Airborne School Jump Towers
Eubanks Field Fort Benning, Georgia
After the establishment of the School of Musketry at Fort Sill in Oklahoma in 1913, military action during the First World War led the Army to realize that it needed a larger location for training the Infantry. In 1918, Columbus, Georgia was selected for the site of this new training ground. Initially, the training ground used an old plantation grounds, though over time, this was expanded to encompass an area spanning 287 square miles in southern Muscogee and northern Chattahoochee counties.
One of the fort’s most recognizable landmarks are the three large jump towers at Eubanks Field. Installed in 1941, on the eve of the United States’ entry into World War II, this trio of towers were once a quartet, but the fourth tower was toppled during a 1954 tornado. Standing at a height of 255-feet, a building at the base of each tower provides cables to safely guide the parachutes to the ground.
According to legend, a young soldier died after sustaining injuries during a jump when his rigging failed. The young man plummeted some 60-feet breaking a number of bones including many in his face. Though he survived the fall, he died some weeks later of pneumonia complicated by his injuries. Following his death, eerie rumors began to circulate of lights coming on in the elevator house on their own as well as a shadowy apparition appearing in the area.
According to Faith Serafin in her 2012 Haunted Columbus Georgia, this apparition has also been seen in and around neighboring buildings. A frightening encounter took place just after a 4 AM fire drill in the Jump School Barracks. As a sergeant searched the building for lingering soldiers, he discovered a young man lying on the floor at the end of a hallway. The sergeant quickly turned the young man over to discover that his face was shattered and bloody. Frightened, he left the man briefly to summon help. When the sergeant returned with others, the injured man was nowhere to be found with nary a drop of blood on the floor.
In his 2017 Mysteries of Georgia’s Military Bases, author Jim Miles reports that Fort Benning has a tremendous amount of paranormal activity, especially in many of its housing units. Please note that the jump towers are located on an active military base with tight security.
Since I started my blog, I have been hesitant to use random encounters from online. Of course, while many of these stories are hard, nay impossible, to prove, some of them do ring with a sense of truth. For a writer like me, one of the most difficult tasks in my research is finding good, firsthand accounts of ghostly encounters, especially for areas where there is a general lack of documented stories (i.e. books, newspaper articles, etc.).
Recently, I have become fascinated with the Ghosts of America website. This website collects stories from people throughout the country. While many of these accounts talk about ghosts in private homes, some discuss specific locations. While wading through this vast collection, I’m looking for specific accounts that not only mention specific locations but have a sense of authenticity as well.
Please note, I cannot guarantee that any of these places are truly haunted or that these accounts are totally truthful.
Birmingham, Alabama was named for the English city of Birmingham—one of the earliest industrial cities in the Western world. Altoona, Alabama, which was founded around the turn of the 20th century as a coal-mining town, was named for the great Pennsylvania coal-mining town of Altoona. Likely, the town supplied coal for the burgeoning steel industry centered in nearby Birmingham.
There’s not much to the community of Altoona; Main Street is Alabama Highway 132 as it heads southwest to Oneonta in neighboring Blount County, traveling east you’ll connect with US 278. A post office and several stores form the center of the town with small homes radiating outward.
Brown Street branches off Main Street and winds through rural woods with sporadic houses lining its side before it terminates south of town. An anonymous poster to Ghosts of America documented an interesting encounter on this street. A woman was driving this street at night when her car broke down within 500 yards of 11th Avenue. She pulled off the road and called her husband to come get her.
As she waited on the side of the road, she noted that she felt comfortable as she was familiar with the area. An old Dodge drove past her and she watched as it turned around to check on her. As the vehicle passed her again, she saw an elderly man driving. Slowing down, the mysterious driver smiled at her and nodded, “as if to let me know I would be fine.” Reaching for her phone, the woman looked to see if her husband was nearby. As she looked up again, the vehicle was nowhere in sight, and the witness realized the old Dodge had made no sound at all.
New York Avenue begins auspiciously at the White House heading northwest towards Maryland. As one of the original avenues laid out by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, this thoroughfare originally began at the Potomac River southwest of the White House, but over time those sections of the avenue have been consumed by development, so now only a block remains south of the White House. According to L’Enfant’s plan, the avenue terminated at Boundary Street (now Florida Avenue), though support was garnered around the turn of the 20th century to extend the road into Maryland. This was finally accomplished in 1931.
As New York Avenue stretches northeast away from the hubbub of downtown Washington, its monumental nature falls away and it begins to take on a more plebeian flair as it sidles up to the Amtrak Railyards. Upscale businesses are replaced with light industrial and pedestrian commercial development. Efforts to redevelop the corridor were discussed in 1980 and up through the early 2000s, though much of that work has not come to fruition. A 2005 study of the most crash-prone intersections in the city concluded that five were located on New York Avenue, with the top one being the intersection with Bladensburg Road.
An encounter posted to Ghosts of America makes note of the avenue’s dicey reputation, especially after dark. “Larry” however, decided to use it as a shortcut around 3 AM one morning. As he waited at a stoplight, a disheveled man approached his car and stopped in front. The light turned green and the man continued to stand in front of his car. Larry honked, though the strange man continued standing there. As he backed his car up to go around, Larry realized that the man did not have legs and was seemingly floating in mid-air. Terrified, he sped away from the scene.
Melrose Landing Boulevard is a sparsely inhabited road through rural Putnam County, Florida, near the towns of Hawthorne and Melrose. According to a poster named Sarah on Ghosts of America, it was along this road that her father and brother came upon a woman standing in the road “in a dress that looked to be out of the 1700’s.” She appeared suddenly, and the truck didn’t have time to stop before passing through her.
Around 3 AM on November 1, 2009, All Saints’ Day, the day after Halloween, Sarah turned onto the road at the same place where her father and brother had their earlier incident. As she drove down the road she passed a woman walking “with her long dress all gathered up in her arms.” Realizing that she might need to check on the woman, she turned around and discovered no one around. Sarah also noted that she was returning home from working at a seasonal haunted attraction and was driving a hearse. She considered that the oddity of someone encountering such a vehicle on such a day might have frightened the mysterious woman and that she may have fled into the woods, though Sarah doubted it.
Connecting Valdosta with Moody Air Force Base and Fitzgerald, GA 125 is named Bemiss Road in Valdosta as it heads towards the small community of Bemiss. A poster on Ghosts of America named Arturias revealed that he drove this road frequently at night over the course of fifteen years. During that time, he witnessed people walking along the road, though on three occasions he “noticed coming up on them that they didn’t have legs under the streetlights. Looked faded out.”
After these experiences, he heard the road referred to as the “Highway of Death.” I can find nothing online to prove or disprove whether this is actually the case and why.
Branching off of US 31W, Baker Road serves as a truck entrance to Fort Knox. A post on Ghosts of America from someone going by the handle, Redfraggle, was apparently written by one of those truck drivers who frequently drives Baker Road late at night. While headed towards the Brandenburg Gate, this driver had to swerve “to avoid hitting a dark-haired woman crossing the road.” Dressed in a muumuu, the woman appeared solid and the driver stopped to check on her. The woman only looked at him with a “broken hearted” expression and vanished.
The driver reports that he has seen the woman many times but doesn’t stop for her. In addition, this apparition has appeared along this stretch of road to his fellow drivers.
Please note that this road is on a military base and off limits to the public.
Fort Knox, Kentucky Ghost Sightings. GhostsofAmerica.com. Accessed 30 July 2020.
Elbert Stewart Road
Albany/Independence, Louisiana Area
About five miles north of Albany and five miles west of Independence is Elbert Stewart Road, home to the locally known Albany Lights. I can find no other reference to these lights online or in any of my research.
A submission from Larry on Ghosts of America, describes his experiences with the lights throughout his life. According to the post, Elbert Stewart Road was once called Dummy Line Road. The term “dummy line” refers to railroads that were constructed to serve the timber as it cut huge swathes of land throughout the South the end of 19th and into the early 20th centuries. Presumably, these lines were called “dummy” because they did not connect to the transportation rail lines.
The story of the lights involves a brakeman who was killed when he failed to pin the coupling between two cars and was crushed. The lights are supposed to be the brakeman’s signal “that the pinning was made.”
Larry explains that some years ago the road was named for his grandfather and that at 49 years of age, he recalls the lights appearing all his life. Interestingly, he points out that if you have photographic equipment on you, the lights will not appear (what about cellphones?). Otherwise, viewers have an 80% chance of seeing the hazy, bluish colored light.
Interestingly, he notes that the phenomenon has been investigated by the FBI, the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Geographic Society. None of these investigations were successful as they all had photographic equipment on them.
A comment on the post from a nearby resident states that they have encountered the lights here “plus much more.”
Church Road Cemetery
Broomes Island, Maryland
Occupying a small peninsula extending into the Patuxent River, the community of Broomes Island plays host to a haunted cemetery. Not only do spirits haunt the cemetery, but they apparently have spilled out onto surrounding streets. This location is documented in Ghosthunting Maryland by the father and son duo of Michael J. and Michael H. Varhola. The Varholas describe a ritual where someone circles the cemetery three times at night, after which a fog rolls in the laughter of young girls can be heard.
A post on Ghosts of America mentions that the cemetery has numerous spirits which have spilled out into the nearby streets where they “scream and laugh.” A comment on this post is from a newspaper delivery man who has encountered the spirit of a young boy who told him and his mother to leave. Afterwhich, they saw it run past the car windows.
Varhola, Michael J. and Michael H. Ghosthunting Maryland. Cinncinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2009.
MS 33 Bridge over the Homochitto River
Less than a mile north of the unincorporated community of Rosetta in the Homochitto National Forest, Mississippi State Route 33 crosses the Homochitto River on a fairly new bridge. This bridge has seen multiple iterations as the shallow river erodes the stream banks. For nearly two centuries a ferry crossed here which was eventually replaced by a bridge. That bridge was replaced in 1941. The new bridge was damaged during a flood, and it was repaired and extended in 1956.
By 1974, the bridge was again needing work and it was extended again. Just two months after completion, the bridge was washed out during a flood. This washout claimed the lives of two men who were reportedly standing on the bridge. The current bridge was completed by the MDOT in 1978, though it too, has been extended around 2014.
A brief post on Ghosts of America states that phantom headlights have been seen on this bridge heading southbound but disappearing before they cross the full length of the bridge.
South Queen Street Bridge over the Neuse River
Kinston, North Carolina
A couple from out of town was staying at “the hotel that sits right next to the Queen Street Neuse River Bridge,” presumably the Red Carpet Inn and Suites. After dark they walked across the road to get dinner from Hardee’s. As they made their way back to their hotel, they began to hear the sounds of “men screaming, ‘stop the fire’ and the sounds of water splashing” coming from the direction of the bridge. The sounds continued with the noise of a battle. At the same time, they both smelled the odor of cigar smoke. They ran back to their room.
The following day, they mentioned the incident to the hotel manager and were told that a battle was fought there during the Civil War, and that guests routinely report hearing and seeing things around the bridge. The couple reported their experiences on Ghosts of America.
In fact, this was the site of the Kinston Bridge which came under attack by Union troops on December 14, 1862. After defending a defensive line south of the bridge, Confederate troops retreated towards the bridge and crossed into town. Thinking that all his men had crossed, General Nathan Evans ordered his men to set the bridge aflame. However, a number of Confederate troops still remained on the opposite side and were now taking the brunt of artillery fire from both Union troops and their own men on the other side of the bridge.
As these men began to run for the bridge they realized that it was in flames and many were captured by Union forces. General John G. Foster sent his men to douse the flames and continue across the partially destroyed bridge into Kinston. As Evans retreated away from town, Union soldiers looted and destroyed parts of the city.
Stretching between Key West., Florida and Fort Kent, Maine, US 1 is the longest north-south road in the country. While this highway passes through many busy urban areas, it also passes through quiet, rural areas such as this area of Kershaw County. Michael posted on Ghosts of America about his experience on this lonely stretch of road around 12:30 at night.
As he passes through an undeveloped area, Michael passed a woman walking on the side of the road. He noticed that she had an “old mottled blanket wrapped around her. The entire figure was so very pale. Her hair was blonde, and the blanket appeared to have dark dots on it.” As he passed her, he wondered why someone would be out on a chilly night on this lonely stretch of road. Looking in his rearview mirror, he could only see darkness. The following night he was on the lookout for the woman, but she did not appear. After arriving at work, he told some of his co-workers about the experience only to have someone come in from the next room saying that they had seen the woman as well. Their description matched his, all the way down to the blanket.
An employee for an industrial laundry posted on Ghosts of America that two of his drivers had strange experiences on Dolly Parton Parkway. The first encounter involved a driver as he drove into work around 2:30 AM along Dolly Parton Parkway. He encountered a thick fog, and “came upon 4 men in old tattered clothes pushing a cannon across the road.” Slamming on the brakes, he sat and watched as the men rolled the cannon across the road without noticing him or his car. Going into work, the shaken driver told his supervisor of his experience.
The second encounter also involved a man driving the same stretch of road in the very early morning also driving through a thick patch of fog. “His entire windshield froze completely over with frost to the point where he had to pull over and scrape it with his license.” Interestingly, the temperatures that morning were quite warm.
The poster, Leslie, Googled the area and discovered that a battle was fought near the roadway during the Civil War. Though a small battle, the Battle of Fair Garden was furious, and led to roughly 250 casualties. Most curious is a detail on the recently installed marker near the battlefield: the battle was fought on a cold January morning in a heavy fog.
A resident East Virginia Avenue named Larry reported seeing a man walking the street with a lantern in this small Virginia town. He notes that he and his family have lived on the street as long as he can remember and that he has seen this apparition the entire time. While he knows of no other neighbors who have witnessed it, several of his relatives have seen it. One relative visiting from out of town went out to smoke in the front yard around midnight and watched an orange light glide down the street. As the light came closer, it vanished.
The town of Crewe was created in 1888 by the Norfolk & Western Railroad—later Norfolk Southern—as a site for locomotive repair shops. The necessity of the repair shops decreased towards the middle of the 20th century.
West Virginia State Route 2 New Cumberland, West Virginia
Hancock County is the northernmost county in West Virginia, and the South. It pushes up between Ohio and Pennsylvania, and one side of the county is defined by the Ohio River. New Cumberland is one of the towns located on the river. WV 2 runs through the heart of the town.
A post on Ghosts of America from John describes an incident that happened to him as he was driving southbound on WV 2 in New Cumberland in the spring of 1974. As he and his passenger neared railroad tracks and a bridge, “a ‘man’ stepped out in front of my vehicle. He turned and looked directly at me as the hood of my car went through him.” Then he suddenly disappeared. He continues, “I actually saw the upper part of his body in the middle of my hood. The lower part was inside the front of the car.” Reportedly, the man had white hair and beard, and “wore a ‘brimmed’ hat.”
In tracing the route of WV 2 through New Cumberland, I could only locate one place where a bridge and railroad tracks are close together: at the bridge over Hardin Run. Going southbound, the railroad crossing is about 200 feet after the bridge. Is this where the mysterious apparition appeared to a frightened driver in 1974?
N.B. This article was originally published 13 May 2015 as a single, massive article. It’s now broken up into three sections, South of Broad, North of Broad, and Charleston Environs, which have all been rearranged and revised for ease of use.
Known as the “Holy City” for the number of churches that raise their steeples above the city, Charleston, South Carolina is also known for its architecture, colonial and antebellum opulence, as well as its haunted places. This tour looks at the highlights among Charleston’s legends and ghostlore.
Broad Street cuts across the Charleston peninsula creating a dividing line between the most historic, moneyed, aristocratic portion of the city—located south of Broad—and everything else. For convenience, this tour is now divided into separate articles covering the area South of Broad, North of Broad, and the Environs. Locales in this article include places open to the public as well as private homes. For these private homes, please respect the privacy of the occupants, and simply view them from the street.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gamble, Robert S. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Belmont. Jan. 1981.
Belle Mont. Alabama Historical Commission. 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Linn-Henley Research Library 2100 Park Place Birmingham
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.
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.
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.
Higdon, David & Brett Talley. Haunted Alabama Black Belt. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013
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.
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.
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.
Old Depot Museum 4 Martin Luther King, Jr. Street Selma
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.
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.
“Does a little girl really haunt Redstone Arsenal.” WAAY. 31 Oct 2014.
“Redstone Report: Ghost story still haunts Redstone Arsenal.” WAFF. 31 Oct 2011.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fort McHenry. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 22 November 2011.
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.
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.
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 USSHartford yelling, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”
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.