therapy and being placed in cages as well as simple neglect. An entire ward of the hospital was closed in 2008 after a patient was neglected for almost an entire day. That patient died after being found unresponsive. In 2016, the original hospital closed and moved into a new facility within the city limits of Goldsboro. Since much of the land surrounding the original hospital was owned by the state department of agriculture, the whole facility has been transformed into the Cherry Research Farm.

Perhaps the saddest story from this facility became the subject of a 2007 book, Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson. A 17-year-old African-American man, Junius Wilson, was incarcerated here in 1925 on charges of rape. The young man could not communicate verbally, except through grunts and hand gestures, which were interpreted as being signs of mental illness. Mr. Wilson spent most of his life at Cherry Hospital before a social worker identified him as simply being deaf. Wilson’s grunting and wild gesticulation was simply a form of sign language used by African-Americans in the South. He was released and allowed to live his remaining days in a small cottage on the hospital grounds where he passed away in 2001.

Of course, the environment in places of such mental and physical travail, is often imprinted with profound human emotions: the despair of depression, the anguish of anxiety, or perhaps the confusion that marks disorders like schizophrenia. Rumors of hauntings have been passed among locals for years. In fact, the Modern Farmer mentions that some of these rumors and stories have been documented in a book. I suppose this is Margaret Langley’s series of books on Cherry’s sister facility, Broughton Hospital in Morganton. The third volume of her series includes stories from other mental facilities and hospitals in the state.

Langley, an R.N. who worked at Broughton, began collecting ghost stories during her time at the hospital. These stories eventually included stories from a number of other hospitals including Cherry from which she published several. Most of these stories involved elevators. One particular story involved a staff member who boarded an elevator only to notice someone else walking up to the doors as they were closing. Hitting the open doors button, the staff member was surprised when the doors opened to reveal no one else on the other side. Another staff member reported hearing the elevators operating in a portion of a building under renovation. These buildings were not occupied at the time and the elevators required keys to function.

Other than this source, there are few other texts that specifically speak to the haunting of this facility except for storyteller Randy Russell’s 2014 book, The Ghost Will See You Now: Haunted Hospitals of the South. In it, Russell explores stories of band music being heard within the facility. The hospital did have a band for patients and Russell reports that this band may still play on accompanied by the shuffling of feet as patients danced and whirled.

Sources

  • Barth, Brian. “The strange, horrifying history of Cherry Research Farm in North Carolina.” Modern Farmer. 11 December 2017.
  • Burch, Susan. Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson. Chapel Hill, NC: U. of NC Press, 2007.
  • Cherry Hospital. org. Accessed 30 December 2019.
  • Langley, Margaret. Haunted Broughton, Book III: History and Horror. CreateSpace, 2016.
  • Russell, Randy. The Ghost Will See You Now: Haunted Hospitals of the South. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2014.
  • “Ward where mental patient died closes at Cherry Hospital.” WRAL. 22 August 2008.

Sipping with Spirits—Guide to Spirited Southern Bars

N.B. Last updated 29 May 2020.

Throughout the South, there are many places where you can sip with spirits. This guide covers all of the bars that I have explored in the pages of this blog over the years. Not only have I included independent bars, but breweries, wineries, restaurants, and hotels with bars as well.

Alabama

Buttermilk Hill Restaurant Sylacauga Alabama ghosts haunted
Buttermilk Hill Restaurant, 2016. Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV, all rights reserved.

District of Columbia

Omni Shoreham Hotel Washington DC ghosts haunted
Omni Shoreham Hotel, 2009. Photo by Jurgen Mattern,  courtesy of Wikipedia.

Florida

Island Hotel Cedar Key Florida ghosts haunted
Island Hotel, 2007. Photo by Ebyabe, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Georgia

Jekyll Island Club Hotel Jekyll Island Georgia ghosts haunted
Jekyll Island Club, 2012, by Lewis Powell IV. All rights reserved.

Kentucky

Old Talbott Tavern Bardstown Kentucky ghosts haunted
Old Talbott Tavern, 2008, by C. Bedford Crenshaw. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Louisiana

Hotel Monteleone French Quarter New Orleans Louisiana ghosts haunted
Hotel Monteleone, 2009 by Bart Everson, courtesy
of Wikipedia.

Maryland

Middleton Tavern Annapolis Maryland ghosts haunted
Middleton Tavern, 1964. Photograph for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

Mississippi

Weidmann's Meridian Mississippi ghosts haunted
Weidmann’s, 2010, by Dudemanfellabra. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

North Carolina

Lake Lure Inn North Carolina ghosts haunted
The 1927 Lake Lure Inn. Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

South Carolina

Mad River Grill Charleston SC ghosts haunted
Mad River Grille, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV. All rights reserved.

Tennessee

Earnestine and Hazel's Memphis Tennessee ghosts haunted
Earnestine and Hazel’s, 2012, by Thomas R.
Machnitzki, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Virginia

Michie Tavern Charlottesville Virginia ghosts haunted
Michie Tavern, 2005, by Forestufighting, courtesy of Wikipedia.

West Virginia

Courthouse Creepiness—Caswell County, North Carolina

N.B. This article was originally published 6 April 2011, but not reposted when this blog moved. This article has since be edited and revised.

Caswell County Courthouse
Courthouse Square
Yanceyville, North Carolina

There is a room in the Caswell County Courthouse with a door that opens and shuts on its own accord. According to two different sources–though I think one source is likely referencing the other–that is the only unknown phenomena reported in this magnificent edifice. But then again, the story behind it is just as fascinating.

The Caswell County Courthouse is the fourth courthouse and was constructed between 1857 and 1861. The architecture is unusual for a government building of the period in that it employs the Italianate style; a style quite different from the other period, Greek Revival buildings in the area. The courtroom located on the second floor is noted in one description as one of the most beautiful in the state with carved benches and partitions and an ornate plaster ceiling.

haunted Caswell County Courthouse Yanceyville North Carolina ghosts spirits
The Caswell County Courthouse, 2009, by NatalieMaynor, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Within this marvelous structure a heinous act occurred; an act indicative of the area’s rough transition following the Civil War. Reconstruction was a difficult process for much of the South. Nearly everything was in upheaval: the economy, cities and plantations lay in ruins, the social order, and African-Americans suddenly thrust into a new social standing. Add opportunists into this mix, especially Yankees with a carpet bag in hand and a glint in their eye, and you have an explosive combination.

It is against this turbulent backdrop that 34-year-old John Walter Stephens made his arrival in Caswell County. He is described as a difficult fellow, but of course, that all depends on who you talk to. Stephens was born in North Carolina and had worked as a tobacco trader as well as being active in the Methodist Church. Apparently, shortly before his move to Yanceyville, he had been involved in a scuffle with a neighbor whose chickens had wandered onto his property. Stephens killed the chickens and the neighbor had him sent to jail. After getting out, Stephens confronted the neighbor with a gun and in the fight that broke out, two bystanders were wounded. This incident provided Stephens with the nickname, “Chicken.” It was something that he would never live down.

While continuing to work as a tobacco trader, Stephens also worked as an agent for the Freedman’s Bureau and was a member of the Republican affiliated Union League, which helped to control the African-American vote in the South. Needless to say, these things were politically unpopular with the white citizens of Caswell County. Through the efforts of the Union League and the African-American citizens of the county, Stephens was elected to the North Carolina State Senate in 1868. Slanderous gossip was spread through town and Stephens received death threats, but he staunchly remained in his position.

Per the affidavit of John G. Lea, Stephens was tried in absentia by a Ku Klux Klan jury, found guilty, and sentenced to death. This death sentence was carried out on May 21, 1870 in a storage room on the ground floor of the courthouse. Stephens, who was attending a session to nominate county officers and members of the legislature, was lured downstairs and taken into the storage room where a group of KKK members awaited. After Stephens was disarmed of his three pistols John Lea rushed in. Lea, the last of the conspirators to die when he passed in 1919, described the scene in an affidavit sealed until after his death:

He arose and approached me and we went and sat down where the wood had been taken away, in an opening in the wood on the wood-pile, and he asked me not to let them kill him. Captain Mitchell rushed at him with a rope, drew it around his neck, put his feet against his chest and by that time about a half dozen men rushed up: Tom Oliver, Pink Morgan, Dr. Richmond and Joe Fowler. Stevens was then stabbed in the breast and also in the neck by Tom Oliver, and the knife was thrown at his feet and the rope left around his neck. We all came out, closed the door and locked it on the outside and took the key and threw it into County Line Creek.

The turbulence, already boiling in the area, rose to a fever pitch after Stephens’ murder. The Ku Klux Klan stepped up its terror of African-Americans and their white allies throughout the region. In the town of Graham in Alamance County to the south, an African-American town commissioner was lynched in a tree on the courthouse lawn. Republican Governor William W. Holden, upset over the uproar in the area and the political threat to his seat from the mostly white Democrats, declared Caswell County to be in a state of rebellion and sent some 300 troops under the leadership of George W. Kirk to march on Yanceyville. Under the governor’s orders, some 100 local men were rounded up and jailed. With the suspension of habeus corpus, these men were held for some time and quite possibly mistreated during their incarceration. The event, which ended later in 1870, became known as the Kirk-Holden War, despite the distinct lack of fighting.

With the August 1870 election, the Democrats swept the legislature. The governor was tried on charges of corruption for his participation in the Kirk-Holden War and removed from office. The New York Times reported in 1873 on a bill in the state legislature to give amnesty to the murderers. It describes a Republican representative giving an explicit account of the murder on the House floor. The bill passed, but I have not discovered if it was ever signed into law.

Things quieted down in Yanceyville, but there is still discussion of this turbulent bit of local history. And still, the door to the storage room on the courthouse’s ground floor opens and closes by itself. Is John Walter Stephens still seeking justice?

Sources

  • Barefoot, Daniel W. North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Vol. 2, Piedmont Phantoms. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2002.
  • Caswell County Courthouse.” Caswell County Historical Association. Accessed 5 April 2011.
  • Kirk-Holden War (1870).” Caswell County Historical Association. Accessed 5 April 2011.
  • Senator John Walter Stephens.” Caswell County Historical Association. Accessed 5 April 2011.
  • Lea, John G. The Ku Klux Klan Murder of John G. Stephens. 2 July 1919.
  • “Life in North Carolina: The Murder of Senator John W. Stephens—A Terrible Scene—Shall His Assassins be Amnestied?” New York Times. 26 February 1873.
  • Stone, Jason. “The Ghost of Chicken Stephens.” CreepyNC.com. Accessed 5 April 2011.

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.

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.