Haunted Virginia, Briefly Noted

Virginia possesses a vast history; subsequently, it could be described as one of the most paranormally active states in the country. This is a selection of some of the more interesting hauntings throughout the Old Dominion.

Aquia Church
2938 Jefferson Davis Highway
Stafford

Acquia Church Stafford Virginia ghost haunted
Aquia Church , photograph taken for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

As with many of Virginia’s great landmarks, Aquia Church has a ghost story attached. The legend tells of a young woman murdered in this National Historic Landmark church at some time in the eighteenth century and her body hidden in belfry. Accordingly, her spirit descends from the belfry at night and has been witnessed by many over the centuries. One caretaker also spoke of seeing shadowy figures among the tombstones in the graveyard. The current Aquia Church building was built in 1751 and destroyed by fire just before the construction was complete. Using the remaining brick walls, the church was rebuilt in 1757.

Sources

  • Driggs, Sarah S., John S. Salmon and Calder C. Loth. National Register of Historic Place Nomination form for Aquia Church. Listed 12 November 1969.
  • Lee, Marguerite DuPont. Virginia Ghosts, Revised Edition. Berryville, VA: Virginia Book Company, 1966.
  • Taylor, L. B., Jr. The Ghosts of Virginia. Progress Printing, 1993.

Assateague Lighthouse
Assateague Island

In terms of books documenting the spiritual residents of the state, Virginia has an embarrassment of riches. Marguerite DuPont Lee can be noted as one of the first authors to document many of Virginia’s ghosts in her 1930 book, Virginia Ghosts. More recently, L.B. Taylor, Jr. has published some 22 volumes covering the state. Most recently, Michael J. Varhola published his marvelous Ghosthunting Virginia and it is that book that documents the haunting surrounding the Assateague Island and its lighthouse.

Assateague Island Lighthouse Virginia ghost haunted
Assateague Lighthouse, 2007, by DCwom, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Assateague Island is a barrier island along the coast of Maryland and Virginia. Much of the island is now Assateague Island National Seashore with parts of Assateague State Park and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The island is famous for its feral horses, descendants of the horses aboard the Spanish ship, La Galga, which wrecked just off the island in 1720. It is said the spirits of the humans who died in the wreck still comb the beach near the Assateague Lighthouse. The lighthouse, constructed in 1866 and first lit the following year to replace an earlier lighthouse from 1831, may also have some spiritual activity related to it. Varhola cites a National Park Service employee who tells of the door to the lighthouse being found mysteriously unlocked.

Sources

  • Assateague Island. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 10 March 2011.
  • Varhola, Michael J. Ghosthunting Virginia. Cincinnati, OH, Clerisy Press, 2008.
  • Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission Staff. National Register of Historic Place Nomination form for Assateague Lighthouse. December 1972.

Bacon’s Castle
465 Bacon’s Castle Trail
Surry

Bacon's Castle Surry Virginia ghost haunted
Bacon’s Castle, 2006, by Yellowute, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Bacon’s castle ranks highly on a number of lists. It’s described as the only Jacobean house in America and one of three in the Western Hemisphere; one of the oldest buildings in the state of Virginia and the oldest brick home in the United States. Indeed, it may be one of the oldest haunted houses in the US as well. Researchers in 1999 dated tree rings on some of the home’s beams and determined the house was constructed around 1665. Originally called Allen’s Brick House, the house acquired its current name during Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 when some of Nathaniel Bacon’s supporters took over the house. The house, which has survived and witnessed centuries of American history, is now a house museum.

As for the ghosts, this house may possess many. The final private owner of the house, Mrs. Charles Walker Warren, told many tales of the house involving doors opening and closing by themselves and footsteps that were heard. Certainly, the most well-known phenomena regarding Bacon’s Castle is the red fireball that has been seen rising from the house and disappearing in the churchyard of Old Lawne’s Creek Church nearby.

Sources

  • Barisic, Sonja. “Houses’ ‘Bones’ Yield Secrets of Its History.” The Richmond Times-Dispatch. 19 December 1999.
  • Brown, Beth. Haunted Plantations of Virginia. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2009.
  • Melvin, Frank S. National Register of Historic Place Nomination form for Bacon’s Castle. Listed 15 October 1966.
  • Taylor, L. B., Jr. The Ghosts of Virginia. Progress Printing, 1983.
  • Tucker, George. “Ghosts Long A Part of the Lore of Bacon’s Castle.” The (Norfolk, VA) Virginian-Pilot. 9 November 1998.

Belle Isle
Richmond

Originally called Broad Rock Island, Belle Isle was used for mostly industrial purposes in the nineteenth century. Mills, quarries and a nail factory appeared on the tranquil island in the James River. Notoriety came to the island in 1862 with the opening of a Confederate prisoner of war camp that was as notorious as Georgia’s dreaded Andersonville and with a huge influx of prisoners, the camp quickly descended into squalor. Prisoners lived in tents that provide little insulation from the bitter cold of Virginia winters or the heat of the summer sun and were offered little in the way of food. By 1865, most of the prisoners had been shipped to prison camps throughout the South and the island was returned to its more tranquil use as the site of a nail factory. The Old Dominion Iron and Nail works operated on the island until it closed in 1972 and many of its buildings demolished. The island became a park around that same time and has been a popular spot for hiking and jogging.

Belle Isle Richmond Virginia ghost haunted
Belle Isle, 2012, by Morgan Riley, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Still, remnants of the island’s past linger: the site of the prison camp is marked but little else remains while there are ruins of some of the old industrial buildings. Indeed, spirits from the islands past may also linger. There are reports from island visitors of shadow people, hearing footsteps on the trail behind them, lights in the woods at night and photographic anomalies. Author and investigator Beth Brown in her Haunted Battlefields: Virginia’s Civil War Ghosts conducted an investigation and picked up an EVP of a male voice clearly saying, “Where are we?”

Sources

  • Brown, Beth. Haunted Battlefields: Virginia’s Civil War Ghosts. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2008.
  • Dutton, David and John Salmon. National Register of Historic Place Nomination form for Belle Isle. Listed 17 March 1995.

Michie Tavern
683 Thomas Jefferson Parkway
Charlottesville

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

My first introduction to the Michie Tavern came through the eyes of paranormal researcher and writer Hans Holzer. Among some of the first books about ghosts I read were some of Holzer’s books and I still vividly remember reading of some of his investigations. For his books, he traveled the world with a psychic medium in tow investigating haunted and historical locations such as the Morris-Jumel Mansion in New York City and the famous house at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York, the basis for the “Amityville Horror.” On his travels through Virginia he visited the Michie Tavern and nearby Monticello and was able, through his medium Ingrid, to find spirits still partying in the ballroom of this 1784 tavern. Staff members have reported the sounds of a party in that very room late at night.

Sources

  • Holzer, Hans. Ghosts: True Encounters with the World Beyond. NYC: Black Dog & Leventhal, 1997.
  • Michie Tavern. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 10 March 2011.

Monticello
931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway
Charlottesville

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

In 1928, a Charlottesville preservationist purchased the Michie Tavern, an 18th century tavern in nearby Earlysville and moved it near to Thomas Jefferson’s “little mountain,” Monticello. Jefferson, perhaps one of the country’s most brilliant, enigmatic and creative presidents, designed and built his home over many years at the end of the eighteenth century and into the early nineteenth century. Over the years that the house has been open as a museum, there have been a few reports of phantom footsteps and other minor incidents including the occasional sound of someone cheerfully humming.

Sources

  • Holzer, Hans. Ghosts: True Encounters with the World Beyond. NYC: Black Dog & Leventhal, 1997.
  • Monticello. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 10 March 2011.
  • Varhola, Michael J. Ghosthunting Virginia. Cincinnati, OH, Clerisy Press, 2008.

Octagon House (Abijah Thomas House)
631 Octagon House Road
Marion

Abijah Thomas House Marion Virginia ghost haunted
Octagon House, 2007, by RegionalGirl137, courtesy of Wikipedia.

In a state of magnificently preserved historical homes, it is surprising to find a magnificent architectural gem like the Abijah Thomas House standing forlornly unrestored.  Neglect and vandalism by teenagers out for a “scare” have also taken their toll on this home. The octagon house style found prominence in the middle of the nineteenth century and currently only a few hundred to a few thousand (sources differ) survive. This particular house, described in its National Register of Historic Places nomination form as “the finest example in Virginia of a 19th-century octagonal house,” also has a number of legends about it. According to Michael Varhola, the internet is full of these legends that seem scary but are unlikely to be true. Certainly, this old house is creepy in its deteriorated state, but it really needs a professional investigation.

Sources

  • Octagon houses. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 10 March 2011.
  • Varhola, Michael J. Ghosthunting Virginia. Cincinnati, OH, Clerisy Press, 2008.
  • Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission Staff. National Register of Historic Place Nomination form for Abijah Thomas House. Listed 28 November 1980.

Old ’97 Crash Site
Route 58 and Riverside Drive
Danville

It’s a mighty rough road from Lynchburg to Danville,
And a line on a three mile grade.
It’s on that grade that he lost his airbrakes.
You see what a jump he made.
— “Wreck of the Old ‘97” first recorded by G.B. Grayson and Henry Whittier

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

On September 27, 1903, the No. 97 “Fast Mail” train jumped its track on the Stillhouse Trestle in Danville and plunged some 75 feet into the ravine. The train’s engineer, who was rushing to get to Spencer, North Carolina on time, tried to slow the train as it approached the trestle, but the train did not slow. Of the 18 souls aboard, 10, including the engineer were killed. Not long after the crash stories emerged of people seeing odd lights in the ravine where the crash occurred. Even after the trestle was removed and the ravine was filled with growth, the lights are still said to appear.

Sources

  • Varhola, Michael J. Ghosthunting Virginia. Cincinnati, OH, Clerisy Press, 2008.
  • Wreck of the Old 97. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 10 March 2011.

Rosewell
5113 Old Rosewell Lane
Gloucester

Rosewell ruins Virginia ghosts haunted
Rosewell ruins, 2002, by Agadant, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The magnificent main house at Rosewell burned in 1916, but it is hardly a distant memory. The brick wall still stands, and archaeological excavations have uncovered the remains of items that were inside the house during the fire. Construction began in 1725 and the house was completed in 1738 for the powerful Page family. The power of the Page family extended into the nineteenth century and included friendships with people such as Thomas Jefferson who legend says drafted the Declaration of Independence within the walls of Rosewell. The ruins have been preserved as a historic site and still attract visitors and spirits. An old legend speaks of a woman in red seen running down the remains of the house’ front stairs with the sound of slaves singing has also been heard.

Sources

  • Brown, Beth. Haunted Plantations of Virginia. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2009.
  • Lee, Marguerite DuPont. Virginia Ghosts, Revised Edition. Berryville, VA: Virginia Book Company, 1966.

Railyard Revenant—West Virginia

Facebook can be a marvelous resource for ghost stories, but only if you can stand wading through unsourced posts, over-eager amateur ghost hunters with blurry ghost photos, and memes asking if you believe in ghosts. The information on this haunting came from a post on the Haunted West Virginia page that included the original article along with the name of the paper and the date, hallelujah!

The Norfolk and Western Railroad got into the coal business in the late 19th century. After the purchase of the Flat-Top Coal Land Association and the massive coal fields under its control, the railroad reorganized the organization into the Pocahontas Coal and Coke Company and began to expand its railroads into the coal fields of southern West Virginia. As the company began cutting into this remote region, towns were established including the small town of Williamson.

Aerial view of Williamson in 1990. Taken by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. Notice the railroad cutting through the middle of town.

At a point along the Tug Fork River, at this point the border between West Virginia and Kentucky, a marge railyard was established with a town being established around it. The railroad still cuts through the heart of this small town with the large railyard still in operation, though the railroad’s name has changed from the Norfolk and Western to Norfolk Southern. The town is now the county seat for Mingo County.

On September 1, 1935, the paper in Bluefield, West Virginia, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, reported on paranormal activity experienced in the railyard.

But today comes the strangest ghost tale every published. The wonder of it is some of the big newspapers have not grabbed it, for it sure is a knockout. Many Norfolk and Western railroad men vouch for the truth of the story, men whose word is as good as their bond.

This amazing happening has its setting on Williamson yard, and has been told and retold until around the Mingo county seat the kiddies are sometimes put to sleep thinking of the yarn.

But we will not [sic] longer keep the reader in suspense.

From the inferno of the boiler of a Norfolk and Western yard engine in use in Williamson yard may be heard the pitiful cries of baby. Of course, there is no baby in that firebox. Even a child need not be told that.

But often during the dead hours of night from the firebox the engineer and fireman almost stand speechless as the faint cry of an infant is emitted from the seething furnace of their locomotive.

Billy Dotson, veteran engineer, is said to have been the first to hear the baby cry, but since, others claim to have heard the voice distinctly.

One theory advanced is that a long time ago a young baby in some maner [sic] was tossed into the firebox of this particular engine, and that its tiny spirit remains.

Anyway, you have the story. It is not for us to offer a solution of this amazing phenomena.

Panoramic view of the Williamson Railyard, 2013. Photo by Magnolia677, courtesy of Wikipedia.

As far as I can find, this is the only reporting on this incident. It is unknown as to if the activity in the Williamson Railyard has ceased.

Sources

  • Norfolk and Western Railway. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 16 January 2018.
  • Williamson, West Virginia. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 16 January 2018.
  • “Writer unfolds a new ghost story.” Bluefield Daily Telegraph. 1 September 1935.

‘Twas the Night Before Halloween—Recycled Revenants

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

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

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

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

Sources 

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

Western & Atlantic Railroad Tunnel
Chetoogeta Mountain
Tunnel Hill, Georgia

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

Old Talbott Tavern
107 West Stephen Foster Avenue
Bardstown, Kentucky

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

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

Sources

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

Old Louisiana State Capitol
100 North Boulevard
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

Corinth Battlefield
Corinth, Mississippi

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

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

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

Sources

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

North Carolina Zoological Park
4401 Zoo Parkway
Asheboro, North Carolina

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

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

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

Sources

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

Carter House
1140 Columbia Avenue
Franklin, Tennessee

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

Rockledge Mansion
440 Mill Street
Occoquan, Virginia

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

Rockledge Mansion by AlbertHerring, 2008. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

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

Sources 

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

Berkeley Castle
WV-9
Berkeley Springs

Berkeley Castle by Jeanne Mozier. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

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

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

Sources

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

The Siren of Pope Lick Trestle—Kentucky

Pope Lick Trestle
Over Pope Lick Road and Pope Lick Creek
Jeffersontown, Kentucky

The ghastly siren of Pope Lick Trestle has claimed yet another victim. The terror experienced by a young couple from Ohio while visiting this lonely railroad trestle is unimaginable. The couple was exploring the paranormal wonders of Louisville, of which there are many, and expected to tour Waverly Hills Sanitarium last Saturday evening. While trespassing at Pope Lick in search of the famed Pope Lick Monster or Goatman the couple was caught in the middle of the railroad trestle by an approaching train. The female was struck, thrown from the trestle, and killed. Her boyfriend was able to hang from the trestle until the train passed.

In Homer’s The Odyssey, Odysseus encounters the Sirens, beautiful maiden-like creatures who lured sailors to their death with their enchanting song. It seems the Pope Lick Monster is a variation of the sirens. In this case however, the monster lures teens with the thrill of viewing his ghastly form and when they walk the trestle in search of him some of them have been killed by a train on this busy thoroughfare.

The legend of the Pope Lick Monster is, like most urban legends, rather hard to pin down. The tales appear to have begun circulating in the mid-20th century. At that time, the trestle was a remote place where local teens would congregate to party and “neck” (in other words, to make out or have sex in the parlance of the period). Perhaps it is one of these teens who first saw the mysterious creature described as being half-human and half-sheep or goat. David Domine, a local writer, historian and expert on area legends and lore describes him as having muscular legs “covered with course dark hair. He’s got the same dark hair on the parts of his body. His face is alabaster they say and he has horns as well.” 

The Pope Lick Trestle over Pope Lick Creek, 2013, by David Kidd. From Flickr.

Some descriptions state that the creature uses hypnosis or other mind-altering methods to lure victims onto the trestle. Other stories note that he uses mimicry to recreate the voice of a child or loved-one. Once on the trestle, it’s too late for the victim to escape a passing train. Perhaps nowadays with the preponderance of thrill-seekers especially looking for paranormal thrills, just the thought of seeing the Goat Man’s visage is enough to lure the unwary.

Since the late 1980s, the siren of the trestle has claimed its fair share of victims. A young man died from injuries sustained in a fall from the trestle in 1987. The next year a young man was killed here in February. In 2000 local headlines note another young man killed after falling from the dangerous trestle. With the most recent victim, that makes four, though I suspect there may be more that didn’t immediately appear in newspaper searches. The trestle was constructed in 1929 and there may have been many deaths here over the years.

The exact identity of this murderous creature is also hidden in lore. Some stories make the connection between this creature and the Goatman that haunts the woods of Prince George’s County, Maryland. That creature is supposed to have escaped from a Beltsville, MD government lab, though the creature must do quite a bit of traveling between the two locations. Other stories indicate that the Goatman is the product of an illicit relationship between a local farmer and a member of his flock. Still other stories note that there may have been some type of Satanic ritual involved. The tale of a traveling circus involved in a railroad accident near here tells of the escape of a freak from the car carrying the circus’ freak show is also mentioned as an explanation for the monster here.

In 1988, Louisville filmmaker Ron Schildknecht premiered his short film, The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster. Norfolk Southern immediately expressed concern that the film might encourage locals to trespass on the trestle. Schildknecht added a note about this to the film to appease the railroad. It does appear that the film and the ensuing controversy served to stir up interest in the legend and perhaps add a bit to it.

Walking along railroad tracks, bridges, and trestles is considered trespassing. While these places are seemingly open to the public, they are private railroad property. The young woman killed at Pope Lick isn’t the isn’t the first ghost hunter or legend tripper killed on railroad property in recent years. In 2010, as a group of ghost hunters explored Bostian Bridge near Statesville, North Carolina, a train appeared and one of the young men was struck and killed by it. The victim pushed a young woman to safety and she was injured in the fall. This group of ghost hunters were looking for the ghost train that is known to appear here reliving the horrific train crash that occurred here in 1891.

Pope Lick Trestle may be safely viewed if one travels down Pope Lick Road. A walking trail also parallels the road and passes under the trestle as well. Do not trespass on the trestle! If you hear the siren call of the Goat Man of Pope Lick Trestle, shut your ears and leave the area, he may be calling you to your death.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Kentucky: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Bluegrass State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2009.
  • Bryant, Judy. “Trestle of death: Film depicting legend stirs fear of life imitating art.” The Courier-Journal. 30 December 1988.
  • Bryant, Judy and Lisa Jessie. “Film puts Pope Lick trestle” fatal attraction in the spotlight.” The Courier-Journal. 4 January 1989.
  • Gast, Phil. “’Ghost train’ hunter killed by train in North Carolina.” 28 August 2010.
  • Gee, Dawna. “Numerous urban legends tell of Louisville’s Goat Man.” WAVE3. 9 May 2014.
  • Holland, Jeffrey Scott. Weird Kentucky. NYC: Sterling, 2008.
  • Kuwicki, Holden. “Local legend may have contributed to Pope Lick death. 25 April 2016.
  • Strikler, Lon. “The Pope Lick Monster’s Deadly Trestle.” Phantoms and Monsters Blog. 30 May 2014.
  • Tangonan, Shannon. “19-year-old does after falling from railroad trestle.” The Courier-Journal. 7 November 2000.
  • Wilder, Annie. Trucker Ghost Stories. NYC: Tor, 2012.
  • Yoo, Sharon and John Paxton. “Coroner: Woman killed by train while investigating ‘goatman’ myth.” KLTV. 23 April 2016.

Death at the train station—Bristol, Virginia

Bristol Train Station
101 Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard

 “I’m a thousand miles away from home just waitin’ for a train.”
–Jimmie Rodgers, “Waitin’ for a train,” 1928

Until it was replaced by the interstate highway system, the railroad was the predominant mode of transportation in the nation for more than a century. For small towns and communities, the train station served as a link with the outside world and, even deeper, as a place of transition. From these stations, children began the transition to adulthood, leaving behind provincial life to pursue opportunities in the larger world. All who left would be changed; some for the better, some for the worse and some would never return.

Still, others would transition from life to death at the very beginning of their journeys: they would find death awaiting them at the train station.

Bristol’s State Street straddles the state line between Tennessee and Virginia,  with the street’s north side in Virginia and its south side in Tennessee. Originally part of a large plantation, the land now occupied by the town was developed once the owner was notified that two railroads would be converging at that spot. Joseph R. Anderson—son-in-law to the plantation’s owner—erected a home and business house just south of what is now State Street, directly across the street for what would become the site for the town’s train station.

haunted Bristol Train Station Virginia ghosts
A train pulls into the Bristol Station on a cold morning. Photo 2013 by Hunterrr, courtesy of Flickr.

The first train pulled into the original depot at this site in 1856. With it, the train brought decades of prosperity to the town. Local historian, V. N. “Bud” Phillips, notes that, “there would have been no Bristol had it not been for the coming of the railroad.” The massive brick station that currently stands was constructed in 1902 and is the third building on the site. Once passenger service ended in 1969, the depot was used briefly for shopping and dining but then stood empty for some years. In 1999, the Romanesque structure was purchased by a foundation and renovated into an events facility.

The great country singer, Jimmie Rodgers began his transition here from itinerant musician and railroad employee to the Father of Country Music when he stepped from a train in 1927 and recorded two songs in a makeshift local studio. Those two songs would inspire a recording career that would propel Rodgers into history.

While no longer the scene of arrivals and departures, there remain some lingering spirits from those who made dramatic transitions at this spot.

On the platform of the previous depot, a young lady, Emma Tompkins, stood with her travel bag on the morning of May 5, 1887. Her good-for-nothing husband, “Big Will,” cajoled her to stay. Emma had spent the previous night, like many nights, alone while her husband caroused among the town’s saloons and brothels. In despair, Emma had finally decided to leave her husband and join her sister in Radford, Virginia.

As she marched herself towards the station, Emma encountered her husband and he followed her to the station platform. With the train pulling into the station, Big Will grabbed the arm of his wife and the couple tumbled onto the track. Emma screamed but it was cut short as the train decapitated her. Her husband was cut in half by the train. Emma’s spirit joined the throng of spirits that already flit through the vast halls of the station.

haunted Bristol Train Station Virginia ghosts
Bristol Train Station, 2008, by Tim Emerson. Courtesy of Flickr.

One ghost hunting organization somehow determined that some 68 spirits haunt the building. Besides Emma’s wailing spirit, the spirit of a man by the name of Joseph Chalmers King has been known to appear in the building. Dressed in black pants, a white shirt, bowtie, and derby hat, the spirit is apparently still waiting on his lost lady-love to arrive. King’s spirit was known to appear when southwestern trains would pull into the depot. His last known appearance was in 1969, when the last southwestern train pulled in.

Throughout the building it still seems there is activity from former railroad passengers. In 2008, the building’s manager clearly heard the main door open followed by footsteps across the great hall. Peering down from a balcony near his office, the manager was unable to see anyone present and was shocked to hear a cough from the invisible being. He also reports the sounds of people talking, coins rattling in an unseen pocket, a clock that always stopped at 8:50 PM, and elevators moving without passengers.

The paranormal group, HAUNT Paranormal (Hunting and Understanding National Terrors), investigated the building in 2010, which was documented by a reporter from the Bristol Herald Courier. Apparently, the group captured an EVP of a scream, perhaps the same scream that escaped the throat of Emma Tompkins before her neck was severed by the train’s iron wheels.

A 2011 investigation by Appalachian Truth Seekers was featured on an episode in season four of My Ghost Story: Caught on Camera. The episode concentrates on a few pieces of evidence by that group. The most compelling piece of evidence is a video that was captured by accident. One of the investigators was testing out a video camera in what appears to be one of the station’s main halls. In the few seconds of video, a dark figure moves past an upstairs doorway. At the time, none of the investigators or station staff were upstairs.

While investigating the station’s basement, a female investigator was shoved by something that she claims rushed her. After she became angry and told the spirit to stop, an EVP was captured proclaiming that “I did not do it. Not here, not me.”

While the station has transitioned into its modern usage as an events facility, it seems that the spirits residing there may still be trying to make the transition into the afterlife.

In this blog, I have covered several other locations in Bristol, Tennessee/Virginia. Two theatres on State Street–the Paramount Center for the Performing Arts on the Tennessee side, and the Cameo Theatre on the Virginia side–have been covered in my article, “Phantoms of the Operas, Y’all–13 Haunted Southern Theatres.” I have also covered East Hill Cemetery, which straddles the state line.

Sources

  • Appalachian Truth Seekers. “Appalachian Truth Seekers Case—Bristol Virginia Train Station Summary.” 3 December 2011.
  • “End of the Line.” My Ghost Story: Caught on Camera. Biography Channel. 12 May 2012. Season 4, Episode 6.
  • Galofaro, Clare. “Ghost hunters gather at Bristol station.” Bristol Herald Courier. 1 March 2010.
  • History. Bristol Train Station. Accessed 5 February 2014.
  • Jimmie Rodgers (country singer). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 5 February 2014.
  • Phillips, Bud. “History of Bristol.” org. Accessed 5 February 2014.
  • Phillips, Bud. “Tragedy at The Depot Claimed Bristol Couple.” Bristol Herald Courier. 22 March 2009.
  • Tennis, Joe. Haunts of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Highlands. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2010.
  • Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission Staff. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the Bristol Union Railway Station. August 1980.

See the Maco Light, Onstage!

The influence of the American South on the artistic world is immense: not only feeding artists into the world but inspiring, influencing and even producing artistic offspring. The American stage has been just as duly influenced by the South, though possibly to a lesser extent than other artistic realms. The South has produced numerous actors and actresses to grace its boards such as Huntsville, Alabama’s Tallulah Bankhead; Harlem, Georgia’s Oliver Hardy and Charleston, South Carolina’s Stephen Colbert. Columbus, Mississippi, a city with an especially interesting history produced one of America’s greatest playwrights, Tennessee Williams, whose work has influenced generations of writers and other artists. Louisville, Kentucky has, in recent decades, gained influence on the American stage with the annual Humana Festival of New American Plays. This festival has brought notice to a whole new legion of American playwrights and promoted new plays such as Donald Margulies’ Dinner with Friends, Jane Martin’s Keeley and Du and Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart.

But the South is not only influential through its artistically bent sons and daughters, its culture is inspiring. The South is an important setting. Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Crimes of the Heart, for example, is set in Hazlehurst, Mississippi and involves a trio of sisters from a dysfunctional Southern family. Even more well known is Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias which was adapted into a film of the same name. Taking place solely within the confines of Truvy’s Beauty Shop in Natchitoches, Louisiana, the play revolves around a few months in the lives of the female staff and clientele. Even musicals have sprouted from incidents in Southern history such as Adam Guettel’s Floyd Collins (based on the death of amateur spelunker Floyd Collins who died after getting stuck in a cave near Mammoth Cave, Kentucky), Jason Robert Brown’s Parade (based on the trial and execution of Leo Frank, a northern Jew, who was accused of the murder of 13 year-old Mary Phagan, a young factory worker in Atlanta in 1913) and Kander and Ebb’s The Scottsboro Boys (based on the landmark case of nine African-American men accused of raping two white women in Alabama in 1931).

Of course, the folklore of the South has been incorporated into many plays as well and that brings us (finally!) to a new play that has just opened in Chicago. At its heart, Bekah Brunstetter’s Take Her to See the Maco Lights revolves around the Maco Light, a spectral light seen near Maco, North Carolina. According to the notice on Broadway World.com, the play “follows a pair of young lovers along a dark railroad track where the past and future converge. [… the story] weaves a ghostly love story with characters who are on a crash course to a certain stretch of overgrown railroad tracks in North Carolina.” A special May 17th performance of the play is preceded by a local walking tour hosted by paranormal researcher and writer Ursula Bielski, whose Chicago books I would highly recommend.

Ghost lights are found throughout the world and the American South is not immune from this phenomena. From the Oviedo Lights in Florida to the Hebron Light in Maryland, ghost lights have lit up dark country roads and mountainsides. Perhaps the most famous of these lights are the Brown Mountain lights in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, but the Maco Light on the coast of the state come in a close second, fame-wise.

The legend of the Maco Light begins in 1867, in the dark days just after the Civil War. A train passing on the Wilmington and Manchester line near Maco Station in Brunswick County somehow had its caboose come uncoupled. The caboose, a car at the end of trains that provided living and office space for train crews, had a lone crewman, Joe Baldwin, asleep inside. When the car slowed down and stopped, Baldwin was awakened. Shortly, he was horrified to hear the sound of an approaching train and fearing calamity; Baldwin grabbed a lantern and stood on the back of the caboose swinging the lantern wildly to alert the oncoming locomotive. The train did not slow down and plowed into the caboose. Baldwin’s body was crushed and legend has it he was decapitated by the accident. While his body was recovered, his head was never located.

According to some sources, strange lights were first seen in the area just days after the accident. The mysterious lights were a popular attraction for locals and gained some fame from a presidential sighting in 1889. Grover Cleveland told his story in Washington after seeing the lights from his presidential Pullman car. Tony Reevy recounts in his Ghost Train! American Railroad Ghost Legends what most viewers witnessed:

Viewers who saw the light always reported the same thing: the light flared up way down the track, crept towards the observer, then speeded up and began swinging side-to-side. Finally, the light stopped abruptly, hovered for a minute, retreated back to where it started from and vanished. The light always appeared three feet above the left rail, facing east. It was sometimes so distinct that you could see the metal guards of a railroad hand lantern. The light didn’t appear every night. It seemed to appear randomly according to old Joe’s whims.

The tracks were a part of the Wilmington and Manchester Railroad which was acquired not long after the accident by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. The line later became the Seaboard Coast Line. Later mergers added the line to the thousands of miles of rail owned by CSX which took up these tracks in 1977. Sightings of the light are reported to have ceased around that time.

But have they? North Carolina paranormal investigation group, NC HAGS (North Carolina Haints, Apparitions, Ghosts and Spirits) investigated the area in 2007. Following up on recent reports of people seeing the Maco Light, the group investigated and captured an odd image. Most photographs taken that evening turned out quite dark with little to be seen but one photograph taken just after an investigator asked Joe Baldwin to appear, shows a series of lights that seem to resemble the silhouette of a man. Is Joe Baldwin still stalking the site of the old Maco tracks? At least for now you may have to either venture out to the bug-ridden coastal piney woods of North Carolina or you may sit in an air-conditioned theatre in Chicago to answer that question.

Sources