The Terrors of US 29—A Ghost Tour

US 29 from Florida to Maryland

US 29 LaGrange Georgia
A sign for US 29 in downtown LaGrange, GA. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

In the early 20th century, American roads were a mess. In the late 19th century, the railroad was really the only means to travel throughout the country as roads weren’t well-maintained or even necessary except for local transportation. With the advent of the automobile however, “good roads” (as the movement was called) became increasingly crucial. Car owners began to band together to form auto clubs to create roads for themselves.

In the 1910s, these auto trail organizations and automobile clubs reached even further to create the Lincoln Highway, one of the earliest transcontinental highways stretching from New York’s Times Square to San Francisco’s Lincoln Park. With its popularity among travelers and local governments alike, the idea was expanded to the South with the creation of the Dixie Highway, which originally connected Chicago to Miami. Not only did this open up the South to tourism, but it brought industry as well.

While this new network of roads was increasingly useful, the Federal Government began investigating ways to expand and organize this network. State roadway standards were introduced in 1914 with the creation of the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO). Their standards eventually evolved into a U.S. Highway system over the next decade. This system, now nearing a hundred years old, continues to expand to this day.

U.S. Route 29, a north-south highway, connects Pensacola, Florida to Ellicott City, Maryland. Along its route it passes through a number of major cities including Auburn, Alabama; Atlanta, Georgia; Greenville and Spartanburg, South Carolina; Charlotte and Greensboro, North Carolina; Danville, Lynchburg, Charlottesville, and Fairfax, Virginia; Washington, D.C.; and some of DC’s Maryland suburbs before its termination in Ellicott City, a suburb of Baltimore.

For me, US 29 has a very personal connection. On its route through my hometown of LaGrange, Georgia, it passes many landmarks from my youth and is the road on which I currently live. It also figures into several stories that I now tell on my Strange LaGrange Tour. For a few years I have wanted to take a big road trip to visit many of the haunted places I have written about and considered that driving the length of US 29 would make an excellent trip. This article covers many of the haunted locales I plan to visit should the trip come to fruition.

This article is intended to provide links to places I have written about elsewhere on my blog along with several brief entries and other suggested locations that I may cover in the future. This article is not intended as a static article, but will change as I cover more locations along the route of US 29.

Sources

Pensacola, Florida

US 29 begins at the intersection of North Palafox Street and Cervantes Street (US 90 and 98), just north of downtown Pensacola. While there are no haunted places (that I know of) at that immediate intersection, less than a mile south is a cluster of locations. The Saenger Theatre (118 South Palafox) is located at the intersection of South Palafox and Intendencia Street. A block south of the theatre is a cluster of hauntings around Plaza Ferdinand VII (which is haunted) that includes the T.T. Wentworth Museum, the portion of Zaragoza Street between S. Palafox and S. Baylen Streets, the Quayside Art Gallery, Pensacola Children’s Museum, and Seville Quarter. Just east of the Plaza is Old Pensacola Village.

Saenger Theatre Pensacola FL
Saenger Theatre, 2010, by Ebyabe. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Old Christ Church
405 South Adams Street

Old Christ Church Pensacola FL
Old Christ Church, 2008. Photo by Ebyabe, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Old Pensacola Village consists of a collection of historic and haunted buildings important to the early history of Pensacola including the 1832 Old Christ Church. The churchyard of the church once held the remains of three of its vicars, but during renovations, their graves were obscured. Some years ago, their remains were recovered during archaeological excavations. During the service marking their reburial, one young man witnessed the three vicars walking among the guests.

Sources

  • Jenkins, Greg. Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore, Vol. 3. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2007.
  • Lapham, Dave. Ghosthunting Florida. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2010.
  • Moore, Joyce Elson. Haunt Hunter’s Guide to Florida. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2008.

The entirety of US 29 in Florida in within Escambia County. After passing through the town of Century, the highway continues north into Escambia County, Alabama.

East Brewton, Alabama

After crossing over the creepily named Murder Creek in Brewton, US 29 runs through East Brewton which features a haunting at the old Fort Crawford Cemetery (Snowden Street).

Andalusia, Alabama

US 29 bypasses downtown Andalusia which features a haunted jail. The Old Covington County Jail can be viewed from North Cotton Street behind the courthouse.

Troy, Alabama

As the highway makes its way through downtown Troy, Alabama, it passes near the first of many major institutions of higher learning, Troy University. Two dormitories on the campus, Pace and Shackleford Halls, feature ghost stories.

Pace Hall Troy University Alabama
Pace Hall, 2017, by Kreeder13. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Union Springs, Alabama

Some years ago, I took a trip to Enterprise and drove US 29 past downtown Union Springs. I wasn’t expecting to pass through this small town, but the historic downtown intrigued me. Once I got to my destination, I looked up the town and wrote an article about my trip including the three major haunted places here: the Bullock County Courthouse and Pauly Jail (217 North Prairie Street) and the Josephine Arts Center (130 North Prairie Street).

Bullock County Courthouse Union Springs Alabama
Bullock County Courthouse, 2000. Photo by Calvin Beale for the US Department of Agriculture.

Tuskegee National Forest

North of the city of Tuskegee, US 29 heads through the Tuskegee National Forest, a site of high strangeness that includes tales of ghosts and Sasquatch sightings.

Auburn, Alabama

As US 29 approaches Auburn, it joins with I-85 to bypass the city, though there is a concentration of haunted places in and around downtown and Auburn University. Two locations at the university have been covered in this blog including the University Chapel and the Ralph Brown Draughon Library, both of which are located on College Street.

Draughon Library, Auburn University,
South College Street facade of the Draughon Library at Auburn University, 2017. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Auburn Train Depot
120 Mitcham Avenue

Railroad passengers entering and leaving Auburn have passed through one of the three buildings that have occupied this site since 1847. The first building was destroyed during the Civil War while its replacement was destroyed by fire after a lightning strike. The current building was erected in 1904 and served as a rail depot until 1970. The building was left empty in 2003 after being used as a real estate office for some 20 years. The building has served as a restaurant for a number of years and rumor has it that staff has experienced a number of strange doings.

There is a legend about the building recounted in Haunted Auburn and Opelika regarding a young woman who met a young man here. The couple began to meet regularly despite the insistence of the young woman’s father that she would marry another man. The young couple planned to elope, but the young woman’s brother thwarted the plans and killed his sister’s lover. She then threw herself in front of an arriving train. Her wail intertwined with the train’s whistle are supposedly still heard.

Sources

  • Cole, Ashtyne. “City plans to renovate historic train depot.” Auburn Plainsman. 12 June 2014.
  • Serafin, Faith, Michelle Smith and John Mark Poe. Haunted Auburn and Opelika. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011.
  • Woodham, Brian. “Restaurant coming to Auburn Train Depot.” Auburn Villager. 3 December 2014.

Opelika, Alabama

As US 29 (still concurrent with I-85) passes into Opelika, it crosses AL 169, which has had some activity.

Opelika Chamber of Commerce Alabama
Opelika Chamber of Commerce, 2016. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Downtown Opelika also features several haunted locales including the Chamber of Commerce (601 Avenue A) and the Salem-Shotwell Covered Bridge in Opelika Municipal Park.

Spring Villa Opelika Alabama
Spring Villa, 2010, by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

The exit with US 280 provides access to Spring Villa (1474 Spring Villa Road), a most unusual plantation home with ghosts and other strangeness. At the next exit, US 29 becomes independent and heads north through Chambers County.

Valley, Alabama

Within the city of Valley, there are several villages clustered around mills including the community of Langdale. US 29 passes between the old Langdale Mill (rumored to be haunted) and Lafayette Lanier Elementary School and the adjoining Langdale Auditorium (6001 20th Avenue) which are known to be haunted.

Langdale Auditorium Valley Alabama
Langdale Auditorium stands next to Lafayette Lanier Elementary. Photo 2016, by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

The city of Valley extends up to the state line with West Point, Georgia. Just before 29 crosses that line it passes through the community of Lanett with its Oakwood Cemetery (1st Street) which is home to the dollhouse grave of Nadine Earles.

West Point, Georgia

West Point Post Office Georgia
West Point Post Office, 2012, by Rivers Langley. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In downtown West Point, the Depression era U. S. Post Office (729 4th Avenue) may feature a few spirits. The area also has a small Civil War-era fortification, Fort Tyler, which was constructed to protect an important railway bridge over the Chattahoochee. The four-hour siege that was fought here in April of 1865 left many dead, including the commanders of the fort. These men were buried in Pine Wood Cemetery which is passed by US 29 as it leads north to LaGrange. Both of these locations may be home to paranormal activity.

LaGrange, Georgia

I have been a resident of LaGrange since early childhood and this town instilled in me a love of ghost stories. For the past couple years, I have been providing a ghost tour of downtown, the Strange LaGrange Tour, on which I feature the LaGrange Art Museum (112 Lafayette Parkway). Along its route through town, 29 passes LaGrange College with its antique centerpiece, Smith Hall. My tour discusses Smith Hall, Hawkes Hall, and the College Chapel, which are all spirited places. The college’s theatre, Price Theatre, off Panther Way, has an assortment of theatre ghosts.

Smith Hall LaGrange College ghost haunted
Smith Hall ,LaGrange College, 2010, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Atlanta, Georgia

In its journey between LaGrange and Atlanta, the road passes a number of haunted locations, though I have yet to cover any of them in this blog.

Fox Theatre Atlanta Georgia
Fox Theatre, 2005. Photo by Scott Ehardt, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Downtown Atlanta has a number of haunted places on its famous Peachtree Street including the Ellis Hotel (176 Peachtree Street), the Fox Theatre (660 Peachtree Street), and Rhodes Memorial Hall (1516 Peachtree Street) all of these are covered in my “Apparitions of Atlanta” article.

Moving out of downtown towards Decatur, US 29 runs along Ponce de Leon Avenue. On this route, it comes near Oakland Cemetery (248 Oakland Avenue, Southeast).

Oakland Cemetery Atlanta Georgia
Oakland, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV,
all rights reserved.

Stone Mountain, Georgia

Leaving DeKalb County, the road enters Gwinnett County near Stone Mountain, home of Stone Mountain Park (1000 Robert E. Lee Boulevard). Not only have there been spiritual encounters on the slopes of the titular monadnock, but the park’s Southern Plantation has a number of spiritual residents inside the historic structures.

Stone Mountain Georgia
Stone Mountain, circa 1910, from “Granites of the Southeastern Atlantic States,” by Thomas Watson.

Duluth, Georgia

US 29 runs south of Duluth where the Southeastern Railway Museum (3595 Buford Highway) is located. With a large collection of historic train cars and related things, a number of encounters have been reported within these cars.

The Superb Southeastern Railways Museum Duluth Georgia
President Warren G. Harding’s personal Pullman Car, The Superb,
now housed in the Southeastern Railway Museum in Duluth.
Photo 2007, by John Hallett. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Watkinsville, Georgia

As the highway leaves Gwinnett County, it passes through Barrow and into Oconee County. South of US 29 is the small town of Watkinsville, where the creepy Eagle Tavern (26 North Main Street) has served customers, and now museum patrons, for more than 200 years.

Eagle Tavern Watkinsville Georgia
The Eagle Tavern. Photo by Lewis Powell, IV, 2010, all
rights reserved.

Athens, Georgia

Concurrent with US 78, US 29 intersects US 441 right at the city limits of Georgia’s historic university town, Athens. Besides many hauntings on campus, the city features many historic structures with ghosts which I have covered in my article, “Town and Gown—Ghosts of Athens and the University of Georgia.” I have written separate articles on three other locations here: the Classic Center (300 North Thomas Street), the T.R.R. Cobb House (175 Hill Street), and the Tree That Owns Itself (277 South Finley Street).

Postcard of the Tree That Owns Itself Athens Georgia
The original Tree That Owns Itself shortly before it fell in 1942. Postcard from the Boston Public Library.

US 29 passes through three more Georgia counties: Madison, Franklin, and Hart before crossing into South Carolina. Unfortunately, I have little information on these counties’ haunted places.

Anderson, South Carolina

The city of Anderson’s Municipal Business Center (601 South Main Street) was the scene of odd, possibly paranormal activity in 2009.

Greenville, South Carolina

One of the more prominent Upstate South Carolina hauntings is Greenville’s Westin Poinsett Hotel (120 South Main Street). The city’s downtown features a number of haunted locales including Connolly’s Irish Pub (24 North Court Square). The city’s Herdklotz Park (126 Beverly Road), north of downtown was formerly the home of a tuberculosis hospital.

West Poinsett Hotel Greenville South Carolina
The Westin Poinsett Hotel, 2012, by Bill Fitzpatrick. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Spartanburg, South Carolina

Wofford College is one of several institutions of higher learning located in Spartanburg, nearly all of which have spirits. Wofford’s Old Main Building is the haunt of several spirits.

Old Main Wofford College Spartanburg South Carolina
Old Main Building, 2010, by PegasusRacer28, courtesy of
Wikipedia.

Gaffney, South Carolina

On the way into Gaffney, US 29 passes the small town of Cowpens. A major battle of the American Revolution took place about nine miles north of town and the battlefield is known to be haunted.

In 1968, a serial killer operated in Gaffney and some of the sites where he dumped his victims’ bodies are known to be haunted. These sites include the Ford Road Bridge over Peoples Creek.

Blacksburg, South Carolina

After passing through Blacksburg, US 29 comes near another battlefield from the American Revolution with paranormal activity, Kings Mountain (2625 Park Road).

Charlotte, North Carolina

From Blacksburg, South Carolina, US 29 continues across the state line into North Carolina. I have not covered any locations in Cleveland or Gaston Counties. In Charlotte, I have covered one location, the Carolina Theatre (224-232 North Tryon), though I intend to rectify this in the near future.

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

Salisbury, North Carolina

Some years ago, I discovered an 1898 article from the Salisbury Sun describing the appearance of a ghost on Fisher Street. In addition, I discovered that the building at 122 Fisher Street has been reported as haunted. These locations were written up in my article, “’His ghostship’—Salisbury, NC.”

Salisbury National Cemetery
202 Government Road

The treatment of prisoners by both the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War was atrocious and certainly has led to very active haunted locations where the prisons operated. This is certainly evident in Salisbury where an old textile mill was turned into a prison to house 2,000, but eventually held some 11,000. With a number of deaths occurring on a daily basis, a small cemetery was established a short distance from the prison which in 1874 became the Salisbury National Cemetery. According to Karen Lilly-Bowyer, a retired educator and the operator of the Downtown Ghost Walk, the area around the old prison site and the cemetery are quite active and a Union sentry has been spotted around the trenches where the prisoners were interred.

Salisbury National Cemetery North Carolina
Salisbury National Cemetery. Photo by David Haas for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Sources

  • Lilly-Bowyer, Karen. “A war-haunted landscape.” Salisbury Post. 22 January 2011.

Greensboro, North Carolina

Greensboro is home to a number of haunted places including the Biltmore Greensboro Hotel (111 West Washington Street), the Carolina Theatre (310 South Greene Street), and the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office (400 West Washington Street).

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

Yanceyville, North Carolina

As it heads north out of North Carolina and into Virginia, US 29 passes through Caswell County. East of its route is the county seat of Yanceyville with its lovely and haunted Caswell County Courthouse (Courthouse Square).

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

Danville, Virginia

After crossing into Virginia, US 29 briefly runs concurrent with US 58. US 58 BUS goes through Danville, while the regular route takes a southern dip around the city where it meets up with US 29. Near the intersection of US 58 BUS and Riverside Drive is the site of the crash of the Old ’97 Train in 1903. This site has produced anomalous lights ever since.

Wreck of the Old 97 Danville Virginia
The wreck of the Old ’97, 1903.

Lynchburg, Virginia

While I have yet to cover Lynchburg in my blog, there are a number of haunted locales here, especially on the campus of Randolph College.

Sweet Briar, Virginia

US 29 passes through the small college town of Sweet Briar, home to the private women’s college Sweet Briar. From the tales that have been told on campus, it seems the founders of the college have remained here.

Charlottesville, Virginia 

The highway bypasses Charlottesville on its west side passing near the haunted University of Virginia, home to several haunted places including the Alderman Library. Southeast of downtown is one of this city’s most well-known monuments, Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello (931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway), where the former president may continue to reside. Nearby is also the old Michie Tavern (683 Thomas Jefferson Parkway), where Jefferson and his friends often dined.

Monticello Charlottesville Virginia
Monticello, 2013, by Martin Falbisoner, courtesy of Wikipedia.

As US 29 passes out of the city, it comes near a haunted former bed and breakfast, the Silver Thatch Inn (3001 Hollymead Drive).

Brandy Station, Virginia

This small community in Culpeper County was the scene of one of the largest cavalry engagements of the Civil War in 1863. A small home near the Brandy Station depot was commandeered as a hospital after the battle. The patients left graffiti covering the walls and perhaps spirits as well, giving this home the nickname Graffiti House (19484 Brandy Road). A small, historic church, Fleetwood Church, nearby and the Brandy Station Battlefield are also known to be paranormally active.

Graffiti House Brandy Station Virginia
Graffiti House, 2013. Photo by Cecouchman, courtesy of
Wikipedia.

Warrenton, Virginia

This small, Fauquier County town is home to several haunted places, including the Black Horse Inn, the Hutton House, and a home called “Loretta.”

Manassas National Battlefield Park

This highway cuts directly across the Manassas Battlefield in Prince William County. Through these farm fields and copses of wood, two major battles of the Civil War were fought, the First Battle of Bull Run or Manassas on July 21, 1861, and the Second Battle fought on August 29-30, 1862. As a result, this battle is known to be haunted.

Old Stone House Manassas Battlefield Virginia
The Old Stone House on the Manassas Battlefield is one of the most recognizable haunted places here. Photo by William J. Hamblin, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Arlington, Virginia

Occupying the grounds of Robert E. Lee’s former estate, Arlington National Cemetery provides a resting place for some 400,000 soldiers from every conflict since the Civil War. With so many dead, there are ghost stories regarding the cemetery, Arlington Mansion, and the surrounding area.

Arlington Mansion Virginia
An 1864 photograph of the Custis-Lee Mansion or the Arlington Mansion, which is now a centerpiece of Arlington National Cemetery.

Washington, D.C.

US 29 enters the nation’s capital on the Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge over the Potomac River. It continues onto Whitehurst Freeway in Georgetown before crossing Rock Creek and becoming an elevated freeway. This point over Rock Creek is significant for two reasons, the bridge itself is haunted and this crossing is at the beginning of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.

C & O Canal Georgetown
The C&O Canal as it moves through Georgetown. This photograph is looking east from the Wisconsin Street Bridge. Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid, 2008. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The canal, which was begun in 1828, was meant to provide transportation of cargo from the end of the navigable portion of the Potomac to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In the end, cost overruns ended the construction in Cumberland, Maryland, 184.5 miles from it’s beginning. From the end of construction in 1831 to 1928, the canal was used primarily to ship coal from the Alleghany Mountains to Georgetown. The “Grand Old Ditch,” as it was called, lay abandoned for many years until ownership was overtaken by the National Park Service. The canal is open as a National Historic Park with a trail alongside it. From end to end, the canal is lined with legends and ghost stories.

Along its route through Washington, US 29 comes near many haunted places. For a list of places covered in this blog, please see my District of Columbia Directory.

Montgomery County, Maryland

Montgomery County is a suburban county providing suburbs for Washington. I have discovered that my coverage of Maryland, as a whole, is lacking and I have not covered any locations within this county, though there are a number. I intend on rectifying this as soon as possible.

Elkridge, Maryland

As it wends its way towards its termination in Ellicott City, US 29 passes the town of Elkridge where Belmont Manor and Historic Park (6555 Belmont Woods Road) is located.

Belmont Mansion Elkridge Maryland
Belmont Manor, 2015, by Scott218. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Ellicott City, Maryland

On its way towards its terminus, US 29 passes the haunted and quaint Wayside Inn (4344 Columbia Road).

This city’s historic district lies in the valley of the Patapsco River, with Main Street running downhill to a bridge over the river. A tributary, the Tiber River, meets the Patapsco near here and problems with severe flooding have been experienced at points along Main Street. One of these recent floods is discussed in my article on the Judge’s Bench (8385 Main Street). Housing shops, boutiques, and homes, many of the buildings along Main Street also house spirits.

Patapsco Female Institute Ellicott City Maryland
An illustration of the Patapsco Female Institute in 1857, from The Book of Great Railway Celebrations of 1857.

North of downtown are the ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute (3655 Church Road).

Northwest of Ellicott City’s historic downtown, US 29 passes over I-70 before quietly ending at Rogers Avenue and Old Frederick Road.

13 Southern Roadway Revenants

Since I started my blog, I have been hesitant to use random encounters from online. Of course, while many of these stories are hard, nay impossible, to prove, some of them do ring with a sense of truth. For a writer like me, one of the most difficult tasks in my research is finding good, firsthand accounts of ghostly encounters, especially for areas where there is a general lack of documented stories (i.e. books, newspaper articles, etc.).

Recently, I have become fascinated with the Ghosts of America website. This website collects stories from people throughout the country. While many of these accounts talk about ghosts in private homes, some discuss specific locations. While wading through this vast collection, I’m looking for specific accounts that not only mention specific locations but have a sense of authenticity as well.

Please note, I cannot guarantee that any of these places are truly haunted or that these accounts are totally truthful.

Since my last article on haunted roads and bridges in Alabama, I decided to look at encounters in every state that I cover. These are the results.

Brown Street
Altoona, Alabama

Birmingham, Alabama was named for the English city of Birmingham—one of the earliest industrial cities in the Western world. Altoona, Alabama, which was founded around the turn of the 20th century as a coal-mining town, was named for the great Pennsylvania coal-mining town of Altoona. Likely, the town supplied coal for the burgeoning steel industry centered in nearby Birmingham.

There’s not much to the community of Altoona; Main Street is Alabama Highway 132 as it heads southwest to Oneonta in neighboring Blount County, traveling east you’ll connect with US 278. A post office and several stores form the center of the town with small homes radiating outward.

Brown Street branches off Main Street and winds through rural woods with sporadic houses lining its side before it terminates south of town. An anonymous poster to Ghosts of America documented an interesting encounter on this street. A woman was driving this street at night when her car broke down within 500 yards of 11th Avenue. She pulled off the road and called her husband to come get her.

As she waited on the side of the road, she noted that she felt comfortable as she was familiar with the area. An old Dodge drove past her and she watched as it turned around to check on her. As the vehicle passed her again, she saw an elderly man driving. Slowing down, the mysterious driver smiled at her and nodded, “as if to let me know I would be fine.” Reaching for her phone, the woman looked to see if her husband was nearby. As she looked up again, the vehicle was nowhere in sight, and the witness realized the old Dodge had made no sound at all.

Sources

New York Avenue, Northwest
Washington, DC
 

New York Avenue begins auspiciously at the White House heading northwest towards Maryland. As one of the original avenues laid out by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, this thoroughfare originally began at the Potomac River southwest of the White House, but over time those sections of the avenue have been consumed by development, so now only a block remains south of the White House. According to L’Enfant’s plan, the avenue terminated at Boundary Street (now Florida Avenue), though support was garnered around the turn of the 20th century to extend the road into Maryland. This was finally accomplished in 1931.

As New York Avenue stretches northeast away from the hubbub of downtown Washington, its monumental nature falls away and it begins to take on a more plebeian flair as it sidles up to the Amtrak Railyards. Upscale businesses are replaced with light industrial and pedestrian commercial development. Efforts to redevelop the corridor were discussed in 1980 and up through the early 2000s, though much of that work has not come to fruition. A 2005 study of the most crash-prone intersections in the city concluded that five were located on New York Avenue, with the top one being the intersection with Bladensburg Road.

New York Avenue Washington DC
The intersection of New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road, 2016. Photo by Famartin, courtesy of Wikipedia.

An encounter posted to Ghosts of America makes note of the avenue’s dicey reputation, especially after dark. “Larry” however, decided to use it as a shortcut around 3 AM one morning. As he waited at a stoplight, a disheveled man approached his car and stopped in front. The light turned green and the man continued to stand in front of his car. Larry honked, though the strange man continued standing there. As he backed his car up to go around, Larry realized that the man did not have legs and was seemingly floating in mid-air. Terrified, he sped away from the scene.

Sources

Melrose Landing Boulevard
Hawthorne, Florida
 

Melrose Landing Boulevard is a sparsely inhabited road through rural Putnam County, Florida, near the towns of Hawthorne and Melrose. According to a poster named Sarah on Ghosts of America, it was along this road that her father and brother came upon a woman standing in the road “in a dress that looked to be out of the 1700’s.” She appeared suddenly, and the truck didn’t have time to stop before passing through her.

Around 3 AM on November 1, 2009, All Saints’ Day, the day after Halloween, Sarah turned onto the road at the same place where her father and brother had their earlier incident. As she drove down the road she passed a woman walking “with her long dress all gathered up in her arms.” Realizing that she might need to check on the woman, she turned around and discovered no one around. Sarah also noted that she was returning home from working at a seasonal haunted attraction and was driving a hearse. She considered that the oddity of someone encountering such a vehicle on such a day might have frightened the mysterious woman and that she may have fled into the woods, though Sarah doubted it.

Sources

Bemiss Road (GA 125)
Valdosta, Georgia

Connecting Valdosta with Moody Air Force Base and Fitzgerald, GA 125 is named Bemiss Road in Valdosta as it heads towards the small community of Bemiss. A poster on Ghosts of America named Arturias revealed that he drove this road frequently at night over the course of fifteen years. During that time, he witnessed people walking along the road, though on three occasions he “noticed coming up on them that they didn’t have legs under the streetlights. Looked faded out.”

After these experiences, he heard the road referred to as the “Highway of Death.” I can find nothing online to prove or disprove whether this is actually the case and why.

Sources

Baker Road
Fort Knox, Kentucky

Branching off of US 31W, Baker Road serves as a truck entrance to Fort Knox. A post on Ghosts of America from someone going by the handle, Redfraggle, was apparently written by one of those truck drivers who frequently drives Baker Road late at night. While headed towards the Brandenburg Gate, this driver had to swerve “to avoid hitting a dark-haired woman crossing the road.” Dressed in a muumuu, the woman appeared solid and the driver stopped to check on her. The woman only looked at him with a “broken hearted” expression and vanished.

Fort Knox Kentucky entrance sign
A sign at one of the entrances to Fort Knox. Photo 1999, by 48states, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The driver reports that he has seen the woman many times but doesn’t stop for her. In addition, this apparition has appeared along this stretch of road to his fellow drivers.

Please note that this road is on a military base and off limits to the public.

Sources

Fort Knox, Kentucky Ghost Sightings. GhostsofAmerica.com. Accessed 30 July 2020.

Albany Lights
Elbert Stewart Road
Albany/Independence, Louisiana Area

About five miles north of Albany and five miles west of Independence is Elbert Stewart Road, home to the locally known Albany Lights. I can find no other reference to these lights online or in any of my research.

A submission from Larry on Ghosts of America, describes his experiences with the lights throughout his life. According to the post, Elbert Stewart Road was once called Dummy Line Road. The term “dummy line” refers to railroads that were constructed to serve the timber as it cut huge swathes of land throughout the South the end of 19th and into the early 20th centuries. Presumably, these lines were called “dummy” because they did not connect to the transportation rail lines.

The story of the lights involves a brakeman who was killed when he failed to pin the coupling between two cars and was crushed. The lights are supposed to be the brakeman’s signal “that the pinning was made.”

Larry explains that some years ago the road was named for his grandfather and that at 49 years of age, he recalls the lights appearing all his life. Interestingly, he points out that if you have photographic equipment on you, the lights will not appear (what about cellphones?). Otherwise, viewers have an 80% chance of seeing the hazy, bluish colored light.

Interestingly, he notes that the phenomenon has been investigated by the FBI, the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Geographic Society. None of these investigations were successful as they all had photographic equipment on them.

A comment on the post from a nearby resident states that they have encountered the lights here “plus much more.”

Sources

Church Road Cemetery
Church Road
Broomes Island, Maryland

Occupying a small peninsula extending into the Patuxent River, the community of Broomes Island plays host to a haunted cemetery. Not only do spirits haunt the cemetery, but they apparently have spilled out onto surrounding streets. This location is documented in Ghosthunting Maryland by the father and son duo of Michael J. and Michael H. Varhola. The Varholas describe a ritual where someone circles the cemetery three times at night, after which a fog rolls in the laughter of young girls can be heard.

A post on Ghosts of America mentions that the cemetery has numerous spirits which have spilled out into the nearby streets where they “scream and laugh.” A comment on this post is from a newspaper delivery man who has encountered the spirit of a young boy who told him and his mother to leave. Afterwhich, they saw it run past the car windows.

Sources

MS 33 Bridge over the Homochitto River
Rosetta, Mississippi

Less than a mile north of the unincorporated community of Rosetta in the Homochitto National Forest, Mississippi State Route 33 crosses the Homochitto River on a fairly new bridge. This bridge has seen multiple iterations as the shallow river erodes the stream banks. For nearly two centuries a ferry crossed here which was eventually replaced by a bridge. That bridge was replaced in 1941. The new bridge was damaged during a flood, and it was repaired and extended in 1956.

By 1974, the bridge was again needing work and it was extended again. Just two months after completion, the bridge was washed out during a flood. This washout claimed the lives of two men who were reportedly standing on the bridge. The current bridge was completed by the MDOT in 1978, though it too, has been extended around 2014.

Homochitto River bridge Rosetta Mississippi 1974 flood
This shows the damage done to the bridge during the April 1974 flood. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A brief post on Ghosts of America states that phantom headlights have been seen on this bridge heading southbound but disappearing before they cross the full length of the bridge.

Sources

South Queen Street Bridge over the Neuse River
Kinston, North Carolina

A couple from out of town was staying at “the hotel that sits right next to the Queen Street Neuse River Bridge,” presumably the Red Carpet Inn and Suites. After dark they walked across the road to get dinner from Hardee’s. As they made their way back to their hotel, they began to hear the sounds of “men screaming, ‘stop the fire’ and the sounds of water splashing” coming from the direction of the bridge. The sounds continued with the noise of a battle. At the same time, they both smelled the odor of cigar smoke. They ran back to their room.

The following day, they mentioned the incident to the hotel manager and were told that a battle was fought there during the Civil War, and that guests routinely report hearing and seeing things around the bridge. The couple reported their experiences on Ghosts of America.

In fact, this was the site of the Kinston Bridge which came under attack by Union troops on December 14, 1862. After defending a defensive line south of the bridge, Confederate troops retreated towards the bridge and crossed into town. Thinking that all his men had crossed, General Nathan Evans ordered his men to set the bridge aflame. However, a number of Confederate troops still remained on the opposite side and were now taking the brunt of artillery fire from both Union troops and their own men on the other side of the bridge.

As these men began to run for the bridge they realized that it was in flames and many were captured by Union forces. General John G. Foster sent his men to douse the flames and continue across the partially destroyed bridge into Kinston. As Evans retreated away from town, Union soldiers looted and destroyed parts of the city.

Sources

US 1
Between Bethune and Cassatt, South Carolina

Stretching between Key West., Florida and Fort Kent, Maine, US 1 is the longest north-south road in the country. While this highway passes through many busy urban areas, it also passes through quiet, rural areas such as this area of Kershaw County. Michael posted on Ghosts of America about his experience on this lonely stretch of road around 12:30 at night.

As he passes through an undeveloped area, Michael passed a woman walking on the side of the road. He noticed that she had an “old mottled blanket wrapped around her. The entire figure was so very pale. Her hair was blonde, and the blanket appeared to have dark dots on it.” As he passed her, he wondered why someone would be out on a chilly night on this lonely stretch of road. Looking in his rearview mirror, he could only see darkness. The following night he was on the lookout for the woman, but she did not appear. After arriving at work, he told some of his co-workers about the experience only to have someone come in from the next room saying that they had seen the woman as well. Their description matched his, all the way down to the blanket.

Sources

Dolly Parton Parkway
Sevierville, Tennessee
 

An employee for an industrial laundry posted on Ghosts of America that two of his drivers had strange experiences on Dolly Parton Parkway. The first encounter involved a driver as he drove into work around 2:30 AM along Dolly Parton Parkway. He encountered a thick fog, and “came upon 4 men in old tattered clothes pushing a cannon across the road.” Slamming on the brakes, he sat and watched as the men rolled the cannon across the road without noticing him or his car. Going into work, the shaken driver told his supervisor of his experience.

The second encounter also involved a man driving the same stretch of road in the very early morning also driving through a thick patch of fog. “His entire windshield froze completely over with frost to the point where he had to pull over and scrape it with his license.” Interestingly, the temperatures that morning were quite warm.

The poster, Leslie, Googled the area and discovered that a battle was fought near the roadway during the Civil War. Though a small battle, the Battle of Fair Garden was furious, and led to roughly 250 casualties. Most curious is a detail on the recently installed marker near the battlefield: the battle was fought on a cold January morning in a heavy fog.

Sources

East Virginia Avenue (US 460)
Crewe, Virginia

A resident East Virginia Avenue named Larry reported seeing a man walking the street with a lantern in this small Virginia town. He notes that he and his family have lived on the street as long as he can remember and that he has seen this apparition the entire time. While he knows of no other neighbors who have witnessed it, several of his relatives have seen it. One relative visiting from out of town went out to smoke in the front yard around midnight and watched an orange light glide down the street. As the light came closer, it vanished.

The town of Crewe was created in 1888 by the Norfolk & Western Railroad—later Norfolk Southern—as a site for locomotive repair shops. The necessity of the repair shops decreased towards the middle of the 20th century.

Sources

West Virginia State Route 2
New Cumberland, West Virginia

Hancock County is the northernmost county in West Virginia, and the South. It pushes up between Ohio and Pennsylvania, and one side of the county is defined by the Ohio River. New Cumberland is one of the towns located on the river. WV 2 runs through the heart of the town.

A post on Ghosts of America from John describes an incident that happened to him as he was driving southbound on WV 2 in New Cumberland in the spring of 1974. As he and his passenger neared railroad tracks and a bridge, “a ‘man’ stepped out in front of my vehicle. He turned and looked directly at me as the hood of my car went through him.” Then he suddenly disappeared. He continues, “I actually saw the upper part of his body in the middle of my hood. The lower part was inside the front of the car.” Reportedly, the man had white hair and beard, and “wore a ‘brimmed’ hat.”

downtown building New Cumberland West Virginia
This building sits at the intersection where WV 2 makes a dog leg in downtown New Cumberland. Photo 2015 by Carol Highsmith, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In tracing the route of WV 2 through New Cumberland, I could only locate one place where a bridge and railroad tracks are close together: at the bridge over Hardin Run. Going southbound, the railroad crossing is about 200 feet after the bridge. Is this where the mysterious apparition appeared to a frightened driver in 1974?

Sources

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.