As the Research Archivist for the Troup County Historical Society, I am regularly asked to write about local history and I was overjoyed to be asked to write about one of our local celebrities. The fact that I’m able to address a figure with a paranormal bent added to my excitement in putting this article together. This article has just recently been published in the October 2022 edition Highland Living Magazine.
“A dollar and a dime—will buy the Spirit’s time!” Miss Mayhayley Lancaster, the Oracle of West Georgia
Lewis O. Powell, IV, Research Archivist, Troup County Archives
For decades in the early 20th century, locals in search of something: an answer, a missing item or loved one, or just sheer entertainment, crowded the rough roads of rural Heard County seeking out the services of Miss Mayhayley Lancaster. Day after day, visitors lined up in her front yard for a few minutes with the self-proclaimed “Oracle of the Ages.” After pressing a dollar and a dime into her sister Sallie’s hand, the guests would be ushered into a room in the cramped cabin where they would meet with the enigmatic seer. Surrounded by walls covered in newspaper, books, knick-knacks, and other detritus, Miss Mayhayley would dole out cryptic advice over the course of about twenty minutes. While the advice was often vague, the patrons would usually leave satisfied, which was only compounded when, more often than not, the customer discovered that she was right.
In these parts, whenever Miss Mayhayley Lancaster is spoken of, her name is often qualified with the Southern honorific “Miss.” Indeed, she was unmarried, but this title affords her a good deal of the hard-earned respect and dignity that she amassed in her long and fruitful life. While she may have not always been successful in her endeavors, many of which extended outside the realm of accepted occupations for a woman of her time, she sought these pursuits with a tenacity that was unmatched, even among her male counterparts.
Miss Mayhayley came from a line of formidable women. Her great-grandmother, Mahala Whaley Lancaster, came to Troup County after drawing several lots here in the 1827 Land Lottery. Her husband’s death while racing horses enabled her and her children two draws in the lottery. With a number of children in tow and imaginably, quite a bit of fortitude, she settled her family in the primeval wilderness that was the county in its earliest days. They persevered and planted roots in both Troup and Heard counties. Decades later, a family member intimated that Mayhayley was not the only family member with that name to tell fortunes.
Mahala Lancaster passed away on the eve of the Civil War. Her great-granddaughter, who was named for her, entered this world fourteen years later in 1875. Miss Mayhayley’s parents were John W. B. Lancaster and his wife, Eliza Harriet Thaxton. The Lancasters and the Thaxtons were neighbors in Heard County and the families remained close after their marriage with John’s sister Nancy Mahala also marrying a young Thaxton boy. Miss Mayhayley was John and Harriet’s third child of eleven, and the only one born with a caul.
In European folk tradition, the caul, a piece of the amniotic sac that is found covering an infant’s face after birth, was taken as an omen that the child would go on to accomplish great things. Some traditions also suggested that the caul indicated the child would be a seer and possess a “second sight.” Miss Mayhayley would proudly proclaim that it was that that provided her abilities. While her abilities were well-known throughout the region, they were not the only things that made Miss Mayhayley special.
Like her many siblings, Miss Mayhayley attended the local public school in the Walnut Hill and Frolona communities of rural Heard County. She proved an apt student and even received an award on her graduation. She always had a mind for business and throughout her life engaged in buying a selling everything from land to livestock to seeds. Throughout her life she would frequent sheriff’s sales on the steps of the local county courthouses and by the time of her death she had amassed nearly 600 acres in several counties. Willis Hemmings, who grew up just down the road from Miss Mayhayley, recalls that he first met her when she visited his mother selling vegetable and flower seeds. Mrs. Hemmings purchased some squash seeds with Miss Mayhayley’s promise that they were the best seeds that money could buy. The fine crop produced by the seeds endeared the eccentric neighbor to the family.
Within her community, Miss Mayhayley looked after many of the children serving as a teacher and a mentor. She would often hire young people, like the young Willis Hemmings from down the road to work for her, paying them with a dime for their services and teaching them the value of hard work and money. After attending law school in Atlanta in 1911, she began to practice law throughout the region and was one of the earliest female lawyers in the area. Running on a progressive platform, she ran unsuccessfully three times for the state legislature. Within her busy schedule, she also found time to write a column for the local newspaper where she expounded on issues of the day. During the infamous 1915 trial of Leo Frank for the murder of Mary Phagan, a young factory employee, she supported Frank’s claims of innocence against the waves of anti-Semitism and public furor aroused by the case, even producing the ire of populist editor Tom Watson. When Frank was ultimately lynched by a mob in Marietta, she was reportedly devastated.
Despite her eccentricities, Miss Mayhayley was a beloved figure in the region. She would often visit town attired in gaudy dresses decked out with costume jewelry and crepe ribbons, fanciful hats, feather boas, with the look rounded out by outdated, high-topped Victorian style boots. At other times her clothing might be confined to an old military jacket and moth-eaten Army hat with an assortment of dirty aprons and colorful feed sacks. Her strange appearance only added to her reputation.
That reputation as a fortune teller and seer got a tremendous boost when she appeared at the Coweta County Courthouse in Newnan to testify against John Wallace in 1948. A frequent customer of Miss Mayhayley’s, Wallace was accused of the murder of one of his sharecropper’s, Wilson Turner. When Wallace consulted the seer to find the whereabouts of a stolen cow, she provided Turner’s name. On Wallace’s orders, Turner was arrested and then released from jail, at which point Turner was chased by Wallace and his cronies down the road towards Coweta County. At a tourist court, just over the county line, Turner was attacked by his pursuers and pistol whipped by Wallace. The body was taken back to Meriwether County where Wallace disposed of it in an old well.
When Wallace discovered that the sheriff of Coweta County was investigating, he revisited Miss Mayhayley seeking her help in finding Turner’s body on his vast property as he had forgotten where he stashed it. As everyone, including miscreants, visited the oracle, law enforcement frequently visited her as well to gather information that was revealed during her meetings with clients. After finding that Wallace visited Miss Mayhayley regularly, the sheriff consulted her and discovered that she knew about as much about the murder as Wallace did. When Wallace faced a jury for his crimes, the seer was brought in as an expert witness for the prosecution. Her testimony was considered key to his guilty verdict and brought her nationwide fame.
Visitors from around the country began to flock to her packed-earth front yard wanting her assistance. Even the rich and famous began to visit her cabin. Alabama-born actress, Tallulah Bankhead visited her while she was staying with a friend in nearby Carrollton. Bankhead had lost a valuable diamond ring and Miss Mayhayley exclaimed “Sunset!” after hearing her story. She went on to describe a quilt in which the ring had fallen. Upon her return to Carrollton, Bankhead quickly packed her bags and returned to Sunset, her family’s home in Alabama. There, in a trunk in the attic was her precious ring folded up in a quilt matching the fortune-teller’s description.
Not only was she instrumental in finding lost rings and murderers, but she was helpful in providing aid to the living. A local sheriff’s deputy and friend recalled seeing a car with Alabama plates pull up to the cabin during World War II. A family stepped out with the grieving matriarch. She had been told that her youngest son had gone missing in Europe. The family was quickly ushered inside and after a long while they emerged looking relieved. One of the family members told the deputy that, according to Miss Mayhayley, the son was alive and that he would call his mother within a few days. Several weeks later, the family returned to report that the son had indeed called and would be returning to Alabama shortly.
During this same time a couple ladies from LaGrange decided to take the journey out to the ramshackle house for fun one afternoon. During their consultation, Miss Mayhayley asked if they knew a particular lady, and one of the ladies responded she was her neighbor. She was asked to carry a message to her to let her know that she needn’t worry about her son, who was serving in the war.
Years of successful business-deals and fortune telling left Miss Mayhayley a very wealthy woman. Just prior to her death in 1955, she built a magnificent new home in Franklin. Shortly after moving in, she experienced a heart attack and died a few days later. A large crowd filled the small Caney Head Methodist Church in the community of Roopville for her funeral and she was laid to rest in the cemetery there.
Her grave still draws visitors today who will leave a dollar and a dime in front of her marker which bears the words, “Neither did His brethren believe him.” Though, even today, people still believe in Miss Mayhayley.
About 10 miles from Vienna (pronounced VY-enna), the waters of the Flint River feed into manmade Lake Blackshear near the community of Drayton. At one of the campgrounds on the shores of the river, a pair of teen boys had a frightening encounter around 2012. One of the young men related his story on the YourGhostStory website. While many of these stories may be fiction, this story does have a ring of truth.
The pair ventured outside around 2 AM and they ended up parking near the campground’s store around 3. As they talked inside the truck, they felt the back-end dip as if someone was standing on the back bumper. Looking back, they saw a dark, seemingly hooded figure. Jumping out, the driver left to see what it was while his passenger locked his door and screamed that they should get out of there. The driver returned to the truck frightened that he didn’t find anything there. The pair did not witness anything else out of the ordinary that night.
Some paranormal investigators theorize that cemeteries and burial sites should not be haunted because spirits are not thought to remain near their earthly remains. However, this thinking can easily be proven wrong with the sheer number of cemeteries and burial sites that are said to be haunted. This directory lists all cemeteries covered within this blog.
Boyington Oak, inside Church Street Cemetery, Bayou Street, Mobile
Soldier Spectres Rout Police From Cemetery, Driving One Mad, Another To His Death
The ghosts of long dead Confederate soldiers who fell fighting for a lost cause when Sherman marched through Georgia to the sea, have routed the Atlanta, Georgia, police force from the Oakland cemetery. One patrolman who braved the eerie terror of night duty at the cemetery was driven mad, and died, by the strange sounds and shapes he thought he saw as he patrolled his lonely beat through the long, straight row of white crosses that mark the graves of the war dead. Another was driven temporarily insane, and resigned from the police force. A score of others abandoned the post for fear of losing their reason.
Atlanta’s policemen are brave men. They are no more superstitious than the average man. But until some natural explanation is given for the unnatural and weird prowlings of ghostlike figure through the silent graveyard, the police have abandoned their night patrol.
The first reports of ghosts in the cemetery came from frightened citizens who, passing the hallowed spot late at night, reported they have seen strange shapes among the graves, heard the tolling of the sexton’s bell, and listened to ghostly voices that seemed to call the roll of the dead who were buried there three-quarters of a century ago.
Atlanta’s police scoffed then, at these strange reports, but to soothe the fears of those citizens who had sworn the cemetery was haunted, a night patrol was established and Patrolman E. H. Bentley, now retired, was chose. Bentley, a veteran police officer, was a quiet, soft spoken man, a man not easily fooled, and a man not easily frightened.
The officer took his post at dusk each night inside the iron fenced cemetery grounds. An iron gate that clanged behind him as he entered, was securely locked. Bentley proved he was a brave man. He held his post longer than any other officer of all the score or more who eventually were assigned to night duty in the cemetery. Eventually he asked to be relieved.
“I’ll go stark mad, if I am not,” he said, quietly.
Something was wrong in the cemetery, Bentley declared. High above the building that houses the sexton’s offices in the graveyard is a tower that holds a large bell, a bell that is tolled by the sexton as a signal to the grave diggers when a funeral cortege enters the iron gates.
“That bell rang at night,” Bentley said. It rang, he claimed, even after he had climbed to the top of the belfry tower and disconnected the bell rope. There was no wind which could have rocked the big old bell into voice. And Bentley said he saw strange shapes among the graves. John Rumph volunteered to take Bentley’s place on the night patrol.
Rumph died a short time later in the State insane asylum. He was mad, violently man, and in his madness he told strange stories of spirit mermaids who bathed and splashed about in the beautiful memorial fountain in the center of Oakland cemetery, under the light of the moon. He had heard their voices, laughing voices of ghosts at play, he said, and he described the beauty of these mermaids until he died.
Patrolman Ed Cason, who had braved the withering gunfire of Flanders Fields in the World War, and had been a member of the intelligence branch of the American Expeditionary Forces, was assigned to patrol Oakland cemetery at night.
Cason today bears an ugly scar across his forehead, mute testimony of a grisly race through the night in the cemetery—a race with a ghostly form that trotted beside him.
Cason was on a bicycle. When the eerie shape floated toward him the officer, who was afraid of nothing human, fled. He raced his bicycle toward the gate. But the faster he went, the faster went the mysterious form beside him. Cason finally rammed his wheel into the iron grilled gate. He himself hurtled against the gate, and fell, unconscious to the ground. He came to hours later. The ghost was gone.
W. H. Swords, one of the biggest and most fearless policemen on the Atlanta force was assigned to the patrol. By this time it was becoming difficult to find men willing to take the assignment. But Swords wasn’t afraid.
Swords went straight to the sexton’s office, which seemed to be the center of phenomena. He entered the building, switched on the light, and almost instantly he had the feeling that the room was filled with presences. He heard strange sounds of an unintelligible language whispered about him. Swords turns out the lights, thinking to give these ghosts, if ghosts they were, a better chance to demonstrate themselves and their tricks.
As the lights went out, there came the sound of a rap at the back door. Swords tiptoed softly to the door, placed his hand on the handle ready to fling it open, and waited. A moment later there came the sound of the rap again. Swords flung open the door. A beam of light from his flash stabbed into the darkness. There was no one there. Three times more that same thing occurred.
Swords left the building, and sneaked quietly out into the graveyards, believing that he might trap the knocked from the outside.
“I ducked down behind a tombstone,” Swords said later, “and waited. I still felt there was some natural explanation of the whole thing.”
“Then I simply froze in my tracks. From what seemed to be right beside me came the soft notes of a bugle. In a moment I heard the throaty voice of an unseen man who seemed to be calling the roll of the dead. ‘Jack Smith?’ the voice intoned, and from the little distance away came the answer, ‘Here!’”
Swords listened to that ghostly roll call. Trembling, he flashed his light over the rows of little white crosses. There was nothing visible, but the roll call of the dead went on.
Patrolman W. H. Dodd, driver of the Atlanta patrol wagon, was passing the cemetery one night when he heard the bark of a service pistol ripping through the dark. Dodd jammed on his brakes, jumped from the wagon, leaped the iron fence and rushed into the cemetery.
“I found the night patrolman,” he reported later, “standing in a narrow pathway, his still smoking gun in his hand. The patrolman, a man named Cason, but not the same one that had raced the ghost on his bicycle, was trembling. His wild eyes were staring out into the darkness.
“’God,’ he sighed. I saw a ghost, and shot at it. I couldn’t have missed it, but there is nothing there now.’” Cason withdrew from the beat.
Another officer, one of the last assigned to the cemetery night patrol, came out of the graveyard one morning trembling, to tell that he had seen the Confederate hero, General John B. Gordon, who is buried in Oakland cemetery, astride a white horse, waving a ghostly sword, and issuing commands in a soft whisper to the ghostly figures of his staff who stood around him.
The Atlanta police still explain the happenings in the Oakland graveyard at night. They don’t even try. But they have ended the night patrol in the cemetery.
Coheelee Creek Covered Bridge
Early County Road 80 over Coheelee Creek
As the Chattahoochee River makes its way south towards communion with the Gulf of Mexico, many small creeks and streams empty their contents into it. Among them is Coheelee Creek in rural Early County. Before it meets the Chattahoochee, the creek crosses under an old covered bridge, but this one is special, it is the most southern covered bridge remaining in the country.
Covered bridges once dotted nearly the entire country providing passage over a myriad of rivers and streams. But as their popularity waned among local governments in the face of more durable materials such as concrete and steel, the covered bridge became a romantic anachronism. Few saw the need to preserve these wonderful vestiges of the past and some fell from neglect, mother nature’s cruelty, or the vandal’s torch. Tucked away among the pines, this charming bridge has survived and has been the centerpiece of a local park for several decades.
In 1883, the Early County Commissioners ordered the construction of a bridge here, and it was completed by J. W. Baughman in 1883. After damage by a large produce truck that tried to pass over the bridge in 1971, the bridge was repaired and remained in daily use. The bridge was given a full restoration in 1984 and given over to care by the local chapter of the DAR.
Of course, as bridges tend to attract spiritual activity, there are reports that the figure of a female has been spied sitting inside the bridge. The sound of growling has also been heard around the bridge while others have reported feeling a mysterious force pulling them under it.
Ashley, Sarah. Haunted Georgia: Ghosts Stories and Paranormal Activity from the State of Georgia. D & D Publishing, 2013.
Bogle, James G. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for Coheelee Creek Covered Bridge. 30 October 1974.
Along Southern roadways and bridges, people sometimes experience strange activity. From lonely “Cry Baby Bridges” to apparitions, phantom coaches, and strange sounds and feelings, this directory covers hauntings throughout the South. This directory covers roads, streets, bridges, trails, and sites immediately adjacent to byways.
AL 169, Connecting US 80 to Opelika, Lee and Russell Counties
The Ellis Hotel
176 Peachtree Street
In downtown Atlanta, the city’s most famous thoroughfare, Peachtree Street, is lined with many possibly haunted landmarks. On any haunted tour of the city, one of the primary stops should be 176 Peachtree St.—The Ellis Hotel.
This boutique hotel may offer ghosts in addition to its usual amenities.
The Ellis opened originally in 1913 as the Winecoff Hotel. It was here in the early morning hours of Saturday, December 7th, 1946, that a fire broke out. The 15-storey hotel, often advertised as ‘absolutely fireproof,’ was booked to capacity with Christmas shoppers, families in town to see the premier of the new Disney film, Song of the South, and some 40 Georgia high school students in town for a mock legislative session.
Starting in a third-floor corridor, the fire spread quickly. As the old hotel lacked modern fire preventive measures and the fire spread wildly up the single escape stairwell trapping everyone above it. The Atlanta Fire Department impressively responded with nearly 400 firefighters, 22 engine companies and 11 ladder trucks, four of them aerial. However, ladders were only able to reach people partway up the burning hotel.
As flames licked at their doors, guests began jumping or trying to lower themselves on improvised ropes of bed sheets. Others tried to propel themselves across to the Mortgage Guarantee Building across the alley off Ellis Street. The alley soon became dangerous as bodies began to fall. The sun rose that day to reveal 119 lives snuffed out among the still smoking carnage.
Sadly, the Winecoff itself was absolutely fireproof, just not the combustible interiors. The hotel’s modern incarnation as the Ellis can attest to that. Outside the hotel, a historical marker reminds passersby of “Georgia’s Titanic” while spirits may remain in the hotel as reminders to the tragedy.
Guests and hotel staff have cited a tremendous variety of paranormal activity. The building’s elevators have been known to act strangely and operate on their own accord. During the renovations into the Ellis Hotel, workers reported finding their tools moved or missing as well as hearing footsteps and voices coming from empty rooms. Guests have reported hearing screams and the sound of running within empty corridors while some have awakened to the odor of smoke within their rooms.
Staff members have also reported that calls come to the hotel switchboard from unoccupied rooms while the smoke alarm mysteriously goes off at 2:48 AM, the time the fire started. People outside the hotel have also claimed to have seen faces in the windows, some of them appearing to scream in pain.
After The Winecoff Fire was published in 1993, I bought a copy and passed it to my parents once I finished it. A short time later, we were in Atlanta one evening and decided to drive past the old hotel building. The huge building still stood derelict and we drove slowly down Ellis Street. Peering down the alley between the hotel and the old Guarantee Mortgage Company building where so many had leapt to their deaths, we spied some graffiti scrawled on the wall of the hotel. “The police tape is soaked in blood,” it read as if to remind viewers of the sacred somberness that continues to haunt the scene of the country’s deadliest hotel fire.
Christian, Reese. Ghosts of Atlanta: Phantoms of the Phoenix City. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2008.
Airborne School Jump Towers
Eubanks Field Fort Benning, Georgia
After the establishment of the School of Musketry at Fort Sill in Oklahoma in 1913, military action during the First World War led the Army to realize that it needed a larger location for training the Infantry. In 1918, Columbus, Georgia was selected for the site of this new training ground. Initially, the training ground used an old plantation grounds, though over time, this was expanded to encompass an area spanning 287 square miles in southern Muscogee and northern Chattahoochee counties.
One of the fort’s most recognizable landmarks are the three large jump towers at Eubanks Field. Installed in 1941, on the eve of the United States’ entry into World War II, this trio of towers were once a quartet, but the fourth tower was toppled during a 1954 tornado. Standing at a height of 255-feet, a building at the base of each tower provides cables to safely guide the parachutes to the ground.
According to legend, a young soldier died after sustaining injuries during a jump when his rigging failed. The young man plummeted some 60-feet breaking a number of bones including many in his face. Though he survived the fall, he died some weeks later of pneumonia complicated by his injuries. Following his death, eerie rumors began to circulate of lights coming on in the elevator house on their own as well as a shadowy apparition appearing in the area.
According to Faith Serafin in her 2012 Haunted Columbus Georgia, this apparition has also been seen in and around neighboring buildings. A frightening encounter took place just after a 4 AM fire drill in the Jump School Barracks. As a sergeant searched the building for lingering soldiers, he discovered a young man lying on the floor at the end of a hallway. The sergeant quickly turned the young man over to discover that his face was shattered and bloody. Frightened, he left the man briefly to summon help. When the sergeant returned with others, the injured man was nowhere to be found with nary a drop of blood on the floor.
In his 2017 Mysteries of Georgia’s Military Bases, author Jim Miles reports that Fort Benning has a tremendous amount of paranormal activity, especially in many of its housing units. Please note that the jump towers are located on an active military base with tight security.
In the early 20th century, American roads were a mess. In the late 19th century, the railroad was really the only means to travel throughout the country as roads weren’t well-maintained or even necessary except for local transportation. With the advent of the automobile however, “good roads” (as the movement was called) became increasingly crucial. Car owners began to band together to form auto clubs to create roads for themselves.
In the 1910s, these auto trail organizations and automobile clubs reached even further to create the Lincoln Highway, one of the earliest transcontinental highways stretching from New York’s Times Square to San Francisco’s Lincoln Park. With its popularity among travelers and local governments alike, the idea was expanded to the South with the creation of the Dixie Highway, which originally connected Chicago to Miami. Not only did this open up the South to tourism, but it brought industry as well.
While this new network of roads was increasingly useful, the Federal Government began investigating ways to expand and organize this network. State roadway standards were introduced in 1914 with the creation of the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO). Their standards eventually evolved into a U.S. Highway system over the next decade. This system, now nearing a hundred years old, continues to expand to this day.
U.S. Route 29, a north-south highway, connects Pensacola, Florida to Ellicott City, Maryland. Along its route it passes through a number of major cities including Auburn, Alabama; Atlanta, Georgia; Greenville and Spartanburg, South Carolina; Charlotte and Greensboro, North Carolina; Danville, Lynchburg, Charlottesville, and Fairfax, Virginia; Washington, D.C.; and some of DC’s Maryland suburbs before its termination in Ellicott City, a suburb of Baltimore.
For me, US 29 has a very personal connection. On its route through my hometown of LaGrange, Georgia, it passes many landmarks from my youth and is the road on which I currently live. It also figures into several stories that I now tell on my Strange LaGrange Tour. For a few years I have wanted to take a big road trip to visit many of the haunted places I have written about and considered that driving the length of US 29 would make an excellent trip. This article covers many of the haunted locales I plan to visit should the trip come to fruition.
This article is intended to provide links to places I have written about elsewhere on my blog along with several brief entries and other suggested locations that I may cover in the future. This article is not intended as a static article, but will change as I cover more locations along the route of US 29.
US 29 begins at the intersection of North Palafox Street and Cervantes Street (US 90 and 98), just north of downtown Pensacola. While there are no haunted places (that I know of) at that immediate intersection, less than a mile south is a cluster of locations. The Saenger Theatre (118 South Palafox) is located at the intersection of South Palafox and Intendencia Street. A block south of the theatre is a cluster of hauntings around Plaza Ferdinand VII (which is haunted) that includes the T.T. Wentworth Museum, the portion of Zaragoza Street between S. Palafox and S. Baylen Streets, the Quayside Art Gallery, Pensacola Children’s Museum, and Seville Quarter. Just east of the Plaza is Old Pensacola Village.
Old Christ Church 405 South Adams Street
The Old Pensacola Village consists of a collection of historic and haunted buildings important to the early history of Pensacola including the 1832 Old Christ Church. The churchyard of the church once held the remains of three of its vicars, but during renovations, their graves were obscured. Some years ago, their remains were recovered during archaeological excavations. During the service marking their reburial, one young man witnessed the three vicars walking among the guests.
US 29 bypasses downtown Andalusia which features a haunted jail. The Old Covington County Jail can be viewed from North Cotton Street behind the courthouse.
As the highway makes its way through downtown Troy, Alabama, it passes near the first of many major institutions of higher learning, Troy University. Two dormitories on the campus, Pace and Shackleford Halls, feature ghost stories.
North of the city of Tuskegee, US 29 heads through the Tuskegee National Forest, a site of high strangeness that includes tales of ghosts and Sasquatch sightings.
As US 29 approaches Auburn, it joins with I-85 to bypass the city, though there is a concentration of haunted places in and around downtown and Auburn University. Two locations at the university have been covered in this blog including the University Chapel and the Ralph Brown Draughon Library, both of which are located on College Street.
Auburn Train Depot
120 Mitcham Avenue
Railroad passengers entering and leaving Auburn have passed through one of the three buildings that have occupied this site since 1847. The first building was destroyed during the Civil War while its replacement was destroyed by fire after a lightning strike. The current building was erected in 1904 and served as a rail depot until 1970. The building was left empty in 2003 after being used as a real estate office for some 20 years. The building has served as a restaurant for a number of years and rumor has it that staff has experienced a number of strange doings.
There is a legend about the building recounted in Haunted Auburn and Opelika regarding a young woman who met a young man here. The couple began to meet regularly despite the insistence of the young woman’s father that she would marry another man. The young couple planned to elope, but the young woman’s brother thwarted the plans and killed his sister’s lover. She then threw herself in front of an arriving train. Her wail intertwined with the train’s whistle are supposedly still heard.
Cole, Ashtyne. “City plans to renovate historic train depot.” Auburn Plainsman. 12 June 2014.
Serafin, Faith, Michelle Smith and John Mark Poe. Haunted Auburn and Opelika. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011.
Woodham, Brian. “Restaurant coming to Auburn Train Depot.” Auburn Villager. 3 December 2014.
As US 29 (still concurrent with I-85) passes into Opelika, it crosses AL 169, which has had some activity.
The exit with US 280 provides access to Spring Villa(1474 Spring Villa Road), a most unusual plantation home with ghosts and other strangeness. At the next exit, US 29 becomes independent and heads north through Chambers County.
The city of Valley extends up to the state line with West Point, Georgia. Just before 29 crosses that line it passes through the community of Lanett with its Oakwood Cemetery(1st Street) which is home to the dollhouse grave of Nadine Earles.
West Point, Georgia
In downtown West Point, the Depression era U. S. Post Office(729 4th Avenue) may feature a few spirits. The area also has a small Civil War-era fortification, Fort Tyler, which was constructed to protect an important railway bridge over the Chattahoochee. The four-hour siege that was fought here in April of 1865 left many dead, including the commanders of the fort. These men were buried in Pine Wood Cemetery which is passed by US 29 as it leads north to LaGrange. Both of these locations may be home to paranormal activity.
I have been a resident of LaGrange since early childhood and this town instilled in me a love of ghost stories. For the past couple years, I have been providing a ghost tour of downtown, the Strange LaGrange Tour, on which I feature the LaGrange Art Museum(112 Lafayette Parkway). Along its route through town, 29 passes LaGrange College with its antique centerpiece, Smith Hall. My tour discusses Smith Hall, Hawkes Hall, and the College Chapel, which are all spirited places. The college’s theatre, Price Theatre, off Panther Way, has an assortment of theatre ghosts.
In its journey between LaGrange and Atlanta, the road passes a number of haunted locations, though I have yet to cover any of them in this blog.
Downtown Atlanta has a number of haunted places on its famous Peachtree Street including the Ellis Hotel(176 Peachtree Street), the Fox Theatre (660 Peachtree Street), and Rhodes Memorial Hall(1516 Peachtree Street) all of these are covered in my “Apparitions of Atlanta” article.
Leaving DeKalb County, the road enters Gwinnett County near Stone Mountain, home of Stone Mountain Park(1000 Robert E. Lee Boulevard). Not only have there been spiritual encounters on the slopes of the titular monadnock, but the park’s Southern Plantation has a number of spiritual residents inside the historic structures.
As the highway leaves Gwinnett County, it passes through Barrow and into Oconee County. South of US 29 is the small town of Watkinsville, where the creepy Eagle Tavern(26 North Main Street) has served customers, and now museum patrons, for more than 200 years.
From Blacksburg, South Carolina, US 29 continues across the state line into North Carolina. I have not covered any locations in Cleveland or Gaston Counties. In Charlotte, I have covered one location, the Carolina Theatre(224-232 North Tryon), though I intend to rectify this in the near future.
Salisbury, North Carolina
Some years ago, I discovered an 1898 article from the Salisbury Sun describing the appearance of a ghost on Fisher Street. In addition, I discovered that the building at 122 Fisher Street has been reported as haunted. These locations were written up in my article, “’His ghostship’—Salisbury, NC.”
Salisbury National Cemetery 202 Government Road
The treatment of prisoners by both the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War was atrocious and certainly has led to very active haunted locations where the prisons operated. This is certainly evident in Salisbury where an old textile mill was turned into a prison to house 2,000, but eventually held some 11,000. With a number of deaths occurring on a daily basis, a small cemetery was established a short distance from the prison which in 1874 became the Salisbury National Cemetery. According to Karen Lilly-Bowyer, a retired educator and the operator of the Downtown Ghost Walk, the area around the old prison site and the cemetery are quite active and a Union sentry has been spotted around the trenches where the prisoners were interred.
Lilly-Bowyer, Karen. “A war-haunted landscape.” Salisbury Post. 22 January 2011.
While I have yet to cover Lynchburg in my blog, there are a number of haunted locales here, especially on the campus of Randolph College.
Sweet Briar, Virginia
US 29 passes through the small college town of Sweet Briar, home to the private women’s college Sweet Briar. From the tales that have been told on campus, it seems the founders of the college have remained here.
As US 29 passes out of the city, it comes near a haunted former bed and breakfast, the Silver Thatch Inn(3001 Hollymead Drive).
Brandy Station, Virginia
This small community in Culpeper County was the scene of one of the largest cavalry engagements of the Civil War in 1863. A small home near the Brandy Station depot was commandeered as a hospital after the battle. The patients left graffiti covering the walls and perhaps spirits as well, giving this home the nickname Graffiti House(19484 Brandy Road). A small, historic church, Fleetwood Church, nearby and the Brandy Station Battlefield are also known to be paranormally active.
This small, Fauquier County town is home to several haunted places, including the Black Horse Inn, the Hutton House, and a home called “Loretta.”
Manassas National Battlefield Park
US 29 cuts directly across the Manassas Battlefield in Prince William County. Among these farm fields, hills and wooded copses, two major Civil War battles–the First and Second Battle of Bull Run or Manassas–were fought. The first battle was fought on July 21, 1861, and the second battle was fought on August 29-30, 1862. As a result, this battlefield is known to be quite haunted. New York Avenue, so named for the New York regiments that were decimated here during the second battle, is known to be haunted by the apparition of a Zouave soldier.
Occupying the grounds of Robert E. Lee’s former estate, Arlington National Cemetery provides a resting place for some 400,000 soldiers from every conflict since the Civil War. With so many dead, there are ghost stories regarding the cemetery, Arlington Mansion, and the surrounding area.
US 29 enters the nation’s capital on the Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge over the Potomac River. It continues onto Whitehurst Freeway in Georgetown before crossing Rock Creek and becoming an elevated freeway. This point over Rock Creek is significant for two reasons, the bridge itself is haunted and this crossing is at the beginning of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.
The canal, which was begun in 1828, was meant to provide transportation of cargo from the end of the navigable portion of the Potomac to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In the end, cost overruns ended the construction in Cumberland, Maryland, 184.5 miles from it’s beginning. From the end of construction in 1831 to 1928, the canal was used primarily to ship coal from the Alleghany Mountains to Georgetown. The “Grand Old Ditch,” as it was called, lay abandoned for many years until ownership was overtaken by the National Park Service. The canal is open as a National Historic Park with a trail alongside it. From end to end, the canal is lined with legends and ghost stories.
Along its route through Washington, US 29 comes near many haunted places. For a list of places covered in this blog, please see my District of Columbia Directory.
Montgomery County, Maryland
Montgomery County is a suburban county providing suburbs for Washington. While I don’t have any haunted places listed along US 29, there are several places close by. See my article, “Montgomery County Mysteries.”
This city’s historic district lies in the valley of the Patapsco River, with Main Street running downhill to a bridge over the river. A tributary, the Tiber River, meets the Patapsco near here and problems with severe flooding have been experienced at points along Main Street. One of these recent floods is discussed in my article on theJudge’s Bench(8385 Main Street). Housing shops, boutiques, and homes, many of the buildings along Main Street also house spirits.
Since I started my blog, I have been hesitant to use random encounters from online. Of course, while many of these stories are hard, nay impossible, to prove, some of them do ring with a sense of truth. For a writer like me, one of the most difficult tasks in my research is finding good, firsthand accounts of ghostly encounters, especially for areas where there is a general lack of documented stories (i.e. books, newspaper articles, etc.).
Recently, I have become fascinated with the Ghosts of America website. This website collects stories from people throughout the country. While many of these accounts talk about ghosts in private homes, some discuss specific locations. While wading through this vast collection, I’m looking for specific accounts that not only mention specific locations but have a sense of authenticity as well.
Please note, I cannot guarantee that any of these places are truly haunted or that these accounts are totally truthful.
Birmingham, Alabama was named for the English city of Birmingham—one of the earliest industrial cities in the Western world. Altoona, Alabama, which was founded around the turn of the 20th century as a coal-mining town, was named for the great Pennsylvania coal-mining town of Altoona. Likely, the town supplied coal for the burgeoning steel industry centered in nearby Birmingham.
There’s not much to the community of Altoona; Main Street is Alabama Highway 132 as it heads southwest to Oneonta in neighboring Blount County, traveling east you’ll connect with US 278. A post office and several stores form the center of the town with small homes radiating outward.
Brown Street branches off Main Street and winds through rural woods with sporadic houses lining its side before it terminates south of town. An anonymous poster to Ghosts of America documented an interesting encounter on this street. A woman was driving this street at night when her car broke down within 500 yards of 11th Avenue. She pulled off the road and called her husband to come get her.
As she waited on the side of the road, she noted that she felt comfortable as she was familiar with the area. An old Dodge drove past her and she watched as it turned around to check on her. As the vehicle passed her again, she saw an elderly man driving. Slowing down, the mysterious driver smiled at her and nodded, “as if to let me know I would be fine.” Reaching for her phone, the woman looked to see if her husband was nearby. As she looked up again, the vehicle was nowhere in sight, and the witness realized the old Dodge had made no sound at all.
New York Avenue begins auspiciously at the White House heading northwest towards Maryland. As one of the original avenues laid out by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, this thoroughfare originally began at the Potomac River southwest of the White House, but over time those sections of the avenue have been consumed by development, so now only a block remains south of the White House. According to L’Enfant’s plan, the avenue terminated at Boundary Street (now Florida Avenue), though support was garnered around the turn of the 20th century to extend the road into Maryland. This was finally accomplished in 1931.
As New York Avenue stretches northeast away from the hubbub of downtown Washington, its monumental nature falls away and it begins to take on a more plebeian flair as it sidles up to the Amtrak Railyards. Upscale businesses are replaced with light industrial and pedestrian commercial development. Efforts to redevelop the corridor were discussed in 1980 and up through the early 2000s, though much of that work has not come to fruition. A 2005 study of the most crash-prone intersections in the city concluded that five were located on New York Avenue, with the top one being the intersection with Bladensburg Road.
An encounter posted to Ghosts of America makes note of the avenue’s dicey reputation, especially after dark. “Larry” however, decided to use it as a shortcut around 3 AM one morning. As he waited at a stoplight, a disheveled man approached his car and stopped in front. The light turned green and the man continued to stand in front of his car. Larry honked, though the strange man continued standing there. As he backed his car up to go around, Larry realized that the man did not have legs and was seemingly floating in mid-air. Terrified, he sped away from the scene.
Melrose Landing Boulevard is a sparsely inhabited road through rural Putnam County, Florida, near the towns of Hawthorne and Melrose. According to a poster named Sarah on Ghosts of America, it was along this road that her father and brother came upon a woman standing in the road “in a dress that looked to be out of the 1700’s.” She appeared suddenly, and the truck didn’t have time to stop before passing through her.
Around 3 AM on November 1, 2009, All Saints’ Day, the day after Halloween, Sarah turned onto the road at the same place where her father and brother had their earlier incident. As she drove down the road she passed a woman walking “with her long dress all gathered up in her arms.” Realizing that she might need to check on the woman, she turned around and discovered no one around. Sarah also noted that she was returning home from working at a seasonal haunted attraction and was driving a hearse. She considered that the oddity of someone encountering such a vehicle on such a day might have frightened the mysterious woman and that she may have fled into the woods, though Sarah doubted it.
Connecting Valdosta with Moody Air Force Base and Fitzgerald, GA 125 is named Bemiss Road in Valdosta as it heads towards the small community of Bemiss. A poster on Ghosts of America named Arturias revealed that he drove this road frequently at night over the course of fifteen years. During that time, he witnessed people walking along the road, though on three occasions he “noticed coming up on them that they didn’t have legs under the streetlights. Looked faded out.”
After these experiences, he heard the road referred to as the “Highway of Death.” I can find nothing online to prove or disprove whether this is actually the case and why.
Branching off of US 31W, Baker Road serves as a truck entrance to Fort Knox. A post on Ghosts of America from someone going by the handle, Redfraggle, was apparently written by one of those truck drivers who frequently drives Baker Road late at night. While headed towards the Brandenburg Gate, this driver had to swerve “to avoid hitting a dark-haired woman crossing the road.” Dressed in a muumuu, the woman appeared solid and the driver stopped to check on her. The woman only looked at him with a “broken hearted” expression and vanished.
The driver reports that he has seen the woman many times but doesn’t stop for her. In addition, this apparition has appeared along this stretch of road to his fellow drivers.
Please note that this road is on a military base and off limits to the public.
Fort Knox, Kentucky Ghost Sightings. GhostsofAmerica.com. Accessed 30 July 2020.
Elbert Stewart Road
Albany/Independence, Louisiana Area
About five miles north of Albany and five miles west of Independence is Elbert Stewart Road, home to the locally known Albany Lights. I can find no other reference to these lights online or in any of my research.
A submission from Larry on Ghosts of America, describes his experiences with the lights throughout his life. According to the post, Elbert Stewart Road was once called Dummy Line Road. The term “dummy line” refers to railroads that were constructed to serve the timber as it cut huge swathes of land throughout the South the end of 19th and into the early 20th centuries. Presumably, these lines were called “dummy” because they did not connect to the transportation rail lines.
The story of the lights involves a brakeman who was killed when he failed to pin the coupling between two cars and was crushed. The lights are supposed to be the brakeman’s signal “that the pinning was made.”
Larry explains that some years ago the road was named for his grandfather and that at 49 years of age, he recalls the lights appearing all his life. Interestingly, he points out that if you have photographic equipment on you, the lights will not appear (what about cellphones?). Otherwise, viewers have an 80% chance of seeing the hazy, bluish colored light.
Interestingly, he notes that the phenomenon has been investigated by the FBI, the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Geographic Society. None of these investigations were successful as they all had photographic equipment on them.
A comment on the post from a nearby resident states that they have encountered the lights here “plus much more.”
Church Road Cemetery
Broomes Island, Maryland
Occupying a small peninsula extending into the Patuxent River, the community of Broomes Island plays host to a haunted cemetery. Not only do spirits haunt the cemetery, but they apparently have spilled out onto surrounding streets. This location is documented in Ghosthunting Maryland by the father and son duo of Michael J. and Michael H. Varhola. The Varholas describe a ritual where someone circles the cemetery three times at night, after which a fog rolls in the laughter of young girls can be heard.
A post on Ghosts of America mentions that the cemetery has numerous spirits which have spilled out into the nearby streets where they “scream and laugh.” A comment on this post is from a newspaper delivery man who has encountered the spirit of a young boy who told him and his mother to leave. Afterwhich, they saw it run past the car windows.
Varhola, Michael J. and Michael H. Ghosthunting Maryland. Cinncinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2009.
MS 33 Bridge over the Homochitto River
Less than a mile north of the unincorporated community of Rosetta in the Homochitto National Forest, Mississippi State Route 33 crosses the Homochitto River on a fairly new bridge. This bridge has seen multiple iterations as the shallow river erodes the stream banks. For nearly two centuries a ferry crossed here which was eventually replaced by a bridge. That bridge was replaced in 1941. The new bridge was damaged during a flood, and it was repaired and extended in 1956.
By 1974, the bridge was again needing work and it was extended again. Just two months after completion, the bridge was washed out during a flood. This washout claimed the lives of two men who were reportedly standing on the bridge. The current bridge was completed by the MDOT in 1978, though it too, has been extended around 2014.
A brief post on Ghosts of America states that phantom headlights have been seen on this bridge heading southbound but disappearing before they cross the full length of the bridge.
South Queen Street Bridge over the Neuse River
Kinston, North Carolina
A couple from out of town was staying at “the hotel that sits right next to the Queen Street Neuse River Bridge,” presumably the Red Carpet Inn and Suites. After dark they walked across the road to get dinner from Hardee’s. As they made their way back to their hotel, they began to hear the sounds of “men screaming, ‘stop the fire’ and the sounds of water splashing” coming from the direction of the bridge. The sounds continued with the noise of a battle. At the same time, they both smelled the odor of cigar smoke. They ran back to their room.
The following day, they mentioned the incident to the hotel manager and were told that a battle was fought there during the Civil War, and that guests routinely report hearing and seeing things around the bridge. The couple reported their experiences on Ghosts of America.
In fact, this was the site of the Kinston Bridge which came under attack by Union troops on December 14, 1862. After defending a defensive line south of the bridge, Confederate troops retreated towards the bridge and crossed into town. Thinking that all his men had crossed, General Nathan Evans ordered his men to set the bridge aflame. However, a number of Confederate troops still remained on the opposite side and were now taking the brunt of artillery fire from both Union troops and their own men on the other side of the bridge.
As these men began to run for the bridge they realized that it was in flames and many were captured by Union forces. General John G. Foster sent his men to douse the flames and continue across the partially destroyed bridge into Kinston. As Evans retreated away from town, Union soldiers looted and destroyed parts of the city.
Stretching between Key West., Florida and Fort Kent, Maine, US 1 is the longest north-south road in the country. While this highway passes through many busy urban areas, it also passes through quiet, rural areas such as this area of Kershaw County. Michael posted on Ghosts of America about his experience on this lonely stretch of road around 12:30 at night.
As he passes through an undeveloped area, Michael passed a woman walking on the side of the road. He noticed that she had an “old mottled blanket wrapped around her. The entire figure was so very pale. Her hair was blonde, and the blanket appeared to have dark dots on it.” As he passed her, he wondered why someone would be out on a chilly night on this lonely stretch of road. Looking in his rearview mirror, he could only see darkness. The following night he was on the lookout for the woman, but she did not appear. After arriving at work, he told some of his co-workers about the experience only to have someone come in from the next room saying that they had seen the woman as well. Their description matched his, all the way down to the blanket.
An employee for an industrial laundry posted on Ghosts of America that two of his drivers had strange experiences on Dolly Parton Parkway. The first encounter involved a driver as he drove into work around 2:30 AM along Dolly Parton Parkway. He encountered a thick fog, and “came upon 4 men in old tattered clothes pushing a cannon across the road.” Slamming on the brakes, he sat and watched as the men rolled the cannon across the road without noticing him or his car. Going into work, the shaken driver told his supervisor of his experience.
The second encounter also involved a man driving the same stretch of road in the very early morning also driving through a thick patch of fog. “His entire windshield froze completely over with frost to the point where he had to pull over and scrape it with his license.” Interestingly, the temperatures that morning were quite warm.
The poster, Leslie, Googled the area and discovered that a battle was fought near the roadway during the Civil War. Though a small battle, the Battle of Fair Garden was furious, and led to roughly 250 casualties. Most curious is a detail on the recently installed marker near the battlefield: the battle was fought on a cold January morning in a heavy fog.
A resident East Virginia Avenue named Larry reported seeing a man walking the street with a lantern in this small Virginia town. He notes that he and his family have lived on the street as long as he can remember and that he has seen this apparition the entire time. While he knows of no other neighbors who have witnessed it, several of his relatives have seen it. One relative visiting from out of town went out to smoke in the front yard around midnight and watched an orange light glide down the street. As the light came closer, it vanished.
The town of Crewe was created in 1888 by the Norfolk & Western Railroad—later Norfolk Southern—as a site for locomotive repair shops. The necessity of the repair shops decreased towards the middle of the 20th century.
West Virginia State Route 2 New Cumberland, West Virginia
Hancock County is the northernmost county in West Virginia, and the South. It pushes up between Ohio and Pennsylvania, and one side of the county is defined by the Ohio River. New Cumberland is one of the towns located on the river. WV 2 runs through the heart of the town.
A post on Ghosts of America from John describes an incident that happened to him as he was driving southbound on WV 2 in New Cumberland in the spring of 1974. As he and his passenger neared railroad tracks and a bridge, “a ‘man’ stepped out in front of my vehicle. He turned and looked directly at me as the hood of my car went through him.” Then he suddenly disappeared. He continues, “I actually saw the upper part of his body in the middle of my hood. The lower part was inside the front of the car.” Reportedly, the man had white hair and beard, and “wore a ‘brimmed’ hat.”
In tracing the route of WV 2 through New Cumberland, I could only locate one place where a bridge and railroad tracks are close together: at the bridge over Hardin Run. Going southbound, the railroad crossing is about 200 feet after the bridge. Is this where the mysterious apparition appeared to a frightened driver in 1974?