An Incident at the Siam Steel Bridge—Elizabethton, Tennessee

Site of the Siam Steel Bridge
Steel Bridge Road over the Watauga River
Elizabethton, Tennessee

An ugly, modern concrete bridge now crosses the Watauga River in the Siam Valley outside of Elizabethton, Tennessee. This crossing was formerly occupied by an impressive steel bridge that was constructed in 1941. Stories, with many historical inaccuracies, have circulated for decades.

Siam Steel Bridge Elizabethton Tennessee haunted ghost
The Siam Steel Bridge, July 2008, by Calvin Sneed. Courtesy of Bridgehunter.com.

The most common story speaks of a time just after the construction of the bridge, when the area was a popular “Lovers’ Lane” of sorts. A young couple was spending time underneath the bridge one night when they were attacked by a vagrant. The couple was stabbed with the young lady dying on the spot, while the young man was able to hail a passing car and climb into the back seat. He was rushed to the hospital where he passed away. According to the story, the police spent more than a year looking for the assailant, but to no avail.

The imminent Tennessee folklorist Charles Edwin Price published an account of this story in his 1992 book, Haints, Witches, and Boogers: Tales from Upper East Tennessee, though some of his details are inaccurate. He dates the murder to the 1920s or 1930s, before the actual construction of the bridge and he provides names for the young couple, Tom Jackson and Wanda Smithson.

In his short, but excellently researched eBook, Weird Tri-Cities: Haunted Carter County, Tennessee, researcher and investigator Justin H. Guess delved into local records on this murder only to discover that there were none. He did, however come across the marvelous account of an incident at the bridge experienced by a sheriff’s deputy. This account was published in a HubPages article published in 2008. Bracketed comments are mine.

On July 18th, 1977, the first report of paranormal activity was documented. Beecher Davis, a Gate City, Virginia [in Scott County, about 40 miles north of Elizabethton] sheriff’s deputy, arrived at the Carter County Sheriff’s department around 1:42am in a panic. He stated that he was driving over the steel bridge when the passenger’s side door flew open and then slammed shut. He slammed on the brakes and noticed an indention in the passenger’s seat, as if someone were sitting there. He then caught a glimpse in his mirror of a dark figure that appeared to be wearing a dark cloak and hood. He said that it appeared to be inching closer to the car, but it didn’t look like it was walking. He stated at that point, he got out of the car and nothing was there. He became even more startled at that point and drove off to the Sheriff’s station.

Joey Parsons, the author of the HubPages article, states that this was the first documented experience of some 185 that have been documented over the years. Sadly, he doesn’t include who is doing the documenting.

In recent years, the one lane bridge was deemed structurally deficient and in 2010 was demolished and replaced with a less charming and attractive sibling bridge. It is unknown if paranormal activity has continued at the site.

Sources

  • Guess, Justin H. Weird Tri-Cities: Haunted Carter County, Tennessee. com. 2012.
  • Parsons, Joey. “A Great American Haunting: The Watauga River Bridge.” 23 September 2008.
  • Price, Charles Edwin. Haints, Witches, and Boogers: Tales from Upper East Tennessee. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1992.
  • Siam Steel Bridge.” Bridgehunter.com. Accessed 14 April 2019.

Two Spiritually Scarred Landscapes in South Georgia

Scarring takes on many forms. On the human body scars can be physical reminders of accidents or trauma or they can work their way deep into the viscera, affecting emotions, the spirit, or the psyche.

With the physical environment, while we may see the visible degradation of a landscape, but we don’t often consider the spiritual scars that may be left after traumatic events. Ghastly murders, battles, accidents, massacres, and the like rend the spiritual fabric of a place, causing activity that we may deem as beyond the reach of the normal.

In 1977, an intrepid writer published her experiences in a spiritually scarred landscape in The Atlanta Journal and Constitution Magazine.

Joined by a brave friend, the writer sat on the marshy edge of Dunbar Creek on St. Simons Island, Georgia as night descended. Intoxicated by the pungent salty odor of the marshes, the thrum of insects, and the calling of marsh birds, the pair began to hear the rhythmic clank of metal. Out of this aural soup the sound of the thwack of bare feet on the muddy creek bank began to rise and soon a descant of chanting began to ring above that rhythm.

The pair could not distinguish the language, but the chanting was filled with pain, despair, and longing for freedom. Frightened out of their wits, the two fled to the safety of their Volkswagen.

This place, known as Ebo Landing, has been known to be haunted since the grim day in May 1803 when a host of Ebo tribesmen drowned themselves rather than submit to the slavery of their new white masters in this strange land.

A scenic view of a marsh on St. Simons Island, by Paul Conklin, 1973. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

The tribesmen had been ripped from their homeland in what is now Nigeria and forced to endure the cruel Middle Passage where they were stuffed into the bowels of crude slave ships. Emerging into the sunlight, they were marched onto the auction block in Savannah to be sold in front a sea of white faces.

Having been purchased by representatives of St. Simons Island planters Thomas Spaulding and John Couper, the tribesmen were taken aboard a schooner for transport to their owners’ plantations.

In some versions of the legend during the voyage south, the tribesmen rebelled and, after they threw the crewmen overboard, the ship became grounded at the mouth of Dunbar Creek. Nonetheless, the voyage ended at this lonely, marshy spot.

Still chained together the tribesmen walked into the water chanting to their deity Chukwu, “the Water Spirit brought us here, the Water Spirit will take us home.” Roswell King, the overseer from Pierce Butler’s nearby plantation and subsequently the founder of Roswell, Georgia, wrote of the incident that the men simply, “took to the swamp.”

This collective suicide was not a vainglorious act and it has been enshrined in folklore both in African-American and African culture. Over time, the story has evolved with the tribesmen transforming themselves into birds and flying home. During the Great Depression, a version of this story was documented by the Works Progress Administration’s Writers’ Project. An elderly resident of the island told this version of the story:

Ain’t you heard about them? Well, at that time Mr. Blue he was the overseer and . . . Mr. Blue he go down one morning with a long whip for to whip them good. . . . Anyway, he whipped them good and they got together and stuck that hoe in the field and then . . . rose up in the sky and turned themselves into buzzards and flew right back to Africa. . . . Everybody knows about them.

This fantastic account has been utilized by a number of prominent African-American writers including Toni Morrison.

The Ebo Landing site is still unmarked by any type of sign or monument, though the place remains spiritually scarred and locals still speak of the clanking of chains, the thwack of bare feet in the mud, and the ghostly chanting heard here.

Postcard, circa 1930-45, showing Ebo Landing in the moonlight. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Tichnor Brothers Collection.

The grim specter of slavery has left spiritual scars on the landscape throughout the South. In Effingham County, west of Savannah, is the small town of Springfield. Just outside town, the lazy waters of Ebenezer Creek slowly wend their way among pine and cypress towards the Savannah River.

However, these normally lethargic waters flowed violently and turbulently after heavy rains in December of 1864. After his capture of Atlanta, General Sherman was moving swiftly towards Savannah, which he would offer as a Christmas present to President Lincoln.

Through winter rains that turned Georgia roads into quagmires of red mud, Sherman’s generals cut four swathes through the landscape destroying military targets, industry, and civilian property as they moved. As the blue tide swept through the state, newly freed slaves began to trickle in behind the soldiers. Bound up in the jubilation of freedom, these masses of men, women, and children began to oppress the soldiers’ movements.

General Jefferson Davis, a Union general with no relation to the Confederate President, led the 14th Corps as they slogged through the swamps along the Savannah River. Arriving at the banks of Ebenezer Creek, Davis found the creek at near flood stage. He ordered his engineers to erect a pontoon bridge to allow his men to cross but posted armed sentinels to prevent the refugees from crossing.

Confederates had been dogging the Union invaders and rumors spread that General Joseph Wheeler’s men where rapidly approaching, heightening the urgency to cross the rain-swollen creek.

Irritated by the former slaves slowing his advance, the pro-slavery Union general ordered that the bridge be cut after the last man crossed. The corps’ chaplain described the scene:

There went up from that multitude a cry of agony. Someone shouted, “Rebels,” and they made a wild rush…some of them plunged into the water and swam across. Others ran wildly up and down the bank, shaking with terror.

A private from Minnesota noted that at least a hundred former slaves “huddled as close to the edge of the water as they could get, some crying, some praying, and all fearful that the rebels would come before they could get over.”

Improvising rafts and ropes, many waded out into the water and some made it across, but others were swept into the swift current. Horrified by the scene, soldiers tossed logs and branches into the muddy waters, but could not save all who were pulled downstream.

Some of Wheeler’s men did eventually appear and they fired upon the terrified throng huddled on the creek bank. A few slaves were killed, while many of the others were recaptured and returned to their owners.

Union soldiers, stunned by the bitter scene, reported the incident to their superiors, but General Davis was never brought to justice for his role in the humanitarian crisis.

Just like on the banks of Ebo Landing, locals continue to report spiritual scars among the pines and cypress along Ebenezer Creek. Here, anguished screams and cries are still heard at this spot where so many died trying to wade in the water towards the nebulous promise of freedom.

Sources

  • Davis, Burke. Sherman’s March. NYC: Random House, 1980.
  • Green, Michelle. “Keeping watch at Ibo Landing.” Atlanta Journal and Constitution Magazine. 30 October 1977.
  • Hobbs, Larry. “Igbo Landing a defiant act for freedom.” The Brunswick News. 22 July 2017.
  • Igbo Landing. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 6 November 2018.
  • Miles, Jim. Civil War Ghosts of Central Georgia and Savannah. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Powell, Timothy B. “Ebos Landing.” The New Georgia Encyclopedia. 15 June 2004.

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.

Alabama Hauntings—County by County, Part II

One of my goals with this blog is to provide coverage of ghost stories and haunted places in a comprehensive manner. Perhaps one of the best ways to accomplish this is to examine ghost stories county by county, though so far, researching in this manner has been difficult. In my 2015 book, Southern Spirit Guide’s Haunted Alabama, I wanted to include at least one location for every county, though a lack of adequate information and valid sources prevented me from reaching that goal. In the end, my book was published covering only 58 out of 67 counties.

Further research has uncovered information for a few more counties and on Halloween of 2017, Kelly Kazek published an article on AL.com covering the best-known ghost story for every county. Thanks to her excellent research, I’ve almost been able to achieve my goal for the state.

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

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

Chilton County

Refuge Bridge
County Road 32 over Walnut Creek
Clanton

Stories of this rural, one lane bridge being haunted have spread across the internet for years. The only published source on this bridge, Rich Newman’s 2016 Haunted Bridges, appears to draw from these unverified reports. Visitors to the bridge at night are supposed to encounter ghost lights and a malevolent spirit that has been known to pursue those who dare to step out of their cars.

Sources

  • Newman, Rich. Haunted Bridges. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2016.

Choctaw County

Tombigbee River
Near Pennington

Year after year in the early spring, law enforcement near Pennington receives calls about a boat burning on the river. There was a boat that burned on the river near here in a spectacular fire in 1858, the famous Eliza Battle. The river had begun its annual journey outside its banks when the Eliza Battle set its course from Columbus, Mississippi to Mobile loaded with cotton and many passengers. Mrs. Windham describes the journey as starting on a gay note with a band playing as the ship steamed out of Columbus. As evening descended, fireworks were launched, but the weather soon deteriorated.

Tombigbee River below Moscow Landing in 1888, near the site of the Eliza Battle’s demise. Photo by Eugene Allen Smith.

The New York Times notes that a fire broke out around 2 AM on March 1st among the bales of cotton in the ship’s cargo hold. Spreading quickly, the fire severed the ship’s tiller rope rendering the vessel rudderless. As it burned, the boat drifted into the submerged forest along the banks of the river. Some of the passengers were able to grab onto the branches of the submerged trees while many others jumped into the frigid waters. Locals near the river were roused by the screams of the passengers and quickly organized to offer aid. The exact number of lives lost is still not known, but it estimated to be between 25 and 50. However, the burning Eliza Battle still reappears accompanied by the panicked screams of its passengers to remind us of the tragedy.

Sources

  • “Area rich in ghost stories, folk lore.” Demopolis Times. 30 October 2008.
  • “Burning of the Steamer Eliza Battle.” New York Times. 12 March 1858.
  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Ward, Rufus. “Ask Rufus: Ghosts of the Tombigbee.” The Dispatch (Columbus, MS). 25 October 2014.
  • Windham, Kathryn Tucker and Margaret Gillis Figh. 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama, 1969.

Clarke County

Mount Nebo Cemetery
Mount Nebo Road

The Alabama Ghost Trail website lists this rural cemetery as being haunted, though it seems that it may just be especially creepy. This cemetery features four unique gravestones created by local African-American inventor and “brilliant recluse” Isaac Nettles. In these gravestones for family members, Settles includes a “death mask” of the deceased and, in the case of his wife’s grave, the visages of their daughters. These faces, made from impressions done while the subjects were alive, appear to press through from inside the concrete markers. These markers are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and are at the heart of the folk art tradition in this state.

Sources

  • Ghost Trail.” SW Alabama Regional Office of Tourism and Film. Accessed 25 May 2015.
  • Semmer, Blythe and Trina Brinkley. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for the Isaac Nettles Gravestone. 24 August 1999.

Clay County

Hudson House (private)
Ashland

This abandoned farmhouse is not unlike the quietly decaying abandoned homes and buildings that line Southern byways, except that it is the only well-known haunting in this rural county. Constructed in 1905, this home was built by Charles and William Hudson for their brother, John. Visitors to the home have encountered the sounds of a baby crying, growling, and odd sounds emanating from within the empty house. While the address of this home has been widely publicized, please note that visiting this house without permission of the landowners does constitute trespassing.

Sources

Cleburne County

Bald Rock Group Lodge
Cheaha State Park
19644 AL-281
Delta

Nestled within the state’s oldest continuously operating state park, the Bald Rock Group Lodge was constructed as part of several park features built by workers of the New Deal-sponsored Civilian Conservation Corps in 1939. This historic structure was probed for paranormal activity by the Oxford Paranormal Society in 2007. The group captured some audio and video evidence including a replace lighting up mysteriously. Members of the investigative team also witnessed a door opening and then slamming shut by itself. This door was found to be dead bolted when the team examined it moments later.

Sources

  • Oxford Paranormal Society. Paranormal Investigation Report for Bald Rock Lodge—Mt. Cheaha. Accessed 21 May 2015.
  • Ress, Thomas V. “Cheaha State Park.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. 6 April 2010.
 

Coffee County

Old Coffee County Jail
329 Putnam Street
Elba

By their natures, jails and prisons often hold negative energy. As places of confinement, these places absorb the negative energy and attitudes from the criminals held here. The suicides and murders that sometimes take place within the walls of these facilities add to the negativity that accumulates. The Old Coffee County Jail has been the scene of several tragedies including suicides and the murder of the county sheriff here in 1979.

Built in 1912, this building served Coffee County for many decades until a flood in 1990 led to its closure. On the morning of March 1, 1979, as Sheriff C. F. “Neil” Grantham arrived for work, a young man approached and shot him three times, killing him just outside the building. The shooter was later apprehended and originally sentenced to death, though he was able to get his sentence commuted to life imprisonment.

Tragedy still haunts the halls of the jail which have been investigated by R.I.P. Investigations. Investigators have caught EVPs within the building as well as communicated with spirits through the use of a Spirit Box. One investigator encountered a malevolent entity which left three long scratches on his back.

Sources

Colbert County

Colbert Ferry Park
Natchez Trace Parkway Milepost 327.3
At the Tennessee River
Cherokee

As the Natchez Trace passed through the territory of the Chickasaw, a pair of native brothers and chiefs, George and Levi Colbert, set up “stands” or inns and a ferry across the river to provide for travelers. Later, the brothers’ surname would be used to name this county. The site of George Colbert’s stand and ferry is now Colbert Ferry Park.

Fire destroyed the stand many years ago, and nothing remains but spiritual activity. Here visitors have had their hair and clothing tugged, and they have heard disembodied voices. Author Bud Steed and his wife experienced some of this activity when they visited in 2011. Around the site, the woods continue to stalked by native spirits, and spectral canoes have been observed on the river.

Sources

  • Crutchfield, James A. The Natchez Trace: A Pictorial History. Nashville, TN: Rutledge Hill Press, 1985.
  • Steed, Bud. Haunted Natchez Trace. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2012.

Conecuh County

Castleberry Bank Building
Corner of Cleveland Avenue and West Railroad Street
Castleberry

Those who have been inside this building in the small town of Castleberry remark that there is a heaviness in the air. Lee Peacock, a local reporter and blogger, noted that the building gave him and the investigative team with him a sense of “claustrophobia.” Perhaps the feeling of dread and terror felt by a bank president during the Great Depression still pervades this place where he took his life.

The scent of cigar smoke and the low, muffled voices of men talking still cling to the air here. Originally constructed as a bank and serving later as a post office and town museum, the building is currently closed.

Sources

Coosa County

Oakachoy Covered Bridge site
Covered Bridge Road
Equality

Travelers on the road from Rockford, the seat of Coosa County, to Dadeville forded Oakachoy Creek here for decades. To aid travelers in crossing the creek, a small covered bridge was built here in 1916 and carried traffic across the creek until vandals burned the picturesque bridge in 2001.

While the bridge still stood, legend spoke of an African-American man being hung on this bridge. As a result of this heinous act, odd things would happen to vehicles parked on the bridge including door handles being shaken and engines dying inexplicably. With the loss of the bridge, this activity has expanded to the land around the bridge site and may include a shadow figure making its way through the forest.

Sources

  • Newman, Rich. Haunted Bridges. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2016.

Covington County

Old Covington County Jail
Behind the Covington County Courthouse
101 North Court Square
Andalusia

In contrast to the grace of the grand, Beaux Arts-style Covington County Courthouse, the building that once housed the jail is severe and linear, perhaps belying its residents’ fall from grace. The building is angular with a few Italianate touches to soften its harsh lines. The jail’s construction followed the completion of the courthouse in 1916. Among the many people whose shadows darkened the threshold, is country singer Hank Williams, who spent a few nights.

The old jail is now primarily the haunt of spirits. The Alabama Paranormal Research Team, led by Faith Serafin, probed the building twice in 2009 obtaining some interesting evidence. The group captured the distinct sound of cell doors closing and disembodied voices as well as observing a shadowy figure in an upper cell. When asked if she thought the building was haunted, Serafin told a local reporter, “That place is haunted beyond a shadow of a doubt. There’s too much evidence, and it’s haunted by more than a few ghosts.”

Sources

  • Conner, Martha A. & Steven M. Kay. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for Covington County Courthouse and Jail District. 28 January 1988.
  • Nelson, Stephanie. ”Ghostbusters.” Andalusia Star- News. 10 July 2009.
  • Serafin, Faith. Haunted Montgomery, Alabama. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.

A Big Fish of a Ghost Tale–Albany, Georgia

From the banks of the Flint River in Albany, Georgia, this ghost tale made the rounds of newspapers throughout the country in 1888. According to Dale Cox at the Explore Southern History blog, this story first appeared on July 9th of that year. Cox mentions that the tale of the headless equine is a holdover from Medieval culture and the spirit in the story is usually that of a woman cursed by God for her great sins. Whatever the origin of this spirit, ghosts do remain along the Flint as it passes through Albany especially in Bridge House, the home to the city’s welcome center.

Broad Avenue Bridge over the Flint River in Albany. Photo 2015, by Michael Rivera, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Wilson Mirror
Wilson, North Carolina
22 August 1888

 A FISHING STORY.

 How Dink Melvin was Haunted by a Headless Horse.

 Everybody in Albany knows Dink Melvin, the fisherman and boatman, and doubtless every one who has ever been on a fishing expedition with him up the Muckalee or Kinchafoonee has heard the story he tells about a ghost that haunts the banks of the river in the vicinity of the Fair Grounds, says the Albany News and Advertiser.

The ghost that Dink describes most eloquently is in the shape of big white horse without a head. The horse is perfect in shape except he has no head, and Dink says that he has been seeing it for the five or six years. Its trysting place is along the river banks in the vicinity of the Fair Grounds, and Dink says that he can show it to any man that will go with him after nightfall. If he gets in his boat and rows across the river the big white horse follows him to a certain place, and then disappears. It has given him several bad frights, and one Sunday evening as he was returning from the creeks above, the thing came right up to his boat and seemed to be trying to put its fore feet in. Dink says that he has been scared a good many times, but this was the worse fright he had ever had in his life.

The reporter was one of a fishing party that camped on the Muckalee one night last week, and heard Dink tell this wonderful story.

“I’d just like to see some man that had the grit to shoot at the thing, but I wouldn’t care to close to be him when he done it,” said Dink.

“Well, sir, you take me there and show it to me, and I’ll shoot at it,” said the scribe.

“No, sir; boys don’t you do it,” interrupted Harrison Pettis, the scribe’s faithful boatman, from the outer edge of the tent, “Kase I tell you why—I knowed a man what shot at a ghos’, an’ he died in erbout three weeks. No, sir; don’t you shoot dat thing, for I don’t want you to die.”

An engagement was made with Dink to visit the haunted spot, but at the appointed time Dink begged to be excused saying that he was sick and did not feel well enough to take the walk and face the ghost. He then promised to call for the scribe between sundown and dark on the following evening, but he failed to show up.

Sources

A Road of Legend —US-1 in Maryland

Stretching from Key West, the southernmost point in the country to the Canadian border at the St. John River in Fort Kent, Maine, US-1 connects the East Coast. In the South it links together important cities from Miami to Jacksonville, Florida; Augusta, Georgia; Columbia, South Carolina; Raleigh, North Carolina; Richmond and Arlington, Virginia; Washington, D. C.; to Baltimore, Maryland before entering into Yankee territory. It also links historic and haunted cities like St. Augustine, Florida; Aiken and Camden, South Carolina; Petersburg, Fredericksburg, and Alexandria, Virginia before it solemnly passes The Pentagon, with Arlington National Cemetery beyond it, before crossing the Potomac into Washington.

US-1 in Maryland, 2004 by Doug Kerr. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

US-1 may be considered among the most haunted roads in the country. Not only does it directly pass a number of haunted places, but many more can be found within a short drive of this legendary road. This tour samples just a few of the legendary spots found alongside or near this legendary road.

Pig Woman Legend
Cecil County

As US-1 dips south out of Pennsylvania into the countryside of Maryland, it enters Cecil County, the domain of the Pig Woman. According to local folklorist, Ed Okonowicz, the Pig Woman stalks the northern counties of the state as well as the marshes of the Eastern Shore, though the primary setting is usually in Cecil County. Okonowicz’s version of the tale begins near the town of North East where a farmhouse caught fire in the 19th century. The lady of the house was horribly burned in the fire and witnesses watched her flee into the nearby woods. She usually confronts drivers near a certain old bridge and causes cars to stall. The drivers see the specter of the Pig Woman who scratches and beats on the car. Terrified drivers who flee their vehicles are never seen again, though those who stay in their cars are left with horrible memories and odd scratches as well as dents on their vehicles.

This tale has been told around Cecil County for decades with hotspots for Pig Woman encounters being reported around North East, Elkton, and, in the 1960s, near Rising Sun, through which US-1 passes. Matt Lake, author of Weird Maryland, associates this tale with tales from Europe that tell of a woman with a pig-like face, particularly stories that ran rampant in early 19th century London. Despite deep European roots, the Pig Woman Legend remains fairly unique among Southern ghostlore.

Sources

  • Lake, Matt. Weird Maryland. NYC: Sterling Publishing, 2005.
  • Okonowicz, Ed. The Big Book of Maryland Ghost Stories. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2010.
  • Wormuth, Laura. “Decoding the Pig Lady of Elkton legend.” 31 October 2013.

Susquehanna River
At the Conowingo Dam
Between Cecil and Harford Counties

 The Conowingo Dam, built between 1926 and 1928, carries US-1 over the Susquehanna River. Only five miles from the Pennsylvania border, this area was rife with activity when the Underground Railroad was in operation before the Civil War. Slaves seeking freedom in Pennsylvania would ply the river at night looking for red lanterns on the riverbanks that marked the safe houses. Slave catchers also used red lanterns to capture contraband slaves only a scant few miles from freedom in order to return them to their owners. Flimsy rafts were often employed here that led to the drowning deaths of some.

1930s era postcard of the Conowingo Dam. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Along the river, the red lights are supposed to bob and dance on the riverbanks even today while the moans of slaves and even spectral bodies floating in the water are encountered by hikers, campers, and fishermen in the area.

Sources

  • Okonowicz, Ed. Haunted Maryland. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2007.
  • Ricksecker, Mike. Ghosts of Maryland. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2010.

Peddler’s Run
Flowing parallel to Glen Cove Road and MD-440
Near Dublin

On the western side of the river, one of the tributaries offering up its waters to the Susquehanna is named for a ghost; it’s called Peddler’s Run. As the legend states, in 1763 a poor peddler on the Dublin-Stafford Road (now MD-440) was found decapitated near John Bryarley’s Mill on Rocky Run. Locals buried the body near the creek where it was discovered. Not long after the peddler’s burial, his specter was seen walking along the creek without his head. In 1843 a skull was found by another local farmer. Presuming it to be that of the now legendary peddler, the skull was buried with the traveler’s remains. The peddler’s spirit was not seen again, though his name still graces the creek.

Sources

  • Dublin, Maryland. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 17 September 2016.
  • Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory. NYC: Penguin Press, 1995.
  • Varhola, Michael J. and Michael H. Varhola. Ghosthunting Maryland. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2009.

Tudor Hall
17 Tudor Lane
Bel Air

As it hurries towards Baltimore, US-1 passes through the county seat of Harford County, Bel Air. Northeast of downtown is Tudor Hall, the former home of the famous and infamous Booth family. Junius Brutus Booth, one of the greatest American Shakespearian actors of the first half of the 19th century, built this Gothic-style home for his family. In this fine home, Booth’s family were immersed in the family occupation of acting. The halls rang with snippets of Sheridan and Etheredge while family members are supposed to have performed the balcony scene from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet using the balcony on the side of the house. Some of the elder Booth’s children would achieve their own celebrity including his sons Edwin, Junius Brutus Jr., and his daughter, Asia. Booth’s son, John Wilkes, who inherited his father’s fiery personality, would achieve notoriety after he assassinated President Lincoln after the end of the Civil War heaping infamy of Shakespearean proportions on the family name.

As word of Lincoln’s assassination spread, troops began to seek out members of the Booth family. Troops searched Tudor Hall which was still owned by the Booths but being rented to another family. The house passed out of family hands a few years later and has been owned by a host of individuals. Now owned by Harford County, the house is home to the Center for the Arts and is open a few times a month for tours.

Tudor Hall, 1865. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Booth’s legacy has extended from the theatrical realm into the spiritual. The spirits of several Booth family members have been reported throughout the South including John Wilkes Booth’s spirit which may still stalk Ford’s Theatre in Washington and Dr. Mudd’s farm in Waldorf, Maryland, where he was treated for a broken leg after his dastardly deed at the theatre. Legend holds (wrongly so) that Edwin’s dramatic spirit still appears on the stage of Columbus, Georgia’s Springer Opera House where he appeared in the early 1870s as well as in the halls of the Players’ Club in New York City where he died. Junius Brutus Booth’s fiery spirit may still roam the halls of Charleston, South Carolina’s Dock Street Theatre, formerly the Planter Hotel, where he stayed in the 1850s. Appropriately the building was transformed into a theatre in the 1930s.

Of course, the family’s seat in Bel Air may also be haunted by members of the spirited family. One couple who owned the house told the Washington Post in 1980 that they once were greeted by small brown and white pony. The curious creature looked into the couple’s car and then peeked into the house through a rear window. Moments later the creature vanished. The couple believed the animal was the spirit of Junius Booth’s favorite pony, Peacock. The same couple had a dinner party interrupted by spectral antics when a guest asked for seconds. The hosts and their guests were astonished as the top of a cake lifted up and landed at the place of that guest. People who have lived and worked in the house continue to tell stories of unexplained footsteps, voices, and things moving on their own accord with this storied house.

Sources

  • Allen, Bob. “In Maryland, a couple preserves the estate of the ill-starred Booth family.” The Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA). 21 December 1986.
  • Meyer, Eugene L. “House Booth built is slightly spooky.” Washington Post. 10 January 1980.

Perry Hall Mansion
3930 Perry Hall Road
Perry Hall

It is arguable that the namesake of this Baltimore suburb is actually haunted. This grand colonial mansion sat derelict for many years and acquired a reputation of being haunted. The legend that has persisted about this house states that builder of this home and his wife both died on Halloween night in the late 18th century and that in the time since, some 50 other people have died here under mysterious circumstances some of whom still haunt the house. Though, according to the mansion’s website, none of this is true.

Baltimore businessman Harry Dorsey Gough acquired this vast estate in the 1770s and constructed this mansion which he named for his family’s ancestral home in Britain. Gough lived the life of a colonial playboy for a while after Perry Hall was constructed but after a visit to a Methodist meeting in Baltimore, he converted to the new Christian denomination. After distinguishing himself as a planter, businessman and politician, Gough passed away here in May of 1808 (not Halloween as the legend states). The estate remained in the family until 1852 when it began its long journey in the hands of others. Baltimore County acquired the derelict house recently and will be used as a museum and events facility.

In a 2011 article for the Perry Hall Patch Jeffrey Smith, then president of the Friends of Perry Hall Mansion debunked some of the legends around Perry Hall. Using the version of the legend in Matt Lake’s 2006 book, Weird Maryland, Smith breaks down the points of the legend. While there have likely been deaths in the house, the 50 deaths under mysterious circumstances that the legend purports are absurd. Smith notes that the house is hooked up to electricity and lights seen inside may have simply been left on by a previous visitor. Where the legend states that visitors have been unable to capture video of the house is also preposterous. While this house has reasons to be haunted on account of its history, there are no stories to support that assertion.

Sources

  • Coffin, Nelson. “Perry Hall Mansion shuttered while updates considered.” Baltimore Sun. 1 March 2016.
  • History of the Perry Hall Mansion.” Historic Perry Hall Mansion. Accessed 23 September 2016.
  • Lake, Matt. Weird Maryland. NYC: Sterling Publishing, 2004.
  • Smith, Jeffery. “Perry Hall’s most renowned and mistaken ghost story.” 31 October 2011.

Green Mount Cemetery
1501 Greenmount Avenue
Baltimore

As US-1 bypasses downtown Baltimore it forms a northern border for this venerated cemetery. After visiting Boston’s Mount Auburn Cemetery, the first “garden cemetery” in the country, Samuel Walker, a Baltimore merchant, began to draw up plans for a similar cemetery to occupy a former estate called Green Mount. Hiring Benjamin Latrobe, architect for the U.S. Capitol Building, to design this park-like cemetery which opened in 1838. In the decades since, the cemetery has become the resting place for famed statesmen, artists, writers, and military figures, as well as the infamous including John Wilkes Booth who is buried with his family.

Gates of Green Mount Cemetery, 2010, by Pubdog. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

While numerous articles state that Green Mount is haunted, none of them connect specific stories with this august resting place. However, the cemetery has one very interesting connection to the paranormal, the grave of Elijah Bond, the creator of the Ouija Board. It was not until recently that Bond’s grave was marked, appropriately with a stone engraved with his Ouija board design.

Sources

  • “Baltimore headstones, horrors for a hair-raising, haunted Halloween.” The Towerlight (Towson University). 27 October 2013.
  • History.” Green Mount Cemetery. Accessed 23 September 2016.
  • Oordt, Darcy. Haunted Maryland: Dreadful Dwellings, Spine Chilling Sites, and Terrifying Tales. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 2016.

Hilton Mansion
Campus of the Community College of Baltimore County
Catonsville

Hilton 2009, by Pubdog. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

As US-1 leaves Baltimore it swings by the suburb of Catonsville. According to a 2004 lecture given on the haunts of Catonsville, community college faculty held contests to select a member to attempt to spend the night in this haunted mansion. Some encountered the sword-wielding Confederate soldier who is supposed to guard the home’s main staircase. Author Tom Ogden notes that the apparition of a woman wearing a nightgown and holding a candle has also been encountered here. The house dates to the early 19th century, though the interior was completely replaced in the early 20th century. The home now serves as the college’s Center for Global Education.

Sources

  • Hagner-Salava, Melodie. “’Spirited’ talk evokes ghosts of Catonsville’s past.” Catonsville Times. 4 March 2004.
  • Ogden, Tom. Haunted Colleges and Universities: Creepy Campuses Scary Scholars and Deadly Dorms. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 2014.

Historic Savage Mill
8600 Foundry Street
Savage

Located between Baltimore and Laurel, Savage, Maryland is a quiet, unincorporated community on the banks of the Little Patuxent River. Downtown Savage lies between busy I-95 and slightly less busy US-1. The community was created as a mill town providing employees for the Savage Manufacturing Company’s textile mill which was constructed in the 1820s. The mill was in operation for more than a hundred years before it closed just after World War II. The old mill complex was used for the manufacture of Christmas ornaments for a few years before it was purchased for use as a warehouse. In 1985, the mill was reopened as a venue for boutiques, restaurants, and antiques dealers.

Aerial view of Savage Mill and the Little Patuxent River, 1970, by William E. Barrett for the Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

The mill has since become one of the driving forces for tourism to the area drawing more than a million people in 2010, but not all those people are attracted by shopping and attractions at the mill, some are brought because of the ghosts. The owners of the mill started ghost tours in the mid-2000s to capitalize on the ghost stories surrounding the mill complex.

Throughout the mill complex, spirits of former millworkers still linger. Merchants and patrons of the mill have heard their names called, been tripped by the puckish little girl’s spirit on the steps of the New Weave Building, seen faces at the windows, or perhaps encountered the spirit of Rebecca King who fell down the steps in the mill’s tower.

Sources

  • Alexander, Sandy. “Using the supernatural to sell Howard County.” Baltimore Sun. 4 October 2004.
  • “Ghostly history.” Washington Times. 23 October 2004.
  • Hoo, Winyan Soo. “At Maryland’s Savage Mill, history and commerce converge.” Washington Post. 28 April 2016.

St. John’s Episcopal Church
11040 Baltimore Avenue
Beltsville

Like a moralizing parent looking over wild children, St. John’s Episcopal Church presides over the sprawl of US-1 (known as Baltimore Avenue here) as it passes through Beltsville. During the Civil War this commanding site featured a Federal artillery battery. The wife of a rector here in the 1970s recorded a number of experiences with spirits both in the church and in the churchyard. One evening while the wife and her children picked flowers in the churchyard they were startled to hear the sounds of a service coming from the church. After intently listening, the family entered the sanctuary to find it darkened and empty.

Sources

  • Carter, Dennis. “Hunting for haunts.” The Gazette. 25 October 2007.

Tawes Fine Arts Building
Campus of the University of Maryland
College Park

Moving south out of Beltsville, US-1 passes through College Park and the University of Maryland Campus. Though no longer home to the Department of Theatre, the Tawes Fine Arts Building retains its theatre and recital hall. The current home to the university’s English department, the building may still also retain its resident spook. Not long after the building’s opening in 1965, students began noticing the sound of footsteps in the empty theatre and would occasionally have mischievous jokes played on them, seemingly from beyond.

With quite a population of resident ghosts on campus, the university archivists have started documenting the stories. According to one of the archivists quoted in Michael J. and Michael H. Varhola’s Ghosthunting Maryland, Mortimer, Tawes’ ghost, may actually be a dog rather than a human spirit. According to campus lore, Mortimer was brought into the theatre during its construction and would frolic on the stage. The theatre’s seats had yet to be completely installed and the house was filled with metal frames the seats would be attached to. The frolicsome canine jumped from the stage into the house and impaled himself on one of the frames. Supposedly, he was buried in the building’s basement.

Sources

  • Okonowicz, Ed. The Big Book of Maryland Ghost Stories. Mechanicsburg, PA, Stackpole, 2010.
  • Tawes TheatreWikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 5 April 2013.
  • Varhola, Michael J. and Michael H. Ghosthunting Maryland. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2009.

Bladensburg Dueling Ground
Bladensburg Road and 38th Street
Colmar Manor

When Washington outlawed dueling within the limits of the district, the hotheaded politicians and gentlemen of the district needed a place to “defend their honor.” They chose a little spot of land just outside the district in what is now Colmar Manor, Maryland. The activities at the dueling ground provided the name for the nearby waterway, Dueling Creek or Blood Run, now blandly called Eastern Branch. When the city of Colmar Manor was established in 1927, the city used dueling imagery on its town crest including a blood red background, a pair of dueling pistols and crossed swords.

Senators, legislators and military heroes are among the hundred or so men who dueled at this place in some fifty duels that are known and countless others that took place at this spot. Commodore Stephen Decatur was killed here in a duel with Commodore James Barron in 1820 and Representative John Cilley of Maine, who knew little of firearms, died here after combat in 1838 with Representative William Graves of Kentucky. The spirit of Stephen Decatur has been seen here along with other dark, shadowlike spirits that still stalk the old dueling grounds. The bloody grounds are now a park that stands silently amid the roaring sprawl of suburbia.

Sources

  • Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory. NYC: Penguin, 2002.
  • Taylor, Troy. “The Bladensburg Dueling Grounds, Bladensburg, Maryland.” Ghosts of the Prairie. 1998.
  • Varhola, Michael J. and Michael H. Varhola. Ghosthunting Maryland. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2009.

Pirates of the Point—the Battery and White Point Gardens

Battery Park and White Point Gardens
Bounded by East Battery, King Street, Murray Boulevard and South Battery
Charleston, South Carolina

N.B. This article was edited and revised 5 May 2019.

For more images of the lovely White Point Gardens, see my article of photographs.

haunted White Point Gardens Battery Charleston South Carolina pirate executions Stede Bonnet 1718 Southern ghosts
The view of White Point Gardens looking down South Battery towards East Battery. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell, IV, all rights reserved.

Throughout the South history creates layers. In some places there are literal layers that an archaeologist may sift through, in other places those layers can be formed through names; names that may span the centuries from the present day to another historical layer many centuries earlier. The Charleston Battery is one of those places with a few layers of names. I’ve encountered so many different names for this location; I’m not sure which is really correct. Wikipedia calls it The Battery and says that White Point Gardens is a part of that. I’ll just stick with that. A Post & Courier article from 2001 adds that even the use of “Gardens” (plural) as opposed to “Garden” (singular) is inconsistent. Nevertheless, the jumble of names adds to the layers of history that have accrued here.

In April of 1670 when the 93 passengers aboard the Carolina first sailed into what would be called Charleston Harbor, they were greeted by the tip of a peninsula at the point where two mighty rivers came together. The ship’s captain knew one of the rivers as the Ashley, as he had accompanied the earlier expedition that had named the river for Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, one of the colony’s Lord Proprietors. The local Native Americans called the river Kiawah (which is now applied to a barrier island south of the city), and the Spanish had called it the San Jorge. At the tip of this peninsula was a Native American oyster shell midden, or trash heap. Over time, this point would be called alternately Oyster Point, or White Point, for the sun-bleached oyster shells piled there.

Initially, the settlers landed and began to build their city, named for King Charles I, on the opposite bank of the Ashley River on what would later be called Old Town Creek. Colonel William Sayle, the colony’s first governor saw the strategic importance of the peninsula’s tip, however. “It is as it were a Key to open and shutt [sic] this settlement into safety or danger,” he stated in a letter to Lord Ashley, and he began to grant land to settlers in this area. In 1679, it was decided that Oyster Point and the Cooper River side of the peninsula was a much better place for a town.

haunted White Point Gardens Battery Charleston South Carolina pirate executions Stede Bonnet 1718 Southern ghosts
Guns and defenses on the Battery during the Civil War. This 1863 photo from The Photographic History of the Civil War (1911).

Throughout its three hundred some-odd years of existence, White Point Gardens has seen a variety of uses. It has been covered with shacks and tenements, served the defense of the city, been created as a pleasure park, and as a place for execution.  Walter Fraser, Jr. in his Charleston! Charleston! The History of a Southern City, describes a storm surge sweeping over White Point during the Hurricane of 1752, with the poor people escaping their shacks there for more substantial shelter.  Following the hurricane, the White Point remained “a desolate Spot” until 1770 when the low marshy areas were filled in and elegant homes began to be built there along with a sea wall on the eastern side created with palmetto logs. This held until 1804 when it was swept away by another hurricane and it was replaced with a wall of ballast stone.

It was in the space created here that open-air concerts were given during the summer months. When the British blockaded Charleston Harbor during the War of 1812, fifteen guns of large caliber were placed along the White Point aimed at the harbor and the point began to be known as The Battery.

haunted White Point Gardens Battery Charleston South Carolina pirate executions Stede Bonnet 1718 Southern ghosts
The ruins of houses along the Battery in 1865 by George N. Barnard.

Following the war, this pleasant point was planted with oaks and gained the name White Point Gardens during a major period of building in the late 1830s. When English actress Fanny Kemble, who married Georgia cotton planter Pierce Butler, visited the city she delighted in the promenade and the “large and picturesque old houses.” Fraser notes that in the 1840s, African-Americans were not allowed to use the park between five and ten in the evening.

From this promenade and roofs of the pretentious mansions lining the battery, the citizens of Charleston witnessed the first shots of the Civil War as Confederate attacked Fort Sumter in the harbor. Gunfire from ships during the war destroyed some of those mansions, but they were later rebuilt even more ostentatiously. The tradition of promenading along the seawall and under the sprawling live oaks continued into the 20th century. The 1941 Works Progress Administration guide to the state of South Carolina describes the scene of “Charleston children, guarded by white-turbaned Negro ‘maumas,’ play[ing] among monuments and guns that recall the city’s war-torn history of more than 250 years.”

haunted White Point Gardens Battery Charleston South Carolina pirate executions Stede Bonnet 1718 Southern ghosts
A monument under the cooling shade of the oaks. Photo by Brian Stansberry, 2010, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Today tourists stroll the Battery and under those oaks. They may pass a stone monument reminding them of the fact that they stand on an execution ground. In fact, this spot may still be haunted by those who hung here in 1718, when Charleston was still a small colonial port. Over the course of five weeks that year some 49 men were hung here for piracy.

As the colonies grew, piracy became a major problem for trade and many of the up and coming ports. Around late May or June of 1718, the notorious Edward Teach, or Blackbeard as he is more affectionately known, blockaded Charleston Harbor. Among the first ships he captured was a London-bound ship called the Crowley loaded with a number of prominent citizens. Word was sent to the Royal Governor that these people would be summarily executed unless the port offered up medical supplies. The governor complied and the citizens were released, though lightened of their purses, valuables, and even their clothes.
haunted White Point Gardens Battery Charleston South Carolina pirate executions Stede Bonnet 1718 Southern ghosts
Stede Bonnet from A General History of the Pyrates, c. 1725.

In response, Governor Robert Johnson asked the Lord Proprietors for assistance, but received no response. When pirates again appeared in the waters near Charleston in August, a group of local merchants banded together and under the command of William Rhett, they set out to stop this threat to their business. In the waters of North Carolina, they encountered pirate Stede Bonnet refitting his ship in the Cape Fear River.

Stede Bonnet wasn’t born into a life of crime. The son of a wealthy English family on the island of Barbados, Bonnet had had a fairly successful life which enabled him to buy his way into piracy. It was the usual custom for pirates to begin their work by seizing a ship that they then used to prey on other ships, Bonnet, however, bought his ship, the Revenge. He also hired his crew and paid them regular wages. Due to lack of experience in sailing or piracy, Bonnet had to hire someone to command his men. After terrorizing shipping off the Virginia coast, Bonnet sailed for the pirate’s paradise of Nassau in the Bahamas. There, he met Blackbeard and decided to join forces.

After a night of maneuvering sloops back and forth to gain advantage in battle, the sun rose on the morning of September 27, 1718 with Bonnet sailing his one sloop, he had combined all of his men into one ship from three, towards the three sloops under Colonel Rhett. Nearly all the ship ran aground during the battle with a rising tide eventually freeing Rhett’s vessels, while Bonnet’s sloop, the Royal James, remained stuck. The Royal James was quickly boarded by Rhett’s men who outnumbered the pirates. In a last ditch effort, Bonnet ordered his gunner to blow up the ship’s powder stores, but this suicidal act was prevented by Bonnet’s men who surrendered instead. Rhett returned triumphantly to Charleston with Bonnet and twenty-nine of his men in chains.

In Charleston, Bonnet’s men were imprisoned in the Half-Moon Battery where the Exchange and Provost Dungeon were later constructed, and still stands today. Because of his gentlemanly upbringing, Bonnet was imprisoned with his boatswain, Ignatius Pell, in the home of the town’s Provost Marshall. Shortly thereafter, Bonnet and Pell, accompanied by a slave and a Native American, escaped the house possibly disguised as women, at least according to legend. The group however, wasn’t able to go very far and had only gotten as far as Sullivan’s Island, north of the city, when they were captured. Bonnet and his men were put on trial before Vice-Admiralty judge, Nicholas Trott and found guilty.

haunted White Point Gardens Battery Charleston South Carolina pirate executions Stede Bonnet 1718 Southern ghosts
Monument in White Point Gardens near the spot of the pirate gallows. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Bonnet’s own men were hung at White Point, two days before his trial, and their bodies left dangling from the gallows before the bloated, decaying corpses were cut down and unceremoniously dumped in the marsh just off the point. Those same marshes that would later be filled in for the building of homes. Reportedly, Bonnet begged for clemency and turned much of the Charleston female population to his side, so much so that the governor had to delay the execution seven times. Even Colonel Rhett offered help by escorting Bonnet to England for a new trial, but Judge Trott’s decision stood firm.

During the time between Bonnet being found guilty and his execution, 19 other pirates were found guilty and hung at White Point. Bonnet’s day of execution finally dawned on December 10. Walter Fraser describes the scene:

 …manacled and clutching a nosegay of wildflowers, [he] was taken in a hurdle to the place execution near White Point where the once bold pirate appeared terrified and near collapse. The executioner dropped the noose over his head and around his neck and then Bonnet was ‘swung off’ the cart. He died an agonizing death of strangulation, the invention of the gallows that would break the victim’s neck being years away.

His body was left hanging for a few days then unceremoniously dumped in the marsh with the remains of his men and his pirate brothers where they were eaten by crabs, riddled with maggots, and pecked by the gulls.

haunted White Point Gardens Battery Charleston South Carolina pirate executions Stede Bonnet 1718 Southern ghosts
The hanging of Stede Bonnet from the Dutch edition of A General History of the Pyrates,c. 1725.

Over the course of five weeks, forty-nine pirates swung from the gallows at White Point. Within a couple months, pirate Richard Worley and nineteen of his men met the same fate. While the leaves of White Point Gardens’ oaks calmly sway in the ocean breeze, their roots are feeding on the blood of pirates.

haunted White Point Gardens Battery Charleston South Carolina pirate executions Stede Bonnet 1718 Southern ghosts
The view from South Battery towards Charleston Harbor. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell, IV, all rights reserved.

There is a legend that the spirits of these pirates still stalk Battery Park and White Point Gardens. Denise Roffe includes a story of a couple who encountered an apparition hanging in midair beneath the oaks of the park. Alan Brown mentions that the spirits have been witnessed standing under the oaks and screaming at passersby. He notes that if one looks out on the bay from the foot of Water Street, where Vanderhorst Creek once met the waters of the Cooper River, when the moon is high, they may see the bloated faces of the long dead pirates just under the water’s surface. Like so many Charleston ghost stories, this story may be mostly legend, but it is grounded in a marvelous history.

haunted White Point Gardens Battery Charleston South Carolina pirate executions Stede Bonnet 1718 Southern ghosts
Do pirate spirits still walk here? Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
haunted White Point Gardens Battery Charleston South Carolina pirate executions Stede Bonnet 1718 Southern ghosts
In this sylvan landscape do pirate spirits hang midair? Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Sources

  • Battery Park (Charleston)Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 1 August 2011.
  • Blackbeard. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 1 August 2011.
  • Brown, Alan. Haunted South Carolina: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Palmetto State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2010.
  • Fraser, Walter J., Jr. Charleston! Charleston! The History of a Southern City. Columbia, SC: U. of SC Press, 1989.
  • Hardin, Jason. “You can say it with an ‘S,’ but early documents show there is just one garden.” Post & Courier. 2 September 2001.
  • Richard Worley. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 1 August 2011.
  • Roffe, Denise. Ghosts and Legends of Charleston, South Carolina. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2010.
  • Stede Bonnet. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 1 August 2011.
  • Workers of the Writer’s Program of the Works Progress Administration in the State of South Carolina. South Carolina: A Guide to the Palmetto NYC: Oxford University Press, 1941.

Legends of Long Island—Long Island of the Holston

Long Island of the Holston
Kingsport, Tennessee

Had this four mile long, half mile wide island been located in any other river in Tennessee it would not possess the significance that it has. This spit of land could be called the birthplace of Tennessee and even Kentucky for the treaties signed with the Cherokee that opened their lands to settlements by the white man. One possible origin for the name for the state of Tennessee, from the language of the Yuchi Indians, “Tana-see,” possibly meaning “the meeting place,” may be derived from this island. It is no wonder that the Federal government named Long Island a National Historic Landmark in 1960.

Aerial view of Long Island of the Holston, 2009. Photo by Worldislandinfo, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The island is located near the junction of the North and South forks of the Holston. The Holston flows southwest towards Knoxville where it meets the French Broad River creating the mighty Tennessee River. Nearby, the Great Indian Warpath, a major trail leading to the northeast from central Tennessee, brought many natives past this island. This island served as an important ceremonial site for the Cherokee Indians who occupied this area until the late 18th century. The island was a sacred ground for rituals but also for councils and treaties. So sacred was this island that, according to a number of sources, it was forbidden to kill or molest anyone on this sacred ground.

The first major intrusion of whites into the area occurred with Colonel William Byrd’s expedition in 1761 which constructed Fort Robinson near the river junction. When the outpost was abandoned a short while later, the Cherokee resumed control of the area. However, the building of the fort only emboldened white incursions into the area. Hunters, explorers and the occasional courageous settler were soon found in the lands surrounding the island. When Daniel Boone, that great trailblazer to the Kentucky territory, arrived in March of 1775 with an axe-wielding crew to cut a trail to the new territory, the real trouble began. Long Island became the starting point for Boone’s Wilderness Road, bringing hundreds of thousands of white settlers through the area.

With the outbreak of war, many of the Cherokee sided with the British due to the increasing pressure from frontiersmen and by the middle of 1776 they had worked to free the area from whites. Colonial soldiers set out from Eaton’s Fort near the junction of the Holston’s two forks and crushed the Cherokee in battle at the Long Island Flats on August 20. The next year, a treaty was negotiated on Long Island ceding much of the Cherokee lands in East Tennessee and everything east of the Blue Ridge to white settlers. However, the Cherokee still maintained possession of Long Island, though Joseph Martin and his Native American wife, Betsy, established a trading post there; the first white settler on the island.

While many Cherokee had cleared out of the newly claimed area, there were still attacks on white settlements. A peace was negotiated at Long Island in 1781 just before the end of the Revolution. The activity of settlers increased and a boat yard was established on the river, opposite the western tip of the island. The year 1805 saw a number of treaties ceding the remaining Cherokee land in the area to white settlers including Long Island. Legend says that among the natives to leave the island for the last time was a medicine man who laid a curse on the island that no white would be able to comfortably settle on the island. Around the island, the city of Kingsport was created with the merger of Christianville and Rossville in 1822. The island was later incorporated into the town.

Parts of the island were developed and residences sprang up, but, according to the legends, insanity and crime occurred on the island in higher rates than elsewhere in Kingsport. Perhaps the curse was beginning to take its toll? Over time, the legend has been oft-repeated receiving additions on occasions such as the addition from the era of World War II.

Folklorist Charles Edwin Price recounts this tale in his Haints, Witches, and Boogers: Tales from Upper East Tennessee; this tale is recounted in a few other sources, but apparently based upon Price’s version of the tale. The tale, according to Price, tells of Amos Ross, whose son was a Marine in the war. On leave, his son and his son’s girlfriend at the time, went out to Long Island one evening to spend some time together. Ross, a fine upstanding Christian, worried that his son was committing a mortal sin followed the couple out to the island. Finding the couple in flagrante delicto, Ross became enraged and attacked, killing them both. After the incident, legend says, he was never seen again, though couples necking on the island, which may have been a “Lovers Lane” were occasionally attacked by the enraged man or at least his spirit. While this is a marvelous tale, it does leave some questions. Unfortunately, without access to the Kingsport papers of the World War II, era, I cannot prove this is just a legend or if it is grounded in fact.

Besides this violent morality tale, there are other incidents occurring on the island. Again, these tales are told without specific reports of incidents. After dark, it is said that Native Americans have been seen on the island. Campfires are seen blazing with natives dancing about and performing rituals. In the early morning mist on the river, warriors have been seen gliding along silently in their canoes.

Sadly, much of the historic nature of the island is now gone. In 1996, the historical integrity of the island had been so depleted that the National Park Service, administrators of the list of National Historic Landmarks, suggested that the island be delisted. While the landmark designations has not been removed, much of the island is now heavily industrialized. Viewing the island via Googles Maps, it appears that most of the island is now paved over and covered with industrial development. The western portion of the island is now the location of a park and baseball fields are quite obvious, but little of the island’s original sylvan nature remains. The city of Kingsport, realizing the enormous value of having this marvelous landmark in town has done some work towards attracting visitors.

In 1976, a mere three acres of the island were given to the Eastern Band of Cherokee. These acres are a part of a park on the western end of the island, but the island still remains heavily industrial. It’s not hard to imagine that spirits returning to this haunted island, paddling around in the morning mist, don’t even recognize their spoiled sacred island.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Tennessee: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Volunteer State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2009.
  • Brown, John Norris. “The Long Island Curse.” Ghosts & Spirits of Tennessee. Accessed 14 July 2011.
  • Lane, Matthew. “Tribes discuss role of Long Island in King’s Port on the Holston.” Kingsport Times-News. 17 May 2007.
  • Long Island (Tennessee). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 14 July 2011.
  • McGuiness, Jim. “Tales of paranormal activity abounds in Tri-Cities region.” Kingsport Times-News. 28 October 2007.
  • Mooney, James. History, Myths and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. Asheville, NC: Bright Mountain Books, 1992.
  • Price, Charles Edwin. Haints, Witches, and Boogers: Tales from Upper East Tennessee. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1992.
  • Rettig, Polly M. National Historic Landmark Nomination form for Long Island of the Holston. 4 June 1976.