Notes on Haunted North Carolina

Seemingly, the pandemic has affected everything, including my own writing and research. While I have continued to research, my motivation and focus when writing has been severely undermined.

In my research for this blog I have amassed a tremendous amount of information in the form of books, as well as in periodical articles and blog entries. Yet, so much of this information hasn’t been utilized. When I write blog entries, I usually pour a great deal of research into my subject or subjects, which of course takes time. These entries, however, have been written in a “fast and furious” style and utilize just one or two sources. I expect that these may be used and expanded in the future. Please enjoy this “fast and furious” tour of North Carolina haunts!

Asheville

1889 WhiteGate Inn & Cottage
173 East Chestnut Street

This Asheville bed & breakfast has been in operation for many years. Over that time, guests have reported quite a bit of paranormal activity. A 2001 article in the Asheville Citizen-Times notes some of that activity including footsteps on the stairs and an old woman sitting on an outside chair.

Sources

  • Clark, Paul. “Ghosts luring guests to local bed and breakfasts.” Asheville Citizen-Times. 1 September 2001.

Lewis Memorial Park Cemetery
415 Beaverdam Road

Workers in this cemetery have reported a ghostly horse and rider as well as a phantom dog. Some believe the rider may be the spirit of Robert J. Lewis who created the park in 1927.

Sources

  • Bianchi, Melanie M. “Outdoors: Spooky outdoor spots.” Mountain Xpress. 29 October 2008.

Bath

Devil’s Hoofprints on the Cutler Farm (private)
NC 1334

These mysterious prints on the edge of the woods now on private property are believed to be those of the Devil. Sometime in the early 19th century, a local man by the name of Jesse Elliott was known for his fondness for horses and racing. He was approached by a stranger wearing black astride a black horse. The stranger made a wager with Elliott as to whose horse was faster.

Elliott soon found himself in the lead and he boasted to the stranger “Take me as the winner or take me to hell!” As soon as the words left his mouth, the stranger was next to him and Elliott’s horse stopped running. Jesse was thrown from his horse, his head hitting a pine tree killing him.

The stranger got off his horse and supposedly took ahold of his soul and disappeared. The only sign that the Devil had been there were hoofprints left in the soft earth. Like the Devil’s Tramping Ground in Bear Creek (also included in this article), debris falling into the hoofprints is quickly swept away by an unseen force.

Sources

  • Bianchi, Melanie M. “Outdoors: Spooky outdoor spots.” Mountain Xpress. 29 October 2008.
  • Carmichael, Sherman. Mysterious Tales of the North Carolina Coast. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2018.

Bear Creek

Devil’s Tramping Ground
4005 Devil’s Tramping Ground Road

Devil's Tramping Ground Bear Creek North Carol;ina
A view of the Devil’s Tramping Ground in 2007. Photo by Jason Horne, courtesy of Wikipedia.

In a state full of paranormal landmarks, the Devil’s Tramping Ground outside of Siler City is perhaps one of the most famous. This circular clearing in the woods oddly has no plant life or debris within it. Legend states that this is due to the nightly tramping of the Devil, though scientific investigation has not been able to find a reasonable answer. Curious visitors have left things within the mysterious space only to find it swept clean in the morning.

Sources

  • Devil’s Tramping Ground. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 3 January 2021.
  • “Spookiest spots in North Carolina.” 24 October 2019.

Burke and Caldwell Counties

Brown Mountain

Brown Mountain North Carolina
Brown Mountain in 2016. Photo by Thomson200, courtesy of Wikipedia.

On the border of Burke and Caldwell counties within the Pisgah National Forest is the famed Brown Mountain on whose flanks ghost lights have been seen for quite some time. One of first mentions of the lights in the media occurred in 1913 and an investigator with the U.S. Geological Survey determined that the lights were simply those of a train. Another investigation by the same government entity in 1922 put the blame squarely on trains, automobiles, and stationary lights. However, after a flood in the area cut off electricity and damaged railroads, the lights were still seen. In the years since, scientists have continued to ponder the mysteries and have discovered few answers to the famous Brown Mountain Lights.

Sources

Burlington

Paramount Theatre
128 East Front Street

As all good theatres have a ghost, Burlington’s Paramount Theatre is no exception. The kindly, yet mischievous, spirit has been dubbed “Herschel.” Some legends point to his identity as that of a customer who passed away in the men’s room, while others say that he is the spirit of a projectionist who was electrocuted in the projection booth. According to a 2011 article in the local paper, no one has died in the men’s room or projection booth. Despite the debunked legends, seat bottoms have been seen to move on their own, and lights sometimes act up, while actors onstage have seen a shadowy figure in the projection booth.

Sources

  • Boyd, Walter. “Burlington has more than its share of ghosts and goblins.” Times-News. 28 October 2011.

Buxton

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
46379 Lighthouse Road

Cape Hatteras Light Buxton North Carolina
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in 2020. Photo by Jschildk, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse has stood over the beach and protected ships from ground on the offshore Diamond Shoals since 1870. During that time, it has also attracted ghosts and paranormal activity. Within the lighthouse itself, a spectral cat has been seen by surprised visitors who have also felt the cat rubbing up against their legs. When the visitor reaches to pet it, the cat vanishes. The apparition of a man in a yellow raincoat has also been spotted here.

Sources

  • Carmichael, Sherman. Mysterious Tales of the North Carolina Coast. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2018.

Candler

Owl’s Nest Inn
2630 Smoky Park Highway

A search of Google reveals that this inn may have closed, though the spirits may remain. A 2001 article in the Asheville Citizen-Times reports that the innkeeper was still scrutinizing an odd photo taken inside the inn. In a room that was supposed to be empty, the photo shows a woman standing in the room with a shroud over her head. But the spirits here did not just make their presence known by appearing in photographs, unseen hands would sometimes turn on gas fireplaces as well as setting alarms on alarm clocks to go off in rooms that had been unoccupied for days.

Sources

  • Clark, Paul. “Ghosts luring guests to local bed and breakfasts.” Asheville Citizen-Times. 1 September 2001.

Stony Fork Picnic Area
711 Pisgah Highway

Located within Pisgah National Forest on the outskirts of Asheville, this picnic area is reputed to be an old dump site for bodies during the Prohibition era. More recently, bodies of two murder victims have been found in the area. One was identified as a victim of Gary Michael Hilton, while the other remains were those of Judy Smith, who may have also been a victim of Hilton.

Visitors to the area after dark have reportedly been pursued into woods by apparitions, including those of a man and a small boy. A paranormal investigation team heard disembodied footsteps there and one of the investigators described the area as being “very uncomfortable.”

Sources

Chapel Hill

Carolina Inn
211 Pittsboro Street

Built in 1924, the Carolina Inn was meant to house visitors to the University of North Carolina next door. In 1948, William Jacocks, a physics professor and 1904 graduate of the university, made his residence in a suite on the second floor, which he would occupy until 1965. Following his death, visitors staying in Room 256 have experienced activity possibly caused by the mischievous professor’s spirit. One of the most occurrences is that the door will lock by itself and refuse to admit guests.

Sources

  • Gardner, George. “Haunted N.C. hotels.” Charlotte Observer. 3 October 2014.

Corolla

Currituck Beach Light
1101 Corolla Village Road

Currituck Beach Light Corolla North Carolina
Currituck Beach Light, 2007. Photo by Warfieldian, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Constructed in 1875, this lighthouse was the last to be built in the Outer Banks. The north room in the keeper’s house may be the domain of two spirits, a little girl who once stayed in the room and a woman who may have died there. The little girl is supposed to have been the daughter or ward of the first lighthouse keeper. While playing on the beach, the child drowned. Afterwards, her form has been encountered on the property. The woman may have been the wife of a keeper who died from tuberculosis here.

Sources

  • Ambrose, Kala. Ghosthunting North Carolina. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2011.
  • Sledge, Joe. Haunting the Outer Banks: Thirteen Tales of Terror from the North Carolina Coast. Gravity Well Books, 2019.

Greensboro

Aycock Auditorium
Campus of University of North Carolina, Greensboro

Facade of Aycock Auditorium UNCG Greensboro North Carolina
Facade of Aycock Auditorium at UNCG, 2015. Photo by Willthacheerleader, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Legend holds that the spirit haunting this auditorium is that of Jane Aycock, daughter of Governor Charles Brantley Aycock, for whom the facility is named. Another story lays the blame for the haunting on the woman who lived in a house that once stood on this spot.

Sources

  • Clodefelter, Tim and Nicole Chenier. “The state of fright: North Carolina history rich in the weird and unexplainable.” Winston-Salem Journal. 29 October 2000.

Kure Beach

Fort Fisher
1610 Fort Fisher Boulevard, South

Fort Fisher was one of the linchpins that kept the Confederacy together. Guarding the approach to Wilmington harbor, the fort aided blockade runners thus keeping the Confederacy alive after so many other ports had been blocked. After the fall of Mobile, Alabama, Fort Fisher became a major target of Union forces. After the first battle waged against the fort was a dismal failure, regrouped Union forces launched a second battle against the fort that was successful. Wilmington fell shortly after.

Fort Fisher Kure Beach North Carolina
Fort Fisher just after the Second Battle of Fort Fisher.

According to Alan Brown, one of the first incidents of paranormal activity was witnessed in 1868 during a reunion of soldiers was held there. Three former soldiers saw a figure atop one of the gun placements. When they waved, the figure raised its sword into the air, revealing it to be none other than General Whiting who had commanded the fort but had been wounded in the second battle and died in captivity. The figure disappeared before their eyes. Figures such as that of the general have been seen repeatedly since and an investigation of the fort in 2004 captured interesting evidence including a human shaped figure that appeared in a photograph.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Places in the American South. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2002.
  • Brown, Alan. Stories from the Haunted South. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2004.
  • Fort Fisher. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 1 February 2011.
  • Toney, B. Keith. Battlefield Ghosts. Berryville, VA: Rockbridge Publishing, 1997.
  • Wardrip, Stanley. “Fort Fisher Civil War Battlefield.” In Jeff Belanger’s Encyclopedia of Haunted Places. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books, 2005.

Morganton

Broughton Hospital
1000 South Sterling Street

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

With the lobbying of Dorthea Dix, the state of North Carolina set out to build modern hospitals for the treatment of mental illnesses. The Western Carolina Insane Asylum opened in 1883 and continues to serve as a mental health facility, though with fewer patients and under the name Broughton Hospital. Most facilities treating mental illness have spirits and Broughton is no exception. Reports mention apparitions, disembodied screams, and eerie feelings haunting this facility. Broughton’s sister hospital is Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro which I have also covered here.

Sources

  • Broughton Hospital. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 3 January 2021.
  • “Spookiest spots in North Carolina.” 24 October 2019.

New Bern

Attmore-Oliver House
510 Pollock Street

Attmore-Oliver House New Bern North Carolina
Attmore-Oliver House, 2006. Photo by Self, courtesy of Wikipedia.

During a paranormal investigation of the Attmore-Oliver House a door slammed in the face of an investigator. After checking the door, there was no obvious force that could have slammed it. Along with some EVPs, this is the main evidence of paranormal activity in this circa 1790 house. Legend tells of a father and daughter who possibly died in the attic during a smallpox epidemic, though this cannot be confirmed through historical records. Others look towards the last resident of the house who was known for her eccentricity. Regardless, there appears to be some very interesting activity going on here.

Sources

  • Manley, Roger. Weird Carolina. NYC: Sterling Publishing, 2007.

Orrum

Lumber River State Park
2819 Princess Ann Road

The swamps and lowlands of America were considered bewitched and dangerous places to the Europeans who settled here. During the American Revolution, patriot General Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion used these mysterious places to his advantage by utilizing guerilla warfare throughout the swamps of South Carolina and even extending into North Carolina on occasion. The land along the course of the Lumber River is mostly undeveloped and remains much as it was when Marion traveled along its swampy run. An old local legend tells of one of Marion’s officers who loved a young woman from a Tory family and passed information on to her father. Marion pursued a group of Tories to Tory Island along the Lumber River and destroyed their settlement. He killed the traitorous officer and hung him in the ruins where the officer’s lover found him. The pair is still seen roaming the island.

Sources

  • Barefoot, Daniel W. North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Vol. 2: Piedmont Phantoms. Winston-Salem, NC, John F. Blair, 2002.
  • Lumber River State Park. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 1 February 2011.

Raleigh

North Carolina State Capitol Building
1 East Edenton Street

North Carolina State Capitol, 2007. Photo by Jim Bowen, courtesy of Wikipedia.
North Carolina State Capitol, 2007. Photo by Jim Bowen, courtesy of Wikipedia.

It seems that many current and former state capitol buildings throughout the South are haunted. Old state capitols in Georgia, Louisiana, and Virginia have ghosts as well as the current state capitols for Maryland, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina. Of these, only the North Carolina Capitol has received any paranormal investigation. The investigation was conducted by none other than the Rhine Research Center, an organization originally established as part of Duke University, which is now independent of the university, devoted to the scientific study of parapsychology. The Rhine Center discovered paranormal activity in the capitol and one investigator who saw a man in nineteenth century clothing sitting in the legislative chamber.

Sources

  • Barefoot, Daniel W. North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Vol. 2: Piedmont Phantoms. Winston-Salem, NC, John F. Blair, 2002.
  • Brown, Alan. Stories from the Haunted South. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2004.

Rockingham

Hudson Brothers Deli
115 South Lee Street

In 2011, the Sandhills Paranormal Research Society set out to investigate Hudson Brothers Deli, a bar in Rockingham. The building housing the bar originally served as a funeral home. The owner even mentions the existence of crematoriums in the basement.

Among the reports from the bar are the apparition of a girl seen by both a bartender and a manager. One patron reported seeing the apparition of a man in a business suit that told him to, “wait right here.” A former owner reported that an employee sent on an errand to the basement ran screaming from the establishment and never even returned to pick up their paycheck.

The investigation appeared to be successful with the group picking up evidence including the odor of flowers in the basement and EVPs. The group stated that there was definitely spiritual activity here.

Sources

  • Brown, Philip D. “A haunting in Hudson Brothers.” Richmond County Daily Journal. 5 April 2011.

Weaverville

Inn on Main Street
88 South Main Street

New Year’s Eve 1999 offered the owner and guests of the Inn on Main some paranormal activity. As the small group celebrated the new year they “heard two things fall of the wall in the next room.” When the owner walked into the next room, nothing was out of place and the room was empty. A moment later, they heard the sound of a door shutting behind them. The inn occupies a home built around the turn of the 20th century for a surgeon.

Sources

  • Clark, Paul. “Ghosts luring guests to local bed and breakfasts.” Asheville Citizen-Times. 1 September 2001.

Wilmington

Bellamy Mansion
503 Market Street

A spectacular mix of Greek Revival and Italianate architecture, the Bellamy Mansion has been restored and preserved as a monument to history and design. Dr. John D. Bellamy, a physician, planter, and businessman began construction of the house in 1858 and it was completed in 1861, as civil war was breaking out. When Wilmington was captured by Union troops, the house served as headquarters for the Union general. The house is now under the purview of Preservation North Carolina and open as a museum.

Bellamy Mansion Wilmington North Carolina
Bellamy Mansion, 2012. Photo by Jameslwoodward, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The museum staff reportedly doesn’t say much about spirits in the house, but according to Alan Brown, night managers have reported quite a bit of activity. One of those night managers called by the police twice in one night because inside doors were opening by themselves. Another night manager reported seeing the figure of a man and seeing a wheelchair that belonged to one of the Bellamy family members move on its own accord.

Sources

  • Bellamy Mansion. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 1 February 2011.
  • Brown, Alan. Stories from the Haunted South. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2004.

USS North Carolina (BB-55)
1 Battleship Road

This mighty battleship was laid down in 1937 and it was completed in 1941, more than seven months before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, one of the events leading the U.S. to enter World War II. The ship was quickly sent to the Pacific Theater where she served valiantly for the Allied cause and then helped ferry American servicemen home following Japan’s surrender. After the ship was struck from the Naval Register, she was preserved as a museum ship.

USS North Carolina Wilmington North Carolina
The USS North Carolina, 2007. Photo by Doc Searls, courtesy of Wikipedia.

During the ship’s service, it is known that ten men lost their lives aboard the ship. It is believed that the spirits of these men remain aboard the ship, along with a great deal of residual energy. During one investigation, a recorder was dropped into a well. After it was retrieved, investigators heard the words “Help! Help!” and “Tommy” clearly spoken in the well. Research showed that a sailor had once fallen into that well and cracked his skull.

Sources

  • Jordan, Annette. “Ghost hunters: Positively Paranormal is who you’re gonna call.” Courier-Tribune. 16 September 2013.
  • USS North Carolina (BB-55). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 9 January 2021.

Airborne Apparitions–Ft. Benning, Georgia

Airborne School Jump Towers
Eubanks Field
Fort Benning, Georgia

After the establishment of the School of Musketry at Fort Sill in Oklahoma in 1913, military action during the First World War led the Army to realize that it needed a larger location for training the Infantry. In 1918, Columbus, Georgia was selected for the site of this new training ground. Initially, the training ground used an old plantation grounds, though over time, this was expanded to encompass an area spanning 287 square miles in southern Muscogee and northern Chattahoochee counties.

One of the fort’s most recognizable landmarks are the three large jump towers at Eubanks Field. Installed in 1941, on the eve of the United States’ entry into World War II, this trio of towers were once a quartet, but the fourth tower was toppled during a 1954 tornado. Standing at a height of 255-feet, a building at the base of each tower provides cables to safely guide the parachutes to the ground.

Airborne School Jump Towers Fort Benning Georgia
A soldier drops from one of the jump towers in 2013. Photo by Ashley Cross/U.S. Army Photo.

According to legend, a young soldier died after sustaining injuries during a jump when his rigging failed. The young man plummeted some 60-feet breaking a number of bones including many in his face. Though he survived the fall, he died some weeks later of pneumonia complicated by his injuries. Following his death, eerie rumors began to circulate of lights coming on in the elevator house on their own as well as a shadowy apparition appearing in the area.

According to Faith Serafin in her 2012 Haunted Columbus Georgia, this apparition has also been seen in and around neighboring buildings. A frightening encounter took place just after a 4 AM fire drill in the Jump School Barracks. As a sergeant searched the building for lingering soldiers, he discovered a young man lying on the floor at the end of a hallway. The sergeant quickly turned the young man over to discover that his face was shattered and bloody. Frightened, he left the man briefly to summon help. When the sergeant returned with others, the injured man was nowhere to be found with nary a drop of blood on the floor.

In his 2017 Mysteries of Georgia’s Military Bases, author Jim Miles reports that Fort Benning has a tremendous amount of paranormal activity, especially in many of its housing units. Please note that the jump towers are located on an active military base with tight security.

Sources

  • Tour Benning.” MyBaseGuide.com. 22 February 2018.
  • Diamond, Beryl I. “Fort Benning.” The New Encyclopedia of Georgia. 10 March 2003.
  • Miles, Jim. Mysteries of Georgia’s Military Bases: Ghosts, UFOs, & Bigfoot. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2017.
  • Serafin, Faith. Haunted Columbus, Georgia: Phantoms of the Fountain City. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2012.

13 Southern Roadway Revenants

Since I started my blog, I have been hesitant to use random encounters from online. Of course, while many of these stories are hard, nay impossible, to prove, some of them do ring with a sense of truth. For a writer like me, one of the most difficult tasks in my research is finding good, firsthand accounts of ghostly encounters, especially for areas where there is a general lack of documented stories (i.e. books, newspaper articles, etc.).

Recently, I have become fascinated with the Ghosts of America website. This website collects stories from people throughout the country. While many of these accounts talk about ghosts in private homes, some discuss specific locations. While wading through this vast collection, I’m looking for specific accounts that not only mention specific locations but have a sense of authenticity as well.

Please note, I cannot guarantee that any of these places are truly haunted or that these accounts are totally truthful.

Since my last article on haunted roads and bridges in Alabama, I decided to look at encounters in every state that I cover. These are the results.

Brown Street
Altoona, Alabama

Birmingham, Alabama was named for the English city of Birmingham—one of the earliest industrial cities in the Western world. Altoona, Alabama, which was founded around the turn of the 20th century as a coal-mining town, was named for the great Pennsylvania coal-mining town of Altoona. Likely, the town supplied coal for the burgeoning steel industry centered in nearby Birmingham.

There’s not much to the community of Altoona; Main Street is Alabama Highway 132 as it heads southwest to Oneonta in neighboring Blount County, traveling east you’ll connect with US 278. A post office and several stores form the center of the town with small homes radiating outward.

Brown Street branches off Main Street and winds through rural woods with sporadic houses lining its side before it terminates south of town. An anonymous poster to Ghosts of America documented an interesting encounter on this street. A woman was driving this street at night when her car broke down within 500 yards of 11th Avenue. She pulled off the road and called her husband to come get her.

As she waited on the side of the road, she noted that she felt comfortable as she was familiar with the area. An old Dodge drove past her and she watched as it turned around to check on her. As the vehicle passed her again, she saw an elderly man driving. Slowing down, the mysterious driver smiled at her and nodded, “as if to let me know I would be fine.” Reaching for her phone, the woman looked to see if her husband was nearby. As she looked up again, the vehicle was nowhere in sight, and the witness realized the old Dodge had made no sound at all.

Sources

New York Avenue, Northwest
Washington, DC
 

New York Avenue begins auspiciously at the White House heading northwest towards Maryland. As one of the original avenues laid out by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, this thoroughfare originally began at the Potomac River southwest of the White House, but over time those sections of the avenue have been consumed by development, so now only a block remains south of the White House. According to L’Enfant’s plan, the avenue terminated at Boundary Street (now Florida Avenue), though support was garnered around the turn of the 20th century to extend the road into Maryland. This was finally accomplished in 1931.

As New York Avenue stretches northeast away from the hubbub of downtown Washington, its monumental nature falls away and it begins to take on a more plebeian flair as it sidles up to the Amtrak Railyards. Upscale businesses are replaced with light industrial and pedestrian commercial development. Efforts to redevelop the corridor were discussed in 1980 and up through the early 2000s, though much of that work has not come to fruition. A 2005 study of the most crash-prone intersections in the city concluded that five were located on New York Avenue, with the top one being the intersection with Bladensburg Road.

New York Avenue Washington DC
The intersection of New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road, 2016. Photo by Famartin, courtesy of Wikipedia.

An encounter posted to Ghosts of America makes note of the avenue’s dicey reputation, especially after dark. “Larry” however, decided to use it as a shortcut around 3 AM one morning. As he waited at a stoplight, a disheveled man approached his car and stopped in front. The light turned green and the man continued to stand in front of his car. Larry honked, though the strange man continued standing there. As he backed his car up to go around, Larry realized that the man did not have legs and was seemingly floating in mid-air. Terrified, he sped away from the scene.

Sources

Melrose Landing Boulevard
Hawthorne, Florida
 

Melrose Landing Boulevard is a sparsely inhabited road through rural Putnam County, Florida, near the towns of Hawthorne and Melrose. According to a poster named Sarah on Ghosts of America, it was along this road that her father and brother came upon a woman standing in the road “in a dress that looked to be out of the 1700’s.” She appeared suddenly, and the truck didn’t have time to stop before passing through her.

Around 3 AM on November 1, 2009, All Saints’ Day, the day after Halloween, Sarah turned onto the road at the same place where her father and brother had their earlier incident. As she drove down the road she passed a woman walking “with her long dress all gathered up in her arms.” Realizing that she might need to check on the woman, she turned around and discovered no one around. Sarah also noted that she was returning home from working at a seasonal haunted attraction and was driving a hearse. She considered that the oddity of someone encountering such a vehicle on such a day might have frightened the mysterious woman and that she may have fled into the woods, though Sarah doubted it.

Sources

Bemiss Road (GA 125)
Valdosta, Georgia

Connecting Valdosta with Moody Air Force Base and Fitzgerald, GA 125 is named Bemiss Road in Valdosta as it heads towards the small community of Bemiss. A poster on Ghosts of America named Arturias revealed that he drove this road frequently at night over the course of fifteen years. During that time, he witnessed people walking along the road, though on three occasions he “noticed coming up on them that they didn’t have legs under the streetlights. Looked faded out.”

After these experiences, he heard the road referred to as the “Highway of Death.” I can find nothing online to prove or disprove whether this is actually the case and why.

Sources

Baker Road
Fort Knox, Kentucky

Branching off of US 31W, Baker Road serves as a truck entrance to Fort Knox. A post on Ghosts of America from someone going by the handle, Redfraggle, was apparently written by one of those truck drivers who frequently drives Baker Road late at night. While headed towards the Brandenburg Gate, this driver had to swerve “to avoid hitting a dark-haired woman crossing the road.” Dressed in a muumuu, the woman appeared solid and the driver stopped to check on her. The woman only looked at him with a “broken hearted” expression and vanished.

Fort Knox Kentucky entrance sign
A sign at one of the entrances to Fort Knox. Photo 1999, by 48states, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The driver reports that he has seen the woman many times but doesn’t stop for her. In addition, this apparition has appeared along this stretch of road to his fellow drivers.

Please note that this road is on a military base and off limits to the public.

Sources

Fort Knox, Kentucky Ghost Sightings. GhostsofAmerica.com. Accessed 30 July 2020.

Albany Lights
Elbert Stewart Road
Albany/Independence, Louisiana Area

About five miles north of Albany and five miles west of Independence is Elbert Stewart Road, home to the locally known Albany Lights. I can find no other reference to these lights online or in any of my research.

A submission from Larry on Ghosts of America, describes his experiences with the lights throughout his life. According to the post, Elbert Stewart Road was once called Dummy Line Road. The term “dummy line” refers to railroads that were constructed to serve the timber as it cut huge swathes of land throughout the South the end of 19th and into the early 20th centuries. Presumably, these lines were called “dummy” because they did not connect to the transportation rail lines.

The story of the lights involves a brakeman who was killed when he failed to pin the coupling between two cars and was crushed. The lights are supposed to be the brakeman’s signal “that the pinning was made.”

Larry explains that some years ago the road was named for his grandfather and that at 49 years of age, he recalls the lights appearing all his life. Interestingly, he points out that if you have photographic equipment on you, the lights will not appear (what about cellphones?). Otherwise, viewers have an 80% chance of seeing the hazy, bluish colored light.

Interestingly, he notes that the phenomenon has been investigated by the FBI, the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Geographic Society. None of these investigations were successful as they all had photographic equipment on them.

A comment on the post from a nearby resident states that they have encountered the lights here “plus much more.”

Sources

Church Road Cemetery
Church Road
Broomes Island, Maryland

Occupying a small peninsula extending into the Patuxent River, the community of Broomes Island plays host to a haunted cemetery. Not only do spirits haunt the cemetery, but they apparently have spilled out onto surrounding streets. This location is documented in Ghosthunting Maryland by the father and son duo of Michael J. and Michael H. Varhola. The Varholas describe a ritual where someone circles the cemetery three times at night, after which a fog rolls in the laughter of young girls can be heard.

A post on Ghosts of America mentions that the cemetery has numerous spirits which have spilled out into the nearby streets where they “scream and laugh.” A comment on this post is from a newspaper delivery man who has encountered the spirit of a young boy who told him and his mother to leave. Afterwhich, they saw it run past the car windows.

Sources

MS 33 Bridge over the Homochitto River
Rosetta, Mississippi

Less than a mile north of the unincorporated community of Rosetta in the Homochitto National Forest, Mississippi State Route 33 crosses the Homochitto River on a fairly new bridge. This bridge has seen multiple iterations as the shallow river erodes the stream banks. For nearly two centuries a ferry crossed here which was eventually replaced by a bridge. That bridge was replaced in 1941. The new bridge was damaged during a flood, and it was repaired and extended in 1956.

By 1974, the bridge was again needing work and it was extended again. Just two months after completion, the bridge was washed out during a flood. This washout claimed the lives of two men who were reportedly standing on the bridge. The current bridge was completed by the MDOT in 1978, though it too, has been extended around 2014.

Homochitto River bridge Rosetta Mississippi 1974 flood
This shows the damage done to the bridge during the April 1974 flood. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A brief post on Ghosts of America states that phantom headlights have been seen on this bridge heading southbound but disappearing before they cross the full length of the bridge.

Sources

South Queen Street Bridge over the Neuse River
Kinston, North Carolina

A couple from out of town was staying at “the hotel that sits right next to the Queen Street Neuse River Bridge,” presumably the Red Carpet Inn and Suites. After dark they walked across the road to get dinner from Hardee’s. As they made their way back to their hotel, they began to hear the sounds of “men screaming, ‘stop the fire’ and the sounds of water splashing” coming from the direction of the bridge. The sounds continued with the noise of a battle. At the same time, they both smelled the odor of cigar smoke. They ran back to their room.

The following day, they mentioned the incident to the hotel manager and were told that a battle was fought there during the Civil War, and that guests routinely report hearing and seeing things around the bridge. The couple reported their experiences on Ghosts of America.

In fact, this was the site of the Kinston Bridge which came under attack by Union troops on December 14, 1862. After defending a defensive line south of the bridge, Confederate troops retreated towards the bridge and crossed into town. Thinking that all his men had crossed, General Nathan Evans ordered his men to set the bridge aflame. However, a number of Confederate troops still remained on the opposite side and were now taking the brunt of artillery fire from both Union troops and their own men on the other side of the bridge.

As these men began to run for the bridge they realized that it was in flames and many were captured by Union forces. General John G. Foster sent his men to douse the flames and continue across the partially destroyed bridge into Kinston. As Evans retreated away from town, Union soldiers looted and destroyed parts of the city.

Sources

US 1
Between Bethune and Cassatt, South Carolina

Stretching between Key West., Florida and Fort Kent, Maine, US 1 is the longest north-south road in the country. While this highway passes through many busy urban areas, it also passes through quiet, rural areas such as this area of Kershaw County. Michael posted on Ghosts of America about his experience on this lonely stretch of road around 12:30 at night.

As he passes through an undeveloped area, Michael passed a woman walking on the side of the road. He noticed that she had an “old mottled blanket wrapped around her. The entire figure was so very pale. Her hair was blonde, and the blanket appeared to have dark dots on it.” As he passed her, he wondered why someone would be out on a chilly night on this lonely stretch of road. Looking in his rearview mirror, he could only see darkness. The following night he was on the lookout for the woman, but she did not appear. After arriving at work, he told some of his co-workers about the experience only to have someone come in from the next room saying that they had seen the woman as well. Their description matched his, all the way down to the blanket.

Sources

Dolly Parton Parkway
Sevierville, Tennessee
 

An employee for an industrial laundry posted on Ghosts of America that two of his drivers had strange experiences on Dolly Parton Parkway. The first encounter involved a driver as he drove into work around 2:30 AM along Dolly Parton Parkway. He encountered a thick fog, and “came upon 4 men in old tattered clothes pushing a cannon across the road.” Slamming on the brakes, he sat and watched as the men rolled the cannon across the road without noticing him or his car. Going into work, the shaken driver told his supervisor of his experience.

The second encounter also involved a man driving the same stretch of road in the very early morning also driving through a thick patch of fog. “His entire windshield froze completely over with frost to the point where he had to pull over and scrape it with his license.” Interestingly, the temperatures that morning were quite warm.

The poster, Leslie, Googled the area and discovered that a battle was fought near the roadway during the Civil War. Though a small battle, the Battle of Fair Garden was furious, and led to roughly 250 casualties. Most curious is a detail on the recently installed marker near the battlefield: the battle was fought on a cold January morning in a heavy fog.

Sources

East Virginia Avenue (US 460)
Crewe, Virginia

A resident East Virginia Avenue named Larry reported seeing a man walking the street with a lantern in this small Virginia town. He notes that he and his family have lived on the street as long as he can remember and that he has seen this apparition the entire time. While he knows of no other neighbors who have witnessed it, several of his relatives have seen it. One relative visiting from out of town went out to smoke in the front yard around midnight and watched an orange light glide down the street. As the light came closer, it vanished.

The town of Crewe was created in 1888 by the Norfolk & Western Railroad—later Norfolk Southern—as a site for locomotive repair shops. The necessity of the repair shops decreased towards the middle of the 20th century.

Sources

West Virginia State Route 2
New Cumberland, West Virginia

Hancock County is the northernmost county in West Virginia, and the South. It pushes up between Ohio and Pennsylvania, and one side of the county is defined by the Ohio River. New Cumberland is one of the towns located on the river. WV 2 runs through the heart of the town.

A post on Ghosts of America from John describes an incident that happened to him as he was driving southbound on WV 2 in New Cumberland in the spring of 1974. As he and his passenger neared railroad tracks and a bridge, “a ‘man’ stepped out in front of my vehicle. He turned and looked directly at me as the hood of my car went through him.” Then he suddenly disappeared. He continues, “I actually saw the upper part of his body in the middle of my hood. The lower part was inside the front of the car.” Reportedly, the man had white hair and beard, and “wore a ‘brimmed’ hat.”

downtown building New Cumberland West Virginia
This building sits at the intersection where WV 2 makes a dog leg in downtown New Cumberland. Photo 2015 by Carol Highsmith, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In tracing the route of WV 2 through New Cumberland, I could only locate one place where a bridge and railroad tracks are close together: at the bridge over Hardin Run. Going southbound, the railroad crossing is about 200 feet after the bridge. Is this where the mysterious apparition appeared to a frightened driver in 1974?

Sources

Doing the Charleston: A Ghostly Tour—Charleston Environs

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.

The city of Charleston as seen from one of Fort Sumter’s gun ports. The steeple in the center is St. Philip’s Church, while the one at the right is St. Michael’s. Photo 2012, by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

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.

Angel Oak Park
3688 Angel Oak Road
John’s Island

Considered one of the oldest living things on the East Coast, it is hard to not feel the benevolent energy emanating from this mighty tree. There is evidence that this tree has served as a meeting spot for Native Americans, slaves, and slave owners whose spirits still remain among the massive branches. See my article, “A spiritual treasure—Angel Oak,” for a further examination..

Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge
US-17 over the Cooper River

Rising over the old buildings of Charleston is the majestic Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, the third longest cable-stay bridge in the Western Hemisphere. Connecting Charleston and Mount Pleasant, this bridge replaced two bridges, the John P. Grace Memorial Bridge which opened in 1929, and the Silas N. Pearman Bridge which opened in 1966.

Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge over the Cooper River, 2012. Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.

The John P. Grace Memorial Bridge was the scene of a terrible accident in 1946. A drifting cargo ship rammed the bridge ripping a 240-foot section. As the ship destroyed a section of the bridge a green Oldsmobile with a family of five was traveling over. The car dropped into the water killing the family. The bridge was repaired and continued to be used for many years, though there were reports of an odd green Oldsmobile seen on the bridge with a family of five inside, all staring straight ahead with lifeless eyes. Since the bridge’s demolition, the sightings of the car have stopped.

Sources

  • Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 12 May 2015.
  • Buxton, Geordie & Ed Macy. Haunted Harbor: Charleston’s Maritime Ghosts and the Unexplained. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2005.
  • Caskey, James. Charleston’s Ghosts: Hauntings in the Holy City. Savannah, GA: Manta Ray Books, 2014.
  • John P. Grace Memorial Bridge.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 12 May 2015.
  • Pitzer, Sara. Haunted Charleston: Scary Sites, Eerie Encounters and Tall Tales. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 2013.

Drayton Hall
3380 Ashley River Road

Of all the great homes in Charleston, perhaps no house is described with as many superlatives, and deservedly so, than Drayton Hall. The form nominating this structure to the National Register of Historic Places describes it as “without question, one of the finest of all surviving plantation houses in America.” The house remains in a remarkable state of preservation, having changed little since its construction in 1738.

Drayton Hall, 2007, by Goingstuckey, courtesy of Wikipedia.

According to Ed Macy and Geordie Buxton’s Haunted Charleston, a psychic visiting this home in 2000 saw the bodies of four men dangling from the branches of the majestic oaks that line the approach to the house from the Ashley River. She stated that these men had been hung on orders from William Henry Drayton for their fealty to George III, during the American Revolution. Drayton’s spirit may also be among the spirits still wafting about this estate. Docents and visitors have reported seeing a man peering from the windows of the house and walking the avenue of oaks.

Sources

  • Buxton, Geordie & Ed Macy. Haunted Charleston. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2004.
  • Dillon, James. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for Drayton Hall. August 1976.

Fort Sumter
Charleston Harbor

Fort Sumter’s sally port with tourists beyond. Photo 2012, by Lewis O. Powell, IV, all rights reserved.

On April 12, 1861, the first shots of the Civil War were fired here when Confederates led an attack on this Union occupied fort in Charleston Harbor. Interestingly, no one was killed in the initial bombardment. After the surrender, the Union commander, Major Robert Anderson, asked that his men be allowed to perform a 100-gun salute to the American flag before it was lowered. During that salute a pile of cartridges exploded wounding six men, two of whom died later of their injuries. One of those men, Private Daniel Hough, is believed to return as a smoky form. His visage can be seen in the flag of the Palmetto Guard that was raised in the flag’s place. The flag is now displayed in the fort’s museum.

Sources

  • Battle of Fort Sumter.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 12 May 2015.
  • Manley, Roger. Weird Carolinas. NYC: Sterling, 2007.
  • Zepke, Terrence. Best Ghost Tales of South Carolina. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2004.

USS Yorktown—Patriot’s Point
40 Patriot’s Point Road
Mount Pleasant

Just days before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the keel of this fighting lady was laid. Just two years later, in 1943, this grand grey lady entered service. She fought in the Pacific during World War II and the Vietnam War. Since the ship’s retirement in 1973, and its donation to Patriot’s Point, guests and staff have had numerous paranormal experiences. See my article, “The Grand ‘Fighting Lady’—Photos from the USS Yorktown,” for further information and sources.

Southern Spirit Guide to Haunted Alabama

N. B.  This article was overhauled 8 December 2019.

Shortly after starting this blog, I created a series of articles covering each state. When I moved this blog, I removed those articles and I have slowly, but surely reposted edits of these articles. The only article to remain intact is the one I created for Washington, D.C. Some of the edited articles have been reposted for Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

After publishing my Haunted Alabama book as an eBook in 2015, I redid the haunted Alabama article using entries from the original manuscript. When I republished the book in print, the text received a major overhaul, though this article wasn’t updated. Now, in 2019, I’m finally getting around to updating this article.

Alabama State Capitol
600 Dexter Avenue
Montgomery

One of the most important sites in the entire state stands on a place called Goat Hill. This building is the second capitol building on this site, the first having been destroyed by fire in 1849. The current building opened in 1851 and has witnessed a panorama of much of Alabama’s history. It was here in 1861 that representatives of six Southern states met to create the Confederate government. Later that year, Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens were inaugurated here, respectively, as the President and Vice President of the Confederacy. A little more than a hundred years later, Martin Luther King, Jr. would lead a civil rights march to the steps of this building.

With such history, it’s no surprise that spirits may still wander the capitol’s corridors. One legend concerns a Confederate widow. Desperate to find where her husband had died and the location of his grave, she made inquiries, but no information was forthcoming. She continued haunting the corridors in life and, evidently, in death. Security guards and staff members have seen this desperate woman and continue to hear her footsteps.

haunted Alabama State Capitol Montgomery ghost
Alabama State Capitol, 2006, by Jim Bowen. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A security guard is quoted in a 1994 Birmingham News article as having seen a female spirit standing near the statue of Governor Lurleen Wallace. The woman was wearing white opera-length gloves which are reminiscent of the gloves Wallace is wearing in her official state portrait.

Faith Serafin notes in her book Haunted Montgomery, Alabama that bathroom sinks near the offices of the state board of convicts are often found with the water running. This activity may be related to a 1912 murder that occurred here. When a property dispute did not turn out in his favor, Will Oakley shot and killed his stepfather, P. A. Woods, in the offices of the president of the convict board. Legend holds that Will Oakley’s spirit may still be trying to wash the blood off his hands.

Sources

  • Lindley, Tom. “Ghosts or good stories haunt Capitol’s halls: This Confederate widow will never tell.” The Birmingham News. 27 November 1994.
  • Schroer, Blanche Higgins. National Register of Historic Place nomination form for the Alabama State Capitol. 29 September 1975.
  • Serafin, Faith. Haunted Montgomery, Alabama. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.

Bear Creek Swamp
County Road 3
Prattville

On Halloween of 2014, twenty-one dolls tied to bamboo stakes appeared in Bear Creek Swamp. The Autauga County Sheriff’s Office thought they were simply a harmless Halloween prank, but after reports of the dolls began to spread through the media, the sheriff’s office decided to remove them. The reason for the dolls’ placement in the swamp remains mysterious, but then again, Bear Creek Swamp abounds in mystery.

A newspaper article regarding the incident described the swamp as “a massive bog with a bit of a reputation locally.” The article continues, “As a rite of passage, generations of teenagers have entered the area at night looking for the creatures and haints said to roam the mist-covered realm. And it’s not unusual to hear reports of loud booms coming from its depths.”

Before the arrival of white settlers, local Native Americans knew the swamp as a place with pure water and medicinal springs. This area was once the home of the Autauga or Tawasa Indians who were members of the Muscogee Creek Confederacy. The Muscogee Creek were removed by force in the 1830s and forced west on the Trail of Tears.

Some Native spirits may have remained in the swamp. A hunter told author Faith Serafin about seeing a female apparition with- in the swamp while tracking a deer. A couple hiking through the area encountered a wild-looking woman with a gaunt face who screamed and disappeared into the underbrush when they approached. Others, including an investigation team from Southern Paranormal Researchers, have witnessed strange orbs of light in the depths of this mysterious bog.

Sources

  • Roney, Marty. “21 dolls on bamboo stakes found in Alabama swamp.” Hattiesburg American. 27 November 2014
  • Serafin, Faith. Haunted Montgomery, Alabama. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Sutton, Amber. “Officers remove more than a dozen dolls from Autauga County swamp.” AL.com. 25 November 2014.
  • Southern Paranormal Researchers. “Bear Creek Swamp—September 3, 2006.” Accessed 29 November 2012.

Belle Mont
1569 Cook Lane
Tuscumbia

Built between 1828 and 1832 by Dr. Alexander Mitchell, Belle Mont is now a house museum owned by the Alabama Historical Commission. This house represents a rare example of what is sometimes termed “Jeffersonian Classicism,” the distinctive style of Palladian architecture created by Thomas Jefferson. While most likely not directly designed by Jefferson himself, the house may be the work of one of his disciples.

haunted Belle Mont Tuscumbia Alabama ghosts
Belle Mont, 2010, by Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Around the time the house was completed Dr. Mitchell lost his wife and both daughters to a fever, and he subsequently sold the property. A family renting this house in 1938 had a frightening experience. Just after moving their things into the house, the family began to hear sounds throughout the house including footsteps and voices crying “help me.” Time passed with these events growing more and more frightening until one rainy night when the family watched with horror as a group of apparitions: a man, a woman and one, possibly two, small girls, appeared at the top of the staircase. The woman and children, dressed in night- clothes that were dirty and torn, wore expressions of horror as they descended the staircase and out the front door. After this frightening vision, the family continued to hear odd sounds. The last reported paranormal incident is recorded in 1968 with nothing seen or heard since.

Sources

  • Gamble, Robert S. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Belmont. Jan. 1981.
  • Belle Mont. Alabama Historical Commission. Accessed 16 December 2010.
  • Belle Mont (Tuscumbia, Alabama). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 16 December 2010.
  • Johnston, Debra. Skeletons in the Closet: True Ghost Stories of The Shoals Area. Debra Johnston, 2002.

Bragg-Mitchell Mansion
1906 Springhill Avenue
Mobile

haunted Bragg-Mitchell Mansion Mobile Alabama ghosts
Bragg-Mitchell Mansion, 2006, by Altairisfar. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In the years following the Civil War, General Braxton Bragg was considered one of the most inept generals to have served in the Confederate Army. Bragg had earned victories though lost tactically in battle at Perryville, Kentucky; Chickamauga, Georgia, and Stones River (Murfreesboro), Tennessee. He lived here in the home once occupied by his brother Judge John Bragg, from 1869 until he moved to Texas in 1874. He would die in Galveston two years later having found about as much success in civilian life as he found in military life. From time to time, docents and visitors to the Bragg-Mitchell Mansion have seen the gray form of a man, believed to be the form of General Bragg. Once, as a docent was opening the house for wedding photographs, she saw a man striding across the parking lot behind the house. The strange man neared the tool shed and vanished. A thorough search of the property by the docent and the wedding party did not uncover the gentleman.

The Bragg-Mitchell House was built by Judge John Bragg in 1855. After construction, the house was the scene of gatherings by prominent Alabamians of the period and members of the Bragg family including John’s brothers: Braxton, former North Carolina governor Thomas Bragg, Captain William Bragg, and Alexander Bragg, who may have had a hand in designing his brother’s home. During the Civil War, Judge Bragg’s wife anxiously sent the family’s furnishing and many of their possessions to the family’s inland cotton plantation for safe keeping. Unfortunately, the estate was destroyed along with the contents of her city home, something from which Mrs. Bragg never quite recovered. After Judge Bragg’s death in the late 1870s, the house passed through a few different hands before being purchased by the Mitchell family who lovingly restored the home and left it to the City of Mobile.

The house has served as a wedding venue and events facility for many years. Over time, guests and docents have had many encounters with the spectral residents of the house including a ghostly feline that was first noted by Mrs. Mitchell when she owned the house. A spectral woman, possibly Judge Bragg’s wife, has been seen peering from one of the upstairs windows. Others have had more mischievous encounters including an AC installer who was locked in the attic and others who have been irritated by the ghosts turning lights on just after they have been turned off.

Sources

  • Coleman, Christopher K. Dixie Spirits: True Tales of the Strange and Supernatural, 2nd Edition. Nashville, Cumberland House, 2002.
  • Parker, Elizabeth. Mobile Ghosts: Alabama’s Haunted Port City. Apparition Publishing, 2001.

Fort Morgan State Historic Site
51 AL 180
Baldwin County

Along with Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island, Fort Morgan guards the entrance to Mobile Bay. Construction of the fort began in 1819, following the British capture of the area in 1815, during the misnamed War of 1812. Using slave labor, this enormous masonry fort was constructed in 1834. With rising tension after Alabama’s secession from the Union, the fort was peacefully turned over to the state’s Confederate militia.

haunted Fort Morgan Alabama ghosts
Fort Morgan, 2002, by Edibobb. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The fort saw action on August 5, 1864, during the Battle of Mobile Bay when it was attacked and besieged by Union warships; the fort surrendered a few days later. It remained in operation until it was abandoned by the military in 1924. It was then re-militarized during World War II and turned over to the State of Alabama in 1946.

Southern Paranormal Researchers investigated the fort in 2006 and witnessed a bevy of activity including disembodied voices, fleeting shadow figures, and having fully charged batteries drained. They also captured a few anomalies in photographs and one EVP. Visitors to the fort have encountered phantom smells of gunsmoke, the sounds of battle, and figures in period clothing.

Sources

  • Langella, Dale. Haunted Alabama Battlefields. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Schroer, Blanche Higgins. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Fort Morgan. 4 Oct 1975.
  • Southern Paranormal Investigation Team. Fort Morgan Investigation. 16 Dec 2006.

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park
11288 Horseshoe Bend Road
Dadeville 

A bend on the Tallapoosa River formed an ideal site for the Muscogee Creek village of Tohopeka. During the Creek War of 1813-14—a civil war within the Muscogee Creek Nation that eventually embroiled the American government—a band of Red Stick Creeks under Chief Menawa defended this position against American troops and Native American allies under the command of General Andrew Jackson. Some 800 Red Stick warriors were slaughtered here on March 27, 1814, bringing an end to the Creek War of 1813-14 and leaving the Tallapoosa River at Horseshoe Bend stained red with blood.

With the slaughter that occurred here, it’s no wonder that visitors have reported a plethora of paranormal activity here ranging from smells and odd noises to full apparitions. A paranormal investigation by the Alabama Paranormal Research Team produced some photographic anomalies as well as the sound of someone screaming in the vicinity of the Muscogee Creek village site.

haunted Horseshoe Bend Battlefield Dadeville Alabama ghosts
The riverbank at the Horseshoe Bend Battlefield, 2015. Photo by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Sources

  • Langella, Dale. Haunted Alabama Battlefields. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Alabama Paranormal Research Team. Investigation of Horseshoe Bend National Military Park. Accessed 18 Dec 2010.
  • Jensen, Ove. “Battle of Horseshoe Bend.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. 26 Feb 2007.

Linn-Henley Research Library
2100 Park Place
Birmingham

haunted Linn-Henley Library Birmingham Alabama ghosts
Linn-Henley Library, 2009, by DwayneP. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

This building opened in 1927 as the Birmingham Public Library and now houses archives, government documents, a southern history library, and a ghost. Blogger Jessica Penot visited in 2012 and noted the “uncanny quiet that fills the building like a tangible presence.” The spirit of Fant Thornley, the library’s dedicated director from 1953 until the 1970s, still makes occasional appearances here. The spirit has been seen by an electrician, and library staffers have smelled the smoke from his cigarettes.

Sources

Monroe County Heritage Museum
(Old Monroe County Courthouse)
31 North Alabama Avenue
Monroeville

In 1903, this structure was constructed as the Monroe County Courthouse. It was here that a young Harper Lee, Monroeville’s most famous resident and author of the classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, would watch her attorney father as he argued cases. When Hollywood put the story on celluloid, the set designers replicated the courtroom on a California sound stage. This building was used by Monroe County as a courthouse until 1967.

haunted Old Monroe County Courthouse Monroeville Alabama ghosts
Dome of the Old Monroe County Courthouse, 2008, by Melinda Shelton. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The upper floors of this building still seem to retain some of the energy from the building’s judicial use. Blogger Lee Peacock quotes one man as saying, “Things blow in the breeze but there is no breeze. You hear sounds that don’t belong, and I have smelled pipe tobacco smoke when no one was smoking or there to be smoking.” Staff members working late here often get the feeling of not being alone and have heard mysterious sounds within this storied building.

Sources

  • Higdon, David & Brett Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013
  • Peacock, Lee. “Ten new locations make list of “Spookiest Places in Monroe County.” Dispatches from the LP-OP. 31 October 2014.
  • W. Warner Floyd. National Register of Historic Places nomination  form for Old Monroe County Courthouse. 29 March 1973.

Moundville Archaeological Park
634 Mound State Parkway
Moundville

Between approximately 1120 C.E. and 1450 C.E., Moundville was the site of a large city inhabited by the Mississippian people, predecessors to the tribes that the Europeans would encounter when they began exploring the South about a century later. At its height, this town was probably home to nearly 1,000 inhabitants. Stretching to 185 acres, the town had 29 mounds of various sizes and uses: some were ceremonial while others were topped with the homes of the elite.

haunted Moundville Archaeological Park Moundville Alabama ghosts
One of the mounds at Moundville, 1998, by Altairisfar. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Visitors and staff have often mentioned a certain energy emanating from this site. A Cherokee friend of mine visited and while atop one of the mounds let out a traditional Cherokee war cry. Afterward, he noted that there was a palpable change in the energy. Dennis William Hauck speaks of the “powerful spirit of an ancient race” that “permeates this 317-acre site” in his Haunted Places: The National Directory. Southern Paranormal Researchers notes that park staff has witnessed shadow figures, odd noises, and doors opening and closing by themselves in the buildings on the site. Higdon and Talley add orbs and cold spots found throughout the location to the list of paranormal activity here.

Sources

  • Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory. NYC: Penguin, 2002.
  • Southern Paranormal Researchers. Investigation Report for Moundville Archaeological Park. Investigated 10 February 2007.
  • Higdon, David & Brett Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.
  • Blitz, John H. “Moundville Archaeological Park.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. 26 February 2007.

Old Depot Museum
4 Martin Luther King, Jr. Street
Selma

haunted Old Depot Museum Selma Alabama ghosts
Old Depot, 2010, by Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

A part of the Alabama Ghost Trail, a series of haunted places linked by the Southwest Alabama Regional Tourism and Film Office, the Old Depot Museum features a ghost that reportedly has an affinity for the museum’s elevator. The museum occupies the Romanesque Revival circa 1890 Louisville & Nashville Railroad Depot.

Sources

  • Besser, Susan A. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the Water Street Historic District. March 2002.
  • Old Depot Museum. Alabama Ghost Trail. YouTube. Posted 19 July 2009.

    Timmons Cemetery
    Buxton Road
    Redstone Arsenal

When the Army took over some 40,000 acres in Huntsville in 1941, it swallowed up many old farms and plantations including some 46 cemeteries. Located in the woods off of Buxton Road, the Timmons Cemetery is considered, by some, the spookiest place on the Arsenal. Guards patrolling Buxton Road at night have seen a little girl running across the road near the cemetery.

To explain the little girl’s spirit, a legend has surfaced, though apparently not backed up by historical documentation. Margaret Ann Timmons was an energetic child and sometimes difficult to control. When work required the family to be in the fields, Margaret would be tied to a chair inside the house. The energetic child wiggled out of her restraints, and kicked over an oil lamp that destroyed the house and killed the child. Now, not even death and the stone wall that surrounds the family’s cemetery can restrain her.

Sources

  • “Does a little girl really haunt Redstone Arsenal.” WAAY. 31 Oct 2014.
  • “Redstone Report: Ghost story still haunts Redstone Arsenal.” WAFF. 31 Oct 2011.

A Historic Playhouse–Photos from Fort Clinch

Fort Clinch State Park
2601 Atlantic Avenue
Fernandina Beach, Florida

N.B. This article was edited 26 June 2019.

I’ve finally made it to North Florida and seen Fort Clinch! I’d known about the fort for some years before I wrote my article in November of 2010. That article, “Spectral humor–Fort Clinch,” has since been edited and re-posted.

Exploring the fort is an utterly delightful experience. It’s like a huge playhouse with tunnels, towers, turrets, corridors, odd little rooms, and staircases to explore. Unlike so many historic sites now, the fort is not littered with interpretive signs that you feel guilty for not reading, it’s just open for exploration. Rooms within the interior buildings have been furnished and recreated as they would have appeared during the Civil War, otherwise, the fort is a huge, empty edifice. I was there last Saturday when there was a wind advisory. The wind blowing through and around the structure created a haunting, mournful tone. Other than that, I didn’t see or feel any spirits. Though, I can imagine the place grows creepier after dark.

The fort does appear to need work. Even with massive cuts to the state budget, I hope that those in charge are seeing to the needs of this marvelous place. Certainly with visitors comes some income and I would encourage all my readers to check out this marvelous piece of our past.

sally port Fort Clinch Fernandina Beach Florida ghosts haunted
The sally port. Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
ramparts Fort Clinch Fernandina Beach Florida ghosts haunted
The ramparts from the outside. Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
barracks building Fort Clinch Fernandina Beach Florida ghosts haunted
One of the remaining barracks buildings. Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
brig Fort Clinch Fernandina Beach Florida ghosts haunted
Doors to the jail cells in the fort’s brig. Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
barracks Fort Clinch Fernandina Beach Florida ghosts haunted
The back of one of the barracks buildings. Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell IV all rights reserved.
tunnel Fort Clinch Fernandina Beach Florida ghosts haunted
Looking down one of the tunnels leading towards the parade ground. Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
bastion Fort Clinch Fernandina Beach Florida ghosts haunted
My mother enters one of the fort’s bastions. Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
bastion windows Fort Clinch Fernandina Beach Florida ghosts haunted
Looking out of one of the bastions. Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
parade grounds Fort Clinch Fernandina Beach Florida ghosts haunted
View of the parade ground from the ramparts. Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
ramparts Fort Clinch Fernandina Beach Florida ghosts haunted
One of the rampart walls from the inside. Photo 2012, by Lewis
Powell IV, all rights reserved.
guns Fort Clinch Fernandina Beach Florida ghosts haunted
A number of guns still guard the fort. Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell IV all rights reserved.
St. Marys River Fort Clinch Fernandina Beach Florida ghosts haunted
Looking out towards the St. Marys River from the gun emplacements. Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
gun port Fort Clinch Fernandina Beach Florida ghosts haunted
Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Spectral Humor–Fort Clinch, Fernandina Beach, Florida

Fort Clinch State Park
2601 Atlantic Avenue
Fernandina Beach, Florida

N.B. This article was edited 26 June 2019.

For my own photos from Fort Clinch, please see my article, “A historic playhouse–Photos from Fort Clinch.”

Fort Clinch is a popular place. This state park offers camping, wildlife, fishing and swimming as well as what the park website describes as “one of the most well-preserved 19th century forts in the country.” The fort is also popular with historic re-enactors, those people who enjoy spending time living in a different era.

During a historic encampment one July weekend, two re-enactors sitting on the porch of one of the barracks witnessed four spectral soldiers. The soldiers emerged from one of the bastion tunnels wearing Civil War era uniforms, crossed the parade ground, marched up the ramp, and disappeared. The following year during the same encampment, the re-enactors took their seats again on the barracks porch to see if the specters returned. Sure enough, three uniformed ghosts emerged from the tunnel and began making their way across the parade ground. One of the witnesses called out, “There were four of you last year, where’s the fourth man?” One of the ghosts responded, “He’s sick tonight, couldn’t come.” The spectral trio continued up the ramp and disappeared.

This story amuses me greatly. So often in dealing with ghost stories, we are dealing with sometimes horrible deaths involving war, murder, or pestilence, that we forget that these spirits have a sense of humor. I recall an episode of Ghost Hunters where the TAPS team was investigating the well house of a farm that was known to have a prankster ghost. The ghost turned on the investigator’s flashlight upon request and later analysis revealed an EVP of a man laughing at the time. Ghosts DO have a sense of humor!

This story, however, has become one of the most enduring legends surrounding the fort. I’ve seen this story retold in a few different sources and each includes different details. Maggie Carter-de Vries, a local author, includes the story in her 2008 book, Ghosts of Amelia and Other Tales. She does provide a date for this story, 1952, and includes that the witness was a park ranger.

Aerial view of Fort Clinch Fernandina Beach Florida ghosts haunted
Aerial view of Fort Clinch, 2003, by Fl295. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Of course, Fort Clinch is hardly a place for much sadness. The fort has never seen military action; only the ennui that accompanies waiting for such action to occur. The site of the fort, at the northern end of Amelia Island on the northern Atlantic coast of Florida, has been occupied by various military installations since 1736, all guarding the St. Marys River from attack.

Construction on the fort commenced in 1847 as part of the federal government’s plan to fortify the American coast. By the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the fort was only partially constructed with only two bastions facing the river and two walls connecting them as well as other necessary buildings in different stages of completion. At the time of the bombardment of Fort Sumter by Confederate forces in April of that year, guns had yet to be placed within the fort. It was not until the Confederacy took control that guns were installed. The fort aided blockade runners running supplies into the port of St. Marys, Georgia on the other side of the river.

By 1862, many of the neighboring islands had been captured by Union forces leaving Amelia Island and Georgia’s Cumberland Island (a barrier island to the north) isolated. General Robert E. Lee gave orders for troops to abandon the fort. On March 3rd, as the last of the Confederate troops left the fort, Union gunboats arrived and immediately took control of the fort. The First New York Volunteer Engineers company was brought in to resume construction on the fort. Work continued through the war and was halted in 1867 when the construction was deemed obsolete and the fort was placed under the eye of a caretaker.

guns Fort Clinch Fernandina Beach Florida ghosts haunted
The fort’s guns, 2004, by Sir Mildred Pierce. Released under a Creative Commons License.

The forgotten fort was briefly returned to military usage in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, but in September of that year was again deemed obsolete and closed. The decaying ramparts remained desolate until 1926 when the site was offered for sale. The state of Florida purchased the site in 1935 and the Civilian Conservation Corps began work restoring it. Fort Clinch State Park opened as the first park in Florida’s state park system in 1938. During World War II, with German U-boats patrolling off the coast and sinking vessels within sight of land, the fort was reactivated for surveillance.

parade ground Fort Clinch Fernandina Beach Florida ghosts haunted
View across the parade ground, 2009, by mediafury. Released under a Creative Commons License.

The past is still very much with us at Fort Clinch, not only literally, but spiritually as well. Re-enactors operate at the site regularly, demonstrating the harsh realities of military life during the Civil War. These same re-enactors seem to also witness the spiritual realities as well. Author Jack Powell in his Haunting Sunshine: Ghostly Tales from Florida’s Shadows, notes that there is a surprising amount of interaction between the ghosts of Fort Clinch and the re-enactors, rangers, and the occasional visitor. People staying in the barracks have been awakened by the clomping steps of booted feet and the appearance of a woman with a lantern who may possibly be a nurse still checking on patients.

Another interesting interaction involved this same female spirit. A female volunteer was looking for something in a darkened barracks room. The female spirit passed through with her lantern and the woman, not realizing the lantern-bearing woman was not another volunteer, asked her to hold up the lantern while she continued to search. The woman stopped, held the lantern aloft while the volunteer searched. She found what she needed and the other woman left the room. The volunteer approached a woman outside who she believed to have helped her and thanked her, only to discover that she hadn’t been walking around with a lantern, nor had any other women present.

corridor Fort Clinch Fernandina Beach Florida ghosts haunted
View of one the Fort Clinch’s many corridors.

In their book, Ghost Stories of the Civil War, Dan Asfar and Edrick Thay includes a marvelous story from 1999. A family taking a candlelight tour of the fort at night was greeted by a Union officer standing in a window of the Officer’s Quarters. The man looked at them, doffed his cap in acknowledgement, and vanished. After seeking out the guide, the family learned that they were not the first to see the officer, nor were they the only members of that particular tour group to see him.

Not all of the spirits roaming the fort are martial in nature, staff and visitors have reported the sound of a baby crying in the southwest tunnel. There’s speculation that the baby’s spirit may remain from the time when, while abandoned, the fort was home to a homeless family. The family is said to have had a baby that died. It seems that both military and civilian life continue at Fort Clinch.

Sources

  • Asfar, Dan and Edrick Thay. Ghosts Stories of the Civil War. Auburn, WA: Ghost House Books, 2003.
  • Carter-de Vries, Maggie. Ghosts of Amelia & Other Tales. Bloomington, IN: Author House, 2008.
  • Fort Clinch. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 11 August 2010.
  • Fort Clinch State Park. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 11 August 2010.
  • Moore, Joyce Elson. Haunt Hunter’s Guide to Florida. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 1998.
  • Powell, Jack. Haunting Sunshine: Ghostly Tales from Florida’s Shadows. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2001.

“…the Heav’n rescued land…”—Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Maryland

Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
–Francis Scott Key, “The Defense of Fort McHenry”

One can hardly fathom the sheer terror that Francis Scott Key must have experienced as he watched the bombardment of Fort McHenry on the night of September 13 and into the early morning hours of the 14th, 1814. That evening, Key, a thirty five year-old Maryland-born lawyer from Georgetown in the district of Columbia, had dined with enemy officers aboard an enemy ship in order to negotiate the release of American prisoners. Because he was now privy to British plans for the bombardment and invasion of Baltimore, Key and American Prisoner Exchange Agent Colonel John Stuart Skinner were detained aboard the HMS Tonnant.

The guns of Fort McHenry now overlook the Francis Scott Key Bridge which carries I-695. Photo by renpytom, released under Creative Commons licensing.

Key likely knew of the systematic destruction of Washington, D.C. by the British and quite possibly worried about destruction of his own home on the opposite bank of the Potomac River. Now detained aboard an enemy ship in Baltimore harbor, it’s imaginable that he worried about the probable destruction of another American city. Below decks, American prisoners lay shackled and there was fear that the British would mercilessly hang these citizens including a respected doctor, William Beanes, from Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Key and Skinner watched with horror the bombardment of Fort McHenry with its huge flag.

A reproduction of the fort’s huge flag still flies. Photo by renpytom, released under Creative Commons licensing.

The bombardment by the British fleet in Baltimore harbor began on the morning of the thirteenth with an initial exchange. The Americans had sunk a series of merchant ships in the harbor to prevent the British from getting close enough to the fort. After the initial bombardment, the British withdrew to just outside of the range of Fort McHenry’s cannon. At 1 AM the next morning, the British began their heaviest and most long-lasting bombardment that would last most of the next day. They poured some 1500 to 1800 Congreve rockets and mortars onto the fort from a series of ships. Firing mortars onto the fort were ships bearing names like Devastation, Terror, Meteor, Volcano and Aetna. Fortunately, the mortars were poorly designed and few of them actually reached their targets while many of the Congreve rockets exploded mid-air. “…And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air…”

With dawn’s early light, Fort McHenry’s huge flag which had been sewn by Mary Pickersgill and her 13 year-old daughter was revealed to still be flying, an indication that the city and fort had repelled the invasion. Relieved, Key wrote an ode to the flag that was set to an English tune, “To Anacreon in Heaven.” The song gained popularity and was eventually deemed the national anthem in 1931. The grand flag has been cherished and preserved in the Museum of American History while Fort McHenry has been deemed a National Historic Shrine: a shrine to liberty, American defiance, hope, history and spirits.

A view of one of the bastions. Photo by Ad Meskens, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Whetstone Point juts into an arm of the Patapsco River as it meets the Chesapeake Bay. This peninsula provides the perfect perch from which to oversee ships sailing into Baltimore Harbor and it was here that a fort was first constructed during the American Revolution in 1776. Baltimore was never under British threat during that war, but the local citizens thought it necessary to expand the fort following the war using a five-pointed star design by Jean Foncin. Among the fort’s biggest cheerleaders during this time was Secretary of War James McHenry, for whom the fort was later named.

In the midst of the tumult of the early nineteenth century, American decided to finally stand up against British bullying and declared war. It was this action that brought intense military scrutiny to the region and then action in 1814. Brevet Lt. Col. George Armistead commanded the fort during the day-long bombardment and saw only four casualties among his men. Following the war, the fort resumed its duties standing guard over the harbor until the nation it kept intact was torn apart by Civil War. As Maryland remained neutral there was fear that those with Southern sympathies would try to secede, thus leaving Washington, D.C. surrounded by enemy territory. Politicians suspected of having rebel sympathies were imprisoned in the fort including Baltimore’s mayor, city council and police commissioner. Legend states that the fort’s guns were even trained on the city it had so dutifully protected.

After the Civil War the fort resumed its regular duty and when war once again tore Europe apart during World War I, the fort became a 3000 bed hospital for American troops. After medical duty, much of the fort was restored and it was named a National Park in 1925. On the eve of the Second World War, the fort was named both a National Monument and Historic Shrine, a unique designation from a grateful nation. Once again, the fort resumed duty, like many historic coastal forts. The fort was used by the Coast Guard who worked to protect American shores and shipping from German U-boats.

Under the purview of the National Park Service, the typical line is taken: there are no ghosts at Fort McHenry, though many experiences have been documented. Ed Okonowicz in his masterful Baltimore Ghosts catalogs the numerous spirits that have been witnessed through the old fort. Among them are one, possibly two spirits from the British bombardment in 1814. During one of the engagements, the British scored a direct hit on a gun emplacement on Bastion 3. The explosion killed two Baltimore merchants serving in the Maryland Militia, Lt. Levi Clagett and Sgt. John Clemm. Visitors and staff near “Clagett’s Battery” as it is now called, have spotted the visage of a soldier in period uniform. Visitors sometimes inquire at the visitor’s center as to the identity of the reenactor in that area when none are present. During preparations for a visit by President Gerald Ford, the Secret Service spotted a uniformed soldier walking the same bastion where Clagett and Clemm died.

One of the fort’s gun emplacements. Photo by sneakerdog, released under Creative Commons licensing.

The barracks hosts a female spirit who has been spotted looking out the window and who may be responsible for two “attacks” that have taken place there. An artist who was exploring the building walked through a doorway and was knocked out cold by an invisible something. He stated that it felt like he was hit in the face with a frying pan. He was discovered a short time later by a park ranger who escorted him from the building and who did not seem surprised by the artist’s experiences, replying that he had had a woman in nineteenth century clothing try to push him down the stairs. According to Okonowicz, the identity of the woman may be that of a military officer’s wife who lost both her husband and children to an epidemic sometime after the War of 1812.

The parade ground with barracks and the sally port. Photo by David Smith, released under Creative Commons licensing.

Perhaps one of the saddest spirits of the fort is the pathetic form of Private John Drew. Drew was on guard duty one evening in 1880. He was arrested the following morning when he was found to have fallen asleep on the job. Unable to deal with this horribly embarrassing episode, Drew shot himself in his cell. Drew’s form has been seen near where he was supposed to be standing guard on that fateful evening. Others have felt a chill within the cell where Drew took his life.

The statue of Orpheus with the Baltimore skyline in the background. Photo by pwbaker, released under Creative Commons licensing.

One of the more interesting experiences reported on the grounds of the fort comes from near a large statue of Orpheus honoring Francis Scott Key. The large statue stands on the grounds outside the fort and it was here that one visitor saw the figure of man in uniform seemingly floating in mid-air. It was discovered later that that particular area had been the scene of an execution in 1862. A young private had been found guilty of murdering another soldier and it was here that he made his “air-dance,” in other words, he was hanged. Most likely, this is just a sample of the spirits that roam the historic battlements of Fort McHenry; battlements that still witness “the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,” every Fourth of July when fireworks celebrate the freedom this place helped maintain.

Sources

  • Fort McHenry. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 22 November 2011.
  • Francis Scott Key. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 22 November 2011.
  • Okonowicz, Ed. Baltimore Ghosts: History, Mystery, Legends and Lore. Elkton, MD: Myst and Lace Publishing, 2006.
  • The Star-Spangled Banner. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 22 November 2011.
  • Varhola, Michael J. and Michael H. Varhola. Ghosthunting Maryland. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2009.

Of Fowl and Phantoms–Haunted Dauphin Island, Alabama

Whenever I visit the coast, I find myself thinking about the impermanence of things. As someone who has always believed in historic preservation, I’m always saddened when I see historic places destroyed, especially through the ignorance or perhaps the arrogance of man. Of course, when the destruction is wrought by nature, it’s sad as well. Along the coast, there’s always a threat of hurricanes and now add the threat of rising sea levels with global warming and I’m deeply saddened for beautiful places like Dauphin Island.

Hurricane Katrina roared ashore at Dauphin Island in 2005 and decimated the western end of this barrier island. A further barrier island, Sand Island, protected the eastern end of the island from the devastation. When I visited the island in 2008, the western end had been mostly rebuilt and I could only shake my head and wonder if these homes would survive the next big hurricane. Of course, since my visit, the sugar-white sands have been spoiled by oil from the BP spill, though I hope much of that has been cleaned up.

On the lush eastern end of the island, the section that survived the wrath of Katrina, Dauphin Island boasts nationally known birding habitat. The island is one of the first bits of land spotted by neo-tropical migrants as they migrate from their wintering grounds in Central and South America and take flight over the Gulf of Mexico. Many of these species alight to rest in the parks and bird sanctuaries among the vacation homes and birders flock to the island to see this plethora of warblers, tanagers, vireos and thrushes. There’s a large Audubon Bird Sanctuary adjacent to Fort Gaines that attracts birders throughout the year and where I saw my first pair of Black-throated Green Warblers (Dendroica virens); two perky brightly colored fellows that had attracted a good deal of attention from birders who had gathered nearby.

Indian Shell Mound Park
Cadillac Avenue

While my interest in ghosts predates my interest in birds, I didn’t do any research on the island’s legends before my trip. The purpose of the trip was solely to add birds to my life list; otherwise, I would have paid more attention to the island’s more historic and haunted features. I’m sure the thought passed through my mind that there might be more to the Shell Mound than just history and birds. I have a distinct memory of feeling an odd chill upon arrival. As birds are most active in the hours just before and after dawn, I arrived fairly early at the Shell Mound to start birding. Stepping out of the car into the cool of an April morning I was flabbergasted by the sound of calling owls.

 

One of the ancient oaks at Indian Mound Park, 2010. Photo by Jeffrey Reed, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The owls, it turns out, were cooing Eurasian Collared Doves (Streptopelia decaocto), a non-native species that has begun spreading through the Southeast.

Even in full daylight, the park is a bit creepy. The mounds are covered in dense undergrowth and massive ancient oaks laden with Spanish moss. I realized fairly quickly that I was apparently alone in the park and I felt a bit of trepidation exploring the winding park paths by myself. After reading one of the historical signs, the thought that here I was among hundreds of years of history sent a chill down my spine. My attention was quickly diverted (ADD perhaps?) by some slight movement near the top of one of the looming oaks. Picking it up with my binoculars, it was my first Blackpoll Warbler (Dendroica striata), the first bird of a day that would add some 40 new species to my life list.

The shell mounds are evidence of hundreds of years of human visitations to Dauphin Island. These mounds are known as middens, which are basically ancient trash heaps. The island was visited by Native Americans beginning during the Mississippian period (roughly 1100 to 1500 C.E.) who harvested oysters and fish probably during the summer months. Both the oysters and fish could be consumed on the spot or dried for later use. The oysters would be steamed by wrapping them in seaweed and placing them on heated coals. The steam would cause the oysters to open and the shell would be discarded near the fire. One writer suggested that one of the mounds of the six in the park may have reached a height of 50 feet.

With them, the natives also brought a variety of plants to the area, many of which, while not native, have thrived in the semi-tropical environment of the island. Even centuries after the native’s final visit to the island, these plants remain. The magnificent live oak trees on and around the middens are believed to have witnessed the native’s oyster and fish roasts and the first arrival Spanish in 1519. Over the centuries, these branches have hosted nearly 400 different species of birds as they passed the island on their migrations.

Certainly, the oaks may still witness the spirits of natives who still stalk the humid nights. There are tales of strange goings on after dark in the park, though I have not been able to locate any specific reports of these nocturnal activities. Indeed, there is a possibility that native spirits and others may be still rambling about, but I have found no distinct evidence of this.

While the idyllic life of the natives could have continued for centuries, the Mississippian period ended shortly after the Spanish began exploring the Southeast hacking their way through the forests and the natives. Around this time, the Mississippian peoples were replaced by the Choctaw and Muskhogee (also known as the Creek) Peoples who visited the island like their previous brethren. The French first visited the island in 1699 under Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, who would establish the city of Mobile and the entire Louisiana colony. Upon arrival, d’Iberville encountered a number of human skeletons and named the island “Massacre Island.” Some historians speculate that a hurricane had eroded a burial mound exposing the skeletons that the French discovered. The name would stick for some time but was later changed to honor the son of the French king, the Dauphin. Of course, the pronunciation has been eroded over time with the final nasal syllable being replaced by an anglicized “fin” so the name sounds more akin to the word “dolphin.”

Fort Gaines
51 Bienville Boulevard

After visiting the Shell Mounds and seeing a few birds, I moved on to try my luck at the Audubon Bird Sanctuary. My path took me through the forest of the sanctuary and through the campground on the opposite side and towards the eastern tip of the island around Fort Gaines. While the fort may look intimidating from both land and sea, the real threat is the sea. When construction on the fort began in 1819, the project quickly ran over budget and the plans had to be redrawn as the fort sat too close to the water and high tides would flood the construction.

Aerial view of Fort Gaines, 2002, showing its proximity to the sea, rock breaks, and jetties protecting it. Photo by Edibobb, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Over time, the threat from the sea has been constant. Hurricanes have eroded the beach next to the fort causing parts of the masonry to collapse. The collapsed portions have been repaired, but the fort is still under threat from nature just as it was under threat from Admiral David Farragut’s Union naval forces in August of 1864.

With the tide of war turning against the Confederacy, the Union fleet under Farragut set out to capture the ports of Mobile thus tightening the vice grip they held on the Confederacy. Fort Gaines to the west and Fort Morgan to the east guarded the entrance to Mobile Bay. Mines or “torpedoes,” as they were called in that period, were scattered in fields across the entrance forcing ships into a narrow channel near the heavily fortified and gunned Fort Morgan. When the Union fleet arrived on the morning of August 5, the guns of Fort Morgan opened fire. Even losing the USS Tecumseh, the Union fleet continued into the bay with Farragut famously lashed to the rigging of the USS Hartford yelling, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”

Painting of the action at Fort Morgan by Louis Prang, ca. 1884. This is similar to the action Ft. Gaines experienced.

Upon entering the bay, the specter of the ironclad CSS Tennessee loomed ahead. Fighting just a mile north of Fort Gaines, the Tennessee and a number of smaller gunboats took on the Union fleet. Finally, exhausted and basically dead in the water, the Tennessee surrendered. The fight turned towards Fort Gaines and volleys of ammunition were poured onto the masonry structure for almost three days. It is said that at one point in the fighting, the monitor gunboats fired upon the fort from almost point blank range. On August 8, battered into submission, Colonel Charles Anderson surrendered the fort and the nearly 800 men inside.

Since that day of defeat, the fort served as a military post through World War II, but it has not again seen action. The cries of men and the boom of guns have been replaced by the gentle susurrant sea breeze and the cries of wheeling seabirds. But still, spiritual elements still linger.

In researching the haunting of Fort Gaines, I’ve only come across one specific sighting. Many sites online describe Fort Gaines as being haunted but don’t venture into specifics. An article by Michael Baxter, “Ghostly Getaway to Dauphin Island,” describes the experience on one island resident driving past the fort at night. The resident and a friend witnessed the apparition of a woman walking along the battlements. She walked for a bit, stopped, looked at her observers and faded slowly. A number of sources also speak of paranormal investigations on the fort, but I can find no actual reports of such. Like Shell Mound, there is certainly a reason that Fort Gaines could be haunted, but little specific evidence.

There are other stories of ghosts walking the beaches and streets of Dauphin Island, but again, little that is verifiable or specific. Michael Baxter’s article, really one of the best sources of island tales speaks of a number of wandering spirits but these are hard to pin down. Of course, as the island continues into another century eroded by wind and sea I wonder if the birds or even the spirits will remain.

Sources