Haunted South Carolina Lighthouses

In the study of ghosts, particularly in North America, lighthouses appear frequently. I’m not sure about why these beacons for the living play such a role in the world of the dead, but they appear with noticeable regularity. In the United States, the bulk of the attention on haunted lighthouses concern those of the Atlantic and New England states as well as Michigan’s Great Lakes lighthouses, though, there are some quite prominent haunted Southern lighthouses. Among them, the St. Augustine and Pensacola lighthouses in Florida, both of which have been investigated by TAPS, the ghost hunting organization featured on the TV show, Ghost Hunters. In fact, the investigation of the St. Augustine Lighthouse featured the ghost hunters chasing something up and down the stairs of the lighthouse itself.

Hilton Head Rear Range Light
Arthur Hill Golf Course, Palmetto Dunes Resort
Hilton Head Island

The most southern of all South Carolina’s lighthouses, the Hilton Head Rear Range Light is the only remaining of two lights that guided shipping in Port Royal Sound. With the front light, which was mounted on the roof of a lighthouse keeper’s cottage a mile away, these lights could be lined up by the navigators of ships to provide the safest route into port.

This light, the remaining light, is also the only cast-iron lighthouse remaining in the state. It was constructed between 1879 and 1880 and lit for the first time in 1880. The light consists of a cast-iron skeleton and the stair tower (originally clad in wood, but clad in iron sheeting probably around 1913) topped by a wooden watch room and lantern room. The cast-iron skeleton bolts the structure in place to a  series of concrete bases. The complex also included a keeper’s cottage, but it was moved to Harbour Town in the Sea Pines Plantation resort complex in the 1980s. The light itself was decommissioned in 1932 and the lighthouse was restored with the building of the Palmetto Dunes Resort.

Hilton Head Rear Range Light, 2012, by Bill Fitzpatrick. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Some 18 years after it was first lit, during the height of a tremendous hurricane, Adam Fripp, the lighthouse keeper and his daughter, Caroline, stayed in the lantern room tending the light. A gale shattered the glass in the lamp extinguishing it. At the same moment, Mr. Fripp keeled over with a massive heart attack. At her father’s urging, 20-year-old Caroline continued tending the light and did so without her beloved father following his death. Exhausted by the work and probably grief, young Caroline died three weeks later. Wearing the blue gown she was wearing the night of the hurricane, her spirit has been seen and her sobs and wails have been heard in and around the lighthouse and the, now separated keeper’s house. Terrance Zepke’s Ghosts of the Carolina Coast recounts a story of a young couple who encountered a young woman wearing a blue dress one stormy evening. She climbed in the back seat of their car soaking wet and the couple drove on. When the wife turned to speak to the young woman, the back seat was empty, though covered with water.

Cape Romain Lighthouse
Lighthouse Island
Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge
McClellanville 

Situated on a lonely barrier island, the Cape Romain Lighthouse is the perfectly place for a lonely spirit to walk. The lighthouse has an older sibling standing nearby that is the oldest extant lighthouse in South Carolina. The first Cape Romain lighthouse is 65 feet high and was constructed in 1827 to guide mariners past the dangerous Cape Romain shoals. The light burned until 1857 when its much taller sibling, soaring 150 feet, was constructed with slave labor. Like Pisa’s famous tower, the taller Cape Romain Lighthouse began to lean in the late nineteenth century. The tilt became so precarious that the Fresnel lens had to be adjusted to function properly. The lens was replaced in 1931 and the lighthouse was automated in 1937. Ten years later, the lighthouse was decommissioned and the light went dark. Since that time, the keeper’s quarters and outbuildings have disappeared leaving only the two towers standing mute. The Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates the surrounding refuge, still maintains the pair of lighthouses.

The lighthouses of Cape Romain. Courtesy of the US Coast Guard Historic Light Stations Database.

The lonely setting of these now mute sentinels plays a significant part in its legend. Most likely in the late nineteenth century, a Norwegian man named Fischer was the keeper and lived on Lighthouse Island with his wife. Fischer’s wife continuously begged her husband’s permission to leave the island and return to Norway for a visit, but he refused. One evening, Fischer was so angered by his wife that he plunged a knife into his wife’s breast and buried her body near the lighthouse. Those asking about his wife’s whereabouts were told that she had become despondent from the loneliness and had committed suicide. On his deathbed, Fischer confessed to his wife’s murder and lighthouse keepers thereafter tended to the grave on the lonely island. Over time, a spirit was heard ascending the 195 steps of the lighthouse tower. Additionally, bloodstains inside the keeper’s cottage could not be scrubbed away.

August Fredreich Wichmann, one of the keepers in the early twentieth century reported hearing the sounds of footsteps in the tower many times. Wichmann’s son, who was born at the lighthouse believes the footsteps are from Fischer’s wife. If the footsteps are still heard, the only things to hear them are the goats and seabirds that live on the island.

Georgetown Light
North Island
Georgetown

Winyah Bay at the end of the eighteenth and into the nineteenth centuries was vital to American trade. To aid ships passing into this bay, the Georgetown Light was constructed first in 1801. This cypress tower did not last long and had to be replaced in 1806 after being toppled in a gale. Some six years later, the current 87 foot brick tower was constructed. It is now the oldest active lighthouse in South Carolina.

Georgetown Light. Courtesy of the US Coast Guard Historic Light Stations Database.

Two reports of ghosts come from this light. Bruce Roberts and Ray Jones in their Southeastern Lighthouses: Outer Banks to Cape Florida report that footsteps are heard in the tower, though no indication is given as to the identity of the spirit. The second story, in Terrance Zepke’s Ghosts of the Carolina Coast, however, is more interesting. Mariners tend to be a very superstitious bunch and this is indicated in this legend of a warning spirit attached to this lighthouse. Apparently, a lighthouse keeper and his young daughter had ventured into Georgetown, some miles south of the light. As they returned, a storm blew in and the young girl was tossed into the water. Her father jumped in to rescue her but she was lost. The lighthouse keeper survived and following his death, he and his daughter were seen rowing a small boat in Winyah Bay. Local mariners always took their appearance as a sign of a storm blowing in.

Sources

  • Bansemer, Roger. Bansemer’s Book of Carolina and Georgia Lighthouses. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2000.
  • Califf, John, III. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for the Georgetown Light. Listed 30 December 1974.
  • DeWire, Eleanore and Daniel E. Dempster. Lighthouses of the South: Your Guide to the Lighthouses of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press, 2004.
  • Elizabeth, Norma and Bruce Roberts. Lighthouse Ghosts: 13 Bone Fide Apparitions Standing Watch Over America’s Shores. Birmingham, AL: Crane Hill, 1999.
  • Hilton Head Range Rear Light. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia Accessed 18 October 2010.
  • Huntsinger, Elizabeth Robertson. More Ghosts of Georgetown. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1998.
  • Lee, Charles E. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for the Cape Romain Lighthouses. Listed 12 November 1981.
  • Roberts, Bruce and Ray Jones. Southeastern Lighthouses: Outer Banks to Cape Florida. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2000.
  • Wells, John E. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for the Hilton Head Rear Range Light. Listed 12 December 1985.
  • Zepke, Terrance. Ghosts of the Carolina Coasts: Haunted Lighthouses, Plantations, and Other Historic Sites. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2000.

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Spirits of Old Morrison and the Gratz Park Historic District

Gratz Park Historic District
Bounded by Second Street, the Byway,
Third Street and Bark Alley
Lexington, Kentucky

Old Morrison
Transylvania University Campus

Transylvania University was almost 40 years old when the European with the odd name of Constantine Samuel Rafinesque-Schmaltz strode into the large, Federal Main building. Rafinesque had journeyed “across the woods,” as the Latin name of the university implied, to take on a professorship of botany as well as teach Italian and French, languages from his broad repertoire.

Constantine Rafinesque from
an 1820 publication. Courtesy
of Wikipedia.

His Christian name belied his birthplace, Constantinople, where he was born to a French trader father and a Turkish-born German mother. His education was as mixed as his heritage and upbringing. A polymath autodidact, he taught himself Latin and early on began to collect natural specimens, ranging from plants to shells. Rafinesque spent time in the fledgling United States and in various locales in Europe returning to the States in 1815. Travelling throughout the states, he gathered, described and named an astounding array of species and studied the Native Americans who were just beginning to be pushed west of the Mississippi River.

His new employer was also on an upward trajectory. Transylvania University had grown in its forty years of existence into one of the premier universities in the U.S. As one of the nation’s top ranked schools, it produced and employed some of the greatest names of the day including lawyer and later statesman, Henry Clay who served as a professor; Stephen Austin, the “Father of Texas;” Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy; and the fiery abolitionist, Cassius Clay. The medical school included in its faculty, smallpox vaccination pioneer Samuel Brown and Benjamin W. Dudley, the most imminent surgeon in the Mississippi Valley.

These two upward trajectories maintained a parallel course briefly and then collided in the spring of 1826 when university president Horace Holley dismissed Rafinesque. Officially, the reason was that Rafinesque had acted unprofessionally and had missed numerous classes, but the unofficial reason, according to campus gossip, was the affair that Rafinesque was carrying on with Holley’s wife. When informed of his dismissal, an incensed Rafinesque uttered a curse, “Damn thee and thy school as I place a curse upon you!”

Rafinesque quietly returned to Philadelphia where he lived the remaining years of his life. He died of stomach cancer some 14 years later. According to legend, friends of Rafinesque had to break into his home to steal his corpse as his landlord was planning to sell it to a local medical school in lieu of back rent. He was buried in Philadelphia, but, in 1924, a campus organization rallied to have his remains returned to rest on campus; an “Honor to Whom Honor is Overdue,” as the words are inscribed on his crypt in Old Morrison. The group, though, was somewhat unsuccessful. Recent tests on the remains have discovered that they are fact the remains of Mary Ann Passamore, one of the handful of others interred in Rafinesque’s plot in the cemetery. 

Old Morrison. Photo taken for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

While Rafinesque still rests in Philadelphia, his curse still may linger in Lexington. President Horace Holley resigned the following year and died unexpectedly of yellow fever. Two years later, the main building was destroyed by fire. Following the destruction of the campus, the campus was moved across the street. The University’s upward momentum as one of the premier universities slowed as well, perhaps a result of the curse?

Old Morrison, designed by architect Gideon Shryock, was completed in 1834 and considered one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in America. The edifice was restored to its original appearance in 1962 which removed unsympathetic additions added in the late nineteenth century. On January 27, 1969, a fire swept the newly restored building leaving only exterior walls standing, according to the National Register of Historic Places nomination form. Daniel Barefoot in his Haunted Halls of Ivy, points out that a little more survived: the crypt of Rafinesque was completely untouched by fire. Even more, he reports that firefighters saw the figure of a man standing in the doorway of the crypt while the fire raged around.

Old Morrison was restored and still stands a symbol of the school, though odd things still happen. A security guard in the buildings claims to have been tripped by something in the dark hall. Every few years, tragic things occur on campus and of course, the curse is invoked. But, Old Morrison faces a historic district where some even stranger events may occur.

Hunt-Morgan House
201 North Mill Street

Hunt-Morgan House, 2008, by Russell and Sydney Poore. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Just a block down North Mill Street from Old Morrison sits one of the more historic structures in the region, the Hunt-Morgan House. Originally known as Hopemont, the house was built in 1814 by John Wesley Hunt. One of the first millionaires west of the Alleghenies, John Hunt Morgan was the head of an illustrious family that included his grandson, General John Hunt Morgan, a notable Confederate general and Dr. Thomas Hunt Morgan, the Nobel Prize-winning geneticist.

The legend of the Hunt-Morgan House dates to the Civil War. The Morgans had a slave named Bouviette James, known to the family as Ma’am Bette.  Ma’am Bette served as the nursemaid to the Morgan’s children and by all accounts was a valued member of the family. Upon her death, she was laid out in the parlor and four of the Morgan’s sons, whom she had raised, served as pallbearers. She was even buried in the family plot, but, she would not rest there. After she passed, one of the children became grievously ill. The child’s nurse fell asleep at the child’s bedside and awoke to see a woman, wearing Ma’am Bette’s signature red shoes and turban sitting at the child’s side. The child died soon after, but the thought of Ma’am Bette guiding the child in the afterlife was comforting to the Morgans.

Maria Dudley House. Photo taken for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Maria Dudley House
215 North Mill Street

Sitting among Federal and Greek Revival houses, the starkly Victorian Maria Dudley House stands out. This 1880 structure remains a private residence, but one that, according to Jamie Millard, author of the article that inspired this entry, possesses a dark energy. Millard describes a recent incident where a young man was apparently thrown over a stair railing which broke his arm. Indeed, others have felt a disturbing presence in the rear portion of the house and a family dog refused to go into that portion. Unfortunately, I have found no further information on this house.

John Stark House
228 Market Street 

On the opposite side of Gratz Park, the John Stark House, also a private residence, was built in 1813 and was occupied by Gideon Shryock during the building of Old Morrison. Later, this house was the home of Dr. Robert Peter, Union Surgeon General during the Civil War. Perhaps the apparition of a Union soldier that has been seen here is one of Dr. Peter’s former patients.

Bodley-Bullock House
200 Market Street

Built around 1814-5, the Bodley-Bullock house has seen a range of owners in its history. The house was built by General Thomas Bodley, a veteran of the War of 1812. After losing the house in the financial crisis of 1819, the house passed through a series of hands. During the Civil War, the house was used as a headquarters for both Confederate and Union troops. It is noted that grand balls were held under both sides. The house’s illustrious history ended with Mrs. Minnie Bullock who purchased the house in 1912. Mrs. Bullock lived in this house longer than anyone and helped in the restoration of the Hunt-Morgan House. Upon her death, the house was restored and opened as a house museum as well.

Reports of spiritual activity have been reported by museum staff and visitors. A photographer taking a bridal portrait in the house apparently captured the image of a woman and a small child standing on the staircase behind the bride. Staff members believe the woman is Mrs. Bullock who is disapproving of some of the activity in her old home. In her will, Mrs. Bullock stipulated that there would be no drinking in the house, but the will was changed when it was decided the house would be used for events as well as a museum.

Gratz Park Inn
120 West Second Street

Hospitals almost invariably have haunting and the Gratz Park Inn, built as the Lexington Clinic, is no exception. With construction beginning in 1916 and opening its doors to the public in 1920, this structure is one of the few 20th century structures in the historic district and among the founders of the clinic was Dr. Waller Bullock, husband of Minnie, who resided in the Bodley-Bullock House just down the street. This building served as a clinic until 1958 when the clinic moved. The building was then used as the offices of an engineering firm which closed its doors in 1976. The building remained vacant until it was bought and renovated for use as an inn in 1987. It now ranks as one of the top inns in the region.

Among the inn’s non-paying guests are three spirits: a young girl, a man and a classic “lady in white.” The little girl is described differently in the two sources I have consulted. The Jamie Millard article names her “Little Annie” and states she plays quietly with her doll on the third floor. Alan Brown in his Haunted Kentucky, calls her Lizzie and says her voice is most commonly heard laughing and playing, though she did crawl in bed with a guest and fall asleep on evening. The Millard article goes on to describe the other two spirits: John is a humorous spirit and the “lady in white” is apparently looking for something or someone.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Kentucky: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Bluegrass State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2009.
  • Brown, Alan. Stories from the Haunted South. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2004.
  • Constantine Samuel Rafinesque. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 3 October 2010.
  • Constantine Samuel Rafinesque Biography. YourDictionary.com. Accessed 3 October 2010.
  • Fayette County Committee. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for the Gratz Park Historic District. Listed 14 March 1973.
  • Millard, Jamie. “Hauntings in Gratz Park.” Chevy Chaser Magazine. 28 September 2010.
  • National Park Service. “Bodley-Bullock House.” Lexington Kentucky: Athens of the West. National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary. Accessed 3 October 2010.
  • National Park Service. “Gratz Park Historic District.” Lexington Kentucky: Athens of the West. National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary. Accessed 3 October 2010.
  • National Park Service. “Hunt-Morgan House.” Lexington Kentucky: Athens of the West. National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary. Accessed 3 October 2010.
  • National Park Service. “Old Morrison, Transylvania College.” Lexington Kentucky: Athens of the West. National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary. Accessed 3 October 2010.
  • Rettig, Polly M. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for Old Morrison Building. Listed 15 October 1966.

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East Georgia’s Eagle Tavern

Eagle Tavern
26 North Main Street

Watkinsville, Georgi

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

On my recent trip to Milledgeville, I made some stops on the way home in Madison and Watkinsville, two of the more historic towns in east Georgia, to photograph some haunted locations. The Eagle Tavern is one of the most historic landmarks in the area and has hosted generations of Watkinsville citizens and guests. The date of its initial construction is lost to history and may be as early as 1789. The building was definitely serving as a tavern by 1801 or 1802. Over the years, additions were added haphazardly and when the building was restored by the state of Georgia in the 1950s, most of these additions were torn down. The tavern has served as a museum since its restoration.

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

The structure remaining after the state’s restoration is not very large, but it possibly hosts an array of spirits. A dancing female in a ballgown has been reported by a cleaning woman in one of the downstairs rooms. Possibly, three male spirits have been encountered in the tavern, including a very unpleasant entity in the basement of the building. Phantom footsteps have been heard and phantom odors including cherry tobacco have been smelled.

Sources

  • Summer, Margaret T., editor. The History of Oconee County, Georgia. Curtis Media, 1993.
  • Underwood, Corinna. Haunted History: Atlanta and North Georgia. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2008.

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Louisville Palace Theater (Photographs)

Louisiville Palace Theatre
625 South Fourth Street
Louisville, Kentucky

The facade of the Louisville Palace Theater, 2006. Opened in 1928 as the Loew’s Theater, this grand movie house was designed by noted movie palace designer, John Eberson (1875-1964). Photo by StevietheMan and courtesy of Wikipedia.

 

Wall detail in the outer lobby. Eberson utilized the Spanish Baroque style for the theater. He often used “exotic” archtiectural styles for his theaters. This magnificent edifice The theater remained open as a movie house until 1978 when it closed as a movie house. It was purchased by investors and opened as a nightclub. The club closed in the mid-1980s and the theater was purchased in 1991 by a company
with the intention of restoring it and creating a venue for live performance. Photograph by Jack Boucher, 1979 for the Historic
American Buildings Survey (HABS), courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
The house and stage of the Louisville Palace. The theater is designed to enconce the audience in a Spanish Baroque courtyard. The ceiling is an atmospheric ceiling with clouds. In the 1960s, this balcony was enclosed as a second theater, but this alternation was removed in the 1990s restoration. It’s not hard to imagine spirits spending their afterlife in such a magnificent edifice. A handful of spirits have been reported here including a man in 1930s clothing that has been seen in this balcony. When approached by ushers, the man disappears. Photo taken in 1928, courtesy of the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
The lobby with the Grand Staircase leading to the mezzanine lobby. A staff member has reported seeing a woman in a 1940s era outfit climbing the stairs. When the spirit stops and turns, she has no face. Photo taken in 1928, courtesy of the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
The upper lobby with its magnificent coffered ceiling. The sculptural details on the ceiling feature the heads of 138 “immortals” including John Eberson, the theater’s architect, Socrates and Beethoven. Photo taken in 1928, courtesy of the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
The entrance to the Ladies Parlor. Theater employees have heard a young child’s giggling coming from the restroom just beyond this door. One staff member reports seeing a pair of child’s feet in a stall and heard stall doors slamming. Photo taken in 1928, courtesy of the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
The house from the stage. The projector room towards the back, now used as the lighting booth is where the spirit of a former projectionist may roam. Legend speaks of a loyal projectionist who suffered a major heart attack while on the job. As he was being carried from the booth on a door, he fell off and down the stairs, dying instantly. Staff have encountered his spirit in his old booth. Photo taken in 1928, courtesy of the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
The mezzanine promenande. During the restoration, the spirit of a man in 1940s era clothing appeared throughout the theater. Workers had tools moved and would hear voices. One workers who fell asleep on scaffolding while painting a ceiling was awaken by a voice moments before he nearly rolled off. This spirit continues to be seen througout the theater. This spirit has been identified as Ferdinand Frisch, a theater employee who died in the building in 1965. Photo taken in 1928, courtesy of the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Sources

  • Historic American Buildings Survey. Loew’s Theatre, 625 South Fourth Street, Louisville, Jefferson, KY. HABS Collection, Library of Congress, 1979.
  • Gravatte, Jay. The Palace Theatre. Louisville Ghost Hunters Society. Accessed 2 October 2010.
  • John Eberson. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 2 October 2010.
  • Louisville Palace. History. Accessed 2 October 2010.
  • The Louisville Palace. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 2 October 2010.
  • Parker, Robert W. Haunted Louisville: History and Hauntings from the Derby City. Decatur, IL, Whitechapel Press, 2007.

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“Our law is joy”–Abbeville Opera House

Abbeville Opera House
100 Court Square
Abbeville, South Carolina

Ruth, it’s these fellows are fooling you! It’s they who keep your head set on the wages of sin, and all that rubbish. What have we got to do with suffering and sacrifice? That may be the law for some, and I’ve tried hard to see it as outlaw, and I thought I had succeeded. But I haven’t! Our law is joy, and selfishness; the curve of your shoulder and the light on your hair as you sit there says that as plain as preaching.
—William Vaughn Moody, The Great Divide, 1906, the first play to open the Abbeville Opera House.

I’ve discovered, with much joy, that the state of South Carolina, like Virginia, has placed all of its National Register nomination forms online! Therefore, research for this state has been made much easier. Since I haven’t written much yet on South Carolina, I’ve been focusing on it this week.

As you may notice in my brief bio at the right of this text, I’m an actor first. I’ve been performing onstage since the ripe old age of four; starting as a singer and in musicals and working my way up to earning a theatre degree from Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia. Following college, I have continued to play various roles both on and off stage including helping to found a Shakespeare company and editing and co-writing a history of the Springer Opera House in Columbus, as well. The Springer is haunted, of course, and I do plan on writing about it in the future. So, theatres, especially haunted theatres, combine two of the great passions in my life. What could be better?

Abbeville Opera House, 2004. This public domain image is by
K. Armstrong of National Scenic Byways Online.

Theatre has been a part of American culture from quite early on. Native Americans included theatre and dance as a part of their rituals. Many of the earliest European settlers shunned such cultural extravagances as being sinful—“they who keep your head set on the wages of sin”– but theatre took hold in the mid-18th century and did not let go. Travelling companies formed and trooped through the frontier bringing Shakespeare with them to people starved for any entertainment. Towards the end of the 19th century, theatres were springing up in any city that wished to call itself such. These theatres were the stopping places for thousands of performers travelling “the Road.”

Legend has it that Abbeville, South Carolina was just a nightly stopping place for major companies on the Road. When the citizens of Abbeville realized the benefits of having these companies perform in town, they built a theatre to accommodate performances. On an early evening in October of 1908 (sources differ as to the exact date), the opera house opened with a performance of the melodramatic The Great Divide. The local paper, The Abbeville Medium, raved that “the show was far above the average show that hails this way.” Later that month, Thomas F. Dixon’s controversial play, The Clansman, appeared. The play had caused riots and government officials in some towns had prevented performances due to its “sensitive” subject matter: the Ku Klux Klan, but the Medium described the play as being in no “sense offensive, as we thought it would be.” Another popular show of the era that played the Abbeville Opera House was one of the stage adaptations of Lew Wallace’s classic, Ben Hur. The story of a wealthy Jewish prince whose life is turned upside down by a minor accident, Ben Hur ends with the title character finding redemption after encountering Christ. Broadway producers turned the show into a family spectacle that included an actual chariot race with live horses onstage running on a treadmill. The show was a nationwide hit.

The Opera House also hosted popular minstrel shows, vaudeville (quickly becoming the most popular form of entertainment) and even the Ziegfeld Follies all straight from the boards of the Great White Way in distant new York City. These performances were gala events with the citizens turning out in their best finery. The Southern Railroad would even run special trains to and from the surrounding towns to see names like the great female comedienne, Fannie Brice or the Great Jimmy Durante. Certainly, with the lack of theatre in small towns now, it’s hard to imagine even a small town seeing many of the greatest performers of the day in a live performance.

Starting just two years after it opened, the Abbeville Opera House’s lights were dimmed to the flicker of the movie projector. For nearly the next two decade, film would slowly begin to edge out live performances. According to the Opera House website, nearly 3,250 films played in the Opera House between 1914 and 1930. By 1930, the Road was dying and film had begun to dominate American entertainment. The grande dames that were originally built to accommodate live theatre performances were slowly closed and demolished towards the middle of the 20th century. At this time, as the Abbeville Opera House started to take its final curtain call, George Settles formed a group, Abbeville Community Theater (the group performing in the Opera House is now the Opera House Players, though I’m not sure what relation they have to Settles’ group) to preserve live theatre in the area. Plans were made to restore the grand lady and fifty years after the house had opened so dramatically, the restored theatre was reopened with a production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.

The theatre world is rife with superstition and nearly every theatre is known to harbor a ghost and the Abbeville Opera House is no exception. Rumors of ghosts spread quite early. Local Larry Pursley recalls in his book, Abbeville, SC: A Backward Glance, that he was told as a child “a man had been hanged out of the small window near the top of the back of the Opera House.” He states that with his knowledge of local history now, he knows the story is ludicrous and completely untrue. But, other stories, however, have a ring of truth.

Theatre company members have had many experiences in this 102 year old theatre. Most of the experiences seem to center on the second balcony. This balcony, which in some theaters might be referred to as “the nose-bleed section,”was originally intended for non-white patrons during the era of segregation. Often these seats were the worst and the most uncomfortable and the entrance to this balcony was accessed through a different entrance so the two groups of patrons wouldn’t mix. The balcony, nowadays, is reserved for the “techies” or theatre technicians who run lights and sound and a ghost or two.

When the theatre was restored the second balcony was cleared except for a single chair. This single chair, known as the “ghost chair,” is untouched. Jerry Solomon, a set builder, remarked in a 2005 article in the Columbia, South Carolina paper, The State, that would not move or even touch the chair for fear that something would go wrong during the show. “The curtain won’t go down; lights will go out.” This sentiment has been expressed by many associated with the theatre. Theatre people, especially actors who are bound by routine during a show, are especially superstitious, but that doesn’t explain the strange reports coming out of the theatre.

One actor glancing up the second balcony during a show saw a woman standing there staring down at the stage. Cheralyn Lambeth, author of Haunted Theaters of the Carolinas, states an actor saw a woman in period dress applauding in the same balcony during the curtain call of a show. Other actors report the sound a lone applause coming from the same balcony while actors and techies have described add sounds coming from the balcony and the catwalks above the stage during shows.

Two legends exist to explain this phenomena. One speaks of an actress with a touring company who died while or shortly after performing in the Opera House possibly during the 1920s. The other mentions an African-American man who fell in love with a white actress and was murdered in the balcony by a racist mob when the relationship was discovered. Whatever the cause, there is something going on in the theater.

Cheri Standridge, director of the Greater Abbeville Chamber of Commerce, mentions that she accompanied a psychic on a walk of the Opera House. The woman encountered a number of spirits including a family sitting in one of the boxes and a man in a military uniform. One Georgia ghost-hunting team has investigated the Opera House at least four times, but has not published its results. Of course the number of times says something: if they hadn’t found anything, they would not have investigated it numerous times.

The Opera House continues to stage shows that are loudly applauded by the living and even some of the dead.

Sources

  • Abbeville Opera House. History. Accessed 28 September 2010.
  • Bordsen, John. “A Boo’s Who of Ghosts.” The State. 30 October 2005.
  • Fant, Mrs. James. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for the Abbeville Opera House. Entered in the National Register 1 July 1970.
  • Jones, Jennifer. “Abbeville Opera House Known for ‘ghost chair.’” Anderson (SC) Independent-Mail. 23 October 2005.
  • Kyle, F. Clason. Lewis Powell, IV, editor. In Order of Appearance: 135 Years on America’s Most Celebrated Stage. Columbus, GA:  Communicorp, 2006.
  • Lambeth, Cheralyn. Haunted Theaters of the Carolinas. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2009.
  • Pursely, Larry. Abbeville, SC: A Backward Glance. Alpharetta, GA: WH Wolfe and Associates, 1993.
  • Ware, Lowery. Old Abbeville: Scenes of the Past of a Town Where Old Time Things Are Not Forgotten. Columbia, SC: SCMAR, 1992.

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Orange Spirits–University of Tennessee

University of Tennessee Campus
Knoxville, Tennessee

Ghosts rarely receive official notice. The National Park Service, for instance, usually states that park service properties, including some of the bloodiest battlefields of the Revolution and the Civil War, are not haunted. Therefore, it’s interesting when an official organization or agency acknowledges a haunting. Such is the case of the myriad ghosts on the campus of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Not only does the University website host a page detailing its ghosts, but the website of the Tennessee State Archives includes information not only on the UT campus, but other haunting in the state. The campus’ ghosts span the range of history of the region from Native Americans whose burial grounds were possibly disturbed to Civil War soldiers who fought and died in battle on the campus to students who recently committed suicide.

The history of the university begins in 1794, shortly before Tennessee became a state, when it was founded as Blount College. The state legislature changed the school’s name to East Tennessee College in 1807 and it became a university in 1840. The school was founded initially on Gay Street in Knoxville, but the location was moved to a large site near town with a hill that offered a commanding view of the city. This hill, now known affectionately as “The Hill” became a main feature of the campus and one that the Pride of the Southland Band plays homage to on their march to the stadium on game days. This same hill, during the Civil War, became Fort Byington which looked northwest to a nearby hill with a large entrenchment called Fort Sanders (originally it was Fort Loudon but the name was changed when Brigadier General William P. Sanders was killed in action nearby).

Much of Eastern Tennessee did not owe much allegiance to the Confederacy. The area was not sprinkled with the slave-operated plantations that dotted the rest of the South and Union forces found little resistance when they moved in to occupy in 1862. When General James Longstreet led his Confederate forces to recapture Knoxville, they met with the forces of General Ambrose Burnside who had created a line just west of what was the university campus at that time. This line, stretching from the Tennessee River to Fort Sanders then around the northern edge of Knoxville to the fortified eastern side of the city, held the Confederates as they laid siege.

A map of the defenses of Knoxville from the US War Department’s The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, published between 1880 and 1901. Note the defensive line that cuts across the present campus west of the city. Fort Byington was constructed at the top of what is now “The Hill.”

Before dawn on the morning of November 29, 1863, Confederate forces charged up the hill to Fort Sanders losing over 800 soldiers (about 120 were actually killed) in the twenty minute battle that followed. Many of these casualties occurred when the Confederates tripped on telegraph wire that had been strung between stumps around the fort. The ditch that surrounded the fort also claimed many. Longstreet’s gamble in Eastern Tennessee did not succeed and Burnside held Knoxville until the conclusion of the war.

A later depiction of the Battle of Fort Sanders from a lithograph published by Kurz and Allison, 1891. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Having been laid waste by the Siege of Knoxville, the University reopened after the war and began rebuilding. The state legislature named the University a land-grant university under the terms of the Morrill Act and renamed it the University of Tennessee when it reopened in 1868. The University has grown in size and respectability since and it consistently ranks among the top universities in the nation.

Besides the two online sources I mentioned previously, there are a few published sources on the ghosts of the University of Tennessee as well. Perhaps the best source is Daniel Barefoot’s Haunted Halls of Ivy: Ghosts of Southern Colleges and Universities, which appears to be one of the main sources for the two online sources. Barefoot, a North Carolina lawyer and former member of the state legislature, has written five books on ghosts and is an authority on North Carolina’s folklore. Alan Brown, professor of English at the University of Western Alabama and another noted author on Southern ghosts, includes the ghost of the Hoskins Library in his Stories from the Haunted Southland. Charles Edwin Price, who has written heavily on Tennessee folklore, also includes the University in his book, Mysterious Knoxville, though I don’t have this book in my library, yet.

ALUMNI MEMORIAL BUILDING

Fanny’s first home, the Old Science Hall, razed in 1979. Photograph originally published
by the Detroit Publishing Company. Courtesy of the Library of Congress,Prints and
Photographs Division.

Ghosts sometimes may travel when the buildings they inhabit are demolished or destroyed. This is believed to have been the case for the Alumni Memorial Building. When the Old Science Hall was razed in 1979, Fanny, the building’s ghost, appears to have travelled to its replacement.

Originally, Fanny’s ghost was at home in the auditorium of the Science building where plays were performed, lectures given and chapel held. She had dreams of being a Hollywood actress and had supposedly gotten a contract with a studio but before she could head off to California, she contracted tuberculosis and died. Her spirit is said to appear during theatrical rehearsals in the Alumni Memorial, though no source provides specific descriptions of her activity or sightings of her.

GENERAL COUNSELING CENTER

According to Barefoot, the only author to mention this location, the General Counseling Center was located in an old house on Lake Avenue. The house, once owned by the Dean of Education, Dr. John A. Thackston, was willed to the University on his death. Barefoot states that the ghost of Dr. Thackston has been encountered in the house and blamed for doors opening and closing by themselves. After consulting the campus map, it appears that the counseling center has been moved as the building on the map is not on Lake Avenue.

HESS HALL

Blood-curdling screams are heard in Hess Hall which, according to legend, are from a student who committed suicide in the 1970s.

THE HILL

The heart of the University, “The Hill,” is crowned by Ayres Hall with the old South College building nearby. The rest of the hill has been left as green space where two specters have been encountered: a large creature and the spirit of a man.

Ayres Hall which now crowns The Hill. It is around this building that a
spectral creature and a man from the 1930s are seen. Photograph by
Wikipedia user Gragghia.

The creature encountered here has been described in varying ways. Some descriptions have indicated it is possibly canine, while others describe it as feline. Barefoot, Brown as well as the website, Ghosts and Spirits of Tennessee, describe a phantom wolf that is heard howling. The University website differs a bit and describes the creature as “a barghest (very large dog with huge claws and teeth).” In Rosemary Ellen Guiley’s masterful Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, Guiley states that the barghest is a product of English folklore and is a “spectral hound that exists in Cornwall and northern England.” She continues that it is a death omen manifesting as a large dog or bear and making a shrieking sound.

It’s interesting that the barghest is possibly a death omen as the feline description of this creature usually uses the term “wampus cat” which is also a death omen. Alan Brown in his Haunted Tennessee provides the legend of the wampus cat and an aside about the University’s hill creature. The wampus cat is found in Cherokee legend where a young woman with a desire to hunt with the men cloaked herself with a mountain lion skin and followed them. After being undetected most of the day, she bumped into a tree branch and was discovered. The men, angered by this discovery, consulted with a shaman who bound the woman to the lion skin forever.

Brown recounts a modern encounter with this creature on The Hill. In the early part of this decade a young female student had moved into an apartment at the intersection of 16th Street and Cumberland Avenue quite near The Hill. One evening, she glanced out the window and saw a “human-size, cat-like being that was walking on its hind legs.” He also mentions that the creature had glowing eyes, a characteristic also noted on the University website.

As for the male spirit seen on The Hill, the University website describes him as:

The apparition of a young man wearing a Celluloid collar and bowler hat sometimes joins students in the evenings as they walk up the steps to the top of The Hill. He is generally seen walking with his head bent and his hands behind his back — and he does not acknowledge those with whom he walks.

The legend told is that man is a student from the 1930s who committed suicide after his girlfriend left him to marry someone else. The site notes that the spirit’s bowler hat hides a gaping head wound.

HOSKINS LIBRARY

Built in 1931 with additions dating from the 1960s, the Hoskins Library is possibly home to two spirits. One spirit may be a former library director while the other is a bit more well-known, even being given the odd name “Evening Primrose.” Ms. Primrose, the female waif, is reported to play with the elevators, knock books off shelves and she may also be responsible for the smell of food cooking. Alan Brown quotes the director of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Division who had smelled food cooking in the basement stacks of the library, certainly a place where cooking food would be wholly out of place. The identity of Evening Primrose is unknown, but the University website opines that she may be the ghost of “a poor graduate student who secretly lived — and died — in the Library while researching her dissertation.

McCLUNG MUSEUM

The Frank D. McClung Museum, with collections covering anthropology, the arts, and natural history, opened in 1963. Two sources, Daniel Barefoot and John Norris Brown (author of the Ghosts and Spirits of Tennessee website) assert that this structure was built atop Native American burial mounds and their spirits now roam its halls.

PERKINS HALL

Blount Hall, replaced by Perkins Hall in 1979. Photograph originally published by the
Detroit Publishing Company. Courtesy of the Library of Congress,Prints and Photographs Division.

Home to parts of the Engineering Department, Perkins Hall was built near the site of Barbara Blount Hall which was demolished in 1979. When the foundation for Blount Hall was being dug in 1900, graves of soldiers were discovered which were then reinterred in the nearby National Cemetery. The spirits of these soldiers was said to roam the corridors of Blount Hall. These soldiers possibly relocated to the green space next to Perkins when Blount Hall was razed. The University website reports that eight Union soldiers are sometimes seen conferring among each other.

REESE HALL

One of the mid-20th century dormitories, Reese Hall, like the McClung Museum, may also have been built atop Native American graves as well as an early 19th century cemetery. John Norris Brown states that early maps indicate this site as the location of a cemetery, yet records do not indicate the graves were moved. Reports of shadow people–dark, shadowy figures—have come from students in and around this building.

STRONG HALL

Of the haunting on the UT campus, Strong Hall is perhaps the best documented. The original core of the building opened in 1925 with five wings, each named for the first women to graduate from UT, being added in 1939. Strong Hall was built as a women’s dormitory with a sizable gift from financier and alumnus Benjamin Rush Strong on the site of his grandparent’s home. The gift was granted with the stipulation that it be used to construct a women’s dormitory named for his mother, Sophronia Strong and that the site would also include a flower garden. The building has served as a women’s dormitory until 2008 when the last female student passed through its rooms. The building is slated to be remodeled into instructional and laboratory space for the Department of Anthropology.

One wonders as to what “Sophie,” the structure’s resident ghost, may think of this decision. After all, her son’s gift included the stipulation that the building always house female students. These same female students have told stories for decades of a stern female spirit that would appear to stem heated arguments and confrontations. The antics of Sophie, who may possibly be Sophronia Strong, included more lively things such as locking girls out of their rooms and appearances in the mirrors of the bathroom around the time of her birthday.

TYSON ALUMNI CENTER

Acquired by the University in 1954, the Tyson House was owned by General Lawrence Tyson, a World War I General and U.S. Senator and his wife Betty. When the house was purchased, the University agreed to maintain the back yard grave of the Tyson’s beloved dog, Bonita (or Benita, sources differ). Bonita still appears in the house as well as the shades of her owners, the Tysons. It is said that Bonita is still heard howling at night, or is this the barghest or wampus cat? With the numerous spirits of the University of Tennessee, it could possibly be all three.

Sources

  • Allen, Angela. “Strong Hall’s ghostly caretaker continues to entertain.” Tennessee Journalist. 20 October 2008.
  • Barefoot, Daniel W. Haunted Halls of Ivy: Ghosts of Southern Colleges and Universities. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2004.
  • Battle of Fort Sanders.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 25 September 2010.
  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Tennessee: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Volunteer State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2009.
  • Brown, Alan. Stories from the Haunted South. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi. 2004.
  • Brown, John Norris. “University of Tennessee.” Ghosts and Spirits of Tennessee. Accessed 20 September 2010.
  • Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits. NYC: Checkmark, 1992.
  • Knoxville Campaign.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 25 September 2010.
  • Lawrence Tyson.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 25 September 2010.
  • Shearer, John. “Last day of use as a women’s dorm is at hand for historic UT building.”Knoxville News. 8 May 2008.
  • Tennessee State Library and Archives. Ghosts. Accessed 20 September 2010.
  • University of Tennessee. Ghost Stories: Is our campus haunted?” Accessed 20 September 2010.
  • University of Tennessee.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 25 September 2010.

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The Haunting of Milledgeville, Georgia

As my first blogging trip, I’ve headed to Milledgeville, Georgia to explore some of its haunted past. Milledgeville was established in Middle Georgia by an act of the state legislature in 1803. The city was laid out as a seat of government for the state based on the designs for Savannah and Washington, DC. The state government was moved from Louisville in 1807 to the newly built and unfinished statehouse in the center of Statehouse Square. By 1814, the once rough and tumble town had grown into a respectable city that attracted wealth and prosperity. The new capital attracted skilled architects who created grand homes and government buildings including a state penitentiary, mental asylum and an institute of higher learning, Oglethorpe University.

In January of 1861, the city’s illustrious rise to prominence entered its twilight when a convention of delegates passed the Ordinance of Secession and officially joined the Confederate States of America. The city erupted in joy but on a fall day three years later, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman would enter the city accompanied by some 30,000 troops who would pillage and ransack it before leaving a few days later on their March to the Sea. The ruined capital was dealt a harsher blow when the state capital was moved to Atlanta in 1868.

The city remained provincial but worked to provide educational resources for the state. While Oglethorpe University during the Civil War and closed in 1872 (to be rechartered in Atlanta in the 20th century), Middle Georgia Military and Agricultural College (now Georgia Military College) was founded in 1879 in the Old State Capital building in Statehouse Square. Ten years later on the site of the Georgia Penitentiary which had burned during the Northern occupation of the city, the Georgia Normal and Industrial College (now Georgia College and State University) was founded. The state mental asylum developed into Central State Hospital which would carry a patient load of nearly 12,000 people in the early 1960s. Changes in mental health treatment have led to the slow phasing out of the hospital and many of its programs. Combined with the closing of local mills, the local economy has had to shift away from health care and manufacturing towards industries such as tourism.

With a concentration of historic structures, it’s no wonder that Milledgeville has many ghosts. Kathryn Tucker Windham in her 13 Georgia Ghosts and Jeffrey, includes the story of Sam Walker, who was mayor in the 1870s, who was deemed “the meanest man in Georgia” after he contributed to the untimely death of his son. It is believed that both Walker and his son may still haunt their former home. Barbara Duffey has penned two books, Banshees, Bugles and Belles: True Ghost Stories of Georgia (1995) and Angels and Apparitions: True Ghost Stories From the South (1996) both of which document many hauntings in Milledgeville.

Following are photographs of some of the haunted locations in Milledgeville. As my research continues, these locations will be highlighted individually.

Lockerly Hall, built in 1852 by Daniel Reese Tucker and originally called “Rose Hall.” The house in now the centerpiece of Lockerly Arboretum. The spirit of a young woman, possibly Emma Tucker, the daughter of Daniel Reese, has been seen in the house. The grounds of the arboretum are open to the public and the house may be toured as
well. Photograph by Lewis Powell, IV, 2010, all rights reserved.
The gates of Memory Hill Cemetery, Milledgeville’s primary historic burying ground, where many famous Milledgeville citizens are interred including author Flannery O’Conner, Congressman Carl Vinson and vaudeville magician Dixie Haygood. Memory Hill is the site of a few mysterious graves that may have some paranormal activity. Photograph by Lewis Powell, IV, 2010, all rights reserved.

 

Built as the first official residence for the state’s governor, the Old Governor’s Mansion was completed in 1839. It served as the official governor’s residence from its completion to 1868 when the capital was moved to Atlanta. The house served in a variety of functions including the home to Georgia College presidents until it was restored and opened as a house museum. The smell of food cooking has been reported wafting through the basement and ground floors while the ghost of a woman in period dress was seen in the State Dining Room. Photograph by Lewis Powell, IV, 2010, all rights reserved.
Considered one of the grandest Gothic Revival structures in the United States, the Old State Capitol Building now serves as part of the campus for Georgia Military College. The sound of legions of marching spectral soldiers has been reported on the adjoining parade grounds as well as the apparition of a Confederate sentry. Photograph by Lewis Powell, IV, 2010, all rights reserved.

Sources

  • Duffey, Barbara. Angels and Apparitions: True Ghost Stories From the South. Eatonton, GA: Elysian Publishing, 1996.
  • Duffey, Barbara. Banshees, Bugles and Belles: True Ghost Stories of Georgia. Berryville, VA: Rockbridge Publishing, 1995.
  • Mitchell, Nicole. “Georgia Penitentiary at Milledgeville.” The New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
  • Payne, David H. “Central State Hospital.” The New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
  • Turner, James C. “Old Governor’s Mansion.” The New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
  • Wilson, Robert J., III. “Milledgeville.” The New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
  • Windham, Kathryn Tucker. 13 Georgia Ghosts and Jeffrey. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1973.

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Haunting of the Old Heard County Jail

Old Heard County Jail
Court Square
Franklin, Georgia

Old Heard County Jail, now the Heard County Historical Center and Museum in Franklin, Georgia. This facility was built in 1912 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981. Photograph by Lewis Powell, IV, 2010, all rights reserved.
Side view of the Old Heard County Jail. The inmate’s cells were located on the second floor while the first floor held offices. A museum employee reported hearing the sound of cell doors slamming shut when she was alone in the building. Photograph by Lewis Powell, IV, 2010, all rights reserved.
The tower on the front of the Old Heard County Jail. The gallows are located in this tower and were quite possibly used for executions. This location was investigated by West Georgia Paranormal Investigations and presented in their show, Ghost Burn. Photograph by Lewis Powell, IV, 2010, all rights reserved.

Sources

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Encounters at the Exchange Hotel–Virginia

Exchange Hotel
400 South Main Street
Gordonsville, Virginia

As I’m researching and beginning to write about Southern ghosts, I’ll be highlighting places that appear on my radar due to recent news articles. The Exchange Hotel is one of those places. An article appeared in a recent edition of C-ville, a Charlottesville, Virginia news and arts weekly and I immediately became interested in seeing what I could find on this place.

God bless the Virginia Department of Historic Resources for placing the state’s numerous (over 2,700 statewide) National Register of Historic Places forms online! It makes historical research on this location much easier. If available, these forms can present a fairly accurate history of a location. Unfortunately, outside of Virginia, the National Park Service (NPS), the keepers of the National Register, has only made select forms available online.  Among those forms currently available are all forms for National Historic Landmarks (NHLs). NHLs are those places deemed by the NPS to be of national significance and inclusion as an NHL includes automatic listing on the National Register. The editors of Wikipedia have also deemed National Register properties to be notable enough to create separate articles on each which can be quite helpful and often provides information not found on the nomination form, though many places do not yet have articles.

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

Some places appear to be positively crawling with ghosts and the Exchange Hotel seems to be one of those places. According to the C-ville article, the hotel has been investigated some 20 times, though it doesn’t specify who performed all of those investigations. However, it appears that investigations have yielded a huge amount of evidence, including EVPs (Electronic Voice Phenomena), photographs, video and recorded personal experiences.

It’s no surprise that the Exchange Hotel has ghosts. The three-story, late Greek Revival structure was built in 1860 to replace a tavern that had been built on the site in 1840. The site was at the intersection of two major railways, the Chesapeake and Ohio (C & O) and the Alexandria and Orange (A & O) Railroads and is near the Gordonsville Depot which was built around the same time as the original tavern (the depot is apparently also haunted and has been investigated by the Shenandoah Valley Paranormal Society). The hotel opened in a period of mounting hostility that would eventually lead to the first shots of the Civil War in April of 1861. By June 1862, the hotel was serving as part of the Gordonsville Receiving Hospital, a massive operation that, by war’s end, would treat some 70,000 soldiers, mostly Confederate, but including some Union soldiers as well. These soldiers would pour in from many of the nearby Virginia battlefields including Cedar Mountain, Chancellorsville, Brandy Station and the Wilderness. Obviously, many died, though I haven’t encountered an exact number, but it is known that just over 700 of those were buried on the hotel property.

Following the sadness of its days as a hospital, the building served as an office for the Freedman’s Bureau, a government agency that provided aid to freed slaves and war refugees between 1865 and 1872. The hotel was soon returned to its original function as a luxurious railroad hotel offering the best of Southern hospitality. The hospitality of the hotel was so well-known that humorist George W. Bagby dubbed Gordonsville “the chicken-leg centre of the universe.” This fine reputation was enjoyed until the hotel closed in the 1940s. The building served as a private residence and later was divided into apartments before being acquired by Historic Gordonsville, Inc. which restored the hotel as a museum.

So far, nothing in my research has indicated when people in the Exchange Hotel began experiencing spectral phenomena. I would speculate that the phenomena began shortly after the building’s usage as a hospital, though I don’t have any evidence of that. Many buildings throughout the South were commandeered for use as hospitals throughout the war and many of those remaining are often considered haunted; witness Carnton Plantation in Franklin, Tennessee. This house served as a hospital during and for many months after the Battle of Franklin in 1864 and the activity in the house is at a high enough level that a book has been written specifically about it.

As one might expect of a location with such a varied and bloody past, there are apparently numerous spirits haunting the hotel. Among those spirits are a young African-American male who possibly hanged himself in the kitchen building, a former cook, one the Quartermasters who was in charge of the hotel during the war as well as a female who was possibly his companion and, according to a longtime museum volunteer, the wraith of Major Cornelius Boyle who was the post commander. These spirits and, quite possibly, a host of others have caused a high level of paranormal activity including disembodied voices, apparitions, shadow figures, items being misplaced and witnesses being physically touched.

It appears that information on the hotel’s haunting has yet to be published aside from scattered ghost hunt reports and the C-ville article. Though, it does appear that the site is receiving attention from the local ghost hunting community, even appearing in a TV show produced by Research Investigators of the Paranormal or R.I.P., a team out of Richmond, Virginia (see the trailer for the show here).  Two other teams, SSPI (lead by Mark Higgins and the subject of the article) and the Shenandoah Valley Paranormal Society, teamed up for two joint investigations of the premises. All three teams were able to collect a good deal of evidence ranging from EVPs to video. Numerous photographs also had anomalies including dark shadows, the de rigueur orb photographs (which are often easy to discount) and a few with some possible human forms. One of the more interesting videos shows a door that just been closed opening by itself while another video captures an odd light in one of the bedrooms.  Both investigations by SSPI and the Shenandoah Valley Paranormal Society were concluded with the finding that the Exchange Hotel is haunted.

Certainly, this is a location that is brimming with history and important simply from a historical standpoint. It also appears that with the high amounts of paranormal activity occurring in these locations, this place may also end up being important in a paranormal sense. As always, I would welcome any input readers have on this location.

The Exchange Hotel is open to the public as a Civil War museum. Please see the museum’s website (http://www.hgiexchange.org/) for further information. The museum also hosts occasional ghost walks.

Sources

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A Mississippi Dante

Noxubee County Library
103 East King Street
Macon, Mississippi

Revised 28 December 2017.

Jefferson Street, Macon, Mississippi, probably just after the turn of the 20th century. Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Forrest Lamar Cooper
Postcard Collection.

Sitting in a jail cell in the newly opened Noxubee County Jail in 1907, Si Connor was visited by Jesus. “Jesus have been here since I been in jail and have taken me to hell and showed me everything there, and what sort of place it is,” he told a reporter a couple weeks before his execution. Connor was shown a “big fire” with a “man toting water to the folks in the fire.”

“Hell,” continued the inmate, “is a right big place. Yassah, I spec it is as big as Macon, maybe bigger.” In preserving the African-American man’s dialect, the unnamed reporter from the Macon Beacon showed no compassion for the man’s vision, based on race and class. Interestingly, Connor points out that the fire contained both whites and blacks.

Connor’s next vision took him to the gallows that had been erected for his own state-sponsored demise. The sheriff put the noose around his neck and a pair of angels appeared and told him, “Si, don’t you be skeered or shamed or nothing for you is a child of God.” The angels flew him to heaven where he was greeted by his grandmother, sister, and “my little baby.” “I saw lots of Noxubee county folks up there. Yassah, white people too.” Continuing in his vision, Connor replies, “Jesus Christ told me to tall all the people down here to believe in him and He would save them.”

The reporter notes that “the condemned man tells all this with earnestness and sincerity, but with the same silly smile he wore when on the witness stand telling of killing his wife with an ax.” The jailer is quoted saying that Mr. Connor “has no dread of death, saying he wants to stay here as long as he can but is ready to go and doubtless he is. As a horrible example to a portion of his race, he will prove a failure.”

Allow me to round out the scene with a bit of local history. In 1830, sixty Choctaw leaders met with government agents at a place with the marvelous name of Dancing Rabbit Creek. There the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was signed on the 27th of September ceding some 11 million acres of Choctaw land east of the Mississippi River to white settlers in exchange for some 15 million acres in Oklahoma.

The ceded land became a huge swath of what is now the state of Mississippi and a small portion of western Alabama. In 1833, the portion of the ceded lands around Dancing Rabbit Creek was established as Noxubee County, so named for the Noxubee River; meaning “stinking water” in the Choctaw language. Near the center of the county, on the Noxubee River, the town of Macon was established as the county seat. The town prospered and, according to the 1938 WPA guide to Mississippi, “the big white- columned homes are the remaining evidence.”

As Sherman burned the state capital, Jackson, during the Civil War, the state government moved to Macon temporarily, setting up business at the Calhoun Institute, one of a handful of schools in and around Macon. Two sessions of the state legislature met in these school buildings while one of them, as well as many of Macon’s church buildings, were commandeered for hospitals.

Most histories of the area seem to stop just after the turmoil of the Civil War, so one might be tempted to assume that the town returned to being a sleepy hamlet. Judging from the population numbers in the 1938 WPA guide (2,198 people) and the numbers provided by Wikipedia (2,461 people in the 2000 census), it seems that little has changed throughout the bulk of the twentieth century.

The original Noxubee County Jail was constructed in Macon in 1860, on the eve of the Civil War. Around the time the new jail was constructed, the old jail was described by a local attorney and state representative as being, “no jail at all.” Unfortunately for the local citizenry, the old jail was regularly the scene of prisoners simply removing bricks from the masonry walls to escape.

The Old Noxubee County Jail and current library, 2009. Photo by Jimmy Emerson, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Hailed for its luxurious appointments, the new jail offered “steam heat, electric lights, hot and cold baths and ‘saw and file-proof cells,” which “will minister to [the prisoners’] comfort and pleasure their sense of the magnificent.” The new facility was constructed by the Pauly Jail Company, a company out of St. Louis that has been constructing correctional facilities since 1856. Quite a number of the historic (and haunted) jails remaining throughout the South were constructed by this company.

Recognizing the need for a modern facility, a new jail was constructed in 1978. The historic importance of the old jail was noted and the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places the same year it closed. In 1983, the building was renovated for use as a public library all the while maintaining some of the inner workings of the original building including bars and unused gallows.

About two weeks after Connor reported his description of the inferno to the Macon Beacon, gallows were erected for him across the street from the jail. During the days leading up to Connor’s hanging, he was allowed to preach to crowds of African-Americans that gathered below his window. On Friday, September 26th, 1907, before a crowd that had gathered to witness “the deep damnation of his taking off,” Connor left this world.

Connor walked, dressed almost entirely in black, resolutely to the scaffold and spoke in a strong voice before the noose placed over his neck and the trap sprung. The paper describes the scene with a sense of wonderment. “There were curious ejaculations as to the expressions of wonder at the nerve he exhibited in the face of horrible death, and there were—from the emotional members of his own race—exclamations of admiration for his courage and his religious faith that braved the terrors of the unknown future.”

According to Alan Brown, inmates of the jail reported that Connor continued to make appearances within the building and that his spirit still abides in the library that once held him. Perhaps this Mississippi Dante is still trying to save the living souls of Noxubee County.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Stories from the Haunted South. Oxford, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2004.
  • Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration. Mississippi: A Guide to the Magnolia State. New York: Viking Press, 1938.
  • “The Hanging.” Macon Beacon. 28 September 1907.
  • Macon, Mississippi. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 11 August 2010.
  • Newsome, Paul & William C. Allen. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for the Old Noxubee County Jail.  28 September 1978.
  • “A Noxubee Dante.” Macon Beacon. 14 September 1907.
  • “Noxubee’s New Jail.” Macon Beacon. 11 May 1907.
  • Rowland, Dunbar. Mississippi: Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions and Persons Arranged in Cyclopedic Form, Vol. II, L-Z. Atlanta: Southern Historical Publishing Association, 1907.
  • Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 11 August 2010.

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