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.

Looking for Little Egypt—Richmond, Kentucky

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

I went and bought myself a ticket and I sit down in the very first row-wo-wo.
They pulled the curtain up and when they turned the spotlight way down low-wo-wo.
Little Egypt came out strutting wearing nothing but a button and a bow-wo-wo.
–“Little Egypt (Ying-Yang),” 1961, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller

In Richmond, Kentucky, one does not need to buy a ticket to see, or rather experience, “Little Egypt.” You simply need to follow a brief ritual. After driving out to one of the more rural areas of Four Mile Road, perhaps to the bridge that crosses Otter Creek, one opens their windows and calls either, “Little Egypt, Little Egypt, come ride with me,” or repeats her name three times.

Supposedly the spirit of Little Egypt will enter the car and make her presence felt while you drive for a bit. After a breezy drive—your windows should remain down—you return to drop the spirit off where you picked her up. If you don’t open your windows, there is a chance that the spirit may cause an accident.

So much of this sounds like the plentiful urban legends that reside on roadsides throughout the country, but there may be something to this forlorn Kentucky spirit.

Madison County Kentucky courthouse Richmond
The Madison County Courthouse in downtown Richmond, near where Four Mile Road begins. Photo by Russell and Sydney Poore, 2007. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Four Mile Road branches off from East Irvine Street in downtown Richmond before it winds through the Kentucky countryside, ending as a mundane dirt road. The story of Little Egypt is anything but mundane, it is as colorful as a field of goldenrod in the spring.

Like so much urban legend, the story takes many forms. Author Rebecca Patrick-Howard presents three versions of the legend in her book on haunted Madison County. In one, Little Egypt was a 16-year-old local girl who was raped and murdered, and her spirit continues to look for the men who murdered her by riding in the cars of passersby. Another version recalls that the girl lived on a local farm and when she announced she was pregnant by one of her cousins, she ran out of the house and into the road where she was killed.

The third version of the story had the girl being abducted, killed, and her dismembered remains being scattered on nearby farm fields. Those travelling along the road are supposed to call her name at the farm and drop her spirit off at the bridge.

Patrick-Howard includes the accounts of several people who have experienced odd things around Four Mile Road, things that could be attributed to the spirit of Little Egypt. One story involved two college girls who performed the ritual at the bridge and didn’t experience anything at first. Then, suddenly, their radio began flipping through channels. Frightened, the girls sped back to their dorm room.

A local amateur paranormal investigator decided to go legend tripping with his friend, though they took a decidedly different route. They visited a cemetery on the road, opened their windows and then closed them. As they drove away, both young men experienced intense pressure on their heads. The pressure was relieved as they got further down the road.

For a Halloween story last year, one of the local news stations, WBON, sent a reporter out to perform the ritual and film the results. The reporter only got some creepy feelings on the lonely bridge, though a passerby did share an odd story. This woman mentioned that people having breakdowns in the area have been aided by a strange man in coveralls who seems to appear and disappear into thin air. The woman noted that he had helped her own daughter, who was not from the area and unfamiliar with the legends.

Perhaps Little Egypt now has a friend along lonely Four Mile Road?

Sources

“Hard to dance with the devil in your back”–Virginia

This is the seventh entry in my Twelve Days of Southern Spirits Series celebrating traditional ghost story telling over Christmas. May you have a blessed New Year!

Braley Pond Campground
Forest Development Road 96
West Augusta, Virginia

Regrets collect like old friends
Here to relive your darkest moments
I can see no way, I can see no way
And all of the ghouls come out to play
And every demon wants his pound of flesh…
–“Shake it out,” (2011) Florence + the Machine

Deep within George Washington and Jefferson National Forests in Virginia, a paranormal investigator had a frightening experience at a popular campground some miles from civilization.

Elliott's Knob Virginia
A view of Elliott’s Knob, the highest point in Augusta County, in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest a few miles south of Braley Pond. Photo by Aneta Kaluza, 2006. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The group of investigators had arrived around 4:30 in the afternoon of October 25, 2003 to investigate Braley Pond Campground. Stepping out of their vehicles, the lead investigator noted that the atmosphere was “so heavy as to be almost palatable, and I knew immediately that [this feeling] was not my own. I was feeling something that belonged to someone else.”

As the group neared the dam, a couple of group members became physically ill and the entire group retreated. Two of the investigators decided to return to the campground after nightfall to investigate further.

Arriving around 11:30 PM, the pair sensed the same heaviness in the atmosphere that they had experienced on the first visit. Moving on, they felt as if whatever had been there before was lying in wait for their return. As they tenuously made their way towards the dam, one of them saw an orb of light in a nearby pine tree. “Roughly thirty or forty feet in the air, looking as though it were nestled in the branches of one of the big pines that flank the opening to the path, was a brightly glowing fluorescent green light.”

After the light mysteriously blinked out, the pair began to hear violent splashing in the water below. Sensing that something was coming after them, the pair took off for the safety of their vehicle. As they ran, one of the investigators was knocked off the bridge into the water. “I don’t know how to explain it except for he literally flew upwards and to the left, as if something had hit him right in the middle of his back, like using his forward momentum, and he went off the side of the bridge into the water.” The pair would later discover that their audio equipment picked up a mysterious screech just before the man was thrown into the water.

When the lead investigator stopped to check on her companion, he was fine but encouraged her to continue running back to the truck. As she stood up on the side of the pond, she began to feel something crawling on her back. She recalled that it moved like an inchworm and felt as if it had tentacles.

Continuing back to the truck, she screamed that something was on her. Both investigators piled back into the vehicle and nothing was found on the investigator, though she continued to feel the thing creeping along her body.

Over the next few months, the lead investigator was plagued by nightmares and dark feelings and images that would surface in her mind periodically. The pair returned to the campground several more times and witnessed odd events, but none as dramatic as the events of that first night. When the lead investigator felt oddly drawn to visit alone, she found herself walking trancelike around the parking lot and suddenly found herself in the restroom without any memory of getting there.

Several weeks later, she and her husband heard a terrifying scream from her eight-year-old son in another room. The boy had witnessed the image of a man standing in the corner “with multiple holes in his chest; wet and covered in blood.”

Following this frightening vision, the dark feelings began to retreat. Revisiting the campground a few years later, the investigator did not sense anything there.

According to the Mysterious Universe website, campers and hikers in the area have encountered sudden feelings of nausea and dread, orbs of light, shadow figures, the sounds of splashing water, and a feeling of being drawn into the water.

What could be the cause of the darkness here? The answer may lie in tragedies that have occurred here. Mysterious Universe notes that the quiet pond has been the scene of suicides, which I have not been able to confirm, but it was here that a vicious gang-related murder took place in May of 2003, some months before the terrifying investigation took place.

On the evening of May 21, 2003, two young men picked up 19-year-old Christopher Kennedy in nearby Staunton. Kennedy had reportedly become a member of the Los Angeles-based street gang, the Crips. After being picked up by two other members, the group drove to the Braley Pond Campground. A short time previous, Kennedy admitted to his grandfather that he had joined the gang and expressed his anxiety that he was “too young to die.” An account of the murder in the Staunton, Virginia News Leader says, “Kennedy first left with Noa and Tinsley voluntarily and might have realized he was going to be killed on the way out to Braley Pond.”

Once they arrived at the pond, Kennedy was stabbed 12 times in the chest and back at the water’s edge. It was there that his partially submerged body was found. In the initial reports of the murder, police speculated that Kennedy had tried to leave the gang.

Details of the murder would line up with some of paranormal activity reported here: feelings of nausea and dread, splashing of water, and the investigator’s son’s vision of a wet man with holes in his chest and covered in blood.

Allow me to speculate a bit on this haunting. I sincerely hope that Kennedy’s spirit is at rest, and it seems that his residual energy may be felt at the campground. The lead investigator, who is sensitive, noted in her journal that she felt “another presence ‘behind’ the original one. This one didn’t feel like the others. In fact, it didn’t feel human.” This leads me to believe that perhaps this inhuman spirit may be an elemental, or nature, spirit angered by the intense violence that took place in its domain. In fact, it was this spirit’s ire that attached itself to the investigator and haunted her.

If you visit the Braley Pond Campground, enjoy the scenery, but beware that this beauty has a darker side.

Sources

Terror in Toccoa—Georgia

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

In searching through back issues of the Atlanta Constitution that have recently been posted on Newspapers.com, I stumbled across two brief articles detailing a haunting in the small town of Toccoa.

Located in Stephens County, in the far northeast corner of the state, abutting the state line with South Carolina, Toccoa is a small mountain town established in the late 19th century along the Georgia Air Line Railroad. A few miles outside town, Currahee Mountain rises from the landscape which provided military training during World War II.

Stephens County Courthouse Toccoa Georgia
The 1907 Stephens County Courthouse in downtown Toccoa. Photo 2015, by Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy of the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

In the early days of the town’s creation after the Civil War and before the town’s incorporation, the town constructed a calaboose, or jail. In small towns, these buildings were generally one room shacks with bars to hold a prisoner or two. Judging from the newspaper’s vague description, I would conclude that the calaboose was this type of building.

Wingate Arkansas calaboose
A similar calaboose remains standing in Wingate, Arkansas. This one was built in 1898.

Please note that these articles use racist language typical to the period.

Atlanta Constitution
27 December 1887

CAGED AND BURNED

A Heartrending Scene at Toccoa, Georgia.

A PRISONER SHRIEKING FOR HELP

While the Guard House is on Fire—Unavailing Efforts to Free the Unfortunate Man.

TOCCOA, Ga., December 26.—[Special.]—Roland Taylor, a negro man, who has been working for Mr. W. J. Hayes for a long time, met a horrible death this morning at twenty minutes past 3 o’clock. He was taken by the marshal some time ago for some violation and locked up. He was released on bond, however, and given time to pay the fine which was imposed on him by the mayor. He failed to come up at the proper time, and last night was arrested again and confined in the calaboose. At the time mentioned, night watchmen Carter and Purcell heard someone screaming at a terrible rate, and upon investigation, found the calaboose on fire. They did all they could to save him, but failed, as the heavy doors were swelled so and the man too far gone. Mr. Carter says he is satisfied the darky set it on fire to make his escape.

This morning there is nothing left to tell the tale but some ashes and a small stack of bones. The coroner has been notified and will hold an inquest.

Atlanta Constitution
27 February 1888

THE DEAD MAN’S GHOST

Returns to Haunt the Prisoners Who Succeed Him.

TOCCOA, Ga., February 26.—[Special.]—The town council have had erected a new calaboose exactly on the same spot where the old one was burned Christmas eve, when Roland Taylor was cremated.

The negroes here look upon the new guardhouse with a superstitious awe, and to threaten to put one in strikes terror to his heart. They say the dead negro will surely come back at night, and one darky who was so unfortunate as to remain in custody over night, declares that about 10 o’clock something took him by the legs and pulled most vigorously for some time, all his efforts to release himself from the ghost grasp being in vain. It is needless to say he slept but little remainder of the night.

I have yet to determine the location of this building or if Roland Taylor’s spirit still haunts the area.

Sources

  • “Caged and Burned.” Atlanta Constitution. 27 December 1887.
  • “The Dead Man’s Ghost.” Atlanta Constitution. 27 February 1888.

A perfumed ghost—Havre de Grace, Maryland

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

Concord Point Lighthouse
700 Concord Street
Havre de Grace, Maryland

Searching for ghosts among Victorian newspaper sometimes leads to serendipitous discoveries. While hunting ghosts in Georgia newspapers, I ran across this brief news item from Maryland.
 

The Fayetteville News
Fayetteville, Georgia
15 February 1889
Courtesy of the Digital Library of Georgia

A Perfumed Ghost.
_____

A ghost haunts the light-house at Havre de Grace, Md. The keeper of the light-house said, recently: “The head of the man, devil, woman, or whatever it was, appeared to rest against the wire frame around the lantern. The top of the head was covered in black, and the eyes and yellowish-looking inch or so of the forehead above them appeared set in a frame of black. Its eyes were as big as those of a cow, and sparkled just like two big diamonds. There was no expression about them as they moved and quivered in the lantern light.” He couldn’t look long at them, as they affected his eyes more than the bright steady flame of the lantern. Where the figure appeared, it left a strong odor of cologne. The place which generally smells of oil, was then filled with a perfume like a flower garden.

The Havre de Grace Lighthouse, as it was officially known, was constructed in 1827 by John Donohoo, who constructed a number of Chesapeake Bay lighthouses in the early 19th century. The light is situated at the point where the Susquehanna River enters the bay and was authorized by the Maryland General Assembly after numerous wrecks occurred at this point. For much of its history, the light was operated by members of the O’Neill family starting with the very first keeper, John O’Neill. The light was discontinued by the coast guard in 1975. The light has been restored and is currently operated as a museum.

Concord Point Lighthouse Havre de Grace Maryland
The Concord Point Lighthouse, 2005, by Derek Ramsey, courtesy of Wikipedia.

This story from 1889 could be considered the first documented story of paranormal activity at the lighthouse. Several recent sources contend that activity remains at the site. Ed Okonowicz, who has venerably collected ghostlore from the Chesapeake region, notes that a number of locals walking near the lighthouse at night have seen a “slow-moving shadow in the upper windows of the light tower,” while a dark figure has been encountered near the memorial cannon at the tower’s base. Author Amelia Cotter includes the lighthouse in her book, Maryland Ghosts. Her account mentions that the body of a murder victim was discovered on lighthouse grounds in 1994. She believes that his spirit may remain here as well.

Sources

  • Cotter, Amelia. Maryland Ghosts: Paranormal Encounters in the Free State, 2nd Haunted Road Media, 2015.
  • Okonowicz, Ed. The Big Book of Maryland Ghost Stories. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2010.
  • “A Perfumed Ghost.” Fayetteville News. 15 February 1889.
  • Whittington, W.M. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the Havre de Grace Light. 25 November 1975.

Cherry-picked history—Goldsboro, North Carolina

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

Cherry Research Farm (formerly Cherry Hospital)
604 Farm Road
Goldsboro, North Carolina

Ghost stories pop up in unusual places. These stories are often so entwined with history that these tales and stories pop up in places that are often unexpected. Today’s example is a story that appears in Modern Farmer magazine. While its pages usually discuss practical subjects such as antibiotic use in chickens or soy production, an article about sustainable agriculture research in North Carolina piqued my interest. It seems that the haunted grounds of Cherry Hospital in North Carolina have become an agricultural research station since the hospital’s move to its new, urban facility.

Cherry Hospital Goldsboro North Carolina
An undated postcard of Cherry Hospital.

“You must have heard,” the agricultural scientist remarks in the article, “Cherry Hospital has a strange history.” The history of the hospital recalls the brutal treatment of the mentally ill, and even worse, the archaic views of race that persisted in the South in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Throughout the 19th century, states established facilities to deal with the mentally ill and those who stood apart from society. Mental illness encompassed people who thought beyond their social station, independent women, those with “unnatural sexual desires,” and masturbators; as well as the depressed, anxious, and those with more serious mental illnesses. During Reconstruction, many of these facilities were actively segregated and new facilities created for African-Americans. This is where Cherry Hospital was established.

The North Carolina Asylum for Colored Insane opened its doors in 1880. The facility operated specifically for African-Americans until the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 when the Cherry Hospital—as it was renamed in 1959 for former governor R. Gregg Cherry—was forced to open its doors to all North Carolinians. Thousands of acres surrounding the hospital were cultivated by patients in what is now deemed “horticultural therapy.” These vast acres have been overseen by the state’s Department of Agriculture since 1974.

An undated postcard of Cherry Hospital.
An undated postcard of Cherry Hospital.

However, Cherry Hospital’s treatment of its patients has not always just included the genial sounding horticultural therapy. Patients have endured a cavalcade of therapeutic abuses including electroshock therapy and being placed in cages as well as simple neglect. An entire ward of the hospital was closed in 2008 after a patient was neglected for almost an entire day. That patient died after being found unresponsive. In 2016, the original hospital closed and moved into a new facility within the city limits of Goldsboro. Since much of the land surrounding the original hospital was owned by the state department of agriculture, the whole facility has been transformed into the Cherry Research Farm.

Perhaps the saddest story from this facility became the subject of a 2007 book, Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson. A 17-year-old African-American man, Junius Wilson, was incarcerated here in 1925 on charges of rape. The young man could not communicate verbally, except through grunts and hand gestures, which were interpreted as being signs of mental illness. Mr. Wilson spent most of his life at Cherry Hospital before a social worker identified him as simply being deaf. Wilson’s grunting and wild gesticulation was simply a form of sign language used by African-Americans in the South. He was released and allowed to live his remaining days in a small cottage on the hospital grounds where he passed away in 2001.

Of course, the environment in places of such mental and physical travail, is often imprinted with profound human emotions: the despair of depression, the anguish of anxiety, or perhaps the confusion that marks disorders like schizophrenia. Rumors of hauntings have been passed among locals for years. In fact, the Modern Farmer mentions that some of these rumors and stories have been documented in a book. I suppose this is Margaret Langley’s series of books on Cherry’s sister facility, Broughton Hospital in Morganton. The third volume of her series includes stories from other mental facilities and hospitals in the state.

Langley, an R.N. who worked at Broughton, began collecting ghost stories during her time at the hospital. These stories eventually included stories from a number of other hospitals including Cherry from which she published several. Most of these stories involved elevators. One particular story involved a staff member who boarded an elevator only to notice someone else walking up to the doors as they were closing. Hitting the open doors button, the staff member was surprised when the doors opened to reveal no one else on the other side. Another staff member reported hearing the elevators operating in a portion of a building under renovation. These buildings were not occupied at the time and the elevators required keys to function.

Other than this source, there are few other texts that specifically speak to the haunting of this facility except for storyteller Randy Russell’s 2014 book, The Ghost Will See You Now: Haunted Hospitals of the South. In it, Russell explores stories of band music being heard within the facility. The hospital did have a band for patients and Russell reports that this band may still play on accompanied by the shuffling of feet as patients danced and whirled.

Sources

  • Barth, Brian. “The strange, horrifying history of Cherry Research Farm in North Carolina.” Modern Farmer. 11 December 2017.
  • Burch, Susan. Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson. Chapel Hill, NC: U. of NC Press, 2007.
  • Cherry Hospital. org. Accessed 30 December 2019.
  • Langley, Margaret. Haunted Broughton, Book III: History and Horror. CreateSpace, 2016.
  • Russell, Randy. The Ghost Will See You Now: Haunted Hospitals of the South. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2014.
  • “Ward where mental patient died closes at Cherry Hospital.” WRAL. 22 August 2008.

Saved because of a song—Columbus, Georgia

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

Columbus Stockade
700 East 10th Street
Columbus, Georgia

Way down in Columbus, Georgia,
Wanted back in Tennessee,
Way down in Columbus Stockade,
Friends have turned their backs on me.
–Jimmie Tarlton & Tom Darby, “Columbus Stockade Blues,” (1927)

In her 2012 book, Haunted Columbus, Georgia, Faith Serafin relates a story that happened to a trio of sheriff’s deputies in 1990. A deputy noticed a light inside the old Columbus Stockade building adjacent to the modern Muscogee County Jail. Knowing that the building should have been empty at that hour, the deputy asked two of his colleagues to walk over to the building with him to check it out.

Entering the building, the deputies encountered the stench of rotting flesh. Assuming that an animal had died inside, the men split up to find the decaying remains. One of the deputies backed up against a cell and had something pull him against the bars. As he screamed out of shock and fear, the other deputies came running.

It took the strength of two deputies to free their frightened colleague. The three men searched for the culprit, but were surprised to find the cell and the whole building empty.

Like so many other jails and prisons I have covered, see the Kentucky State Penitentiary; LaGrange, Georgia’s LaGrange Art Museum; West Virginia’s Moundsville Penitentiary; and Charleston, South Carolina’s Old City Jail, the architecture chosen for the structure was meant to evoke a sense of foreboding and oppression. The Columbus Stockade employs heavy architecture with Italianate elements that add a sense of lightness and also help it to blend with the other buildings of that period.

ghosts Columbus Stockade Georgia haunted
An undated photo of the old Columbus Stockade.

There is a question of when the building was built. In her recent history of the city, Virginia Causey notes that building may date to as early as 1858, though she believes it was likely built around 1870. The preparers of the Georgia Historic Resources form which was used when listing the building on the National Register of Historic Places, state that the building is made up of two structures that were likely connected in the early 1900s. Originally, these buildings housed both the police department offices and the jail, and the building was used to incarcerate inmates until 1972.

After closing, the suggestion was made to demolish the building, but history-minded locals saved the structure based on, of all things, an old country song.

In 1927, a pair of local musicians, Tom Darby and Jimmie Tarleton wrote and recorded a song, the Columbus Stockade Blues.” After recording the song, the pair made the regrettable choice of accepting a flat payment of $75 rather than signing a contract for royalties. The song was a hit and sold two hundred thousand records in the first year alone. While the song put Columbus and its stockade on the map, the song’s writers lived out the remainder of their lives in obscurity.

It turns out that neither Darby nor Tarleton spent any time in the place they made famous, but it seems that a number of spirits remain incarcerated in the old stockade.

Sources

  • Alexander, Nancy, Roger Harris & Janice P. Biggers. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. 2 December 1980.
  • Causey, Virginia E. Red Clay White Water & Blues: A History of Columbus, Georgia. Athens, GA: U. of GA Press, 2019.
  • Kyle, Clason F. “Fate Unsure: Stockade ‘Way Down’.” Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. 23 April 1978.
  • Serafin, Faith. Haunted Columbus, Georgia. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2012.

“The damnedest multiplex this side of Hell”—Tampa, Florida

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

Britton Cinema 8
3938 South Dale Mabry Highway (US-92)
Tampa, Florida

A 2012 article from the Tampa CBS affiliate describes the city as “the damnedest city this side of Hell,” and with that the Britton Cinema 8 could be called “the damnedest multiplex this side of Hell.” The article goes on to note that there’s no rhyme or reason for the theatre to be haunted, but it is, apparently.

The Britton Theater opened in 1956 and was hailed as being the “first modern indoor theater in 32 years.” Situated in the Britton Plaza Shopping Center, the theater had been built for $750,000 and sat 2,200 patrons in front of a single, large, seamless screen measuring 60-feet across. Seven years later, the large auditorium was split into three separate theatres, with the building being divided into 8 screens in 1992. This multiplex remains in operation.

Tampa Times 1956 ad opening Britton Theater Tampa Florida
Advertisement for the opening of the Britton Theater, 1956, from the Tampa Times.

An anonymous report from the Ghosts of America website describes an encounter a patron had in the building around 2009 or 2010. This patron took advantage of a $1 movie ticket deal the theater offered on Tuesday nights. As the movie started, the patron looked around and realized that they were the only person in the theatre. About a third of the way through the movie, the patron spied an older woman sitting in a seat across the aisle, but she had apparently disappeared a short time later. The patron then noticed a man in the theater who was seated in a different place every time they looked, though they never saw that person move. When they left, there was no one in the theater. The patron reported that they were not frightened by this, only perplexed.

The patron spoke to a friend who worked at the Britton 8 who had numerous experiences while working there. One of the most prominent things to occur happened in the employee corridor that links all of the projection rooms. A large piece of equipment used to transfer heavy reels of film was moved one evening to block the entrance door to the corridor. Curious as to why the door could not be opened, the employees had to enter the corridor via the fire escape.

Most sources note that nothing in the theater’s history indicates why the theater is haunted. Perhaps the spirits are just attracted to the films?

Sources

  • Tampa, Florida Ghost Sightings.” Accessed 26 December 2019.
  • Britton 8 Theater.” CinemaTreasures.org. Accessed 26 December 2019.
  • “Britton Theater, Tampa’s Largest, Will Seat 2000.” The Tampa Times. 15 August 1956.
  • Mole, Amanda. “Tampa Bay’s most haunted places.” CBS Tampa. 25 October 2012.