Reynolda Revenant—Winston-Salem, NC

Reynolda House and Gardens
2250 Reynolda Road
Winston-Salem, North Carolina

I have recently begun checking Wikipedia’s page for the day to see if I can tie historic events with haunted places. Today, February 3rd, happens to be the day that Wake Forest University was established in 1834. A quick search of my notes indicates that I have not been able to find anything on hauntings at the university proper, though it seems that the historic Reynolda property, now owned by the university, has a ghost.

The Reynolds name is tightly woven into the history of the Winston-Salem region. It was here in 1875, that J. R. Reynolds established his tobacco business, one that would grow into one of the largest and most influential tobacco companies in the world. Seeking to create a country estate that would mimic the country houses of Britain, Reynolds began creation of an estate that included a village, main house, formal gardens, and a farm, just outside of Winston-Salem; a place that would provide solace to the hard-working family.

Katherine Smith Reynolds
Katherine Smith Reynolds, wife of R. J., around 1900. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Mr. Reynolds’ marriage to Katherine Smith was important for both business and personal reasons. Ms. Smith served as Mr. Reynolds’ personal secretary while she also oversaw some of the details of his personal life. Historians have suggested that the creation of Reynolda was largely overseen by Mrs. Reynolds. After acquiring the property in 1910, the power couple set about transforming the thousand acres into a grand estate.

In a move similar to George Vanderbilt in the creation of his Biltmore Estate in Asheville, the Reynolds intended to create a farm that would promote and demonstrate the latest in agricultural techniques and a model school that would help to further develop the region. The farm, gardens, and village were created first followed by the construction of the main house which was completed around 1917.

Reynolda Winston-Salem North Carolina
The main house at Reynolda around 1915. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

By the time the family moved into the main house, Mr. Reynold’s health was declining, and he passed away in the house in 1918. Following her husband’s death, Mrs. Reynolds took the reins of the estate until her death in 1924. The estate remained in the family until Mary Reynolds Babcock, the daughter of R. J. and Katherine, began to present potions of the property to Wake Forest. A private organization was created to open the main house and it created a collection of American art that is exhibited within the home. Much of the gardens have since been restored and are cared for by the university.

gardens at Reynolda Winston-Salem NC
Spring in the gardens at Reynolda, 2009. Photo by Tom Photos, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Since much of the estate has been open to the public there has been speculation of the existence of ghosts on the property. Visitors to the gardens have reported encountering a mysterious Lady in White on the grounds. Some visitors have even reported the revenant on horseback, and not always wearing white. Others have reported that she appears enveloped in a strange mist.

Paranormal investigator and author, Michael Renegar investigated these claims some years ago. While conducting an EVP session, he asked the question, “Is that you causing that heavy feeling in the air?” His question was answered by a faint, but clear female’s voice responding, “What is that supposed to mean?”

Libby Holman 1930
Smith Reynold’s wife, Libby Holman from the May 1930 edition of Theatre Magazine. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Renegar and his fellow investigators initially felt that the apparition might be Libby Holman, the chanteuse second wife of Zachary Smith Reynolds. Smith was R. J. Reynolds’ adventurous and social son who was mysteriously shot in the house during a birthday bash for a friend in 1932. Holman initially faced charges in his murder along with his personal assistant and best friend, Ab Walker. Scandalous rumors indicated that Holman and Walker may have been involved with one another, giving them a reason to want Smith dead, though charges were later dropped.

After meeting with several people who had seen the Reynolda revenant, Renegar discovered that they all identified the woman as Katherine Reynolds. Certainly, it’s no surprise that the woman who poured her heart and soul into this estate might prowl the grounds after dark, just as she once did after her husband’s death.

In his 2011 book, Ghosts of The Triad, which Renegar co-authored with Amy Spease, the authors note that the Lady in White may not be the only paranormal activity at Reynolda. A policeman investigating an alarm call at the main house heard the sounds of a party going on in the basement accompanied by the distinct sound of a bowling ball striking pins. When he checked out the basement, it was devoid of living souls. Perhaps Smith is carrying on with his 1932 birthday party in the main house while his mother still wanders her beloved gardens.

Sources

  • Breedlove, Michael. “Local haunts: Twin City ghost tales.” Winston-Salem Monthly. 29 September 2014.
  • LaRochelle, Peggy S. and Hellen Moses. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the Reynolda Historic District. June 1980.
  • Renegar, Michael and Amy Spease. Ghosts of The Triad: Tales from the Haunted Heart of the Piedmont Region. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011.

The bully bull of Roan Mountain—North Carolina

Rhododendron Gardens
NC-1348
Bakersville, North Carolina

Rhododendron Roan Mountain North Carolina
Rhododendron on the flanks of Roan Mountain with a bald rising above. Photo by Daniel Martin, 2008, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Straddling the state line between North Carolina and Tennessee is the scenic and imposing form of Roan Mountain. For centuries, this massif with a number of high peaks, has been a celebrated place of legend and history. Native American tribes inhabiting these mountains told stories of these peaks. The Cherokee spoke of a massive wasp, Ulagu, which once inhabited an inaccessible cave and was eventually killed by warriors with help from the Great Spirit. The Catawbas spoke of three tremendous battles fought on the mountain where they were victorious. With all the blood that was shed, the streams ran red and the rhododendron that initially bloomed white, turning crimson in memory of the slain.

As Europeans began to explore the area, naturalists descended on the high flanks of this mountain including the French botanist André Michaux, who may have named the mountain after the Rhone River of France. A few years after his explorations, Scotsman James Fraser scouted the plant life here under the auspices of the Russian government. During this time, he discovered a species of fir tree, Abies fraseri, commonly known as the Fraser fir, and he also named the crimson rhododendron the Catawba Rhododendron, or Rhododendron catawbiense.

In the early 20th century, the Appalachian Trail was routed over the ridge of the mountain, creating the highest segment of the trail in its nearly 2,200-mile trek from Georgia to Maine.

On the North Carolina flanks of the mountain, is the Rhododendron Gardens, considered the world’s largest grove of rhododendron, which sits below the grassy balds of the mountain. These balds have provided places for early settlers to leave livestock to roam, particularly cattle.

In 1975, a legend about a bull appeared in the Kingsport (TN) Times-News, that was reportedly collected from a lady living near Bakersville.

In the early days of the region’s settlement, settlers would often release livestock into the fields and forests to graze, marking the ears of the cattle with notches to indicate ownership. One of the wealthier settlers, called the “Baron” in one version, drove larger and larger herds up the mountain every season. Other settlers became increasingly worried that the Baron’s large herd would overgraze the bald. Leading the Baron’s herd was a magnificent prize bull.

Roan Mountain North Carolina
The view of Roan Mountain looking east from Toll House Gap. Photo by Brian Stansberry, 2008. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The bull was large and absolutely dominated the grazing herds. Other bulls grazing on the balds were bullied by the Baron’s bull; often ending up maimed or dead after the prize bull proved his dominance. There was nothing the other settlers could do when the Baron’s herd arrived with the huge bull at its fore except shake their heads and pray for the success of their herds.

Many years after the Baron began grazing his herds, the large herd arrived with the bullying bull leading the way. As the cattle surged forward, a shot rang out from the tree line. Falling to its knees and bellowing in pain, the bull quickly keeled over, its life draining out into the thick grass.

Since that fateful day, the mountain’s flanks still echo with the animal’s bellow and the ring of its cowbell.

stereoscopic view Rhododendron Roan Mountain North Carolina Tennessee
A 1905 stereoscopic view of Toll House Gap and the Cloudland Hotel. View published by the Keystone View Company. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Justin Guess’ 2012 eBook on Carter County places this story and the spectral sounds in Rhododendron Gardens, though Rogers Whitener’s 1975 article places this near the site of the Cloudland Hotel. The hotel was situated at Toll House Gap, just up the mountain from the gardens, on the state line. Stories are told that a white line was painted through the hotel’s dining room and those imbibing alcohol were forbidden from taking their drinks into North Carolina, which was dry at that time.

Sources

  • Guess, Justin H. Weird Tri-Cities: Haunted Carter County, Tennessee. Kindle Edition, 2012.
  • Roan Mountain (Roan Highlands).” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 1 February 2020.
  • Whitener, Rogers. “Ghost herd of Roan Mountain.” Kingsport Times-News. 30 March 1975.
  • Wright, Laura. “The Ghost Bull on Roan Mountain.” Virginia Creeper. Accessed 1 February 2020.

Do ghosts like gelato?—Richmond, Virginia

Stoplight Gelato Café
405 Brook Road

In 2013, as he was renovating the old commercial building in Richmond’s historic Jackson Ward, Bryce Given had some unexpected paranormal experiences. He told Richmond BizSense that he was sitting near the front of the shop facing the rear of the building when he saw a white figure that repeatedly moved up the stairs and came back down. It eventually disappeared but it left Given wondering what he had just witnessed.

“The first time I saw it, I was checking all the street lights and car lights’ reflections and ruled all that out. It was just too bizarre.”

When he bought the hundred-year-old building to open a gelato café, he did not consider that one of the obstacles to opening the new business might come from the other side. However, he later noted that he had not had any further paranormal experiences and that perhaps the spirit approved of his work. “I haven’t seen him in a few months, so I think he approves of the renovations I’m doing.”

405 Brook Road Richmond Virginia
405 Brook Road in 1978, photo by John G. Zehmer for the Richmond Department of Planning and Community Development. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

According to neighborhood lore, the building operated as “a horse depot” and the owner committed suicide in the 1930s as business declined due to the prevalence of automobiles. Perhaps, this is the spirit that was checking up on the building’s renovations?

A reporter for the local CBS affiliate, WTVR, looked into the building’s history and discovered that R. D. Harlow operated a grain and tack business here in the early 20th century. Perhaps this is the business owner who committed suicide? After his ownership, the building passed through a few different hands and operated as several businesses. Given believed that whatever was there approved of what he was doing with the building.

“I have a good feeling about the apparition—or spirit—that may be here.” He mused. “But now that the bricks are fixed, and everything is stable and solid again, I may not see him again.”

Discovering a spirit in the building was just one of the surprises on the years long journey that Given and his mother made while trying to open this gelato café. After buying the building in 2010, Bryce Given spent years working on the renovations before succumbing to cancer in 2015. Despite her grief, his mother, Barbara, oversaw completion of the renovations and the opening of the café in 2016. In early 2019, she sold the café to a young couple who have continued the business. If spirits are still active in the building, nothing has been noted, so I’m left thinking that perhaps the spirit may be appeased by the gelato.

Sources

Robinson, Mark. “Café’s first visitor loves the new haunt.” Richmond BizSense. 25 June 2013.

Encounters in Hollywood—Richmond, Virginia

Hollywood Cemetery
412 South Cherry Street

Most of the sources on Richmond’s famed Hollywood Cemetery speak only of the vague legendary hauntings with no personal experiences. There are legends surrounding the large stone Monument of Confederate War Dead that marks the resting place for tens of thousands of Confederate soldiers. Supposedly the soft moaning of the dead is heard here. There is also the cast iron dog marking the grave of a little girl that continues to guard her in death. But there are almost no documented personal experiences here save for one that I discovered in a back corner of the internet.

Ghostvillage.com hardly is a back corner of the internet, though with its thousands of pages of content, some things can seemingly get lost in the shuffle. The website was established in 1999 by author Jeff Belanger and has grown by leaps and bounds as more and more people have shared their paranormal encounters from all over the globe. Among the encounters is one from a sheriff’s deputy who worked off duty at Hollywood Cemetery.

Hollywood Cemetery Richmond Virginia James Monroe Tomb
James Monroe’s Gothic Revival metalwork tomb, 2017. Photo by William M. Ferriter, courtesy of Wikipedia.

One of this deputy’s first experiences happened at the tomb of President James Monroe. While patrolling the cemetery grounds late at night, a group of officers were standing beside the president’s grave. Looking at the size of the grave, the deputy remarked, “He must have been a short son of a…” Out of nowhere, a swarm of flies began to attack him, and he fled towards his van, followed by the flies. Perhaps the president was sensitive about his height?

The deputy notes another experience near the Monument of Confederate War Dead where he regularly encountered a cold spot.

Hollywood Cemetery Richmond Virginia Confederate Pyramid
The pyramidal Monument to the Confederate Dead, 2011. Photo by David Broad, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Another notable experience involved the cemetery’s maintenance shed. The deputy was sick in the shed’s bathroom and vomiting into the toilet. He heard the door open and the sound of footsteps with the hair on the back of his neck beginning to stand up. Out loud he said, “Please leave me alone today, people, I’m not feeling well” and the sensation stopped.

Hollywood Cemetery Richmond Virginia
Hollywood Cemetery with the Richmond skyline and James River beyond, 2007. Photo by Andrew Bain, courtesy of Wikipedia.

There is no doubt that there are many spirits still roaming the cemetery’s rustic and hilly 135 acres. Among those at rest here are many notables including President John Tyler, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, 28 Confederate generals including J.E.B. Stuart, and many noted authors, diplomats, and businessmen. Some 18,000 Confederate soldiers are also buried here. The cemetery was first envisioned in 1847 with its first burial in 1848. Based on the concept of the rural cemetery, a 19th century idea that was used for many major urban cemeteries around the country, it is now maintained as an arboretum and remains an active cemetery for the living and the dead.

Sources

“Launched into eternity”—Richmond, Virginia

Virginia State Capitol
1000 Bank Street
Richmond, Virginia
 

The mass of human beings who were in attendance were sent, mingled with the bricks, mortar, splinters, beams, iron bars, desks, and chairs to the floor of the House of Delegates and in a second more, over fifty souls were launched into eternity!
Richmond Dispatch, 28 April 1870

Under the headline “HORRIBLE CALAMITY” the Richmond Dispatch was admittedly at a loss of words for the events that had occurred at the state capitol the previous day. A mass of spectators had gathered in a second-floor courtroom to bring about an end to mayoral tensions in the city when the room seemingly disintegrated throwing the mass of humanity through the floor into the room below. The reporter who had been given the sad duty of reporting the events was taken aback in “palsied horror in the undertaking of the narration.” Continuing, he remarked, “To describe it would be beyond the power of man, and with those who witnessed it its recollection will remain indelibly vivid as long as life shall last.”

Virginia State Capitol Richmond
The state capitol building a few years after the disaster. From the 1879 American Cyclopaedia.

The city of Richmond, over the past decade had witnessed the heights of glory when it was named the capital of the Confederacy to the depths of despair as war waged around it. A portion of the city was left a smoking ruin after the war and the city had to endure the indignities of Reconstruction before self-rule was once again allowed. It was the issues of this self-rule that was the cause of this court session.

Under Reconstruction, the city’s mayor was appointed by the state’s Federal military commander. Appointed in 1868, George Chahoon immediately undertook a purge of former Confederates in the city government and stiffened many local ordinances, causing a good deal of consternation among the city’s citizens. When Reconstruction ended in the state in 1870, the new governor appointed newspaper publisher Henry K. Ellison as mayor. Chahoon and his supporters refused to leave office and with much of the loyalty of the police force, battled the forces of the new mayor and his acolytes.

The Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals undertook the case and was poised to announce the verdict on April 27th in the second-floor courtroom inside the state capitol building. Just after 11 AM, the clerk entered the packed courtroom with the two mayors and their counsels were already sitting along with reporters for all the city’s major papers. A piece of the ceiling fell into the courtroom followed by one of the girders supporting the spectator-laden gallery. As the gallery’s structure crashed into the floor, the room’s entire floor gave away sending those gathered and debris to the floor of the House of Delegates chamber below. “In a moment, a few survivors clinging to the windows and fragments of hanging timber, and the bare and torn walls were all that remained to mark the place where only a moment before there was a scene of life, vigor, and hope.”

Virginia State Capitol disaster 1870 Harper's Weekly Virginia State Capitol Richmond
The disaster as illustrated in Harper’s Weekly, 14 May 1870.

Within the twisted rubble lay 62 dead or gravely wounded who would die from their injuries in short order and nearly 250 were injured. Among the casualties were Patrick Henry’s grandson and three members of the state’s General Assembly. The injured included both the men vying for mayor; Henry H. Wells, a former governor; and a former Confederate general, Montgomery Corse.

The cause of disaster was attributed to a poorly designed floor for the courtroom, which had been added to the building some years previous. The architect failed to provide proper support for the courtroom’s floor which had developed a noticeable sag. With the political turmoil brought about by the Civil War and Reconstruction, the sag was overlooked. After the disaster, consideration was made to demolish the capitol, though others decided to repair the noble Thomas Jefferson and Charles-Louis Clerisseau designed structure.

Virginia State Capitol Richmond
The state capitol in 2015. Photo by Farragutful, courtesy of Wikipedia.

For many years since the disasters there have been murmurs of paranormal activity within the halls of the venerable state capitol. L.B. Taylor, Jr., the state’s major chronicler of its mysterious events, was the first author to note “some say the eerie cry of mournful voices, muted under tons of debris, can still be heard in the hallowed corridors of the Capitol.” Pamela K. Kinney echoes this description in her 2007 Haunted Richmond.

It wasn’t until the 2013 publication of Paul Hope’s Policing the Paranormal, that the Capitol’s haunting activity has enjoyed a detailed description. Hope, a former member of the Capitol’s police force, records the experiences of many of the force’s officers throughout the complex of buildings that comprise the Capitol complex. At least some of the activity experienced in the building centers on the Old House of Delegates Chamber, the room which witnessed the tragic events of 1870.

Virginia State Capitol Richmond Old House of Delegates Chamber
Old House of Delegates Chamber in 2010. Photo by AlbertHerring, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Only a few days into his training for the Capitol police force, Hope was assigned to work a graveyard shift along with one of the longtime officers. The nightly patrol of the building provided the young officer with his first brush with the odd activity of the Capitol at night. Entering the magnificent Rotunda occupied by Jean-Antoine Houdon’s marble likeness of George Washington, the pair made their entry into the Old House Chamber. Hope notes that the room had a constant mysterious chill, so much so that the doors of the room were sometimes opened to help cool the other parts of the building during the sweltering Southern summers.

Virginia State Capitol Richmond plaque
The plaque in the Old House of Delegates Chamber that the officers were reading when they observed a shadow in the gallery. Photo 2008 by AlertHerring, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Scanning the dark chamber with their flashlights, the training officer encouraged Hope to read the plaque memorializing the 1870 collapse. As the pair stood silently reading the plaque, Hope saw a dark shadow move and then disappear in the gallery above them. The other officer saw this as well and the pair scanned the gallery with their flashlights to determine that no living humans were up there. No one appeared in the gallery, and the pair resumed their patrol after only a brief acknowledgement of the strange moment.

Perhaps one of the souls that was “launched into eternity” here in 1870 has remained within this old chamber for eternity.

The Old House of Delegates Chamber is not the only haunted space within the Capitol building, Hope reports experiences throughout the building and on the surrounding grounds.

Sources

  • George Chahoon. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 19 January 2020.
  • Hope, Paul. Policing the Paranormal: The Haunting of Virginia’s State Capitol Complex. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2013.
  • “Horrible Calamity.” Richmond Dispatch. 28 April 1870.
  • HUIS 1501. “The Virginia Capitol Disaster of 1870.” UVADisasters Wiki. Accessed 19 January 2020.
  • Kinney, Pamela K. Haunted Richmond. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2007.
  • Taylor, L.B., Jr. The Ghosts of Richmond…and Nearby Environs. Progress Printing, 1985.
  • Virginia State Capitol. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 19 January 2020.

A Conjuring—Kentucky

Kentucky Historical Society
100 West Broadway Street
Frankfort, Kentucky

While I’m not a fan of Zak Bagans and his programs like Ghost Adventures, I have recently been charmed by the first season of his show, Deadly Possessions, which highlights haunted objects in his haunted museum in Las Vegas and throughout the country. The second episode examined something called the “Conjured Chest,” a piece of furniture owned by the Kentucky Historical Society. The story is fascinating, and I found that a descendent of the family that donated the piece has written a book about it.

The piece doesn’t look like a typical haunted object. It’s an Empire-styled mahogany chest of drawers with four drawers and crystal knobs with no hint of creepiness. This piece has brought death or serious injury to sixteen, possibly seventeen, people, though no one would presume something from such a staid antique.

Lobby Kentucky Historical Society Frankfort
Lobby of the Kentucky Historical Society where the chest is now on display. Photo 2008 by Chris Light. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The legend of the piece can be traced to the 1830s when the piece was created. A wealthy member of the young state’s aristocracy had a slave construct this chest for his newborn son. The slave, named Remus in the family’s recounting of the legend, was beaten to death when his master, Jeremiah Graham, was displeased by the piece. The master’s other slaves, angered by his callousness, devised a Hoodoo conjure in retribution. After sprinkling owl blood within the drawers, a curse was placed ensuring that anyone whose clothes were placed within the drawers would die.

The first to die from the effects of the conjure was the newborn son of Jeremiah Graham. The second was the son of Jeremiah’s brother, who was stabbed around his 21st birthday. The piece was passed through the family with a succession of members dying after putting clothes into the chest. A few of the victims did not die but were gravely injured or suffered severe illnesses. One victim was not a family member, but rather a neighbor who tempted fate by putting his hunting clothes within one of the fateful drawers. He was killed in a gun accident just a year after the end of World War II.

The seventeenth victim possibly gave her life in order to lift the conjure. Sallie, an African-American maid who worked for the Mayne family was asked to lift the conjure and going through with a ritual she announced that someone would have to give their life to lift the curse. In 1946, she passed away unexpectedly. Since no one has put their clothes in the chest since that time, it is unknown if the curse has lifted. In 1976, Virginia Mayne donated the piece to the Kentucky Historical Society, carefully including notes about the lifting of the conjure with the owl wings used in the ritual in the top drawer.

Cover of Conjured Chest
Cover of Beverly Mayne Kienzle’s 2017 book, The Conjured Chest, with a photograph of the infamous chest.

Virginia Mayne’s daughter, Beverly Mayne Kienzle, was called by producers for Zak Bagans’ show, the retired Harvard professor began to research the story, so she could comfortably talk about the piece. Her research revealed that the facts of the legend are mostly true, though there are some questions about the details of the chest’s origins. With her research, Mrs. Kienzle put together a short book on her findings, which may also dispute some of the stories floating about on the internet.

For now, the conjured chest, as it is known, remains on display in the Kentucky Historical Society, its drawers remaining empty so as to not tempt fate.

Sources

  • Kienzle, Beverly Mayne and Virginia Cary Hudson. The Conjured Chest: A Cursed Family in Old Kentucky. Beverly Mayne Kienzle, 2017.
  • MY Entertainment. “Episode 2: The Conjure Chest and St. Valentine’s Day Massacre Wall.” Originally aired: 9 April 2016.

Street Guide to the Phantoms of the French Quarter— Pirate Alley

The French Quarter has been lived in and died in; human energy has been manifested continuously and freely for 250 years. Where we find presently a sedate restaurant, we would have found—20 years ago, 50 years ago, 100 years ago or more—a dry goods store, a grocery, a saloon, a coffeehouse, a patisserie, an apothecary, a gambling joint, a silversmith, a printer, a jeweler, a letter-writer, a whorehouse, a bank. They may have disappeared along with their proprietors, but they’ve left behind an aura that infuses the atmosphere.

–Andy Peter Antippas, A Guide to the Historic French Quarter (History & Guide). 2013.

New Orleans’ French Quarter—the Vieux Carré to locals—is among a handful of locales in the South that possesses a high concentration of haunted places. Encompassing nearly two-thirds of a square mile (.66 to be exact), the French Quarter has been said to have spirits in nearly every building and site. Even looking at the documented hauntings here, the number is quite impressive.

The French Quarter is generally defined as the section stretching from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue and from the Mississippi River northwest to North Rampart Street. This section of the city is where the city was originally founded by the French in 1718. With buildings and sites spanning three centuries, the French Quarter is easily the most paranormally active neighborhood in the entire city.

This series of articles is meant to act as a street by street guide to those hauntings. While some of these stories have gained quite a bit of notoriety in the literature, like Royal Street’s LaLaurie Mansion, and Bourbon Street’s Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, some stories have only been explored in the literature once or twice. This is an attempt to synthesize information from the many sources that exist on the French Quarter into a succinct guide.

For more haunted places in the French Quarter visit the main page for my series, “Phantoms of the French Quarter.”

Sources

  • Antippas, Andy Peter. A Guide to the Historic French Quarter (History & Guide). Charleston SC, Arcadia Publishing, 2013. Kindle Edition.

Pirate Alley

Running from Chartres Street and Royal Street between St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo, Pirate Alley was originally called Orleans Alley South, as it is an extension of Orleans Street. Despite the official 1964 name change, there has always been contention on whether the name is singular (“Pirate”), plural (“Pirates”), or possessive (“Pirate’s” or “Pirates’”). A 2017 article in the Times-Picayune examines this issue and weighs in on the side of the paper’s own style-guide, which deems the name as the singular and non-possessive “Pirate Alley.”

Pirate Alley New Orleans
A view down Pirate Alley towards Chartres Street. Photo 2007, by Infrogmation. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Of course, this also begs the question as to the identity of the pirate for whom this alley is named. Most sources point to the infamous Jean Lafitte, the privateer and pirate whose legend is inextricably linked to New Orleans’ history. In his classic history of New Orleans street names, John Chase notes:

The other passage—Pirates’ Alley—is named in fanciful recollection of the legendary Jean Lafitte and his motley bank of pirogue-mounted cutthroats, the Baratarians. Lafitte’s outfit had no more connection with Pirates’ Alley than with the teachings of the church, which the passage flanks on the uptown side. But the name fascinates all visitors.

While tour guides continue to promulgate legends that Lafitte and his men met and did business along this passage, there is no evidence that it actually happened. In Lafitte’s time, this alley was the seat of power for both the church, in the form of the cathedral, and the law, which was issued and enforced from the Cabildo (see my entry on this building and its ghosts at 701 Chartres Street) and the prison behind it. While the romantic notion of a pirate rebelliously conducting his business in the shadow of the church and the law is a fascinating image, it is unlikely to have actually happened as such.

Jean Lafitte

In examining the ghostly tales of New Orleans, there are two names that are frequently encountered: Jean Lafitte and Marie Laveau. If even half the stories of their hauntings are true, these two must be the busiest spirits in New Orleans, making appearances and causing paranormal shenanigans throughout the city and the Gulf Coast Region.

Jean Lafitte
An anonymous, early 19th century portrait purported to be Jean Lafitte. From the Rosenberg Gallery.

About thirty years after Lafitte’s death, one researcher remarked, “I found in my researches, twenty years ago, romantic legends so interwoven with facts that it was extremely difficult to the historical truth from the traditional.” So couched in legend is the life of Jean Lafitte that scholars have argued about so much of his life, and writing a biography is a difficult exercise in speculation and conjecture. Even contemporary sources disagree and contradict one another.

Lafitte’s place of birth is argued to have been southwest France, though others have posited that he may have been born in the colony of Saint Domingue in what is now Haiti. Biographer William C. Davis argues that both Jean and his older brother, Pierre (who worked alongside his brother in New Orleans) were born in the town of Pauillac in the Gironde region of France, and that Pierre ventured to Saint Domingue around the turn of the 19th century where he eventually fled the turmoil for the prosperity of La Louisiane.

Jean Lafitte possibly appears on the scene around the time of the sale of the Louisiana Territory to the United States in 1803. Around this time, Pierre, possibly with the help of his brother, began to deal in slaves and also evade the newly established American trade laws. This piracy, which was all too common along the Gulf coast, created a reputation for the brothers. Their knowledge of the intricacies of the bayous and waterways of the area led them to providing aid—in terms of knowledge, material goods, and fighting men—to American forces during the War of 1812. This aid was provided on the condition that the brothers would be granted pardons for their crimes.

The notorious brothers were forced out of business by the government which forced them to close their business matters in New Orleans. They continued their pirating, though in different places: Pierre establishing a base off the coast of Mexico before being killed in 1821 and Jean dealing in Colombia before his death in 1823. William Davis notes that the legacy of the brothers was more as folk heroes.

Sources

  • Chase, John. Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children…And Other Streets of New Orleans. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 2007.
  • Davis, William C. “Jean and Pierre Lafitte.” 64 Parishes. Accessed 9 January 2020.
  • Davis, William C. The Pirates Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf. NYC: Harcourt, 2005.
  • Scott, Mike. “Pirate Alley: A history of the New Orleans street and its name(s).” Times-Picayune. 5 April 2017.

Pirate’s Alley Café
622 Pirate Alley

Since the mid-18th century, this space behind the Cabildo, the seat of Spanish rule in the city, was occupied by the Spanish Calabozo or Calaboose, a royal prison. This building remained until it was demolished in the late 1830s. It was here that both Lafitte brothers and some of their men were imprisoned. Some of the structures that now stand here were constructed thereafter, though may still be the residence of the spirits of some of those incarcerated here.

Pirate's Alley Cafe New Orleans
A bartender at the Pirate’s Alley Cafe prepares an absinthe drink in this 2008 photo by Infrogmation. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In an interview with the café’s owner, author James Caskey was told that one of the spirits in Pirate’s Alley Café tends towards “naughty” antics. While some bars and restaurants in the city regularly leave out an offering to appease the spirits, the spirit here was not impressed by the bread and water. The bar experienced doors slamming and light bulbs shattering until someone had the idea of leaving out a glass of rum. The antics quieted down after that. The spirit was also blamed for harassing a female bartender as it undid her bra and her top, exposing the poor employee.

Sources

  • Caskey, James. The Haunted History of New Orleans: Ghosts of the French Quarter. Savannah, GA: Manta Ray Books, 2013.
Pirate Alley New Orleans
The three haunted buildings on Pirate Alley. Faulkner House Books is the yellow building. Photo 2007, by Infrogmation. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Faulkner House Books
624 Pirate Alley

William Faulkner arrived in New Orleans as a poet and left as a novelist. During his stay here in 1925, he rented the street-level floor of this home and wrote his first novel, Soldiers’ Pay, with influence and support from his friend, writer Sherwood Anderson. This building now appropriately houses a bookstore named for him where some have encountered the odor of pipe smoke, attributed to Faulkner.

Sources

  • Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans, Revised Edition. Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2017.
Pirate Allet New Orleans
A view of the haunted buildings of Pirate Alley from Pere Antoine Alley across St. Anthony’s Garden. The yellow building is Faulkner House Books, while the red building next door is the house at 626 Pirate Alley. Photo 2007, by Infrogmation. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

626 Pirate Alley (private)

During one of the many epidemics that swept through New Orleans during the 1850s, a little girl contracted one of these illnesses. To aid in her recuperation, the child lay on a chaise lounge in front of one of the large third floor windows of this home. Jeff Dwyer was granted a tour of the home and sensed a great deal of sadness near one of the windows. Others have reported seeing the face of the child pressed up against the windows overlooking St. Anthony’s Garden across the street (for information on the haunting of this garden, see my entry on Royal Street).

Sources

  • Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans, Revised Edition. Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2017.

Moaning and crying—Ashland, Kentucky

This is the twelfth and final entry in my Twelve Days of Southern Spirits Series celebrating traditional ghost story telling over Christmas. 

Ashland Cemetery
1518 Belmont Street
Ashland, Kentucky

In his 2011 book, Ghost Stories of Eastern Kentucky: A Pocketful of Poltergeists, Bill Carpenter collects accounts of paranormal experiences from a variety of people. This same format was utilized by Kentucky’s most famous ghost storyteller, Williams Lynwood Montell in his groundbreaking books, starting with his 1987 volume, Ghosts Along the Cumberland. While this format—collecting personal experiences and publishing them raw and unedited—is especially useful in collecting folklore, for researchers like myself that often look at hauntings from the standpoint of location, it can be maddening. Searching through stories that take place in unidentified private residences can be tedious, however, there can be rewards.

Bill Carpenter’s book includes several accounts from people who have had similar experiences in Ashland Cemetery, the main cemetery in the small town of Ashland, of which two are particularly interesting.

The first account, from a 29-year-old Boyd County woman, tells of several teenagers exploring the cemetery at night. The teens were only walking around and reading graves which inevitably led one of them to begin telling ghost stories. As they talked, they began to hear sounds from the darkness around them. After they began to feel a distinct chill in the air, the group began to run for the entrance. As they neared the gate, a cry was heard, that cry turned into a moan causing the frightened teens to run faster.

Ashland Cemetery Kentucky
The gates of Ashland Cemetery. Photo by JC, 2006 and courtesy of Find-a-grave.com.

Another local woman recalled her visit to the cemetery to see the gravestones of the children killed in what was dubbed the “Ashland Tragedy.” On Christmas Eve 1881, the bodies of three teenagers were discovered in a burning home. Robert and Fannie Gibbons and their friend, Emma Carico were beaten to death in the Gibbons family home which was set on fire to conceal the murder. Three local men were arrested, tried, and convicted of the murders. A lynch mob wishing to enact justice executed one of the men, while the other two were moved to nearby Catlettsburg for their safety.

The two convicts were later boarded onto a ship in Catlettsburg along with some two hundred guards. As the ship passed Ashland, a large crowd gathered on the shore demanding that the convicts be turned over. A ferry loaded with local men approached the ship and fired their guns only to be answered with a hail of gunfire from the guards, killing four locals.

After reading about the tragic events, a local woman decided to visit the teenage murder victims’ graves in Ashland Cemetery. The Gibbons siblings are buried side by side with Emma Carico’s grave across the road. As she stood at the graves of the Gibbons siblings, the woman bent down to brush grass from the stones. Touching the grave of Fannie Gibbons, she heard the scream and cry of a young girl. Looking around, no one was nearby. Again, she bent down to touch the stone and heard sobbing and a scream.

A look at the Ghosts of America page for Ashland, Kentucky reveals several more oddly similar accounts. An account from Ray notes that he was visiting the cemetery to put flowers on the grave of a relative. During his visit, Ray heard an odd buzzing from his hearing aid and when he adjusted it a voice came through the device asking, “What do you want from us?”

Martin recalled that he would sometimes walk past the cemetery at night when he visited his grandmother who lived nearby. “We would hear screams come out of the cemetery that would put cold chills up our spine.”

If you decide to walk past the old cemetery at night, listen out for the screams of the dead.

Sources

  • Ashland, Kentucky Ghost Sightings. GhostsofAmerica.com. Accessed 4 January 2020.
  • Carpenter, Bill. Ghost Stories of Eastern Kentucky: A Pocketful of Poltergeists. Baltimore, MD: Publish America, 2011.
  • Kleber, John E. ed. The Kentucky Encyclopedia. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1992.

A spirited retirement—Memphis

This is the eleventh entry in my Twelve Days of Southern Spirits Series celebrating traditional ghost story telling over Christmas. 

The Green Beetle
325 South Main Street
Memphis, Tennessee

Following a paranormal investigation of Memphis’ oldest bar, The Green Beetle, one of the investigators from the Memphis Ghost Investigation and Spirit Rescue Team spoke of the spirit of the tavern’s original proprietor, “He’s already crossed over, but this is his retirement.”

She was speaking of Frank Liberto, the son of Italian immigrants who opened The Green Beetle in 1939, just a few blocks from the famed Orpheum Theatre (which has its own ghost). Liberto cooked in the kitchen while his wife, Mary, held down the front of the restaurant. Over the years, the tavern attracted the likes of entertainers like Elvis, Hank Williams, and Desi Arnaz, though with urban flight that began in the 1960s, the business’ reputation began to decline. The tavern became a dive bar and the clientele became rowdier, often breaking into fights.

Green Beetle Memphis Tennessee
The Green Beetle has been situated in this building at the corner of South Main Street and Vance Avenue since 1939. The tavern is located next door to this corner store. Photo 2013, by Thomas R. Machnitzki, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Liberto closed the business in 1971, but not before changing the deed to ensure that all the building be forever called “The Green Beetle.” The building passed through a number of hands before being acquired by Liberto’s grandson who wished to reopen his grandfather’s business. It seems that despite having passed, Liberto is still watching over his business.

The investigators made contact with the spirit of an “older gentleman who they say had gray hair and a lively personality.”

“He’s charming and very handsome,” one of the group’s sensitives remarked. She also remarked that he often spent time in the building’s basement. “I feel the older gentleman might come down here a lot to spend time with his grandson.”

But the owner’s spirit isn’t the one slinking around the old bar, investigators discovered the spirit of a woman, Marilyn, who often expresses her displeasure. “We picked up a female, that’s at the bar a lot and she hates the music, especially when it’s loud.” Team members surmised that she possibly lived in an apartment above the bar and died from hitting her head. She “is something of a barfly who likes being around people at the tavern.”

A bartender complained that “we’re going through a lot of wine glasses because whatever hangs out here likes to throw them off my wine rack behind the bar.” He went further to note that the glasses don’t just fall from the rack that they “shoot off the wine rack and shatter.” Additionally, Marilyn likes to play with patrons by tapping them on the shoulder.

To make her spirited retirement, the investigators informed the bartender that he needed to “set out a wine glass and pour her a little drink and give her a little respect. And play some nice music.”

If you’re looking to sip with spirits in Memphis, you may also enjoy the spirited atmosphere of Earnestine and Hazel’s just down the street from The Green Beetle.

Sources

Clocking in for the afterlife–Kentucky

This is the ninth entry in my Twelve Days of Southern Spirits Series celebrating traditional ghost story telling over Christmas. 

Danville-Boyle County Public Library
307 West Broadway Street
Danville, Kentucky
 

Last year I began work on a series looking at haunted libraries throughout the South. While Kentucky was published, I have only just come across the information on this library.

Starting as many public libraries, the Danville Library originally started as a subscription library in 1893 occupying a rented space. In 1920, the library board purchased a downtown building as a permanent location. In 1936, that building was demolished and replaced with the Young-Rodes Library building. That small structure has been augmented in later years with the addition of several more attached structures to create the large library that exists today.

Danville-Boyle County Public Library
This house was torn down to build additions to the Danville Public Library. Part of the Young-Rodes Library can be seen at the right. Photograph taken circa 1988 by Ron Logue for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

A 1999 article in the Advocate Messenger notes that the library has had some anomalous activity. Several years previous to the article a library employee passed away. Shortly after their passing, an employee working on payroll discovered that the employee had been punched into the timeclock. Two weeks later, the deceased employee’s time card was punched out. The librarian insists that there is no way the employee’s card could have been punched in or out by someone else.

Since that time, there has been some other “strange happenings” occurring with or near the time clock.

Sources

  • Clay, Julie. “Specters of the past still haunt area cities.” Advocate Messenger. 31 October 1999.
  • Fairchild, Dave. “Boyle County Public Library’s history and future.” Advocate Messenger. 2 May 2018.