Death on Wheels–Jackson, Mississippi

Hinds County Courthouse
407 East Pascagoula Street

For about fifteen years, death traveled on wheels throughout the state of Mississippi. During that time, a portable electric chair crisscrossed the state as counties needed to execute inmates. The chair along with portable generators and an executioner would set up in county courthouses or jails in order to do their gloomy work and then move on to the next date with death.

There’s something cruel and disturbing in how Mississippi seemed to delight in their use of “Old Sparky.” Even how the deaths are reported in the local papers is tinged with a sense of pride. Between 1940 and 1954, 73 people met their fates while embraced in the chair’s wooden arms.

Mississippi's portable electric chair
The state’s executioner, Jimmy Thompson, poses with “Old Sparky” with an assembly of young boys. Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

When the instrument was first used in 1940, photographs were proudly published in Jackson’s Clarion-Ledger showing the inmate being strapped in and then a second photograph as the first surge of electricity surged through his body. One blogger noted that photography during executions has been banned throughout the country and that they are exceedingly rare with this being one of only two such photos, the other being the infamous photograph of Ruth Snyder being put to death in New York’s infamous Sing Sing.

Despite being stored in the state capitol building in Jackson, death did not claim a victim there until the 9th of February 1944. Just after midnight 23-year-old Elijah Parker was led into the basement of the Hinds County Courthouse to meet his fate.

Clarion-Ledger
9 February 1944
Page 1

PARKER DIES HERE
IN ELECTRIC CHAIR

The Wages of Sin Is Death

With the final words, “Yes, Father,” plainly visible on his lips, Elijah Parker, 23-year-old Madison county negro, died in the state’s portable electric chair at 12:27 this morning for his part in the slaying of T. Henry Gober over a year and half ago.

The negro was led to the chair by Deputy Sheriffs J. T. Naugher and Bob Stone, and as he entered the basement where the electrocution took place he clasped a Catholic prayer book tightly between his hand-cuffed hands.

His pearly white teeth shone brilliantly behind a faint grin as he sat down in the chair, and he watched intently as officials strapped him securely in the chair. Just before his left arm was strapped to the chair, he handed the prayer book to Father Mathis.

Father Mathis uttered a short prayer and then leaned over close to the negro and said, “be sorry for your sins,” to which the negro replied, “Yes, Father.” These were his last words.

Switch Thrown

Seconds later the state’s official electrocutioner, C. W. Watson threw the switch that shot 2,300 volts of electricity through the negro’s body. The chair gave a quick lurch and the strap holding Parker’s left leg to the chair broke loose, and his fists clenched tight.

Fifty-five seconds later, Dr. S. J. Hooper stepped forward, held a stethoscope to the negro’s heart and shook his head indicating that the negro was not dead. Seconds later more voltage was sent through the negro’s body and then Dr. Cecil Walley stepped up and examined the negro and indicated that he was still not dead. Dr. Hooper then examined him and pronounced him dead.

Sheriff L. M. (John) Gordon read the death warrant to the negro in the jail before he was brought down to the basement. Officials said that the negro remained calm until the last and offered no struggle as he was led to his death.

Spectators Look-on

Some several dozen spectators watched what was the first electrocution to be held in Hinds county.

Elijah Parker became the twentieth person to die (the first in Jackson) in the state’s portable electric chair since that method of electrocution was first installed in Mississippi several years ago.

Fifteen persons died in the chair while Jimmy Thompson served as the official electrocutioner and five have met death since C. W. Watson has been electrocutioner.

Although the sheriff of Hinds county is the official custodian of the chair, Parker became the first person to die in it in Hinds county.

Parker was convicted in November 1942 by a Hinds county jury for his part in the bludgeon-slaying of T. Henry Gober, well-known Madison county farmer, in the early morning hours of July 23, 1942, and was subsequently sentenced to death in the state’s portable electric chair by Judge Jeptha F. Barbour, then circuit judge.

Two teen-age accomplices of Parker were tried at the same time and sentenced to life imprisonment in the state penitentiary. Since that time one died at Parchman.

The Hinds county judgement was affirmed by the State Supreme Court when an appeal was taken to that body, and later when the case was carried to the U. S. Supreme Court that body declined to hear it.

The case was returned to the State Supreme Court and the date of execution was reset for February 9, today.

_____

Elijah Parker’s last request was to have the following song words published:

LET MY LAST DAY BE MY BEST
CHORUS

Lord let my last day be my best.
Lord let my last day be my best
And I know good Lord,
You will do the rest.

If I was dying without Jesus,
On my side it would be miserable,
To think about the death I died.

But I have found Jesus,
And now I am satisfied,
Going to work right on;
Until the day I die.

When I am dying friends and relatives
Standing at my bedside crying then
Lord let my last day be my best.

The appearance of the Hinds County Courthouse is foreboding. It is faced with limestone giving the impression that it is a single carved piece of stone rendered in the Art Deco style. Construction commenced in January 1930 and ended in December of that year. The building contained not only courtrooms, and county offices, but a jail and an apartment for the jailer.

Hinds County Courthouse Jackson Mississippi
The Hinds County Courthouse, 2018, by Michael Barera. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

With such a history, the building is no doubt haunted, though there are no modern published reports of paranormal activity within this building. However, an article appeared in a 1947 Clarion-Ledger noting that several custodians had encounters here.

Clarion-Ledger
20 February 1947
Page 1

Do State’s ‘Chair’ Victims Return?

GHOST HAUNTS HINDS
COUNTY COURT HOUSE

Laugh if you will and scoff if you must, but a ghost last night made its grim appearance in the basement of the Hinds County Court House.

The eerie apparition was seen at about 8 p.m. by P. E. Brent, custodian of the building. The ghost has been reported by several negroes during recent weeks as roaming the basement in the vicinity of the spot where the state’s portable electric chair claims its doomed. But last night was the first time a white man actually saw the melancholy, shadowy figure.

Brent had just left the boiler room where he makes an hourly check. He walked toward the stairway and suddenly halted, sweat forming on his forehead, his muscles tense. Standing a few yards away, facing him, was the transparent outline of a man, about 5 feet 9 inches in height. A black hood covered the figure’s head and shoulders. There were no slits for the eyes or nose.

Brent gathered courage and walked slowly toward the immobile figure, amazed at what he saw and determined to solve the mystery. But as he approached, the figure slowly disintegrated before his eyes, leaving nothing but a vivid memory in the custodian’s mind.

“I don’t believe in ghosts,” Brent said after the strange experience. “But I’m convinced that some sort of apparition in the form of a man with a black hood was standing near the stairway when I emerged from the boiler room.”

Several colored janitors have quit their jobs at the court house during recent months because of their belief that the basement is haunted.

The three present employees, however have taken rather philosophical views of their shadowy colleague. All of them claim they have seen the ghost several times.

On one recent occasion, Ben Britton, one of the negro janitors saw a man walking toward the door. He followed him, since it was late at night and no one was supposed to be in the building. The figure neared the door, opened it and walked out. When Ben got to the door he said he found it locked.

On another occasion, Alec Pools, his co-worker, saw a figure which he said looked like a boy. He told him not to play in the basement. The “boy” turned around and started walking toward him. As Alec started to run, the “boy” disappeared.

Pleas Britton, the third janitor said he saw the ghost practically every week, but added that he “knew he won’t hurt me.”

“He’s one of us,” the negro said. “He couldn’t make heaven or hell and he’s just wandering around. He never does anything. He just wanders around sort of mournful-like. I know he won’t hurt me.”

I pray that if the spirits of any of those who died by way of Mississippi’s death on wheels remain in the Hinds County Courthouse, I sincerely hope they are at peace.

This is not the only spirit from a victim of “Old Sparky” that may continue to haunt the location of their execution. Please see my coverage of Marty’s Blues Cafe in downtown Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Sources

Correctional Creepiness—Haunted Jail of Alabama

It seems that wherever people are incarcerated their spirits may remain. Many of these places, be they jails, prisons, or the like, may be the scenes of deaths. In older jails, executions may have been conducted, but then there are also suicides, murders, accidents, and natural deaths as well occurring to the incarcerated as well as staff members. With death’s often malignant presence, it is no surprise that they are haunted.

Buck Creek Mill Site
Off 7th Street, Southwest
Alabaster

This site, now owned by the City of Alabaster, was once the site of a large cotton mill and associated buildings. The mill opened in 1896 as the Selma Cotton Mill, was renamed the Siluria Cotton Mill in 1902, and finally named the Buck Creek Cotton Mill in 1911, the name it would retain until it closed in 1979. The city purchased the property and demolished most of the structures, with the exception of the water tower and old jail, in the late 2000s. While much of the site is off limits to the public, the old mill’s dam on Buck Creek may be accessed by way of the Buck Creek Greenway.

In the years since, visitors to the site have reported paranormal experiences here including a black figure deemed, “The Black Phantom.” Investigator and author Kim Johnston notes that some visitors have had run-ins with a red-eyed specter here while others have felt an unexpected sense of panic.

Sources

Limestone County Courthouse
200 West Washington Street
Athens

This, the third courthouse on this site, has witnessed the panoply of Athens history. The first courthouse was built on this site in 1820 and destroyed during the Civil War. Within the ruined shell of the first courthouse, the second building was built. That structure was razed and replaced with the current courthouse in 1916.

Limestone County Courthouse Athens Alabama
Limestone County Courthouse, 2010, by Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy of the George F. Landregger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Author Jessica Penot spoke with the staff of the courthouse and discovered that this building apparently harbors the spirit of an inmate. Officials report that the third floor of the building once housed the jail and the spirit of an inmate who hung himself in his cell.

Sources

  • Lauderdale County Heritage Book Committee. Heritage of Lauderdale County, Alabama. Clanton, AL: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 1999.
  • Penot, Jessica. “The Athens/Limestone County Courthouse.” Ghost Stories and Haunted Places Blog. 4 April 2011.

Main Street Café
101 Main Street
Madison

There’s a ghost in the heart of Madison, specifically in the Main Street Café. Built in 1955, the structure that now houses the restaurant was built as the city’s third city hall. Originally, the structure contained offices and two jail cells, both of which remain as part of the restaurant. One spirit may remain from the building’s past: a spirit who has been dubbed George by the restaurant staff. Author and blogger Jessica Penot notes that the spirit is mostly mischievous and seems to play pranks on the employees like arranging things to fall out when a cabinet is opened or moving or hiding kitchen utensils.

Sources

  • Penot, Jessica. “Old Jail Ghosts in the Main Street Café.” Ghost Stories and Haunted Places Blog. 26 October 2010.
  • Tucker, Leslie & Christy Anderson. Madison Station Historic District. February 2005.

Old Bibb County Jail
21 Court Square, West
Centreville

Bibb County Courthouse and Jail Centreville Alabama
The Bibb County Courthouse with the jail in the background. Photograph taken for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

This 1910 Renaissance-styled jail is no longer standing. It was used from the date of its construction until 2004, after which the building served as storage for the city. It was demolished in 2015. During this time, it gained notoriety as being haunted. For further information, see my entry on the jail in “Alabama Haunt Briefs.”

Old Calaboose
Orline Street
Wetumpka 

Old Calaboose Wetumpka Alabama
Old Calaboose in 2016. Photograph by Lewis O. Powell, IV, all rights reserved.

Standing near the riverside in downtown Wetumpka is a small brick building with tiny windows and a single, solid door. This old calaboose, from the Spanish calabozo, meaning dungeon, was the first jail in the area, having been constructed around 1820. It could house only two prisoners at a time. This location was featured on the Wetumpka Haunted History Tour in 2016 and activity there was only vaguely described.

Sources

  • Wetumpka-Elmore County Chamber of Commerce. Wetumpka Haunted History Tour. 28 October 2016.

Old Coffee County Jail
329 Putnam Street
Elba

The ruins of this 1912 jail hold perhaps a number of spirits. This building was the scene of the assassination of the county’s sheriff in 1979. This, combined with the usual negative energy found in jails, may contribute to the building’s haunted nature. For further information, see my entry on the jail in “Alabama Hauntings—County by County, Part II.”

Old Covington County Jail
Behind the Covington County Courthouse
101 North Court Square
Andalusia
 

Situated behind the county courthouse, this jail was constructed in 1916 and has been probed by paranormal investigators on at least two occasions. Writer and investigator Faith Serafin, who led a team through the building, remarked that evidence of spirits within the building is “beyond a shadow of a doubt.” For further information, see my entry on the jail in “Alabama Hauntings—County by County, Part II.”

Old Rock Jail
Corner of Jackson Street and AL 22
Rockford

Old Rock Jail Rockford Alabama
The Old Rock Jail in 2020. Photo by Jimmy Reynolds Jr., courtesy of Wikipedia.

Legend holds that the spirit of an inmate who committed suicide remains to walk the halls of this old jail. This three-story structure, constructed in 1842, is the oldest stone jail in the state. It served the county until 1938. The building is now owned by the local historical society and operated as a museum and events venue.

Sources

Old Townley Jail (private)
Off Main Street
Townley
 

Located in woods just off Main Street in this small Walker County community, are the ruins of the old jail. These remains, on private property now, are reportedly haunted. A young lady reported on GhostsofAmerica.com that she and her friends had several frightening encounters while investigating there one night. The group heard chains in the empty building and took several pictures with anomalies. 

Sources

Pauley Jail
Behind the Bullock County Courthouse
217 North Prairie Avenue
Union Springs

Behind the courthouse stands the intimidating Pauly Jail named for the Pauly Jail Building and Manufacturing Company of St. Louis which constructed it in 1897. The building is among the oldest jails still in existence in the state. Like many jails of the period, executions were conducted here using the trap door on the second floor. The condemned may remain here in the form of voices, odd sounds, and fleeting shadows.

Sources

  • Fox, Jovani. “Paranormal research team investigates Pauly Jail.” Union Springs Herald. September 2009.
  • Higdon, David and Brett J. Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.

Sipsey City Hall
3835 Sipsey Road
Sipsey

Like Townley above, Sipsey is also a small town in Walker County. City Hall once featured jail cells, but those have been disused for some time. Perhaps the remaining cells may be the cause of paranormal activity experienced throughout the building. According to a report from the Alabama Paranormal Research Team, an investigation in this building turned up a surprising amount of activity.

Sources

  • Alabama Paranormal Research Team. Investigation Report on the Sipsey City Jail. Accessed 29 November 2012.

Winston County Courthouse
10 Blake Drive
Double Springs
 

Winston County Courthouse Double Springs Alabama
The Winston County Courthouse, 1995, by Calvin Beale, taken for the USDA.

This 1894 county courthouse also houses the county jail. According to a post on HauntedPlaces.org, a jailer has had a series of unusual experiences here. One night after getting a bag of chip from a vending machine, the jailer’s chips were knocked from his hands but a cool breeze. A comment on the post from someone who spent time incarcerated here states that “old lawman” still walks the corridor.

Sources

  • Kay, Steven M. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for the Winston County Courthouse. March 1987.
  • Winston County Courthouse. HauntedPlaces.org. Accessed 23 May 2021.

Alabama Haunt Briefs

Needing a project to carry me through this quarantine, I’ve decided to return to some original blog roots. Just after establishing this blog in 2010, I created a series of articles highlighting ten haunted places within each of the 13 states that I cover. Over time, these articles have been picked apart, rewritten, expanded, and used elsewhere. When I moved this blog, I did not move over those articles. Because I have a backlog of incomplete articles and bits and pieces that haven’t been published I’m creating a new breed of these articles during this quarantine.

The Alabama article, the first to be posted, was recreated after I finished my Alabama book as the “Southern Spirit Guide to Haunted Alabama.” This article contains new entries that I have not covered in this blog.

Hank Williams Boyhood Home and Museum
127 Rose Street
Georgiana

One of Alabama’s most important native sons, Hiram King “Hank” Williams, Sr. played a major role in taking country music from the rural backwaters and byways of the South to nationwide popularity. He created a sound that combined the folksy sound of Jimmie Rodgers with stylistic elements of African-American blues, taught to him by Rufus “Tee Tot” Payne, all combined with honest, straight-talking, and evocative lyrics that are now the standard for country music lyricism. Williams’ hard drinking and even harder living lead to an early death at the age of 29 while traveling to West Virginia. While he sang, “I’m Leavin’ Now,” it seems that Williams’ spirit may remain earthbound. His lonesome spirit appears at several sites associated with his life including Birmingham’s Redmont Hotel.

Hank Williams Boyhood Home Georgiana Alabama
Hank Williams’ Boyhood Home, 2010, by Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy of the George F. Landregger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Born in rural Butler County in 1923, young Hank’s early childhood was fraught with difficulties. Hank’s father, a long-term patient at the veterans’ hospital in Pensacola, Florida suffering from a brain injury sustained during his service in World War I, left Lily, Hank’s mother, to fend for herself and her little family. They were offered this home in Georgiana in 1930 after the family lost their cabin and all their possessions in a fire.

Williams lived here with his family during perhaps the most significant time in his musical development. During the four years the family occupied this house, Williams is said to have practiced his guitar underneath it while sitting on “an old car seat.” Williams’ son, Hank Jr., writes of an encounter with his father’s spirit at this home in his song, “127 Rose Avenue.” Can this be considered actual evidence of a haunting? Perhaps, or maybe it’s simply Hank Junior’s lyrical way of memorializing his late father.

Sources

  • Butler County Heritage Book Committee. Heritage of Butler County, Alabama. Clanton, AL: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 2003.
  • Lange, Jeffrey J. “Hank Williams Sr.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. 19 March 2007.
  • Serafin, Faith. Haunted Montgomery, Alabama. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.

Lafayette Lanier Elementary School and Langdale Auditorium
6001 20th Avenue
Valley

Following the Civil War, local industrialists began establishing textile mills throughout the South. In order to provide for their employees—and also as a way of making them and their families beholden to the mill owners and managers—these industrialists established mill villages. These villages provided most everything an employee and their families would require including housing, schools, churches, and stores. Valley, Alabama is made up of a series of mill villages on the western bank of the Chattahoochee River.

Langdale Auditorium Valley Alabama
Langdale Auditorium stands next to Lafayette Lanier Elementary. Photo 2016, by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

One of the oldest of these villages is centered on the Langdale Mill that was established in 1866. While the village has a number of late-19th century buildings, many of the most prominent buildings were constructed in the early 20th century. Lafayette Lanier Elementary School and the adjoining Langdale Auditorium were constructed around 1935. Though the mill across the street has closed, both buildings are still used for their initial functions and known to be haunted.

Kenneth W. Allen, a local paranormal investigator, penned a book, Southern Alabama Hauntings, in 2013. An employee with local law enforcement and first responders, Allen was in a great position to collect tales of strange doings in the area. With these stories, he also investigated several of these locations to further prove rumors of them being haunted.

In the book, Allen includes the experience of a local police officer who was sent to investigate a possible intruder in the school. He made his way through the first floor and found no one so he headed up to the second floor. Stepping into the second-floor corridor, he spotted a figure darting into one of the classrooms. He drew his weapon and called for backup. When three other officers arrived, they proceeded into the classroom that the suspect had disappeared into only to find the room empty. Over the years, teachers, staff, and students have seen an odd figure on the second floor. One story reveals that the figure is that of one of the school’s principals.

The auditorium has its own panoply of ghosts. Besides footsteps that reportedly resound throughout the old building, the spirits enjoy playing with toys that are kept in storage. Allen tells one story of a teacher who put toys away only to find them out again when she entered the storage room a short time later.

Sources

  • Allen, Kenneth W. Southern Alabama Hauntings. CreateSpace: 2013.
  • Binkley, Trina. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for the Langdale Historic District. May 1999.

Mount Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery
7400 Tabor Road
Gadsden

A recent conversation with a Northeast Alabama resident led me to begin uncovering stories from this cemetery. Located northeast of Gadsden on Lookout Mountain, this small country church has an old cemetery located just across the road. Consulting the Find-A-Grave page on this cemetery, it seems that the first burial occurred in 1886 and continuing to the present day.

As for the spookier side of this cemetery, it is reported that strange lights are sometimes seen here. I would note that these are likely cemetery lights, which are seen in and around cemeteries worldwide. Additionally, disembodied voices are heard.

A search on this location brought up a frightening account on GhostsofAmerica.com. While I cannot vouch for the validity of this account, it seems to me to ring true. According to this account, a group of curious people decided to visit the cemetery after finding it listed on a haunted places website. As they stepped out of their car, the group began to hear strange whistling, screaming, and a thumping noise. Frightened, the group piled back in their car as the sounds grew closer. Before the group drove away, a hand appeared, pressing against the passenger window.

Please respect this holy burial ground, and tread lightly taking only memories with you.

Sources

Old Bibb County Jail
21 Court Square, West
Centreville

When I wrote my Alabama book, the Old Bibb County Jail was facing a death sentence. Local officials had made the decision to demolish the forlorn building on the town square. Sadly, the death sentence was imposed, and the building has been razed.

Built in 1910, this imposing Renaissance Revival structure had seen many a prisoner pass through its barred cells until its closure in 2004. Indeed, it also saw executions as well, with the last occurring in 1949. Perhaps this is why the building may be haunted. A 2009 investigation report from the Tuscaloosa Paranormal Research Group suggests that paranormal activity in the old jail ranges from full body apparitions to odd sounds and a feeling of being watched.

Sources

  • Floyd, W. Warner. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for the Centreville Historic District. 21 December 1977.
  • McClanahan, Mike. “Old Bibb County Jail set to be demolished, citizens protesting decision.” WIAT. 5 June 2015.
  • Reed, Jon. “See inside 105-year-old abandoned Alabama jail.” com. 15 June 2015.
  • Tuscaloosa Paranormal Research Group. Bibb County Jail. 14 November 2009.

Peerless Saloon & Grille
13 West 10th Street
Anniston

The Peerless Saloon may have had few peers when it opened in 1899, though now there are quite a few options for spirits in Anniston. However, the Peerless has few peers regarding ghosts, legends, or history. From 1899 until Prohibition, the Peerless offered an opulent place to enjoy a cocktail and possibly buy some time with a lovely woman upstairs.

Peerless Saloon Anniston Alabama
The Peerless Saloon in all its Victorian glory, 2014. Photo by Chris Pruitt, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Gentlemen entering the Peerless in the early 20th century were greeted by Lucinda Talley from her perch at the top of the stairs. She reigned as a queen over her brothel for a little more than 20 years before she met her death here. In 1920, as police chased a saloon patron upstairs, she unknowingly stepped into the line of a police bullet; some suspect she has not left her post.

After sitting abandoned and decaying for many years, the saloon was restored and reopened in 1992. Mrs. Talley’s upstairs domain now features an events space called the Atlanta Room. Staff members have glimpsed Lucinda still at her post at the top of the stairs and in the Atlanta Room. It may also be her spirit who occasionally breaks glasses behind the bar. The Oxford Paranormal Society visited The Peerless some years ago capturing a few visual anomalies on video.

Sources

  • Barton, Donna. “Local filmmakers tackle the legend of Lucinda.” Anniston Star. 1 March 2015.
  • “History.” Peerless Saloon. <http://www.southernmusic.net/peerless2.html>. Accessed 6 June 2015.
  • Kazek, Kelly. “Few historic stagecoach inns and taverns survive across Alabama, take a tour.” com. 14 August 2014.
  • Oxford Paranormal Society. Peerless Saloon. Accessed 6 June 2015.

Swift-Coles Historic Home
17424 Swift-Coles Lane
Bon Secour

This late 19th century home presents a glimpse into life on the Alabama coast in the early 20th century. When Charles Swift moved to the area in 1885, he purchased a small dogtrot house—a house featuring an open hallway through the middle— with four rooms on either side. During the Swift family’s occupation, they transformed the home into a luxurious 16-room mansion. The house remained in the family until 1976 when a local entrepreneur bought and restored it.

Swift-Coles House Bon Secour Alabama
Swift-Coles House, 2015, by Sandy Forsman. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In 2008, the house was investigated by Bon Secour Paranormal Investigations. An article from the Mobile FOX affiliate details the investigation and reveals that the apparition of a female servant has been seen on the stairs, while Civil War soldiers have been seen in the front yard. The article reports that throughout the night the team experienced “small, but strange phenomena.”

Sources

  • Jackson, John. “Baldwin County’s tidewater mansion: the historical Swift-Coles home.” Gulf Coast Visitor’s Guide. 20 August 2013.
  • Rockwood, Mike and Charissa Cowart. “Ghost hunters, Swift-Coles House.” FOX10. 31 October 2008.

Trinity Lutheran Church
1024 Quintard Avenue
Anniston

A “benign, Casper-like, presence” may haunt Trinity Lutheran Church, according to the church’s pastor. A Halloween 2010 article in the Anniston Star details the haunting of this 1920s-era church and the parish house next door. The legend of this church dates to the church’s construction as Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church. A priest supposedly died in a bedroom of the parish house, and he has continued to return for many years. Another priest living in the parish house later summoned the police after hearing heavy footsteps walking towards his bedroom. When police arrived, no one was found in the home. Now a Lutheran church, members and staff have continued to hear footsteps and have sensed the presence of the long- dead priest.

Sources

  • Buckner, Brett. “Ghost of the parsonage: It is said that Trinity Lutheran is haunted by a benign spirit.” Anniston Star. 30 October 2010.

Prison Strike–Tennessee

N.B. This article was originally published as part of “Preserving Haunted History—Tennessee” in 2012. With this update on the structure, this section has been broken out into a new article.

Tennessee State Prison
6410 Centennial Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee

The hulking Tennessee State Prison perched above the Cumberland River has recently been the scene of a prison strike. This strike, however, did not involve prisoners or guards, but a powerful EF3 tornado.

Around 12:30 CST on March 3rd, this powerful tornado touched down near the John C. Tune Airport, which received a tremendous blow before the twister crossed the Cumberland River. Crossing over Briley Parkway and bearing down on the old Victorian prison. Having been put out of commission in 1992 and only used for storage by the state Department of Corrections, the site was thankfully unoccupied by the living.

The tornado’s strike on the seemingly impregnable brick and stone facility caused the walls of the east cellblock to collapse. The prison’s main building, which sits just in front of the cellblocks with an array of castle-like turrets and a high-pitched roof, lost parts of its roof and blew many of the windows out. A nearby building housing records was demolished.

Tennessee State Prison
Interior of one of the cellblocks in 2007. Photo by Dave Scaglione, courtesy of Wikipedia.

After crossing the Cumberland again, the tornado bore down in North and East Nashville, claiming several lives and causing extensive damage before heading east into Wilson County. Another tornado touched down in Putnam County about an hour later and claimed 18 lives as it moved towards Cookeville.

With the widespread damage done at the Tennessee State Prison, there are now questions as to what to do with the massive historic facility. Since its closure, the building has been used for storage and a news story several years ago reported that while the building was well built, that there were no plans to restore the building or hold tours due to the presence of asbestos and other dangerous materials.

Tennessee State Prison
Main Building of the Tennessee State Prison, 2006. Photo by
Pepper6181, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The prison opened in 1898 to replace the old prison, which had been built in 1830. The new prison was constructed using prisoner labor and after opening, outbuildings were constructed using salvaged materials from the old prison. The day the prison opened, some 1400 prisoners were transferred into the facility which had been built to house only 800. For almost a century, the prison was overcrowded, and the treatment of prisoners was one of the issues driving the creation of Riverbend Maximum Security Institution nearby.

When the prison closed in 1992, an injunction was issued preventing the state from ever using the prison to house inmates again. While the building has sat abandoned, it has been used as a set for a variety of movies including Earnest Goes to Jail and The Green Mile. It has also been used for television and recently was used for the video for Pillar’s “Bring Me Down.” Guards now patrol the grounds keeping away the criminal and the curious.

Like hospitals and battlefields, most prisons tend to have paranormal activity. Visitors to the Tennessee State Prison have reported numerous sounds including the sound of the heavy metal doors closing. Other visitors have encountered apparitions of prisoners in the corridors and exercise yards while people passing by have reported seeing faces peering from the windows.

It is unknown what effect the tornado’s damage will have on the prison’s paranormal populace, though, I imagine that it will continue to have activity very much like the Kentucky State Penitentiary. Even if the state decides to demolish the magnificent building, I believe that the land has been imprinted with much of the negative energy and the site will remain haunted for centuries to come.

Sources

Terror in Toccoa—Georgia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atlanta Constitution
27 December 1887

CAGED AND BURNED

A Heartrending Scene at Toccoa, Georgia.

A PRISONER SHRIEKING FOR HELP

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

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

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

Atlanta Constitution
27 February 1888

THE DEAD MAN’S GHOST

Returns to Haunt the Prisoners Who Succeed Him.

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

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

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

Sources

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

Saved because of a song—Columbus, Georgia

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

Columbus Stockade
700 East 10th Street
Columbus, Georgia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

“The groaning of the prisoner”—Kentucky State Penitentiary

Kentucky State Penitentiary
266 Water Street
Eddyville, Kentucky

For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the Lord behold the earth;
To hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death.
–Book of Psalms, Chapter 102, Verses 19-20 (King James Version)

In his marvelous book, Hauntings of the Kentucky State Penitentiary, Steve Asher recounts a number of experiences he and other staff members had within the walls of this grim institution. A guard working in the late 1980s had a frightening encounter while inspecting cells in Three Cell House. These particular cells had once been part of death row, and despite them not being in use at that point, they still required inspection.

After examining the first few cells, the guard encountered a cell that was occupied. The prisoner stood in the center of the small space reading a Bible. The prisoner greeted the guard and he acknowledged it with a nod and smile before returning to his inspection.

When he returned to his office, he asked his sergeant if the prisoner had gotten a meal. The sergeant replied that there was no one in that cell, in fact no one had been in those cells in nearly a month. Knowing how thorough the guard normally was, the sergeant insisted on looking in the cell himself to ensure that a mistake had not been made.

The guard and the sergeant approached the cell to find that it was indeed empty. A light layer of frost attested to the cell having been unoccupied for some time. The pair stepped inside and noticed that the temperature inside was quite chilly. The cell had been stripped and was empty except for a small Bible that lay open on the floor.

Picking it up, the guard noted that the pages were open to the 102nd Psalm and one single passage had been highlighted, verse 20, “To hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death.” He passed the Bible to the sergeant and shuddered as he read the highlighted verse aloud. Perhaps the spirit was trying to communicate with the guard.

Kentucky State Penitentiary Eddyville
The front facade of the Kentucky State Penitentiary, 2011. Photo by Acdixon, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Eddyville, Kentucky is situated on a sharp bend in the Cumberland River near the border with Tennessee. The bend in the river and the two lakes that were created in the 20th century create a finger of land that is preserved as Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, a place that is known for many strange goings-on. Rising above the river at the old site of the town of Eddyville (much of the original town was destroyed with the creation of Lake Barkley) is the famed “Castle on the Cumberland,” the Kentucky State Penitentiary.

For more than a century, this grim edifice has stood reminding the lawful of the consequences of lawlessness and little hope for law-breakers. Several sources note that the front entrance of the prison was once marked with a plaque bearing the words, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here,” the same words marking the gates to Hell in Dante’s Inferno.

Steve Asher posits that the prison itself may act as a kind of paranormal dynamo. Constructed with prison labor, the very building itself is imbued with negativity and that that atmosphere creates the perfect storm for an array of paranormal activity. His book offers a glance behind the prison walls revealing apparitions, phantom sounds, bizarre sensations, and disturbing nightmares experienced by members of the prison staff.

The Kentucky State Penitentiary began life in 1884 as a branch prison to relieve the overcrowding of the main state penitentiary in Frankfort. Opening in 1886, the Medievel-Revival edifice was meant to house 800 prisoners. The prison became the main state prison with the closure of the Frankfort prison in 1937. In 1911, an electric chair was installed and served as the primary method of execution at KSP until 1962. During that time, 163 men were put to death in “Old Sparky.”

view of Kentucky State Penitentiary from the Cumberland River
View of Kentucky State Penitentiary from the Cumberland River, 1939, from the National Archives and Records Administration.

On July 13, 1928, “Old Sparky” saw its busiest day when seven men were executed back to back. On that Friday the 13th, the headline of the Louisville Courier-Journal shouted, “Red Seymour loses fight for life, is doomed to die with six others.” The Thursday before had dashed the hopes of murderer Orlando “Red” Seymour when a judge overruled a petition for a sanity hearing. The hearing was held in the KSP chapel where the newspaper described the scene.

Seymour was brought into the prison chapel, where the hearing was held, and remained throughout. He appeared to be very weak and was assisted up the steps to the stage where he sat, his hands in his arms. He frowned when the decision was announced and then was led back to his cell.

Just after 7 PM that night, the prison warden visited the cells of the seven condemned men to read the death warrants. The executions were slated to take place just after midnight. The newspaper described the scene at the prison on Thursday afternoon leading up to the mass execution.

Corridor Is Jammed.

Guards at the prison declared today that never had there been so much excitement attending an execution here, the corridor outside the warden’s office throughout the day was filled with relatives, friends and attorneys of the condemned men. Here and there a woman was sobbing. Little groups congregated about the doorways.

[…]

Down in the death house, the heat was oppressive. The four white men sat or stood before their cell doors throughout the afternoon. All were composed and each repeated his assertion of yesterday that he was ready to die.

[…]

Death Cell Furnished Plainly.

The death house has seven rooms, only four of them cells. These cells are situated directly across from the electric chair room, which may easily be seen through a wide door. The death chamber is very plainly furnished. The electric chair is in the center at the far side of the large room. To the right side, facing the chair, is a small room from which the switches are manipulated.

The Owensboro Inquirer picks up the story of the executions.

Four white men, three of them very young, and three negroes made up the seven whose deaths in the electric chair set a record for Kentucky. Sullen, defiant and prayerful by turns during their stay in the death house, the condemned men were reduced by fear to a condition bordering upon collapse as midnight approached.

Shaken by Dread 

Although there was no clock going to sound the hours, the prisoners sensed and all talk died away long before the death march started at 12:15. With heads supported in cupped hands, they sat silent, their bodies shaken by chills despite the intense heat in the squat stone house that had been their home in the prison. In plain view was the execution chamber and the chair.

After the seven white coffins were placed outside the prison for the families to take, the newspaper noted:

It was thought however, that one or more might remain to be buried in the tiny prison cemetery that lies just outside the towering walls. Early in the morning a red cart and mule stood hitched near the coffins ready to perform their last duty of the state in hauling those that remained down the hill.

After such a dreadful day in KSP history, it is possible that one or more of these prisoners have remained behind in spirit form. Perhaps it is one of these prisoners who appeared to the guard while going about his rounds.

Eastern view of the Kentucky State Penitentiary
Eastern view of the Kentucky State Penitentiary, 2014. Photo by Nyttend, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Please note that this prison is still in full operation and not open for the curious or paranormal investigations.

Sources

  • Asher, Steve E. Hauntings of Kentucky State Penitentiary. NYC: Permuted Press, 2016.
  • Blanco, Juan Ignacio. “Kentucky Executions 1607-1976.” Death Penalty USA. Accessed 26 November 2019.
  • Kentucky State Penitentiary. The Kentucky Encyclopedia. Accessed 26 November 2019.
  • Robards, S.M. “Red Seymour loses fight for life, is doomed to die with six others.” The Courier-Journal. 13 July 1928.
  • “Seven suffer death penalty at Eddyville.” The Owensboro Inquirer. 13 July 1928.

Strange LaGrange: Ghosts, Legends, & Spirited History—A Walking Tour

There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in proportion.
–Edgar Allan Poe, “Ligeia,” 1838

The South is a very strange place. Even after years of researching and writing about the South, I continue to find masses of odd stories, not just from ghostlore, but stories regarding cryptids, UFOs, aliens, dreams, premonitions, and other high strangeness. While the South isn’t any more active than any other region in the world, it seems that Southerners, who are natural storytellers, have created a stranger version of their world through their storytelling.

Lafayette Square LaGrange Georgia
Lafayette Square in downtown LaGrange, Georgia. Photo 2012, by Rivers Langley, courtesy of Wikipedia.

My hometown of LaGrange, Georgia has its own strange and storied landscape. Growing up here, I heard stories and tales of haunted places, but was never able to confirm much of this. After starting this blog, I have pursued some of these stories, but rarely with much success. When I got the call from the director of the Troup County Historical Society several months ago, asking if I would be interested in creating this tour, I jumped at the chance. It has always been a dream to create a ghost tour locally, but I never had the backing of such an august group.

As cliché as it may be to say, this tour is a labor of love. Not only has led me to ponder local history, but my own personal history here, as well as reinforcing my love for this little West Georgia town.

The tour winds through downtown LaGrange stopping by a number of historic and haunted locales as well as other places of strangeness, which doesn’t just include ghostlore. During the mid-1990s, this area was the scene of a large number of UFO sightings, leading ufologists to dub it the “Troup-Heard Corridor.” During this time, locals not only witnessed strange things in the skies, a few even had some very close encounters with possible aliens.

Indeed, the strangeness also includes the discovery, in the late 1960s, of an ancient Sumerian tablet, now known as the Hearn Tablet. Discovered by a local housewife in her garden, this apparent ancient receipt in the form of a small lead tablet is certainly out of place and produces many questions as to how it ended up here in West Georgia.

Hearn Tablet ancient Sumerian tablet found in Troup County Georgia
The Hearn Tablet, an ancient Sumerian tablet found in Troup County, Georgia. Photo courtesy of the Troup County Historical Society and Archives. All rights reserved.

From downtown, the strangeness extends all the way to the august halls of LaGrange College, the oldest private institution of higher learning in the state. Recently, a pair of young ladies were working in the college’s Smith Hall late in the evening. The first entered and was walking towards her office when she suddenly tripped over something. Looking around, she tried to identify what she had tripped over, but nothing was there. She realized that it felt as if someone had stuck their leg out to purposefully trip her. Shrugging off the incident, she continued to her office and set to work.

Smith Hall LaGrange College ghost haunted
Smith Hall ,LaGrange College, 2010, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

The second young lady arrived a few minutes later, entering the office with a curious expression. She noted that she had had a strange thing happen to her on her way in, describing being tripped in the same manner that the first had. The pair returned to work, now wary of the prankster spirit that has haunted the halls of this building for years.

Stories have circulated for years about a spirit within Smith Hall, but many of the stories don’t exactly add up or stand up to historical scrutiny. Nonetheless, students and staff continue to have experiences here and within several other college buildings. All of these stories contributing to make LaGrange very strange.

Stops on the tour also include the LaGrange Art Museum, whose peculiar history I have examined closely in my article, “Its hideous use—LaGrange, Georgia.”

Strange LaGrange Tour Georgia ghost tour
The Strange LaGrange tour stops in Hill View Cemetery. Photo by Ashley Blencoe, courtesy of VisitLaGrange. All rights reserved.

The Strange LaGrange Tour steps off at 7 PM on Friday nights from the Legacy Museum on Main, 136 Main Street, in downtown LaGrange. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, $15 for kids ages 5-12, and can be reserved at the tour’s Eventbrite page. Each tour will last approximately 2 hours and will involve quite some walking, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and clothing. Come walk with us!

 

“Its hideous use”—LaGrange, Georgia

LaGrange Art Museum
112 Lafayette Parkway
LaGrange, Georgia

N.B. Starting on Friday, June 7th, I will be giving ghost tours of my hometown, LaGrange, Georgia. “Strange LaGrange” will cover all types of oddities, ghosts, UFOs, and strange history throughout downtown. This location is one of the primary stops.

In the January 1, 1892 edition of the LaGrange Reporter, an article appeared hailing a new structure that would be constructed later that year; “the new building will be an ornament to the town – barring its hideous use – and an honor to the county.”

The phrase, “barring its hideous use” is quite curious, though apt when you consider that this building, now dressed in a penitent’s white, opened as the Troup County Jail. This building recalls the cruel history of executions at a time when they were carried out by local governments, rather than at the state level as they are now.

LaGrange Art Museum formerly the Troup County Jail ghosts haunted LaGrange Georgia
The tower of the LaGrange Art Museum is popularly thought to have been used for executions, though executions were only conducted in the cellblock. Photo 2019, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

The Pauly Jail Building Company of St. Louis, Missouri, which today remains in the business of constructing correctional facilities, designed and built this jail along with hundreds of similar structures across the South and throughout the country.

The contract to build the jail was awarded in January of 1892 for the sum of $13,500. Construction likely commenced shortly thereafter and was completed by September.

To test the quality of the steel cells, the Troup County Commissioners summoned a machinist and tools from Georgia Tech to test the steel cells. The LaGrange Reporter notes that Mr. Frank Hudson “entered the steel cells with his compliment of tools, and, after boring, sawing and chiseling for two hours, without making an appreciable impression, desisted.”

interior Troup County Georgia stockade
The interior of the Troup County Stockade is likely similar to the interior of the jail. The sparseness of the facilities provides scant hope to the incarcerated. Photo by Snelson Davis, courtesy of the Troup County Historical Society and Archives. All rights reserved.

On September 15th, the “county’s boarders,” as they were deemed by the paper, were moved into the new building. They were given haircuts, a bath, and new uniforms to correspond with their new quarters. The paper continues:

It was a gala day for these unfortunates, and they greatly enjoyed the change from the close, dark, and generally uncomfortable cells in the old structure to their bright, white, clean quarters in the new. It was like going into another and a better world, although they are more prisoners than before, so far as means of escape are concerned. They left their filth and much of their gloom behind. Light, air and larger space will make their confinement henceforth more endurable.

About five years after the jail opened, the Atlanta Constitution took the Troup County Commissioners to task in a brief article on January 1, 1898:

Recently, it has been published that the commissioners of Troup county, in order to provide against the public execution, and with the view of saving the city of LaGrange from the usual crowd which an execution draws together, decided to erect a gallows inside the jail building, where it would be in full view of the two condemned men who were to be hanged therefrom.

The LaGrange Reporter very sensibly urges the commissioners to meet and change this order, taking the ground that the prisoners have some rights as well as the citizens, and that they should not be compelled to pass several days in constant view of the dread instrument which is to execute the sentence of law.

It is hoped that the views of The Reporter will be listened to by the county commissioners, and that some other plan should be adopted. To have a private execution it is not necessary that the jail corridor be used.

[The “two condemned men” in this article were George Gill and Will Smith who were sentenced to death for murder. They were supposed to have been executed on January 7, but their sentence was suspended for 30 days, and later commuted to life in prison by the governor.]

The Troup County Commissioners did not take heed of the opinions of the LaGrange Reporter or the Atlanta Constitution and change their decision to hold executions inside the jail.

Troup County Jail LaGrange Georgia now the art museum
A view of the jail, probably in the 1920s. Photo by S. Hutchinson, courtesy of the Troup County Historical Society and Archives. All rights reserved.

The first execution to take place inside this building was that of Edmund Scott, August 2, 1901. Scott, an African-American, was put to death for the deaths of Lena and Carry Huguley in West Point, Georgia (in southern Troup County) in 1900. He claimed the shooting was accidental and that one of the young ladies had been his sweetheart.

According to articles in both the LaGrange Reporter or the Atlanta Constitution, Scott was “ready to go.” During his confinement, he had met with pastors from the Methodist Church and the pastor of the Presbyterian Church met with him the morning of his execution. The Constitution provides a good description of the hanging:

The hanging took place inside of the jail at 12:18 o’clock. The gallows is built over the space between the iron cages and the brick wall of the building. Thirty or forty persons saw the hanging. Scott was dressed in a black suit with a standing collar and black tie. He walked up the ladder to the top of the cells without assistance and was calm. He had but little to say and spoke in a low voice. Rev. J. Kelsey, pastor of the colored Baptist Church, offered an earnest prayer. The black cap was then placed over his head. As the noose was being arranged Scott asked:

“Who is placing the rope about my neck?”

The sheriff’s deputy replied:

“Sheriff Brady.”

“The man,” said Scott, “who places the rope about my neck will die.”

The sheriff sprung the trap and Scott’s body went down. Death came in fifteen minutes and the body was cut down in sixteen minutes from the time it dropped. His neck was not broken.

The note that Scott’s neck was not broken is particularly cruel. The use of a drop in hangings is meant to provide a relatively quick and humane death to the condemned with the short, sharp, shock of a jerk of the rope. However, this requires some mathematical calculations involving the height and weight of the condemned and a specific length of rope. If the rope is too short, the condemned will strangle to death. If it’s too long, the condemned could be decapitated.

The next man to die here was Ingram Canady, Jr. who was executed here for the rape of a white woman. Canady, or Canida as his name is sometimes rendered, was hung March 20, 1908. His last words were recorded by the Atlanta Constitution:

I don’t know anything in the world about it; I am ready to meet death, and know my soul will be saved. I don’t know a thing in the world about the crime, and am innocent. All be good; expect to meet you in heaven.

Just before the trap was sprung he said, “The old Master will straighten all mistakes.”

The Reporter noted that again, his neck was not broken. Canady died of strangulation after sixteen minutes.

On January 2, 1909, Lucius Truitt was hanged for the murder of Dock Tatum during a robbery and home invasion. Walter Thomas died here on June 10 of the next year for the rape of a child.

The final man to die here was 22-year-old John Marvin Thompson, who was hanged in July 26, 1918 for the slaying of Troup County Sheriff William Shirey. The sheriff led a raid on an illegal liquor still in the southern part of the county. Thompson, who owned the still, opened fire on the raiding party and the sheriff was killed.

Before “a small crowd of friends of Thompson, his father, and the newspaper men,” Thompson ascended towards the fateful noose. His last words were recorded by the Atlanta Constitution:

I want all of you to know that I am dying innocent of what I am accused of. I have done things that I ought not to have done in my life, and God will forgive me for all I have ever done and take me home.

To his father he said, “Tell all of my people good-bye for me, papa.” His father responded, ““I am sorry for you, John; I wish I could go with you.”

The reporter for the Constitution notes that, “No struggle whatever occurred after the trap was spring, his neck evidently having been broken by the fall.” Thompson was the first and only white man hung in the county as well as being the last man to die a state sanctioned death in the jail. Several years later, the state revoked the privileges of localities to conduct their own executions and executions were removed to state correctional facilities.

With the construction of a new jail facility, the inmates were moved elsewhere in 1939, and the structure was converted to use as an office for the local newspaper, The LaGrange Daily News.” The building also served as a furniture store until the local Callaway Foundation granted funds to convert the building into an art facility.

LaGrange Art Museum formerly the Troup County Jail ghosts haunted LaGrange Georgia
The jail probably around the time it ceased being used as a jail in 1939. Photo by S. Hutchinson, courtesy of the Troup County Historical Society and Archives. All rights reserved.

I’m still trying to understand the original layout of the building. So far, research has pointed to this first section as being used as a residence for the jailer and his family. I have been told that there was no interior connection between the buildings, therefore to reach the cellblock, the jailer would have to leave his residence and use an outside door to enter.

It should be noted that there is no evidence that the building tower, which resembles a finger uplifted in moral admonishment, is not a “hanging tower.” In the newspaper accounts of executions in the building, all of the hangings took place within the cellblock, and not in the jailers’ personal space.

LaGrange Art Museum formerly the Troup County Jail ghosts haunted LaGrange Georgia
Oblique view of the museum building. The section of the building in the foreground was added when the building was converted into a museum. The middle portion with the bricked up windows was the cellblock. The galleries now occupy that portion. Photo 2019, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

The second section contained the cellblock. This section was also two stories and prisoners were separated by race. Contemporary sources say that white male prisoners were held on the first level with women, juveniles, and people of color being held on the second. On a recent tour of the building, I was able to see the basement space located underneath this section. As we closely looked at the original brick walls, we were able to see names carved into the brick, perhaps by restless inmates.

The conversion to an art museum, reconfigured the building to include office space in the front section with connecting doors between the two buildings. In a space where inmates wiled away their sentences, visitors now contemplate works of art. Sighs of the condemned have been replaced with the joyful chatter of children enrolled in the museum’s educational programs. Growing up here, I spent time at the museum attending an arts camp and classes.

With my curiosity about ghosts, I’d always wondered if the museum was haunted. A co-worker reported to me that she had seen faces peering from the tower windows at night. When I worked for the LaGrange Daily News some years ago, I interviewed the museum’s director and asked about activity. She responded that there were often odd sounds, especially at night.

When I started work on my upcoming ghost tour of downtown, I talked with the current director. She shared with me that she would frequently smell the odor of tobacco smoke in the entrance hall of the museum, which is a smoke free facility and has been for many years. I also spoke with the maintenance man who said he regularly heard footsteps in the building when he was alone at night. He noted that he would walk throughout trying to find the source, but to no avail.

In preparation for my tour, I visited the museum with a sensitive friend. As we walked up the front steps he noted that there were three spirits in residence. Upon entering the gallery portion (which had once been the cellblock), he saw an African-American man standing against one of the walls. He attempted to communicate, but the spirit didn’t want to talk. Walking to the other side of the gallery, we felt a chill in the air where the sensitive detected the presence of a hunched back man.

We attempted communication with the first spirit again. This time, he was a bit more forthcoming and revealed that his cell had been at the back of the space. He proclaimed his innocence, saying that he was defending himself. Still, he was reticent to speak.

LaGrange Art Museum formerly the Troup County Jail ghosts haunted LaGrange Georgia
Second floor of the gallery which occupies what was once the cellblock. Photo 2019, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Heading to the second floor of the gallery, we encountered a feminine presence, which the sensitive noted was related to a man incarcerated here, “either a mother or an older sister.”

LaGrange Art Museum formerly the Troup County Jail ghosts haunted LaGrange Georgia
The old jail, now dressed in a penitent’s white, provides educational opportunities to many local children, some of whom are featured in murals that currently adorn the building’s brick wall. Photo 2019, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

This building, which once was so hideous, now rings with the chatter and laughter of children, or the silent contemplation of adult art patrons. It is my sincere hope that whoever the spirits are in this old building, they have finally found the peace.

Sources

  • “The Contract Given.” LaGrange Reporter. 8 January 1892.
  • “Edmund Scott Hanged.” LaGrange Reporter. 9 August 1901.
  • Hanging. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 27 May 2019.
  • Hearn, Daniel Allen. Legal Executions in Georgia: A Comprehensive Registry, 1866-1964. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2016.
  • “John Thompson hung for Murder of Sheriff.” Atlanta Constitution. 27 July 1918.
  • Johnson, Forrest Clark; Glenda Major, and Kaye Lanning Minchew. Travels Through Troup County: A Guide to its Architecture and History, LaGrange, GA: Family Tree,
  • “Negro Hanged at LaGrange.” Atlanta Constitution. 21 March 1908.
  • “New Jail Received.” LaGrange Reporter. 16 September 1892.
  • “Scott Hanged in LaGrange.” Atlanta Constitution. 3 August 1901.
  • “That Jail Corridor Hanging.” Atlanta Constitution. 1 January 1898.
  • “To Be Hung To-day.” LaGrange Reporter. 20 March 1908.

Doing the Charleston: A Ghostly Tour—North of Broad

N.B. This article was originally published 13 May 2015 as a single, massive article. It’s now broken up into three sections, South of Broad, North of Broad, and Charleston Environs, which have all been rearranged and revised for ease of use.

Known as the “Holy City” for the number of churches that raise their steeples above the city, Charleston, South Carolina is also known for its architecture, colonial and antebellum opulence, as well as its haunted places. This tour looks at the highlights among Charleston’s legends and ghostlore.

Broad Street cuts across the Charleston peninsula creating a dividing line between the most historic, moneyed, aristocratic portion of the city—located south of Broad—and everything else. For convenience, this tour is now divided into separate articles covering the area South of Broad, North of Broad, and the Environs. Locales in this article include places open to the public as well as private homes. For these private homes, please respect the privacy of the occupants, and simply view them from the street.

The tour is arranged alphabetically by street, with the sites in order by street address south to north and east to west.

Archdale Street

Unitarian Church and Churchyard
4 Archdale Street

A lady in white walks through the garden-like churchyard here. Over the years, a story has arisen identifying this woman as Annabel Lee, one of the loves of the great American horror writer Edgar Allen Poe. Poe did spend time in the Charleston area, and some believe that his poem, “Annabel Lee” may be based on an actual person. There is no historical connection that can be made with anyone buried in the churchyard.

This historic churchyard is one of the most magnificent places to sit and contemplate in the city of Charleston. Be sure to also see the interior of the church; the fan vaulted ceiling is magnificent.

interior of the Unitarian Church Charleston SC ghosts haunted
Interior of the Unitarian Church, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV. All rights reserved.

Sources

  • Caskey, James. Charleston’s Ghosts: Hauntings in the Holy City. Savannah, GA: Manta Ray Books, 2014.
  • Poston, Jonathan H. The Buildings of Charleston: A Guide to the City’s Architecture. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.
  • Workers of the Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration. South Carolina: A Guide to the Palmetto State. NYC: Oxford University Press, 1941.

East Bay Street

Southend Brewery
161 East Bay Street

As you pass the Southend Brewery, look towards the third-floor windows. Ill-fated businessman, George Poirer was looking through these windows as he took his life in 1885. His body was discovered hanging from the rafters here after being seen by a passerby the following morning. Poirer was upset over losing his fortune when a ship he had invested in burned on its way out of Charleston Harbor.

Southend Brewery Charleston SC ghosts haunted
Southend Brewery, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV. All rights reserved.

This building was built in 1880 for F. W. Wagner & Company. Paranormal activity has been reported throughout the building after its conversion to a brewery and restaurant. In addition to the occasional vision of someone hanging on the upper floors, restaurant staff and patrons have heard spectral voices and experienced odd breezes.

Sources

  • Buxton, Geordie & Ed Macy. The Ghosts of Charleston. NYC: Beaufort Books, 2001.
  • Caskey, James. Charleston’s Ghosts: Hauntings in the Holy City. Savannah, GA: Manta Ray Books, 2014.
  • Pitzer, Sara. Haunted Charleston: Scary Sites, Eerie Encounters and Tall Tales. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 2013.
  • Poston, Jonathan H. The Buildings of Charleston: A Guide to the City’s Architecture. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.

Broad Street

Blind Tiger Pub
36-38 Broad Street

The Bling Tiger Pub occupies a pair of old commercial buildings which have served a variety of uses over the years. Number 38 served as home to the State Bank of South Carolina for many years, but the story of Number 36 is more interesting and has provided the strange name for the pub.

During the administration of Governor “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman (1895-1918), the state of South Carolina attempted to control the sale of alcohol. Throughout Charleston small establishments sprung up where the citizenry could, for a small admission fee, see a blind tiger, with drinks provided as compliments of the house. Number 36 housed one of these establishments; then during national prohibition, this building housed a speakeasy.

The pub is known to be inhabited by happy spirits according to a former employee. Patrons and staff have seen figures in the building while odd sounds have been heard. Staff closing the back porch have had the motion-activated light come on without anyone being present.

Sources

  • Caskey, James. Charleston’s Ghosts: Hauntings in the Holy City. Savannah, GA: Manta Ray Books, 2014.
  • Poston, Jonathan H. The Buildings of Charleston: A Guide to the City’s Architecture. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.

Charleston City Hall
80 Broad Street

Charleston City Hall ghosts haunted
Charleston City Hall, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV. All rights reserved.

Charleston’s marvelous city hall was originally constructed as a branch of the first Bank of the United States in 1800. In 1818, it was transformed into city hall. Confederate General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, a native of Louisiana, was in charge of the city’s defenses during the attack on Fort Sumter, the battle that started the Civil War. He returned later in the war to command the coastal defenses for the Deep South. According to Tally Johnson, his spirit has been seen prowling the halls of this magnificent building. One of Beauregard’s homes, now called the Beauregard-Keyes House, in New Orleans is also the home to spirits.

Sources

  • Johnson, Tally. Civil War Ghosts of South Carolina. Cincinnati, OH. Post Mortem Paranormal, 2013.
  • Poston, Jonathan H. The Buildings of Charleston: A Guide to the City’s Architecture. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1997. 

Calhoun Street

Joe E. Berry Hall – College of Charleston
162 Calhoun Street

This modern building stands on the site of the Charleston Orphan House, which was built in 1790. A story is commonly related that the orphanage was the scene of a fire in 1918 that killed four orphans, though there is no documentary evidence of this. The orphanage was torn down in 1951 and a commercial building erected on the site. After the construction of Berry Hall, the building has been plagued with fire alarm problems. Even after replacing the system, the problems persist. Additionally, there are spectral sounds heard within the building, including voices.

Joe Berry Hall College of Charleston ghosts haunted
Joe E. Berry Hall, 2012. Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV. All rights reserved.

Sources

  • Buxton, Geordie & Ed Macy. Haunted Charleston. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2004.
  • Caskey, James. Charleston’s Ghosts: Hauntings in the Holy City. Savannah, GA: Manta Ray Books, 2014.
  • Pitzer, Sara. Haunted Charleston: Scary Sites, Eerie Encounters and Tall Tales. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 2013.

Chalmers Street

Old Slave Mart
6 Chalmers Street

Old Slave Mart Museum Charleston SC ghosts haunted
Old Slave Mart Museum, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV. All rights reserved.

Now a museum devoted to the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, this building was originally constructed in 1859 to house Ryan’s Mart, a slave market. The last slave sales occurred here in 1863, but the misery induced by those few years of sales remains. According to Denise Roffe, museum employees have had run-ins with shadowy figures throughout this building.

Sources

  • Caskey, James. Charleston’s Ghosts: Hauntings in the Holy City. Savannah, GA: Manta Ray Books, 2014.
  • Poston, Jonathan H. The Buildings of Charleston: A Guide to the City’s Architecture. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.
  • Roffe, Denise. Ghosts and Legends of Charleston, South Carolina. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2010.

Pink House
17 Chalmers Street

Pink House Charleston SC ghosts haunted
Pink House, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV. All rights reserved.

This quaint house is among the oldest buildings in the city, having been constructed around 1712. It is believed to have housed that was owned and operated by female pirate Anne Bonny. Geordie Buxton suggests that the feminine spirit here may be her shade.

Sources

  • Buxton, Geordie. “You are here.” Charleston Magazine. October 2013.
  • Pitzer, Sara. Haunted Charleston: Scary Sites, Eerie Encounters and Tall Tales. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 2013.
  • Poston, Jonathan H. The Buildings of Charleston: A Guide to the City’s Architecture. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.

Church Street

Dock Street Theatre
135 Church Street

The spirited and storied Dock Street Theatre is covered in depth in my article, “Phantoms of the Opera, Y’all—13 Haunted Southern Theatres.”

St. Philips Episcopal Church
146 Church Street

With a commanding view of Church Street, it’s hard to miss St. Philips. The building’s massive portico protrudes into the street and the steeple acts as a stern finger warning the city of the wages of sin. The clean and stringent Classical lines of the church seem to set the tone for the remainder of the city. The first structure on this site was a cypress building constructed in 1682. It was replaced in the early 18th century with an English Baroque church. After the Baroque church’s destruction by fire in 1835 the current building was built. Because of its architectural and historical importance, St. Philips is now a National Historic Landmark.

St Phlips's Church Charleston SC ghosts haunted
St. Philip’s Church, 2012. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Around this church lies an ancient churchyard that serves as the final resting place for many prominent Charlestonians and a stopping point for numerous ghost tours. To address the ghost tours, just inside the gate to the left of the church building is a small sign stating, “The only ghost at the church is the Holy Ghost.” One of the more recent paranormal events took place in 1987 when a photographer snapped a few pictures just inside the gate. When the pictures were developed, he was shocked to see the image of a woman kneeling on a grave. Further research has indicated that the grave is that of a socialite who had passed nearly a century before. The photograph was taken on the anniversary of her death. 

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Haunted South Carolina. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2010.
  • Pitzer, Sara. Haunted Charleston: Scary Sites, Eerie Encounters and Tall Tales. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 2013.
  • Poston, Jonathan H. The Buildings of Charleston: A Guide to the City’s Architecture. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.
  • Our History.” St. Philip’s Church. Accessed 22 February 2011.

Bocci’s Italian Restaurant
158 Church Street

One evening as staff members were cleaning up in the second-floor dining room. One of them saw someone who they thought was the kitchen manager crouched by one of the walls. He called the manager’s name and got no response. As he approached the figure, the staff member realized that it was someone else and the figure was transparent. Perhaps the figure may be one of people killed in this building during a fire in the 19th century.

Bocci's Italian Restaurant Charleston SC ghosts haunted
Bocci’s, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV.
All rights reserved.

This building was constructed in 1868 by the Molony family who operated an Irish pub on the ground floor. When Governor Tilman attempted to control alcohol sales in the state (see the entry for The Blind Tiger Pub on Broad Street), the family converted the pub into a grocery with a small room in the back for illegal alcohol sales.

Reports of paranormal activity in the building mostly come from the second and third floors where doors open and close by themselves, voices are heard and there is mysterious rapping on doors.

Sources

  • Caskey, James. Charleston’s Ghosts: Hauntings in the Holy City. Savannah, GA: Manta Ray Books, 2014.
  • Roffe, Denise. Ghosts and Legends of Charleston, South Carolina. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2010.

Tommy Condon’s Irish Pub
160 Church Street

Tommy Condon's Irish Pub Charleston SC ghosts haunted
Tommy Condon’s Irish Pub, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV. All rights reserved.

On the floor around the bar of this Irish pub, a metal track still runs reminding visitors of this building’s original use: as a candy factory. According to Denise Roffe, this building is apparently a warehouse for ghosts. She notes that a certain section of the restaurant feels very uneasy to guests and staff alike, while the women’s restroom and the kitchen also play host to spirits. 

Sources

  • Roffe, Denise. Ghosts and Legends of Charleston, South Carolina. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2010. 

Old Charleston Ghost Shop
168 Church Street

Sadly, this store is now closed, but it was a great place for all things creepy in Charleston. Of course, the shop also had some mischievous spirits that are reported to pull pictures from the walls, rummage through the cash drawers left over night, and cause the occasional spectral racket.

Sources

  • Caskey, James. Charleston’s Ghosts: Hauntings in the Holy City. Savannah, GA: Manta Ray Books, 2014.

Cunnington Street

Magnolia Cemetery
70 Cunnington Street

In the mid-19th century, this cemetery, located outside the bulk of the city of Charleston, became the primary burying ground for the best of Charleston’s citizens. Denise Roffe reports that there are some wandering spirits among the magnificent funerary art here. See my post, “Locked In,” for further information.

Grave of Rosalie Raymond White in Magnolia Cemetery Charleston SC ghosts haunted
Grave of Rosalie Raymond White in Magnolia Cemetery. Photo 2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Elizabeth Street

Aiken-Rhett House
48 Elizabeth Street

According to Jonathan Poston’s The Buildings of Charleston, this estate is considered “the best-preserved complex of antebellum domestic structures” left in Charleston. The house remained in the family as a residence until it was donated to the Charleston Museum in the 1970s. Since its opening as a museum, the house has been left as is with conservation work done only to prevent deterioration.

This house was constructed in 1817 for merchant John Robinson; but following a financial reversal the house was purchased by William Aiken, Sr., founder and president of the South Carolina Railroad. Aiken’s son renovated the house and added a series of outbuildings including slave quarters to accommodate his many slaves. It is noted that by the eve of the Civil War, Governor William Aiken, Jr. was the largest slave owner in the state.

Aiken-Rhett House Charleston SC ghosts haunted
Aiken-Rhett House, 2012. Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV. All rights reserved.

Within the slave quarters, two visitors encountered an African-American woman who disappeared in the warren of rooms on the second floor. A pair of architects within the house in the late 1980s saw the image of a woman in a mirror sobbing and silently screaming in the ballroom of the house. Others within the house have taken photographs with possible paranormal anomalies. 

Sources

  • Aiken-Rhett House Museum.” Historic Charleston Foundation. Accessed 12 May 2015.
  • Buxton, Geordie & Ed Macy. The Ghosts of Charleston. NYC: Beaufort Books, 2001.
  • Pitzer, Sara. Haunted Charleston: Scary Sites, Eerie Encounters and Tall Tales. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 2013.
  • Poston, Jonathan H. The Buildings of Charleston: A Guide to the City’s Architecture. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.

Hassell Street

Jasmine House Inn
64 Hassell Street

The only documented paranormal incident to take place in this 1843 house is rather humorous, though I’m sure the businessman involved did not see it that way. A gentleman staying in the Chrysanthemum Room some years ago awakened to find the apparition of a woman within his room. When he tried to leave the room, she blocked his way and shredded his newspaper. The guest was able to get to the phone and call the front desk to summon the manager. When the manager arrived, the shaken guest was alone in the room, but his mail had been tossed about and his newspaper lay in pieces on the floor.

Sources

  • Caskey, James. Charleston’s Ghosts: Hauntings in the Holy City. Savannah, GA: Manta Ray Books, 2014.
  • Poston, Jonathan H. The Buildings of Charleston: A Guide to the City’s Architecture. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.
  • Ward, Kevin Thomas. South Carolina Haunts. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2014.

King Street

Charleston Library Society
164 King Street

Having been organized in 1748, the Charleston Library Society is the third oldest private library in the country. Built for the library in 1914, some believe that spirits that dwell among its highly regarded stacks. William Godber Hinson, whose precious collection is housed here, may still remain among his books. One librarian reported to the Charleston Mercury that she saw a bearded gentleman in period clothing near the Hinson stacks. Other librarians in the area have experienced sudden blasts of icy air and heard the sounds of books moving.

Sources

  • Poston, Jonathan H. The Buildings of Charleston: A Guide to the City’s Architecture. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.
  • Roffe, Denise. Ghosts and Legends of Charleston, South Carolina. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2010.
  • Salvo, Rob. “Legends and ghoulish traditions of the Library Society. Charleston Mercury. 11 April 2011.

Riviera Theatre
225 King Street

This Art Deco landmark opened in 1939 and closed as a cinema in 1977. After being saved from demolition in the 1980s, it was purchased by the Charleston Place Hotel which uses the space as a conference center and ballroom.

Riviera Theatre Charleston SC ghosts haunted
Riviera Theatre, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV. All rights reserved.

Denise Roffe writes that during the theatre’s renovations, a worker had tools disappear only to reappear some days later in the exact spot where he had left them. She also mentions that a young woman touring the building had an encounter with a spectral cleaning woman. She only realized the woman was a ghost when she realized the figure was transparent.

Sources

  • Riviera Theatre.” Cinema Treasures. Accessed 12 May 2015.
  • Roffe, Denise. Ghosts and Legends of Charleston, South Carolina. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2010.

Urban Outfitters
(formerly the Garden Theatre)
371 King Street

Walk in to this store and look up at the magnificent ceiling. This building was once the Garden Theatre, a vaudeville theatre built in 1917. The theatre was restored in the 1980s as a performing space, though most of the fitting were removed when the building was converted for commercial use in recent years. The spirit of an African-American man, possibly a former usher, has been seen here.

Sources

  • Buxton, Geordie & Ed Macy. The Ghosts of Charleston. NYC: Beaufort Books, 2001.
  • Poston, Jonathan H. The Buildings of Charleston: A Guide to the City’s Architecture. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.
  • Roffe, Denise. Ghosts and Legends of Charleston, South Carolina. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2010.

Francis Marion Hotel
387 King Street

The most commonly told legend about this early 1920s-era hotel involves a young businessman from New York City. In 1929, after meeting and falling in love with a lovely lady from Charleston, Ned Cohen asked to be assigned to South Carolina by Florsheim Shoes. The young lady visited him at the hotel but left while he was asleep leaving a note saying that she could not carry on the relationship. In grief, he tucked the note in his suit pocket and jumped from his room to die on King Street below.

rion Hotel Charleston SC ghosts haunted
Francis Marion Hotel, 2012. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Guests in Ned Cohen’s former room have reported the window opening by itself. Cohen’s distraught form has been seen in the halls of the hotel while others have been disturbed to see someone falling past their windows. When they look out, everything is normal below. James Caskey reports that a search for documentation to back up the story has proven fruitless.

Sources

  • Buxton, Geordie & Ed Macy. Haunted Charleston. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2004.
  • Caskey, James. Charleston’s Ghosts: Hauntings in the Holy City. Savannah, GA: Manta Ray Books, 2014.
  • Pitzer, Sara. Haunted Charleston: Scary Sites, Eerie Encounters and Tall Tales. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 2013.
  • Poston, Jonathan H. The Buildings of Charleston: A Guide to the City’s Architecture. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1997. 

Magazine Street

Old City Jail
21 Magazine Street

In recent years, this formidable building has become a mecca for ghost hunters and tours. Sadly, much of the legend surrounding the old jail is either exaggerated or total bunk. While many deaths likely occurred here, the number of 40,000 used by many guides is highly inaccurate. Also, the stories told about the crimes and execution of Lavinia Fisher are mostly fictional. Yes, Lavinia Fisher was held here, and she and her husband were executed, but her crimes and rebellious demeanor on the gallows are the product of fiction. If Lavinia Fisher does haunt this place, it is likely only in an attempt to clear her sullied name.

I have covered the jail in two articles: one looks at a televised investigation, and the second recounts my own tour of this most haunted building.

North Market Street

Mad River Bar & Grille
32 North Market Street

Mad River Grill Charleston SC ghosts haunted
Mad River Grille, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV. All rights reserved.

 

The Church of the Redeemer was constructed in 1916 to replace the Mariner’s Church that was damaged in the Great Earthquake of 1886. Services in the church ceased in 1964 and the building became a restaurant. Evidently, the spirits residing here do not approve of the building’s use as a restaurant. Bottles behind the bar have been thrown off the shelf and broken and electrical problems often occur with the restaurant’s system and computer systems. 

Sources

  • Buxton, Geordie & Ed Macy. Haunted Harbor: Charleston’s Maritime Ghosts and the Unexplained. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2005.
  • Poston, Jonathan H. The Buildings of Charleston: A Guide to the City’s Architecture. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.
  • Roffe, Denise. Ghosts and Legends of Charleston, South Carolina. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2010.

Meeting Street

Mills House Hotel
115 Meeting Street

The current Mills House Hotel is a reproduction of the original that was constructed on this site in 1853. By the early 1960s, the building was in such a severe state of disrepair that the original had to be torn down and replaced with a reproduction. The spirits don’t appear to really know the difference and continue their residence.

Mills House Hotel Charleston SC ghosts haunted
Mills House Hotel, 2011. Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV. All rights reserved.

Denise Roffe reports that several children’s spirits have been reported here along with the specter of a man in a top hat. Confederate soldiers have also been seen prowling the corridors, hearkening back to the hotel’s use as a base for Confederate forces during the Civil War.

Sources

  • Caskey, James. Charleston’s Ghosts: Hauntings in the Holy City. Savannah, GA: Manta Ray Books, 2014.
  • Dyas, Ford. “See the real ghosts at these haunted hotels. Charleston City Paper. 24 October 2012.
  • Poston, Jonathan H. The Buildings of Charleston: A Guide to the City’s Architecture. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.
  • Roffe, Denise. Ghosts and Legends of Charleston, South Carolina. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2010. 

Circular Congregational Church
150 Meeting Street

The long span of Meeting Street was named for the Congregational meeting house that has been located on this site since the 1680s, shortly after Charleston’s founding. The Romanesque Revival church dates only to 1891, while the cemetery surrounding it includes some of the oldest graves in the city.

Circular Congregational Church Charleston SC ghosts haunted
The Circular Congregational Church, 2012. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Many graves are unmarked and, according to the Bulldog Ghost & Dungeon Tour, many more lie under the adjacent bank parking lot. Numerous ghost tours pass by through this ancient place. The entry on the churchyard in Jeff Belanger’s Encyclopedia of Haunted Places reveals that witnesses report orbs, strange mists, apparitions ,and voices under the cemetery’s ancient oaks.

Sources

  • Bordsen, John. “Find the most haunted places in these Carolina towns. Dispatch-Argus. 10 October 2010.
  • Davis, Joanne. “Circular Church Cemetery.” in Jeff Belanger’s The Encyclopedia of Haunted Places. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page, 2005.
  • Mould, David R. and Missy Loewe. Historic Gravestone Art of Charleston, South Carolina 1695-1802. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co, 2006.
  • Roffe, Denise. Ghosts and Legends of Charleston, South Carolina. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2010.
  • Zepke, Terrence. Best Ghost Tales of South Carolina. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2004.

Meeting Street Inn
173 Meeting Street

The Meeting Street Inn was one of the first bed and breakfasts to open in this city during the tourism boom of the 1980s. Guests staying in Room 107 have been awakened to the specter of a woman, while Room 303 has had its deadbolt lock while guests are out of the room.

Sources

  • Poston, Jonathan H. The Buildings of Charleston: A Guide to the City’s Architecture. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.
  • Ward, Kevin Thomas. South Carolina Haunts. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2014.

Charleston Place Hotel
205 Meeting Street

When construction commenced on the Charleston Place Hotel it replaced a number of historic structures that were demolished. Denise Roffe mentions a number of odd occurrences happening to guests and staff alike throughout the hotel. These occurrences include mysterious footsteps, knocking on doors, and apparitions.

Sources

  • Roffe, Denise. Ghosts and Legends of Charleston, South Carolina. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2010.

Embassy Suites—Historic Charleston Hotel
337 Meeting Street

Dominating one side of Marion Square, the Embassy Suites hardly looks like a typical chain hotel. This building was constructed as the South Carolina Arsenal in 1829 following the 1822 slave insurrection led by Denmark Vesey. The South Carolina Military Academy was founded here in 1842. Renamed The Citadel thanks to this formidable structure, the school moved to its present site on the Ashley River in 1922.

Embassy Suites Charleston SC formerly SC State Arsenal and The Citadel ghosts haunted
Entrance to the Embassy Suites, 2014. Photo by Niagara, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Guests and staff members of this hotel have encountered the spirit of a Citadel cadet who remains in this building. He appears dressed in the school’s military uniform, one that has remained unchanged from its original appearance. The only detail that indicates to the living that this is a ghost is the fact that the top of this young man’s head is missing.

Sources

  • Buxton, Geordie & Ed Macy. Haunted Charleston. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2004.
  • Fant, Mrs. James W. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for the Old Citadel. 16 May 1970.
  • South Carolina State Arsenal.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 12 May 2015.

Montagu Street

Benjamin Smith House
18 Montagu Street, private

This late 18th century home sustained damage during a hurricane in 1811. Legend holds that as the chimney collapsed, the enslaved woman who served as a nanny to her owner’s children shielded them from the falling bricks with her body. She was killed as the bricks pummeled her, but the children were saved. This home has since been divided into apartments and College of Charleston students living here have encountered the enslaved woman several times.

Sources

  • Buxton, Geordie & Ed Macy. Haunted Charleston. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2004.
  • Poston, Jonathan H. The Buildings of Charleston: A Guide to the City’s Architecture. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.

Queen Street

Philadelphia Alley
Between Cumberland and Queen Streets

The name Philadelphia, meaning “brotherhood,” contradicts this space’s occasional use as a dueling site. The sounds of dueling remain here accompanied, according to some reports, by a faint, spectral whistling. It was here that the duel of Joseph Ladd and Ralph Isaacs commenced in October of 1786. The whistling has been attributed to Ladd’s sad spirit continuing to haunt the spot where he was mortally wounded. Spectral whistling is also heard in his former home, the Thomas Rose House at 59 Church Street, which is detailed in the South of Broad section.

Sources

  • Caskey, James. Charleston’s Ghosts: Hauntings in the Holy City. Savannah, GA: Manta Ray Books, 2014.
  • Martin, Margaret Rhett. Charleston Ghosts. Columbia, SC University of South Carolina Press, 1963.
  • Poston, Jonathan H. The Buildings of Charleston: A Guide to the City’s Architecture. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.

Poogan’s Porch
72 Queen Street

Poogan, a local canine, adopted the porch of this restaurant as his home around the time this house was converted into a restaurant. Upon his death, the restaurant owners afforded him a prime burial spot just inside the gate. One author witnessed a child playing under his parent’s table one evening. The way the child was laughing and cavorting with something unseen, the assumption was made that the child may have been playing with the spirit of Poogan.

While Poogan remains a playful resident, it is the spirit of Zoe St. Armand who dominates this restaurant. St. Armand was one of a pair of spinster sisters who lived here for many years. The wraith of Zoe has been spotted in the women’s restroom and lingering at the top of the stairs by patrons and staff alike.

Sources

  • Caskey, James. Charleston’s Ghosts: Hauntings in the Holy City. Savannah, GA: Manta Ray Books, 2014.
  • Pitzer, Sara. Haunted Charleston: Scary Sites, Eerie Encounters and Tall Tales. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 2013.
  • Roffe, Denise. Ghosts and Legends of Charleston, South Carolina. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2010.

Husk
76 Queen Street

Now housing Husk, one of the more exclusive restaurants in the city, this Queen Anne styled house was built in the late 19th century. James Caskey published the account of a couple who saw a small, fleeting black shadow while dining here. Husk has recently opened a location in Savannah in a haunted building.

Sources

  • Caskey, James. Charleston’s Ghosts: Hauntings in the Holy City. Savannah, GA: Manta Ray Books, 2014.
  • Poston, Jonathan H. The Buildings of Charleston: A Guide to the City’s Architecture. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.

82 Queen
82 Queen Street

For 33 years, 82 Queen has been serving some of Charleston’s finest meals in its 11 dining rooms. The restaurant utilizes a building built in 1865 where diners and staff have reported fleeting glimpses of apparitions. James Caskey in his Charleston’s Ghosts interviewed a former server who reported that she “once walked through a shadow which dissipated around me like smoke.” 

Sources

  • Caskey, James. Charleston’s Ghosts: Hauntings in the Holy City. Savannah, GA: Manta Ray Books, 2014. 

Pinckney Street

Andrew Pinckney Inn
40 Pinckney Street

Occupying a pair of historic structures at the corner of Pinckney and Church Streets, the Andrew Pinckney Inn has been described as “mind bending” after dark; with a plethora of odd noises and movements. However, the spirits are known to be friendly.

Sources

  • Caskey, James. Charleston’s Ghosts: Hauntings in the Holy City. Savannah, GA: Manta Ray Books, 2014.
  • Poston, Jonathan H. The Buildings of Charleston: A Guide to the City’s Architecture. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.

Wentworth Street

1837 Bed & Breakfast
126 Wentworth Street

A specter recalling Charleston’s infamous, slave-holding past is said to haunt the rooms of this bed and breakfast. Legend holds that the spirit, affectionately named George, was enslaved by the family that originally constructed this house. After his parents were sold to a Virginia planter, the young George remained here. In an attempt to reach his parents, George stole a rowboat but drowned in Charleston Harbor.

The story cannot be corroborated, though the spirit’s antics continue. Patrons have reported feeling small feet walking on their beds sometimes accompanied by the sound of a whip cracking. One couple had the doors to their armoire open and close on their own accord throughout the night.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Haunted South Carolina. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2010.
  • Buxton, Geordie & Ed Macy. Haunted Charleston. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2004.
  • Caskey, James. Charleston’s Ghosts: Hauntings in the Holy City. Savannah, GA: Manta Ray Books, 2014.