Metro Atlanta Revenant Transit Authority

A few months ago, I accepted a retail job at the Atlanta airport. As a resident of LaGrange, I’m required to drive an hour to Atlanta and take MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) to the airport because there is no airport employee parking. Most of my rides on MARTA have been uneventful, though in August I had an odd experience.

Interior of a MARTA car. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, October 2018. All rights reserved.

I finished working a mid-shift at my store and boarded a MARTA train to start my journey home around 4:30 in the afternoon. Sitting down in my seat, I pulled out my phone to check Facebook like everyone else. The ride from the airport to the first station, College Park, was unremarkable and I did look up as the train pulled into the station. As usual, there was a group of people waiting to board the train when the doors opened.

As I watched, a young man boarded the train and I noticed he was oddly dressed. His clothes were flashy, and his hair was tied up in a scarf on his head. He walked down the aisle and sat in the seats opposite me. I glanced over and noticed he was wearing house shoes and carrying a bunch of shopping bags, notably a bag from Steve Madden. The man slumped down in his seat and appeared to doze off.

Not wanting to stare, I looked out the window a bit and looked at my phone as the train rumbled on to the East Point station. As the train ground to a stop, I started to get up, but as I turned my head, I was shocked to see the seats across the aisle from me were empty. Looking back through the car, no one had their hair tied up in a scarf, in fact, there were only three or four people.

I wondered how I could have missed him getting up and moving. With all his bags surely, I would have noticed if he changed seats. I got off the train still looking for the oddly dressed man with the sensation that I may have just had a paranormal experience. I also wondered at the bigger question: does Steve Madden have an advertising contract with the spirit world?

Riding alone in a MARTA car. Is there anything behind me? Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, October 2018. All rights reserved.

While it may seem odd that a spirit might be haunting something as ordinary as a MARTA train, this is not the first story I’ve heard about MARTA. In 2011, Creative Loafing published an article covering Atlanta hauntings. The article opened with a story from an office-worker who had an experience on MARTA in the 1980s.

After leaving work early on a winter afternoon, the office-worker took a seat on MARTA heading home. He was listening to music on his headphones when he noticed movement next to his reflection in the window. He felt a bit annoyed that a “40ish, black-haired man in a business suit” was sitting next to him on the almost deserted car. He turned his head to look at the passenger and the seat was empty.

The office-worker thought the incident was curious but was not frightened. Still he wonders what exactly he saw. I’m left wondering about the gentleman with his hair tied up in a scarf and the Steve Madden bag. Did we experience a perfectly normal experience that simply appeared out of the ordinary or were these experiences paranormal? I’m not sure we’ll ever really know.

Source

  • Homan, Curt. “The hauntings of Atlanta.” Creative Loafing. 27 October 2011.

Alabama Hauntings—County by County Part V

One of my goals with this blog is to provide coverage of ghost stories and haunted places in a comprehensive manner. One of the best ways to accomplish that is to examine ghost stories county by county. 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 last Halloween, 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.

See part I (Autauga-Cherokee Counties) 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.

Lee County

Opelika Chamber of Commerce
601 Avenue A
Opelika

Known also as the Whitfield-Duke-Searcy House for the three families that called this place home, the Opelika Chamber of Commerce may remain the residence of a child’s spirit. Stories from family members reveal that a child may have died in the house in the early 20th century. Chamber staff believes the child may still be in this 1895 home.

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

Some years ago, three employees witnessed a “bright flash of light” descend the home’s front staircase. Another staff member noticed child-sized footprints in the carpet on the back staircase when no children had been in the house. Chairs and other objects here sometimes playfully move on their own accord.

Sources

  • Hines, Nikolaus. “A young ghost toyingly haunts an old house.” Auburn Plainsman. 17 October 2014.
  • Lee County Heritage Book Committee. Heritage of Lee County, Alabama. Clanton, AL: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 2000.
  • Mission and History.” Opelika Chamber of Commerce. Accessed 29 June 2015.

Limestone County

Houston Memorial Library
101 North Houston Street
Athens

On the morning of New Year’s Eve 1879, former governor George S. Houston awoke from sleep. At that time a senator representing Alabama in Congress, Houston called out, “John, bring me my shoes. I must return to Washington!” He then closed his eyes and passed away.

While Houston did not make it back to Washington, he is believed to remain in his former home. After Houston’s death, his wife lived here until her death in 1909. The house was turned over to the city for use as a library in 1936. One of the reminders that the library was once a former residence is the chiming of the grandfather clock. This chiming occurs on occasion though no grandfather clock exists in the building.

Governor Houston House, 1934, by W.N. Manning for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Two gentlemen within this building installing central air were bothered by something in the attic some years ago. As they worked, they continued to hear a rustling behind them. At one point both men saw something standing near them out of their peripheral vision. When they turned to look directly at the figure it vanished. Exasperated, the pair told the former governor firmly that they were doing no harm. The kindly spirit allowed them to continue unimpeded.

Sources

  • Black, Shane. Spirits of Athens: Haunting Tales of an Alabama Town. NYC: iUniverse. 2009.
  • Rogers, William Warren. “George S. Houston (1874- 78).” Encyclopedia of Alabama. 21 April 2008.

Lowndes County

Marengo
100 North Broad Street
Lowndesboro

Lowndesboro remains a sleepy town, lost in the haze of its past. North Broad Street, lined with historic structures, many of which date to before the Civil War, is, despite its name merely a country road passing through the community. Among those grand 19th century homes is a transplant, Marengo, which was originally built around 1835 in Autauga County but moved here sometime between 1843 and 1847. If local tradition is to be believed, Marengo’s second owner, Dr. Charles Edwin Reese, is responsible for this remarkable collection of antebellum structures surviving the Civil War.

As General Wilson and his Union troops swept through this part of Alabama destroying anything of military importance as well as other property, Dr. Reese met with the general urging him to spare the town as it was suffering an epidemic of smallpox. To provide proof, Dr. Reese brought a patient with a serious rash. Though it was all a ruse, the general was convinced and spared the town.

It seems, however, that despite the good doctor’s work in the community, his wife Sarah was fearful whenever her husband was called out to visit a patient. She never felt safe in her home, regardless of the large, brass lock that her husband had installed on the front door. Like Sarah Reese, the wife of Lindsay James Powell, Jr., a subsequent owner of the home, also felt unsafe in the house. Powell bought a gun for his wheelchair-bound wife Kathleen’s protection and peace of mind. When, in 1961, Powell discovered his wife shot to death in her bed with the same gun at her side. Kathleen Powell’s death was ruled a suicide while evidence pointed to a possible murder.

Marengo, 2012, by Rivers Langley. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Owners of the home since that time have heard the sound of a woman laughing. A psychic visiting the home confirmed that one of the spirits is that of Kathleen. Another psychic flatly stated that no one that had lived in the home had been happy adding that an additional female spirit haunts the home. The house was donated to the Lowndesboro Landmarks Foundation in 1975 and has been used as an events space for many years.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Places in the American South. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2002.
  • Floyd, W. Warner. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for Lowndesboro. 1 November 1973.
  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Windham, Kathryn Tucker. Jeffrey’s Latest 13: More Alabama Ghosts. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1982.

Macon County

Tuskegee National Forest

The smallest national forest in the country, Tuskegee National Forest was created from abused and eroded farmland purchased by the federal government at the height of the Great Depression. Consisting of nearly 11,000 acres, the forest provides recreational opportunities and conservation of natural habitat for the region.

During the Satanic worship scare of the 1980s, rumors spread that teens and young people were engaging in occult rituals deep in the forest here. Higdon and Talley note that some of the spirits raised by these rituals may remain in the more remote woods. Indeed, the forest may also be home to Sasquatch or Bigfoot, as well.

Sources

  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Tuskegee National Forest.” USDA Forest Service. Accessed 14 June 2015.

Madison County

Huntsville Depot
320 Church Street, Northwest
Huntsville

Huntsville Depot, 2010. by Chris Pruitt. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Huntsville Depot has witnessed much of the panoply of railroad history in the area since its construction in 1860. The building has seen the tumult of the Civil War, and a changing transportation picture until its closure as a railroad depot in 1968. It now stands as a museum preserving one of the oldest rail depots in the nation.

As Union troops under Brigadier General Ormsby M. Mitchell swept through North Alabama in 1862, one of his primary objectives was Huntsville and its depot. With the city, Ormsby also captured some 200 ill and wounded Confederate troops. The soldiers were held on the depot’s third floor before being shipped to prisoner of war camps in the North. Graffiti covering the walls preserves some of the experiences of soldiers here.

Visitors and staff within the building have had a variety of experiences. A frequent visitor reported to Alan Brown that she felt a cold spot on the second-floor landing of the staircase. She also described how she and a group of reenactors watched an apparent Confederate soldier peer down at them from a third-floor window. Also on the third-floor, the bust of a Civil War soldier tends to turn on its own accord. A psychic passing through the building described a “cluster of ghosts” within the historic structure.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Stories from the Haunted South. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2004.
  • Gray, Jacquelyn Proctor. When Spirits Walk. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2006.
  • Madison County Heritage Book Committee. Heritage of Madison County, Alabama. Clanton, AL: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 1998.
  • Penot, Jessica. Haunted North Alabama. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2010.

Marengo County

Gaineswood
805 South Cedar Avenue
Demopolis

Gaineswood can be considered a historical, architectural, and paranormal treasure. According to the home’s National Register of Historic Places nomination form, Gaineswood is considered by many authorities to be one of the grandest and most important American houses built in the antebellum era. Part of the home’s uniqueness is found in its innovative and extraordinary design, which was conceived and realized by the home’s owner and builder, Nathan Bryan Whitfield. A self-taught architect, Whitfield spent much of his time and energy constructing his magnificent Neo-Classical home starting in 1842 and finishing on the eve of the Civil War in 1861.

After having his fortunes nearly wiped out by war, Whitfield sold the home to his son who allowed it to deteriorate. During this time a tree took root in the floor of the dining room, and goats roamed the halls. The house was restored in the 1890s and passed through a few hands before being bought by the State of Alabama in 1966 and opened as a house museum in 1971. Gaineswood was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1973.

Gaineswood, 1939, by Frances Benjamin Johnston for the Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Besides the architectural importance of Gaineswood, the house is home to a classic Alabama ghost story originally told by Kathryn Tucker Windham. Mrs. Windham contends that after Nathan Whitfield’s wife died, he engaged Evelyn Carter, the daughter of a U.S. Consul to Greece, to care for his children. The delightful young woman was educated, musically inclined, and added a cultural touch to the home and the children’s lives. Unfortunately, she was taken ill and died during a particularly harsh winter. Miss Carter had requested that her body be returned to Virginia where she could be buried in the family cemetery, yet the harsh winter weather would not allow that. Instead, her body was sealed in a wooden casket and placed underneath the stairs until it could be shipped home.

Soon after, Miss Carter’s unhappy spirit began to roam the house noisily expressing her displeasure. Eerie melodies were heard playing on the piano accompanied by the swish of rustling skirts and disembodied voices. Even after Miss Carter’s remains were returned to her home, the spirit has remained in residence, though sources argue if she may have finally left the house.

Sources

  • Hand, Janice P. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for Gaineswood. 13 September 1971.
  • “The Haunts of Gaineswood Plantation.” Ghost Eyes Most Haunted Places in America <www.GhostEyes.com>. 4 August 2009.
  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Norman, Michael and Beth Scott. Historic Haunted America. NYC: TOR, 1995.
  • Windham, Kathryn Tucker and Margaret Gillis Figh. 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama, 1969.

Marion County

Pikeville
Intersection of CR-21, CR-31, and CR-470

Little remains of the town of Pikeville, a small town built alongside the Jackson Military Road. The town served as the county seat of Marion County from 1820 until 1882, when the seat was moved to nearby Hamilton. The old county courthouse still stands, though it is now a private residence, and the town’s cemetery continues to memorialize the dead of Pikeville. This ghost town may also be populated with ghosts.

Sources

Marshall County

Main Street
Albertville

On April 24, 1908, a tornado roared through northeast Alabama killing some 35 residents and destroying a portion of Albertville including much of Main Street. According to Faith Serafin, there has been quite a bit of paranormal activity reported along Main Street including the spirit of a young boy in khaki knee-pants, a white shirt, and suspenders who has been observed running down the street at night. Residents have seen children wearing period clothing playing on the street in the evenings while business owners have reported the front doors of their businesses opening and closing on their own accord.

Main Street, Albertville, 2012, by Rivers Langley. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Sources

Mobile County

Phoenix Fire Museum
203 South Claiborne Street
Mobile

Originally located on Conti Street, the old Phoenix Volunteer Fire Company No. 6 building was a state of the art rehouse when it was constructed in 1858. Slightly more than a hundred years later, the neglected building faced demolition for the construction of the Mobile Civic Center. The building was saved by the Mobile Historic Preservation Society, dismantled, and moved to its current location where it now serves as a part of the Mobile Museum of History. Artifacts relating to the history of firefighting within the city are displayed here including antique firefighting vehicles. Not on display, but present within the old building, is a spirit that has been heard stomping around the second-floor and occasionally rifling through an antique secretary located there.

Sources

  • Parker, Elizabeth. Mobile Ghosts: Alabama’s Haunted Port City. Apparition Publishing, 2001.

Monroe County

Rikard’s Mill Historic Park
4116 AL-265
Beatrice

Fleeting shadow figures have been spotted at this mill established in 1845. While the original structure is gone, the current mill, built in the 1860s, has been preserved by the Monroe County Museum. The mill has been probed by paranormal investigators, though little evidence of paranormal activity was uncovered.

Sources

Alabama Hauntings—County by County Part IV

One of my goals with this blog is to provide coverage of ghost stories and haunted places in a comprehensive manner. One of the best ways to accomplish that is to examine ghost stories county by county. 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 last Halloween, 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.

See part I (Autauga-Cherokee Counties) 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.

Geneva County

“Big Oak”
Robert Fowler Memorial Park
South River Street
Geneva

Big Oak, 2006, by AlabamaGuy2007. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Before the establishment of Geneva County, early settlers gathered under the massive, leafy branches of what is now known as the Big Oak or Constitution Oak. This live oak’s age and size have led to its inclusion in the list of Alabama Famous and Historic Trees. Supposedly the huge branches of the tree have been used for hangings and the spirits of those who died here may continue to haunt this location.

Sources

Greene County

Oakmont Bed & Breakfast
107 Pickens Street
Eutaw

As workers were working on the restoration of Oakmont, a spirit in the house wanted more heat. After continuing to find a heater on in the home, construction workers taped the control knob so that the heat could not be turned on. However, the spirit thought otherwise and turned the heat on again.

Built in 1908 as a wedding gift for Mary Elizabeth and Charles Alexander Webb, it was not until Oakmont began the transformation into a bed & breakfast that the owners discovered that they might have to share the house with spirits. After the restoration, numerous spectral sounds began to be heard including tremendous crashes and disembodied footsteps. It doesn’t appear that this bed and breakfast is open any longer.

Sources

  • Smith, Terry L. and Mark Jean. Haunted Inns of America. Crane Hill Publishers, 2003.

Hale County

Moundville Archaeological Park
634 Mound State Parkway
Moundville

Between approximately 1120 C.E. and 1450 C.E., Moundville was the site of a large city inhabited by the Mississippian people, predecessors to the tribes that the Europeans would encounter when they began exploring the South about a century later. At its height, this town was probably home to nearly 1,000 inhabitants. Stretching to 185 acres, the town had 29 mounds of various sizes and uses: some were ceremonial while others were topped with the homes of the elite.

Visitors and staff have often mentioned a certain energy emanating from this site. A Cherokee friend of mine visited and while atop one of the mounds let out a traditional Cherokee war cry. Afterward, he noted that there was a palpable change in the energy. Dennis William Hauck speaks of the “powerful spirit of an ancient race” that “permeates this 317-acre site” in his Haunted Places: The National Directory. Southern Paranormal Researchers notes that park staff has witnessed shadow figures, odd noises, and doors opening and closing by themselves in the buildings on the site. Higdon and Talley add orbs and cold spots found throughout the location to the list of paranormal activity here.

Sources

  • Blitz, John H. “Moundville Archaeological Park.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. 26 February 2007.
  • Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory. NYC: Penguin, 2002.
  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Southern Paranormal Researchers. Paranormal Investigation Report for Moundville Archaeological Park. 10 February 2007.

Henry County

Legend of Huggin’ Molly
Abbeville

For over a century, a legend has dwelled in the dark streets of Abbeville: the legend of Huggin’ Molly. This specter is thought to target children on the streets after dark. Most versions describe Molly as a large woman who prowls the dark streets in search of children walking alone. After pursuing a child, she would embrace them and scream in their ear. Most sources agree that this tale was perhaps created to frighten small children and keep them from staying out too late, though the story has remained. In fact, a restaurant named after the legendary figure has recently opened.

Sources

  • Legend of Huggin’ Molly.” Huggin’ Molly’s Restaurant. Accessed 13 July 2015.
  • Smith, Michelle. Legends, Lore and True Tales of the Chattahoochee. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.

Houston County

Columbia Manor
306 South Main Street
Columbia

During the Halloween season, this unassuming white frame house is home to nightmares of the fictional kind. However, this house is home to real nightmares as well. Built in 1864, this home has served several uses including serving as a hospital and later a sanitarium for those suffering from pellagra, a severe vitamin deficiency.

Following renovations to transform the house into a haunted attraction, the spirits have begun to act out. The owner of the house told the producers of the BIO Channel show, My Ghost Story, about tools that would go missing only to be found in their original location a short time later, mysterious footsteps, and the shade of an older gentleman that the owner and another volunteer saw standing in the house. He also mentioned the swinging of a chandelier in the foyer which a paranormal investigator has linked to the suicide by hanging of a nurse there.

Sources

  • “Enter at your own risk; they dare you.” Dothan Eagle. 18 August 2014.
  • “Haunting Columbia Manor.” Dothan Eagle. 19 October 2013.
  • My Ghost Story, Episode 3.3. Biography Channel. 29 October 2011. 

Jackson County

Russell Cave National Monument
3728 CR-98
Bridgeport

One of the most significant archaeological sites in the state, Russell Cave has revealed evidence that this site has been in use by humans for at least 8,000 years. That evidence includes human remains, pottery shards, spear points, arrowheads, and charcoal from ancient fires. The remains of various animals, including some prehistoric species, have also been unearthed here.

Entrance to Russell Cave, 2014, by Fredlyfish4. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Within the cave, some visitors have experienced an uneasy feeling, sometimes even sensing ghostly presences while others have heard spectral sounds and seen apparitions. With thousands of years of human occupation, it’s no surprise that spirits remain here.

Sources

  • Kidd, Jessica Fordham. “Russell Cave.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. 22 September 2010.
  • Penot, Jessica. Haunted North Alabama. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2010.

Jefferson County

Bessemer Hall of History Museum
1905 Alabama Avenue
Bessemer

While the Bessemer Hall of History Museum displays an eclectic mix of items from Bessemer’s past, including a cell door from the local jail where Martin Luther King, Jr. was brie y incarcerated, it appears that a former exhibit may still be haunting this building. For many years, the museum displayed the mummy of a local woman who had taken her life in 1906. Hazel Farris had shot and killed her husband during a domestic incident at their home in Louisville, Kentucky. After neighbors had summoned the police, Farris shot and killed three of them and fled the state.

Beautiful Hazel settled in Bessemer and confessed her crimes to a man with whom she had fallen in love. He betrayed her to the police, and Hazel ingested arsenic, ending her life. Her corpse was sent to a local funeral home which only put the unclaimed body in storage where it mummified. The funeral home began to charge admission to view the grisly final remains of Miss Farris, and over the course of many years; the mummy was loaned to various exhibitors. In 1974, the museum borrowed the mummy as part of a fundraiser, and the museum displayed it for quite some time.

Southern Railway Depot (now home to the Bessemer Hall of History Museum), 1992, by Jet Lowe. Photo taken for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

After the mummy’s exhibition in 1981, the museum placed it in permanent storage. National Geographic produced a documentary about Hazel’s corpse in 2002 with various scientists examining it before it was eventually cremated. The old train depot that has housed the museum since 1994 has had some paranormal activity through the years, some of which has been attributed to Hazel. Lights turn off and on within the old building, and other odd sounds have been heard.

Sources

Lamar County

Old Stage Coach Inn
Jackson Military Road
Moscow

Also known as the Moore-Hill House, this circa 1834 stagecoach stop was the scene of a murder in 1881. A Mrs. Armstrong was killed by an African-American man with a grappling hook on a chain. After the gruesome killing, the cook ran out the back door and alerted the men working in the nearby fields. The supposed murderer was hunted down and lynched in the front yard. This event is believed to be the cause of paranormal activity in and around the house. Tradition speaks of a glowing orb that is seen in the front yard and the spirit of Mrs. Armstrong clanking down the stairs with the hook and chain that killed her.

When I initially wrote the above entry for my book way back in 2015, I struggled with how little information existed about this house and the grim murder that took place here. As I was visiting the library yesterday, I decided to take a second look at the research for this particular location. Evidently, I didn’t look hard enough the first time.

Situated on Andrew Jackson’s Military Road, a route constructed after the War of 1812 connecting Nashville, Tennessee with New Orleans, the Moore-Hill House was built for James Moore, an early politician in the state. For many years the house served as a stagecoach inn, but it was an incident in 1881 that gave the house a bit of a notorious reputation. According to family legend, a Mrs. Armstrong was killed by an African-American man with a grappling hook on a chain. After the gruesome killing, the cook ran out the back door and alerted the men working in the nearby fields. The supposed murderer was hunted down and lynched in the front yard. After consulting newspapers of the period, the events did not take place exactly as family memory recalls.

Two brief reports appearing in area newspapers in December of 1881 attest that the murder was bloodier that family legend recounts. An African-American man (described in one newspaper as a “crazy negro”) attempted to seize one of the Armstrong children. The child’s mother, Mrs. Winchester Armstrong,” and her mother tried to wrestle the child away and both were killed. The newspaper reports that the child’s mother was struck in the head with an ax. Moments later, Mr. Armstrong approached and shot and killed the assailant.

Sources

  • “A heart-rending murder…” Pickens County Herald and West Alabamian (Carrollton, AL). 7 December 1881.
  • Hill, Beulah and Pat Buckley. “History.” Accessed 6 June 2015.
  • “Horrible murder of two women by a crazy negro.” The Marion Times-Standard. 14 December 1881.
  • Kazek, Kelly. “Few historic stagecoach inns and taverns survive across Alabama, take a tour.” com. 14 August 2014.
  • Lamar County Heritage Book Committee. Heritage of Lamar County, Alabama. Clanton, AL: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 2000.

Lauderdale County

Forks of Cypress
Jackson Road
Florence

Crowning a hill above Jackson Road are the skeletal remains of the graceful Forks of Cypress, built in the latter half of the 1820s. Until it burned in June 1966, the house was known as one of the grandest homes in the area. James Jackson, an Irish-born venture capitalist who moved to the area in 1818 and is considered the founder of the city of Florence constructed the home.

Ruins of Forks of Cypress, 2010, by Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy of the George S, Landreggar Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Even before a conflagration destroyed the house, it was known to be haunted, and spirits may continue to roam the picturesque ruins. The Jackson family cemetery not far from the house has also seen some paranormal activity. Debra Johnston records an incident whereby a visitor to the cemetery one afternoon encountered a young man on horseback. As he talked with the strange young man, he realized the young man was one of the sons of James Jackson. The visitor was astonished when he shook hands with the man and watched him vanish before his eyes.

Southwest of the ruins, a bridge spanned Cypress Creek until its recent demolition. Known as “Ghost Bridge,” the bridge was associated with a typical crybaby bridge story. The woods near the bridge, tradition holds, are supposed to be haunted by a spirit carrying a lantern, a possible holdover from a skirmish fought here during the Civil War.

Sources

  • Farris, Johnathan A. & Trina Brinkley. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for Forks of Cypress. 2 May 1997.
  • Johnston, Debra. Skeletons in the Closet: True Ghost Stories of the Shoals Area. Debra Johnston, 2002.

Lawrence County

Henry Hill
CR-25
Mount Hope

Almost as common as Cry Baby Bridges throughout the South are “Gravity Hills;” roads or hills where a car put in neutral will seemingly be pushed up an incline. Along County Road 25, just outside of the community of Mount Hope, is a dip in the road where legend has it a man named Henry was killed. Most legends have Henry’s car breaking down along this road and him trying to push it out of the way when he was struck and killed by another vehicle. When a car is stopped here, Henry still dutifully pushes the car to safety to prevent another driver from having to endure a similar end.

Sources

A Spectral Tour of the Shenandoah Valley

I recently had an inquiry from a friend who’s a student at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia regarding a “haunted road trip” he and his friends want to take next month. After consulting my resources, I’ve devised a suitable tour of the area’s numerous haunts.

This tour makes a circle through the Shenandoah Valley, beginning and ending in Winchester. It heads south on I-81 towards Staunton with a few stops along the way. After Staunton the tour heads east to include the famous Exchange Hotel in Gordonsville before returning to Winchester. The tour includes a range of haunted places from historic homes to government buildings, churches, battlefields, commercial buildings, cemeteries, a train depot, a former mental hospital and a cave. Some of these locations are open to the public while a few are private and should only be viewed from the street.

Winchester

Of the cities on this tour, Winchester is perhaps the most interesting, historically speaking. The city was chartered in 1752 and during the 19th century was one of the most important cities in the region. It served as a market town and it is here that nine major roads converged along with the Winchester and Potomac Railroad. With the coming of the Civil War, the city’s location made it a prize coveted by both armies. It would famously change hands many times during the war with three major battles taking place here during the course of the war with a host of smaller battles and skirmishes taking place throughout the region. This bloody history has most certainly left a spiritual mark on the region and especially on Winchester.

Winchester’s ghosts have been documented primarily in Mac Rutherford’s 2007 book, Historic Haunts of Winchester: A Ghostly Trip Through the Past. This book is excellent in describing these hauntings more in depth. There is a ghost tour, Ghost Tours Old Town Winchester, Virginia, though they only have a Facebook page that doesn’t provide much information. (website).

STOP #1-ABRAM’S DELIGHT (1340 S. Pleasant Valley Road, Open daily M-Sat 10-4, Sun 12-4, Adults $5, website) One of the best places to understand the early history of Winchester is in the restored home of the Hollingsworth family, one of the first white families to settle in the area. Built by Abraham Hollingsworth in the mid-18th century, the house remained in the family until the City of Winchester purchased it in 1943. The house is apparently haunted by spirits of family members who once lived there. The family’s mill, which is now home to offices for the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society, is also the scene of some paranormal activity. Please see my blog entry (An independent spirit—Winchester, Virginia) for further information.

STOP #2-MOUNT HEBRON CEMETERY (305 E. Boscawen Street, Open daily 7:30 AM-6PM, website) Encompassing four different cemeteries, Mount Hebron holds some of the oldest burials in the city. Two of the cemeteries within its precincts date to the mid-18th century, while the large Stonewall Confederate Cemetery was created following the Civil War. This may also be the most haunted section of this cemetery. Visitors have noted the presence of a lone figure near the marker for the Patton Brothers, George and Tazewell (Col. George S. Patton was the grandfather of General George S. Patton who lead American forces during World War II). Wearing a military greatcoat and peaked hat, the figure walks towards the marker and disappears. Legend holds that the figure may be none other than Nazi Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. During the 1930s, Rommel was one of a number of German military leaders who spent time in the area studying the military tactics of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson.

Mount Hebron Cemetery gate house Winchester Virginia
Entrance and Gate House for Mount Hebron Cemetery. Photo 2010, by Karen Nutini, courtesy of Wikipedia.

While the Confederate dead—some of whom were unknown—were buried in the cemetery here, the Union dead were buried across Woodstock Lane in the National Cemetery. Mac Rutherford states that people living in the area and passersby just after sundown have seen grayish figures rising from the Confederate part of Mount Hebron and making their way across the street towards the National Cemetery.

STOP #3-DOWNTOWN WINCHESTER’S  haunted sites may be explored easily on foot, so these are grouped together.

STOP #3A-RED LION TAVERN BUILDING (204-208 South Loudoun Street) This historic tavern building was constructed in 1784 by German Revolutionary War veteran Peter Lauck. He is known to have had seven daughters, one of whom may still be seen and heard in the building. People recently working in the building have been thanked by a soft, feminine voice saying, “danke.” The shadowy figure of a woman in colonial dress is also sometimes seen.

STOP #3B-CORK STREET TAVERN (8 West Cork Street, Open M-Sat 11-1AM, Sun 12-10, website) Occupying a pair of early 19th century residences, the Cork Street Tavern has a pair of ghosts, though there seems to be some uncertainty as to why they’re there. Much of the structure’s history is well-known except for the period during Prohibition when the building may have been used as a speakeasy and brothel. The spectral pair, nicknamed John and Emily by the restaurant staff, have both made their presence known with a variety of activity. Apparitions of both have been seen in the building while Emily’s voice has been heard calling, “John,” a number of times. A spirit has also been known to trip female patrons walking into the non-smoking section. The level of activity here is high enough that it lead an investigator to remark during a 2009 investigation that “nothing holds a candle to Cork Street.” 

STOP #3C-SOUTH BRADDOCK STREET HAUNTS (Block of South Braddock between Cork and Boscawen) This block has spiritual activity from two different wars.

BRADDOCK STREET UNITED METHODIST CHURCH PARKING LOT (Intersection of South Braddock and Wolfe Streets, Southeast Corner) During the French and Indian War (1755-1762), Fort George, one of two forts built in the area under the purview of Colonel George Washington, stood near here. This piece of property was used for drilling recruits and Colonial soldiers have been seen in the area and in the building that once occupied this site.

Soldiers from the Civil War have been seen along this street. After the First Battle of Winchester on May 25, 1862 which was a Confederate victory, Union forces retreated along this street. According to Mac Rutherford, they held their formations along this street until they reached the center of town where they broke rank and ran for their lives. The reports of soldiers seen here usually include large formations of many soldiers.

STOP #3D-38 WEST BOSCAWEN STREET (private) One of Winchester’s most accomplished daughters, Patsy Cline, is associated with this building. It was here, at the G&M Music Store, where Cline bought her first guitar and made some of her first recordings. Visitors to the room that once housed the recording studio have experienced a coldness and claim to have felt the spirit of the famed singer.

STOP #3E-125 WEST BOSCAWEN STREET (private) The circa 1790 home at this site is now occupied by a law firm. Like many buildings throughout the city, this structure served as a hospital for the wounded during the Civil War. Employees of the businesses that have occupied this space over the past few decades have reported hearing footsteps regularly and feeling a cold chill in certain rooms.

STOP #3F-FULLER HOUSE INN (220 West Boscawen Street, private bed and breakfast inn, website) This magnificent home was constructed in 1854 incorporating the late 18th century servants quarters from the Ambler Hill Estate. On the eve of the Civil War, the house was purchased by prominent local dentist, Dr. William McPherson Fuller. This building was also commandeered for use as a hospital during the Civil War and that may explain the presence of a soldier who has been seen in the house.

STOP #3G-HANDLEY REGIONAL LIBRARY (100 West Piccadilly Street, Open M & W 10-8, T & F-Sat 10-5, Th 10-1, website) Opened in 1913, this glorious Beaux-Arts library was constructed as a gift to the city of Winchester from coal baron, Judge John Handley. The face of a man with a “drooping mustache” has been seen peering from the windows of the building’s rotunda. A full apparition of a man with a mustache and wearing a frock coat has been seen by library staff inside the building. Perhaps Judge Handley is checking up on his gift?

Handley Library Winchester Virginia
The glorious Beaux-Arts facade of the Handley Library. Photo 2011, by Missvain, courtesy of Wikipedia.

STOP #3H—KIMBERLY’S (LLOYD LOGAN HOUSE) (135 North Braddock Street, Open M-Sat 10-6, Sun 11-5, website) Lloyd Logan, a local tobacco merchant, built this home around 1850 and it was considered one of the finest homes in town. When war came, the house was commandeered for use by Union generals Franz Sigel and later Philip Sheridan. Under orders from General Sigel, Lloyd Logan was thrown in jail and the house and most of its contents were confiscated for army use. Logan’s wife and daughters were later removed from the house and unceremoniously dumped along the Valley Pike. This incident may contribute to the spiritual activity within the home. 

From Braddock Street, look up at the two windows on the south side of the second floor. Passersby have seen the figure of a man pacing and throwing his hands into the air. One witness noted that the figure was “really clear, sort of gray and fuzzy. I think he was even pulling at his hair.” Employees of Kimberly’s have also seen the man in that room and state that he is accompanied by a woman crying in the corner.

STOP #3I—PHILLIP WILLIAMS HOUSE (formerly JOE’S STEAKHOUSE) (25 West Piccadilly Street, ) A Confederate officer is frequently seen staring out the windows of this circa 1845 mansion. Legend holds that this is the spirit of Colonel George S. Patton (the same one buried in Mount Hebron Cemetery above) who died here September 19, 1864 from injuries sustained during the Third Battle of Winchester. He is believed to have passed away on the second floor.

STOP #3J—INDIAN ALLEY Figures of very tall Indians have been witnessed along this street. There are a number of legends dating to the 18th century regarding very tall Native Americans who once lived in the area. Perhaps the spirits of these original inhabitants return? The Indians are generally seen during the first and last light of the day.

STOP #3K—BREWBAKER’S RESTAURANT (168 North Loudoun Street, Open T-Sat 11AM-2AM, Sun 11-9, website) With a core dating the late 18th century, this old commercial building has been home to a continuous line of restaurants since 1910. However, the history does not explain the apparition of a young woman who appears near the fireplace.

STOP #3L—151 NORTH LOUDOUN STREET (formerly OLDE TOWN ARMORY AND HEIRLOOMS) Built originally as the Arlington Hotel, this building houses a ghost that was known recently to make a bathroom run every morning. Past owners of this building would have the front door open by itself followed by the sound of footsteps racing into the store and up the stairs. The water in the bathroom would be turned on in the upstairs bathroom. After some time, the spirit began leaving a penny outside the bathroom door. In one case, the spirit left a penny on the floor and placed a penny on the breasts of a female mannequin being stored just outside the bathroom.

STOP #3M—TAYLOR PAVILION (125 North Loudoun Street, private) In its heyday, the Taylor Hotel offered the grandest accommodations in the city. Opening just a decade before the Civil War, the hotel provided accommodations to many of the generals leading troops through the area. Sadly, the spirit of one of the red-headed call girls who served at the hotel still lingers.

STOP #3N—VILLAGE SQUARE RESTAURANT AND V2 PIANO BAR AND LOUNGE (103 North Loudoun Street, Open M-Th 11:30-10, F-Sat 11:30-12, Sun 11:30-8, website) These two establishments occupy a series of haunted structures all built in the early 19th century. Spirits flit and float throughout the restaurant, but the V2 Piano Bar and Lounge haa the real story to tell. This building formerly housed Miller’s Apothecary which opened on this site in the mid-18th century. The apothecary was operated by the Miller family until 1992 when they decided to shutter the business. Subsequent owners of the building have all had run-ins with the resident spirits including Jeanette, a young woman who lived with the Miller family in the 18th century.

Perhaps one of the saddest stories of this location comes from the Civil War. Union soldiers from the 29th Pennsylvania Infantry were quartered in the upstairs rooms. A young African-American male was lynched by the group in a tree just outside the building. The pacing of boots and the shouts of arguing soldiers are still heard here. 

STOP #3O—33 NORTH LOUDON STREET Be on the lookout for a young woman in Civil War era clothing hurrying along the street with a shawl wrapped around her shoulders near this address. She is believed to be the spirit of Tillie Russell, a local woman who legend calls, “The Angel of the Battlefield.”

A small engagement occurred at Rutherford’s Farm outside of Winchester on July 20, 1864 when Union forces attacked a Confederate division under command of General Stephen Ramseur, throwing it into confusion. Capt. Randolph Ridgeley of the 2nd Virginia Volunteer Infantry was seriously wounded during that attack as was discovered by Tillie Russell. She nursed him through the night and Ridgeley survived his wounds.

For years, people have seen the spirit of Miss Russell leaving the building at 33 North Loudoun pulling her shawl about her shoulders as she heads off towards the battlefield at Rutherford’s Farm.

STOP #3P—OLD COURT HOUSE CIVIL WAR MUSEUM (20 North Loudoun Street, Open M-Sat 10-5, Sun 1-5, Adults $5, website) Of all the buildings throughout the city impacted by the Civil War, the biggest impact was possibly on this building which was constructed in 1840 as the Frederick County Court House. The building served as a hospital and, after the Third Battle of Winchester, a prison for captured Confederates. Many of the scars left on this building including the graffiti left on the walls by soldiers from both sides have been preserved. The building has also been the scene of some rather intense spiritual activity.

Some spiritually sensitive passersby have witnessed gray forms huddled in the building’s courtyard where Confederate prisoners were kept. In the old courtroom, voices have been heard ranging from faint whispers to obnoxious shouting and the cries of the wounded that once crowded this space. During the building’s renovation, workers had tools and equipment moved. Three workers walked off the job when scaffolding was moved from one side of the room to another during a lunch break.

Old Frederick County Court House, 2011, by Saran Stierch. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

STOP #3Q—2 SOUTH LOUDOUN STREET (formerly OLDE TOWN CAFE) This large, brick building was originally the family home of the prominent Holliday family and this was the home of Frederick Holliday who served as governor during the 19th century. The building has seen a variety of uses including post office, a dry goods store and drug store. Since its use as a restaurant, the owners have discovered that the building is also the residence of two ghosts. A male spirit has been seen ascending the stairs from the basement, though he always just stops and stares upon reaching the top. A woman’s spirit has been seen entering the building’s front door and rearranging items on the shelves inside the restaurant.

Middletown

STOP #4—WAYSIDE INN (7783 Main Street, private bed and breakfast inn with a restaurant, Larrick’s Tavern, open 12-9 Th-Sat and Sun 10-2, website) This building sits at the core of history of this small town. The motley of old buildings forming the tavern were built over a period ranging from the 18th century through to the late 19th century. The oldest portion of the building, containing Larrick’s Tavern,  may have been constructed around 1750. The road in front was once part of the Great Wagon Road—the road used by settlers pouring into the American “backcountry.” In this area, the Great Wagon Road  was originally a Native American trail called the Great Indian Warpath and used by a multitude of Native American tribes including the Cherokee.

In 1797, this collection of buildings became an inn for the many travelers passing on the road. Leo Bernstein, the garrulous personality who took over the inn the latter half of the 20th century, would always claim that this inn was the oldest continuously operating inn in the nation. There does seem to be a good deal of truth behind his claim. It is known that this inn was in operation as war raged up and down the valley during the Civil War and that the inn served both sides.

Wayside Inn. Photo 2008, by DwayneP, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Like most buildings in the area, the inn has a number of Civil War related spirits, though there is the possibility that the inn may have been haunted before that time. Lord Fairfax, who had been given much the land in the area, did live nearby and died in Winchester (he’s buried at Christ Episcopal Church) is claimed as the spirit that moans on a nightly basis in the oldest portion of the inn. Bernstein describes the space in Sheila Turnage’s Haunted Inns of the Southeast, “Upstairs is about a three foot space. There was a set of steps going up there. The straw is still there.” The loft is located just above one of the bars and Turnage mentions that people gather to listen for the moan at 11:30 PM nightly.

Besides odd moans, the inn is home to numerous other spirits and employees and guests have witnessed much activity. Objects have moved on their own accord, a dishwasher had his apron untied repeatedly by unseen hands, and full apparitions have been seen including those of Civil War soldiers. Paranormal investigations have captured much evidence including EVPs of horses whinnying and photographs featuring specters.

STOP #5—WAYSIDE THEATRE (7853 Main Street, now closed) The sad fate of the Wayside Theatre echoes the fate of so many theatres throughout the country. The company was established in 1961, by Leo Bernstein, the owner of the Wayside Inn just down the street. The summer stock theatre provided training for actors such as Susan Sarandon, Peter Boyle, Kathy Bates and Donna McKechnie. After a precipitous drop in revenue, the theatre closed its doors in 2013.

The building was originally constructed as a cinema and it is from this period that the theatre’s ghost may come from. “George,” is supposedly the spirit of an African-American man who either worked in the theatre or was a caretaker at some point. His spirit is said to haunt the stage, balcony and basement of the building.

STOP #6—CEDAR CREEK AND BELLE GROVE NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK (Belle Grove, 336 Belle Grove Road, Open M-Sat 10-4, Sun 1-5, $12 Adults, website; Cedar Creek Visitor’s Center, 8437 Valley Pike, Open M-Sat 10-4, Sun 1-4, website) Historically and architecturally, Belle Grove is one of the most important houses in the region and listed as a National Historic Landmark. It is currently owned and operated by the National Trust and most sources state that the docents are discouraged from talking about the spirits which still reside here.

Belle Grove, 2013, by AgnosticPreachersKid. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The history of Belle Grove begins in the late 18th century with the land being acquired by Isaac Hite, the grandson of Jost Hite, a German immigrant and one of the early pioneers in this area. Construction of the house began in 1794 and ended in 1797. The house remained in the Hite family until just before the beginning of the Civil War when it was bought by John and Benjamin Cooley. The first of two ghost stories begin with this family. Not long after acquiring the house, Benjamin Cooley married a local woman named Hetty. Not long after her arrival in the home, Hetty became the subject of ire from one of the slave woman working there.

Though the details are unclear, Hetty was attacked by the slave and her beaten body was thrown either into the smokehouse or the icehouse on the property. Hetty’s spirit reportedly returns frequently and has been seen throughout the house. According to two sources, she actually let a deliveryman into the house one afternoon after the home had been closed for the day. The deliveryman was returning the antique carpets which had been removed for cleaning. After arriving late, he was let into the house by a woman in a period dress who did not speak but only gestured to where the carpets should be placed. When the staff discovered the carpets had been returned and put in place, they called the cleaning company who put the driver on the phone. They were shocked to hear about the woman who let him in.

A few years after Mrs. Cooley’s death, the estate became the scene of the Battle of Cedar Creek. During that battle, Major General Stephen Ramseur of North Carolina was gravely wounded. He was taken to a room at Belle Grove where he passed away the following morning surrounded by some of his former classmates from West Point from both armies including George Custer. This scene was witnessed by a gentleman some years ago. While idly passing through the house, he glanced into a room to see a group of Civil War soldiers in both blue and grey standing around someone in a bed. Later, when he asked who had been presenting the tableaux that day, he was informed that nothing of the sort was taking place in the house.

Employees have told various paranormal writers that voices and other odd noises are regularly heard in the house, while singing is heard in the slave cemetery on the property.

Early on the morning of October 19, 1864, Confederate General Jubal Early launched an attack upon Union forces camping in the area. These forces under General Sheridan (who was headquartered at the Lloyd Logan House in Winchester, see stop #3H) had spent their time clearing the Shenandoah Valley of Confederates. Known as “The Burning,” this period included the destruction of much of the area. Early’s early morning attack was one of the last chances for Confederates to stop the decimation of the valley.

While Early’s attack was initially successful in beginning to route the Federals, Sheridan, hearing the sounds of battle from Winchester, jumped upon his horse and made a triumphant ride to Middletown to rally his troops to victory. At the end of the day, Early’s forces had been driven from the field.

The stories of spirits on this battlefield began not long after the battle ended. These stories included spectral soldiers on the battlefield both singly and in groups and even stories of headless horsemen. Michael Varhola notes, however, that the gentlemen he met working in the visitor’s center, refused to answer his questions about the battlefield being haunted.

Grottoes

Formations within Grand Caverns. Photo 2010 by P199. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

STOP #7—GRAND CAVERNS (5 Grand Caverns Drive, Open 9-5, Adults $18, website) From the oldest continuously operating inn in the country to the oldest operating show cave, Grand Caverns has been open for tourists since 1806. I’ve covered this cave and its ghosts in a blog entry here.

New Hope

STOP #8—PIEDMONT BATTLEFIELD (Battlefield Road) Outside of New Hope, near the community of Piedmont, is an open field that was the scene of a battle, the 5th of June 1864.

Around 5 AM, June 5, 1996, a group of reenactors camping on the southern edge of the battlefield were awakened by an unusual ruckus: the sounds of wagons approaching. In an effort to greet the approaching wagons, a few of the reenactors stepped towards a nearby fence. The sounds, the creak of wagon wheels, the tinkle of chains, the clop of horses hooves and their whinnies, increased for a moment as they apparently neared the awed witnesses then they suddenly ceased. Some of those present later discovered an overgrown trace or wagon road in the woods near the spot where they’d heard the sounds. It is believed that this road may have been in existence at the time of the battle.

Of course, there’s no way to know if the sounds were related to battle or simply spiritual residue from the road’s history. Either way, the reenactors will likely tell this story for years to come.

Staunton

Like Winchester, Staunton has a myriad of haunted locales and a ghost tour. Black Raven Paranormal presents a handful of different tours; see their website for further information.

STOP #9—MRS. ROWE’S FAMILY RESTAURANT (74 Rowe Road) This popular restaurant has been investigated twice in the past few years after employees and guests have had run-ins with spirits. In addition to activity in the building’s attic and basement, the back dining room and men’s room have reportedly had activity. Two local news articles describe the activity as ranging from full apparitions to employees being touched.

STOP #10—DeJARNETTE CENTER (located behind the Frontier Culture Museum, 1290 Richmond Avenue, the center is closed and private property though one of the tours offered by the Ghosts of Staunton tours the grounds, don’t ask for further information at the Frontier Culture Museum, they can’t tell you much of anything) There’s a good deal of misinformation about this location. Of course, mental and psychiatric hospitals tend to be haunted, along with other medical facilities. Among those with a paranormal bent, there is a tendency to exploit these types of places and often repeat misinformation.

DeJarnette Center. Photo 2011, by Ben Schumin, courtesy of Wikipedia.

With the DeJarnette Center, there is a tendency to confuse it with Western State Hospital, which also may be haunted. Though their histories are intertwined, these are two separate facilities. Western State was founded early in the 19th century to handle the overflow from the Williamsburg Hospital which handled the insane and mental cases. The complex that once house Western State has recently been converted into condominiums called The Villages at Staunton.

During the first half of the 19th century, Western State was under the aegis of Dr. Joseph DeJarnette, a revolutionary figure in the field of mental health. His controversial legacy included institutionalizing a eugenics program that forcibly sterilized numerous patients throughout the state.

This facility opened in 1932 originally as the DeJarnette State Sanitarium, a private pay unit of Western State. The state assumed control of this facility in 1975 and renamed it the DeJarnette Center for Human Development. The facility experienced severe budget cuts starting in the mid-70s and continuing until the patients were moved into a newer, smaller facility adjacent to Western State in 1996. Since 1996, the site has been abandoned and waiting for the wrecking ball. Countless ghost stories have been told about the facility, though few have actually been published.

STOP #11—DOWNTOWN STAUNTON Like downtown Winchester, Staunton has a number of haunted places, though the information on them is not as readily available (as opposed to Winchester with Mac Rutherford’s book on its hauntings). I imagine many of these locations will be presented on the Ghosts of Staunton tour.

STOP #11A—STAUNTON COFFEE AND TEA (32 South New Street, Open M-F 7:30-6, Sat 8-5, Sun 8-4, website) This building was the scene of a homicide in August of 1951. Elmer Higgins, a heavy gambler who lived in an apartment on the building’s second floor was shot in the head, execution-style. The murder remains unsolved and it is believed his spirit remains on the premises.

STOP #11B—AMTRAK STATION (1 Middlebrooks Avenue) There has been a train station on this site since 1854. The first station was burned during the Civil War while the second station was destroyed April 28, 1890 by train. The New York Times described the event, “This morning about 3 o’clock a railroad wreck occurred at the Staunton (Chesapeake and Ohio) Station. The vestibule train, due here from the west at 1 o’clocl was two hours late. About 3 o’clock it came whirling on at a speed of seventy miles an hour, the engine having the appearance of a sheet of fire…As the train reached the passenger station the rear sleeper careened, striking the platform covering, tearing away the iron posts, and demolishing the whole platform structure.”

Staunton Amtrak Station. Photo 2009, by Ben Schumin, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The train was carrying members of a traveling operatic troupe out of Cincinnati, Ohio. The only death to occur was one of the company’s singers, Miss Myrtle Knox who was badly mangled by the accident and bled to death.

Myrtle’s sad spirit has been spotted on the platform wearing a nightgown. Women with long blonde hair have had their hair tugged and it is believed that Myrtle’s spirit may be to blame for that as well.

An old rail car at the depot once contained a restaurant. Visitors to the station have seen odd lights, shadows and heard voices around the old Pullman car. Along the tracks the apparition of a Civil War soldier has been seen. A Confederate soldier was walking these tracks after having a bit too much to drink at a local saloon. He was hit by a train and killed.

STOP #11C— THE CLOCK TOWER BUILDING (27 West Beverly Street) This 1890 structure has been the scene of at least three deaths. Two early deaths on the premises, which was originally constructed as a YMCA facility, include a heart attack and a young woman who fell down a coal chute. Recently, someone fell to their death from the third floor in a possible suicide. These spirits are still said to linger in this old building.

STOP #12—MARY BALDWIN COLLEGE (Intersection of Frederick Street and New Street) According to the National Register of Historic Places nomination form for this college’s main building, Mary Baldwin is the oldest women’s institution of higher learning associated with the Presbyterian Church. The school was opened in 1842 as the Augusta Female Seminary. In the midst of the Civil War, Mary Baldwin and Agnes McClung, former students of the seminary were appointed as principals. They would serve the school through the latter half of the 19th century and Mary Baldwin’s contribution would be recognized in 1895 when the school was renamed for her. The spirits of Mary Baldwin and Agnes McClung may remain on campus along with a few other assorted spirits.

In the old Main Building, one of the first buildings constructed on campus, a male spirit named Richard likes to occasionally cause trouble. McClung Residence Hall, just behind the Main Building includes the rooms where Baldwin and McClung lived during their tenure here. Students living there have reported the spirits of both women, with one student even waking up to find a white figure hovering over her as she slept. The Collins Theatre, located inside the Deming Fine Arts Center, also features a spirit, possibly that of one of Mary Baldwin’s most illustrious alums, the actress Tallulah Bankhead. The spirit in the theatre is known to mess with the stage lights.

Gordonsville

Exchange Hotel, 2008, by Rutke421. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

STOP #13—CIVIL WAR MUSEUM AND EXCHANGE HOTEL (400 South Main Street, Open M-Th & Sat 10-4, F 12-4, Sun 1-4, $7 Adults, website) The Exchange Hotel has, in recent years, become one of the Southern meccas for ghost hunters. Opened on the eve of the Civil War, this hotel became one of the premier hospitals for the wounded during the Civil War. With so many deaths here, it’s no wonder that the place is crawling with ghosts. In one of my early blog entries, I’ve covered this location. At one time, the museum offered ghost walks, but I can currently find no information about these. This haunting was also covered on the Biography Channel show, My Ghost Story, first season, episode six.

Sources

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  • The Wayside Theatre—Middletown, VA.” Haunted Commonwealth. 15 May 2010.
  • Westhoff, Mindi. “Paranormal group presents downtown ghost tour.” The Daily News Leader. 24 September 2008.
  • Williams, J.R. “Paranormal investigators examine Cork Street Tavern for ghost activity.” The Northern Virginia Daily. 3 August 2009.
  • Winchester-Frederick County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Winchester Historic Sites. Accessed 19 September 2014.
  • “A Young Singer Killed.” New York Times. 29 April 1890.

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 a provincial life behind 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.

Straddling the state line between Tennessee and Virginia, Bristol’s State Street sits directly on that line 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 meeting 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.

A train pulls into the 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 to stand on the site. Once passenger service ended in 1969, the depot was used briefly for shopping and dining but then it 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 studio. Those two songs would inspire a recording career that would propel Rodgers into history.

While no longer the scene of dramatic transitions with 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, known as “Big Will,” stood near cajoling 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. As the train pulled 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.

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, according to legend, is 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, an investigation 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 of the train station 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 captured during the investigation. While a few unintelligible EVPs were captured, the most compelling piece of evidence is a video that was captured mostly 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 that argues 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.

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.