300 North Thomas Street
Classically, ghosts are supposed to rattle chains, and the spirit haunting Athens’ Classic Center continues this classic spectral occupation. Firemen working in this old firehouse regularly heard the rattle of the chains hanging in the basement. Even after the building was taken over by the chamber of commerce, employees would hear the rattle of chains and the chamber’s executive vice president ventured downstairs once to find the chain “swinging back and forth, not just a little motion, but very noticeably.”
Initial designs for Athens’ new performing arts center called for the demolition of the old Firehouse No. 1 which had been built in 1912, but local residents insisted that the structure be saved. The firehouse was saved and now houses the arts center’s box office, meeting space, and the spirit of an old fire department captain, Hiram Peeler.
Born in 1861, just as the Civil War was commencing, Hiram Peeler distinguished himself in the Athens Fire Department which he joined in 1881. Still serving at the advanced age of 67 in 1928, Peeler responded to a fire at McDorman-Bridges Funeral Home with his company. Whilst searching the building, he stepped through the open doors of the elevator and fell down the shaft. He died of his injuries two days later and was buried in Oconee Hill Cemetery (which may also be haunted). He left behind a widow and nine children.
Identifying spirits is a tricky endeavor, but many who have worked in the building, from firefighters and later to arts center staff, seem convinced that the spirit is Capt. Peeler’s. One of the fire chiefs who worked in the building before the construction of a new fire station reports that his men “heard footsteps and the kitchen door creaking late at night when there was no one there and all the doors were locked.” He continues, “I really thought I heard someone on the stairs one night, and I wasn’t the only person who heard it.” The original hardwood floors of the station remain as well as original pieces of firefighting equipment.
Perhaps those floors and equipment keep Capt. Peeler’s spirit on duty. Members of the center’s staff have seen a firefighter in an old-fashioned uniform within the building. One security guard helping to set up for a function one evening exited the elevator in the old building near a display of the fire chief’s old horse-drawn wagon. As he stepped off the elevator, he glanced towards the wagon and saw and older gentleman in a dark uniform standing next to the wagon. Continuing down the hall, he realized that no one should have been in the building. When he turned, the area was empty.
Tracy Adkins includes a particularly haunting moment from a 2012 investigation of the old firehouse in her book, Ghosts of Athens. While the investigator and her daughter explored a conference room, a Classic Center employee felt her eyes begin to burn and sting. “It was like smoke was being blown into them.” Perhaps Peeler is giving these investigators the sensation that he felt at the time of his death.
For other ghosts in the Athens area, see my article, “Town and Gown–Ghosts of Athens and University of Georgia.”
- Adkins, Tracy L. Ghosts of Athens: History and Haunting of Athens, Georgia. Tracy L. Adkins, 2016.
- Bender, William N. Haunted Atlanta and Beyond. Toccoa, GA: Currahee Books, 2005.
- Classic Center. History. Accessed 28 February 2013.
- Miles, Jim. Weird Georgia. NYC: Sterling Publishing, 2006.
- Sanderlin, Phil. “Staff: Ghost roams C of C.” Athens Observer. 16 June 1984.
- “Veteran fireman to be buried today.” Atlanta Constitution. 26 February 1928.