Bethesda Presbyterian Church Russellville, Tennessee
Pardon my absence, please. Initially, I was busy working on some new articles, but after lightning struck and killed my router and Internet; my time for work was limited. I’m getting back to work now. Since I haven’t done a good newsbyte in awhile, I’m doing one now; and boy, it’s a doozy.
You may notice that I have not included the exact location of this church, there’s a good reason for that. After recent events, I have a feeling the people working to protect Bethesda Presbyterian Church really don’t want ghost hunters around. According to an article and video from KSDK in St. Louis, Missouri, the church was vandalized recently by teen “ghost hunters.”
This is utterly ridiculous. Unfortunately, these teens have given real ghost hunters and others with an interest in the paranormal a bad name. Two teenage boys spent time in this historic church overnight burning candles on floors that once held wounded from the Civil War. Windows were shattered and they spray-painted and toppled a number of monuments in the adjacent cemetery. As the idiots did leave a bicycle on the property, the police were able to apprehend these young hooligans.
Reading about such an event makes me livid, especially when “ghost hunting” is involved. A ghost hunter should have utmost respect for the places they investigate as well as for the dead. Part of that respect for the dead is by protecting the places where they once walked or are buried.
Please do check out the video for some wonderful shots of this historic structure. The reporter does state that the church is on the “National Registry of Historic Landmarks.” This is incorrect. It is called the “National Register of Historic Places.” There are places that are known as National Historic Landmarks, but that is a step up from the National Register and reserved for those places of national importance.
Throughout the South history creates layers. In some places there are literal layers that an archaeologist may sift through, in other places those layers can be formed through names; names that may span the centuries from the present day to another historical layer many centuries earlier. The Charleston Battery is one of those places with a few layers of names. I’ve encountered so many different names for this location; I’m not sure which is really correct. Wikipedia calls it The Battery and says that White Point Gardens is a part of that. I’ll just stick with that. A Post & Courier article from 2001 adds that even the use of “Gardens” (plural) as opposed to “Garden” (singular) is inconsistent. Nevertheless, the jumble of names adds to the layers of history that have accrued here.
In April of 1670 when the 93 passengers aboard the Carolina first sailed into what would be called Charleston Harbor, they were greeted by the tip of a peninsula at the point where two mighty rivers came together. The ship’s captain knew one of the rivers as the Ashley, as he had accompanied the earlier expedition that had named the river for Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, one of the colony’s Lord Proprietors. The local Native Americans called the river Kiawah (which is now applied to a barrier island south of the city), and the Spanish had called it the San Jorge. At the tip of this peninsula was a Native American oyster shell midden, or trash heap. Over time, this point would be called alternately Oyster Point, or White Point, for the sun-bleached oyster shells piled there.
Initially, the settlers landed and began to build their city, named for King Charles I, on the opposite bank of the Ashley River on what would later be called Old Town Creek. Colonel William Sayle, the colony’s first governor saw the strategic importance of the peninsula’s tip, however. “It is as it were a Key to open and shutt [sic] this settlement into safety or danger,” he stated in a letter to Lord Ashley, and he began to grant land to settlers in this area. In 1679, it was decided that Oyster Point and the Cooper River side of the peninsula was a much better place for a town.
Throughout its three hundred some-odd years of existence, White Point Gardens has seen a variety of uses. It has been covered with shacks and tenements, served the defense of the city, been created as a pleasure park, and as a place for execution. Walter Fraser, Jr. in his Charleston! Charleston! The History of a Southern City, describes a storm surge sweeping over White Point during the Hurricane of 1752, with the poor people escaping their shacks there for more substantial shelter. Following the hurricane, the White Point remained “a desolate Spot” until 1770 when the low marshy areas were filled in and elegant homes began to be built there along with a sea wall on the eastern side created with palmetto logs. This held until 1804 when it was swept away by another hurricane and it was replaced with a wall of ballast stone.
It was in the space created here that open-air concerts were given during the summer months. When the British blockaded Charleston Harbor during the War of 1812, fifteen guns of large caliber were placed along the White Point aimed at the harbor and the point began to be known as The Battery.
Following the war, this pleasant point was planted with oaks and gained the name White Point Gardens during a major period of building in the late 1830s. When English actress Fanny Kemble, who married Georgia cotton planter Pierce Butler, visited the city she delighted in the promenade and the “large and picturesque old houses.” Fraser notes that in the 1840s, African-Americans were not allowed to use the park between five and ten in the evening.
From this promenade and roofs of the pretentious mansions lining the battery, the citizens of Charleston witnessed the first shots of the Civil War as Confederate attacked Fort Sumter in the harbor. Gunfire from ships during the war destroyed some of those mansions, but they were later rebuilt even more ostentatiously. The tradition of promenading along the seawall and under the sprawling live oaks continued into the 20th century. The 1941 Works Progress Administration guide to the state of South Carolina describes the scene of “Charleston children, guarded by white-turbaned Negro ‘maumas,’ play[ing] among monuments and guns that recall the city’s war-torn history of more than 250 years.”
Today tourists stroll the Battery and under those oaks. They may pass a stone monument reminding them of the fact that they stand on an execution ground. In fact, this spot may still be haunted by those who hung here in 1718, when Charleston was still a small colonial port. Over the course of five weeks that year some 49 men were hung here for piracy.
As the colonies grew, piracy became a major problem for trade and many of the up and coming ports. Around late May or June of 1718, the notorious Edward Teach, or Blackbeard as he is more affectionately known, blockaded Charleston Harbor. Among the first ships he captured was a London-bound ship called the Crowley loaded with a number of prominent citizens. Word was sent to the Royal Governor that these people would be summarily executed unless the port offered up medical supplies. The governor complied and the citizens were released, though lightened of their purses, valuables, and even their clothes.
In response, Governor Robert Johnson asked the Lord Proprietors for assistance, but received no response. When pirates again appeared in the waters near Charleston in August, a group of local merchants banded together and under the command of William Rhett, they set out to stop this threat to their business. In the waters of North Carolina, they encountered pirate Stede Bonnet refitting his ship in the Cape Fear River.
Stede Bonnet wasn’t born into a life of crime. The son of a wealthy English family on the island of Barbados, Bonnet had had a fairly successful life which enabled him to buy his way into piracy. It was the usual custom for pirates to begin their work by seizing a ship that they then used to prey on other ships, Bonnet, however, bought his ship, the Revenge. He also hired his crew and paid them regular wages. Due to lack of experience in sailing or piracy, Bonnet had to hire someone to command his men. After terrorizing shipping off the Virginia coast, Bonnet sailed for the pirate’s paradise of Nassau in the Bahamas. There, he met Blackbeard and decided to join forces.
After a night of maneuvering sloops back and forth to gain advantage in battle, the sun rose on the morning of September 27, 1718 with Bonnet sailing his one sloop, he had combined all of his men into one ship from three, towards the three sloops under Colonel Rhett. Nearly all the ship ran aground during the battle with a rising tide eventually freeing Rhett’s vessels, while Bonnet’s sloop, the Royal James, remained stuck. The Royal James was quickly boarded by Rhett’s men who outnumbered the pirates. In a last ditch effort, Bonnet ordered his gunner to blow up the ship’s powder stores, but this suicidal act was prevented by Bonnet’s men who surrendered instead. Rhett returned triumphantly to Charleston with Bonnet and twenty-nine of his men in chains.
In Charleston, Bonnet’s men were imprisoned in the Half-Moon Battery where the Exchange and Provost Dungeon were later constructed, and still stands today. Because of his gentlemanly upbringing, Bonnet was imprisoned with his boatswain, Ignatius Pell, in the home of the town’s Provost Marshall. Shortly thereafter, Bonnet and Pell, accompanied by a slave and a Native American, escaped the house possibly disguised as women, at least according to legend. The group however, wasn’t able to go very far and had only gotten as far as Sullivan’s Island, north of the city, when they were captured. Bonnet and his men were put on trial before Vice-Admiralty judge, Nicholas Trott and found guilty.
Bonnet’s own men were hung at White Point, two days before his trial, and their bodies left dangling from the gallows before the bloated, decaying corpses were cut down and unceremoniously dumped in the marsh just off the point. Those same marshes that would later be filled in for the building of homes. Reportedly, Bonnet begged for clemency and turned much of the Charleston female population to his side, so much so that the governor had to delay the execution seven times. Even Colonel Rhett offered help by escorting Bonnet to England for a new trial, but Judge Trott’s decision stood firm.
During the time between Bonnet being found guilty and his execution, 19 other pirates were found guilty and hung at White Point. Bonnet’s day of execution finally dawned on December 10. Walter Fraser describes the scene:
…manacled and clutching a nosegay of wildflowers, [he] was taken in a hurdle to the place execution near White Point where the once bold pirate appeared terrified and near collapse. The executioner dropped the noose over his head and around his neck and then Bonnet was ‘swung off’ the cart. He died an agonizing death of strangulation, the invention of the gallows that would break the victim’s neck being years away.
His body was left hanging for a few days then unceremoniously dumped in the marsh with the remains of his men and his pirate brothers where they were eaten by crabs, riddled with maggots, and pecked by the gulls.
Over the course of five weeks, forty-nine pirates swung from the gallows at White Point. Within a couple months, pirate Richard Worley and nineteen of his men met the same fate. While the leaves of White Point Gardens’ oaks calmly sway in the ocean breeze, their roots are feeding on the blood of pirates.
There is a legend that the spirits of these pirates still stalk Battery Park and White Point Gardens. Denise Roffe includes a story of a couple who encountered an apparition hanging in midair beneath the oaks of the park. Alan Brown mentions that the spirits have been witnessed standing under the oaks and screaming at passersby. He notes that if one looks out on the bay from the foot of Water Street, where Vanderhorst Creek once met the waters of the Cooper River, when the moon is high, they may see the bloated faces of the long dead pirates just under the water’s surface. Like so many Charleston ghost stories, this story may be mostly legend, but it is grounded in a marvelous history.
Magnolia Cemetery 70 Cunnington Street Charleston, South Carolina
After wandering through Magnolia Cemetery in awe for almost two hours, I began to make my way out. The cemetery has winding drives through its oak shaded acres with a posted speed limit of 15 miles per hour. Not wanting to miss anything, I was probably driving slower than that when I approached the massive cemetery gates. The gates were closed with a chain and large padlock securing them. A number of expletives left my mouth and panic quickly set in. A couple of Northern Mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottis) loudly scolded me from atop an adjacent tombstone. The welcome sign listed rules for the cemetery but no number in the event that you’re locked in with the dead. As I dialed 911, I prayed that I would not face a fine or worse for missing the very obvious sign stating that the gates would close at 6PM. It was 6:15.
In this city of so many fine homes and buildings, only I would first head to the cemetery. But, this place is so much more than just a resting place for the dead, it’s truly an art museum, a guide to three centuries of art and architecture and a habitat for native plants and wildlife. Wandering among the graves were Domestic and Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) and Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos). I passed a couple of ponds within the cemetery and was excited to see a dead tree in the center of one pond with a number of water birds perching on it. Even better, were the two “Life Birds” I saw there: Wood Stork (Mycteria americana) and American White Ibis (Eudocimus albus).
For a taphophile, Magnolia Cemetery is heavenly. Everywhere there is marvelous funerary art and symbolism. As I walked and was fed upon by legions of mosquitoes (I won’t acknowledge their scientific name as they don’t deserve it) I had to pass graves that in most cases I would be drawn to in order to pursue more interesting graves. By the end of the first hour, I took to riding in my car to avoid the mosquitoes and trying to photograph the most interesting graves closest to the drive.
Among the more notable monuments is the grave of Rosalie Raymond White. Situated next to one of the ponds, the White family plot has some fascinating art, but particularly interesting is the grave of young Rosalie who died less than a year after her birth. There is a hooded cradle and under the hood, the likeness of the child. According to Denise Roffe in her Ghosts and Legends of Charleston South Carolina, the likeness is a death mask and one of the few such things on a grave in the United States.
Another prominent monument is that William Washington. I viewed this one from the car, so I couldn’t get all the information, but it appears to be a cenotaph (a monument to someone who is buried elsewhere) to this notable figure from the American Revolution. The monument, surrounded by an unusual circular iron fence (I’ve not seen one, though they were numerous in this cemetery), is a large marble column with an ivy garland wrapped around it. At the base of the column is a rattlesnake, a creature I’ve not seen at all in funerary art. The snake is taken from the early American Gadsden flag, the first flag carried into battle by the Continental Marine Corps during the American Revolution, which bears the words, “Don’t Tread On Me.” This flag has most recently been adopted by the Tea Party.
This monument was designed by E.B. White and constructed by W.T. White, the city’s most prominent stone carver and monument builder. As I wandered the cemeteries of Charleston, in nearly every graveyard I found monuments with White’s signature.
Nearby, another marvelous monument by White is the stone for the Rev. I. E. H. Seymour. Topped with the statue of a praying woman, the stone bears a wonderful crest. An hourglass is encircled by an ouroboros, an ancient symbol meaning cyclicality; thus in this, the cyclicality of time or that even in death, life is created. This idea is strengthened by a wreath which can mean victory in death. The wings, of course, reference the wings of angels.
Not far away is the monument for Hugh Swinton Legare, who served two years as a state legislator, South Carolina Attorney General, then as a state Representative to the United States House, and then United States Attorney General under President John Tyler. The monument consists of a large marble Corinthian column sitting on a large base. One side of the base is carved with the national crest with a bald eagle, while the opposite site bears images from the South Carolina state crest with a wonderfully carved palmetto tree with a pair of shields underneath back with 12 spears (representing the other 12 colonies); all sitting on a fallen tree. The palmetto’s significance comes from a battle fought on Sullivan’s Island near Charleston, June 28, 1776, between colonists and the British. The colonists had built a fort of palmetto logs and the British cannon fire seemed to bounce right off. The dead tree represents the defeated British fleet. This monument was also built by White and is signed “W.T. White/Steam Marble Works/115 Meeting St”.
Lagare died in 1840 in Boston, Massachusetts while attending ceremonies for the unveiling of the monument at Bunker Hill. He was buried in the Mount Auburn Cemetery there. Interestingly, this is one of the cemeteries upon which the designs for Magnolia Cemetery are based. Mount Auburn, coupled with New York City’s Greenwood Cemetery, provided the inspiration for the “Garden Cemetery,” a type of cemetery found throughout the United States. These cemeteries, created in park and garden-like settings were a departure from the usual churchyards where most people were buried. In 1857, Lagare’s remains were exhumed and he was re-interred here amongst the lush magnolias.
Magnolia Cemetery was founded in 1850 on the grounds of the former Magnolia Umbra plantation. The old plantation house still stands in the center of the cemetery. Laid out by South Carolina architect Edward C. Jones, the rules for governing the cemetery were copied from those of Mount Auburn and Greenwood. This sacred parcel of land has become the resting place of many of Charleston’s most prominent people.
Nearby is another stone carved with state symbolism including a wonderful, freestanding palmetto. The monument is for James Brown Boyd, Sergeant of the Palmetto Guards of the 2nd South Carolina Regiment. He was killed at the battle of Sharpsburg, Maryland (usually called Antietam), September 17, 1862. This is not a White monument and is signed “D.A. Walker.” The palmetto sculpture is signed, “A. F. Chevreaux, Sculptor”.
According to Denise Roffe, this cemetery may have a few spirits wandering around. In one story, a brother and sister were fishing in the nearby Cooper River. When the little girl’s favorite doll fell in the water, she dove in to retrieve it and her body was found later clutching the doll. Her spirit has been seen in the company of a Civil War soldier, said to be her father. When the two are approached, they both vanish as the little girl giggles. Another spirit is also a young girl seen near the burial site of Annie Aiken.
The cemetery is massive and I easily could have spent many hours here, but the swarms of mosquitoes feeding on me every time I got out of the car began to be too much. That’s when I decided to leave, and good thing, as I found the locked gates.
A jolly man in a pickup truck pulled up as I spoke to the 911 operator. He had the key. Thank God. I told him I was so bowled over with Magnolia Cemetery that I had lost track of time. Smiling he listed some facts about the place: it contained around 33,000 interments (a number that is still growing) on 154 acres. I’m glad I’m not yet one of those who have found their rest here.
Had this four mile long, half mile wide island been located in any other river in Tennessee it would not possess the significance that it has. This spit of land could be called the birthplace of Tennessee and even Kentucky for the treaties signed with the Cherokee that opened their lands to settlements by the white man. One possible origin for the name for the state of Tennessee, from the language of the Yuchi Indians, “Tana-see,” possibly meaning “the meeting place,” may be derived from this island. It is no wonder that the Federal government named Long Island a National Historic Landmark in 1960.
The island is located near the junction of the North and South forks of the Holston. The Holston flows southwest towards Knoxville where it meets the French Broad River creating the mighty Tennessee River. Nearby, the Great Indian Warpath, a major trail leading to the northeast from central Tennessee, brought many natives past this island. This island served as an important ceremonial site for the Cherokee Indians who occupied this area until the late 18th century. The island was a sacred ground for rituals but also for councils and treaties. So sacred was this island that, according to a number of sources, it was forbidden to kill or molest anyone on this sacred ground.
The first major intrusion of whites into the area occurred with Colonel William Byrd’s expedition in 1761 which constructed Fort Robinson near the river junction. When the outpost was abandoned a short while later, the Cherokee resumed control of the area. However, the building of the fort only emboldened white incursions into the area. Hunters, explorers and the occasional courageous settler were soon found in the lands surrounding the island. When Daniel Boone, that great trailblazer to the Kentucky territory, arrived in March of 1775 with an axe-wielding crew to cut a trail to the new territory, the real trouble began. Long Island became the starting point for Boone’s Wilderness Road, bringing hundreds of thousands of white settlers through the area.
With the outbreak of war, many of the Cherokee sided with the British due to the increasing pressure from frontiersmen and by the middle of 1776 they had worked to free the area from whites. Colonial soldiers set out from Eaton’s Fort near the junction of the Holston’s two forks and crushed the Cherokee in battle at the Long Island Flats on August 20. The next year, a treaty was negotiated on Long Island ceding much of the Cherokee lands in East Tennessee and everything east of the Blue Ridge to white settlers. However, the Cherokee still maintained possession of Long Island, though Joseph Martin and his Native American wife, Betsy, established a trading post there; the first white settler on the island.
While many Cherokee had cleared out of the newly claimed area, there were still attacks on white settlements. A peace was negotiated at Long Island in 1781 just before the end of the Revolution. The activity of settlers increased and a boat yard was established on the river, opposite the western tip of the island. The year 1805 saw a number of treaties ceding the remaining Cherokee land in the area to white settlers including Long Island. Legend says that among the natives to leave the island for the last time was a medicine man who laid a curse on the island that no white would be able to comfortably settle on the island. Around the island, the city of Kingsport was created with the merger of Christianville and Rossville in 1822. The island was later incorporated into the town.
Parts of the island were developed and residences sprang up, but, according to the legends, insanity and crime occurred on the island in higher rates than elsewhere in Kingsport. Perhaps the curse was beginning to take its toll? Over time, the legend has been oft-repeated receiving additions on occasions such as the addition from the era of World War II.
Folklorist Charles Edwin Price recounts this tale in his Haints, Witches, and Boogers: Tales from Upper East Tennessee; this tale is recounted in a few other sources, but apparently based upon Price’s version of the tale. The tale, according to Price, tells of Amos Ross, whose son was a Marine in the war. On leave, his son and his son’s girlfriend at the time, went out to Long Island one evening to spend some time together. Ross, a fine upstanding Christian, worried that his son was committing a mortal sin followed the couple out to the island. Finding the couple in flagrante delicto, Ross became enraged and attacked, killing them both. After the incident, legend says, he was never seen again, though couples necking on the island, which may have been a “Lovers Lane” were occasionally attacked by the enraged man or at least his spirit. While this is a marvelous tale, it does leave some questions. Unfortunately, without access to the Kingsport papers of the World War II, era, I cannot prove this is just a legend or if it is grounded in fact.
Besides this violent morality tale, there are other incidents occurring on the island. Again, these tales are told without specific reports of incidents. After dark, it is said that Native Americans have been seen on the island. Campfires are seen blazing with natives dancing about and performing rituals. In the early morning mist on the river, warriors have been seen gliding along silently in their canoes.
Sadly, much of the historic nature of the island is now gone. In 1996, the historical integrity of the island had been so depleted that the National Park Service, administrators of the list of National Historic Landmarks, suggested that the island be delisted. While the landmark designations has not been removed, much of the island is now heavily industrialized. Viewing the island via Googles Maps, it appears that most of the island is now paved over and covered with industrial development. The western portion of the island is now the location of a park and baseball fields are quite obvious, but little of the island’s original sylvan nature remains. The city of Kingsport, realizing the enormous value of having this marvelous landmark in town has done some work towards attracting visitors.
In 1976, a mere three acres of the island were given to the Eastern Band of Cherokee. These acres are a part of a park on the western end of the island, but the island still remains heavily industrial. It’s not hard to imagine that spirits returning to this haunted island, paddling around in the morning mist, don’t even recognize their spoiled sacred island.
Brown, Alan. Haunted Tennessee: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Volunteer State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2009.
Brown, John Norris. “The Long Island Curse.” Ghosts & Spirits of Tennessee. Accessed 14 July 2011.
Lane, Matthew. “Tribes discuss role of Long Island in King’s Port on the Holston.” Kingsport Times-News. 17 May 2007.
Long Island (Tennessee). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 14 July 2011.
McGuiness, Jim. “Tales of paranormal activity abounds in Tri-Cities region.” Kingsport Times-News. 28 October 2007.
Mooney, James. History, Myths and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. Asheville, NC: Bright Mountain Books, 1992.
Price, Charles Edwin. Haints, Witches, and Boogers: Tales from Upper East Tennessee. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1992.
Rettig, Polly M. National Historic Landmark Nomination form for Long Island of the Holston. 4 June 1976.
Root House Museum 145 Denmead Street Marietta, Georgia
The internet has made mounds of information available for mining. Among these mounds of information are content sites like Examiner.com, Associated Content and Suite101. Sometimes denigrated as “content farms,” these sites provide a platform for writers on all levels and can also provide some financial income as well. Certainly these sites may be mined for information on haunted places and they can produce junk but also occasional gems, like this article from Rhetta Akamatsu.
Akamatsu, the author of the recent Haunted Marietta, has provided a well-researched and informative article on The Root House Museum. Built around 1845, this middle class residence has been moved twice in the name of progress and has finally been preserved by the Cobb Landmarks and Historical Society some two blocks away from its original location. The house is now open as a house museum with costumed docents guiding visitors through the home filled with period furnishings and gardens planted with plants appropriate to the period.
The house was the home to William Root, the town’s first druggist and a merchant. While residing here, Root was a founder of St. James Episcopal Church and served as its Sunday School Superintendant for many years. He also served as the county coroner for two terms. His family did experience a loss in the house, one of his sons died at a young age which was sadly a common occurrence at the time.
According to Akamatsu there has been paranormal activity experienced in the main bedroom of the house. Some have claimed to see the spirit of a woman, quite possibly that of Mrs. Root. Both the article and the book report that Mrs. Root’s spirit has been seen by passersby peering from the bedrooms windows. The book goes on to explain that the room contains an antique rope bed that is sometimes appears to have been slept in when the house is opened in the mornings. The bed, it is noted, is tightened every night before the house is closed. Sleep well, Mrs. Root!
Akamatsu, Rhetta. Haunted Marietta. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2009.
Akamatsu, Rhetta. “The Root House Museum, Marietta, GA.” com. 30 June 2011.
Oakland Cemetery 248 Oakland Avenue, SE Atlanta, Georgia
On March 14, 2008, Oakland Cemetery was awakened from its eternal slumber. A tremendous tornado bore down on downtown Atlanta damaging landmarks such as CNN Center and the Peachtree Plaza Hotel. After ripping its way through downtown, the twister ripped through peacefully dreaming Oakland Cemetery, one of Atlanta’s oldest and certainly its grandest burial ground. The winds toppled many majestic namesake oaks which toppled and broke fragile marble monuments. The Archangel Gabriel, trumpet in hand to summon forth the sleeping masses for Judgment Day, atop the monument for Governor Joseph E. Brown, was thrown to the ground along with obelisks and columns throughout the cemetery.
Hundreds of monuments were damaged, but the Historic Oakland Foundation immediately went to work repairing and restoring the cemetery. Since the cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Place in 1979, the foundation has worked to maintain Oakland’s peaceful slumber. In fact, they have worked to improve the beauty of that slumber.
I knew nothing of this when I visited today to photograph this haunted cemetery and I was very pleasantly surprised. It’s been a very hot summer in the South and I expected to find an ancient, baking cemetery with dry patches of grass in the plots. To my relief, the cemetery is being transformed into a garden with lush plantings surrounding the ancient monuments. The effect is quite lovely. Lush magnolias and oaks (those not completely taken out by the tornado) shade lovingly restored memorials with rose bushes, juniper and flowers covering and in between the graves. Birds fill the trees and peer from perches atop statues and mausoleums. While only part of the cemetery has been restored to its garden-like setting, the work continues.
Founded in 1850 as the Atlanta Graveyard or City Burial Place, the cemetery began on just 6 acres and over time it expanded to the current 48 acres. Much of the expansion took place during the Civil War when the city’s military hospitals required a place to bury the dead. Following the fierce fighting around the city, space was needed as bodies were recovered from the battlefields. Confederate dead, both known and unknown found their final repose in the cemetery’s garden-like grounds. Near the south-east corner of the cemetery, the seven Union operatives who participated in the famous Great Locomotive Chase were hung before they were buried on the cemetery grounds.
In 1872, the name of the cemetery was changed to Oakland to recognize the majestic oaks that shaded the grounds. Statesmen, governors, businessmen, generals, clergy and their families found their final rest here side by side with unknown military dead and the indigent that were laid in the potter’s field. African-Americans and Jews also found their place within the walls of Oakland. But with the arrival of the mid-20th century, vandals and neglect began to take a toll. Now in the loving hands of the Historic Oakland Foundation, the cemetery has passed into its third century and its beautiful and peaceful slumber continues.
In such a grand cemetery, a place with some 70,000 interments, it’s no surprise that spiritual activity has been reported. Most of the stories seem to revolve around the Civil War. The most famous story is that of the roll call of the dead. A young man visiting the Confederate portion of the cemetery on a December day reported hearing soldiers’ names being called with faint voices answering “heah” and “present.” According to William Bender, the young man even heard his own name called. Alan Brown reports that one visitor witnessed the blue-clad figure of a soldier hanging in a tree, possibly one of the Union conspirators in the Great Locomotive Chase, while another witnessed a bleeding Confederate lying atop a grave.
Bender also relates a legend of the spirit of Jasper Newton Smith, a real estate investor whose likeness now sits in a chair atop his mausoleum. Legend tells that his spirit climbs out of his chair at night and walks the grounds, though Bender found no eyewitness accounts of this activity. Reese Christian does report a shadowy figure that was seen in the cemetery by a cemetery staff member at night.
In October of 2008, the statue of the Archangel Gabriel was restored to its perch atop the Brown monument. He stands, trumpet in hand, to call the dreaming citizens forth. Until that moment, he silently watches over the gardens of Oakland.
Bender, William N. Haunted Atlanta and Beyond. Toccoa, GA: Currahee Books, 2005.
The roots of both Athens and the University of Georgia are inextricably linked. Land for the university was purchased in 1801 by John Milledge who would later serve the state as governor. The land, on a hill overlooking Cedar Shoals on the Oconee River, was to house the state-supported university and parcels of land adjacent to the campus were sold to private interests. The town was incorporated as “Athens” in 1806 with a handful of residents, faculty and students. Athens grew quickly into a regional center for trade and education as well as a social center.
After the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves, Athens became a regional center for the African-America community. A school, The Knox School, was created and a prosperous African-American middle class emerged towards the end of the 19th century. The entire city saw rapid growth throughout the 20th century, some of it tied with the growth of the university. The city continues to expand with the university which has brought a world-class cultural experience to the region.
Alpha Gamma Delta House (Thomas-Carithers House) 530 South Milledge Avenue
Built as a private home in 1896 and used as a sorority house since 1939, this exuberant wedding-cake like house is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. William Winstead Thomas, a local engineer, built the house which was later bought by James Yancey Carithers as a wedding gift for his daughter, Susie. As legend tells, when Susie’s groom failed to show up for the ceremony on time, the distraught woman hung herself in the attic. The groom finally did show, having been delayed on the way to the nuptials, but Susie was dead. Her spirit has been seen throughout the house while girls living in her old room often become engaged, thus the suite’s name, “The Engagement Suite.”
Classic Center 300 North Thomas Street
When it was decided to build a performing arts center in Athens, the original plans called for the demolition of the warehouses and the old 1912 Firehouse Number 1 which were standing on the site. However, local citizens fought to have the firehouse incorporated in the design. The firehouse was remodeled and now serves as a box office for the performing arts center that stands around it. Captain Hiram Peeler had had a distinguished career as head of the Athens Fire Department when he plunged to his death in an elevator shaft in 1928. It is believed to be his spirit that remains in the firehouse. Reports of activity were reported in the building while it still served as a firehouse. The activity continued through the building’s use as the Chamber of Commerce and has continued while it serves as the Classic Center.
Actors in the dressing room of this restored theatre have reported odd activity in the dressing room. Sadly, that’s all the information I can find in terms of the paranormal. The Morton Theatre was built by African-American businessman Monroe Bowers “Pink” Morton starting in 1909. The theatre was one of the main anchors of “Hot Corner,” the intersection of Washington and Hull Streets, that was the center of African-American life in Athens. It opened as a vaudeville house for the black community and such names as Butterbeans and Susie, Louie Armstrong and Cab Calloway appeared there. The building has since been restored as a performing arts center for the community and is one of the few remaining black vaudeville houses in the nation.
Oconee Hill Cemetery 297 Cemetery Street
When the main city cemetery (now known as the Old Athens Cemetery) began sprawling close to the campus and the homes of the university president and professors, steps were taken to create a new cemetery nearby. Since it’s opening in 1855, the university has sprawled close to the cemetery with massive Sanford Stadium now looming across the street. The cemetery now hosts a number of prominent Georgians including two governors, eight university presidents and at least one ghost. The legend exists of a ghostly carriage appearing on the bridge between the old and newer portions of the cemetery.
Old Athens Cemetery Jackson Street
The original city cemetery before Oconee Hill Cemetery was created; the cemetery was created around 1810. The last burial occurred in 1898, not long after the university first tried to reclaim the land. This would be a struggle that would continue through the 1980s. The cemetery was deeded back to school in 2004 and in 2006 a preservation program was instituted under the university’s grounds department. Kathleen Wall mentions that the ghost of a young girl has been seen in the cemetery. The location was investigated by the Georgia Haunt Hunters team in 1998 and the team discovered some temperature fluctuations.
Phi Kappa Psi House 398 South Milledge Avenue
In researching Athens, I keep coming across locations that are mentioned as being haunted, but there are few specifics given. This is one location that is briefly mentioned. Daniel Barefoot mentions that the brothers in this house have heard the crying of a baby. This Queen Anne style home was built in 1890.
Phi Mu House (Hamilton-Phinizy-Segrest House) 250 South Milledge Avenue
The legend of the Phi Mu House, according to the sorority, concerns a young woman named Anna Powell. Her husband shot himself, either purposefully or accidentally at the bottom of the stairs. At times, it is said, a cross will appear on the floor where this horrific incident took place. Anna’s spirit has been encountered frequently by sisters in the house. Knocking and sobbing have been heard in the house and one young woman had the door unlocked for her late one night by unseen hands. The house was constructed by Colonel Thomas Hamilton, reportedly Georgia’s first millionaire, and finished in 1858 by his widow, Sarah. It has served as a sorority house since 1964.
Taylor-Grady House 634 Prince Avenue
Built by Irish immigrant turned cotton merchant and planter, Robert Taylor, in 1844, the Taylor-Grady House was purchased by Major William S. Grady in 1863, at the height of the Civil War which he was fighting in. Major Grady was killed in the Battle of Petersburg and his spirit is said to have returned to his family’s home. Henry Grady, the major’s son, was a staunch advocate for the “New South” as managing editor for the Atlanta Constitution and a famed orator. As the only existing of Grady’s homes, the Taylor-Grady House was named a National Historic Landmark in 1976.
T. R. R. Cobb House 175 Hill Street
This noteworthy home with octagonal wings took the scenic route in its move from nearby Prince Avenue. It faced the wrecking ball in 1985, and was moved to Stone Mountain Park, just outside of Atlanta, to be restored as a part of the living history village there (which also has some notable haunted structures). After languishing 20 years, the home was returned to Athens and restored. A ghost story from this house was collected as part of the WPA Writers’ Project and recalls the spirit of “a gentleman wearing a gay dressing gown” who is seen descending the stairs and sitting in front of the fire in the drawing room. For further information, see my in-depth entry on this home, “A firebrand phantom.”
University of Georgia Campus
Joe E. Brown Hall
This 1932 building, built as a dormitory is home to a staircase to nowhere. Legend states that not long after the building was built, a student hung himself during Christmas break. His decomposing body was found when students returned. Though the mess was cleaned up, the blood stains were said to return. According to Daniel Barefoot, when the building was remodeled for office space, the room was sealed and the staircase leading to it blocked. In an article in the university newspaper, The Red and Black, a photograph of the staircase to nowhere was published in an article on campus legends. Supposedly knocking still issues from the sealed room.
Like many of the oldest campus buildings, the Lustrat House has served a variety of functions. Currently the office of Legal Affairs, the building initially served as a residence for professors. Towards the end of the 19th century, it was home to Dr. Charles Morris, chair of the English Department. When the university decided to relocate the house in 1903, Dr. Morris attempted to assuage officials away from that plan. He refused to move with the home. After his death, the family of Professor Joseph Lustrat began to see Dr. Morris has surprisingly taken up residence, sitting in his favorite chair by the fire.
The oldest building on campus still in its complete form according to Daniel Barefoot, Waddel Hall was built in 1821 as Philosophical Hall. The sounds of a tragic lovers quarrel are still heard in this building that now houses the university special events office. During World War I, a young man left his female love who fell for another in his absence. When he returned, he confronted his beloved and the quarrel ended in a murder-suicide.
Librarians certainly know their stuff. Having worked in a university library in college, I know this very well. If you have a question, see the reference library. This is why I’m delighted to see this article from Alabama’s Shelby County Reporter about the ghosts of the University of Montevallo.
I briefly covered the campus’ KING HOUSE in an entry last year. It pleases me to see this article but the fact that the information is from one of the university’s reference librarians means that it’s well researched. This particular librarian having been asked about the ghosts many times decided to lead a campus tour and provide the correct information behind the legends.
The King House predates the university having been built by Edmund King in 1823. The legend associated with this house and the nearby family cemetery concerns King’s spirit who is said to wander with a lantern and a shovel. The house is used by the university for housing special guests.
The university opened as the Alabama Girls’ Industrial School in 1896. Julia Tutwiler an outspoken advocate for prison reform and women’s education is credited as dreaming of the institution and working to create it along with the University of West Alabama in Livingston. The west wing MAIN RESIDENCE HALL was the first building constructed for the Girls’ School in 1897. During the construction, classes were held in Reynolds Hall which had been constructed in 1851 for the Montevallo Male Institute.
On the evening of February 4, 1908, Sophomore Condie Cunningham and her roommate were attempting to melt chocolate for fudge in a chafing dish. They missed one curfew bell and when the second bell rang at 10 PM, they tried to put away the dish. Alcohol from the burner spilled and ignited Cunningham’s dress. Startled, she ran and the flames burned her severely. She died two days later. According to the librarian, this information was gleaned from the minutes of a board of trustees meeting. This lines up with the legend.
Not long after Cunningham’s death, residents began to report the screams of cries of a young woman. The grains of the wood on the girl’s former dorm room began to show a screaming face and the door was replaced. The door still resides in storage and does bear some likeness to a screaming face.
The article mentions only the hauntings of the King House, KING CEMETERY and the Main Residence Hall. Alan Brown’s Alabama Ghostlore website does mention the haunting of REYNOLDS HALL. According to the article by Dr. Frank McCoy, Captain Henry Clay Reynolds (McCoy lists his rank as Colonel, though the school history on the Encyclopedia of Alabama says Captain), who served as the university’s first president, supervised the building during the Civil War. Reynolds Hall was used as a Confederate hospital and when Reynolds abandoned his post to participate in a nearby battle, Union troops massacred the wounded Confederates in the building. As a result, his spirit has not left.
Dear Mrs. Windham, it’s all your fault. –Elizabeth Parker’s dedication to Mobile Ghosts: Alabama’s Haunted Port City
Mrs. Windham, I can blame the following on you:
a deep and abiding obsession with ghosts
a deep and abiding love of Southern folklore
a library of some 260 “ghost books” including a number of your books
many hours spent reading ghost stories
my love for Christ Church and its magical cemetery at St. Simons Island, Georgia
an all-consuming blog
a conviction that storytelling can change the world
the desire to become a storyteller and change the world.
I blame all these things on you and for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Kathryn Tucker Windham, one of the foundations upon which Southern ghost writing is based, passed into the spiritual realm yesterday afternoon. Mrs. Windham dreamt of being a reporter in a time when proper young ladies did not do such a thing. Undeterred, she became a noted reporter and columnist, shattering a glass ceiling for millions of other women in Alabama and throughout the South. She published her first book of ghost stories in 1969, documenting and enshrining many notable Southern hauntings. Her dedication to telling and preserving these tales inspired countless young people including myself.
I first heard Mrs. Windham’s story of “The Eternal Dinner Party” in Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery told by a professional storyteller at the local library here in LaGrange. Soon after, I received a copy of 13 Georgia Ghosts and Jeffrey as a birthday gift from my grandparents. This book has remained a beloved treasure on my book shelf ever since. When I started this blog last year, I opened with a story I first heard from her.
I’d like to imagine that as Mrs. Windham passed over yesterday afternoon that she paused under the sprawling, moss-laden oaks of Bonaventure Cemetery. It was during a dinner party in a magnificent plantation home here at the end of the 18th century that a fire broke out. The hosts, undeterred by their personal disaster, calmly continued the party outside lit by the light of the burning house. At the end of the night, a toast was made:
“May the joy of this occasion never end,” the gentleman proposed. It seemed a strange toast on such a night.
The guests drank the toast and then, following the lead of their host, they shattered their glasses against the trunks of the Bonaventure oaks.
And here at Bonaventure people passing late at night still hear distinctly the sounds of a dinner party in progress: the clatter of dishes, the tinkle of silverware, the voices and laughter of guests, and then the shattering of crystal glasses.
Hearing these festive sounds, the passers-by nod and say,
“It’s still going on, the eternal dinner party at Bonaventure.”
In early America, life was generally centered on a handful of places including the local tavern. Serving as the social and governmental center, the tavern often was the ersatz community center, especially in sparsely inhabited areas. Residents of far-flung farms and plantations could meet other locals, find solace from the ennui of rural life, hear the news, pick up mail, or conduct government business in places where courthouses were unavailable. Travelers could find a drink, meal or sometimes a place for the night as well as possibly hear warnings of Indian movements in the region. Throughout the South, the seeds of many small towns and communities were planted by taverns.
In urban areas, the tavern was one of the primary settings for meeting people, doing business, or hearing and discussing the news of the day. In fact, much of the early work in the founding and building of this country was done in taverns; therefore, it’s no surprise that the tune for our national anthem, “To Anacreon in Heaven,” is an English drinking song. The First Continental Congress conducted much of its business in Philadelphia’s City Tavern and other drinking establishments around the city. The seeds of discontentment that would blossom into the American Tree of Liberty were watered with the beer, coffee, and spirits of taverns.
In Annapolis, long considered one of the most beautiful, cultured and cultivated cities in the colonies, many taverns took root, some of which are still in operation today. The city was incorporated in 1708 but its origins dated to some fifty years earlier with the founding of a small village by the Puritans. Governor Sir Francis Nicholson moved the colony’s government to this small settlement in 1694 from heavily Catholic St. Mary’s City. In planning the city, London-born Nicholson modeled it on Sir Christopher Wren’s designs for London after the Great Fire of 1666. He utilized Wren’s Baroque design for the city streets, with important places, like churches and houses of government, set within it with streets projecting out like spokes.
Reynolds Tavern 7 Church Circle
One of these circles surrounds St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, on its third building built in 1858. Facing the church is Reynolds Tavern, a fine example of an urban tavern. The building was constructed around 1747 to face the first St. Anne’s Church that was around 40 years old when the tavern was constructed. The structure was built by William Reynolds as a private residence and hat shop. At some point in the early history, part of the building was opened as the “Beaver and Lace’d Hat,” a tavern (I would presume the name is a reference to beaver felt which was prized for use in waterproof hats).
The license for the tavern was taken out by Mary Funnereau, who may have later married William Reynolds. The establishment was highly regarded as evidenced by the legend that George Washington was a frequent guest. One story tells of him professing his love to Mrs. Reynolds only to be pursued by Mr. Reynolds out of the building and down the street. More in line with the historical record, the Corporation of the City of Annapolis and the Mayor’s Court met in the tavern. The tavern operated until the building passed into the hands of William Reynolds’ son-in-law who used the building briefly as a boarding house. In 1812, the former tavern was taken over by the Farmers Bank of Maryland. When the bank realized the building was ill-suited as a banking house, a building for that purpose was constructed next door and the house renovated as a private house for the Cashier of the Bank.
The bank owned the edifice until 1932. Standard Oil considered tearing down the landmark for a service station but local citizens saved the house and it became a library. In the early 1970s, it returned to its roots and became a tavern and inn. With so many souls passing over its threshold, from slaves to servants, private citizens to future presidents, it’s no surprise that the tavern has paranormal activity.
The tavern hosted an investigation in 2004 that caused quite a stir. The Maryland Ghost and Spirit Society under the leadership of sensitive, Beverly Litsinger, held an overnight investigation that uncovered evidence of what Litsinger claimed was not one (as was previously believed), but five spirits in the structure. An account of the investigation in The Sun notes that activity was picked up by a bevy of monitors throughout the building and a dish was mysteriously broken in the kitchen. According to an article in The Capital, the owners were exhausted by all the commotion stirred up by the investigation and decided not to publicize any further paranormal investigations.
The owners, however, did find enough evidence of spiritual activity within the landmark. One of the most convincing pieces of evidence was human-shaped indentions in one of the upstairs beds. Numerous experiences had led up to the investigation including objects moving on their own volition, voices including one singing Christmas carols and human-shaped indentions appearing in an upstairs bedroom. The spirit was assumed to be that of Mary Reynolds, who had run the tavern after her husband, William’s, death. While the owners have discontinued investigations, stories are still told about the tavern and it can be assumed that the spirits continue to make their home within the brick walls of the Reynolds Tavern.
Middleton Tavern 2 Market Place
Looking out towards Annapolis harbor and built to serve many of the seamen coming into the city is the Middleton Tavern. The exact date for the building’s construction seems to be a point of contention, the form on the building for the Maryland Historical Trust estimates the building’s construction at around 1754, though the current owners of the tavern provide that the tavern was established in 1750. It is possible that the tavern predated the building, but no evidence is provided by the Trust. The site, however, was occupied by a ship carpenter’s yard as well as a dwelling and garden.
It is known that the building was constructed by Horatio Middleton as a dwelling house and at that time or soon thereafter opened as a tavern for seafaring men. Throughout its history, it did attract a notable clientele which may have included George Washington as well as Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. The building remained a tavern until it was converted into the Marx Hotel around the time of the Civil War. After almost a century of use as a tavern and inn, the building fell into disuse in the late 19th century and served a variety of commercial ventures. In 1968, the building underwent restoration and reopened as Middleton’s Tavern. The building was gutted by fire in 1970 and then 1973, but the shell of the building has been restored with a modern interior.
Like its older sister establishment, the Reynolds Tavern, the Middleton’s illustrious history has left a spiritual residue. In my research, I have not located any information on investigations, though the spiritual activity seems fairly well known. According to the Ghost Eyes – Most Haunted Places in America blog, there are three spirits witnessed in and around the tavern: a Revolutionary War soldier and a shadowy form are seen flitting throughout the first floor dining room while outside the tavern a gentleman in 18th century seaman’s attire has been seen staring out to sea.
Rams Head Tavern 33 West Street
While the building at 31-33 West Street that houses the Rams Head dates to around 1831, the site’s history is associated with Annapolis tavern history that stretches into the 18th century. Located just down the street from the Reynolds Tavern, the site was home to the “Crown and Dial” which opened in 1792 and two years later the “Sign of the Green Tree.” The site was utilized as a variety of businesses and the 31-33 West Street building also housed residences. The Rams Head Tavern opened in the building. The business has since expanded with locations opening throughout the region.
The site’s history as the site of historic taverns has given rise to the legend of “Amy.” The legend speaks of a young woman employed to “entertain” tavern guests who may have died while actually plying her trade, so to speak. In fact, what is said to be the bedpost of her bed still survives in the downstairs bar.
While the story has little historical evidence to prove it to be less than fiction, the stories of tavern employees are most definitely non-fiction. Servers have run into Amy’s apparition while Beverly Litsinger (who investigated the Reynolds Tavern above) captured her supposed shadowy image in a photograph. Another spirit mentioned as residing in the tavern is that of an elderly woman. Yet one other spirit is said to rattle the chain-link of the bar’s liquor cage. Among other activity, the staff finds silverware turned upside down and have drinks turned over. Perhaps these are spirits of temperance?
Other Haunted Taverns
A few other haunted taverns have popped up on my radar while doing the research for this article. Beverly Litsinger mentioned O’Briens at 113 Main Street as being “so haunted it’s ridiculous.” The Drummers Lot Pub at 16 Church Circle, the same street as the Reynolds Tavern is on the haunted pub tour, though I cannot find any other information regarding it. But if you’re in Annapolis, raise a glass of spirits to the spirits that may be all around you.