Sipping with Spirits—Louisville, Kentucky

This article is the first in a series highlighting haunted bars throughout the South. 

META
425 West Chestnut Street
Louisville, Kentucky

The clump of three commercial structures on West Chestnut Street in downtown Louisville could not be more disparate; a delicate Beaux-Arts commercial building stands with an English Tudor structure with an unremarkable and squat building separating the two. The English Tudor building, which seems to be a transplanted British pub, is now occupied by META, one of Louisville’s best-known “upscale dive bars.” The unremarkable building in the middle appears to be occupied by a tattoo parlor, while the tallest building in the group is a strip club.

Opening on December 5 (Prohibition Repeal Day), 2013, META specializes in unique takes on classic cocktails in an atmosphere that hearkens towards sophistication and seediness. META’s location, two doors down from a strip club, and a former strip club, the Show-n-Tell Lounge, adds to the bar’s sense of seediness. According to Thrillist, the spirit of a former dancer remains in the building, perhaps reminding staff and patrons of the building’s darker past. The apparition of this young woman has been seen gliding through the back hallway and some staying late in the bar have reported an uneasy feeling permeating the air. The identity of this young woman is unknown.

In 1912, the Courier-Journal reported on a dinner held at Kerner’s restaurant at this address: “Two dozen adherents of the Prohibition party, half of them women,” met to organize the county’s first Prohibition organization. So, if you encounter a wraith at META, she may be down for a dance or upset at your imbibing.

Louisville Courier-Journal, 17 March 1934.

While I haven’t been able to determine when the building was constructed, there are many clues scattered in the pages of the local paper. A camera shop, Schuhmann’s Click Clinic, occupied the building in the last three decades of the 20th century; while an exterminating business operated here in the latter part of the 1930s. In 1934, a tailor’s shop at this site was the scene of a suicide when a man shot himself in the head in a wash room. Perhaps this poor gentleman’s spirit remains here?

Sources

Haunted North Carolina, Briefly Noted

North Carolina has a plethora of haunted, mystic, and legendary places. Some of these locations were covered in the early days of my blog, though they have been updated and rewritten when necessary.

Biltmore Greensboro Hotel
111 West Washington Street
Greensboro

Built in 1903, the building that now houses the Biltmore was constructed as an “up-to-date and well appointed” office building for a textile manufacturer. When that company moved its offices to larger quarters, the building hosted other businesses and a post office before becoming an apartment building. According to a local ghost tour, during this time the apartments were used by ladies of the evening. After a disastrous fire, new owners in the late 1960s sought to turn the building into an upscale hotel. They hired noted local interior designer, Otto Zenke (who may be the spirit inhabiting the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department), to create an elegant and sumptuous boutique hotel that was opened under the name The Greenwich Inn. After renovations in 1992, the hotel reopened as the Biltmore Greensboro.

Two deaths within the building have left spiritual impressions on the Biltmore. During the building’s initial incarnation as offices for the Cone Export and Commission Company, which operated a number of a local textile mills, a young accountant, named as Philip in local legend, was discovered dead one morning in an alley outside. The reason for his death never came to light and speculation purports that he may have discovered inconsistencies in the company’s books. In fact, questions remain as to if Philip was murdered or died by his own hand.

Room 332 is believed to have once served as Philip’s office and his restless spirit has been blamed for activity in and around that room. Guests have been disturbed by the sounds of footsteps in the corridor that sound like someone walking on a bare wooden floor, despite carpeting. Others have seen the spirit standing at the foot of their beds or at the window.

The spirit of Lydia, a former resident and perhaps, a lady of the evening, also makes her presence known. Room 223 is her former room and guests have complained that the light in the room’s bathroom often turns itself on along with the faucet. The door to the room has problems staying closed while housekeepers continue to find long strands of red hair next to the sink in the bathroom, as well. A mother staying in the room several years ago reported that her son encountered a “pretty red-headed lady” in the bathroom. That room has been decorated in pink and gifts of lipstick have been left in the closet in order to appease the feminine specter.

Sources

  • Biltmore Greensboro Hotel. “History.” Accessed 4 May 2018.
  • Bordsen, John. “Find the most haunted place in these Carolina towns.” Dispatch-Argus. 31 October 2010.
  • Ford, Hope. “Haunted Biltmore: the Ghost Stories of Greensboro’s Hotel.” 4 July 2016.

Harper House
Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site
5466 Harper House Road
Four Oaks

With the exception of the coast, North Carolina was spared much of the fighting during the Civil War. It’s hard to imagine what John Harper and his family endured when they found their farm embroiled in battle in 1865. The family’s home was commandeered as a field hospital and their inner sanctum was disturbed by the screams and cries of the wounded, blood staining the floor, and piles of amputated limbs stacking up outside. The Harper family abandoned their home not long after the battle; perhaps due to the phantom screams and cries that were still heard in the house at night. The Harper House and the Bentonville battlefield have been preserved as a state park and visitors and staff continue to encounter paranormal phenomena.

Harper House on the Bentonville Battlefield, 2009, by Straitgate. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

One of the most interesting encounters was experienced in 1990 by a family who visited the Harper House. The family was guided by a woman through what they believed was a living history reenactment with wounded soldiers being brought into the house and treated as well as a civilian man who appeared as John Harper. When the family described what they saw to the staff at the visitor’s center, they were told that there was no such living history exhibition at the house.

Sources

  • Barefoot, Daniel W. North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Vol. 2: Piedmont Phantoms. Winston-Salem, NC, John F. Blair, 2002.
  • Toney, B. Keith. Battlefield Ghosts. Berryville, VA: Rockbridge Publishing, 1997.

High Hampton Inn
1525 Highway 107, South
Cashiers

Set amid some 1400 acres in the Appalachians, the High Hampton Inn looks over a sheer mountainside that rises above a 55-acre lake. When I visited a few years ago, I was struck by the serenity and beauty but also the old-fashioned charm that seemed to envelop the resort. That same beauty and charm have given rise to a legend concerning a white owl.

High Hampton began as a hunting lodge for the wealthy Hampton family of South Carolina and in 1922, an inn was constructed on the property and the grounds opened to the public. Prior to the ownership of E.L. McKee, who built the inn, the property was owned by noted surgeon, Dr. William Halstead. Halstead did much to expand the property, purchasing nearby land and farms, among them the property of Louisa Emmeline Zachary.

The High Hampton Inn, 2006, by RichardKenni. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Upon her marriage, Zachary’s property passed to her husband, Hannibal Heaton, who sold it to Halstead despite his wife’s threats to kill herself if he did. Shortly after the sale, Heaton discovered his wife’s body hanging in a barn with a large barn owl flying about. According to legend, a large white owl continues to haunt the grounds of the High Hampton Inn.

Sources

  • High Hampton Inn Historic District. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 8 February 2011.
  • Williams, Stephanie Burt. Haunted Hills, Ghosts and Legends of Highlands and Cashiers, North Carolina. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2007.

Horace Williams House
610 East Rosemary Street
Chapel Hill

The Horace Williams House, 2007, by Jerrye and Roy Klotz, MD. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

An interest in phrenology, the study of how the shape of the head affects intelligence and character, led to the interesting octagon design of the Horace Williams House. Construction on the home was begun in the mid-1850s by University of North Carolina chemistry professor Benjamin Hedrick, whose designs were based on the book, A Home for All or the Gravel Wall and Octagon Mode of Building, by phrenologist Orson Fowler. Fowler posited that the design of the home affected and influenced harmony between those living in the home. Subsequently, this book was important in the building of many octagon homes throughout the nation.

The home passed through a few hands until it ended up with Professor Horace Williams, a beloved and noted professor of philosophy. Upon Williams’ death in 1940, the home and contents were left to the university and the house has been preserved as a museum. Native American and Civil War artifacts discovered around the house indicate that some spiritual activity may be caused by a range of people who have inhabited the property in the past. Activity in the home includes the appearance of a professorial apparition of a gentleman, most likely that of Williams.

Sources

  • Ambrose, Kala. Ghosthunting North Carolina. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2011.
  • Bordsen, John. “Find the most haunted place in these Carolina towns.” Dispatch-Argus. 31 October 2010.

Körner’s Folly
413 South Main Street
Kernersville

After a paranormal investigation of Körner’s Folly revealed evidence that the house may be haunted, the 85-year old granddaughter of the home’s builder Jule Körner, stated that, “he would be thrilled to death to know this was haunted. He always liked things that were out of the ordinary.” Indeed, Körner’s legacy is unique. The house was begun in 1878 and “completed” in 1880, though Körner continued to remodel the house until his death in 1924. Jule Körner made his name as an advertising painter for Bull Durham Tobacco but was also talented as a designer and he put his talents on display throughout the house.

Körner’s Folly, photo by Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy of the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

It is believed that a number of spirits may dwell within this unparalleled edifice. Visitors and staff have spotted a woman as well as a child in Victorian clothing, but much of the activity is aural. During some recent paranormal investigations digital recorders have picked up a number of voices. One voice responded with curiosity to an investigator asking about setting up for EVPs, “What is EVP?” Another recorder picked up a voice saying. “Hauuuuunted.” According to the house museum’s paranormal advisor the spirits in the home are curious and happy to remain in this unique place. Strange stuff, indeed.

Sources

  • Ambrose, Kala. Ghosthunting North Carolina. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2011.
  • History of Körner’s Folly. Körner’s Folly Website. Accessed 6 February 2011.
  • “Paranormal News: Korner’s Folly Certified Haunted.” Ghost Eyes: Most Haunted Places in America Blog. Accessed 6 February 2011.
  • Renegar, Michael and Amy Spease. Ghosts of The Triad: Tales from the Haunted Heart of the Piedmont. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011.

Old Burying Ground
Ann Street
Beaufort

Among the oldest cemeteries in the state, Beaufort’s Old Burying Ground lies in a verdant peace under ancient oaks. Established in the early 18th century, this burying ground holds victims of the Tuscarora War which was fought in the area from 1711-1715. Other conflicts are also well-represented including the War of 1812, and the American Civil War which provides a member of the Union Army’s Colored Infantry.

Old Burying Ground, 2012, by Carl Griffith. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Perhaps the most poignant grave here is that of a little girl. Bearing the inscription, “Little girl buried in rum keg,” this small plot is the origin of many stories, including a ghost legend. The girl was the progeny of a local family who longed to see Britain. Despite her mother’s worries, the girl’s father took her abroad with a promise that he would return the child to her mother. When the child passed during the journey home, the father preserved the frail corpse in a keg of rum. Instead of placing the small body in a coffin for burial, the parents decided to bury the child in the keg of rum.

The small grave is marked with trinkets and toys visitors have left as offerings to the little girl’s spirit and she is said to stroll the burying ground after dark. A member of the local historical society noted that the legend is bunk, but ghost tours continue to tell the story.

Sources

  • Ambrose, Kala. Ghosthunting North Carolina. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2011.
  • Bordsen, John. “Find the most haunted place in these Carolina towns.” Dispatch-Argus. 31 October 2010.
  • Brown, Nic. “North Carolina’s Old Burying Ground.” Garden & Gun. April/May 2015.
  • Shaffer, Josh. “Tale of Beaufort girl buried in rum keg lures visitors.” Charlotte Observer. 7 October 2012.

Haunted Virginia, Briefly Noted

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

Aquia Church
2938 Jefferson Davis Highway
Stafford

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

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

Sources

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

Assateague Lighthouse
Assateague Island

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

Assateague Lighthouse, 2007, by DCwom, courtesy of Wikipedia.

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

Sources

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

Bacon’s Castle
465 Bacon’s Castle Trail
Surry

Bacon’s Castle, 2006, by Yellowute, courtesy of Wikipedia.

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

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

Sources

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

Belle Isle
Richmond

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

Belle Isle, 2012, by Morgan Riley, courtesy of Wikipedia.

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

Sources

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

Michie Tavern
683 Thomas Jefferson Parkway
Charlottesville

Michie Tavern, 2005, by Forestufighting, courtesy of Wikipedia.

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

Sources

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

Monticello
931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway
Charlottesville

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

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

Sources

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

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

Octagon House, 2007, by RegionalGirl137, courtesy of Wikipedia.

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

Sources

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

Old ’97 Crash Site
Route 58 and Riverside Drive
Danville

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

The wreck of the Old ’97, 1903.

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

Sources

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

Rosewell
5113 Old Rosewell Lane
Gloucester

Rosewell ruins, 2002, by Agadant, courtesy of Wikipedia.

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

Sources

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

Belle of the Boos—Louisville, Kentucky

Belle of Louisville
401 West River Road
Louisville, Kentucky

After the ball is over, after the break of morn,
After the dancers leaving, after the stars are gone,
Many a heart is aching if you could read them all,
Many the hopes that have vanished after the ball.
–Charles K. Harris (1891), classic American Vaudeville song

On nights after the Belle of Louisville has pulled back into the 4th Street Dock and its passengers have disembarked; the ship’s crew has reported that things sometimes get weird. Shadows and apparitions have been seen; disembodied footsteps and voices have been heard all by crewmembers working after hours.

The Belle of Louisville on the Ohio River in the evening, 1972. Photo from the National Archives.

Built in 1914 in Pittsburg as the Idlewild, the Belle of Louisville has served for more than a century as a day packet, ferry, and excursion boat. For decades, the ship provided transportation and pleasure cruises for citizens up and down the Mighty Mississippi and other major rivers. Since the early 1960s, the ship has served the city of Louisville, its purchase and rechristening an attempt to reconnect the city to the river. The ship has been named a National Historic Landmark as one of the last remaining steamships of its type in the country.

Several sources note that the ship is not haunted, at least according to official sources. In 2013, the ship and its sister life-saving station, the Mayor Andrew Broaddus, were featured on an episode of SyFy’s Ghost Hunters. This first public excursion into the ship’s tragic history included a nod to one of the ship’s former captains, Ben Winters. The captain of the ship in the years following World War II, Winters was overseeing the ship when it was raided after authorities were tipped off about illegal slot machines aboard. Winters was struck with a heart attack as a result of the raid and passed away a short time later.

It is believed that Winters’ spirit may remain aboard the ship. One former employee reportedly saw a full apparition of Winters some years ago. While working alone in the ship’s office, the employee looked down to file some papers. When he glanced back up he was face to face with the late Captain Winters. For several seconds, the employee stared at the dead man overcome with a sense of fear before the spirit faded from view.

The Belle of Louisville on the Ohio River at dusk, 1972. Photo from the National Archives.

The episode also uncovered the sad story of “Floyd,” a crewmember allegedly sent to his death by Winters. Legend holds that Winters had a disagreement with a crewmember whom he sent to work on the ship’s paddlewheel. While the man worked, the captain ordered the ship’s boilers to be fired and to head out full steam ahead. The paddlewheel was engaged with the crewmember still on it. The poor man was mangled and drowned in the churning machinery. The spirit of this crewmember may be among the spirits that have not left the ship.

The Belle of Louisville, 2006. By Bo, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Author and tour guide Robert Parker had a terrifying experience while touring the Belle of Louisville on a cold night in September of 2003. After a short tour, Parker and his companion were allowed to explore the ship. The pair stepped into one room where they noticed an uncanny chill. As they began to leave, Parker spied a diamond ring almost hidden in the room’s paneling. He jokingly slid it on his finger and was overcome with a chill. Quickly, he removed the ring and returned it to its ledge in the paneling. Continuing out onto the deck of the ship, Parker and his companion again felt a serious chill near the ship’s calliope. After their experience, the pair learned that a crewmember had been stabbed to death in that area.

Beware, if you find yourself aboard the Belle of Louisville after the ball, you may encounters some of the specters that continue to lurk on the steamer.

Sources

  • Foster, Kevin J. Nomination Form for the National Register of Historic Places for Belle of Louisville. 10 April 1972.
  • Louisville Ghost Hunters Society. “Belle of Louisville,” in Jeff Belanger’s Encyclopedia of Haunted Places. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books, 2005.
  • Parker, Robert. Haunted Louisville. Alton, IL: Whitechapel Press, 2007.
  • Season 9 Episode 5 Recap: ‘All Ghosts on Deck.’SyFy. Accessed 16 April 2018.

Alabama Hauntings—County by County Part VII

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.

Talladega County

Talladega Superspeedway
3366 Speedway Boulevard
Lincoln

Curses figure into many Southern legends, especially in places that are legendary themselves, places like Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, the home of country music. So, it’s no surprise that the largest and perhaps the most important race track in the NASCAR circuit is home to legends of a curse and other strange activity.

Opening in 1969 as the Alabama International Motor Speedway, the track was anointed with its current name in 1989. Despite initial questions about the safety of the track, the speedway has been used successfully for more than four decades.

Aerial view of the Talladega Superspeedway, 2007, by AuburnPilot. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Stories reveal that the spit of land where the track now sits was cursed. Many tales lay the blame for that curse on the Muscogee Creek people who were forced from this area in the 1830s. These tales are usually the result of romantic, overactive imaginations of white settlers.

Nonetheless, there have been some deaths here starting in 1973 when driver Larry Smith was killed after his car hit the outside concrete wall. Besides a handful of other drivers who have lost their lives here, several freakish accidents have claimed a few more lives. Several drivers on the course have reported hearing voices while racing. Stories of the “Talladega Jinx” became so common that in 2009 the president of NASCAR brought in a Muscogee Creek medicine man to “restore balance to the land.” There is no word if that has worked.

Sources

  • Crider, Beverly. Legends and Lore of Birmingham and Central Alabama. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2014.
  • Estes, Cary. “Talladega Superspeedway.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. 28 October 2008.
  • Hinton, Ed. “They’re hearing voices at Talladega.” com. 22 April 2009.

Tallapoosa County

Tallassee Community Library
99 Freeman Avenue
Tallassee

In a 2008 Tallassee Tribune article, the librarian of the Tallassee Community Library, calls them her “ghostly patrons.” She continues, “When I get here every morning between 7:30 and 8 a.m. and open the door, for about the rst ve seconds, I hear music, laughter, and children.” During times when she is alone in the building, she will hear movement and the peculiar sound of pages being turned coming from one corner. And she is not the only one to have this experience, other employees and patrons have their own stories.

When this unassuming small-town library was featured on an episode of the Biography Channel show My Ghost Story the librarian described how she will often be re-shelving books only to have a force push back against the book. She mentions that at times, entire shelves of books will be found to have been turned around when she opens the library in the morning. The activity eventually got to the point where the librarian asked a paranormal investigation team to look into what may be going on here. Enter David Higdon, an investigator with the Tuscaloosa Paranormal Research Society and co-author (with Brett J. Talley) of two books on the ghosts of Tuscaloosa and the Black Belt.

The first time Higdon entered the children’s section of the library, he recalls that he felt that, “something just ain’t right in this room.” Later asking for a sign of a presence he heard two loud, distinct knocks, knocks that he found to be very disturbing. After asking for another sign, the investigators were met with a loud crash as the grating over the replace came crashing down. The startled investigators quickly left the room.

The group also investigated the basement of the library, where the librarian reported she heard growls as well as the voices of a group of people in conversation. It was here that a startling EVP was captured; after the spirit was asked for a name, a response was recorded saying, “You may address me as Sergeant Fuller.” From this, investigators believe that at least one of the spirits may be a soldier who died at the field hospital located near here during the Civil War. The children that are heard throughout the building may date to the building’s original use as a clubhouse for local children. As well as the living, the library continues to be patronized by spectral children and soldiers.

Sources

  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • My Ghost Story, Episode 3.3. Biography Channel. 29 October 2011.
  • “Paranormal group visits local library.” Tallassee Tribune. 11 April 2011.

Tuscaloosa County

Little Roundhouse
Campus of the University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa

On April 4, 1865, as much of the rest of the university was blazing under orders from Union General John T, Croxton, this small sentry house—the only actual military building on campus—received little damage. This crenelated Gothic Revival building was constructed in 1860 as the university moved to a military system in hopes of restoring order and discipline. The octagonal building provided shelter for students as they endured guard duty.

Tradition holds that though most students had left campus to help defend the Confederate cause, two eager students remained to “kill Yankees.” As the campus was burning, a Union soldier stumbled upon one of the remaining students asking if there was whiskey on campus.

Little Round House, 2010, by Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy of the George F. Landregger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

He was directed to the guardhouse where his companion lay in wait to ambush the thirsty soldiers. By the end of the night, several Union troops lay dead in the Little Round House. While this is a marvelous story, there does not appear to be any truth behind it.

The legend continues that if one puts their ear to the door of the Little Round House, one can hear the sounds of the thirsty Yankees still searching for their whiskey.

Sources

  • Center, Clark E. “University of Alabama (UA).” Encyclopedia of Alabama. 12 September 2009.
  • Crider, Beverly. “Crimson Hauntings: The Ghosts of UA.” com. 10 May 2012.
  • Floyd, W. Warner & Janice P. Hand. National Register of Historic Place Nomination Form for the Gorgas-Manly Historic District. 2 June 1971.
  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Tuscaloosa. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2012.
  • “Question of Shape: Little Round House, A.” Dialog (UA faculty newsletter). 9 November 2009.
  • Windham, Kathryn Tucker. Jeffrey’s Latest 13: More Alabama Ghosts. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1982.

Walker County

Franklin Ferry Bridge
Franklin Ferry Road over the Black Warrior River
Adger

This bridge over the Black Warrior River plays host to the spirit of an angry motorist who supposedly throws sticks and stones at eighteen-wheelers as they pass over the bridge. An article in the Birmingham News mentions this as a legend told among truckers passing through the region. Perhaps this is a spectral case of road rage?

Sources

  • MacDonald, Ginny. “Boootiful Alabama: Don’t let night catch you driving alone.” Birmingham News. 31 October 2002.

Washington County

St. Stephens Historical Park
2056 Jim Long Road
St. Stephens

Occupying a bluff above the Tombigbee River, settlement here precedes the creation of the state of Alabama. In the years following the American Revolution, Spain built a fort atop this bluff, naming it Fort San Esteban. Their stay, however, was temporary, and they lost the fort in the 1795 Treaty of San Lorenzo, which redrew the boundary lines. In 1799, the fort was occupied by American forces. The establishment of a trading post for trade with local Native Americans attracted frontiersmen to the area and St. Stephens began to grow as a town.

With the creation of the state of Mississippi in 1817, the rapidly growing town of St. Stephens was named as the territorial capital of the Alabama territory. When the territorial government created the state of Alabama in 1819, political wrangling led to Cahaba being named as state capital. St. Stephens’ importance diminished by the capital move, the town slowly withered over the next few decades. By the Civil War, the original town had mostly vanished with the establishment of a new town of St. Stephens several miles away.

An article in a 1928 edition of the Birmingham News relates a legend about St. Stephens. According to the legend, St. Stephens, at its height, was an “ungodly place,” lacking a house of worship. An itinerant preacher wanting to hold religious services asked if he could use a local saloon to that purpose. His suggestion was met with ridicule and the preacher was ordered out of town. As he was forced out he cursed the town with disaster and ruin.

Stories of the prosperous town destroyed after being cursed by a holy man exist throughout Southern folklore. Some sources on this story argue that the holy man in the St. Stephens story is none other than famed Methodist preacher Lorenzo Dow. It is known that Dow passed through the area during St. Stephens’ most prosperous era. While nothing remains of the old St. Stephens above ground, in accordance with the curse, archaeological excavation has slowly begun to uncover the foundations and cellars of this most historic town.

Sources

  • Higdon, David & Brett Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Lewis, Herbert J. “Old St. Stephens.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. 4 September 2008.
  • Stockham, Richard J. “The Misunderstood Lorenzo Dow.” Alabama Review. January 1963.

Wilcox County

GainesRidge Dinner Club
933 AL-10
Camden

The owner of the GainesRidge Dinner Club does not describe her paranormal experience as a “ghost story” but rather as a “ghost truth.” While in the restaurant one evening preparing for the next day with the cook, the owner went upstairs to retrieve a pot. While upstairs, she heard a voice calling her to come quickly downstairs. The owner raced down the stairs and found the cook in the kitchen calmly preparing food. The cook looked up and said that she had not called the owner, nor did she know who did. After a fruitless search for someone else in the restaurant, the owner and the cook fled the restaurant.

One of the oldest structures in the area, this house is believed to have been built in the 1820s. After the house was opened as a restaurant in 1985, the owners and staff have reported a variety of paranormal manifestations including the spectral crying of an infant and the shade of a tall bearded man. Author Beverly Crider relates in her Legends and Lore of Birmingham and Central Alabama that a very young relative she took to dinner here saw a spectral dog and later a little boy, neither of which were seen by the adults present.

Sources

  • Alabama Ghost Trail. “Gaines Ridge.” YouTube. 6 July 2009.
  • Brief History of GainesRidge.” GainesRidge Dinner Club. Accessed 7 June 2015.
  • Crider, Beverly. Legends and Lore of Birmingham and Central Alabama. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2014.

Winston County

AL-5
Between Nauvoo, Lynn, and Natural Bridge

The stretch of Alabama Highway 5 between Nauvoo, Lynn, and Natural Bridge is said to be haunted by the spirit of a young woman who met her death here. According to Barbara Duffey’s 1996 book, Angels and Apparitions, the young woman was killed along this section of highway in 1990. She and her boyfriend were driving a Buick when they began arguing and pulled off the road. After the boyfriend had assaulted his girlfriend, she fled towards the truck stop across the road. As she crossed the road, she was struck by an eighteen-wheeler. Since then, her desperate spirit has been encountered by motorists driving here after dark.

In her book, Trucker Ghost Stories, Annie Wilder includes a story from a Hamilton, Alabama resident. The version of this tale he relates specifies that the young woman was a high school student who had been attending her school’s prom. After a fight with her boyfriend, she asked that he put her out on the side of the road saying she would walk home. While walking down the side of the busy highway, she was hit and killed by a tractor-trailer. He continues, saying that the spirit will climb up on the step of trucks passing through and stare at the driver. This local relates an experience he had while traveling down this stretch of road one evening. He felt the sensation of a spirit’s presence, but he wouldn’t turn his head to see if anything was there.

Sources

  • Duffey, Barbara. Angels and Apparitions: True Ghost Stories from the South. Eatonton, GA: Elysian Publishing, 1996.
  • Wilder, Annie. Trucker Ghost Stories. NYC: TOR, 2012.

Alabama Hauntings—County by County Part VI

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.

Montgomery County

Pratt Hall
Campus of Huntingdon College
Montgomery

Huntingdon College’s most famous spirit may have followed the college as it moved to Montgomery from Tuskegee. In the school’s original dormitories, the upper floors, known as “Sky Alley,” were supposed to have been haunted by a Red Lady. After the school’s move to its new campus and the construction of Julia A. Pratt Residence Hall in 1912, the Red Lady may have taken up residence on the third floor.

Students still tell the legend of the Red Lady. A young woman arrived at the school from New York. Very much out of place in this Southern school, the woman remained aloof and was shunned by the other students. Depressed, she committed suicide in her room. In life, this young woman had always favored red, and her lonely spirit is still seen drifting the corridors of Pratt Hall in her favorite color.

Sources

  • Enzwiler, Susan & Trina Brinkley. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for Huntingdon College. August 1999.
  • Sellers, Shawn. Montgomery: A City Haunted by History. Shawn Sellers 2013.
  • Serafin, Faith. Haunted Montgomery, Alabama. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Windham, Kathryn Tucker and Margaret Gillis Figh. 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama, 1969.

Morgan County

Old State Bank
925 Bank Street
Decatur

In 2015 a friend of author Jessica Penot was driving through downtown Decatur with her young daughter. As they passed the Old State Bank, the child asked, “Mommy, why was that lady in the black dress murdered?” The mother immediately asked her daughter what she meant, to which the child replied, “Can we quit talking about this now?” The mother did a bit of research and discovered that there are two female spirits associated with the old bank, one who is weeping and one in a black dress.

Old State Bank, 2010, by Chris Pruitt. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Literally in “high cotton,” the Bank of the State of Alabama built this structure as a branch in 1833. Nearly a decade later, when the state legislature discovered corruption they refused to renew the bank’s charter, and the bank was shuttered. The building was requisitioned as a hospital during the Civil War as the city passed between control of Confederate and Union forces. At the end of the war, Decatur lay in ruins except for a few buildings including this one.

The identity of the two mysterious female entities is unknown, however. Perhaps they are the lady loves of soldiers who breathed their last here or maybe they are nurses who tended to the wounded. These spirits have been seen by visitors and staff alike, and investigations have uncovered evidence of their presence.

Sources

  • Floyd, W. Warner. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for State Bank Building, Decatur Branch. 15 June 1971.
  • Langella, Dale. Haunted Alabama Battlefields. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Penot, Jessica. “The little girl who saw a ghost.” Ghost Stories and Haunted Places Blog. 28 April 2015.

Perry County

Marion Military Institute
1101 Washington Street
Marion

As the oldest military junior college in the country, Marion Military Institute traces its roots to the opening of Howard College in 1842. A Baptist institution, Howard College opened its doors as a school for boys. During the Civil War, when military training became necessary, the school added a military department. In 1863, the college’s chapel and Lovelace Hall were commandeered for use as a Confederate hospital. Operating as the Breckinridge Military Hospital, the military’s sick and wounded filled these school buildings for two years. The dead were buried behind the school’s chapel.

Howard College moved to Birmingham in 1887 and evolved into Samford University, and the Marion Military Institute was established on the legends-filled campus. Students have reported supernatural activity throughout the campus, though sources provide little detail.

Sources

  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • History.” Marion Military Institute. Accessed 5 July 2015.
  • Perry County Heritage Book Committee. The Heritage of Perry County, Alabama. Clanton, AL: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 1999.

Pickens County

Pickens County Courthouse
1 Courthouse Square
Carrollton

The north side of the late 19th century courthouse bears an arrow pointing towards the garret window at the top of the structure. This arrow points towards the ghostly window pane that is literally at the heart of Pickens County history and legend.

Twelve years after the first courthouse was burned during the Civil War, the second courthouse erupted in flames in 1877. Rumors spread that the courthouse was set alight by a freed slave, Henry Wells, who lived nearby. He was arrested, and a mob gathered on the courthouse lawn to mete out “justice.” Incarcerated in the attic of the building, Wells peered down on the mob screaming his innocence.

Pickens County Courthouse, 1998, by Calvin Beale for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A storm erupted, and a bolt of lightning struck nearby as Henry Wells was hung for his supposed crime, though proclaiming his innocence until the very end. Citizens passing the courthouse the next morning were shocked to see Wells’ visage etched into the pane of the window from which he had peered down on the mob. Frequent washing of the window has not been able to scrub the mysterious image.

As with many legends, there is a mix of fact and fiction at work here. While the image in the window pane is undeniable, the history is confused. Apparently, a lynch mob did gather on the courthouse lawn once, but for a murderer named Nathaniel Pierce. The mob succeeded in lynching Mr. Pierce. Henry Wells was arrested for the arson of the second courthouse, though he was not put to death by a mob. There are also questions as to the actual existence of the windows, which may have been added to the façade sometime after the deaths of both Pierce and Wells.

Sources

  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Pearce, Jamie Roush. Historic Haunts of the South. Jamie Roush Pearce, 2013.
  • Windham, Kathryn Tucker and Margaret Gillis Figh. 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama, 1969.

Pike County

Pace and Shackelford Halls
Campus of Troy University
Troy

Built in 1947 and 1930, respectively, these two residence halls have both been the scene of poltergeist activity. The activity in Shackelford Hall is explained as the product of a young female student’s suicide. Depressed over her fiancée’s death in a war, “Sally Shack,” as tradition identifies her, hanged herself in this building. Rumors state that two female students living here entered their dorm room to find two pens levitating. The incident led the young ladies to vacate their room the following day.

Pace Hall, 2017, by Kreeder13. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In the 1990s, a few students in one of these dorms decided to play with a Ouija board in an attempt to contact the spirit in Pace Hall. The group succeeded in contacting something after which the terrified girls witnessed “a paper clip tapping on their window from the outside, and things moving around the room.” As a result, the university had the room cleansed to settle the activity, though students continue to encounter activity throughout the buildings.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. The Haunting of Alabama. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 2017.
  • Ferrell, Mary. “Ghost stories on campus.” Tropolitan (Troy University). 30 October 2014.

Randolph County

McCosh Mill
McCosh Mill Road
Rock Mills

Though the location is a bit remote, the ruins of this mill have become a popular place for picnicking families and teenagers searching for a thrill. Located on the banks of Wehadkee Creek, this mill possibly dates to the early 1870s when it was constructed by James Eichelburger McCosh, grandson of local industrialist Jacob Eichelburger who built the cotton mills in Rock Mills. The mill, which ground corn into meal and wheat into our, operated until 1958. It was purchased by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1970 as part of the building of West Point Lake. According to the National Register of Historic Places nomination form, the mill remained standing until vandals set it ablaze. The stone foundation and the mill race are the only remaining features at this site.

The ruins of McCosh Mill, 2015. Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV, all rights reserved.

This mill figures into lore on both sides of the state line, and there are many stories and much misinformation. A friend of mine, Celeste, and her husband Randy lived near the ruins until recently. The couple would often venture down to the site after dark to enjoy the quiet, and it is here that they have had a few experiences. Randy rode his four-wheeler down to the ru- ins one evening alone, and while he was there felt that something climbed onto the back of the vehicle with him. Fearing what was behind him, he started back home and never looked back. The unsettling feeling did not leave him until the next day.

A photographer and friend of Celeste’s took her children down to Wehadkee Creek to enjoy the water. As they played, the woman took video and photographs. At one point in the video, a woman appears near the children for a split second. After seeing the vid- eo, the startled mother looked over the photographs and saw the same woman in a few of the photographs seemingly watching from the treeline.

The ruins of the mill are located at the end of McCosh Mill Road which begins in Troup County, Georgia and eventually turns into a dirt road. Continue down this road to reach the mill; though proceed with caution as the road is heavily rutted and damaged from recent logging in the area. The site cannot be reached from Alabama.

Sources

  • Floyd, W. Warner & Ellen Mertins. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for the McCosh Grist Mill. 27 May 1976.
  • Interview with Celeste P., LaGrange, GA. 23 July 2015.
  • Randolph County Heritage Book Committee. Heritage of Randolph County, Alabama. Clanton, AL: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 2000.

Russell County

Elite Café
1501 Fifth Avenue
Phenix City

The Elite Cafe with its infamous parking lot where Albert Patterson was shot. He died near where the historic marker now stands. By Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

On the evening of June 18, 1954, as state attorney general nominee Albert Patterson walked to his car parked in the parking lot between the Coulter Building and the Elite Café (pronounced ee-light), he was shot three times. He was able to crawl towards the Coulter Building where he died on the sidewalk. The assailant was never apprehended, though he was most likely associated with the organized crime and the rampant corruption in Phenix City that Patterson had been fighting to destroy.

In the early 20th century, Phenix City had a reputation as the wickedest city in America. Fueled by the influx of soldiers to Columbus, Georgia’s Fort Benning, across the Chattahoochee River from Phenix City, the city had become a haven for prostitution, gambling, alcohol, and other forms of vice. Patterson, a successful lawyer and politician, campaigned on cleaning up the city. Sadly, it took Patterson’s death to spur these changes.

Higdon & Talley report that a gentleman in an old-fashioned suit has been seen in the parking lot and on the sidewalk around the Elite Café and the Coulter Building. Perhaps Patterson is still minding Phenix City hoping it will not return to its sinful ways.

Sources

  • Grady, Alan. “Albert L. Patterson.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. 24 July 2007.
  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
 

St. Clair County

St. Clair County remains the bane in my side. Despite all the searching, both online and in published sources, I cannot find an adequately sourced haunting within the county. Kelly Kazek describes the Flatwoods Community as “a settlement of freed slaves during Reconstruction” that “was later burned.” Nothing online or in the county heritage book provides information on this community. Hopefully, something from St. Clair will soon appear on my radar. If you know of a location here, please send me an email at southernspiritguide@gmail.com.

Shelby County

Old Shelby County Courthouse
1854 Old Courthouse Circle
Columbiana

The oldest remaining courthouse in the state, the Old Shelby County Courthouse has seen a myriad of uses in its long existence. Constructed as a courthouse in 1854, miraculously, this building escaped being burned by Union raiders during the Civil War. The building was used by the county until 1908 when a new courthouse was built nearby. The building was put to use as a hotel and later a boarding house until around 1934 when the public library opened on the second floor. It now serves as a county museum.

Old Shelby County Courthouse, 2016. By Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

A spirit reportedly dwells among the artifacts displayed within the old building. In a room on the second floor, the blinds are regularly adjusted by unseen hands. The same room often gives staff members a creepy feeling, and author Alan Brown reports that some workers in the building at night did see a spectral figure in this room. An investigation conducted in 2002 did not turn up any evidence of spiritual activity, though the investigators did have some strange personal experiences.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Birmingham. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2009.
  • Floyd, W. Warner. Nation Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for Columbiana City Hall. 19 July 1974.
  • Reed, Martin J. “Shelby County’s 1854 Old Courthouse in Columbiana gets new address, improvements.” com. 31 January 2013.
  • “Shelby County ghosts busted.” Shelby County Reporter. 24 July 2002.
 

Sumter County

Alamuchee-Bellamy Covered Bridge
Campus of the University of West Alabama
Livingston

The oldest remaining of Alabama’s covered bridges; the Alamuchee-Bellamy Covered Bridge may harbor the spirit of an outlaw. The bridge was originally constructed to span the Sucarnoochee River but was moved to the nearby Alamuchee Creek after its replacement by a concrete bridge. It served automobile traffic there until 1958. The Sumter County Historical Society acquired the bridge in 1971, restored it, and moved the bridge to the campus of the University of West Alabama.

Alamuchee-Bellamy Covered Bridge, 2007, by Mld74. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The bridge figures into the story of notorious Sumter County Sheri Stephen S. Renfroe. Sometimes known as the “Outlaw Sheriff Renfroe’s notoriety comes from his involvement in murders, leadership in the local Ku Klux Klan, excessive drinking, and embezzlement while in office. Renfroe eventually fled the county, but when he returned he was apprehended by a mob of locals and was lynched either near or on this bridge. A dark shade seen pacing the length of the bridge is believed to be the Outlaw Sheriff Author Alan Brown, a professor at the university who has penned many books on Southern ghosts, stated in a 1994 article that he doesn’t believe the bridge to be haunted.

Sources

  • Alamuchee-Bellamy Covered Bridge. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 16 May 2015.
  • “Bridge harbors legend: Serenity of covered bridge belies dark legend.” Mobile Register. 1 November 2004.

Columbia, South Carolina’s Haunted Five

The city of Columbia was born out of conflict over representation between small farmers in Upstate South Carolina and the wealthy planters of the Low Country. As a compromise, Columbia was founded in 1786 on the fall line near the center of the state. Over the following decades, the city developed from what George Washington described on his visit in 1791 as “an uncleared wood with very few houses in it,” into a wealthy, and bustling city by the middle of the 19th century.

As talk of secession began to circulate throughout the South, Columbia became a hotbed for pro-Secession sentiments and the first state Secession Convention was held here until it was forced to move to Charleston due to a smallpox epidemic. The city’s location in the interior of the Confederacy spared it the harsh realities of war until Sherman’s arrival on the city’s doorstep in February of 1865. During Union occupation, fires spread destroying a large portion of the city. Throughout the latter years of the 19th century, the city recovered its importance as an economic engine for the state with the building of textile mills.

As it moves from its industrial past, Columbia has continues in its role as an Upstate economic powerhouse and still crawls with ghosts of its past. 

Hampton-Preston House
1615 Blanding Street

During the 1982 Christmas Season, docents led visitors on candlelight tours of many Historic Columbia Foundation properties including the Hampton-Preston House. State law required the presence of a firefighter if open flame was used and, at the end of the night, the firefighter accompanied the docents as the candles were extinguished. One evening, after seeing that all the candles were out, locking up the house, turning on the security system accompanied by the firefighter, another docent was surprised to see flickering light in the windows of the Hampton-Preston House. Through the window, the docent could see all the candles in the sitting room were brightly burning and she called police. The police arrived to find that the house was still securely locked with the security system on, despite the blazing candles in the sitting room.

Hampton-Preston House, 2017, by Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy of the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Built by merchant Ainsley Hall in 1818, this magnificent manse was purchased by General Wade Hampton, patriarch of the powerful Hampton family, who had fought in the American Revolution and the War of 1812. The purchase was carried out much to the chagrin of Hall’s wife, Sarah, who had been promised the house by her husband. In turn, Hall began work on a large house directly across the street, which is now called the Robert Mills House (see the entry further down the page). The house remained in the Hampton family until the Civil War. After barely escaping the burning of the city by Union forces, the house was saved by a nun from the nearby Ursuline convent who begged to use the house for refuge after the convent was burned. The house later became Chicora College and was restored and opened in 1970 as a house museum.

Docents, staff, and visitors have all reported encounters with possible spirits within the house. Some docents working in the house afterhours have reported a feeling of being watched and a general sense of uneasiness pervading the house.

Sources

  • Hook, Debra-Lynn B. “Spooky tales of South Carolina.” The State. 31 October 1991.
  • Kelly, Sharon. “’Ghost houses’ continuing to baffle Columbians.” The Times and Democrat (Orangeburg, SC). 1 January 1983.
  • Lister, Mrs. Toney J. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for Hampton-Preston House. 29 July 1969.
  • Workers of the Writers’ Program of the WPA of SC. South Carolina: A Guide to the Palmetto State. NYC: Oxford University Press, 1941.

Olympia Mill
500 Heyward Street

Olympia Mill, 2014, by Batterup55. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

When Olympia Mill was constructed in 1899, it was called the largest cotton mill under one roof in the world. This massive mill continued under operation until it was closed in 1996. After sitting empty, it has recently been converted into loft apartments.

As was common at the time, the mill operated using the labor or children, as well as adults. Because of their small hands, children were ideal for certain tasks in keeping the looms running and, as a result, some children were killed or had arms and hands mangled by the high-speed machines. Roger Manley writes in Weird Carolinas that since the mill has been turned into lofts, residents have reported the sounds of children crying and have seen small handprints appear in fogged up windows.

Sources

  • Hamilton, Cynthia Rose. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for Olympia Mill. Listed 2 February 2005.
  • Manley, Roger. Weird Carolina. NYC: Sterling Publishing, 2007.

Robert Mills House
1616 Blanding Street

The Robert Mills House, 1970. Photo by V.D. Hubbard for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Usually houses are named for former owners, but rarely for their designers. This home, however, is known for its architect, Robert Mills, one of the first great American architects known best for his designs for the Washington Monument. Mills designed the house for merchant, Ainsley Hall. Sadly, Mr. Hall did not have a chance to live in his new home as he died before it was completed. With the death of her husband and litigation over her husband’s estate, Mrs. Hall was forced to sell the incomplete house to the Presbyterian Church. It is believed to be her spirit that leaves impressions on the bed in one of the second-floor bedrooms.

Sources

  • Fant, Mrs. James W. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the Ainsley Hall House. 16 May 1970.
  • Hook, Debra-Lynn B. “Spooky tales of South Carolina.” The State. 31 October 1991.

South Carolina State Museum
301 Gervais Street

South Carolina’s economy has been powered by textiles since the 18th century, so it’s no surprise that the state museum’s largest artifact is the Columbia Mills building that houses the museum itself. Built between 1893 and 1894, the Columbia Mills opened as the first totally electrically powered mill in the world. It remained running until it closed in 1981, and the building was donated to the state.

South Carolina State Museum, 2010, by Abductive. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

After the mill’s conversion to a museum, a ghost, nicknamed “Bubba,” was reported on the third floor. Witnesses have seen a man in overalls and boots wandering about the exhibits. Two visitors walking towards an elevator saw a man climb on just ahead of them. When they hurried to board the elevator before the doors closed, they discovered an empty car.

Author Tally Johnson posits that up to four spirits may haunt the museum. Johnson encountered one spirit near the museum’s replica of the CSS Hunley. Johnson had accompanied his god-daughter to the museum, and she had gotten away from him. Seeing a man standing near the replica, Johnson asked if he had seen the child. The man did not reply but turned and walked towards the replica where he vanished.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Haunted South Carolina: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Palmetto State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2010.
  • Johnson, Tally. Civil War Ghosts of South Carolina. Cincinnati, OH: Postmortem Press, 2013.
  • Johnson, Tally. Ghosts of the Pee Dee. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2009.
  • National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for Columbia Mills Building. Listed 24 May 1982.

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral Cemetery
1100 Sumter Street

Among the many historic churches in the state of South Carolina, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral ranks among the most important. Sitting just across Sumter Street from the state capitol, the church has had a seat front and center to the panoply of South Carolina’s history. Modeled on York Minster Cathedral, Charleston architect Edward Brickell White designed this edifice in 1840. Construction began in 1845 with additions added throughout the 19th century.

During General Sherman’s occupation of Columbia after its surrender in 1865, fires broke out throughout the city and quickly devoured much of it. The grand statehouse across the street withstood six artillery strikes and was soon alight. While some public buildings were “put to the torch” by Sherman’s troops, there is controversy as to how many of the fires started. Legend holds that to spare the church from destruction, all signs of the church’s Episcopal denomination were removed, and papier mache crosses placed on the roof to disguise the church as Roman Catholic. Supposedly, this spared the church the fate of its neighbors.

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 2018, by Farragutful. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The church’s cemetery holds the graves of some of South Carolina’s elite of the including three Confederate generals, Wade Hampton I and his son and grandson (who occupied the Hampton-Preston House), poet Henry Timrod and assorted governors. According to Jody Donnelly of Spirits and Spectres of Columbia tours, there are also ghosts under the cemetery’s ancient oaks. He tells a story of a love triangle that ended when one man shot the other. The woman ended up nursing the man who was shot, and they fell madly in love. Both were buried here, but their grave is visited by the specter of the shooter.

Sources

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Haunted Florida, Briefly Noted

“Attention, blog readers! Cleanup on the Florida aisle!” Since the move from Blogger, I’ve been sitting on several articles that needed a bit of cleanup before being reposted. This article combines the remains of my original “Haunted Florida” article along with some theatre entries that were written for a book on haunted Southern theatres, that was never completed.

Athens Theatre—Sands Theatre Center
124 North Florida Avenue
DeLand

Henry Addison DeLand dreamed of creating the “Athens of the South” when he began developing land around a small Florida settlement called Persimmon Hollow. He opened a small academy, DeLand Academy, but after a freeze in 1885 destroyed the orange crop, DeLand returned north short his investment. Wealthy Philadelphia hat maker, John B. Stetson, took over the academy and reopened it as John B. Stetson University, later just Stetson University.

DeLand grew over the next few decades, becoming a center of learning and culture on the east coast of Florida. The Athens Theatre was opened in 1922 with the hope of continuing that cultural influence. The magnificent Beaux Arts style theatre opened as a vaudeville and movie house. In 2009, the building was renovated, restored and reopened as the Sands Theatre Center, a performing arts center for the community.

Athens Theatre, 2007, by Ebyabe. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Within the walls of the theatre two spirits linger. The shade of a stagehand who fell to his death still resides here, but it is the lively spirit of a young actress who is most often felt. Legend speaks of a young actress starring in a show who began a torrid affair with the theatre’s manager. The manager’s wife appeared one day to find the two in flagrante delicto and, after a shouting match, the wife bludgeoned the pretty, young actress to death with a lamp. Actors using the actress’ old dressing room sometimes incur her contempt which is sometimes expressed through objects being thrown or the room’s temperature drastically lowered.

Sources

  • DeLand, Florida. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 18 March 2013.
  • Martin, C. Lee. Florida Ghosts and Pirates. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2008.

Coral Castle
28655 South Dixie Highway
Homestead

Coral sculptures at Coral Castle, 2005, by Christina Rutz. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Edward Leedskalnin, an eccentric and possibly brilliant Latvian immigrant, began work on his masterpiece in nearby Florida City in 1923. In 1936 he moved himself and the castle to Homestead where he worked until he died in 1951. There have been questions about how Leedskalnin, who was five feet tall and weighed less than a hundred pounds, maneuvered the massive blocks of coral that sometimes weighed a few tons. When visitors would ask how he did it, he would only answer, “It’s not difficult if you know how.” This has given rise to numerous theories of how this massive complex was constructed including the help of aliens, though engineers surmise that much of his work was done using known techniques.

It is only appropriate that this legendary place has legends attached. More sensitive visitors have noted the existence of energy vortices throughout the complex. Throughout the site, Mr. Leedskalnin’s presence is felt. Other visitors have seen figures appear among the castle’s huge coral blocks.

Sources

  • Coral Castle. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 26 March 2012.
  • Lapham, Dave. Ghosthunting Florida. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2010.
  • Moore, Joyce Elson. Haunt Hunter’s Guide to Florida. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2008.
  • Temkin, Maria & Michael Zimny. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for the Coral Castle. 2 April 1984.
  • Thuma, Cynthia and Catherine Lower. Haunted Florida. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books,
  • Walls, Kathleen. Finding Florida’s Phantoms. Global Authors Publications, 2004.

Deering Estate
16701 Southwest 72nd Avenue
Miami

It seems that the former estate of Charles Deering, the founder of International Harvester, may be just crawling with spirits. And a variety of spirits at that. One investigation photographed the possible spirit of a Victorian woman while spirits of Native Americans may be associated with burial grounds nearby. The Deering Estate also features ghost tours of the estate that the League of Paranormal Investigators (LPI) dubbed, “ground-zero for lost spirits.” LPI has documented at least two full-bodied apparitions as well as numerous EVPs.

Richmond Cottage on the Deering Estate, 2010, by Zoohouse. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The estate has been preserved by the State of Florida and Miami-Dade County as a cultural and educational facility. Two buildings dating from 1896 and 1922 remain and are surrounded by swaths of land in its natural state. Battered by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, restoration of the estate took years and the grounds did not reopen to the public until 1999.

Sources

  • Charles Deering. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 27 December 2010.
  • Charles Deering Estate. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 26 March 2012.
  • Cohen, Howard. “Halloween howling.” The Miami Herald. 27 October 2011.
  • Malone, Kenny. “Miami’s Deering Estate: A real haunted house?” 28 October 2009.
  • “Miami-Dade Estate deemed ‘severely haunted.’” The Miami Herald. 22 October 2009.

Henegar Center for the Arts
625 East New Haven Avenue
Melbourne

Henegar Center, 2010, by Leonard J. DeFrancisci. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A fine example of adaptive reuse, the Henegar Center is located within an old school building. Having opened in 1920, the Melbourne school was named after a former principal, Ruth Henegar in 1963. The building was closed as a school in 1975 and reopened as the Henegar Center for the Arts in 1991. In addition to opening with a 493-seat theatre, the building also came with a resident ghost, Jonathan. According to Kathleen Walls, Jonathan’s antics include the usual noises attributed to spirits as well as moving actors’ props. The theatre’s balcony seems to be his favorite area of the theatre and he has been spotted there on occasion.

Sources

  • Henegar Center for the Arts. “Our Rich History.” Accessed 25 March 2013.
  • Walls, Kathleen. Finding Florida’s Phantoms. Global Authors Publications, 2004.

Hotel Blanche
212 North Marion Street
Lake City

For decades, travelers heading down Highway 441 from Georgia to Florida would stop at the luxurious Hotel Blanche in Lake City, among them, gangster Al Capone on his way to Miami. This landmark, the heart of downtown Lake City, has been witness to the city’s history for more than a hundred years. Recently, one of the building’s owners described part of the building as a “death trap.”As the hotel’s clientele dwindled towards the middle part of the 20th century, the hotel began to deteriorate. The ground floors have remained occupied with businesses and the second floor has occasionally been used for office space and meetings, but the third floor has not been in use for some time. In fact, the door to the third floor has been screwed shut; perhaps to contain some force from the Other Side?

Over the past few years, arguments have arisen over what to do with the massive white elephant. The city has considered purchasing the building, though I can find nothing to definitively say if that has occurred. Taking up nearly a block of downtown Lake City, directly across from City Hall, the Hotel Blanche was once the heart of Lake City. The hotel was constructed in 1902 by Will Brown and named for his daughter. The hotel added two wings amidst the tourist boom of the 1920s. The hotel closed in 1967 and its third floor has not been used since that time.

Hotel Blanche, 1908, from a postcard. Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida.

The paranormal history of the hotel is less clear. Greg Jenkins reports in his Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore that the hotel may very well have a “large collection of spirits,” though this hasn’t been officially investigated. Apparently many sounds are heard including children running and giggling. The sounds of door slamming have also been heard as well as many odd smells including perfume, vinegar, and sulfur (which may be an indication of a malevolent entity). The spirits, though, do seem as unsettled as the recent plans for the building.

Sources

  • Burkhardt, Karl. “Renovation of the Blanche Hotel, Lake City’s most famous historic structure, may restore it as a downtown centerpiece.” Lake City Journal. 18 July 2011.
  • Hotel Blanche. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 27 December 2010.
  • Jenkins, Greg. Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore, Vol. 2. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2005.
  • Lilker, Stew. “Conversation with Steve Smith, Blanche investment trust spokesman.” Columbia County Observer. 21 October 2009.
  • Lilker, Stew. “The Blanche Hotel: The seventh inning stretch.” Columbia County Observer. 3 March 2010.
  • Lilker, Stew. “The Blanche: The city steps up, Councilman Hill wants to slow down.” Columbia County Observer. 21 October 2009.

Miami International Airport
2100 Northwest 42nd Avenue
Miami

It’s not unheard of that an airport could be haunted. An airport may be the last place that a plane may board before an accident or perhaps a destination that is not reached. Either way, an airport may attract spirits. Miami International was the destination for Eastern Airlines Flight 401 on December 29, 1972. As the plane flew over the Everglades on its approach to the airport, it crashed killing 77 including both pilots. While the plane never arrived, legend speaks of the form of the plane’s captain, Robert Loft, being seen in the airport near where the ticket counters for Eastern Airlines once stood and disappearing into the old Eastern concourse.

Miami International Airport, 2007, by Jason Walsh. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In the annals of paranormal phenomena, this plane crash is the focus of many stories. Stories abound of the appearance of the captain and 2nd Officer Don Repo on planes that utilized parts recovered from the crash site. After these stories began to surface, Eastern Airlines reportedly removed all these parts from service. Additionally, during the recovery efforts for victims, many working in the swamps late at night heard whimpering and sobbing and saw phantom faces in the black water.

Sources

  • Eastern Airlines Flight 401. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 27 December 2010
  • Jenkins, Greg. Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore, Vol. 2. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2005.

Richey Suncoast Theatre
6237 Grand Boulevard
New Port Richey

The patron attended a performance at the theatre. He sat in his favorite seat, BB1 in the balcony, for the performance and a few hours after leaving was dead of a heart attack. Not only was Willard Clark not just a patron, he was the president of the theatre. Following his death in 1981, he has apparently returned to the theatre he loved so and is not happy when his favorite seat is occupied. Patrons unfamiliar with the story have experienced a distinct chill while watching performances from Clark’s favorite seat. Others have spotted a gentleman in a tuxedo in that seat. For awhile, the seat was simply reserved for the ghost and patrons were told it was broken.

The history of this theatre reflects much of the bumpy history of Florida in the early 20th century. Land booms, busts and the Great Depression fill the history of the state and the theatre felt shockwaves from all of these.

Richey Suncoast Theatre, 2010, by Karm Atwin. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Thomas Meighan made a name for himself in silent films. After his 1919 film, The Miracle Man, he officially had become a “star” and he appeared opposite great leading ladies like Gloria Swanson, Mary Pickford (known popularly as “America’s Sweetheart”) and Norma Talmadge and under the direction of such greats as Cecil B. DeMille. Talking with his brother, James, a realtor, Meighan became very interested in Florida and bought land there in 1925. Inspired by dreams of making the New Port Richey area a celebrity winter playground, he built a home there and encouraged his friends to visit. When a new theatre opened in town in 1926, it was named, appropriately, the Thomas Meighan Theatre.

The grand opening of the theatre on July 1, 1926 was heralded with a showing of Meighan’s film, The New Klondike. The theatre experienced ups and downs in its business and improvements were made to allow for the latest in film technology: “talkies.” But with the hardships imposed on the area during the Great Depression, the theatre closed its doors. The theatre reopened under a new name in 1938 and continued operating under a variety of names until 1968 when competition from a local multiplex led to the theatre’s closure. It was purchased in 1972 for use as a community theatre. The Richey Suncoast Theatre has continued to operate as a successful community theatre ever since. And Willard Clark continues to watch fabulous performances from his favorite balcony seat.

Sources

  • Cannon, Jeff. “Ghostly Encounters in Pasco County.” com. 25 October 2012.
  • Fredericksen, Barbara L. “Attention ghost: Exit stage left, through wall.” Tampa Bay Times. 31 October 2006.
  • The Meighan/Richey Suncoast Theatre.” The History of Pascoe County. Accessed 3 April 2013.
  • Spencer, Camille C. “Is New Port Richey a truly ghostly town? Or is it a myth?” Tampa Bay Times. 30 October 2009.
  • Thomas Meighan. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 3 April 2013.

Venice Theatre
140 Tampa Avenue, West
Venice

Venice Little Theatre has grown so much they dropped the “Little” from their name in 2008. Founded in 1950 and first performing in an airport hangar at the Venice Airport, Venice Theatre has expanded into one of the premier community theatre companies in the nation. After the city needed the airport hangar for storage in 1972, the company purchased its current building: a 1926 structure with a tower resembling the St. Mark’s Campanile in Venice, Italy, the town’s namesake.

Where actors now play, cadets from the Kentucky Military Institute—which summered in Venice—once sweated and occasionally the spirit of a small girl still roams. She has been seen curiously watching groups of juvenile actors and bouncing a ball in the corridors that once served as the military institute’s gymnasium. Who she is or what she’s doing in this particular building remains a mystery.

Sources

  • Cool, Kim. Haunted Theatres of Southwest Florida. Venice, FL: Historic Venice Press, 2009.
  • History. Venice Theatre. Accessed 31 March 2013.

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A houseguest evermore—Mississippi

Dunleith
84 Homochitto Street
Natchez, Mississippi

Benjamin Franklin proclaimed that both fish and visitors smell after three days. So, what if the guest has yet to vacate the house after more than 150 years? The answer at Dunleith is that the guest enters legend and remains to occasionally disturb visitors, guests, and staff members.

Crowning a low hill rising above Homochitto Street, Dunleith takes the form of an ancient Greek temple with columns completely surrounding the main house and providing an exquisite view from any direction. The current house was built after the original house—a late-18th century structure—burned in 1855 after being struck by lightning.

Job Routh built the first home and named the estate Routhlands. After his death, the estate passed to Routh’s daughter, Mary, who married a wealthy, local banker, Charles G. Dahlgren, before they moved into the house. Dahlgren had the current structure built to replace the original house. In 1858, three months after the couple moved into the new home, Mary passed away and, in accordance with his wife’s wishes, Dahlgren sold the house dividing the proceeds among their children. After the 1859 purchase, the new owner renamed the estate Dunleith.

The exact identity of the spectral houseguest is unknown, and she is only known as Miss Percy. Folklorist Kathryn Tucker Windham included Miss Percy’s legend in her 1974 book, 13 Mississippi Ghosts and Jeffrey, and suggests that she was a relative of Mary Routh Dahlgren. This is a possibility. Mary Malvina Routh was born in 1813 and married Thomas Percy Ellis at the age of 15. She had two children by the handsome and educated Mr. Ellis, but he passed ten years after their marriage.

Dunleith, by Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy of the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Among the graves in the Routh family cemetery near the Dunleith property—where Thomas Percy Ellis rests—and within the Natchez City Cemetery—where Mary Dahlgren and her second husband rest—there are no graves bearing the surname Percy, though there are a few that use the name Percy. Therefore, it is possible Miss Percy may have been related to Mrs. Dahlgren from her first marriage, though her exact identity remains unknown.

The legend, as it is commonly recounted, describes Miss Percy as a young woman who ran afoul of the social mores of the time by falling in love. In a time of strict marital customs, Miss Percy began an affair with a dashing Frenchman. Some suggest he was an aristocrat who was part of the entourage of Louis Philippe, the French king who spent time in Natchez on his grand tour of the South before attaining the throne. After saying farewell to her lover, Miss Percy traveled to France, unaccompanied, to be reunited with him. She spent time as a member of the French court and lived a life of luxury, though the man eventually declined to marry the young woman from Mississippi. Socially ruined, she returned to Natchez as a lonely spinster to live out her days with relatives at Dunleith, where she would play her harp for hours each day still dreaming of her lover in France.

While some legends of this type tend to enjoy vague descriptions of activity that “is said” to occur, this activity has witnesses. An article in a 1983 edition of the Hattiesburg American records the stories from a cook, Ella Mae Green, who worked in the house. In fact, Ms. Green states that she almost did not take the job because of the ghost, but Dunleith’s owner convinced her to stay.

Ms. Green provides a visual description of Miss Percy, “she usually came in bones [I presume this means she had a skeletal appearance], but the third time she was wearing a long white gown.” She continued, “you can’t see her face—like smoke around it. She doesn’t talk, just watches, but you can tell she’s unhappy. She died with an unhappy heart.” The cook emphasizes later that the spirit’s face is obscured, saying, “You can’t see her face, but it looks like she has eyes.” According to Ms. Green, the wraith usually stays on the third floor where she can remain undisturbed, but she makes occasional appearances throughout the house including playing her harp in the parlor and making the sound of breaking glass.

While Dunleith’s most famous houseguest continues to roam the main house, she is not the only spectral guest on the estate. Since the mid-1970s, the estate has opened its doors to guests as an inn and the Gothic Revival carriage house has been transformed into a fine dining establishment, The Castle Restaurant and Pub. Staff of the restaurant have had encounters with three spirits in this building including a shadowy man, a woman, and an African-American laborer. While stories of these three spectral guests may be more modern, their stories have been lost in the shroud of time and legend, and none will ever outshine the everlasting, harp-playing, spectral houseguest reigning over the main house evermore.

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Sources

  • Brooking, Ann. “Ghost of Dunleith died of an unhappy heart.” Hattiesburg American. 19 October 1983.
  • Dunleith. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 18 March 2018.
  • Goeldner, Paul. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for Dunleith. Listed 14 September 1972.
  • Kane, Harnett Thomas. Natchez on the Mississippi. Originally published in 1947. Republished as an eBook by Pickle Partners Publishing, 2016.
  • Pascoe, Jill. Mississippi’s Haunted Mansions. Gilbert, AZ: Irongate Press, 2012.
  • Windham, Kathryn Tucker. 13 Mississippi Ghosts and Jeffrey. Tuscaloosa, AL: U. of Alabama Press, 1974.

Mayflower Mysteries—Washington, D.C.

Mayflower Hotel
1127 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C.

In researching Mississippi hauntings, I somehow stumbled on a 2000 article regarding haunted hotels. The hotels in the article mostly included the usual haunted hotel fare like Colorado’s Stanley Park Hotel, San Diego’s Hotel Coronado, and Arkansas’ Crescent Hotel, but I had not seen anything about Washington’s Mayflower Hotel in my previous research. The mysteries in this grandest of Washington hotels are very interesting, though I began to run into problems when I tried to match up the history and the hauntings.

The Mayflower Hotel after opening in 1925. Photo b y Harris & Ewing, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

As one of the most impressive hotels in the city, the Mayflower has been deemed “the Hotel of Presidents,” due to the panoply of presidents and world leaders who have stayed or attended functions here. Construction began on this massive hotel in 1922 and the building officially opened for guests in mid-February of 1925. The hotel’s grand opening was boosted by the inaugural ball following the second inauguration of Calvin Coolidge. From 1925 until 1981, the Mayflower would host inaugural balls for every presidential inauguration.

From the left, Warren G. Harding, Florence Harding, Grace Coolidge, and Calvin Coolidge, 1921. Photo by the National Photo Company.

It is from Coolidge’s inaugural ball that the hotel’s mysteries stem. Coolidge, who had served as governor of Massachusetts, doesn’t seem to have wanted the tremendous spotlight that the presidency brought with it. He had been elected as Vice President under President Warren G. Harding–who while popular, Harding’s time in office was buffeted by scandal. In 1923, Harding undertook a cross-country trip he dubbed a “Voyage of Understanding,” he expected to boost his popularity and expand his reach through the American West. After becoming the first president to visit the Alaska territory, Harding visited Seattle and traveled south to San Francisco. Harding had begun to complain of illness and his doctor ordered bed rest. After the arrival of the entourage at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel, Harding was found to be suffering from pneumonia and confined to his bed. As his wife, Florence, read to him on the evening of August 2nd, Harding suffered a massive heart attack and died.

When the President passed away in San Francisco, Coolidge was visiting the family home in the community of Plymouth Notch, Vermont, which did not have a phone or electricity. A messenger delivered the news that Coolidge was to be sworn in as president. In the dead stillness of the early morning hours of August 3rd, Coolidge took the oath of office by the flicker of a kerosene lamp in the family’s parlor given by his father, a local notary and justice of the peace. “Silent Cal,” as he was known, then retired to bed before traveling to Washington to take the full reigns of the country.

With the nation in mourning, there were no festivities for the new president. Coolidge allowed investigations into the scandals of the Hardin administration completed and that all loose ends were thoroughly tied up. With the election of 1924 looming, he threw his hat into the ring against the Democratic challenger, John W. Davis. In July of 1924, the President and his wife, Grace, were called the bedside of their son, Calvin, Jr. who had developed a blister which became infected. The blister, which had formed during a tennis match, developed into blood poisoning which was being treated at Walter Reed Army Hospital.

The Democratic National Convention was in full swing at New York City when word filtered in that Calvin Coolidge, Jr. had died in Washington. Out of the respect to the President and Mrs. Coolidge, the convention suspended its furious debate. The death pulled a pall over the election for Coolidge. He later recorded in his autobiography that “when he died, the power and glory of the Presidency went with him.” Coolidge went on to easily garner the electoral votes from every region of the country, except for the South which went for Davis and Wisconsin which elected a favorite son, Senator Robert M. La Follette. Coolidge was sworn in the second time on March 4th, 1925.

The Mayflower Hotel, 2017, by Difference engine. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Here’s where the Mayflower Hotel first enters the annals of the Presidency. Coolidge’s inaugural ball was held in the hotel’s Grand Ballroom, though he and his wife declined to attend as they were still mourning their son. The ball was held anyway despite the absence of the man of honor. The legend reports that on January 20th, at 10 PM, the lights in the ballroom will flicker and one of the elevators will stop on the 8th floor and stay there until descending at 10:15, around the time the president’s party would have made their entrance at the ball. A 1996 article further reports that a plate of hors d’oeuvres and a glass of wine will often be found in the ballroom’s balcony, though the previous event did not serve such things.

There are several problems with this legend. The first issue concerns the date that this activity occurs. Coolidge’s inauguration took place on March 4, though starting in 1937 (for FDR’s second term), the date was pushed back to January 20. Can spectral activity of this nature change the date? The second issue is that this activity seems to be motivated by the fact that Coolidge did not attend the inaugural ball. Though the ball did take place without the president and first lady’s attendance, it seems odd that paranormal activity would rise from something not happening. While this activity appears to be pure legend, the hotel’s long history does not preclude it from being haunted.

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Sources

  • Calvin Coolidge. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 22 March 2018.
  • “Coolidge’s son shows slight improvement.” Baltimore Sun. 7 July 1924.
  • Farrell, Brenda D. “Halloween haunts.” The Santa Fe New Mexican. 22 October 2000.
  • Greenberg, Peter. “Staying overnight with ghoulish guests in haunted hotels.” The Daily Tribune (Wisconsin Rapids, WI). 1 November 1996.
  • Maxwell, Shirley. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for the Mayflower Hotel. 15 August 1983.
  • “M’Adoo is deprived of his veto power; Calvin Coolidge, Jr., dies in hospital.” Baltimore Sun. 8 July 1924.
  • Ogden, Tom. Haunted Washington, D.C. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 2016.
  • Warren G. Harding. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 22 March 2018.