According to two 1904 editions of Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta’s phantasmagoric scene was in “high carnival.” The first article that appeared towards the end of January tells of an African-American family who was evidently plagued with a poltergeist. Generally, poltergeist activity centers on an adolescent female who may project the fears and confusion she is experiencing onto the physical environment around her, though, in this account the activity revolves around a young boy. The details of the story certainly show that this child’s situation was not ideal and likely put this young boy under a huge amount of stress.
Atlanta at this time, in fact, much of the South as a whole, was not a pleasant place for a young, poor, African-American child. The racism that permeated all levels of life is quite obvious here, but there is a much crueler subtext in the play on words in the title. “Spook” is not only a synonym for ghost but also a pejorative term for African-Americans.
The rental house where this took place does not appear to exist, and the address points to an area that is now quite developed.
28 January 1904
SPOOKS PLAY QUEER PRANKS
Remarkable Ghost Story in Which Police Took a Hand.
A remarkable spook story developed yesterday in a negro house at 360 Chapel street, in the rear of Smith & Simpson’s lumber yard. This spook story differs from the ordinary tales of the kind in that police officers took a hand and two of them actually saw the ghost doing his supernatural stunts.
Fully a thousand people visited the scene during the day and stories are told which have some very extraordinary features.
In the house there lived an old negro man, his aged wife and a little boy. The family moved into the house only a few days ago. Two nights ago, the table began to dance, the old man was hurled from a trunk and chairs in the house cut up all sorts of antics.
The negro told his neighbors about it and a large number of people saw the table moving about the house yesterday morning. The excitement became so great that three or four policemen went to the place. Among them was Call Officer Luck, who states that he saw the table jump about the floor, and, finally, turn over, breaking a lot of dishes. Sergeant Beavers also witnessed the remarkable phenomenon. What caused the table to move no one can say.
The old negro states that he has moved eighteen times during the past 12 months in order to get rid of spooks. In every house he has lived the table and chairs have moved about of their own free will, so he claims, and every dish he buys is broken. Chairs have also taken a notion to dancer over the house.
Yesterday afternoon the old man moved again, and the rent which he had paid in advance, was returned to him.
Sergeant Beavers says he believed the work is done by the negro child, for he noticed that whenever the boy approached a piece of furniture it began to move. He thinks the boy is possessed with some subtle electric power, such as made the exhibitions of Lula Hurst so remarkable.
When police officers saw the table skip across the room and beheld it overturned and all the dishes on it broken, they made an investigation, and could find nothing which would explain the matter.
The negroes in the neighborhood are greatly excited over the affair, and they believe firmly that the old negro is followed by ghosts. Somebody offered $100 to any negro who would sleep in the house last night, and the offer was not taken up.
It’s also interesting to see the police investigating this odd case. Stories of similar poltergeist cases have also been investigated by law enforcement and sometimes even they come away having witnessed things they cannot explain. The next story from the Constitution also involves the police, but in this case this one officer was scared out of his wits by odd sounds within Oakland Cemetery. The keeper’s lodge where this officer had been stationed during his cemetery vigil remains and is now occupied by the offices of the Historic Oakland Foundation and visitors center. This building was still fairly new in 1904, having only been constructed in 1899.
25 May 1904
GHOSTS IN HIGH CARNIVAL AROUND OAKLAND CEMETERY
According to all reports there are ghosts in Oakland cemetery, and even the members of the police department are giving the place a wide berth after nightfall.
Curious noises in all parts of the cemetery during the night are said to have been heard as of late, and at the keeper’s lodge, near the center of the burial place, the sound of footsteps can be heard stairs at all hours of the night. When these are investigated, no trace of anything living or moving can be found. As soon as those interested return to the office below the noise starts again.
A policeman, detailed for duty at the cemetery a few nights ago, tells an interesting story of his experience with the thing supernatural.
“I was in the keeper’s lodge, just starting to eat a lunch that had been brought me,” said the officer, “when I heard footsteps upstairs. Thinking possibly my ears were deceiving me, I refrained from speaking to the lad who had brought my lunch, but an instant later he called my attention to the fact that there was someone walking around on the upper floor.
“I drew my revolver and walked up the stairs, the boy folloing me. We searched every nook and corner of the place, but failed to find anything living, not even a fly being visible. We returned to the lower floor and no sooner had I resumed the eating of my lunch than the footsteps were heard again, this time even more distinct than on the first occasion.
“Thinking possibly I could see from the outside, I rushed into the open air, and as I stopped, when a few feet away, and turned to look at the upper story of the keeper’s house, I heard a slab fall in the one of the nearby vaults.
“Hurrying in the direction of the vault from which the sound came, thinking to surprise grave robbers at work, I was astounded to find the door to the vault securely locked, and not a trace of anything living in the neighborhood. This, despite the fact that I had heard, very distinctly, but an instant before, the falling of a marble slab in the vault.
“After a thorough search of the surrounding lots, I returned to the keeper’s house and the first thing that greeted my ears when I entered the door was the sound of footsteps upstairs again.
“For the second time I hurried to the upper floor and made a thorough search. Diligent, careful and complete as it was, I failed to find even a suspicion of a living object.
“I endured the unearthly noises until time for my relief next morning, but there can be no more Oakland cemetery jobs for me. The next time I am detailed to the graveyard I am certainly going to be sick. I can stand up and fight a live man and take the whipping, if he is the best man, but I absolutely refuse to have to treat with things that make all manner of noises and peculiar sounds but do not show anything to the eye.
Others in addition to this officer, have told of peculiar noises in Oakland at night, and quite a stir has been created among those living in the vicinity of the cemetery.
Oakland Cemetery is indeed believed to be haunted and I have written about some of the more recent experiences here.
- “Ghosts in high carnival around Oakland Cemetery.” Atlanta Constitution. 25 May 1904.
- “Spooks play queer pranks.” Atlanta Constitution. 28 January 1904.