A haunt with a hammer in his hand–West Virginia

Big Bend Tunnel
John Henry Historical Park
3263 WV 3
Talcott, West Virginia

 

A Haunted Southern Book of Days–12 September

This article is a part of an occasional blog series highlighting Southern hauntings or high strangeness associated with specific days. For a complete listing, see “A Haunted Southern Book of Days.”

 

Guess I’ll die with a hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord.
–“John Henry,” traditional folksong

Many stories, songs, and legends celebrate John Henry, an African American steel driver endowed with massive muscles and extraordinary brute strength. As a steel driver, John Henry wielded a hammer to cut holes in solid rock that were utilized for planting explosives to blast away the rock. His death came after a demonstration pitting his strength against a steam-powered rock drill. After beating the machine, John Henry’s heart gave out and he died.

John Henry lies dead after beating the steam drill Palmer Hayden
Painting “John Henry lies dead after beating the steam drill” by Palmer Hayden. Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Most details of John Henry’s story have been lost as the story has passed into legend. Indeed, there is still disagreement about where his final labor was performed. Some scholars have suggested that it was here at the Big Bend or Great Bend Tunnel just outside Talcott, West Virginia. Near a large bend in the Greenbrier River, this tunnel was blasted through Big Bend Mountain for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad (C&O) starting in 1870. Completed in 1873, the tunnel extends roughly a mile and a quarter long though the mountain, preventing trains from having to navigate seven miles around the mountain.

Big Bend Tunnel
Big Bend Tunnel, 2023, by Theresa Racer-Cheshire. All rights reserved.
Interior of the Big Bend Tunnel, 2023, by Theresa Racer-Cheshire. All rights reserved.

The tunnel officially opened on 12 September 1873, though additional work was required on its interior. The inside was originally supported by timber beams, with the red shale constantly cracking and falling into the shaft. According to Rosemary Ellen Guiley, an entire train crew was killed by one collapse. Within several years, more work was ordered to shore up the walls by lining the entirety of the tunnel with six-million bricks.

Guiley tells the story of one of the brick masons working on the tunnel, Alfred Owen. As he finished work one afternoon, he began to hear the clink of a hammer. Looking around, he spied a dark figure swinging a hammer near the opening. As the figure continued to work, Owen attempted to sneak by towards the exit. After slipping on wet rocks, he looked up and the figure had vanished.

John Henry statue
John Henry statue erected next to the entrance to the Big Bend Tunnel in 1972. Photo 2007, by jpmueller99. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In 1972, a local civic organization erected a statue and plaque next to this tunnel honoring John Henry. According to local legend, not long after the tunnel opened reports began to circulate speaking of the sounds of the folk hero’s hammer striking the iron stakes. Sometimes the chant of Henry’s fellow workmen are heard continuing to encourage him. Even in death, John Henry is still swinging his hammer.

Sources

  • Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Big Book of West Virginia Ghost Stories. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2014.
  • John Henry (folklore). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 21 January 2024.
  • Lane, Ron “Great Bend Tunnel.” e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 13 February 2012.
  • Quackenbush, Janette. West Virginia Ghost Stories, Legends, and Haunts. 21 Crows Dusk to Dawn Publishing, 2017.

Ill Defined and Unknown Cause of Morbidity and Mortality–North Carolina

Broughton Hospital
1000 South Sterling Street
Morganton, North Carolina

A Haunted Southern Book of Days–12 April

This article is a part of an occasional blog series highlighting Southern hauntings or high strangeness associated with specific days. For a complete listing, see “A Haunted Southern Book of Days.”

 

The strange phrase, “Ill Defined and Unknown Cause of Morbidity and Mortality” is typed in all caps on Betty Jo Eller’s death certificate. Essentially, the doctors at Broughton Hospital has no idea why this “petite and attractive” 31-year-old died on April 12, 1962 in her bed at the psychiatric facility. A short time earlier, Miss Eller’s twin sister, Bobbie Jean, had been discovered dead in a different ward. The bodies of these women bore no indication that they had been injured or even murdered, both had apparently passed away at nearly the exact same time, sending doctors into a tizzy to determine the cause.

The two young ladies were born with a stillborn brother, Billie, on August 19, 1930, in the Wilkes County, NC community of Purlear. Their father, Adolphus Worth, presumably was prominent in the community as a Baptist minister, though the family is buried in a Methodist church cemetery. It appears that the twins were diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent time at the hospital previously. When they died, they had only been in the hospital for less than a month after being withdrawn and refusing to eat, classic symptoms of schizophrenia, at home.

Once their nearly simultaneous deaths were discovered, the Associated Press picked up the story which was published in papers across the country.

Avery Building Broughton Hospital Morganton North Carolina
Avery Building at Broughton Hospital, 2019. Photo by Warren LeMay, courtesy of Wikipedia.

As with many mental facilities, Broughton Hospital is no stranger to strange tales. It was the second mental institution established in North Carolina after the opening of the state’s first mental hospital in Raleigh. In the early 19th century, the treatment of mental conditions and disorders in this country was primitive to say the least. One of the first advocates for proper and modern care was the Maine-born Dorothea Dix. As a young educator, she was exposed to the harsh conditions imposed on the mentally ill when she visited a jail near Boston to teach a Sunday school class. Writing later, she was horrified to find, “Insane persons confined…in cages, closets, cellars, stalls, pens! Chained, naked, beaten with rods, and lashed into obedience!” Within two years, she was addressing the Massachusetts state legislature and achieving success in the male-dominated political realm.

After finding success in Massachusetts, she began traveling the nation advocating for the mentally ill wherever she went. She arrived in Raleigh in 1848 where she began lobbying for a state institution. In North Carolina, she plead for $100,000, half of the state’s budget, to create a hospital there. She faced an uphill battle not unlike the battle she faced elsewhere, but here she found an in for her legislation. In the same hotel where Dix was staying in Raleigh, she discovered the wife of legislator James C. Dobbins who was dying. Dix sat with her, comforting her, and reading from the Bible. When she expressed that she was near death, Dix asked for her husband’s support for her hospital bill.

Following his wife’s death, Dobbins made an impassioned plea for support of the bill in a speech that is considered a “legendary oration” in the state. The bill was overwhelmingly passed and a mental hospital in Raleigh began to take shape. Dix’s efforts were not forgotten when that institution was later named for her.

In 1875, a new hospital was ordered to reach the underserved areas in the western part of the state. The Western North Carolina Insane Asylum opened 29 March 1883 on 283 acres in Morganton. When the main building was found to be insufficient, more buildings were added in quick succession to provide room for a rapidly increasing number of patients. In 1890, the superintendent, Dr. Patrick Livingston Murphy, succeeded in changing the name of the hospital to the State Hospital at Morganton to reduce the stigma of the word “insane.” In 1959, the name was again changed to Broughton Hospital to honor the 60th governor of the state, Governor J. Melville Broughton.

In the latter part of the 20th century, endeavoring to end the abuses and the negligence in the country’s mental institutions, the federal government ordered reforms to the system and Broughton’s population plummeted from several thousand to several hundred.

As with many institutions of its type, Broughton maintains a population of dead residents who remain in spirit. Although many of its stories have not been documented, one of the hospital’s nurses set out to change that. Margaret M. Langley, R. N. collected numerous stories from her fellow employees and staff members and published them in a series of three books. It seems that the old hospital and its sprawling campus provides fertile grounds for paranormal activity. Langley includes her first paranormal experience in her first volume.

While working in Ward 27 South, the geriatric division, with an LPN, Langley stopped at the ward’s nurse’s station. At this time, the ward was a large room with twenty-five beds arranged around the nurse’s station all separated by curtains. A hallway connected this ward with an adjacent ward. As the nurse and LPN talked, Langley looked down the hallway and stopped mid-sentence. The LPN looked up and down the hallway where Langley was staring. “In the middle of the hallway a large cloud of mist floated.” Stunned, the pair watched “the mist fade away and disappear.” While a large patient bathroom was located just off that hallway, no one was in it and the mist did not appear to be shower steam.

A travel nurse related a haunting story to Langley: Some years ago, an unstable patient in one of the Broughton buildings located near “the highway” found their way into a stairwell where they hanged themselves in one of the windows. Presumably, this is one of the buildings near NC Highway 18. For years thereafter, drivers have seen the image of a woman hanging in the window; the sight sometimes causing accidents. These accidents occurred so frequently that hospital officials boarded up the window.

Throughout the hospital’s grounds spirits are active everywhere. In the employee’s cafeteria building, staff members have had their names called when they were alone. One staff member reported working in the cafeteria shortly before her shift started. As she cleaned tables and chairs, she began to hear the sounds of a piano playing and the doors opening and closing. Freaked out, she retreated to the employee smoking shack until her shift started and she was no longer alone.

In the early 2010s, a new modern building was added to the hospital grounds. Two construction workers told Langley stories of hearing the screams of a woman as they worked. One worker was working in the utility tunnels underneath the building when he began to hear this sustained screaming. Frightened, he asked a co-worker to help him check out the noise. They checked all of the tunnel where they were authorized to go with no avail. No one else was found there. Another worker on the top of the building heard the screams of a woman while he was welding; screams that were loud enough to be heard through all his welding gear.

In 1962, the Eller sisters were admitted to Broughton. The doctors seemed to have determined that one of the sisters was dominating the other. One of them would begin starving herself, influencing and forcing the other to do the same thing. Just a day before their unexpected deaths, the sisters were separated. Bobbie Jean remained in Ward 8, while Betty Jo was moved to Ward 12. Around 1 AM, a CNA was making rounds when she discovered that Bobbie Jean was dead. The doctor who was summoned, quickly sent someone to check on her sister in Ward 12. Betty Jo was found in the repose of death.

Both young ladies were known to be mischievous and staff in both wards have suggested that the pair may be behind the paranormal activity taking place there. In Ward 8, where Bobbie Jean passed away, staff and patients have witnessed a small blue orb of light hovering outside the dayroom windows. Two patients reported seeing the light outside their windows playing among the branches of the trees before disappearing. Another patient felt someone touching her and one night was pushed out of bed by an unseen force. The same patient had something play with her anklet, pulling it and allowing it to snap back. On Ward 12, staff members, including Ms. Langley, were unnerved by a feeling of being watched. Hopefully, the sisters are finding fun in their phantasmic hijinks.

Broughton’s sister hospital is Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro which I have also covered here.

Sources

  • Anthony, Robert G., Jr. and Ruth E. Homrighaus. “Psychiatric Hospitals.” org. 2006.
  • Broughton Hospital. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 19 January 2024.
  • Connelly, Bill. “Identical twins had similar illnesses, unexplained affinity.” Winston-Salem Journal. 14 April 1962.
  • Langley, Margaret M. Haunted Broughton More Tales from the Graveyard Shift. CreateSpace Publishing, 2010.
  • Langley, Margaret M. Haunted Broughton Book III, History and Horror. CreateSpace Publishing, 2016.
  • Langley, Margaret M. Haunted Broughton Tales from the Graveyard Shift. CreateSpace Publishing, 2009.
  • North Carolina State Board of Health, Office of Vital Records. Certificate of Death for Betty Jo Eller. 12 April 1962.
  • Smiley, David L. “Dorothea Dix.” 1 January 1996.
  • “Twins may have ‘willed to die.’” Winston-Salem Journal. 14 April 1962.
  • “Wilkes Baptist Minister Dies.” Greensboro Daily News. 8 November 1966.

“The most gallant gentleman”—The Headless Horseman of Stones River

Stones River National Battlefield
3501 Old Nashville Highway
Murfreesboro, Tennessee

N. B. I have briefly covered this battlefield in Part I of my coverage of US 41.

A Haunted Southern Book of Days–31 December

This article is a part of an occasional blog series highlighting Southern hauntings or high strangeness associated with specific days. For a complete listing, see “A Haunted Southern Book of Days.”

 

Soon Ah will be done with the troubles of the world!
–African American Spiritual

On New Year’s Eve 1862 just outside of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, soldiers rang in 1863 not with fireworks and celebrations, but with gun and cannon fire and the misery of battle. Here, at the West Fork of Stones River, two mighty armies clashed, with Union General William S. Rosecrans attempting to wrest control of Murfreesboro from Confederate forces under General Braxton Bragg.

Rosecrans, situated in Nashville, to the west of Murfreesboro, had been ordered by Union General in Chief Henry Halleck to seize the town, saying, “the Government demands action, and if you cannot respond to that demand some one else will be tried.” On the evening of December 30, both armies were poised to battle just outside the town. As darkness fell, the bands on both sides began playing their evening music with soldiers singing along from their tents and pallets. One of the bands struck up the song, “Home, Sweet Home,” and the other band ceased, then joined the familiar tune. Of this moment, a Confederate soldier mused in his journal, “Who knows how many hearts were bold next day by reason of that air?”

The opening Confederate salvos of the battle were fired at dawn catching many Union soldiers while they cooked breakfast. For three days, until 2 January, the armies would batter each other, making this battle perhaps the bloodiest as both sides endured more casualties than in any other of the war.

Lt. Col. Julius “Jules” Garesché, chief of staff to General Rosecrans, knew he had a Sword of Damocles hanging over his time here on earth. Perhaps he knew going into battle that he would soon be “done with the troubles of the world,” perhaps not, nevertheless he believed he had been presented with premonitions indicating that his end would be violent.

Julius Garesche
Julius Peter Garesché.

He spent much of this first day of battle at Rosecrans’ side directing troops on the battlefield. Garesché had known Rosecrans since their time at West Point together. While Rosecrans was notorious for his outspoken and brusque manner, he and his chief of staff had no quarrels.

Garesché was born Julio Pedro Garesché de Rocher in Havana, Cuba in 1821 to French parents. As Catholics, his parents sent him to study at the Jesuit Georgetown College (now Georgetown University) in the District of Columbia where he anglicized his name. He was appointed to attend West Point after his graduation, where he met Rosecrans, who was about two years younger than him. After being stationed unhappily in various posts, he served with distinction in the Mexican-American War (1846-48).

While in Newark, New Jersey, he organized the local St. Vincent de Paul Society and wrote ardently defending Catholic values. His activism was honored when he was named a Knight of St. Sylvester by Pope Pius IX. Wearing his religion on his sleeve, one of Rosecrans’ biographers described him as seeming, “without earthly ambition, half mystic, half saint; he denied himself reasonable comforts to help the poor…the Confederates considered him the ‘most gallant gentleman in the army.'” In fact, he led his military superior, Rosecrans, to become a Catholic.

Yet, Garesché believed he was bound to die in a violent manner. Some years before, he was tasked by his father with patrolling some land in Missouri removing squatters. His small group found a precariously situated cabin perched above the Missouri River and settled in for the evening. During the night, the waters washed away much of the ground underneath the cabin and the three men fled just moments before the structure crumbled into the river below. His brother, Frederick in training as a priest, augured that that incident was an omen that he would die violently. Other incidents and arguments with superiors cemented that sense of foreboding.

In May of 1861 while talking with an acquaintance about relatives who had joined the Confederate cause, Garesché damned these kin to hell. Confessing his sin to his brother, his brother prophesied that he would die in his first battle.

The morning of the battle found Garesché celebrating mass with his fellow soldiers before cannon fire signaled the battle beginning. Early that afternoon he found himself overseeing the violence along the Murfreesboro Pike near area called the Round Forest. A short time later, he was seen entering the grove of trees and dismounting to read from his prayer book. Within minutes, Garesché was dead.

Cannon Stones River Battlefield
Cannon on the Stones River Battlefield, 2014, by Kenneth Everett. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

As Confederate forces massed on nearby Wayne’s Hill covered the field with cannon fire, Rosecrans, his chief of staff, and two orderlies rode towards the railroad tracks to examine the scene. Noting the presence of the general on the field, Confederates took aim. A cannon ball whizzed past the general and struck his chief of staff in the head shearing off everything except for his lower jaw and parts of his beard. The mortal injury sprayed the surprised general with blood and brain matter. Garesché’s horse carried his rider’s body a short distance before he slid off.

An officer approached the general, splattered with his friend’s blood asking what he was doing, to which the dazed general muttered, “I am very sorry. We cannot help it, brave men die in battle. This battle must be won.”

Burial of Lt. Col. Garesché on the Stones River Battlefield
An etching of the night burial of Lt. Col. Garesché’s remains on the Stones River Battlefield. From Frank Leslie”s Illustrated Famous Leaders and Battle Scenes of the Civil War, 1896. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

Later that evening, Brigadier General William S. Hazen recovered his comrade’s body describing it in a later letter, “I saw but a headless trunk: an eddy of crimson foam had issued where the head should be. I at once recognized his figure, it lay so naturally, his right hand across his breast. As I approached, dismounted, and bent over him, the contraction of a muscle extended his hand slowly and slightly towards me. Taking hold of it, I found it warm and lifelike. Upon one of the fingers was the class ring, that (to me) beautiful talisman of our common school.”

Garesché’s body was transported to Washington, D.C. where he lies with his wife in Mount Olivet Cemetery.

Julius Garesché's grave in Washington's Mount Olive Cemetery
This monument with its toppled obelisk marks Julius Garesché’s grave in Washington’s Mount Olive Cemetery. Photo by Duke, 2015. Courtesy of Find-A-Grave.

Since those horrific days at Stones River, visitors, locals, and railroad employees have had experiences with what one local ghosthunter described as the “thousands of spirits” residing on the battlefield. Among them is the headless spirit of Julius Garesché astride his horse. According to a longtime park employee, “Garesché is the ‘star’ among all our reported sightings. We have a dramatic increase in tourists and inquiries each year as Halloween approaches.”

According to Allen Sircy’s 2020 Southern Ghost Stories: Murfreesboro: Spirits of Stones River, the stories of the headless horseman have become legendary in the area. He notes that some witnesses have heard the hoofbeats of a horse only to see the spirit nearby. Others have reported seeing a headless soldier pacing near the Round Forest or the National Cemetery located on the battlefield, perhaps Garesché sometimes returns without his mount?

One may wonder, in imagining his death, did Garesché imagine spending his afterlife as a specter on this notoriously haunted battlefield?

Sources

  • Catholic Encyclopedia. Julius Peter Garesché. NewAdvent.org. Accessed 6 January 2024.
  • Daniel, Larry J. Battle of Stones River: The Forgotten Conflict between the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the Union Army of the Cumberland. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2012. eBook edition.
  • Julius Peter Garesché. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed Accessed 6 January 2024.
  • National Park Service. “The Battle of Stones River.” Stones River Battlefield, Tennessee. Accessed 6 January 2024.
  • Pittard, Homer. “The Strange Death of Julius Peter Garesche.” org. No date.
  • Sircy, Allen. Southern Ghost Stories: Murfreesboro: Spirits of Stones River. Amazon Kindle, 2020. eBook.
  • Whittle, Dan. “Part II: Ghostly Encounters.” Murfreesboro Post. 14 October 2013.

A New Year’s Beast–A Haunted Southern Book of Days

A Haunted Southern Book of Days–1 January

This article is a part of an occasional blog series highlighting Southern hauntings or high strangeness associated with specific days. For a complete listing, see “A Haunted Southern Book of Days.”

In the last days of 1953 in rural Bladen County, North Carolina, something began attacking dogs, killing them, and leaving their mutilated remains and a mystery behind. Not far from Bladenboro, a resident of Clarkton saw a “sleek, black, about 5 feet long” creature skulking away after killing a dog on the 29th of December. On New Year’s Eve two dogs were “torn into ribbons and crushed” in Bladenboro. On the 1st of January 1954, two more dogs were found in Bladenboro killed in a similar fashion. As the strange deaths added up over the next couple weeks, hunters from all around attempted to kill the mysterious creature.

Throughout the swamps and woodlands of Bladen County, the hunters pursued a monster without really knowing exactly what it was. The local bobcat population suffered a bit as they were thought to be to blame. However, others doubted that a small bobcat could have caused the devastation wrought on the canine victims. Some suggested a mountain lion or a panther, as some of the descriptions seemed to point to, though there was still some doubt.

Beast of Bladenboro Robeson County North Carolina
A front page article reporting the mysterious killing of five pigs and three chickens in nearby Robeson County. From The Robesonian, 15 December 1954.

Once the deaths seemed to cease, interest in the “beast” went with it. Late in 1954, a farmer in Robeson County (adjacent to Bladen County) found five pigs and three chickens crushed and mutilated like the dogs that been killed earlier, though new attacks were not forthcoming. And more attacks were reported. Local newspapers again took up the crusade against the creature, peppering the news with speculation which soon came to an end. The story is now mostly forgotten outside of the paranormal community and Bladen County.

Sources
Beast of BladenboroWikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 1 January 2024.
• Hotz, Amy. “The Beast of Bladenboro.” Wilmington Star-News. 29 October 2009.
• Price, Mark. “A vampire-like beast is called NC’s ‘creepiest urban legend’.” Charlotte Observer. 7 February 2018.

Alabama’s Haunted Thirteen

Thirteen years ago, I started this blog and early on, I did a series of articles highlighting places in each of the thirteen states I cover. Those early articles have mostly been updated and separated into their own articles. Please enjoy this updated version of those early articles.

Bladon Springs Cemetery
Bladon Springs Road
Bladon Springs

 

A Haunted Southern Book of Days–9 January

This article is a part of an occasional blog series highlighting Southern hauntings or high strangeness associated with specific days. For a complete listing, see “A Haunted Southern Book of Days.”

 

Located near the Tombigbee River, this cemetery and its well-known ghost story recall another disaster that occurred here. In 1913 as the steamboat James T. Staples neared the bend in the river near here, it was rocked by an explosion sending twenty-six souls and the ship to the bottom of the river. Shrouded in mystery, however, are the events leading up to the sinking.

Bladon Springs Cemetery Alabama
Gates of Bladon Springs Cemetery, by Judyanne Waters, 2015. Courtesy of Find-A-Grave.

The ship’s captain, Norman Staples—the ship was named after his father—had lost the ship to creditors after experiencing a financial reversal in December 1912. Depressed with the loss of his ship, Norman Staples committed suicide just after the New Year. A few days later, the crew of the ship began to see the shadowy form of the ship’s former owner in the boiler room. Legend says that that crew quit and had to be replaced before the ship steamed north. Just prior to the ship’s explosion, the rats aboard reportedly began to flee the doomed ship.

Norman Staples was laid to rest in this cemetery along with his wife and three of their children, none of whom reached the age of six. Norman’s sad spirit is said to patrol the grounds of this cemetery, his eyes never averting from the river where his beloved ship went down.

Sources

  • Ward, Rufus. “Ask Rufus: Ghosts of the Tombigbee.” The Dispatch (Columbus, MS). 25 October 2014.
  • Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory. NYC: Penguin, 2002.
  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.

 

D. E. Jackson Memorial Hospital
30338 Lester Road
Lester

If you hear screams emanating from this old, defunct Limestone County medical facility, they may not be ghosts. Over the past few years, this hospital has been transformed into a charity haunted house attraction at Halloween. According to local newspapers, this facility opened in the 1940s and served the Lester area until the 1990s. It was used as a drug rehab facility until it closed for good sometime thereafter. Prior to its closure, former staff whispered about paranormal activity. Volunteers working in the haunted house have reported hearing voices and seeing a locked door open on its own accord. Additionally, a lady in white has been spotted in and around the building.

Sources

  • Hollman, Holly. “Haunted hospital a prescription for frightening fun.” Decatur Daily. 1 October 2010.
  • Nicole, Ashleigh. “Northern Alabama’s Haunted Attraction: Lester Haunted Hospital.” Newsbreak. 24 September 2023.
  • Scripps, Lora. “Haunted hospital ready to scare you out of your wits.” News-Courier (Athens, AL). 22 September 2011.

 

George O. Baker House (private)
600 Dallas Avenue
Selma

As the Battle of Selma raged outside the George O. Baker House in April of 1865, seventeen women and children huddled within this 1854 Italianate home. Two gravely wounded soldiers took shelter here, and both were cared for despite being from opposite sides. The Confederate soldier was taken to the nearby hospital while the Union soldier languished in the hall. According to the home’s owner, “he was reported to be a kind one as some of the children here received peanuts from him just before he expired.” The blue-clad soldier died on the floor of the hall just under the staircase. His blood stains are still visible.

Over the years, many types of paranormal activity have been reported ranging from shadow figures to orbs to footsteps. One young man visiting the house some years ago, later told his mother he didn’t want to return because the “real old gentleman in the funny suit” had frightened him. Authors Higdon and Talley note that the house seems overwhelmed by a sense of sadness. The house has been investigated twice by two different paranormal teams and is featured on the Alabama Ghost Trail series on YouTube with a video of the owner speaking about the home’s ghost. Please respect the owners and residents of this private home.

Sources

  • Alabama Ghost Trail. “Baker Home.” YouTube. 19 July 2009.
  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.

 

Kenan’s Mill
188 Dallas County Road 236
Selma

While investigating Kenan’s Mill with the Alabama Paranormal Association, author and investigator Dale Langella felt something touch her in the charcoal kiln. “That never happens to me. I never get so freaked out like that and scream. I’ve been grabbed by spirits before, but I guess I just wasn’t expecting that,” she told a reporter from the Selma Times-Journal. The spirits here seem to enjoy physically touching visitors. In her book, Haunted Alabama Battlefields, Langella describes the myriad ways that visitors have been touched.

One young lady visiting the mill one evening felt something grab her leg and heard a male voice saying, “Help me.” Looking down, the young lady was shocked to see a wounded Confederate soldier clutching her leg. Other visitors have felt a burning sensation on their buttocks or felt something tug at their clothing; all this in addition to apparitions and odd flashes of light that sometimes appear throughout the site. The Selma Times-Journal quotes Langella as remarking that the site is “highly active.”

Built in the 1860s, the mill remained in the Kenan family until it was donated to the Selma-Dallas County Historic Preservation Society in 1997. This site was quite active during the Civil War, serving as a collection point for Confederate forces throughout central Alabama; as a result, the grounds were used as a field hospital. After the war, the mill served many farmers in the local area. The mill is now operated as a museum.

Sources

  • Johnson, Ashley. “Paranormal society finds activity in Selma.” Selma Times-Journal. 29 August 2012.
  • Langella, Dale. Haunted Alabama Battlefields. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.

 

Kenworthy Hall (Carlisle-Martin House) (private)
AL 14
Marion

Among the most unique Southern plantation homes, Kenworthy Hall was built for cotton planter and factor Edward Kenworthy Carlisle. The home was once the seat of a 440-acre estate and plays host to a classic Alabama ghost tale. Designed by noted British-American architect Richard Upjohn, the house is modeled on an Italian villa and features a unique square tower that figures into the home’s ghost story. As one of Upjohn’s masterpieces, the house was named a National Historic Landmark in 2004.

Kenworthy Hall Marion Alabama
Kenworthy Hall with its campanile-like tower. Undated photo taken for the Historic American Building Survey (HABS). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Kathryn Tucker Windham’s story of Kenworthy Hall centers on Edward Carlisle’s daughter, Anne. The young woman enjoyed spending time in the room at the top of the home’s tower. As young men across the South were signed up or called for military duty in the days leading to the Civil War, Anne’s beau was one of the first young men in the area to sign up.

He promised his lady that his slave would carry news to her and would carry a red flag if he had been killed. Keeping vigil in the tower room, Anne spotted the slave returning one afternoon bearing a red flag. She uttered a cry and threw herself over the railing of the staircase. Tradition speaks of that anguished cry still being heard on moonlit nights. Please respect the owners and residents of this private home.

Sources

  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Mellown, Robert & Robert Gamble. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Kenworthy Hall. January 2003.
  • Windham, Kathryn Tucker and Margaret Gillis Figh. 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama, 1969.

 

McIntire-Bennett House (private)
1105 Sycamore Street
Decatur

One of the most storied houses in Alabama, the McIntire-Bennett House played a prominent part in state history throughout the 19th century. Completed around 1836 on a bluff overlooking the Tennessee River, the house’s strategic location brought it to prominence during the Civil War. As control of the city passed between Confederate and Union forces, the house served as headquarters for various generals, which is perhaps the reason why it was one of a handful of buildings left standing in town after the war. Following the war, the house was purchased by Joseph Hinds who served as U.S. Consul General to Brazil. Here, Hinds’ daughter Grace was born in 1879. She would marry British Lord Curzon and become a well-known socialite in the Gilded Age.

McIntire-Bennett House Decatur Alabama
McIntire-Bennett House, 1976. Photo by Alex Bush for the Historic American Building Survey (HABS). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Legend holds that while the house was under Union control, it was receiving considerable fire from snipers located in the Old State Bank (see my entry on the bank here) building downtown. When one of the soldiers was shot and killed, his comrades had no way of disposing of the body. The soldiers cut a hole in the floor of the parlor and buried their friend under the house. The home’s current owner has been under the house, and his wife told the local paper, “There is dirt under there, and a hole cut out.”

The bedroom directly above that parlor is known as the “Ghost Room,” and it is here that a female wraith is said to appear to those in the room alone. She is supposed to lead people to the parlor and stand over the grave of the unfortunate soldier. While the home’s current owners have not encountered the female entity, they note that the room is apparently always much cooler than the rest of the house. The house remains a private residence, please respect the privacy of the owners and residents.

Sources

  • Gamble, Robert. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Rhea-McIntire House. 11 June 1984.
  • Godbey, Catherine. “Pre-Civil War era home features ghost room, tales of Union soldier buried there.” Decatur Daily. 4 December 2011.
  • Norman, Michael and Beth Scott. Historic Haunted America. NYC: TOR, 1995.

 

Old Morgan County Courthouse
24 Courthouse Square
Somerville

The oldest courthouse remaining in the state, this courthouse was built in 1837 to serve Morgan County. When the county seat moved to the bustling town of Decatur in 1891, the records were removed by an armed guard under cover of night to prevent locals from sabotaging the move.

Old Morgan County Courthouse Somerville Alabama
Old Morgan County Courthouse, by Chris Pruitt, 2012. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In 2007 this historic courthouse, now a museum and community center, was investigated by the local Somerville Paranormal Apparition Team (SPAT). Among the evidence discovered in this Federal-style building were a handful of EVPs.

Sources

  • Floyd, W. Warner. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Somerville Courthouse. No Date.
  • Huggins, Paul. “Somerville’s ghost hunters.” Decatur Daily. 20 August 2007.

 

Phenix City Riverwalk
By the Chattahoochee River
Phenix City

The banks of the Chattahoochee River here have seen human activity for centuries. Evidence discovered in this area indicates that Native American villages had thrived along this river for centuries before white occupation. In the early 19th century, the eastern bank here saw the development of Columbus, Georgia, which would be incorporated in 1828, while this side of the river remained Indian territory inhabited mostly by Muscogee Creek and Yuchi people with a smattering of white pioneers.

Historic Marker Phenix City Riverwalk Phenix City Alabama
Historic Marker on the Phenix City Riverwalk, by Mark Hilton, 2013. Courtesy of the Historic Marker Database.

A historical marker along the Riverwalk commemorates the execution of six Muscogee and Yuchi men who were accused of attacking the village of Roanoke in Stewart County, Georgia. Roanoke was mostly destroyed, several white settlers were killed, and the six accused men were hung here for the attack in November of 1836.

This section of the river saw much development as the end of the navigable portion of the Chattahoochee River. Cotton and other goods from nearby plantations were loaded here on ships bound for the Gulf of Mexico, and Wilson’s Raiders swept this area in April of 1865, towards the end of the Civil War.

The Chattahoochee Riverwalk on both sides of the river apparently has a variety of activity. On this side of the river, walkers and bikers have been followed by shadowy spirits that have caused some bikers to have accidents. As this section of the river has seen so much historical activity, it is difficult to determine the identity of the spirits.

Sources

  • Serafin, Faith. Haunted Columbus, Georgia: Phantoms of the Fountain City. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2012.

 

Rowand-Johnson Hall
Campus of the University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa

Hurrying towards a class in Rowand-Johnson Hall some years ago, a student passed an elegant older woman on the sidewalk. Being a proper Southerner, he smiled and wished her a good morning. The woman smiled in acknowledgment and said nothing. Entering the lobby of the building he noted that the woman he saw was the same as the woman whose portrait graced the room: Marian Gallaway. He stopped into the office of the head of the theatre department saying, “I just saw Marian Gallaway.”

The department head replied, “Unlikely, she’s been dead for eleven years.”

Rowand-Johnson Hall, built in 1955, houses the university’s Department of Theatre and Dance and two theatres: the Marian Gallaway and the Allen Bales Theatres. The theatre names pay homage to two beloved professors: Dr. Bales, a speech professor and noted actor and director, and Mrs. Gallaway, longtime director of the University Theatre. While Dr. Bales is not believed to be among the numerous spirits on this most haunted of campuses, Mrs. Gallaway’s spirit has become a part of the campus’ ghostlore tradition.

When in doubt, young student actors will implore Mrs. Gallaway for guidance. “How’s my blocking, Mrs. Gallaway?” they will ask and glance towards the projection booth where her spirit is supposed to appear. Though, sources do not provide if her appearance answers their question. Mrs. Gallaway also still attends performances and is sometimes seen sitting in the second row by theatre patrons who recognize her from her portrait in the lobby. Other legends note that when theatre students are lollygagging and avoiding learning lines or studying that Mrs. Gallaway will slam doors and make loud noises in the building to correct these wayward students. Great theatre directors will even direct from the grave, it seems.

Sources

  • Cobb, Mark Hughes. “Who haunts the halls of Tuscaloosa?” Tuscaloosa News. 25 October 2009.
  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Tuscaloosa. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2012.
  • “UA Campus Tour: Rowand-Johnson Hall.” University of Alabama. Accessed 21 March 2013.

 

Samford Hall
Campus of Auburn University
Auburn

 

A Haunted Southern Book of Days–7 February

This article is a part of an occasional blog series highlighting Southern hauntings or high strangeness associated with specific days. For a complete listing, see “A Haunted Southern Book of Days.”

 

Standing at the heart of Auburn University and the university’s history is Samford Hall with its spectral guard still watching over things from the building’s bell tower. It was on this site that East Alabama Male College was founded in 1859 in a building that would be fondly dubbed “Old Main.”

Samford Hall Auburn University Alabama
Samford Hall, Auburn University, 2017. Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV, all rights reserved.

With the coming Civil War, Old Main–along with the Presbyterian Church, now the university chapel (see my article on the chapel here)—was utilized as a Confederate hospital. Legend holds that the front lawn was stacked with the bodies of the dead some twenty-five feet across and about six feet high while awaiting interment in nearby Pine Hill Cemetery.

During this harrowing time, a Confederate guard watched over the living and dead below, from the pair of bell towers of Old Main. When Old Main was destroyed by fire in 1887, it was replaced by a larger, more elaborate building featuring two towers of different size. Though the original building is gone, the guard has been spotted upon his perch many times. One student hurrying past the tower one evening looked up to see a man with a rifle on his shoulder in the bell tower. A local mother who allowed her young son to play on the lawn in front was shocked when her son reported seeing a man in the tower who said that he had helped burn the building.

Sources

  • Kazek, Kelly. “Who wins the Ghost Bowl? An Alabama vs. Auburn challenge for Halloween.” com. 23 October 2013.
  • Ollif, Martin T. “Auburn University.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. 18 August 2008.
  • Sheehan, Becky. “Paranormal research team resurrects regional history.” Auburn Plainsman (Auburn University). 28 October 2013.
  • Serafin, Faith, Michelle Smith and John Mark Poe. Haunted Auburn and Opelika. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011.

 

Shelby Springs Confederate Cemetery
Shelby County Road 42
Calera

Visitors among the quiet ranks of grave markers here have had a variety of experiences including full apparitions, unexplained lights after dark, and physical contact from unseen forces. This cemetery was established in 1863 not far from the Confederate hospital relocated here from Vicksburg, Mississippi after the city’s fall. While most of the graves here belong to Confederate soldiers, tradition holds that a few unmarked graves beyond the fence at the back of the cemetery are those of Union soldiers.

Sources

  • Johnston, Kim. Haunted Shelby County, Alabama. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Shelby County Heritage Book Committee. Heritage of Shelby County, Alabama. Clanton, AL: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 1999.

 

Smith Hall
Campus of University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa

Within the hallowed halls of Smith Hall, much weirdness has been reported. From disembodied footsteps to the sounds of horses and carriage moving through the building, students and staff have had countless experiences in this building. Others have heard the droning of a lecturing professor and noisy students while a laboratory assistant working in the building’s basement was once pushed into and then locked in a closet by an unseen force.

Smith Hall University of Alabama Tuscaloosa
Alabama Museum of Natural History in Smith Hall, University of Alabama. Photo by AlabamaGuy2007, 2008, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Built in 1910, this magnificent Beaux-Arts structure was constructed to house Alabama Museum of Natural History as well as laboratories and classrooms. Named for Eugene Allen Smith, a university professor and Alabama State Geologist, the museum houses some of his personal effects, including his personal carriage, and perhaps his spirit may be one of those remaining here.

Sources

  • Crider, Beverly. “Crimson Hauntings: The Ghosts of UA.” com. 10 May 2012.
  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Tuscaloosa. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2012.
  • Windham, Kathryn Tucker. Jeffrey’s Latest 13: More Alabama Ghosts. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1982.

 

Weaver Castle (private)
625 Lauderdale Street
Selma

A handy man installing a ceiling fan in this historic home was asked, “What are you doing?” When he looked to see who was asking, he discovered an empty room. A resident some years ago had her dog reprimanded by an unseen presence. Her dog began barking, and a voice demanded, “Dog, shut up!” Her children were upstairs when that happened and had not been downstairs.

Weaver Castle Selma Alabama
Weaver Castle, by Altairisfar, 2011. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

William M. Weaver constructed this German Gothic style home in 1868 on property that had seen fighting during the Battle of Selma. Weaver passed away here in 1898 of, as the Alabama Ghost Trail asserts, a broken heart following the death of his son from kidney disease. Please respect the owners and residents of this private home.

Sources

  • Alabama Ghost Trail. “Weaver Castle.” YouTube. 19 July 2009.
  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.

Encounter at Plant Hall–Tampa, Florida

Plant Hall—Universityof Tampa
401 West Kennedy Boulevard

Tampa, Florida

 

A Haunted Southern Book of Days–5 February

This article is a part of an occasional blog series highlighting Southern hauntings or high strangeness associated with specific days. For a complete listing, see “A Haunted Southern Book of Days.”

 

Several years ago, I wrote about Plant Hall at the University of Tampa. Originally constructed by Henry Plant as the grand Tampa Bay Hotel, this whimsical edifice had trouble turning a profit, and sold to the city of Tampa. In 1933, the building was converted for use as the University of Tampa, which remains its use today.

About a year after I posted the article, I received an anonymous comment telling a chilling story. This has been edited for clarity.

Several years ago, my husband and I were vacationing and visiting my sister in Florida. On one afternoon we were looking for something to do and my sister suggested we check out the Plant Museum in Tampa. My husband knew I loved architecture and especially grand,old, buildings. I was very excited.

We went in and began walking around. I could just imagine what it must have been like in its heyday. I saw the grand staircase and couldn’t help but walk up several flights ahead of my husband. Then I came to a strange hallway that seemed out of place and as I started walking down the hallway, I felt uncomfortable and I felt just a little bit cold (I thought probably because of all the windows). I felt I had gone to a part of the building that was off-limits to the public and decided to turn back.

A curving corridor. Photo 2009 by Gordon Tarpley. Released under a Creative Commons License.

My husband was still on the first floor. As I headed toward the top of the stairway of the third-floor landing, I felt that there was a young girl in a long, white dress nearby. I think I sensed her on the way up too, but I thought I must have quite a vivid imagination and tossed it aside.

Then I reached the top of the stairway and looked down the 3 flights and I heard a man whisper, “Go ahead, why don’t you just jump?” I ignored it and heard it again. “Why don’t you just jump?” This scared the hell out of me.

A grand staircase inside Plant Hall. Photo 2009 by Gordon Tarpley. Released under a Creative Commons License.

The railing I was clutching now seemed so flimsy and low to my body that I could easily fall right over. I felt dizzy and very frightened. I held the railing deliberately and I kept my grip all the way down until I made my way back to my husband. I told him, “I want to leave this place, now!”

In the car, on the way back to my sister’s house, I explained what happened.

This experience has stayed with me for years even though I have put it out of my mind. Recently I saw something on TV today that reminded me of it again. That’s when I decided to look up the history of the Plant Museum and found this web site with the two things I remembered most; the grand stairway and that cold corridor. Does anyone know if, in the history of the hotel, did a young girl, maybe 12-14 years old, fall to her death there? Or commit suicide?

While I cannot validate any of this, especially since the commenter is anonymous, it seems to ring true to me.

Several years ago, I visited Tampa. While I strolled downtown with my partner, I suddenly was greeted with the sight of minarets poking up through the tree canopy across the river. The sight stopped me in my tracks. Just the way that I imagine Henry Plant planned it.

The minarets of Henry Plant’s Tampa Bay Hotel, now the University of Tampa’s Plant Hall, rises above the Hillsborough River across from downtown Tampa. Photo 2014 by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

“The swift sword of Erin”—Sharpsburg, Maryland

Antietam National Battlefield
5831 Dunker Church Road
Sharpsburg, Maryland

 

A Haunted Southern Book of Days–17 September

This article is a part of an occasional blog series highlighting Southern hauntings or high strangeness associated with specific days. For a complete listing, see “A Haunted Southern Book of Days.”

 

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.

13 Southern Haunts You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

We’ve all seen them and we’ve probably posted links to them on Facebook. They come with a seemingly infinite variety of name, superlative and number combinations: “Top 10 Scariest Haunted Places,” “6 Most Terrifying Places to Eat Dinner,” “50 Academically Prestigious Colleges and Universities with Ghosts,” “23 Super-Duper Awesome Most Haunted Prisons.” During Halloween especially, these “articles” sprout like veritable weeds along the sides of the information superhighway.

Usually, these articles simply rehash the same stories about the same locations and rarely do they ever provide much useful information. The author usually puts in just a modicum of research and produces something that is simply entertaining without providing much depth. It’s like a picture of Kim Kardashian that gets retweeted a million times, it provides nothing useful yet it gets passed around ad nauseum to the enlightenment of no one.

I do, however, have to commend Theresa Racer on her marvelous list of haunted places in all 50 states that she posted on her blog.

This is my attempt at one-upping these “articles.” There are countless haunted locations that are rarely covered, yet, in my humble opinion, are fascinating and worthy of a bit more attention.

University of Montevallo
Montevallo, Alabama

My friend, Jenna, had some roommate issues her freshman year at this small Alabama liberal arts college. At night in her dorm room in Old Main Residence Hall Jenna and her living roommate would hear whispering and footsteps both in her room and outside her door. These are not uncommon issues for college freshmen, though Jenna’s problem roommate was a former student who died in a fire in 1908. When the school operated as a women’s college in the early 20th century, a student, Condie Cunningham, caught her nightgown on fire while trying to heat fudge in a chafing dish. She went screaming down the hall and collapsed. She died a few days later in the hospital.

Main Residence Hall, 1993. Photo by Jet Lowe for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Set in the small, central Alabama town of Montevallo, the university has a wide-ranging roster of revenants, one of which even plays an annual part in one of the university’s most celebrated events: College Night. This annual event pits the students against each other producing competing musicals. Created in 1923, this event is adjudicated from the other side by the spirit of the competition’s founder, Dr. Walter Trumbauer, known affectionately as “Trummy.” According to Jenna, during dress rehearsals and performances, Trummy “gets crazy in Palmer.” Pipes are known to shake backstage and his spirit is seen in and around Palmer Hall where the competition is held. Trummy swings the battens of the curtains onstage during performances of the show that gets his approval. Usually, that show will win.

Among the many other spirits on this campus are Confederate soldiers seen in and around Reynolds Hall. The oldest building on campus, Reynolds was used as a makeshift hospital during the Civil War. Under the watch of Captain Henry Clay Reynolds, the wounded and sick soldiers were abandoned when Reynolds and his men left to defend the nearby Briarfield Iron Works. When he returned, he discovered the sick and wounded had been massacred by Union troops.

Reynolds Hall, 2014, by Lewis Powell, IV. All rights reserved.

Now home to the university’s Department of Theatre, Reynolds Hall is still plagued by spirits from that horrible, war-time event. Another student, Mia, told me she had experiences while working alone in an office on the second floor of the building. The room suddenly grew cold and the blinds started shaking violently. She fled. A visiting artist was walking backstage when he encountered a man in a Confederate uniform. He was later informed that there was no period production going on or re-enactors in the building.

By no means are these the only or most active spirits on campus, many buildings are haunted. These include the mid-19th century King House which may be one of the most active buildings on campus, Hanson Hall with its ghostly housemother and Napier Hall with its marble rolling ghost.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Birmingham. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2009.
  • Interview with Jenna M., Cherokee, North Carolina, June 2012.
  • Interview with Mia S., Cherokee, North Carolina, June 2012.

Halcyon House
3400 Prospect Street
Georgetown, District of Columbia

Just as the recent real estate bubble touched properties throughout the country, this very large, imposing haunted house was also affected. The house was put up for sale for around $30 million in 2008, just as the bubble began to burst, and sold for less than half of that in 2011. Of course, such an eccentric house with the dramatic history that Halcyon House has would probably have trouble selling in good times.

This 30,500 square foot manse comes complete with a “whimsical” library, a large studio space, a ballroom, a chapel, six apartments, a very large garage and a panoply of ghosts. A sealed tunnel in the basement of the house is supposed to have been used as part of the Underground Railroad. In the early 20th century, a carpenter was asked to seal the tunnel and as he did he heard cries and mournful sobs issuing from it. Over the years, various owners have reported apparitions in the house as well as phantom knocking. In one particular bedroom, several people have reported being levitated by an unknown force. 

Halcyon House, 1999. Photo by Jack E. Boucher for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

The home’s history is just as dramatic as the hauntings. It was built in the late 18th century by Benjamin Stoddert, the first Secretary of the Navy, and was later owned by the eccentric Albert Adsit Clemons, who claimed to be a nephew of Mark Twain. Clemons extensively remodeled the house and refused to install electricity. Since Clemons death, the house was owned briefly by Georgetown University and recently by a sculptor who, with his wife, lovingly restored the home. During their residence, they claimed to have had no odd experiences within the home’s most historic walls.

Sources

  • Alexander, John. Ghosts, Washington Revisited. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 1998.
  • Cavanaugh, Stephanie. “Centuries of Drama at Halcyon House.” The Washington Post. 30 August 2008.
  • Krepp, Tim. Ghosts of Georgetown. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Powell, Lewis O. IV. “Haunted Washington, D.C.” Southern Spirit Guide. 22 December 2010.
  • Taylor, Nancy C. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Halcyon House. 3 November 1970.

Island Hotel
373 2nd Street
Cedar Key, Florida

Most people head to Cedar Key to avoid the crowds, though visitors to the Island Hotel may encounter a crowd of spirits. According to a number of sources including the hotel’s website, thirteen—a very appropriate number—spirits walk the halls of this hotel.

 

Island Hotel, 2007. Photo by Ebyabe, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The building was built as a general store in 1860, the eve of the Civil War. In 1862, Cedar Key, at that time a small railroad town, became the first town in Florida to fall under Federal occupation. Some buildings were burned, but the general store was spared and quite possibly used as a barracks and warehouse for the occupying troops. After the war, the building returned to its commercial use as a general store and operated successfully until the collapse of the cedar industry and business began to slow. In 1915, the store was purchased by Simon Feinberg who converted the building into a hotel. It has served as a hotel, under a variety of owners, for the last hundred years.

According to a recent article in the Ocala Star-Banner, the spirit of a Confederate soldier has been quite active recently. Guests have spotted him standing guard throughout the upstairs portion of the hotel. Joining the soldier is a small African-American boy, possibly the spirit of a slave who legend holds drowned in a cistern on the property. Former owners, including Simon Feinberg and Bessie Gibbs still patrol the hotel checking up on guests to see that they are being taken care of.

Sources

  • Allen, Rick. “Cedar Key offers island life, complete with ghosts and clams.” Ocala Star-Banner. 7 August 2014.
  • The History of the Island Hotel.” Island Hotel and Restaurant. Accessed 12 December 2014.
  • Island Hotel Ghost Stories.” Island Hotel and Restaurant. Accessed 12 December 2014.
  • Jenkins, Greg. Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore, Volume 3. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2007.
  • Lewis, Chad and Terry Fisk. The Florida Road Guide to Haunted Locations. Eau Claire, WI: Unexplained Research Publishing, 2010.
  • Nolan, David and Micahel Zimny. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for the Island Hotel. 1 October 1984.

Magnolia Springs State Park
1053 Magnolia Springs Road
Millen, Georgia

Of the many transgressions committed by both sides during the American Civil War, the neglect and contempt visited upon the prisoners of war looms large. Large-scale prisons were constructed and packed with prisoners who were underfed and sometimes virtually unclothed often under the open sky. Pestilence and lawlessness prevailed among the tightly packed men with death swooping among them picking off victims like a hawk.

Contemporary illustration of Camp Lawton by Robert Sneden,
a Union soldier who was incarcerated here. Courtesy of the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service.

In this sordid history, Andersonville Prison in West Central Georgia is the most tragic tale and the prison’s site has been spiritually scarred with many spirits still roaming the piney landscape. While it was possibly the worst of these horrendous prisons, Andersonville is not the only one to mar the Southern landscape. Camp Lawton, near the eastern Georgia town of Millen, was one of the largest prison camps erected by the Confederates. Encompassing some 42 acres, the camp was constructed in 1864 and used for only three months.

It was built to house 40,000 prisoners but in its short lifespan only held about 10,000 prisoners in conditions that were far better than Andersonville. However, there were about 500 deaths in the camp during its service. When Sherman found the camp during his march from Atlanta to Savannah in 1864, he burned it to the ground along with Millen. The site of the camp is now part of Magnolia Springs State Park.

Employees have reported spirits in the park, particularly around one of the cabins occupied by park staff. One manager reported being awakened by a uniformed apparition standing at the end of his bed. Another staff member approached the cabin and saw a face peering out one of the windows at him when he knew the house was empty. At night, staff members have reported that they get the feeling of being followed or watched.

Sources

  • Wilkinson, Chris. “Civil War Prisons.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 9 September 2014.
  • Miles, Jim. Civil War Ghosts of Central Georgia and Savannah. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.

Hayswood Hospital
West Fourth Street at Market Street
Maysville, Kentucky

The large Neo-Classical building crowns a hill above West Fourth Street and turns its face towards the majestic Ohio River beyond the city’s downtown. It’s obvious that the building has been long abandoned. Windows stand open like empty eye sockets while other closed windows hold broken panes that stare jaggedly towards the river. Along the first floor, plywood covers the windows and doors, a thin barrier to intruders, both human and natural.

Hayswood Hospital has endured a long jag of bad luck since its closure in 1983. Just last year, the building was almost sold to collect on a nearly $6,000 unpaid tax bill, but at the last minute, the sale was withdrawn. Nearly a decade after its closure, the building was purchased with the intent of renovating it into apartments, though that has fallen through. In 1999, a condemnation order was placed on the structure requiring the owner to either demolish or renovate the building, but nothing has come of that. The order still stands like a death sentence over a weary prisoner.

Not only is the crumbling building a blight on the city’s face, but asbestos and lead paint within the building are a danger to the health of the community. The blight also attracts vandals and thieves including the two men who were arrested in the building as they tried to steal copper wiring. In addition to the health dangers, the building’s falling ceilings and weak floors are a physical danger to the curious who decide to investigate the building.

With the constant stream of legends flowing forth from abandoned (and even not so abandoned) medical facilities, it’s no surprise to hear that Hayswood has many of its own stories. Nothing about the reports of apparitions and voices provided in the article from the blog Most Haunted Places in America is particularly unusual. The blog reports apparitions throughout the building including that of a woman holding a baby in the old maternity ward.

A video posted on YouTube on Halloween 2006 purportedly shows a spirit in the building. The very grainy video taken of the exterior of the building at night shows a white figure appearing in one of the windows. The videographer focuses in on the figure and it appears to take on the features of a very large face then quickly vanishes. Personally, something doesn’t really look right about the video, but I cannot positively describe it as fake.

The grand hospital was constructed in 1915 and served the community well. The 87 bed hospital was bought by Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) in 1981 and it was closed when a new facility was opened nearby. The building remains in its uneasy slumber awaiting its fate and comforted only by the occasional spirit from its past.

The Hayswood Hospital building is closed to visitors, trespassers will be prosecuted.

Sources

  • Barker, Danetta. “Out of the hospital and into custody: Police make arrests at Hayswood.” The Ledger Independent. 22 September 2005.
  • “The Haunted Hayswood Hospital.” Most Haunted Places in America. 18 June 2012.
  • Maynard, Misty. “Video of ‘ghost’ at Hayswood Hospital getting planty of attention.” The Ledger Independent. 22 October 2007.
  • Toncray, Marla. “For Sale: Hayswood Hospital.” The Ledger Independent. 22 March 2013.
  • Toncray, Marla. “Hayswood sale plan halted.” The Ledger Independent. 26 April 2013.

Juju Road
Off of Swan Lake Road
Bossier City, Louisiana

Depending on the version of the legend, his crime ranged from simply looking at a white woman to the murder of two children who were simply fishing. Regardless, legend holds that he took his final breath somewhere along the road that still bears his name and possibly his lingering spirit. His name is said to be “Juju” or more properly “Juju Montgomery” in various versions of the legend, regardless, his name has been applied to this lonely country road outside Bossier City.

Like the countless cry baby bridges and haunted lovers lanes, the old dirt road is a popular hangout for local residents looking for a scare. Online accounts of the haunting describe people encountering the figure of an African-American man standing in the road or hanging from one of the trees with a rope around his neck.

Local paranormal enthusiasts, Marie Edgerly, her husband and son have formed a group called Louisiana Paranormal Addicts which explored Juju Road during the day. While they describe the location as “eerie,” they did not have any direct experiences with the spirit. Arriving home after their investigation, however, they were startled to discover a shadowy human form in one of their photographs from this location. Is it Juju?

Sources

  • Edgerly, Marie. “Juju Road.” Louisiana Paranormal Addicts. 31 October 2014.
  • Patton, Devon. “A Bossier Parish Ghost Story.” 29 April 2014.

Edgar Allen Poe House & Museum
203 Amity Street
Baltimore, Maryland

Of course the home to Baltimore’s favorite son of creepiness is haunted! Why would anyone think otherwise? When Vincent Price, one of the modern masters of creepiness, visited this house he said, “This house gives me the creeps.”

Edgar Allen Poe was born in Boston and lived intermittently in a number of cities including Baltimore where he would ultimately die in 1849. There are a few buildings where he lived that remain, including this small, unassuming house in Baltimore where Poe lived for about two years. The house had been rented by Poe’s aunt, Maria Clemm, in the spring of 1832 and was occupied by her daughter, Virginia, and his grandmother. Poe probably moved in the following year and he used the garret room at the top of the house for his writing. He would remain in these cramped quarters until 1835.

Edgar Allan Poe House, 2007. Photo by Midnightdreary, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Over the years that the house has operated as a museum, some visitors have had unusual experiences, among them the feeling of being tapped on the shoulder by an unseen entity. In the mid-1980s, an actress preparing for a performance in the house had a scary encounter. As she was dressing, she noticed that the window sash was moving in the frame, then was shocked when the sash flew out of the frame and landed at her feet. A 2012 investigation by the Pennsylvania-based Ghost Detectives did turn up some odd voices on the team’s voice recorders.

Sources

  • Hayes, Anthony C. “Ghost Detectives investigate ghostly voices inside the Edgar Allan Poe House.” Baltimore Post-Examiner. 16 July 2012.
  • Hayes, Anthony C. “Is the Edgar Allan Poe House haunted?” Baltimore Post-Examiner. 11 May 2012.
  • Hutchisson, James M. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2005.
  • Mendinghall, Joseph S. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the Edgar Allan Poe House. 11 November 1971.
  • Okonowicz, Ed. Baltimore Ghosts: History, Mystery, Legends and Lore. Elkton, MD: Myst and Lace Publishers, 2006.

Kuhn Memorial Hospital
1422 Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard
Vicksburg, Mississippi

 

A Haunted Southern Book of Days–6 February

This article is a part of an occasional blog series highlighting Southern hauntings or high strangeness associated with specific days. For a complete listing, see “A Haunted Southern Book of Days.”

 

In a recent series on haunted Mississippi for Jackson, Mississippi’s The Clarion-Ledger, reporter Therese Apel remarks that she heard “completely improbable stories from completely sane people.” While researching for the series, Apel explored the deteriorating carcass of Kuhn Memorial State Hospital and had an improbable experience of her own. On the dusty top of an autopsy table a finger—possibly spectral—had spelled out “pleh,” the word “help” backwards.

The oldest part of this hospital was built in 1832 following an epidemic of smallpox that swept the area. In 1871, the state took over operations of the hospital rendering it a charity hospital for all those in need. During an outbreak of yellow fever in 1878, the dreaded mosquito-borne virus claimed the lives of some sixteen doctors and six Sisters of Mercy working here.

A modern wing was added to the building in 1959. The hospital faithfully served the citizens of Vicksburg and the surrounding area until the state cut funding and the hospital closed in 1989. The building has deteriorated under absentee owners for the past twenty-five years, visited only by urban explorers, filmmakers and ghost hunters. It was during a film shoot here that filmmakers may have unwittingly caught a voice exclaiming “oh my God,” upon the appearance of an evil clown, the film’s protagonist.

Further paranormal investigations of the facility have uncovered a plethora of voices in this most haunted of hospitals.

Sources

  • Apel, Therese. “Creepy phenomena recorded at abandoned hospital.” The Clarion-Ledger. 30 October 2014.
  • Apel, Therese. “Haunted Mississippi: Where are the most spiritually active places in the state?” The Clarion-Ledger. 22 September 2014.
  • Associated Press. “Owner of former hospital given deadline.” Mississippi Business Journal. 29 September 2013.
  • Russell, Randy. The Ghost Will See You Now: Haunted Hospitals of the South. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2014.

Stagville State Historic Site
5828 Old Oxford Road
Durham, North Carolina

While psychic and author Kala Ambrose was visiting Stagville as research for her book, Ghosthunting North Carolina, she took a moment, sat quietly and opened herself up in hopes of communicating with a spirit or two. Instead, she found herself thronged by them. She described it in her book, “the crowd of people was so large that I couldn’t see all of their faces. Instead, I felt the pressure of all of their bodies coming closer to me wanting to talk.”

Bennehan House at Stagville, 2008. Photo by Cotinis, courtesy
of Wikipedia.

One of the largest plantations in the South at its height, ghost stories have been a mainstay of Stagville Plantation for many years. Neighbors have reported strange lights on the property as well as screams in the night. The apparitions of an African-American girl and a group of African-American men have been reported near the Great Barn. The fire department has been summoned several times by reports of the slave quarters being ablaze. Upon arrival, there is no evidence of fire. Staff working in the remaining buildings have found that doors open and close and lock and unlock on their own. The site has been investigated by a number of groups who have captured a number of EVPs there.

The property itself has been the scene of much history. There is evidence of inhabitation by Native Americans and their possible burial on the site. Ambrose states that the remains of settlers have been found bearing evidence of attack from Native Americans. In the mid-19th century, this land was part of the huge holdings of the Bennehan and Cameron families and consisted of some 30,000 acres that were worked by some 900 slaves. Stagville State Historic Site preserves about 71 acres of the original plantation along with a number of remaining buildings and ruins.

Sources

  • Ambrose, Kala. Ghosthunting North Carolina. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2011.
  • Haunted North Carolina. “Historic Stagville.” Accessed 12 December 2014.
  • McDonald, Glenn. “Go ghost hunting with Haunted NC.” Indy Week. 22 October 2014.
  • Stagville. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 12 December 2014.

Longstreet Theatre
Campus of the University of South Carolina
Columbia, South Carolina

The building housing the Longstreet Theatre at the University of South Carolina has seen a good deal of joy and a great deal of sorrow. According to the 1941 WPA guide to the state, the 1855 building has twice been pressed into service as a hospital: between 1862 and 1865 during the Civil War and then again in 1918 during the horrible influenza epidemic that swept the world. Legend holds that the room that is used as the theatre’s green room, where actors relax when they’re not onstage, was utilized as the hospital morgue during the Civil War.

To “ward off the Civil War ghosts,” according to a 2011 article from the student newspaper, The Daily Gamecock, students now employ a “buddy system” in the building. This may very well be a good idea as it seems that many of the reports of activity seem to stem from people who find themselves alone in the building. A secretary had her glasses “slapped off” her face as she walked through the building late one afternoon. “There was no one in the building but me, but I felt an impact on my face and my glasses flew off,” she told a reporter later.

A student was quoted as having a feeling of being watched while she was in the green room and then having the sensation of having “a wall of cold air being pushed across and around her.” Other students tend to get a very creepy feeling or even feel vibrations within the ancient structure. However, most students and professors take the spirits in stride. Alan Brown quotes a theatre professor, “I love to tease students and tell them the ghosts are real friendly unless you’re a Yankee.”

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Haunted South Carolina. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2010.
  • Carmichael, Sherman. Eerie South Carolina. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Ellis, Sarah. “Ghost tours highlight USC’s haunted history.” The Daily Gamecock. 28 October 2011.
  • Kearns, Taylor. “The phantom of Longstreet Theatre?” Carolina Reporter & News. No date.
  • Mitchell, Wes. “Ghosts and legends plentiful on USC campus.” Carolina Reporter & News. No date.
  • Steimle, Douglas. “The Ghosts of Longstreet Theatre.” com. 31 October 2011.
  • Workers of the Writers’ Program of the WPA. South Carolina: A Guide to the Palmetto State. NYC: Oxford University Press, 1941.

Baker-Peters Jazz Club
9000 Kingston Pike
Knoxville, Tennessee

This entry has been reposted as a separate entry, “Spirits and Smooth Jazz–Knoxville, Tennessee.”

Graffiti House
19484 Brandy Road
Brandy Station

It’s not hard to imagine that soldiers throughout the Civil War began to quickly feel their own mortality. As they lay wounded in the homes and taverns, churches and barns that had been hastily converted into hospitals throughout the nation, many scratched their names into adjacent plaster walls and floorboards, perhaps in hopes of gaining some type of immortality. With so much of this graffiti obliterated by the buildings caretakers and time, these exercises into immortality have become increasingly rare, despite their importance to historians and the residents of the modern age.

Graffiti House, 2013. Photo by Cecouchman, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Built near a small railroad stop on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, Graffiti House was built by James Barbour in 1858 as a residence and possible commercial building. As battles raged around Virginia, Mr. Barbour’s building was converted into a hospital and the patients began to scrawl on the walls of the structure. In June of 1863, the war that had been trickling into the community until then arrived as a deluge when it was the scene of the largest cavalry battle fought on American soil.

The graffiti was only rediscovered in the early 1990s and the building was later purchased by the Brandy Station Foundation, an organization devoted to preserving the local battlefield and associated sites. But it’s not just graffiti that remains in the building, spirits are still active as well. A handful of paranormal investigation organizations have investigated Graffiti House and captured evidence.

A reporter from The Free Lance-Star in nearby Fredericksburg in 2007 observed a paranormal investigation by the Virginia Paranormal Institute. About an hour into the investigation he was apparently touched by something while an investigator had something grab her hand. During a more recent investigation by Transcend Paranormal, video of an anomalous light in an empty room was captured. The video is available on YouTube.

Sources

  • Johnston, Donnie. “What was that touching my back?” The Free Lance-Star. 23 November 2007.
  • Neville, Ashley and John S. Salmon. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for Graffiti House. June 2005.
  • Transcend Paranormal. “Transcend Paranormal: Graffiti House Light Anomaly.” 18 November 2011.

West Virginia Turnpike–Interstate 77
Between Princeton and Charleston, West Virginia

West Virginia Turnpike as it passes through Fayette County. Photo 2006 by Seicer. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

This article has been revised and expanded in “Turnpike Terror–West Virginia.”

Midnight with Minarets—Old Tampa Bay Hotel

Plant Hall—University of Tampa
401 West Kennedy Boulevard
Tampa, Florida

 

A Haunted Southern Book of Days–5 February

This article is a part of an occasional blog series highlighting Southern hauntings or high strangeness associated with specific days. For a complete listing, see “A Haunted Southern Book of Days.”

 

It’s truly an incredible sight, silver-roofed minarets out of a Moorish fantasy rising above the oaks and palms of downtown Tampa. As I was researching something else, photographs of this fantasy palace called for a further look. I’m glad I did.

It does not, in any way, resemble an academic building, though that is its current use. It was constructed by Henry Plant as the Tampa Bay Hotel between 1888 and 1891. Plant—who had already constructed a rail line to this sleepy hamlet in 1884 and later a steamship line running to Havana—had dreams, like those of Henry Flagler, of turning Florida into a vacation paradise. Their pioneering ideas did succeed—look at Florida now—though it took quite a bit of time. Plant’s investments in this fine hotel were never recouped, though he did succeed in building Tampa into an exciting and cosmopolitan city.

Some of Plant Hall’s minarets. Photo 2012 by WalterPro4755. Released under a Creative Commons License.

Over the more than forty years the hotel operated it barely turned a profit while still attracting some of the best and brightest celebrities. The great French actress, Sarah Bernhardt, lounged in the hotel’s opulence while the Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, danced in the corridors. The voice of William Jennings Bryan echoed through its rooms while Babe Ruth signed his first baseball contract here.

The highlight of the hotel’s illustrious, though impecunious, early history came in 1898 when the hotel served as the stateside command post for the American invasion of Cuba. The ladies and gentlemen who usually promenaded through the elegant hallways of the hotel were replaced with generals, troops and newspaper reporters. With Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt and his Rough Riders stationed nearby, Mrs. Roosevelt was booked into the 511 room hotel alongside the famous nurse, Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, who came to oversee the nursing of soldiers.

After Plant’s death, the grand hotel passed to his heirs who sold it to the city of Tampa in 1905. The hotel saw a series of lease holders until 1933, when the building was leased to the fledgling University of Tampa. Much of the hotel was converted into classrooms and offices while a small portion remained as a museum, preserving the hotel as it was in its heyday. In addition to appearing as part of the university’s logo, the unique building now serves as administrative offices for the school.

A grand staircase inside Plant Hall. Photo 2009 by Gordon Tarpley. Released under a Creative Commons License.

As midnight’s darkness descends on the minarets of Plant Hall—the building’s current designation—the memories from the great building’s heyday are relived. Legend says that students still occasionally encounter servants from the Victorian era still going about their duties. Students have noted that certain parts of the building have an eerie chill and they get the feeling of being watched. A theatre professor in the building’s Fletcher Ballroom encountered an oddly shaped mist. “This cloud of mist…fog, and it was obvious there was some kind of physical shape to it. And as soon as I saw it, it literally sucked into the wall.”

A curving corridor. Photo 2009 by Gordon Tarpley. Released under a Creative Commons License.

A curious student one morning had a frightening experience. As she explored the labyrinthine structure, the student encountered a man in an old-fashioned three piece suit. When she called out to ask if she could help him he did not respond, though he began to walk towards her. At that point she realized his eyes were glowing red and she fled. As she descended a staircase, she encountered the same man calmly drinking tea. There’s no telling what else one might encounter around midnight under the minarets.

Sources

  • Dickens, Dorothy K. and Ralph Christian. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the Tampa Bay Hotel. October 1975.
  • “The Ghosts of Plant Hall.” The Minaret. 1 November 2007.
  • Henry B. Plant Museum. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 10 April 2013.
  • University of Tampa. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 10 April 2013.

The facade of the grand hotel. Photo 2007 by Ebyabe. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

See the Maco Light, Onstage!

Maco Light
Seen near the old Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Tracks
Maco, North Carolina

N. B. This entry was revised 6 January 2024.

A Haunted Southern Book of Days–4 January

This article is a part of an occasional blog series highlighting Southern hauntings or high strangeness associated with specific days. For a complete listing, see “A Haunted Southern Book of Days.”

 

The influence of the Southern folklore extends tremendously beyond the South as evidenced by Bekah Brunstetter’s play Take Her to See the Maco Lights that premiered in Chicago in 2012. According to the notice on Broadwayworld.com, the play “follows a pair of young lovers along a dark railroad track where the past and future converge. [… the story] weaves a ghostly love story with characters who are on a crash course to a certain stretch of overgrown railroad tracks in North Carolina.” Indeed, a special May 17th performance was preceded by a local walking tour hosted by paranormal researcher and writer Ursula Bielski, whose haunted Chicago books I would highly recommend.

The play’s climax occurs on at a legendary spot just outside the small community of Maco in Brunswick County, North Carolina. For more than a century and a half, the railroad tracks attracted the curious to see the famous Maco Light. Legend holds that on the evening of 4 January 1867 a train passing on the then Wilmington and Manchester line near Maco Station had its caboose come uncoupled. The caboose had a lone crewman, Joe Baldwin, asleep inside. When the car slowed down and stopped, he was awakened. Shortly, he was horrified to hear an approaching train and fearing calamity, he grabbed a lantern and stood on the back of the caboose swinging it wildly to alert the oncoming locomotive. That train did not slow down and plowed into the caboose crushing and decapitating the unfortunate crewman. His body was recovered, though his head was not found.

Train brakeman
An 1890 engraving of a brakeman at work. Joe Baldwin was likely a brakeman.

According to some sources, strange lights were first seen in the area just days after the accident. They were a popular attraction for locals and gained some fame from a presidential sighting in 1889. Grover Cleveland told his story in Washington after seeing the lights from his presidential Pullman car. Tony Reevy recounts in his Ghost Train! American Railroad Ghost Legends what most viewers witnessed:

Viewers who saw the light always reported the same thing: the light flared up way down the track, crept towards the observer, then speeded up and began swinging side-to-side. Finally, the light stopped abruptly, hovered for a minute, retreated back to where it started from and vanished. The light always appeared three feet above the left rail, facing east. It was sometimes so distinct that you could see the metal guards of a railroad hand lantern. The light didn’t appear every night. It seemed to appear randomly according to old Joe’s whims.

The tracks were a part of the Wilmington and Manchester Railroad which was acquired not long after the accident by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. The line later became the Seaboard Coast Line. Later mergers added the line to the thousands of miles of rail owned by CSX which took up these tracks in 1977. Sightings of the light reportedly ceased around that time.

But have they? A North Carolina paranormal investigation group, NC HAGS (North Carolina Haints, Apparitions, Ghosts and Spirits) investigated the area in 2007. Following up on recent reports of people seeing the light, the group investigated and captured an odd image. While most photographs taken that evening turned out quite dark with little to be seen, one photograph taken just after an investigator asked Joe Baldwin to appear shows a series of lights that seem to resemble the silhouette of a man. Is Joe Baldwin still stalking the site of the old Maco tracks? At least for now you may have to either venture out to the bug-ridden coastal piney woods of North Carolina or you may sit in an air-conditioned theatre in Chicago to answer that question.

Sources