Lingering Memories–Lyric Theatre

Lyric Theatre
201 North Broadway
Tupelo

He appeared first in a Lee County community called Black Zion near the Pontotoc County line. He was a dark, shadowy figure stretching from the leaden clouds to the dusty ground. The winds surrounding him stirred up dust in the still and humid air of a warm spring Palm Sunday. He tore through Black Zion and then slammed into the town of Tupelo with great fury around 8:30 that evening.

April 5, 1936 had been a pleasant Palm Sunday in Tupelo until the twister touched down flattening 48 blocks of the city. Believed to have been a 5 on the Fujita scale—the scale for judging the strength of tornados—this Palm Sunday visitor was part of a line of storms that struck the South with another powerful tornado destroying parts of Gainesville, Georgia the following day. Local officials counted 216 deaths, but in this era of Jim Crow that was only counting whites among the dead. The deaths of African-Americans—and this tornado struck a part of Tupelo that was largely black—went unrecorded.

As the dead and injured were pulled from the twisted wreckage of the city the broken bodies were moved to a temporary hospital and morgue set up in the Lyric Theatre. The sounds of agony from the injured and the dying, as well as the clink of metal medical instruments and trays replaced the laughter that usually echoed through the building. Stories speak of the popcorn machines in the lobby being pressed into service to sterilize the instruments. These bad memories still may linger.

Undated postcard of the Comus Theatre. The facade now features Art Deco elements and marquee. Postcard from the Cooper Postcard Collection, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

The Lyric opened as the Comus Theatre in 1912. The Comus hosted vaudeville and other live performances until the prevalence of films lead to vaudeville’s untimely demise. The theatre became a part of the M. A. Lightman Company (Malco), a chain of cinemas, acquiring a new name, the Lyric, and it’s Art Deco façade and marquee. It’s appropriate that this theatre, having been built for live theatre would ultimately be saved by it as well. In the mid 1980s when the theatre had outlived its usefulness as a cinema, it was saved from the wrecker’s ball by the Tupelo Community Theatre and has been slowly but surely restored by them.

With TCT’s acquisition of the Lyric Theatre, they also acquired some lingering memories; memories that will mischievously play tricks on actors and theatre staff. One executive director had his keys taken and hidden from him. After searching for about 45 minutes he gave up and decided to call someone to come get him. The phone sat on a Plexiglas stand with a small slot for papers clips. As he lifted the receiver he glanced down to see his keys stuffed into the small slot. Puzzled, he locked up the building and quickly left. He could come up with no explanation except to blame Antoine, the theatre’s lingering spirit.

Exactly who the spirit is or why his name is Antoine is unknown. Perhaps he’s one of the injured, dying or dead brought into the building following the tragic tornado or perhaps a more recent theatre associate who has returned to his beloved theatre?  All that is known is that he enjoys playing tricks including playing with the lights, slamming doors when he may be unhappy and possibly making a surprise appearance in a theatergoer’s photograph.

There are other lingering memories that are more obviously connected with the theatre’s tragic past. The clank of metal medical instruments still resounds through the building while the popcorn machines, once pressed into such ghastly service, are said to turn on by themselves. In a place where such happy memories are now made, these negative memories linger to remind us that even the beauty of a warm spring evening can be shattered in an instant by a terrible storm.

Sources

  • 1936 Tupelo-Gainesville tornado outbreak. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 28 March 2013.
  • History of the Lyric Theatre. Tupelo Community Theatre. Accessed 28 March 2011.
  • Rutherford, Joe. “Tupelo tornado: Scars, united in spirit.” NEMS Daily Journal. 3 April 2011.
  • Sillery, Barbara. The Haunting of Mississippi. Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2011.
  • Steed, Bud. The Haunted Natchez Trace. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2012.
  • Tupelo Community Theatre. org. Accessed 28 March 2013.

Newsworthy Hauntings 11/24/12

I’m still working on settling in after my transition home after working in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina, but I’m still collecting news.

USO of North Carolina, Jacksonville Center
9 Tallman Street
Jacksonville, North Carolina

Organized at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the United Service Organizations (USO) was created in 1941 to provide recreation to military personnel during the dark days of World War II. The first facility in the United States opened in Fayetteville, North Carolina. After the war, the facility in Jacksonville, North Carolina remained open due to the concerted efforts of volunteers and this facility is the oldest continuously open USO facility. Since the “Great War,” the organization has expanded its efforts from just providing support to military personnel to including their families as well. It seems, however, that this facility may be providing support to those on other planes as well.

A fund-raising ghost hunt was held in the 70-year-old building on Halloween night and led by Dave Tango (a guest investigator from the show Ghost Hunters) and members of the SEPIA (Southeast Paranormal Investigative Association) team. The SEPIA team had previously investigated the building and discovered evidence that there may be paranormal activity in the center. Returning Halloween night for the investigation with the public, they encountered quite interesting activity.

Perhaps the most dramatic bit of paranormal activity was the scratching of one young woman. An avowed skeptic, the young woman had requested that the spirits not touch her. Moments later, she “felt like someone put Icy-Hot across my back.” After complaining that it itched, her sister discovered that she had scratch marks on her back. Generally, the activity reported in the building and witnessed by the paranormal team has been far less malevolent and includes distant music and the moving of small objects.

Sources

  • Daily News Staff. “’Ghost Hunters’ to check out USO of NC.” Jacksonville Daily News. 26 October 2012.
  • “Our History.” USO-NC. Accessed 23 November 2012.
  • Perez Rivera, Jackeline M. “Ghosts make contact at USO.” Camp Lejeune Globe. 20 November 2012.
  • United Service Organizations. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 23 November 2012.

Planter’s Hall
822 Main Street
Vicksburg, Mississippi 

It’s interesting to see a building alternate between public and private uses and it’s rare to find a building that has alternated so much as Planter’s Hall has. Built around 1834, this structure was constructed to serve as the local branch of the Planter’s Bank of the State of Mississippi. Like many other Mississippi banks, the bank failed in 1842 and the branch was closed. The building changed hands many times in the years leading up to the Civil War and it was converted into a residence in 1854, though most likely not occupied until 1861.

Planter’s Hall in a 1936 Historic American Buildings Survey photograph by James Butters. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

When the city, one of the most important cities on the Mississippi River, was laid siege to by the Union army, the house was occupied by a Confederate officer, Colonel Allen Thomas, and his staff. Following the city’s fall, the home may have been occupied by General William Dennis of the Illinois Cavalry. The home soon returned to service as a private residence and remained as such until 1956 when the building was purchased and turned into a museum. Recently, the building returned to status as a private residence, though certainly it is one of the most historic private homes in the city.

According to a recent story from Jackson, Mississippi’s WAPT News, the home’s current residents have been experiencing some possibly paranormal activity. Interestingly, the reporter in this story is doing the investigating himself. While the reporter found few things that were unexplained, the stories from the residents are quite interesting with the home’s owner being awakened to find an angry soldier looming over the bed.

Sources

  • Bagley, Clinton I. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for Planters Hall. 22 February 1971.
  • “Vicksburg resident says her family shares home with ghosts.” 1 November 2012.

Newsworthy Hauntings 6/17/2012

For those regular readers of this blog, my apologies for not having updated sooner. As I revealed in the last post, I’m working in Cherokee, NC and I’m still settling in. Finding time to write has been increasingly difficult, though I’ve uncovered a good deal of material and will be writing about those things soon. Please stay tuned!

The Corners Bed & Breakfast Inn
601 Klein Street
Vicksburg, Mississippi

According to Alan Brown’s 2010 Haunted Vicksburg, there doesn’t appear to be much going on at The Corners Bed & Breakfast Inn. His entry on this home includes only a single sighting of a woman in Victorian clothing seen by a couple staying there. Returning from a day of sightseeing, the couple had this oddly dressed woman walking ahead of them. When she reached the back door, she vanished through the closed door.

It is the lack of information on the haunting there that makes this recent article from the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger so interesting. It covers a recent investigation by Smoke & Mirrors Paranormal and includes a few of the odd things that occurred during the investigation. Among the evidence captured by the group are EVPs and a video of an odd orb. One of the more interesting, though possibly one of the more easily debunked, pieces of evidence is a clock radio in a room cutting on at exactly midnight and playing Diana Ross and Supremes’ hit, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

The house has a fascinating history that is compounded by its association with Cedar Grove Mansion which is located just around the corner. The Corners, listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Isaac Bonham House, was built in 1873 by John Alexander Klein who had built Cedar Grove. The house was built for Klein’s daughter and her husband and the home’s architecture reflects its status as a wedding gift. Hearts, rings, diamonds and shamrocks are woven into the design of the pierced columns that line the front porch. Though, these symbols of marital bliss do not reflect the sad events that took place. Isaac and Susan Klein Bonham had two sons who died of malaria at an early age. Isaac was killed when he tried to break up a bar brawl between friends. Unable to live in a house with so many memories, Susan moved into Cedar Grove following her father’s death.

By all accounts, the house should be haunted and this investigation will add a new layer of evidence. Perhaps, this will help to prove that ain’t no river wide enough will keep the spirits away.

Please see Smoke & Mirrors Paranormal’s website for evidence from this investigation.

Sources

“Lord willing and the creek don’t rise!”—Lake Washington, Mississippi

The marvelous phrase, “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise,” occurs frequently in Southern dialogue with some changes (i.e. “God” or “Good Lord” instead of just “Lord” and sometimes plural creeks or “Creek” capitalized). Initially, this phrase did not refer to “creek” as in a body of water, but to the Creek People (now known as the “Muscogee”). According to Google Knol, this phrase originated with the great Indian Agent, Benjamin Hawkins, in the 18th century when he responded to a presidential request to travel to Washington with, “God willing and the Creek don’t rise.”

In a recent news piece from WLBT News, the NBC station in Jackson, Mississippi, a mistake in the spelling of a word made me think of this wonderful turn of phrase. A reporter from the station spent an evening investigating one of the historic showplaces on Lake Washington. He described the group as hearing “a few knocks and creaks downstairs,” though the article reads “a few knocks and creeks downstairs.” It certainly made me chuckle.

The group was investigating the exceedingly atmospheric Susie B. Law House. Neglected for quite some time, this house now hides under a shroud of vines. Underneath this organic, house-shaped shroud is a two-story, white Greek revival house with a columned portico extending from the front. Barbara Sillery in her magisterial The Haunting of Mississippi (which I reviewed here), mentions that a smaller version of the house exists as a playhouse not far from the main house and crushed by a tangle of vines. The house’s appearance has led to its use as a filming location twice, though I cannot find the identities of either film.

Vines cover the portico of the Susie B. Law House. Photo 2010 by Tinkerbrad. Released under a Creative Commons License.

The reporter, Walt Grayson, and the paranormal team, Delta Paranormal, investigating the house recently encountered more than groans and creaks from downstairs. An upstairs door closed itself and was moments later caught on tape opening and closing. The proprietor of a local bait shop, Bait n’ Thangs, who is interviewed in the video also appears in Sillery’s book. He had an odd experience while passing by the Law House a few years ago before the house became so covered in vines. He saw a light in the empty house and as he got closer witnessed a little old lady in a white nightgown ascending the staircase with an oil lamp in her hand. He considered calling the sheriff, but he knew the house was empty and something just wasn’t right. After reporting the woman to descendants of the Law family, he discovered that he’d seen the apparition of Susie B. Law.

The house is one of the showplaces built near Lake Washington, considered the “most beautiful lake in the world.” In the early 19th century many families were attracted to the oxbow lake and built magnificent mansions on its shores along East Lake Washington Road in the hamlet of Glen Allan. Among the most important homes was the Italianate red-brick house, MOUNT HOLLY. It was important enough that the 1938 WPA guide to the state devotes a paragraph to describing the home’s “walls […] 2 feet thick and the ceilings 14 feet high.” It goes on to note the “rosewood staircase, rounded niches for statuary, frescoes, walnut woodwork and great oven.” The circa 1856 home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, but more recently, it has become known for its ghosts.

Mount Holly, 2010, by Tinkerbrad. Released under a Creative Commons License.

Like the nearby Law House, Mount Holly sits derelict. It is here that the bait shop owner also had a bizarre experience. Whilst showing a couple historians through the house, the local fishing guide had a door slammed in his face. Moments later, he witnessed a figure running away from the door. Evidently, spirits in both houses enjoy their door closing abilities.

Neglect shows on both of these magnificent homes. Neither is currently open to the public so I have not added addresses to this entry. In the video, the bait shop owner mentions that he hopes paranormal investigations could provide the money to at least stabilize the Law House. Mount Holly needs just as much work and could also benefit from paranormal investigations. It’s also noted in the video that the area has received a great deal of rain recently; rain that can cause damage to both edifices. Lord willing and the creeks don’t rise these houses can be saved.

Sources

Rhythm and Blues–Natchez, Mississippi

Rhythm Night Club Memorial Museum
5 St. Catherine Street
Natchez, Mississippi

N.B. This entry was revised 24 February 2019.

Goodbye, Goodbye,
Fare you well, goodbye!
I’m just gonna let all you people know
What happened in that Natchez fire.
— Gene Gilmore, “The Natchez Fire,” one of a number of jazz and blues songs written to memorialize the fire. See the YouTube video for a recording of the song with photographs from the fire.

One of my favorite books as a kid was Jay Robert Nash’s Darkest Hours: A Narrative Encyclopedia of Worldwide Disasters from Ancient Times to the Present. Not only providing stories of hundreds of disasters, the book includes rare photographs from the scenes, including some that are quite graphic. One of those photographs I remember clearly is from the 1940 fire at the Rhythm Night Club in Natchez. The photograph shows bodies of many of the African-American club goers laid out. These nicely dressed people are covered with soot with some almost frozen in dance-like attitudes.

As I’m reading through my blogs tonight, I came across an entry from Natchez Ghosts: The Devil’s Punchbowl, the official blog of the Natchez Area Paranormal Society regarding this recently opened museum. The museum is located on the site of the night club and serves as a memorial to this fire that claimed around 207 lives (there are discrepancies in the actual number) and affected many more.

Headline from the 24 April 1940 Delta Democrat-Times of Greenville, Mississippi.

Occupying a ramshackle wood frame building, the Rhythm Night Club was a swinging place on the spring evening of April 23, 1940. Walter Barnes and His Royal Creolians, a noted band from Chicago, was playing to a packed house of nearly 700. From the ceiling decorative Spanish moss had been hung. That moss that had been sprayed with a petroleum-based insecticide called Flit, in an attempt to kill the insects that lived within it.

Near the club’s front door, a fire broke out, quickly spreading through the highly-flammable moss. As patrons rushed to the windows and doors, they found most of them boarded up. Among those killed were Walter Barnes, the bandleader, and most of his band. While the fire destroyed so many lives, it did lead to some of the myriad fire regulations that save many lives today.

Opening last year, the Rhythm Night Club Memorial Museum seeks to tell the story of this tragedy as well as memorialize the site. The blog entry on Natchez Ghosts mentions that one of the founders has reported paranormal activity throughout the building. This activity includes the sounds of voices, music, and doors opening and closing. He has also found photographs apparently removed from the walls and then laid on the floor at interesting angles.

haunted Natchez Mississippi Rhythm Night Club fire memorial museum haunted
A riverside memorial plaque for the Rhythm Night Club fire. Photo 2015, by Bill Hathorn, courtesy of Wikipedia.

It should be noted that there are many sites throughout the South related to similar tragedies with paranormal activity such as places associated with the Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Kentucky, which burned in 1977; the Winecoff Hotel fire in Atlanta in 1946 (the building is now home to the Ellis Hotel); and the site of the Cleveland School in Kershaw County, South Carolina, which burned in 1923.

The blog entry also mentions that the Natchez Area Paranormal Society (NAPS) is ramping up to investigate the location in the very near future. I look forward to seeing their evidence.

Update: It appears that the Natchez Paranormal Society is no longer active. Their blog is still up, but has not been updated since 2015.

Sources 

Mad Rivers, Mills and Merrehope—Meridian, Mississippi

Meridian, Mississippi was founded competitively. Lewis Ragsdale and John Ball bet on making a profit from the proposed junction of the Mobile and Ohio and the Vicksburg and Montgomery Railroads. Both purchased land in the area and they began laying out lots, yet they could not agree on the orientation of the streets thus creating streets that sometimes turn at odd angles. There was also disagreement over the new city’s name. Ball favored the name “Meridian,” while Ragsdale had a Native American name in mind, “Sowashee,” meaning “mad river” for a nearby creek. The competition progressed to the point where supporters of the two founders would change the train station’s name nightly.

The cloud of war arrived in the city just after the name Meridian was established, but it brought it many opportunities for the burgeoning town. The town’s strategic location brought an arsenal, military hospital, prisoner of war stockade and many state offices. The city’s importance also caught the eye of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman who decided to capture the city from Confederate General Leonidas Polk. On Valentine’s Day, 1864, the city fell to Sherman who intended to wipe this upstart town off the map. The city, already heavily damaged from the battle, was put to the torch.

Early 20th Century view of 22nd Avenue. The building with the rounded corner, just left of center is the Grand Opera House. This view now looks towards the large Threefoot Building. Postcard from the Cooper Postcard Collection, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Like so many other cities put to the torch by the Union army, such as Atlanta and Columbia, Meridian rose phoenix-like from the ashes.  For the next half century the city served as a shining example of the “New South.” Mills and factories sprang up next to the railroads and workers poured in from the agricultural fields. Businessmen opened businesses to cater to the workers and business districts spring up. Among the many commercial buildings constructed were three in the 800 block of 22nd Avenue: THE PIGFORD BUILDING (818 22nd Avenue), THE MERIDIAN STAR BUILDING (814 22nd Avenue) and  813 22nd AVENUE (formerly the Peavey Melody Music store), all of which are believed to be haunted. The Meridian Star Building still houses the newspaper and takes up a large portion of the east side of the block and sits in the shadow of the Pigford Building which towers above. (I’ve just recently covered the hauntings here.)

The Pigford Building, 2008. Photo by Dudemanfellabra, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Pigford Building has a fairly well-investigated and documented haunting. The building was constructed around 1915 for the Knights of Pythias, a secret fraternal organization, and was called Pythian Castle Hall. In the 1920s, the building was purchased by Pigford Realty who rented out the building for retail and office space while the third floor held a ballroom. The retail space on the ground floor has seen many tenants and at some point in the last decade, the top floors have been closed. The windows to those two floors have remained boarded up.

Most of the activity has centered around a dress shop located in the retail space adjacent to the Meridian Star Building. Three different dress shops have occupied the space and both shops have had activity. The haunting was first noticed by employees in the form of spectral female laughter then later, whimpering and crying. Footsteps were heard upstairs in the empty building. Soon enough, clothing and jewelry which had been hung up the night before were being found scattered on the floor the following morning. In 1999, an employee saw an apparition: a lady with long hair in a white gown gliding across the balcony.

The shop’s owner worked late one night and had her young daughter with her when the little girl heard a woman’s voice on the intercom. She responded, thinking it was her mother, the mother asked her daughter who she was talking to and discovered someone else was on the intercom. The same owner had her three-year-old cousin with her another time. The little boy wandered upstairs and came down later saying, “I don’t like the lady in the long dress. She doesn’t like me.” Again, no one else was or should have been in the building. Not long after, the owner saw the lady in white for herself, silently gliding along the balcony.

Owners of the current dress shop had experiences with a vacuum cleaner. In both cases, the vacuum cleaner had been unplugged and moments after leaving the room, the machine turned itself on. The spirit may also have an affinity for a clock in the store. During one investigation, the clock moved forward by two minutes while witnesses were in the room.

Across the street the even older Wagoner Annex No. 3 Building housed the Peavey Melody Music store for many years. The store was opened in this building in 1945 by J. B. Peavey whose son, Hartley, started selling electronics out of the upstairs of this building, eventually creating Peavey Electronics. The store closed its doors in 2006 and the building appears to be unoccupied at the moment.

Devastation from the 1906 tornado. Postcard from the Cooper Postcard Collection, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

This building, however, has a much darker history. The same year the building was completed, a devastating tornado struck the central business district of Meridian, killing nearly 50 people. The Wagoner Annex No. 3 building housed the Smith Funeral Parlor which handled many of the bodies. The morticians were so overwhelmed with bodies that many were stacked on the second floor. Legend holds that there was so much blood that it was swept out of the first floor with a broom. During its time as the music store, employees in the building would occasionally hear the sound of children upstairs. At times they would hear children laughing and running up and down the hall only to discover no one upstairs.

A little ways down 22nd Avenue between Fifth and Sixth Streets stands another building from the post-war Golden Era, a building that brought prestige and culture to this backwoods town, the GRAND OPERA HOUSE (now called the Riley Center for the Performing Arts, 2206 Fifth Street). Built in 1889 by the owners of the neighboring department store, Israel Marks and Levi Rothenberg, this opera house brought the world to Meridian’s stage including the great French actress Sarah Bernhardt and the actress Lily Langtry, who was a mistress to Albert, Prince of Wales. The theatre operated successfully into the next century and part of it was converted for use as a movie house in the 1920s. The building was leased to Saenger Films of New Orleans and after a dispute over use of the structure, Saenger wanted to convert the building to offices so it wouldn’t compete with the Temple Theatre, the second floor opera house was closed. It remained shut up until the late 20th century, when it was rediscovered. It was recently fully restored and is now owned by Mississippi State University – Meridian Campus.

Grand Opera House, now the Riley Center, 2008. Photo by Dudemanfellabra, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Before the Grand Opera House was reopened, people began to tell stories of a ghost. The executive director first encountered a spirit there while giving a tour to a young woman he was dating. Leading the young woman through the dark halls, the pair walked into a cold spot. Later the director would hear from a woman who worked in one of the retail stores that once operated on the street level. She would sometimes eat lunch on the old stairs to the opera house and would hear a woman singing in the dark theatre. Others have witnessed a woman in a white gown in the theatre. Most recently, a member of the cleaning staff and her daughter saw the woman who they said resembled the woman painted in a medallion above the stage. While the model for that painting is unknown, she certainly still gazes down upon audiences over nearly a hundred and twenty-five years since she was first painted.

When the curtain for the Grand Opera House was drawn in 1927, it was done to prevent competition with Meridian’s new grand showplace, the TEMPLE THEATRE (2320 Eighth Street). The Temple was constructed as a temple for the Hamasa Shrine organization, part of the Freemason order. In 1927, the temple was leased to the Saenger Corporation for use as a movie house. The Moorish revival-designed structure house the second largest stage in the country at the time, after New York’s Roxy and contained a marvelous Robert Morgan pipe organ to provide accompaniment for the silent films of the era.

Temple Theatre, 2008. Photo by Dudemanfellabra, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The theatre was in regular use until the early 1970s when the Saenger’s lease expired. The building saw nominal use and was only very recently purchased by a Dallas businessman for use as a performing arts center. Staff members have begun reporting odd occurrences. One woman saw a dark human shaped form standing in a doorway while a group of people saw a white haired man standing in the corner of the room just beneath the stage. A group of stage hands who dared spend the night on the stage of the old theatre were frightened by numerous odd noises throughout the building all through the night.

With the Great Depression, Meridian’s economy faltered, but it picked up quite a bit of steam with World War II. Into the 1950s, the economy began a decline as the importance of the railroad waned with the advent of the car and the interstate highway system. The fight for civil rights during the 1960s brought the city some notoriety. When three young civil rights workers were killed in nearby Neshoba County, Michael Chaney, a citizen of Meridian, was among them. These deaths, among many, coupled with the work of the African-American community, helped spur Federal Civil Rights legislation. Meridian later honored Chaney by renaming part of 49th Avenue after him.

While repairing its race relations and reputation, the city has worked to preserve some of its history; though this fight is far from over. As industrialization has pulled out of the South, and the nation as a whole, cities like Meridian have watched their cores rot and crumble. Where the bells of streetcars one rang a peal of prosperity, the rumble of the bulldozer brought only despair and emptiness. The 1980s and 90s saw a good deal of work to preserve the historical fabric of Meridian; work that continues today and includes the preservation of the monumental Threefoot Building just down the street from the Grand Opera House and the 800 block of 22nd Avenue. A city landmark, this 16-story 1929 structure is mostly abandoned and was named to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2010 list of America’s Most Endangered Places. The building, named for the Threefoot family, since 2002 has also served as the centerpiece for the Threefoot Arts Festival. There is hope that this building will be saved and revitalized with much of the rest of downtown.

The name for MERREHOPE (905 Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Drive), the culmination of that hope that Meridian has to preserve its history, is derived from “Meridian,” “restoration” and “hope.” Merrehope carries that hope into the future after witnessing so much of Meridian’s history.

Merrehope, 2008. Photo by Dudemanfellabra, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Merrehope’s history begins with one of its first settlers, Richard McLemore. A Virginian, McLemore settled the area in 1831, just after the Choctaw signed away much of their land in central Mississippi with the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. When Lewis Ragsdale arrived in the area to create his city, he purchased McLemore’s property. John Ball arrived only a few days later and purchased land adjacent to Ragsdale’s property which would all eventually become downtown Meridian. McLemore moved to an area north of his old property and in 1858 built a small house for his daughter Juriah and her husband, W. H. Jackson.

This small house, a few years later, served as headquarters for “The Fighting Bishop,“ Confederate General Leonidas Polk, who also served as the Episcopalian bishop for Diocese of Louisiana. Polk tried to ward off Sherman as he advanced on the city in February of 1864, but he was unsuccessful. The Jackson cottage would be one of only a handful of buildings that Sherman spared and it housed some of his officers. After the war, the house passed to John H. Gary who resided there with his wife and family. He added on to the cottage as did the next few owners; each adding and remodeling portions of the residence.

The house was carved into small rooms for a boarding house in the 1930s and remained that way for some 30 years. It was during this time that a young schoolteacher boarded in the house. Addicted to alcohol and gambling, the young man one night lined the mantelpiece of his room with whiskey bottles and shot them off one by one, then shot himself. His playful, yet mischievous spirit is one of the first that was encountered by the staff after the house was purchased by the Meridian Restorations Foundation and restored as a house museum and events facility in 1968. It is believed that his spirit haunts what is now the Periwinkle Room. The bed in that room is sometimes discovered to have a human-shaped indention in it.

In addition sounds of breaking glass sometimes emanate from this room. Jennifer Jacob, a reporter for The Meridian Star captured a possible EVP when she visited the home in 2007. She took and tour and recorded it on her recorder. When she played back the recording, she was surprised to hear a loud scream in the background. The other people speaking at the time took no notice of it.

Merrehope’s other spirit may be that of one of John Gary’s daughters. Eugenia Gary never lived at Merrehope, as she died before her parents moved there, but her spirit may be connected with her portrait that was acquired by the Foundation not long after they bought the home. Staff members have had run-ins with a young woman in a dress with a solid green top and a green plaid hoop skirt. Evidently, she bears a striking resemblance to the portrait of Eugenia. Staff members have also heard the rustle of her skirts and smelled rosewater perfume on occasions.

The hope of Merrehope has spread to another house, the FRANK W. WILLIAMS HOUSE that is now located just behind Merrehope. Built in 1886 on once fashionable 8th Street, this marvelous Queen Anne Style house was built by Frank W. Williams, the owner of an insurance agency for his bride, Mamie Watson. Williams had found success in this booming city and love with his new bride. After they married, they lived happily in the house until Mamie’s unfortunate death. In her later years, Mamie had become wheelchair bound and an elevator had been installed in the house. One day Mamie opened the door and backed on the elevator, but it was still on the first floor and she succumbed to her injuries a few weeks later. 

Frank W. Williams House, 2008. Photo by Dudemanfellabra, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Mamie’s devastated husband became a recluse, locking himself in his library until his death in 1949. In the 1970s as the city’s core began to deteriorate, the house was given to the Merrehope Restorations Foundations in order to save it. The house was moved and is being restored. With the restorations, staff and visitors have noted that the spirits of Frank and Mamie Williams remain. Most recently, a couple visiting last year noted the spirits and left hurriedly after feeling odd sensations. But, in their house as well as the rest of Meridian’s historic structures, hope and spirits linger on.

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.
  • Brown, Jennifer Jacob. “Elusive ‘lady’ spotted at Grand Opera House.” The Meridian Star. 14 September 2009.
  • History of Meridian, Mississippi. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopdia. Accessed 27 August 2011.
  • Hubbard, Sylvia Booth. Ghosts! Personal Accounts of Modern Mississippi Hauntings. Brandon, MS: Quail Ridge Press, 1992.
  • Jacob, Jennifer. “The legendary ‘lady’ of the Grand Opera House.” The Meridian Star. 29 October 2007.
  • Jacob, Jennifer. “Merrehope: Meridians Haunted Mansion.” The Meridian Star. 28 October 2007.
  • Jacob, Jennifer. “The Pigford building’s ‘Lady in White.’” The Meridian Star. 25 October 2008.
  • Knights of Pythias. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 30 August 2011.
  • Livingston, Brian. “Experience creepy with Temple tour.” The Meridian Star. 10 October 2010.
  • Meridian, Mississippi. Wikipedia, the Free Encylopedia. Accessed 27 August 2011.
  • Pigford Building. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 30 August 2011.
  • Riley Center. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 31 August 2011.
  • Sillery, Barbara. The Haunting of Mississippi. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 2011.
  • Temple Theater (Meridian, Mississippi)Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 1 September 2011.
  • Threefoot Building. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 28 August 2011.

Spectral Stars—The Meridian Star Building

The Meridian Star
814 22nd Avenue
Meridian, Mississippi

In my most recent check of news, I didn’t come across any articles of interest. Recently, however, I’ve discovered just how many wonderful newspapers put their archives online for free. Thank you! Until recently, I’ve been paying to use an online clipping service, but now with some free archives, I’ll be sure to check there first. Anyway, with little recent news, I moseyed on over to some Mississippi newspapers to see what I could find. Lo and behold, The Meridian Star has a free archive! And, even better, there’s an amusing article about the newspaper’s own offices being investigated.

Dr. Alan Brown, one of my paranormal writing heroes, is a resident of Meridian and has written about The Meridian Star building. According to him, not only is the newspaper building haunted, but the Pigford Building next door and Peavy Melody Music across the street from the newspaper are also haunted. These are all covered in his 2002 book, Haunted Places in the American South.

But back to the newspaper, local lore tells of one death in the building when a worker was caught under a hydraulic lift in the newspaper’s shop. Another death occurred when a man fell from a second story window (in the Pigford Building?) into an alley that once ran beside the building. Though, it’s not known if any of these deaths are related to the activity that takes place within the building.

In one particularly intriguing story, an employee working late in the building walked to the break room. As she passed through an older section of the building, she was overcome with a feeling of dread. She looked around and saw a toddler walking a few feet away. She immediately looked around for the parents, but when she looked back towards the child, it had vanished. She spent a few minutes looking for the child but found no one. She returned to her office where another colleague was working and told him of what she had just seen.

The Meridian Star Building with the haunted Pigford Building next door. Photo 2008 by Dudemanfellabra, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The same colleague, a sport editor, had also had an odd experience. Walking through the pressroom very early one morning, he felt a chill and witnessed two filmy figures hovering near the ceiling above him. After a few moments, the figures ascended into the ceiling. A reporter had a similar experience a few weeks later.

The article I discovered, from 2006, tells of investigators from a group called Observations who investigated the office one Sunday afternoon. The group spent four hours investigating and did capture an orb on video near the press. One of the investigators mentioned that the orb moved very slowly and deliberately, unlike the movement from dust or an insect.

This article is one of a handful I’ve discovered from this Mississippi newspaper. Please tune in again for more on the mysteries of Meridian.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Places in the American South. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2002.
  • Brown, Ida. “Ghost hunters probe The Star for paranormal activity.” The Meridian Star. 23 April 2006.

Review of Barbara Sillery’s ‘The Haunting of Mississippi’

While the initial mission of this blog has so far been to explore haunted locations, I think it’s very important to also cover the sources for much of this information. This morning, I was very excited to discover a package in the mail from Amazon.com. Finally, Barbara Sillery’s The Haunting of Mississippi, published just this month by Pelican Publishing, had arrived!

For those long-term readers of this blog, you will be well familiar with my complaints about the lack of books about Mississippi. So far, I’ve only been able to find two books: Kathryn Tucker Windham’s 13 Mississippi Ghosts and Jeffrey, published in 1974, and Sylvia Booth Hubbard’s Ghosts! Personal Accounts of Modern Mississippi Hauntings, published in 1992. So basically, a book has been published every roughly 20 years.  While there is other information available in other books and sources, these are the only books devoted completely to the Magnolia State.

I must confess, I’ve only had this book in my hands for a few hours and have only had a chance to read the first two of twenty-four chapters, but what I’ve read is excellent. Skimming the table of contents, I do see many locations that I’m already familiar with and that Windham and Booth have covered, though, judging from the first two chapters, Sillery explores these subjects far more in depth than I’ve seen elsewhere.

Among these familiar hauntings are Vicksburg’s McRaven House and Anchuca; Natchez’s King’s Tavern, Stanton Hall and Linden; and Columbus’ Temple Heights and Waverly. While information on these hauntings is widely available, Sillery provides well-researched history as well as reports of recent unusual phenomenon.

haunted McRaven House Vicksburg Mississippi
McRaven House, Vicksburg, Mississippi, 2016, by Zamburak. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

But there are some locations that have not been on my radar such as Tupelo’s Lyric Theatre (which I have since covered here), the ghosts of the city of Greenville and the old state capitol building in Jackson (I’m beginning to think ALL state capitol buildings, old and new, must be haunted). Sillery has done well to add to the list of Mississippi’s hauntings.

I’m very excited to continue my reading!

Barbara Sillery. The Haunting of Mississippi. Pelican Publishing, Gretna, LA, 2011. $17.95.

 

The haunting of Columbus, Mississippi

The Google News Search feature is quite useful for web-based ghost hunting, especially around Halloween. Newspapers throughout the world are printing articles about local ghosts and ghost tours. I stumbled on an article about a ghost tour being held in Columbus, Mississippi and it put me on the path to a handful of articles. I’ve been able to connect those with a few entries in some books, and voila; I have the basis for a blog entry.

As I stated in one of the first entries, it appears to me that Mississippi has not been as well documented as other Southern states. I still believe this. Where my research might turn up mounds of information, I can usually only find a trickle for the Magnolia State. That’s why I’ve been surprised to find so much information on Columbus. Certainly, this city could be called the best documented city in Mississippi, at least in terms of its ghosts. Of course, it does help that three of the state’s better known hauntings: Waverly, Errolton and Temple Heights; are located in the city.

The banks of the Tombigbee River near Columbus, Mississippi. Undated postcard courtesy of the Mississippi State Archives, Cooper Postcard Collection.

“Sprawling leisurely along the banks of the Tombigbee and Luxapalila Rivers, is a city in which there is room to breathe.” That’s how the opening line of the city’s entry in the 1938 WPA Guide to Mississippi begins. It continues and describes the “gracious lines of Georgian porticos forming a belt of mellowed beauty about a modern business district.” Certainly, Columbus is a city known for its concentration of old homes, many of them antebellum. The city was later the birthplace of famed American playwright, Tennessee Williams, who would preserve and analyze the South in his plays; among them, A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire.

Columbus was originally named “Possum Town,” for Spirus Roach who was “gray and bent and wizened” and reminded the local Native Americans of a possum. Roach set up a tavern there in 1817. However, with the arrival of other white men who “expressed their distaste for Indian humor,” the town was given the more respectable name of Columbus in 1821. The city grew as a center for the many planters in the area as well as a center for education with the establishment of Franklin Academy and later, the Columbus Female Institute (now Mississippi University for Women). During the Civil War, the city hosted the state government while Jackson was in Union hands. A story told of the 1863 visit of Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, describes the townspeople gathering under Davis’ bedroom window and serenading him. After being awakened by the joyous throng, Davis addressed the crowd, still in his nightshirt, from his balcony. History aside, though, we came about the ghosts…

The following list has been created not just from articles on the ghost tour, but other resources as well.

Friendship Cemetery
Fourth Street South

Created on land by the Order of the Odd Fellows in 1849, Friendship Cemetery includes local citizens and soldiers who fell at the Civil War Battle of Shiloh in 1862. It is a Confederate soldier that is said to still walk through the military section of the cemetery. Visitors to the cemetery are also attracted to the weeping angel that stands over the grave of the Reverend Thomas Teasdale. People grasping the angel’s hand have remarked that it feels lifelike. While the angel’s hand might be explainable phenomena, the soldier’s apparition may not be as easily explained away. I would be interested to find out if the cemetery has been investigated by a ghost hunting organization.

Lincoln Home
714 Third Avenue South

Built in 1833, the Lincoln Home was home to one of the first mayors of the city. Now a bed and breakfast, the home has been marvelously restored and may still be visited by former residents. A woman in white has been reported by neighbors and guests while a dark, black and grey cloud has been witnessed by the owners drifting though the parlor.

Waverly
1852 Waverly Mansion Road

 
Waverly in 1936, this is probably as the house probably first appeared to the Snows. This was taken nearly 30 years before the house was rescued. Photo by James Butters for
the Historic American Building Survey (HABS), courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Located between Columbus and West Point in Clay County, Waverly was named a National Historic Landmark in 1974. This graceful house features an octagonal rotunda that rises above the roof of the house. When Robert and Donna Snow discovered the house in the early 1960s, it was an immense, magnificent mess, uninhabited for nearly 50 years that had been left to its ghosts. Though ghosts were not at all on their mind when they began restoration, the spirits of Waverly announced their presence with a loud crash that awoke the family. Locals began to tell stories of hearing the sound of parties coming from the ruined manse as well as the spirit of an Indian riding a stallion through the nearby fields. But no one prepared Mrs. Snow for the plaintive cries of a little girl that she began hearing. Occasionally, between two and four in the afternoon, the impression of a little girl would appear on the bed of one of the upstairs bedrooms.

Waverly after restoration. Photo for the Historic American Building Survey (HABS), courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

The voice of the little girl was heard for about five years and then no more, but her spirit is still seen around the house. According to Alan Brown’s Haunted Places in the American South, the identity of this little girl was a mystery until 1997 when records revealed that two little girls staying in the house during the Civil War died during a single, tragic week. One girl died of diphtheria, the other, while playing on the stairs, got her head stuck between two of the spindles. During the struggle to free herself, she died as well.

The magnificent rotunda of Waverly. Photo for the Historic American Building Survey (HABS), courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and
Photographs Division.

Since her death in 1991, the ghost of Mrs. Snow has been reported sitting on the third floor stairs smoking. Apparently, the ghosts of Waverly are still quite active. The North Mississippi After Life (NMAL), a paranormal investigation group, performed an investigation at the house, though only a small amount of evidence was uncovered.

Princess Theatre
217 Fifth Street South

The 1924 Princess Theater was constructed originally as a vaudeville theater, then converted to cinema as the popularity of vaudeville waned. According to Adelle Elliott, with the Columbus Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, the ghost of the theater’s original owner, Mr. Kirkendall, has been seen throughout the theater. A paranormal team photographed a figure standing in the balcony, possibly one of many ghosts within the theater. The theater is still utilized as a performance space.

Errolton
216 Third Avenue South

For more than half a century, the familiar figure of Miss Nellie Weaver rocked on the porch of her father’s home telling stories of Columbus’ past that she had witnessed herself. Until her death in the 1930s, the story of Miss Nellie, as she was affectionately called, was well known in town. Born and raised in the magnificent house on Third Avenue, she had had numerous suitors, but Charles Tucker caught her eye and they were married 1878. In her nuptial mirth, Miss Nellie carved her name with her diamond engagement ring on one of the windows in the south parlor. Charles Tucker left his wife and young daughter, Ellen, a few years later.

Errolton, around the time of Miss Nellie’s death. Photo by James Butters for the Historic American Building Survey (HABS), courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and
Photographs Division.

Miss Nellie and her daughter remained in the home and she supported herself by teaching, though the house slowly decayed. In 1950, the house was purchased by Mrs. Erroldine Hay Bateman who set about restoring the home. It was during this restoration that a careless worker broke the pane of glass bearing Miss Nellie’s signature. The glass was replaced and after the restoration, the residents were surprised to notice the atching had reappeared. Besides this reappearing signature, no other spiritual activity has been reported in this regal, “Columbus eclectic” styled home.

Temple Heights
515 Ninth Street North

Built in the style of a Doric Temple with an odd (at least to me) roof rising above it, Temple Heights is one of the more well known restoration jobs in the city. Dennis William Hauck states that the ghost in this circa 1837 home is that of Miss Elizabeth Kennebrew, whose father purchased the house in 1887. Miss Kennebrew died a spinster and was known for her eccentric behavior. Her ghost has been spotted throughout the house and she may also be responsible for the voices heard throughout. The house is open for visitors and events.

Temple Heights, 1936. Photo by James Butters for the Historic American Building Survey (HABS), courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Wisteria Place
524 Eight Street North

Upon the death of William Cannon, who built Wisteria Place around 1854, Jefferson Davis remarked, “I have lost my best friend.” While Cannon did die in this house, the identity of the home’s resident spirit is unknown. According to the Beth Scott and Michael Norman’s Haunted America, a figure in a white shirt has been seen scurrying past the kitchen window towards the door. This house is a private residence.

Highland House
810 Highland Circle

Highland House. Undated postcard courtesy of the Mississippi State Archives, Cooper Postcard Collection.

According to the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Historic Driving Tour pamphlet, this house was built by W. S. Lindamood in the “Robber Baron style” around 1902. This was in love with Lindamood. Garthia Elena Burnett, author of one of the articles highlighting the city’s ghost tour states that some interesting EVPs have been captured in this historic residence.

Lee House
316 Seventh Street North

Once the home of General Stephen D. Lee, the youngest Confederate lieutenant general during the Civil War, this house was built circa 1847. Lee was later involved with the creation of Vicksburg Military Park. His ghost has been seen sitting in the parlor of his former home, while the shade of his wife has been seen during the annual pilgrimage tours. Her form was so solid, she was mistaken for a costumed guide.

Lee House, 1936. Photo by James Butters for the Historic American Building Survey (HABS), courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Sources 

  • —–. Lincoln Home circa 1833. AmziLoveLincolnHomes.com. 2010. Accessed 24 October 2010.
  • Breland, David. “Local Haunts: Columbus Ghost and Legend Tour offers look into town’s spooky past.” The Reflector. 21 October 2010.
  • Breland, David. “Visit to Columbus haunts makes for Halloween not easily forgotten.” The Reflector. 29 October 2007.
  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Places in the American South. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2002.
  • Burnett, Garthia Elena. “Ghosts and Legends: A tour of local haunts.” The Commercial Dispatch. 14 October 2010.
  • Columbus Mississippi Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. Historic Driving Tour, Columbus, Mississippi. July, 2008.
  • Federal Writer’s Project of the WPA. Mississippi: A Guide to the Magnolia State. NYC: Viking, 1938.
  • Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory. NYC: Penguin, 2002.
  • Hubbard, Sylvia Booth. Ghosts! Personal Accounts of Modern Mississippi Hauntings. Brandon, MS: Quail Ridge Press, 1992.
  • Lowndes County, Mississippi History and Genealogy. Friendship Cemetery. Accessed 24 October 2010.
  • North Mississippi After Life. Waverly Mansion. Accessed 24 October 2010.
  • Scott, Beth and Michael Norman. Haunted America. NYC: TOR, 1994.
  • Stephen D. Lee. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 25 October 2010.
  • Taylor, Troy. “Haunted Mississippi, Errolton, Columbus, Mississippi.” Ghosts of the Prairie. 1998. Accessed 22 October 2010.
  • Taylor, Troy. “Haunted Mississippi, Temple Heights, Columbus, Mississippi.” Ghosts of the Prairie. 1998. Accessed 22 October 2010.
  • Taylor, Troy. “Haunted Mississippi, Waverly, Columbus, Mississippi.” Ghosts of the Prairie. 1998. Accessed 22 October 2010.
  • Windham, Kathryn Tucker. 13 Mississippi Ghosts and Jeffrey. Tuscaloosa, AL: U. of Alabama Press, 1974.

A Mississippi Dante–Noxubee County

Noxubee County Library
103 East King Street
Macon, Mississippi

N.B. Revised 28 December 2017.

Downtown Macon Mississippi around the turn of the century haunted Noxubee County Jail Public Library ghosts miraculous vision
Jefferson Street, Macon, Mississippi, probably just after the turn of the 20th century. Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Forrest Lamar Cooper
Postcard Collection.

Sitting in a jail cell in the newly opened Noxubee County Jail in 1907, Si Connor was visited by Jesus. “Jesus have been here since I been in jail and have taken me to hell and showed me everything there, and what sort of place it is,” he told a reporter a couple weeks before his execution. Connor was shown a “big fire” with a “man toting water to the folks in the fire.”

“Hell,” continued the inmate, “is a right big place. Yassah, I spec it is as big as Macon, maybe bigger.” In preserving the African-American man’s dialect, the unnamed reporter from the Macon Beacon showed no compassion for the man’s vision, based on race and class. Interestingly, Connor points out that the fire contained both whites and blacks.

Connor’s next vision took him to the gallows that had been erected for his own state-sponsored demise. The sheriff put the noose around his neck and a pair of angels appeared and told him, “Si, don’t you be skeered or shamed or nothing for you is a child of God.” The angels flew him to heaven where he was greeted by his grandmother, sister, and “my little baby.” “I saw lots of Noxubee county folks up there. Yassah, white people too.” Continuing in his vision, Connor replies, “Jesus Christ told me to tall all the people down here to believe in him and He would save them.”

The reporter notes that “the condemned man tells all this with earnestness and sincerity, but with the same silly smile he wore when on the witness stand telling of killing his wife with an ax.” The jailer is quoted saying that Mr. Connor “has no dread of death, saying he wants to stay here as long as he can but is ready to go and doubtless he is. As a horrible example to a portion of his race, he will prove a failure.”

Allow me to round out the scene with a bit of local history. In 1830, sixty Choctaw leaders met with government agents at a place with the marvelous name of Dancing Rabbit Creek. There the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was signed on the 27th of September ceding some 11 million acres of Choctaw land east of the Mississippi River to white settlers in exchange for some 15 million acres in Oklahoma.

The ceded land became a huge swath of what is now the state of Mississippi and a small portion of western Alabama. In 1833, the portion of the ceded lands around Dancing Rabbit Creek was established as Noxubee County, so named for the Noxubee River; meaning “stinking water” in the Choctaw language. Near the center of the county, on the Noxubee River, the town of Macon was established as the county seat. The town prospered and, according to the 1938 WPA guide to Mississippi, “the big white- columned homes are the remaining evidence.”

As Sherman burned the state capital, Jackson, during the Civil War, the state government moved to Macon temporarily, setting up business at the Calhoun Institute, one of a handful of schools in and around Macon. Two sessions of the state legislature met in these school buildings while one of them, as well as many of Macon’s church buildings, were commandeered for hospitals.

Most histories of the area seem to stop just after the turmoil of the Civil War, so one might be tempted to assume that the town returned to being a sleepy hamlet. Judging from the population numbers in the 1938 WPA guide (2,198 people) and the numbers provided by Wikipedia (2,461 people in the 2000 census), it seems that little has changed throughout the bulk of the twentieth century.

The original Noxubee County Jail was constructed in Macon in 1860, on the eve of the Civil War. Around the time the new jail was constructed, the old jail was described by a local attorney and state representative as being, “no jail at all.” Unfortunately for the local citizenry, the old jail was regularly the scene of prisoners simply removing bricks from the masonry walls to escape.

Macon Mississippi haunted Noxubee County Jail Public Library ghosts miraculous vision
The Old Noxubee County Jail and current library, 2009. Photo by Jimmy Emerson, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Hailed for its luxurious appointments, the new jail offered “steam heat, electric lights, hot and cold baths and ‘saw and file-proof cells,” which “will minister to [the prisoners’] comfort and pleasure their sense of the magnificent.” The new facility was constructed by the Pauly Jail Company, a company out of St. Louis that has been constructing correctional facilities since 1856. Quite a number of the historic (and haunted) jails remaining throughout the South were constructed by this company.

Recognizing the need for a modern facility, a new jail was constructed in 1978. The historic importance of the old jail was noted and the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places the same year it closed. In 1983, the building was renovated for use as a public library all the while maintaining some of the inner workings of the original building including bars and unused gallows.

About two weeks after Connor reported his description of the inferno to the Macon Beacon, gallows were erected for him across the street from the jail. During the days leading up to Connor’s hanging, he was allowed to preach to crowds of African-Americans that gathered below his window. On Friday, September 26th, 1907, before a crowd that had gathered to witness “the deep damnation of his taking off,” Connor left this world.

Connor walked, dressed almost entirely in black, resolutely to the scaffold and spoke in a strong voice before the noose placed over his neck and the trap sprung. The paper describes the scene with a sense of wonderment. “There were curious ejaculations as to the expressions of wonder at the nerve he exhibited in the face of horrible death, and there were—from the emotional members of his own race—exclamations of admiration for his courage and his religious faith that braved the terrors of the unknown future.”

According to Alan Brown, inmates of the jail reported that Connor continued to make appearances within the building and that his spirit still abides in the library that once held him. Perhaps this Mississippi Dante is still trying to save the living souls of Noxubee County.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Stories from the Haunted South. Oxford, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2004.
  • Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration. Mississippi: A Guide to the Magnolia State. New York: Viking Press, 1938.
  • “The Hanging.” Macon Beacon. 28 September 1907.
  • Macon, Mississippi. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 11 August 2010.
  • Newsome, Paul & William C. Allen. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for the Old Noxubee County Jail.  28 September 1978.
  • “A Noxubee Dante.” Macon Beacon. 14 September 1907.
  • “Noxubee’s New Jail.” Macon Beacon. 11 May 1907.
  • Rowland, Dunbar. Mississippi: Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions and Persons Arranged in Cyclopedic Form, Vol. II, L-Z. Atlanta: Southern Historical Publishing Association, 1907.
  • Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 11 August 2010.