“The swift sword of Erin”—Sharpsburg, Maryland

Antietam National Battlefield
5831 Dunker Church Road
Sharpsburg, Maryland

Avenging and bright fall the swift sword of Erin
On him who the brave sons of Usna betray’d!
For every fond eye he hath waken’d a tear in
A drop from his heart-wounds shall weep o’er her blade.

 We swear to avenge them! – no joy shall be tasted,
The harp shall be silent, the maiden unwed,
Our halls shall be mute, and our fields shall lie wasted,
Till vengeance is wreak’d on the murderer’s head.

–Thomas Moore

Georgians should never be pissed off before breakfast. At least this was sentiment expressed by a Georgia soldier (many of whom were likely of Irish stock) from one of General John Bell Hood’s (the Hoods were of old Dutch stock, via New York and Kentucky) divisions when he wrote about the morning of September 17, 1862. The soldier complained, “Just as we began to cook our rations near daylight, we were shelled and ordered into formation. I have never seen a more disgusted bunch of boys and mad as hornets.”

General Robert E. Lee (of English stock) was attempting an invasion of Maryland from which he could terrorize Pennsylvania and, hopefully, bring about a swift end to the war. But, General George B. McClellan’s (from Scottish stock) Army of the Potomac had doggedly pursued him and barred his way towards the Keystone State.

Alexander Gardner’s photo of Confederate dead along the Hagerstown Pike near the cornfields where the initial fighting took place, 1862.

In quiet cornfields on the outskirts of Sharpsburg, Maryland, Union General Joseph Hooker (of English stock) hurled his forces at the Confederates stationed near the Hagerstown Pike. Both armies fed multiple divisions into the conflagration in a cornfield watched over by a modest church built for a German Protestant sect, the Dunkers. Into this meat-grinder soldiers of vast and varied heritage met gun-barrel to gun-barrel with their brothers from Wisconsin, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas. By 10 o’clock that morning, some 8,000 men lay dead or wounded.

As carnage washed over Miller’s Cornfield, Confederates took up a position in an old farm road that decades of wagon wheels had eroded below the landscape, an old, sunken road. Around midday, Union forces were directed to attack this surprisingly strong position and each was mowed down. Fourth in line for this onslaught was the 69th New York Infantry, known as the Irish Brigade, led by General Thomas Francis Meagher.

Undated photograph of Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher.

Meagher was of solid Irish stock, having been born in the Irish city of Waterford in 1823. His father, a merchant and politician, was a Canadian citizen, though he was born in County Tipperary, Ireland. Young Thomas Francis received his education at the hands of Jesuits in Ireland and later Britain before he settled in Dublin where he became involved in the Irish Nationalist movement.

In the village of Ballingarry, in South Tipperary, Meagher and other “Young Irelanders,” led an attack on a local police unit in 1848. After the police called in reinforcements, Meagher and the other rebels fled. They were arrested and put on trial for treason. The leaders of the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 were sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered in the British tradition, but a public outcry led the judge to commute their sentence to being exiled to the British penal colony in Tasmania, Australia.

Arriving in Australia, nearly all of these political convicts escaped with Meagher and John Mitchel making their way for New York City where both settled and became prominent activists and journalists. Taking up the cause of slavery, Mitchel found his way to Knoxville, Tennessee, where he started the Southern Citizen newspaper, and later he served as editor for the Richmond, Virginia newspaper, the Richmond Enquirer. After the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, Meagher was moved to support the Union, despite previous sympathies with the South and his friend, Mitchel.

Of his decision to support the Union, Meagher wrote, “It is not only our duty to America, but also to Ireland. We could not hope to succeed in our effort to make Ireland a Republic without the moral and material support of the liberty-loving citizens of these United States.” He recruited his fellow countrymen and built Company K of the 69th Infantry Regiment, New York Volunteers, which was now being sent into the hail of gunfire and artillery towards the Sunken Road.

Brig, General Meagher and the Irish Brigade at the Battle of Fair Oaks, 1 June 1862, by Currier & Ives. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

To remind his men of the Irish heritage, Meagher wanted to present each man with a shamrock before the battle, but as none were available, he presented the men with sprigs of boxwood instead. The ranks lined up for their charge into the valley of death while the brigade’s chaplain, Father William Corby, rode up and down giving the men conditional absolution. With their emerald green flags flapping in the breeze, the Irish Brigade marched into the fray with an old, Irish battle cry, “Faugh-a-ballagh!” or “clear the way.” Around 540 of his men were killed before the brigade was withdrawn from the field. Meagher reportedly fell from his horse with some reports that he was drunk, while the official Union report presented to General McClellan states that his horse had been shot.

A statue at the Gettysburg Battlefield of Father William Corby with his hand raised in absolution. Photo by Samuel Murray, 2010, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Following the Irish Brigade’s bravery on the field of glory, the Union was able to beat back the Confederates from the Sunken Road, which earned this once peaceful farm road the gory moniker, “Bloody Lane.” The battle progressed south to a picturesque stone bridge on Antietam Creek where the battle concluded with nothing gained by either side. To historians, the battle proved to be the bloodiest day in American history with some 23,000 souls killed, wounded, or missing.

The battlefield at Antietam has been preserved by the National Park Service and it is considered one of the best preserved Civil War battlefields in the country. With all the blood that stained the battlefield that day, it’s no surprise that echoes of the battle still ring across the fields and vaporous martial apparitions continue to appear. One of the most commonly told stories from the battlefield concerns the a visit from a class from the McDonogh School, a private school in Owings Mills, Maryland. After touring the battlefield, the teacher allowed the students to wander the park, consider the events that took place there, and write their impressions. When the teacher began reading the students’ papers he was shocked to read that some students heard shouts coming from the Bloody Lane that sounded like someone singing a Christmas carol, something that sounded like “fa-la-la-la!” Was this the old Irish battle cry from the Irish Brigade of “Faugh-a-ballagh?”

Bloody Lane at Antietam, 2005. Photo b y Chris Light, courtesy of Wikipedia.

In his 2012 book, Civil War Ghost Trails, former park ranger Mark Nesbitt includes another fascinating story that asks if the spirits of the Confederates killed at Bloody Lane may also be active. Some years ago, a group of Civil War reenactors decided to camp at Bloody Lane. Just after settling down, the uniformed reenactors began to hear whispering and moaning as well as feeling odd chills. One-by-one they escaped to the safety of their cars leaving one reenactor alone on the battlefield. As they settled into their cars, the men a shriek and saw the reenactor stumbling back from field.

Still shaking from his experience, the reenactor told his friends that he was laying within on the old road. He had heard the same sounds that frightened the others, but he only thought their imaginations were getting the best of them. Suddenly he saw a hand rise from the ground between his chest and his arm. With brute force the hand began to press on his chest as if to pull him into the earth. After he began screaming, the arm vanished.

Sources

  • Battle of Antietam. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 17 March 2018.
  • McPherson, James M. Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam. NYC: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • John Mitchel. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 17 March 2018.
  • Nesbitt, Mark. Civil War Trails: Stories from America’s Most Haunted Battlefields. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2012.
  • Okonowicz, Ed. The Big Book of Maryland Ghost Stories. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2010.
  • Thomas Francis Meagher. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 17 March 2018.
  • Taylor, Troy. “Haunted Maryland, The Antietam Battlefield, Sharpsburg, Maryland.” Ghosts of the Prairie.
  • Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 17 March 2018.

Eight-sided Spirits–Kentucky

N. B. This article has been expanded and revised 16 December 2019.

Octagon Hall
6040 Bowling Green Road
Franklin, Kentucky

As the birthplace of both Abraham Lincoln and his Confederate counterpart Jefferson Davis, Kentucky could be considered the birthplace of the American Civil War. Though, when its Southern neighbors began to secede from the Union, the state attempted to remain neutral. When the Confederate army invaded the state and occupied Columbus, Kentucky on the Mississippi River, all hell began to break loose. A Confederate shadow government was created to oppose the Unionist state government already in place and the state joined the Confederacy in December of 1861. The provisional capital at Bowling Green had to be evacuated the following year and some eight to ten thousand fleeing soldiers camped on the grounds of Andrew Caldwell’s estate with its unique eight-sided home outside of Franklin. The soldiers only camped on the estate overnight before heading into Tennessee.

Two days later, pursuing Union troops swept through the plantation and continued to frequently search the grounds for hidden Confederates while they held the area. Wounded soldiers, knowing of the Caldwell’s pro-Confederate leanings, sought out the house as a hiding place. A story told by the Caldwell family involves soldiers being hidden in the cupola that once topped the house. Mr. Caldwell kept bees in the cupola and Confederates would be dressed in bee suits and hidden there. When Union troops would search the house, the bees prevented them from searching the cupola

haunted Octagon Hall Franklin Kentucky ghosts
Octagon Hall, 2008, by Kentondickerson. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

 

Andrew Jackson Caldwell began construction on this unique plantation home in 1847 completing it in 1859. The home’s location: on the Nashville & Louisville Turnpike (now U. S. Route 31W) and the Louisville & Nashville Railroad (about a mile east of the road) made this home a landmark for travelers and locals alike. Throughout the home’s history it remained a private residence until 2001, when the Octagon Hall Foundation took over the house transforming it into a house museum.

A host of spirits remain at Octagon Hall. Some investigators have suggested that the building’s unusual shape and limestone bricks may exacerbate the hauntings. Keith Fournier, a paranormal investigator who investigated the house many times, told the Bowling Green Daily Times that the house is “probably one of the most haunted sites in the country. For its size…there’s more evidence caught in that location than for any other location oi its size in the country.”

haunted Octagon Hall Franklin Kentucky ghosts
Rear view of Octagon Hall, 2008, by Kentondickerson. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

One of the primary spectral residents is the spirit of Mary Elizabeth Caldwell, daughter of Octagon Hall’s builder. Young Mary was around seven years of age when she died in 1854. Legend purports that the child was playing in the kitchen when her dress caught fire. During some of his investigations, Fournier has heard the child weeping in the house accompanied by the deep male voice speaking in a Southern drawl.

The museum’s executive director had an experience with the child’s spirit only three or four weeks after his arrival. “We were doing renovations in the basement and I saw a little girl. I thought she was a tourist and I said, ‘can I help you?’’ When the child vanished, he stood there with his mouth agape. Many others have seen other spirits roaming the grounds including Confederate soldiers and shadow figures.

Sources

  • Episode 2. “Octagon Hall.” Most Terrifying Places in America, Season 7. Travel Channel. Originally aired 22 October 2010.
  • French, Jackson. “SyFy’s ‘Ghost Hunters’ to lead ghost hunt at Octagon Hall.” Bowling Green Daily News. 13 April 2018.
  • History.” Octagon Hall Museum. Accessed 16 December 2019.
  • Kentucky in the American Civil War. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 13 December 2010.
  • Swietek, Wes. “Sites throughout the region full of ghostly lore.” Bowling Green Daily News. 10 October 2015.
  • Westmoreland-Doherty, Lisa. Kentucky Spirits Undistilled. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2009.

“There surges forth a shriek…Maryland, my Maryland!”

But lo! there surges forth a shriek,
From hill to hill, from creek to creek-
Potomac calls to Chesapeake,
Maryland! My Maryland!
–from Stanza VII, “Maryland, my Maryland” by James Ryder Randall (1861), state song of Maryland since 1939.

Point Lookout State Park
11175 Point Lookout Road
Scotland, Maryland

N.B. This article was first published on Courtney Mroch’s Haunt Jaunts 14 September 2016.

Where the Potomac River calls to and meets the Chesapeake Bay at a place called Point Lookout, shrieks sometimes rend the quiet night air. The shrieks and cries may come from the throats of the countless men who withered and died in the Union prison camp here or perhaps they are shrieks of terror from the living who have encountered the active spirits who haunt this place. Here in this wild and lonely place, apparitions are frequently accompanied by audible echoes of the past and negative energies of the past are still palpable in the salty breeze from the Chesapeake Bay.

Point Lookout Scotland Maryland ghosts haunted
Waves crash on a breakwater just offshore from Point Lookout. Photo by Matt Tillett, 2008. Courtesy of Flickr.

Seemingly squashed between Virginia and Pennsylvania and hemmed in by the Chesapeake Bay, Delaware, and West Virginia, Maryland seems to be more of an afterthought as a state, though it is perhaps one of the more important states in the early history of this country. In terms of the paranormal landscape, Maryland is also not well regarded, though it could be seen as one of the more haunted states in the South if not the country. From the small villages clustered along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay to the Washington, D.C. suburbs, Baltimore, Annapolis, the battlefield-pocked farmland of Washington County to the mountains of Western Maryland, the state is haunted to its core. Among its contributions to American paranormal studies are the 1949 exorcism of a young boy in Cottage City (a Washington, D.C. suburb in Prince George’s County) that forms the basis of William Peter Blatty’s novel, The Exorcist; the persistent legend of a goatman-like creature near Beltsville (also near Washington); and numerous macabre near-mythical characters including the killer Patty Cannon, the vengeful slave Big Lizz, the Pig Woman of Cecil County. Haunted landmarks include the USS Constitution docked in Baltimore Harbor, the Antietam battlefield, the Landon House in Urbana, Governor’s Bridge, the University of Maryland in College Park, and historic and haunted cities such as Ellicott City and Frederick.

Point Lookout is the most southern tip of St. Mary’s County, the oldest established county in the state having been established in 1637. The area was first explored by Captain John Smith (yes, the one of Pocahontas fame) in 1608 who noted the abundant fish and game, the fertile soil, and the strategic military importance of this spot. Over the next couple centuries settlers here endured attacks from Native Americans and the site’s military importance brought a raid from British forces during the American Revolution. After a number of ships were lost on the shoals just offshore from Point Lookout, the government built a lighthouse in 1830. Despite the warning beacon, some catastrophic shipwrecks still occurred here including the USS Tulip which sank with 47 souls after a boiler explosion, and the tragic breakup of the steamship Express during the Great Gale of 1878 with the loss of 16 souls.

Point Lookout Scotland Maryland ghosts haunted rebel prisoner Civil War
A rebel prisoner photographed by L. V. Newell. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

The Civil War brought thousands to this little peninsula with the establishment in 1862 of Hammond General Hospital to care for wounded soldiers. The immense building could house 1,400 patients and consisted of 16 buildings arranged as the spokes in a wheel. A short distance from the hospital Camp Hoffman was established the next year to house Confederate prisoners of war. In The Photographic History of the Civil War, the camp is described: “No barracks were erected, but tents were used instead…The prison was the largest in the North, and at times nearly twenty thousand were in confinement…in winter the air was cold and damp, and the ground upon which most men lay was also damp.” In this rude prison—nearly all prison camps during this war were rude and inhumane—some 3,000 Confederate troops perished from disease and exposure to the elements. With this dark history it’s no wonder that Point Lookout is teeming with activity.

Point Lookout Scotland Maryland ghosts haunted Confederate Monument
Point Lookout Confederate Monument. Photo taken for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) by David Haas, 2006. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

In 1992 on the FOX TV show, Sightings, paranormal investigator Lynda Martin says of Point Lookout: “This has to be one of the places that I’ve investigated, that it’s just the whole area is just full of activity. It’s not just localized to just one building or one spot on the grounds, it includes the whole area. I’ve never come in contact with anything like that before.” After a 1980 paranormal investigation here involving Hans Holzer, the pioneering paranormal researcher and early ghost hunter, he declared, “that place is haunted as hell!” For decades, reports have been filtering out from Point Lookout from staff and visitors alike regarding paranormal activity here. What makes these reports so interesting and important is the wide variety of experiences and the evidence that has been captured.

Some years ago a reenactor was spending the night in an old guardhouse near Fort Lincoln, one of the earthen forts built to defend the prison stockade. Going out after dark to gather firewood, the man knelt down and heard the distinct sound of a bullet whizzing past his head. A window pane in the guardhouse behind him was struck and shattered. Shaking with fright from his near-death encounter, the reenactor fled the area. Returning the next morning, he was shocked to find that all the window panes were perfectly in place and none had been shattered.

It is perhaps the old lighthouse here that serves best as a beacon for spirits. Various caretakers have lived in the early 19th-century structure and many of them have had experiences. It was one of these caretakers living here in the late 1970s who asked paranormal investigators to check out the activity after he had numerous experiences in the building. One evening as the caretaker sat at his kitchen table he was overcome with the sensation of being watched. Walking to the door he saw the visage of a man wearing a floppy hat looking back at him through the window. His curiosity was aroused by the strange visitor and the caretaker opened the door to let him in. The figure turned and walked through the screen that enclosed the porch. The same caretaker regularly reported hearing voices, footsteps, moaning, and snoring throughout the house when he was home alone.

Point Lookout Scotland Maryland ghosts haunted Lighthouse
Point Lookout Lighthouse, 2013, by Jeremy Smith. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A park ranger reported that he saw a Confederate soldier running across the road near where the camp hospital once stood. Over the years that he served at the park he claimed to have seen the soldier nearly a dozen times. A group of fishermen arriving early one morning reportedly struck a man who suddenly appeared in the road ahead of them. The group exited the vehicle to find no man or damage to the car, though they had all experienced the thump of the man’s body hitting the car. Another park employee on patrol one night turned to see a field of white tents lined up in the middle of the road. She fled without looking back.

In terms of auditory evidence, Sarah Estep, one of the pioneers in the field of EVP or electronic voice phenomena, was a part of the 1980 investigation and captured a number of EVP here. Among the EVPs captured was one saying, “let’s talk,” while another EVP came in response to Estep’s question, “were you a soldier here?” The clear voice of a young man states, “I was seeing the war.” These EVPs were among some 25 captured during this investigation. Others have successfully captured singing, humming, and even the chanting of soldiers on tape when nothing was heard at the time.

From the ominous lighthouse to the spiritual artifacts remaining from the Civil War prison camps, Point Lookout remains one of the most important historical and paranormal landmarks in the South.

Sources

  • Charles, TBN. “Troubled spirits are restless at one Southern Maryland site.” The Bay Net. 22 October 2015.
  • Cotter, Amelia. Maryland Ghosts: Paranormal Encounters in the Free State, 2nd Ed. Haunted Road Media, 2015
  • Davis, William C. & Bell I. Wiley, eds. Photographic History of the Civil War, Vicksburg to Appomattox. NYC: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 1983.
  • Gallagher, Trish. Ghosts and Haunted Houses of Maryland. Tidewater Publishers, 1988.
  • “Legends of Point Lookout. Bay Weekly, Vol. 8, No. 42. 19-25 October 2000.
  • Oconowicz, Ed. Big Book of Maryland Ghost Stories. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2010.
  • Point Lookout Light. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 2 November 2017.
  • Point Lookout State Park. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 2 November 2017.
  • Rasmussen, Frederick N. “A grisly past continues to haunt Point Lookout.” Baltimore Sun. 27 October 2007.
  • Varhola, Michael J. & Michael H. Varhola. Ghosthunting Maryland. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2009.
  • Winkler/Daniel Productions. Sightings, Season 1, Episode 2. Aired 28 February 1992.

Florida Hauntings, County by County–Part I

This is part one of a project to examine a ghost story from every single county in Florida.

See part I (Alachua-Brevard Counties) here.
See part II (Broward-Clay Counties) here.

 Alachua County

Beaty Towers
University of Florida
Gainesville

Beaty Towers, 2011, by Porsche997SBS. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Built in 1967, this modern student dormitory building is supposedly the domain of the spirit of a young woman who committed suicide. Local lore relates that this young woman, distraught over a failed relationship or a pregnancy leapt to her death from her dorm room window. The spirit has been heard sobbing and seen walking the halls. She also gets the blame when student’s things go missing. When pressed, most university officials have denied that anyone has died in this building, though Tom Ogden notes that a university historian spoke of a suicide here.

Sources

  • Dailey, Erin. “Feeling brave? Gainesville’s greatest haunts.” Gainesville Scene. 30 October 2013.
  • Enkerud, Mark. “UF campus holds decades of legends, ghost stories.” Independent Florida Alligator. 16 August 2009.
  • Ogden, Tom. Haunted Colleges and Universities. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 2014.
  • Williamson, Amanda. “Gainesville and surrounding areas boast a collection of haunted tales.” Gainesville Sun. 28 October 2012.

Baker County

Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park
US-90
Olustee

 In February of 1864, Union forces set out from occupied Jacksonville, Florida with the intent of making inroads into the state to cut supply lines, free slaves, and possibly recruit African-Americans for service in the Union army. Heading west towards Lake City, the Union forces under Brigadier General Truman Seymour encountered entrenched Confederates under the command of Brigadier General Joseph Finegan at Olustee Station near Ocean Pond. Among the union forces involved in this battle was the 54thMassachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, one of the first and most well-known African-American units.

Olustee Battlefield entrance sign, 2007. Photo by Ebyabe. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Fighting through the thick forest of palmetto and pine, the almost equally pitted troops (5,000 Confederates versus 5,500 Union troops) fought throughout the afternoon of February 20. The Confederates repulsed the Union troops and inflicted heavy casualties, causing the Union to lose some 40% of their forces (203 killed, 1,152 wounded, and 506 missing, a total of 1,861 men) while the Confederates lost about 20% of their forces (93 killed, 847 wounded, and 6 missing, a total of 946 casualties in all). Union forces retreated to Jacksonville after being beaten back.

The battlefield, created as Florida’s first state park in 1912, is home to an annual reenactment during which re-enactors have had a number of odd experiences primarily involving full-bodied apparitions. One of the more interesting of these was an encounter between a re-enactor on a horse and a spectral Union soldier. The specter appeared and tripped the horse throwing the rider. Before the re-enactor could recover, he was smacked in the face by a rifle butt. Looking around, the shaken re-enactor searched for evidence of the soldier who tripped him, no footprints or any evidence was found. While no other documented encounters have been as violent, many have seen apparitions of soldiers.

Other tales recall the spectral sounds of war frequently heard here including the sounds of men shouting and gunfire. Investigators here have also captured some very interesting EVPs including a voice that responded, “Damn, I’m dead” when told that the spirit died in battle here.

Sources

  • Battle of OlusteeWikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 27 November 2010.
  • Brown, Alan. Stories from the Haunted South. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2004.
  • Lapham, Dave. Ghosthunting Florida. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2010.
  • Messick, Bonnie. “’Local Haunts’ TV show features Jacksonville ghost hunters.” 29 September 2010.

Bay County

Holiday Inn Resort
11127 Front Beach Road
Panama City Beach

 Panama City Beach is often associated with the rowdy Spring Break activities of high school and college students. Over the past few decades as Spring Break has become more and more a riotous celebration, young men, feeling invincible thanks to youth and fortified by alcohol, have engaged in “balcony diving.” Climbing up buildings Spiderman-like, despite state laws banning the practice, some have fallen and been seriously injured or killed. The spirit that has been seen on the upper floors of this modern resort is reportedly decked out in typical Spring Break attire—a white t-shirt, colorful shorts, and sunglasses on a cord around his neck—but the figure is missing his head. Perhaps this spirit remains to warn others to not engage in the same dangerous behavior.

Sources

  • Lewis, Chad and Terry Fisk. The Florida Road Guide to Haunted Locations. Eau Claire, WI: Unexplained Research Publishing Company, 2010.

Bradford County

Florida State Prison
7819 Northwest 228th Street
Raiford

When they find me they must kill me,
Oh Jesus, save my soul!
I can’t go back down to Raiford,
I can’t take that anymore.

–Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Four Walls of Raiford” (1987)

Shortly before his execution in the electric chair here, serial killer Ted Bundy confessed that he was afraid to die. Despite his personal fear, Bundy led more than 30 victims to face death throughout the west and in Florida. It was at the Chi Omega sorority house at Florida State University in Tallahassee in 1978 where Bundy attacked four sisters killing two of them and disappeared into the night. A few weeks later, Bundy abducted and killed a 12-year-old girl from her junior high school in Lake City. After being found guilty of these murders, Bundy was incarcerated here while he awaited his appointment with the electric chair, January 24, 1989.

A former guard reported in 2001 that several guards witnessed the apparition of Bundy “sitting casually on the electric chair,” smirking at them. So many staff members encountered the spirit that the warden could not find anyone willing to enter the execution chamber alone. Others saw Bundy in his former holding cell on death row. Blogger Lon Strikler of the blog, Phantoms and Monsters, published two emails he received regarding the spirit of Bundy. One email was from a local construction worker who saw a spirit resembling Bundy walk past him accompanied by the form of a young woman. Another email from an inmate reveals that inmates have frequently seen Bundy’s smirking spirit strolling through one of the housing units.

Sources

  • Ramsland, Katherine. “Ted Bundy’s Ghost.” Psychology Today. 27 October 2012
  • Strikler, Lon. “Recent ‘Ted Bundy’ Ghost Sighting.” Phantoms and Monsters Blog. 17 August 2015.
  • Word, Ron. “Survivors are haunted by memory of Ted Bundy 10 years after execution.” Seattle Times. 24 January 1999.

Brevard

Ashley’s of Rockledge
1609 US-1
Rockledge

Ashley’s, 2010, by Leonard J. DeFrancisci. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Some believe that Ethel Allen’s rough road to her grave included a stop at Jack’s Tavern, her favorite local hangout. Several years ago, I wrote about paranormal investigators conducting an EVP session at Ms. Allen’s grave in the Crooked Mile or Georgiana Cemetery on Merritt Island. After asking if she was present, investigators received a reply, “yes.”

On November 21, 1934, Ethel Allen’s mutilated body was found on the banks of the Indian River in Eau Gallie, some 16 miles away. The nineteen-year-old had been seen just a few days before when she stopped at a local packing house to say goodbye to a friend. Ethel was leaving to visit her mother, accompanied by a male acquaintance and she may have also stopped by her favorite local hangout, Jack’s Tavern, now Ashley’s of Rockledge. The Tudor-style restaurant has paranormal activity, some of which has been attributed to Ethel Allen.

A variety of sources state that Ethel may have been murdered within the walls of the restaurant in a storeroom (possibly near the famously haunted ladies restroom) or just outside the building. A local genealogy blog makes no mention of where Ethel may have met her end, but I get the feeling it probably was not in or around the busy tavern. The stories of the restaurant’s haunting are readily available though they seem to perpetuate different variations of the murder.

The activity runs the gamut from simple, cold breezes to voices and screams to full apparitions being seen and captured on film. Some sources also note that the activity does not seem to be limited to just the possible shade of Ethel Allen. There are other possible spirits including a child and an adult male. It seems that Ashley’s may be one of the most paranormally active restaurants in the state.

Sources

  • Boonstra, Michael. “1934 Murder of Cocoa’s Ethel Allen.” Michael’s Genealogy and Brevard County History Blog. 9 April 2011.
  • History. Ashley’s of Rockledge. Accessed 3 November 2014.
  • Jenkins, Greg. Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore: Vol. 1 South and Central Florida. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2005.
  • Neale, Rick. Brevard’s spookiest spots are dead center for teams of specter-spotters.” Florida Today. 27 October 2013.
  • Thuma, Cynthia and Catherine Lower. Haunted Florida. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2008.
  • Walls, Kathleen. Finding Florida Phantoms. Global Authors Publications, 2004.

Street Guide to the Phantoms of the French Quarter—Chartres Street

N.B. This article was edited and revised 30 April 2020.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

Chartres Street

Chartres Street, which is often pronounced CHAR-terz or CHAR-trez, was named for the Duc de Chartres in 1724 and is among several of the earliest streets in town. Initially, Chartres only ran from Canal Street to Jackson Square. From Jackson Square to Esplanade, the street was called Condé.

Mahogany Jazz Hall Burlesque and Absinthe House
125 Chartres Street

100 block Chartres Stree French Quarter New Orleans
The building that now contains the Mahogany Jazz Hall is on the right of this photo under the sign of Don Juan’s (which formerly occupied this space). Photo 2007, Infrogmation, courtesy of Wikipedia.

This 19th century building served as a boarding house for many years during which two tenants committed suicide. In 1892, a laborer was shot to death in front of the building with his murderer escaping into the dark of night. These deaths may contribute to the building’s haunted reputation with patrons and staff witnessing shadowy figures, hearing disembodied whispers, and feeling the cold touch of hands from the other side.

Sources

  • “Murder in New Orleans.” The Daily Commercial Herald. 22 November 1892.
  • Pinheiro, Maria. “Four little-known paranormal hotspots in New Orleans.” Malay Mail Online. 11 October 2016.

204 Chartres Street

204 Chartres Street Crescent City Books French Quarter New Orleans
204 Chartres in 2007. The building on the left was still Crescent City Books at this time. Photo by Infrogmation, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Formerly the home to Crescent City Books, one of the more prominent second-hand bookstores in the city, this late 19th century commercial building is apparently haunted by ghosts on every floor, including the specter of a young boy on the first floor. An investigation by the New Orleans based International Society for Paranormal Research (ISPR) identified a number of children’s spirits on the first and second floor as spirits that may also haunt Le Petite Theatre de Vieux Carré on St. Peter Street. Other spirits were discovered on the third floor and attic.

Sources

  • Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans, Revised Edition. Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2016.
  • Montz, Larry and Daena Smoller. ISPR Investigates the Ghosts of New Orleans. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2000.

W New Orleans – French Quarter
316 Chartres Street

Formerly the Hotel de la Poste, the W Hotel is made up of a collection of old buildings many of which are occupied by their own collections of spirits. ISPR investigated the hotel in July of 1996. On the second floor of the hotel, investigators encountered the spirit of a white woman in her 30s who may be causing some activity there. In another section of the building which may have once held slave quarters, the spirits of three enslaved children were discovered. A middle-aged enslaved man, Gerald, was found by the group near the hotel’s parking garage, which may have been the site of stables were this man labored.

Sources

The Bottom of the Cup Tearoom
327 Chartres Street

Since 1929, The Bottom of the Cup Tearoom has served as one of New Orleans’ psychical landmarks. The tearoom popularly featured psychics who would read the tea leaves left at the bottoms of customers’ teacups. Over time, the shop has added other forms of divination and psychic readings including tarot cards to its menu. While the shop’s second location (open from 1972-2003) at 734 Royal Street possessed the well-known spirit of Julia, there are no documented ghost stories associated with this building, though Jeff Dwyer has noted that the spirit may have moved to the shop after the closure of the Royal Street location. A quote from the shop’s manager indicates there may be some activity there, telling Country Roads Magazine, “There’s a lot of history ground into this neighborhood. Each decade leaves its traces and emotional resin, which helps us tune into the intuitive mind.”

Sources

  • Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans, Revised Edition. Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2016.
  • McGunnigle, Nora. “The Bottom of the Cup.” Country Roads Magazine. 21 September 2018. 

Williams Research Center
410 Chartres Street

The Williams Research Center occupies one of three campuses that houses parts of The Historic New Orleans Collection, which preserves and collects historic items and archives covering the history of the city and the region. The largest items in this collection are a number of historic properties including the building that houses the research collection. Built in 1915, this Beaux-Arts structure originally housed the Second City Criminal Court and the Third District Police Station. The Historic New Orleans Collection purchased the building in 1993 after it had been vacant for many years.

The renovation of this structure required gutting the interior at which time construction workers began to have odd experiences. These included hearing the slamming of cell doors, despite the doors having been removed, and seeing apparitions of police officers in old-fashioned uniforms.

Sources

  • Chartres Street Campus.” Historic New Orleans Collection. Accessed 14 January 2020.
  • Montz, Larry and Daena Smoller. ISPR Investigates the Ghosts of New Orleans. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2000.

Napoleon House
500 Chartres Street

Postcard Chartres Street Napoleon House French Quarter New Orleans
An early 20th century postcard showing the Napoleon House. Postcard published by A. Hirschwitz.

Built in 1797, this home was significantly expanded for early mayor, Nicholas Girod, who served from 1812-15. According to local lore, offered it as a refuge for Napoleon after he was exiled from France. While he died before he could travel, the house still bears his name. In 1834, some thirteen years after Napoleon’s death, his former physician, Dr. Antommarchi, opened a free clinic in the building, thus continuing its association with the deposed emperor. During the Civil War, wounded soldiers were treated in a hospital that operated on the second floor. In 1914, the Impastato family acquired the property and opened the restaurant and bar that remains in operation.

The over 200-year old history of the building has left spiritual activity. Some stories speak of a Confederate soldier who is seen to stroll the Chartres Street balcony before vanishing or hiding. Another story tells of an old lady who is spotted sweeping on the second floor. While yet others have witnessed the apparition of an enslaved woman in the courtyard.

Over the years, guests and staff have been surprised by lights turning off and on, sometimes on request. During a renovation of the building in the mid-1990’s the spirits expressed their displeasure with a heavy and oppressive feeling throughout. Bartenders also reported that bottles would occasionally fall from their perch behind the bar during this time. A paranormal group that investigated the building recently noted several entities on the property including a young lady in the courtyard who may have died in an accident and an old sailor who drinks at the bar late at night.

Sources

  • Bailey, Shan. “Strange ghosts: Drinking sailor, sweeping lady haunt the Napoleon House.” NOLA Weekend. No Date.
  • Brown, Alan. The Haunted South. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2014.
  • Duplechien, Brad. “Napoleon House Bar – New Orleans, LA (A Ruler’s Hideout).” Haunted Nation Blog. 26 September 2016.
  • Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans, Revised Edition. Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2016.
  • Montz, Larry and Daena Smoller. ISPR Investigates the Ghosts of New Orleans. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2000.
  • Napoleon House Historic Past.” Napoleon House. Accessed 2 June 2016.

New Orleans Pharmacy Museum (La Pharmacie Francais)
514 Chartres Street

When Louis Dufilho opened his pharmacy here in 1823, this was the first licensed pharmacy established in the country. Dr. Dufilho operated his business here for some 35 years before retiring and selling his business to Dr. Joseph Dupas. Many sources suggest that Dupas performed medical experiments on slaves, especially pregnant slave women.

Chartres Street French Quarter Pharmacy Museum Hotel Ste. Helene Napoleon House
The view looking down Chartres Street. From the left, the buildings are the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, Hotel Ste. Helene, and the Napoleon House. Photo 2008, by Infrogmation, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Tour guide Katherine Smith suggested in her book, Journey Into Darkness: Ghosts and Vampires of New Orleans, that Dupas also treated wounded soldiers here during the Civil War. Perhaps the pain and death from the medical experiments and the soldiers being treated have left a mark on the energy of this building. Some visitors have reported being suddenly overcome with nausea while others have encountered a figure in a brown suit and white lab coat that may be the spirit of Dr. Dupas.

Sources

  • Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 2007.
  • Oldfield, Eileen. “Things that go bump in the haunted pharmacy.” Pharmacy Times. 30 October 2014.
  • Smith, Katherine. Journey Into Darkness: Ghosts & Vampires of New Orleans. New Orleans, LA: De Simonin Publications, 1998.

Chartres House (Gally House)
540 Chartres Street

The large building occupying this corner of Chartres and Toulouse Streets is sometimes known as Keuffers Building. Built sometime after 1830, the building was intended to house businesses on the first floor with apartments on the second and third floors. If you walk alongside the building on Toulouse Street, you can see the separate slave quarters at the back of the building. Some passersby have noticed a young lady peering from the upper windows on this side of the building, despite the fact that these rooms were vacant at the time. Venture into the parking lot off Toulouse Street and look at the first small window. Tour guides will point out this window and encourage visitors to plunge their hand in. Some visitors have felt the feeling of their hands being grasped by small hands. Jeff Dwyer notes that these hands may belong to slave children who were housed in this room.

Gally House French Quarter New Orleans Frances Johnston
The Gally House in the 1930s as photographed by Frances Johnston for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Recently, the Chartres House restaurant, which opened originally in the former Reynes Mansion (see below) across the street, relocated into the majestic Gally House.

Sources

  • Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 2007.
  • HistoryChartres House. Accessed 30 April 2020.

Reynes Mansion (formerly the Chartres House)
601 Chartres Street

Originally built as a residence for the Reynes family following the Great Fire of 1788, this home was eventually occupied by the popular Victor’s Café in the late 19th century. Known as a hangout for artists and bohemians, Victor’s was a favorite of the writer William Faulkner.

An apartment located on the second-floor was the scene of a shooting death in the 1970s. The young man who lived there is supposed to have been involved in drugs. Following his death, the building’s owners had trouble renting the apartment as prospective tenants often detected bad energy and some became physically ill while touring the apartment.

Reynes Mansion French Quarter New Orleans
The Reynes Mansion in 2008, when it was still the Chartres House. Photo by Infrogmation, courtesy of Wikipedia.

This building was occupied by the Chartres House restaurant until it relocated across the street to the Gally House (see above).

Sources

Bosque House
617 Chartres Street, private

Bosque House French Quarter New Orleans
The Bosque House in 2011. Photo by Elisa.rolle, courtesy of Wikipedia.

This classic late 18th century Creole townhouse was built to replace a home destroyed in the Great Fire of 1788. Legend holds that this fire started on this site. Don Vicente Jose Nuñez, the army treasurer, owned the house at this site where curtains caught fire from a candle on the family’s personal altar on Good Friday. Tradition prohibited the ringing of bells on this most holy day and the priests of St. Louis Church would not allow the church’s bells to be rung to alarm the citizens. The fire eventually destroyed the church and nearly 900 other buildings in the city. Residents of this private home have heard the sounds of muffled bells. Perhaps better late than never?

Sources

  • Klein, Victor C. New Orleans Ghosts III. Metarie, LA: Lycanthrope Press, 2004.
  • Smith, Katherine. Journey Into Darkness: Ghosts & Vampires of New Orleans. New Orleans, LA: De Simonin Publications, 1998.

The Cabildo
701 Chartres Street

The younger twin of The Presbytère, The Cabildo was constructed to replace the city hall that was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1788. Of all the buildings in this city, this building has witnessed more important historic events than any other. Within the walls of the Cabildo the Louisiana Purchase was finalized in 1803. During the building’s time housing the Louisiana Supreme Court, the case of Plessy v. Ferguson was heard before it headed to the U.S. Supreme Court where it enshrined the concept of “separate but equal” into American racial law. The building became a part of the Louisiana State Museum in 1908.

Cabildo French Quarter New Orleans
The Cabildo, 1936, by Richard Koch for the Historic American
Buildings Survey (HABS). Courtesy of the Library of Congress,
Prints and Photographs Division.

While this building served as a seat of government for many years, a prison once stood behind it (see my entry on Pirate Alley for more information on this structure) which may explain the presence of a young soldier. Legend holds that the young man was imprisoned in the prison and, after a trial before a military tribunal, was summarily executed in the courtyard. Some of the museum’s staff and visitors have felt the sensation of someone rushing past them. Others have seen the pathetic form of a soldier in a ragged uniform.

Sources

  • The Cabildo. Louisiana State Museums. Accessed 2 June 2016.
  • Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 2007.

St. Louis Cathedral
Jackson Square

interior of St. Louis Cathedral New Orleans
Interior of St. Louis Cathedral by Carol M. Highsmith.
Courtesy of the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

The Grande Dame of New Orleans, St. Louis Cathedral has stood at the sacred heart of this city since the construction of the first church on this site in 1718. The current building was originally constructed between 1789 and 1794 and heavily reconstructed in the mid-19th century. Legend holds that the black-robed form of Father Antonio de Sedella, often known by his French moniker, Père Antoine, appears during the Christmas Midnight Mass. The specter of this most beloved of curates appears to the left of the altar holding a candle.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. The Haunted South. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2014.
  • Our History.” Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. Accessed 2 June 2016.

The Presbytère
751 Chartres Street

The Presbytere New Orleans
The Presbytère, 2007, by Infrogmation. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Presbytère is one of the pair of buildings flanking St. Louis Cathedral. Originally constructed in 1791 to match The Cabildo, this structure was known as “Casa Curial” or “Ecclesiastical House,” and provided housing for the Capuchin monks who ran the cathedral. In 1911, the building was taken over to house the Louisiana State Museum. The museum houses two permanent exhibits: one commemorating Hurricane Katrina and the other celebrating the city’s Mardi Gras traditions. While visiting the museum should you see a tall and slim maintenance man in a dark uniform with curly brown hair, be assured that you have just seen a ghost.

Sources

  • Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 2007.
  • The Presbytère. Louisiana State Museums. Accessed 2 June 2016.

Muriel’s Jackson Square
801 Chartres Street

Originally built as a grand residence for the noted Destrehan family (who also owned haunted Destrehan Plantation found along the famed River Road), the building that now houses Muriel’s partially burned in the Great Fire of 1788 that ravaged the city. Supposedly, the burned house was purchased by Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan who restored the home but sadly lost it in a card game. Not willing to simply leave the home, he quietly resigned to the second floor where he committed suicide in what is now known as the Séance Lounge.

Muriel's Restaurant New Orleans
Muriel’s in 2008. Photo by Infrogmation, courtesy of Wikipedia.

At least this is the story that is commonly told about this building. It is even included on the restaurant’s website. According to a 2013 blog post entitled, “The ‘Ghost’ of Muriel’s Restaurant,” this story is partially bunk. The blog notes that the current building was constructed sometime around the turn of the 20th century after the house on that site was torn down. While the history may not match up to the legend, there still may be paranormal activity with staff and visitors hearing knocking from inside the brick walls of the Séance Lounge, and disembodied voices, while encountering shadowy figures throughout the building. In order to keep some of the activity at bay, the restaurant maintains a special table for the ghost of Monsieur Jourdan.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. The Haunted South. Charleston, SC: History Press. 2014.
  • Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 2007.
  • The ‘Ghost’ of Muriel’s Restaurant.” Myth Busters! 4 July 2013.
  • Our Ghost.” Muriel’s Jackson Square. Accessed 2 June 2016.
  • Tipping, Joy. “Ghost trails and Halloween haunts in New Orleans.” Dallas Morning News. 23 October 2008.

Hotel Provincial
1024 Chartres Street

Hotel Provincial French Quarter New Orleans
Hotel Provincial in 2019. Photo by Infrogmation, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Like many hotels throughout the quarter, this hotel consists of an amalgam of different buildings, each with different histories. The 500 building seems to be the one with activity. The building was constructed on a site that was originally occupied by an Ursuline Hospital. It was here that the wounded from the 1814 Battle of New Orleans were treated. During the Civil War the buildings on the site were commandeered for use as a military hospital. That building burned and was replaced by the current structure. Guests and staff have, according to tradition, encountered bloodstains that disappear before their eyes, wounded soldiers in the rooms and corridors, doctors and nurses in bloodstained clothing, and one unlucky security guard using an elevator had the doors open to reveal the scene of a Civil War era surgery.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. The Haunted South. Charleston, SC: History Press. 2014.
  • Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 2007.
  • The Hauntings of the Provincial Hotel.” Ghost Eyes Blog. 20 August 2009.

Old Ursuline Convent
1100 Chartres Street

One of the oldest buildings in New Orleans, the old Ursuline Convent has survived hurricanes, fires, and the nuns have provided aid during plagues and epidemics. It’s no surprise that their old convent would house spirits. According to Jeff Dwyer, the spirits of Ursuline sisters have been seen gliding throughout the building while the spirit of a Civil War era soldier has been seen in the garden. (For a couple photos of the Old Ursuline Convent see my entry here.)

Sources

  • Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 2007.

Beauregard-Keyes House
1113 Chartres Street

See my entry, “Creepiness on Chartres Street,” for an in depth look at the history and hauntings of this famous home.

Le Richelieu Hotel
1234 Chartres Street

Housed in two buildings, one dating from 1845, the other from 1902, the Le Richelieu Hotel occupies the site where five French patriots were executed in the late 18th century. The spirits of these five men may still reside here. For further pictures see, “A Handful of Haunts—Photos from New Orleans.”

Sources

  • A Brief History.” Le Richelieu. Accessed 3 June 2016.
  • Smith, Katherine. Journey Into Darkness: Ghosts & Vampires of New Orleans. New Orleans, LA: De Simonin Publications, 1998.

The Battlefield on Chartres Street

Beauregard-Keyes House
1113 Chartres Street
New Orleans, Louisiana

N.B. This article was edited and updated 8 August 2019.

For information on neighboring spirits see my Chartres Street guide and the main page for my Phantoms of the French Quarter series.

The sunny, yellow façade of the Beauregard-Keyes House on a relatively quiet section of Chartres Street does not belie the sometimes tragic history that has taken place within its walls. That quiet demeanor is shattered frequently by tour guides, with gawking tourists in tow,  intoning one of the many “legends” about this house as they pass. According to their spiels, the house is inhabited by a pantheon of shades, some quite famous.

 

Beauregard-Keyes House French Quarter New Orleans ghosts haunted
The sunny facade of the Beauregard-Keyes House on a bleak day in 2011. Photo by Ben Lewis, all rights reserved.

General Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard, who occupied the house for about three years following the Civil War, was supposedly haunted by his defeat at the Battle of Shiloh. “…it’s General Beauregard whose presence at 1113 Chartres Street, and whose ghost seems obsessed with returning to the bloody scene of battle that traumatized him for the rest of his life—and beyond.”

Mary Beth Crain in her 2008 book, Haunted U.S. Battlefields continues, “In 1893, the year of the general’s death, people walking by the house late at night reported hearing ‘the voice.’ Someone seemed to be gasping ‘Shiloh…Shiloh’ over and over in a raspy chant that sounded as if it were coming from a great distance…Who else could ‘the voice’ belong to but General P.G.T. Beauregard, the man who throughout his life was haunted by the demons of the battle he needlessly lost? …There was terror in that one word, a sense of horror that was so convincing, those who heard it bolted as fast as they could.”

PGT Beauregard Beauregard-Keyes House French Quarter New Orleans ghosts haunted
P. G. T. Beauregard during his time as a Confederate general by photographer Matthew Brady.

A Haunting Battle

For a name that is Hebrew for “place of peace,” Shiloh, Tennessee is associated with the stench of death and quite possibly haunted Beauregard after his defeat there. The battle, fought in early April, 1862, is often described as the first of the many bloody battles that would be fought during the Civil War.

Union troops under General Ulysses S. Grant were encamped on the banks of the Tennessee River near Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, while some twenty-odd miles away Confederate troops under General Albert Sidney Johnston and Beauregard, his second in command, were camped at Corinth, Mississippi. Union reinforcements under General Don Carlos Buell were expected to arrive from Columbia, Tennessee after which Grant would sweep down into Mississippi to begin slow disemboweling the Confederacy. Johnston, over Beauregard’s objections, aimed at attacking Grant’s forces before Buell’s arrival. Beauregard bowed to Johnston’s commands and prepared a battle plan along the lines of Napoleon’s advance at the Battle of Waterloo. Coincidently, Beauregard, due to his short stature and French heritage was known as “The Little Napoleon.”

The first assault hit the Union camps around 9:30 on the morning of April 6. Union troops were taken by surprise in the middle of breakfast as Confederate troops charged into their camps bearing the red battle flag emblazoned with the blue, starred St. Andrews Cross that had been designed by Beauregard. Many troops on both sides along the three-mile battle line were still green, and scared by the ferocity of battle, fled, with many of the Union troops fleeing towards the safety of the Tennessee River where they cowered under the bluffs. But one Union line held: composed mainly of Illinois and Iowa farmers. This line, along a sunken road through thick woods and a peach orchard under the command of Brigadier General Benjamin M. Prentiss, kept the Confederates at bay for some six hours. They endured charge after charge and almost point blank artillery fire. General Johnston led the final Confederate charge when a bullet severed his femoral artery from which he died a short time later. Command then passed to Beauregard.

battle of Shiloh Tennessee Beauregard-Keyes House French Quarter New Orleans ghosts haunted
The Hornet’s Nest during the Battle of Shiloh in a chromolithograph by Thure de Thulstrup, 1888.

Prentiss’ division maintained their position along the sunken road where the ferocity of fighting was dubbed “The Hornet’s Nest.” Confederates surrounded the area on three-sides and they massed artillery onto the position, pouring volley upon volley of cannon-fire onto the Union troops. At 5:30 in the afternoon, Prentiss and his remaining 2,200 troops surrendered. The remaining Yankees had been pushed back to the Tennessee. Surveying the situation, Beauregard surmised that he could easily wipe out the remaining troops the following morning.

The sun rose the next day on a Federal force of nearly 50,000 as Buell’s reinforcements had arrived during the night. This huge force now faced Beauregard’s 30,000 troops. Slowly but surely, Union forces sliced into the Confederates with the troops falling back all the way to Corinth, Mississippi. The battlefield was thoroughly littered with the dead and dying, more than had ever been killed in any war previously fought by the United States: some 3,477 dead with some 23,000 wounded.

Historian Shelby Foote described the battle as “a disorganized, murderous fistfight of one hundred thousand men slamming away at each other.” It was this murderous and costly battle that sickened Beauregard so that he took immediately sick leave without permission of Jefferson Davis, who demoted him. Grant’s responsibility in the blood bath led to his being replaced by General Henry Wager Halleck.

Beauregard’s Haunting Legacy

After losing his military rank, Beauregard’s rank was restored and he went on to serve admirably through the end of the war. He retired to the house in New Orleans that now bears his name where his lived quietly for three years. Over time, legend has risen speaking of a more sinister legacy left by Beauregard in the house. Some tenants of the house have spoken of hearing the sounds of battle, perhaps from Shiloh, within and without the house. Even more interesting is the story that tenants being awakened by the sound of battle have stepped into the ballroom only to walk into the midst of the battlefield of Shiloh. While perhaps the story of the battlefield appearing in the ballroom may be only the product of the story passing through a “multi-generational telephone game.”

Beauregard-Keyes House French Quarter New Orleans ghosts haunted
Sign at the front of the Beauregard-Keyes
House, 2011. Photo by Benjamin Lewis,
all rights reserved,

Of course the lone, contemplative shade of Beauregard has also been reported throughout the house. Jeff Dwyer in his Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans reports that the General’s spirit has been seen peering out the home’s windows, even seen waltzing with a female, most likely his second wife (his first wife, Marie, died in 1850), Caroline. Interestingly, Beauregard and his wife, Caroline, never lived in the house together. The dashing military man and his bride married in 1860 on the eve of the war. The young couple spent much of the war apart and Caroline died in New Orleans in March of 1864 while it was under Union occupation. After receiving news of his wife’s passing, the stunned Beauregard continued to carry out his duties.

Following the war, without a job, money, or a wife, a chastened Beauregard refused to take the loyalty oath until after he was counseled to do so by his former Confederate peers, Generals Robert E. Lee and Albert Sidney Johnston. He took the oath before the mayor of New Orleans around the time he took up residence in the elegant house on Chartres Street. He was offered positions in the militaries of Brazil, Romania and Egypt but refused the offers saying, “I prefer to live here poor and forgotten, than be endowed with honor and riches in a foreign country.” Perhaps he spent his time in the house in Chartres pining for his darling Caroline and regretting his military blunders, but that is only speculation. Novelist Frances Parkinson Keyes, who lived in the house in the mid-20th century promulgated this mythos in her 1962 novel, Madame Castel’s Lodger. The novel portrays a defeated Beauregard looking back over the remains of his life.

History of 1113 Chartres

Besides it’s three-year occupation by Beauregard, the home possesses quite an illustrious history. Built by Joseph Le Carpentier, an auctioneer, the house was designed by Francois Correjolles incorporated elements of Roman and Greek architecture. Le Carpentier is said to have started his business selling goods for the pirate, Jean Lafitte (who, incidentally, figures into many local ghost stories and legends), and was also grandfather to the master chess player Paul Morphy, who was born in the house.

Paul Morphy chess player Beauregard-Keyes House French Quarter New Orleans ghosts haunted
An undated image of Paul Morphy. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A few writers mention Morphy among the pantheon of spirits in the house, though much of their information appears to be incorrect. Mary Beth Crain refers to Morphy as “Paul Munni,” though I can’t discern why. It states that he went insane while living in the house. While I have been able to determine that Morphy was in fact born in the house, his mother was Le Carpentier’s daughter, I can find nothing about his residency in the house as an adult. He returned to New Orleans towards the latter part of his life and “retired” from chess, having been victorious over all the world’s chess masters. While I’ve yet to find anything that specifically states that Morphy lost his sanity, he did live his life in seclusion. Morphy died at his home, which is now Brennan’s Restaurant at 417 Royal Street (which has a number of spirits, possibly even Morphy’s), after taking his usual afternoon constitutional and then taking a cold bath.

After leaving the hands of the Le Carpentier family, the house passed through a number of hands including those of Swiss Consul, John A Merle, whose wife created the garden surrounding the house. As the owners changed, the neighborhood changed; filling with Italian immigrants towards the end of the nineteenth century. The house was bought by Sicilian wine merchant, Pietro Giacona in 1904.

Beauregard-Keyes House French Quarter New Orleans ghosts haunted
The house around the time the Giacona family owned it. Image by the Detroit Publishing Company, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
Beauregard-Keyes House French Quarter New Orleans ghosts haunted
A bright spot of sunshine on a dreary day, the Beauregard-
Keyes House, 2011. Photo by Benjamin Lewis, all rights reserved.

The Battle of Chartres Street

The Black Hand or La Mano Nero was an extortion racket commonly used among Italians and Italian Americans throughout the nineteenth and into the early part of the twentieth century, when the Mafia took on subtler methods of crime. New Orleans had already seen the tragic effects of such crime in 1890 with the assassination of police chief David Hennessy. The most common modus operandi for The Black Hand was to send the victims a letter, signed with a black handprint, threatening harm unless a specific amount of money was paid.

The Giacona family while living here found themselves victims of The Black Hand, in 1908, after receiving a letter demanding payment of $3000 or certain death. Events reached a zenith in the early morning hours of June 17. When Commander Thomas Capo of the Third Precinct Station arrived at the house around 2:45 AM, he witnessed everything in confusion:

I saw the old man standing on the gallery with the shotgun in his hand, while his son stood almost in the doorway with a rifle in his hands. On the gallery, two of the men were stretched out in death. Their shirts were covered with blood. In the yard, at the foot of the stairs, another man was lying. From its position in the yard, I judged that he was shot while running down the stairs, and had rolled to the ground. The table around which the men were seated before the shooting commenced was littered with watermelon rind and egg shells. Some half-filled wine goblets were also on the table.

A trail of blood led from the yard, over a wall and up and down a number of streets in the area. The trail led to Francisco Vitale who was found wounded at Bourbon and Ursulines Streets.

Pietro Giacona, his son Corrado, and a nephew, Pietro Bellonde, were all arrested for the murders of the Barraca brothers, Giovanni and Nuncy, and Cero Cusimano. Eventually, the Giaconas and the nephew were released. Upon their return, it is said that the house was turned into a fortress. The events of that early June morning were not easily forgotten and may continue to be re-enacted. Reports from people passing the house late at night have included the sounds of gunfire and shouting, the acrid smell of gunpowder and shadowy figures flitting around the fountain in the garden. 

Frances Keyes Beauregard-Keyes House French Quarter New Orleans ghosts haunted
Frances Keyes, 1921., by the National Photo Company. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

When the house was sold in 1925, Antonio Mannino, the new owner considered demolishing the house for either a warehouse or a macaroni factory. This possibility riled local preservationists who were disturbed by the loss of such a landmark. Beauregard House Inc. took over the house and in 1944, the group rented the house to novelist Frances Parkinson Keyes who occupied the house for some 25 years. During this time, she spearheaded a major renovation of the house while writing novels that included the house and former residents. She also created the Keyes Foundation which bought and now operates the house as a museum.

Spiritual remnants from this era may include Mrs. Keyes’ beloved cocker spaniel, Lucky. The dog died only a few days after his mistress’ death. Stories also tell of a large cat that is seen darting through and around the house but then disappearing. The cat is likely the shade of Caroline, a cat that took up in the house museum’s garden. Guests and guides in the house have felt a feline rubbing against their legs.

Though the current directors of the Beauregard-Keyes House deny the existence of spiritual activity in the house, it apparently hosts a legion of spirits. These denials keep investigators at bay, though the city’s many tour operators still walk and drive tourists past the house spinning creepy, and somewhat fictional tales battles on Chartres Street.

Sources

  • Battle of Shiloh. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 2 December 2010.
  • Bruno, Stephanie. “A House Where the Tall-Tales Are True.” The Times-Picayune. 5 March 2005.
  • Crain, Mary Beth. Haunted U. S. Battlefields. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 2008.
  • “Death of Paul Morphy.” The Daily Picayune. 11 July 1884.
  • Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans. Gretna, LA: Pelican Press, 2007.
  • Frances Parkinson Keyes. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 23 May 2016.
  • “Giacona hearing fixed for Thursday.” The Daily Picayune. 7 July 1908.
  • “Giaconas held, but allowed bail.” The Daily Picayune. 10 July 1908.
  • “Giaconas held without bond.” The Daily Picayune. 19 June 1908.
  • Klein, Victor C. New Orleans Ghosts. Chapel Hill, NC: Professional Press, 1993.
  • Paul Morphy. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 2 December 2010.
  • G. T. Beauregard. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 2 December 2010.
  • Sillery, Barbara. The Haunting of Louisiana. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 2001.
  • Ward, Geoffrey C., Ric Burns and Ken Burns. “A Bloody Affair (1862). The Civil War. American Documentaries, Inc. 1990.
  • Ward, Geoffrey C., Ric Burns and Ken Burns. The Civil War: An Illustrated History. NYC: Knopf, 1990.

Apparitions at Allatoona—Cartersville, Georgia

Allatoona Pass Battlefield
Old Allatoona Road
Cartersville, Georgia

Despite Atlanta’s sprawl and the construction of the nearby I-75 corridor, Allatoona Pass Battlefield remains as one of the most pristine battlefields in the country. Located about a mile and a half from bustling I-75, the battlefield seems remote and almost lost in time. The village of Allatoona that existed in 1864 is mostly gone, replaced instead by the Lake Allatoona reservoir and a few buildings of more recent vintage. Even the railroad has abandoned the area, having been rerouted with the building of the reservoir.

Allatoona Pass by George Bernard, 1864. The house on the far left is still standing.
The same house from the photograph above, 2011. Photo by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
The railroad cut, 2011. Photo by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

At the time of the Civil War, the Western & Atlantic Railroad provided the vital link between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tennessee which found itself very close to Union territory following the Confederate defeat at Shiloh. This somewhat mountainous region provided one of the first obstacles as the railroad made its way north. Just north of the tiny village of Allatoona slave labor was used to dig a cut through the Allatoona Mountains allowing trains to move easily towards Chattanooga. The village at the south end of the cut mostly consisted of a depot, some warehouses and an odd assortment of houses and shops. After the pass was captured by Federal forces in June of 1864, Sherman ordered that the pass be heavily fortified and three star-shaped earthen forts were constructed to stand guard.

The railroad cut looking south, 2012. Photo by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
Panoramic view of one of the star forts built to guard the cut with the author standing by. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

In a last-ditch attempt by the Confederates to capture and destroy Sherman’s supply line to federally held Atlanta, they attacked these forts on October 5th. Under the command of Major General Samuel G. French, the Point Coupee Artillery from Louisiana poured shells onto the well-entrenched units from Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota under the command of Brigadier General John M. Corse. After two hours, French sent an order for Corse to surrender, which was refused.

Grave of the Unknown Soldier, who may be one of the spirits haunting this battlefield. Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Legends at this site date to not long after the war when a Confederate soldier (believed to be the spirit of an unknown soldier buried next to the tracks) was seen. More recently, the sounds of battle, cries of the wounded, spectral soldiers and an overpowering sense of dread have been reported here.

Sources

  • Battle of Allatoona. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 15 April 2011.
  • Lake Allatoona. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 8 April 2011.
  • Scaife, William R. Allatoona Pass Battlefield: The Official Website. 2000.
  • Underwood, Corinna. Haunted History: Atlanta and North Georgia. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2008.

Montgomery, Alabama’s Haunted Five

N.B. This article was edited and revised 18 May 2019.

Alabama’s state capital, Montgomery, appears to play second fiddle to Birmingham, the largest city in the state. But Montgomery has a complex history that has put it often at the forefront of many historical movements in the South. Starting as a frontier trading post, the city served as the first capital of the young Confederacy until the rebel government moved to Richmond, Virginia.

After the Civil War, the city became known for technological achievements in the form of an electric trolley system, and in 1910, a flying school opened by the Wright brothers. In the mid-20th century, the city’s sad racial history placed it at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement presenting us with a mighty lion in the form of a petite seamstress named Rosa Parks.

bird's eye view of Montgomery Alabama ghosts haunted Southern ghosts
1887 Bird’s Eye View of Montgomery by H. C. Davidson.

Paranormally speaking, the city has a fascinating panoply of spirits, many of which have been covered in two recent books: Faith Serafin’s Haunted Montgomery and Shawn Sellers and Jake Bell’s Montgomery: A City Haunted by History, both published in 2013.

Capital Towers Apartments
7 Clayton Street, private

On February 7, 1967, fire ravaged the swanky restaurant on the top floor of this building. Dale’s Penthouse restaurant was one of the most fashionable dining options at the time in Montgomery. As the fire broke out on this frigid February night, rapidly moving flames blocked the elevator and the stairwell, trapping and killing 26 patrons including several well-known politicians and local personalities. While some conspiracy theories exist as to the origin of the fire, the official explanation points to a lit pipe left in a coat pocket.

haunted Capital towers apartment building Montgomery Alabama Dale's Penthouse fire ghosts haunted Southern ghosts
The headline of the Montgomery Advertiser on 8 February 1967 report the fire at Dale’s Penthouse.
Capitol Towers Apartments Montgomery Alabama haunted
Capitol Towers Apartments in October of 2016. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

The building itself only received slight damage and the penthouse that once housed the restaurant is now a private residence. Former residents of the building have reported hearing screams of “help,” while residents in the penthouse have spotted misty, black forms. Shawn Sellers notes that passersby near the building have smelled smoke and heard screams coming from near the top floor.

Sources

Chris’s Hot Dogs
138 Dexter Avenue

While the hot dogs are legendary around these parts, the good food is not the only reason Montgomery citizens still flock to Chris’ Hot Dogs, it’s the atmosphere; an atmosphere still punctuated by spirits. Founded in 1917 as the Post Office Café, this restaurant has become an institution in its 98 years of business. For three decades, this café was a popular late night hotspot serving hot dogs and liquor and attracting the likes of country singer, Hank Williams.

Chris' Hot Dogs Montgomery Alabama ghosts haunted Southern ghosts
Chris’ Hot Dogs, 2016, photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Shawn Sellers and his investigation team explored the restaurant and discovered that the staff has countless stories about employees still working their shifts from beyond the grave. Perhaps Hank Williams can be heard still singing under the green and white striped awning?

Sources

  • Cumuze, Greg. “My Immutable Heaven.” Chris’ Hot Dogs History. Accessed 26 May 2015.
  • Sellers, Shawn & Jake Bell. Montgomery: A City Haunted by History. Shawn Sellers, 2013.

Downtown Montgomery’s Lady in White

Dexter Avenue fountain Montgomery Alabama Lady in White ghosts haunted Southern ghosts
Montgomery’s main street, Dexter Avenue, from the fountain looking up towards the state capitol on Goat Hill, 2016. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

The identity of this mysterious woman is unknown, but her apparition is quite frightening. Seen throughout downtown Montgomery, the Lady in White is dressed entirely in white with long and dark hair and animal-like, ferocious teeth. In a 2013 article, Shawn Sellers is quoted as saying, “She’s actually the most reported ghost of anywhere in downtown Montgomery. She’s always seen outside. She’s never looking at anybody. She’s just always walking up the street, and people say they feel her before they see her. She’s just a creepy, creepy energy.”

Sources

  • Sellers, Shawn & Jake Bell. Montgomery: A City Haunted by History. Shawn Sellers, 2013.
  • Sutton, Amber. “Ghosts, curses and more: Take a walk on the supernatural side with Haunted Montgomery Tours.” AL.com. 2 Oct 2013.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum
919 Felder Street

In Fitzgerald’s classic novel of the Jazz Age, The Great Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan remarks on the birth of her daughter, “I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” Some suspect that Fitzgerald’s Montgomery-born wife, Zelda, may have made a similar remark on the birth of their daughter. Zelda, whose zest for life strongly influenced her husband as well as legions of young women, lived her life as the epitome of the “foolish” Flapper.

Zelda and her husband lived in this house for a scant five months—October 1931 to February 1932—but during that time F. Scott Fitzgerald completed his novel, Tender is the Night, while Zelda outlined her one and only novel, Save Me the Waltz. The house was saved from demolition in 1986, and later opened as a museum to the literary couple. The upper floor of the house now has several private apartments, and residents there have reported hearing faint jazz music and disembodied footsteps. The museum’s director has reported that Zelda’s “foolish” spirit has remained active in the house and is believed to be the spirit responsible for flinging a painting from the wall while a staff member watched.

Sources

  • Curnutt, Kirk. “Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. 15 Mar 2007.
  • Herbert, Katherine. “Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. 14 Aug 2014.
  • Sellers, Shawn & Jake Bell. Montgomery: A City Haunted by History. Shawn Sellers, 2013.
  • Serafin, Faith. Haunted Montgomery, Alabama. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.

Montgomery Riverwalk Stadium
200 Coosa Street

Home to the Montgomery Biscuits, the city’s minor league baseball team, Riverwalk Stadium is located on the site of a former Civil War prisoner of war camp. During the war, this site was occupied by a cotton warehouse. After the Battle of Shiloh in April of 1862, Union prisoners were housed in the warehouse in reportedly deplorable conditions until they were moved to Tuscaloosa in December of that year. Faith Serafin notes that some 200 prisoners died while in captivity at this site.

Riverwalk Stadium Montgomery Alabama ghosts haunted Southern ghosts
The field at Riverwalk Stadium, 2008. Photo by markcbrennan, courtesy of Wikipedia.

According to Shawn Sellers, before groundbreaking took place for the ballpark, this site was occupied by a hotel. Maids would sometimes find rooms disturbed after they had cleaned them, while guests observed mysterious figures in their rooms. After the hotel closed, the building was occupied by offices where similar activity was reported. The stadium may host activity including shadow figures, the sounds of weeping and screaming, and the occasional apparition.

Sources

  • Sellers, Shawn & Jake Bell. Montgomery: A City Haunted by History. Shawn Sellers, 2013.
  • Serafin, Faith. Haunted Montgomery, Alabama. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.

Other Montgomery Hauntings

Several other Montgomery hauntings have been covered elsewhere in this blog. Coverage of Alabama’s State Capitol Building can be found in my “Southern Spirit Guide to Haunted Alabama.” Two locations at Huntingdon College have been covered: Houghton Memorial Library in my “Guide to the Haunted Libraries of the South –Alabama,” and Pratt Hall as the representative haunting for Montgomery County in my “Alabama Hauntings–County by County, Part VI.”

A Not So Colonial Haunting–Williamsburg, Virginia

Williamsburg Theatre
formerly the Kimball Theatre
428 West Duke of Gloucester Street

N.B. This article was updated and edited 17 February 2019.

Williamsburg is more reconstruction than restoration. The passage of time had taken its toll on the city when John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and W. A. R. Goodwin began their project to return part of the town to what it had been in the mid-18th century. Some buildings were long gone and had to be reconstructed, while others had modern additions that needed removal. Plus, there was a need to provide accommodations and conveniences that modern visitors would expect.

haunted Merchants Square Williamsburg Virginia Kimball Theatre ghosts Civil War
Merchant’s Square with the Kimball Theatre as the two-story brick building on the right. Photo 2008, by Ser Amantio di Nicolao. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Rockefeller envisioned Merchant’s Square as providing modern shopping and entertainment conveniences while still maintaining a colonial atmosphere. Among the entertainment options was the Williamsburg Theatre which offered live performances and films in a graceful and air-conditioned Georgian structure.

The theatre opened in January of 1933, with a performance of George Farquhar’s Restoration Comedy, The Recruiting Officer. According to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, this play was the first play performed in British North America when it was produced in Williamsburg. Interestingly, this play was the first play performed in the haunted Dock Street Theatre in Charleston, South Carolina, which is also a reconstruction for that matter. The Williamsburg Theatre was restored in 2000 and named for Bill and Gretchen Kimball, who sponsored the restoration.

As of 2017, the College of William & Mary has signed a lease to the Kimball as a production space for its Department of Theatre & Dance.

As one might expect, not all the spirits in Colonial Williamsburg are from the 18th century. As Virginia was at the heart of much of the fighting during the Civil War, that conflict has left a spiritual impression on the area. Legend holds that the spirit within the Kimball is a Union soldier.

The land now occupied by the Kimball Theatre was once the home of the Ware family. During the Civil War, the women of the family, as many did during the war, took in and nursed wounded soldiers. They took in a young Confederate soldier who had been wounded in the Battle of Williamsburg, though their care was in vain. The soldier passed away and the ladies took his body to the parlor to await removal.

After Union soldiers captured the town, they went house to house in search of Confederates hiding among the civilians. Upon reaching the Ware House, one soldier was shown to the parlor and the sheet covering the young soldier’s body pulled back. The young Union soldier was horrified to see the body of his own brother who with his different political biases had joined the Confederate army. Sadly, the young Union soldier was not long for this earth and was killed not long afterwards.

A blue-clad spirit, possibly that of the Union soldier, has been seen within the theatre. He appears to be frantically searching for something among the backstage rooms and then suddenly disappears.

Other, colonial spirits may be found in my “Haunts of Williamsburg” entry.

Sources

  • Behrend, Jackie Eileen. The Hauntings of Williamsburg, Yorktown, and Jamestown. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1998.
  • Chappell, Edward, Mary Harding Sadler and Llewellyn Jewell Hensley. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Merchants Square and Resort Historic District. 28 February 2006.
  • Colonial Williamsburg. “Kimball Theatre.” Accessed 6 April 2013.

The Fickleness of Phantoms—Rippavilla Plantation

Rippavilla Plantation
5700 Main Street
Spring Hill, Tennessee

N.B. This post was edited and revised 13 May 2019.

Phantoms and ghosts are very fickle things. Like birding for a rare species, it’s very difficult to find them even in their natural habitat. I was contemplating all of this as I sat alone in a bedroom at Rippavilla around 2:30 AM, towards the end of my first, formal paranormal investigation.

Rippavilla Plantation Spring Hill Tennessee ghosts haunted
The facade of Rippavilla. Photo 2013 by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

As Nashville, Tennessee sprawls its fingers outwards, it’s beginning to take over middle Tennessee. Small towns like Franklin and Spring Hill have been caught up in the web of development as these charming, and once rural towns are paved over with asphalt and chain businesses. Franklin, just north of Spring Hill and closer to Nashville, has only in recent decades begun fighting back and working to preserve its historic and battle-scarred heart.

Middle Tennessee was one of the areas that saw the brunt of fighting during the Civil War. As the last state to join the waltz of the Confederacy, Nashville became an immediate target for the Union and was the first state capitol to fall into their hands. Those cities and towns south of Nashville—Franklin, Spring Hill and Columbia, among them—were captured and held by armies of both sides during this turbulent period. After Sherman’s capture of Atlanta, far south, the Confederates under General Hood—who had lost Atlanta—attempted to capture Nashville and redeem themselves in the eyes of the Confederates.

Spring Hill and its surrounding estates had seen an influx of Confederate wounded into the small town. Many of the homes—including Rippavilla—had been requisitioned for use as hospitals. According to my guides in the house, the house had seen a smallpox epidemic among the wounded in 1862. During Hood’s Nashville campaign, wounded soldiers once again began to pour in followed by a series of generals, including Hood himself. During the fighting here in Spring Hill, Rippavilla’s fields were the scene of fighting.

Spring Hill saw battle the day before the Battle of Franklin in 1864. While not a major battle, it did leave a few hundred dead or wounded on both sides. Spring Hill was just a stepping-stone in Confederate General Hood’s attempt to dislodge the Union army from Nashville. As the fighting edged on towards Christmas, hope for the Confederacy faltered. Sherman held Atlanta and was marching to the sea destroying much in his path to Savannah, while Hood was defeated at Nashville and routed to Tupelo, Mississippi.

Part of that battle was fought on the grounds of Rippavilla Plantation, just south of town and like so many buildings throughout the South, the house was used as a hospital. This house has many layers of history, each leaving spirits within the house. One source reports spirits from Native Americans, through the Civil War and a smallpox epidemic during that era through to the 20th century, when rumors indicate the house may have seen use as a brothel.

Rippavilla Plantation Spring Hill Tennessee ghosts haunted
The Egyptian-Greek capitals of Rippavilla’s columns. Photo 2013 by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

The home is very similar to a number of other remaining plantation homes in the area in its brick construction and Greek Revival design. The columns, however, show the influence of Egyptian Revival design with capitals depicting papyrus but with the addition of the Greek-style acanthus leaf. This adds a unique touch. Apparently, while the exterior of the home has not changed much, the interior has changed greatly. Downtown Nashville’s First Presbyterian Church—now a National Historic Landmark—features Egyptian Revival elements, one must wonder if there’s a connection.

Visitors being shown inside will encounter a dramatic, sweeping staircase that splits at the landing to rise to the second floor. This feature was added in the early 20th century to replace the smaller, less dramatic staircase. Electricity, plumbing and air conditioning were installed in the house as well as bathrooms.

The home was built by Nathaniel Cheairs, a wealthy cotton planter. It was modeled on Ferguson Hall—the nearby home of his brother, Martin. Work was begun in 1851 and it took four years to complete. The large kitchen building behind the house was completed first and the family lived there until the mansion was finished. Legend holds that the mansion’s walls were pulled down three times to correct Nathaniel’s perceived deficiencies in the masonry.

Rippavilla flourished along with other nearby plantations owned by Cheairs, and by 1860, the census reports some 75 slaves working the estate. Though, with the coming war, all that would be swept away.

Rippavilla Plantation Spring Hill Tennessee ghosts haunted
The back of the house from the courtyard. Photo 2013 by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Many have automatically assumed that I’m a paranormal investigator. That’s not really the case. I consider myself a writer and researcher—more adept at sussing out information and presenting it in a palatable form—as opposed to an investigator tramping through historic places with loads of technology. I can say, that I’m very much a Luddite. Not that I reject technology, but I do grow weary of having to keep up with it.

This brings me to sitting alone in a bedroom at Rippavilla Plantation last weekend as the clock neared 3 AM. We’d been told to pick a room and then just sit for a little while and see what happens. Always being the “different” one, I chose the room that a number of people didn’t “like.” One of the volunteers helping with the investigation had told me that she could not enter this particular room. If she did, she’d usually end up having an emotional reaction.

This bedroom, in particular, had been used as a surgery. Blood stains on the floor attested to that fact. A military style bed had been installed in the room with soldier’s accoutrements sitting upon and around it. I found a single chair within in the room next to the door leading into the next bedroom. Through the door I could see the door of another bedroom, one that had bloodstains from a more recent murder still staining the floor.

All of this did make me uncomfortable. Glancing at the floor around my chair I did see about five drops of something staining the floor. My active imagination envisioned these drops possibly dripping from a surgeon’s knife or a spurting artery as a soldier writhed in pain. In fact, I had nothing to indicate it was actually even blood.

Still, sitting in this room, I found it hard to imagine the air filled with moans and cries, as it would have been during the war. Though, it seems that other, far more sensitive souls had had experiences in this room. Earlier in the evening, as I was awaiting the start of the investigation, a volunteer who had been working in the house that weekend began to report the smell of tobacco in that room along with the smell of an astringent—possibly witch hazel. She’d been one of the first people in the house that morning when it was discovered that the antique dresses so carefully laid on the beds had been moved.

Rippavilla Plantation Spring Hill Tennessee ghosts haunted
Civil War hospital display in one of the bedrooms. This is the bedroom that staff members do not like. Photo 2013 by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

The senses can play tricks on you. At various times through the night, I was convinced that I saw things, but realized my eyes were fooling me. At times I may have heard things, but I was listening so hard my brain could have simply misinterpreted other, more common, sounds. For these reasons it is imperative for ghost hunters to obtain clear evidence and that exists for Rippavilla. During previous investigations, many Class A EVPs have been captured that point to the conclusion that this house is active. A haunting photograph with a couple of possible spiritual images and video of some type of phenomena that was captured on three different cameras also exists.

The investigation’s leader suggested that the site was very quiet that night. A fair had been held on the grounds of the house and many visitors had passed through the house in the days leading up to the investigation. Perhaps the spirits were resting?

The highlight of the evening took place in a small, modern building at the back of the property. Built on part of the battlefield, this structure is used for various meetings and consists of a large room with restrooms and a small kitchen. The entire group of investigators was seated in this room around an empty chair with a ball on it. Dudley Pitts, the lead investigator, encouraged the spirits to move the ball and we waited in earnest for something to happen. Mr. Pitts spoke up again, saying that if the ball moved, we would all leave. Not two seconds after he said that, a very small, male voice was heard from a side of the room where no one was sitting. The voice asked, “All of you?” A gasp went up among the group and, as promised, we made a quick exit.

As the group I was with concluded their first investigation of the second floor I walked through two of the bedrooms: the nursery and the master bedroom. We left the upstairs in the dark. We had not turned on any lights during the time we were up there. We returned to the kitchen and no one else was in the house. We returned to the upstairs about 15 minutes later to discover that lamps in both rooms were on. The lead investigator turned off the lamp in the master bedroom and then as he approached the lamp in the nursery it turned itself off. Were the spirits saying hello?

The evidence is still being reviewed. Personally, the experience was really wonderful. Though, in the words of one of the investigators, a paranormal investigation “is 7 hours of waiting and 60 seconds of a thrill.” To spend time in such a marvelous historic home, quietly contemplating darkened rooms is actually marvelous. Especially in today’s hyper world of fast technology, instant gratification and even quick tours of historic tours, the experience of sitting and listening and imagining is often lost.

This investigation at Rippavilla lead by Dudley Pitts of Innovative Paranormal Research (IPR) and resident paranormal investigator is held monthly. I’d like to thank Mr. Pitts and the investigators for their help and leadership during the investigation and especially Laura Bentley and Lisa Webber for their kindness. For further information, contact Rippavilla Plantation on their website or through their FaceBook page, “Whispers of the Past.”

Sources

  • History of Nashville, Tennessee. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 20 July 2013.
  • Logsdon, David R. “Rippavilla.” Middle Tennessee Eyewitness to the Civil War.
  • Morris, Jeff, Donna Marsh and Garett Merk. Nashville Haunted Handbook. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2011.
  • Rippavilla Plantation. “History.” Accessed 20 July 2013.