The Wraiths of Winchester, Virginia

N.B. This article was originally posted as part of “A Spectral Tour of the Shenandoah Valley,” which I published in 2014. Seeing that the article needed some serious work, I have decided to shift some things around and post each city as a separate article.

Winchester, Virginia’s twisting history certainly makes it fertile ground for hauntings.

Chartered in 1752, the city was one of the most important cities in the region during the 19th century. Nine major roads converged along with the Winchester and Potomac Railroad, making this a crucial market town.

With the coming of the Civil War, the city’s location made it a prize coveted by both armies. It would famously change hands many times during the war. Three major battles took place here with a host of smaller battles and skirmishes taking place throughout the region. This bloody history has most certainly left a spiritual mark on the Shenandoah and especially on Winchester.

Winchester’s ghosts have been documented primarily in Mac Rutherford’s 2007 book, Historic Haunts of Winchester: A Ghostly Trip Through the Past. There is a ghost tour, Ghost Tours Old Town Winchester, Virginia, which is hosted occasionally.

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

East Boscawen Street

Mount Hebron Cemetery
305 East Boscawen Street

Encompassing four different cemeteries, Mount Hebron holds some of the oldest burials in the city. Two of the cemeteries within its precincts date to the mid-18th century, while the large Stonewall Confederate Cemetery was created just following the Civil War. This may also be the most haunted section of this cemetery. The marker for the Patton Brothers, George and Tazewell (Col. George S. Patton was the grandfather of General George S. Patton who lead American forces during World War II), has some reported activity with it involving a lone figure seen near it. Wearing a military greatcoat and peaked hat, the figure walks towards the marker and disappears. Legend holds that the figure may be none other than Nazi Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. During the 1930s, Rommel was one of a number of German military leaders who spent time in the area studying the military tactics of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson.

Mount Hebron Cemetery Winchester Virginia
Entrance and Gate House for Mount Hebron Cemetery. Photo 2010,
by Karen Nutini, courtesy of Wikipedia.

While the Confederate dead—some of whom were unknown—were buried in the cemetery here, the Union dead were buried across Woodstock Lane in the National Cemetery. Mac Rutherford notes that people living in the area and passersby just after sundown have seen gray figures rising from the Confederate section of Mount Hebron and making their way across the street towards the National Cemetery.

Sources

  • History. Mount Hebron Cemetery. Accessed 21 September 2014.
  • Klemm, Anna and DHR Staff. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for Mount Hebron Cemetery. 25 July 2008.
  • Rutherford, Mac. Historic Haunts of Winchester: A Ghostly Trip Through the Past. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2007.
  • Toney, B. Keith. Battlefield Ghosts. Berryville, VA: Rockbridge Publishing, 1997.

West Boscawen Street

38 West Boscawen Street, private

One of Winchester’s most accomplished daughters, the singer Patsy Cline, is associated with this building. It was here, at the G&M Music Store, where Cline bought her first guitar and made some of her first recordings. Visitors to the room that once housed the recording studio have experienced a coldness and claim to have felt the spirit of the famed singer.

Sources

  • Rutherford, Mac. Historic Haunts of Winchester: A Ghostly Trip Through the Past. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2007.

125 West Boscawen Street, private

This circa 1790 home is now occupied by a law firm. Like many buildings throughout the city, this structure served as a hospital for the wounded during the Civil War. Employees of the businesses that have occupied this space over the past few decades have reported hearing footsteps regularly and feeling a cold chill in certain rooms.

Sources

  • Rutherford, Mac. Historic Haunts of Winchester: A Ghostly Trip Through the Past. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2007.

Fuller House Inn
220 West Boscawen Street

This magnificent home was constructed in 1854 incorporating the late 18th century servants’ quarters from the Ambler Hill Estate. On the eve of the Civil War, the house was purchased by prominent local dentist, Dr. William McPherson Fuller. This building was also commandeered for use as a hospital during the Civil War and that may explain the presence of a soldier who has been seen in the house. The house serves as an intimate event space and lodging.

Sources

  • Varhola, Michael J. Ghosthunting Virginia. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2008.

South Braddock Street

South Braddock Street
Between Cork and Boscawen Streets

Soldiers from the Civil War have been seen along this street. After the First Battle of Winchester on May 25, 1862, which was a Confederate victory, Union forces retreated along this street. According to Mac Rutherford, they held their formations along this street until they reached the center of town where they broke rank and ran for their lives. The reports of soldiers seen here usually include large formations of many soldiers.

Sources

  • Rutherford, Mac. Historic Haunts of Winchester: A Ghostly Trip Through the Past. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2007.

Braddock Street United Methodist Church Parking Lot
Intersection of South Braddock and Wolfe Streets, Southeast Corner

This block has spiritual activity from two different wars. The Braddock Street United Methodist Church Parking Lot has possible activity dating to the French and Indian War (1755-1762). During that war, Fort George, one of two forts built in the area under the purview of Colonel George Washington, stood near here. This piece of property was used for drilling recruits and Colonial soldiers have been seen in the area and in the building that once occupied this site.

Sources

  • Rutherford, Mac. Historic Haunts of Winchester: A Ghostly Trip Through the Past. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2007.

North Braddock Street

Kimberly’s (Lloyd Logan House)
135 North Braddock Street

Lloyd Logan, a local tobacco merchant, built this home around 1850 and it was considered one of the finest homes in town. When war came, the house was taken over by Union generals Franz Sigel and later by Philip Sheridan. Under orders from General Sigel, Lloyd Logan was thrown in jail and the house and most of its contents were confiscated for army use. Logan’s wife and daughters were later removed from the house and unceremoniously dumped along the Valley Pike. This incident may contribute to the spiritual activity within the home.

From Braddock Street, look up at the two windows on the south side of the second floor. Passersby have seen the figure of a man pacing and throwing his hands into the air. One witness described him as not “really clear, sort of gray and fuzzy. I think he was even pulling at his hair.” Employees of Kimberly’s have also seen the man in that room and state that he is accompanied by a woman crying in the corner.

Sources

  • Rutherford, Mac. Historic Haunts of Winchester: A Ghostly Trip Through the Past. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2007.

West Cork Street

Cork Street Tavern
8 West Cork Street

Occupying a pair of early 19th century residences, the Cork Street Tavern has a pair of ghosts, though there seems to be some uncertainty as to why they’re there. Much of the structure’s history is well-known except for the period during Prohibition when the building may have been used as a speakeasy and brothel. The pair, nicknamed John and Emily by the restaurant staff, have both made their presence known with a variety of activity. Apparitions of both have been seen in the building while Emily’s voice has been heard calling, “John,” a number of times. A spirit has also been known to trip female patrons walking into the non-smoking section. The level of activity here is high enough that it led an investigator to remark during a 2009 investigation that “nothing holds a candle to Cork Street.”

Sources

  • History. Cork Street Tavern. Accessed 17 September 2014.
  • Rutherford, Mac. Historic Haunts of Winchester: A Ghostly Trip Through the Past. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2007.
  • Varhola, Michael J. Ghosthunting Virginia. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2008.
  • Williams, J.R. “Paranormal investigators examine Cork Street Tavern for ghost activity.” The Northern Virginia Daily. 3 August 2009.

South Loudoun Street

Water Street Kitchen
(formerly Old Town Café)
2 South Loudoun Street

This large, brick building was originally the family home of the prominent Holliday family and this was the home of Frederick Holliday who served as governor during the 19th century. The building has seen a variety of uses including post office, a dry goods store and drug store. Since its use as a restaurant, the owners have discovered that the building is also the residence of two ghosts. A male spirit has been seen ascending the stairs from the basement, though he always just stops and stares upon reaching the top. A woman’s spirit has been seen entering the building’s front door and rearranging items on the shelves inside the restaurant.

Sources

  • Rutherford, Mac. Historic Haunts of Winchester: A Ghostly Trip Through the Past. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2007.

Red Lion Tavern Building
204-208 South Loudoun Street

This historic tavern building was constructed in 1784 by a German-born Revolutionary War veteran named Peter Lauck. He is known to have had seven daughters, one of whom may still be seen and heard in the building. People recently working in the building have been thanked by a soft, feminine voice saying, “danke.” The shadowy figure of a woman in colonial dress is sometimes seen when the voice is heard.

Sources

  • Rutherford, Mac. Historic Haunts of Winchester: A Ghostly Trip Through the Past. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2007. 

North Loudoun Street

Old Court House Civil War Museum
20 North Loudoun Street

Of all the buildings throughout Winchester that were impacted by the Civil War, the biggest impact was possibly on this building which was constructed in 1840 as the Frederick County Court House. The building served as a hospital and, after the Third Battle of Winchester, a prison for captured Confederates. Many of the scars left on this building including the graffiti left on the walls by soldiers from both sides have been preserved. The building has also been the scene of some rather intense spiritual activity.

old frederick county courthouse winchester virginia
Old Frederick County Court House, 2011, by Saran Stierch. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Some spiritually sensitive passersby have witnessed gray forms huddled in the building’s courtyard where Confederate prisoners were kept. In the old courtroom, voices have been heard ranging from faint whispers to obnoxious shouting and the cries of the wounded that once crowded this space. During the building’s renovation, workers had tools and equipment moved. Three workers walked off the job when scaffolding was moved from one side of the room to another during a lunch break.

Sources

  • Austin, Natalie. “Local ghost expert shares stories of the supernatural.” The Northern Virginia Daily. 30 October 2004.
  • Rutherford, Mac. Historic Haunts of Winchester: A Ghostly Trip Through the Past. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2007.

33 North Loudon Street 

Near this address be on the lookout for a young woman in Civil War era clothing hurrying along the street with a shawl wrapped around her shoulders. This is believed to be the spirit of Tillie Russell, a local woman who legend calls, “The Angel of the Battlefield.”

A small engagement occurred at Rutherford’s Farm outside of Winchester on July 20, 1864. Union forces attacked a Confederate division on General Stephen Ramseur throwing that division into confusion. Capt. Randolph Ridgeley of the 2nd Virginia Volunteer Infantry was seriously wounded when Tillie Russell found him and nursed him through the night. Ridgeley was found the next morning being cradled by Miss Russell and survived his wounds.

For years, people have seen the spirit of Miss Russell leaving the building at 33 North Loudoun pulling her shawl about her shoulders as she heads off towards the battlefield at Rutherford’s Farm.

Sources

  • Rutherford, Mac. Historic Haunts of Winchester: A Ghostly Trip Through the Past. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2007.

Village Square Restaurant and V2 Piano Bar and Lounge
103 North Loudoun Street

These two establishments occupy a series of haunted structures all built in the early 19th century. Spirits flit and float throughout the restaurant, but the V2 Piano Bar and Lounge has the real story to tell. This building formerly housed Miller’s Apothecary which opened on this site in the mid-18th century. The apothecary was operated by the Miller family until 1992 when they decided to shutter the business. Subsequent owners of the building have all had run-ins with the resident spirits including Jeanette, a young woman who lived with the Miller family in the 18th century.

Perhaps one of the saddest stories of this location comes from the Civil War. Union soldiers from the 29th Pennsylvania Infantry were quartered in the upstairs rooms. A young African-American male was lynched by the group in a tree just outside the building. The pacing of boots and the shouts of arguing soldiers are still heard here.

Sources

  • Varhola, Michael J. Ghosthunting Virginia. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2008.

Taylor Pavilion
125 North Loudoun Street

In its heyday, the Taylor Hotel offered the grandest accommodations in the city. Opening about a decade before the Civil War, the hotel provided accommodations to many of the generals leading troops through the area during the war. Sadly, one of the red-headed call girls who served at the hotel still lingers in this building.

In 2011, the old hotel was purchased by the city and renovated to hold five apartments and restaurant space as well as an outdoor events venue. Apparently, something doesn’t like the restaurant space, though. Kitchen staff have reported that grease burners, often turned off at night, will be found to be on in the morning. One cook installed surveillance cameras to put an end to this. However, he saw that the burners were turned off by the night staff, though they were found on again that morning.

Sources

  • Brehm, Brian. “Spirits frequent several Winchester haunts.” Winchester Star. 24 October 2017.
  • Rutherford, Mac. Historic Haunts of Winchester: A Ghostly Trip Through the Past. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2007.

151 North Loudon Street
(formerly Olde Town Armory and Heirlooms)

Originally constructed as the Arlington Hotel, this building houses a ghost that is known to make a bathroom run every morning. Past operators of a shop here reported that the front door would frequently open by itself followed by the sound of footsteps racing into the store and up the stairs. The water in the bathroom would be turned on in the upstairs bathroom. After some time, the spirit began leaving a penny outside the bathroom door. In one case, the spirit left a penny on the floor and placed a penny on the breasts of a female mannequin being stored just outside the bathroom.

Sources

  • Rutherford, Mac. Historic Haunts of Winchester: A Ghostly Trip Through the Past. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2007.

Brewbaker’s Restaurant
168 North Loudoun Street

With a core dating the late 18th century, this old commercial building has been home to a continuous line of restaurants since 1910. However, the history does not explain the apparition of a young woman who appears near the fireplace. A photograph taken here some years ago seemed to show the shadowy figure of a man wearing boots; a figure some have interpreted as a Confederate soldier.

Sources

  • Brehm, Brian. “Spirits frequent several Winchester haunts.” Winchester Star. 24 October 2017.
  • History of Our Building. Brewbaker’s Restaurant. Accessed 24 September 2014.
  • Rutherford, Mac. Historic Haunts of Winchester: A Ghostly Trip Through the Past. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2007.

West Piccadilly Street

Phillip Williams House
(formerly Joe’s Steakhouse)
25 West Piccadilly Street

A Confederate officer is frequently seen staring out the windows of this circa 1845 mansion. Legend holds that this is the spirit of Colonel George S. Patton (the same one buried in Mount Hebron Cemetery above) who died here September 19, 1864 from injuries sustained during the Third Battle of Winchester. He is believed to have passed away on the second floor.

Sources

  • Austin, Natalie. “Local ghost expert shares stories of the supernatural.” The Northern Virginia Daily. 30 October 2004.
  • Rutherford, Mac. Historic Haunts of Winchester: A Ghostly Trip Through the Past. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2007.

Handley Regional Library
100 West Piccadilly Street

Handley Library Winchester Virginia
The glorious Beaux-Arts facade of the Handley Library.
Photo 2011, by Missvain, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Opened in 1913, this glorious Beaux-Arts library was constructed as a gift to the city of Winchester from coal baron, Judge John Handley. The face of a man with a “drooping mustache” has been seen peering from the windows of the building’s rotunda. A full apparition of a man with a mustache and wearing a frock coat has been seen by library staff inside the building. Perhaps Judge Handley is checking up on his gift?

Sources

  • Rutherford, Mac. Historic Haunts of Winchester: A Ghostly Trip Through the Past. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2007.

Indian Alley

Figures of very tall Indians have been witnessed along this street. There are a number of legends dating to the 18th century regarding very tall Native Americans who once lived in the area. Perhaps the spirits of these original inhabitants return? The Indians are generally seen during the first and last light of the day.

Sources

  • Austin, Natalie. “Local ghost expert shares stories of the supernatural.” The Northern Virginia Daily. 30 October 2004.
  • Rutherford, Mac. Historic Haunts of Winchester: A Ghostly Trip Through the Past. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2007.

Located southeast of downtown is this site:

Abram’s Delight
1340 South Pleasant Valley Road

One of the best places to understand the early history of Winchester is in the restored home of the Hollingsworth family, one of the first white families to settle in the area. Built by Abraham Hollingsworth in the mid-18th century, the house remained in the family until the City of Winchester purchased it in 1943. The house is apparently haunted by spirits of family members who once lived there. The family’s mill, which is now home to offices for the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society, is also the scene of some paranormal activity. Please see my blog entry (An independent spirit—Winchester, Virginia) for further information.

Alabama Hauntings—County by County Part IV

One of my goals with this blog is to provide coverage of ghost stories and haunted places in a comprehensive manner. Perhaps one of the best ways to accomplish this is to examine ghost stories county by county, though so far, researching in this manner has been difficult. In my 2015 book, Southern Spirit Guide’s Haunted Alabama, I wanted to include at least one location for every county, though a lack of adequate information and valid sources prevented me from reaching that goal. In the end, my book was published covering only 58 out of 67 counties.

Further research has uncovered information for a few more counties and on Halloween of 2017, Kelly Kazek published an article on AL.com covering the best-known ghost story for every county. Thanks to her excellent research, I’ve almost been able to achieve my goal for the state.

For a further look at Alabama ghosts, please see my Alabama Directory.

See part I (Autauga-Cherokee Counties) here.
See part II (Chilton-Covington Counties) here.
See part III (Crenshaw-Franklin Counties) here.
See part IV (Geneva-Lawrence Counties) here.
See part V (Lee-Monroe Counties) here.
See part VI (Montgomery-Sumter Counties) here.
See part VII (Talladega-Winston Counties) here.

Geneva County

“Big Oak”
Robert Fowler Memorial Park
South River Street
Geneva

Big Oak, 2006, by AlabamaGuy2007. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Before the establishment of Geneva County, early settlers gathered under the massive, leafy branches of what is now known as the Big Oak or Constitution Oak. This live oak’s age and size have led to its inclusion in the list of Alabama Famous and Historic Trees. Supposedly the huge branches of the tree have been used for hangings and the spirits of those who died here may continue to haunt this location.

Sources

Greene County

Oakmont Bed & Breakfast
107 Pickens Street
Eutaw

As workers were working on the restoration of Oakmont, a spirit in the house wanted more heat. After continuing to find a heater on in the home, construction workers taped the control knob so that the heat could not be turned on. However, the spirit thought otherwise and turned the heat on again.

Built in 1908 as a wedding gift for Mary Elizabeth and Charles Alexander Webb, it was not until Oakmont began the transformation into a bed & breakfast that the owners discovered that they might have to share the house with spirits. After the restoration, numerous spectral sounds began to be heard including tremendous crashes and disembodied footsteps. It doesn’t appear that this bed and breakfast is open any longer.

Sources

  • Smith, Terry L. and Mark Jean. Haunted Inns of America. Crane Hill Publishers, 2003.

Hale County

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.” Southern Paranormal Researchers notes that park staff has witnessed shadow figures, odd noises, and doors opening and closing by themselves in the buildings on the site. Higdon and Talley add orbs and cold spots found throughout the location to the list of paranormal activity here.

Sources

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

Henry County

Legend of Huggin’ Molly
Abbeville

For over a century, a legend has dwelled in the dark streets of Abbeville: the legend of Huggin’ Molly. This specter is thought to target children on the streets after dark. Most versions describe Molly as a large woman who prowls the dark streets in search of children walking alone. After pursuing a child, she would embrace them and scream in their ear. Most sources agree that this tale was perhaps created to frighten small children and keep them from staying out too late, though the story has remained. In fact, a restaurant named after the legendary figure has recently opened.

Sources

  • Legend of Huggin’ Molly.” Huggin’ Molly’s Restaurant. Accessed 13 July 2015.
  • Smith, Michelle. Legends, Lore and True Tales of the Chattahoochee. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.

Houston County

Columbia Manor
306 South Main Street
Columbia

During the Halloween season, this unassuming white frame house is home to nightmares of the fictional kind. However, this house is home to real nightmares as well. Built in 1864, this home has served several uses including serving as a hospital and later a sanitarium for those suffering from pellagra, a severe vitamin deficiency.

Following renovations to transform the house into a haunted attraction, the spirits have begun to act out. The owner of the house told the producers of the BIO Channel show, My Ghost Story, about tools that would go missing only to be found in their original location a short time later, mysterious footsteps, and the shade of an older gentleman that the owner and another volunteer saw standing in the house. He also mentioned the swinging of a chandelier in the foyer which a paranormal investigator has linked to the suicide by hanging of a nurse there.

Sources

  • “Enter at your own risk; they dare you.” Dothan Eagle. 18 August 2014.
  • “Haunting Columbia Manor.” Dothan Eagle. 19 October 2013.
  • My Ghost Story, Episode 3.3. Biography Channel. 29 October 2011. 

Jackson County

Russell Cave National Monument
3728 CR-98
Bridgeport

One of the most significant archaeological sites in the state, Russell Cave has revealed evidence that this site has been in use by humans for at least 8,000 years. That evidence includes human remains, pottery shards, spear points, arrowheads, and charcoal from ancient fires. The remains of various animals, including some prehistoric species, have also been unearthed here.

Entrance to Russell Cave, 2014, by Fredlyfish4. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Within the cave, some visitors have experienced an uneasy feeling, sometimes even sensing ghostly presences while others have heard spectral sounds and seen apparitions. With thousands of years of human occupation, it’s no surprise that spirits remain here.

Sources

  • Kidd, Jessica Fordham. “Russell Cave.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. 22 September 2010.
  • Penot, Jessica. Haunted North Alabama. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2010.

Jefferson County

Bessemer Hall of History Museum
1905 Alabama Avenue
Bessemer

While the Bessemer Hall of History Museum displays an eclectic mix of items from Bessemer’s past, including a cell door from the local jail where Martin Luther King, Jr. was briefly incarcerated, it appears that a former exhibit may still be haunting this building. For many years, the museum displayed the mummy of a local woman who had taken her life in 1906. Hazel Farris shot and killed her husband during a domestic incident at their home in Louisville, Kentucky. After neighbors summoned the police, Farris shot and killed three of them and fled the state.

Beautiful Hazel settled in Bessemer and confessed her crimes to a man with whom she had fallen in love. He betrayed her to the police, and Hazel ingested arsenic, ending her life. Her corpse was sent to a local funeral home which only put the unclaimed body in storage where it mummified. The funeral home began to charge admission to view the grisly final remains of Miss Farris, and over the course of many years, the mummy was loaned to various exhibitors. In 1974, the museum borrowed the mummy as part of a fundraiser, and the museum displayed it for quite some time.

Southern Railway Depot (now home to the Bessemer Hall of History Museum), 1992, by Jet Lowe. Photo taken for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

After the mummy’s exhibition in 1981, the museum placed it in permanent storage. National Geographic produced a documentary about Hazel’s corpse in 2002 with various scientists examining it before it was eventually cremated. The old train depot that has housed the museum since 1994 has had some paranormal activity through the years, some of which has been attributed to Hazel. Lights turn off and on within the old building, and other odd sounds have been heard.

Sources

Lamar County

Old Stage Coach Inn
Jackson Military Road
Moscow

Also known as the Moore-Hill House, this circa 1834 stagecoach stop was the scene of a murder in 1881. A Mrs. Armstrong was killed by an African-American man with a grappling hook on a chain. After the gruesome killing, the cook ran out the back door and alerted the men working in the nearby fields. The supposed murderer was hunted down and lynched in the front yard. This event is believed to be the cause of paranormal activity in and around the house. Tradition speaks of a glowing orb that is seen in the front yard and the spirit of Mrs. Armstrong clanking down the stairs with the hook and chain that killed her.

When I initially wrote the above entry for my book way back in 2015, I struggled with how little information existed about this house and the grim murder that took place here. As I was visiting the library yesterday, I decided to take a second look at the research for this particular location. Evidently, I didn’t look hard enough the first time.

Situated on Andrew Jackson’s Military Road, a route constructed after the War of 1812 connecting Nashville, Tennessee with New Orleans, the Moore-Hill House was built for James Moore, an early politician in the state. For many years the house served as a stagecoach inn, but it was an incident in 1881 that gave the house a notorious reputation. According to family legend, a Mrs. Armstrong was killed by an African-American man with a grappling hook on a chain. After the gruesome killing, the cook ran out the back door and alerted the men working in the nearby fields. The supposed murderer was hunted down and lynched in the front yard. After consulting newspapers of the period, the events did not take place exactly as family memory recalls.

Two brief reports appearing in area newspapers in December of 1881 attest that the murder was bloodier that family legend recounts. An African-American man (described in one newspaper as a “crazy negro”) attempted to seize one of the Armstrong children. The child’s mother, Mrs. Winchester Armstrong, and her mother tried to wrestle the child away and both were killed. The newspaper reports that the child’s mother was struck in the head with an ax. Moments later, Mr. Armstrong approached and shot and killed the assailant.

Sources

  • “A heart-rending murder…” Pickens County Herald and West Alabamian (Carrollton, AL). 7 December 1881.
  • Hill, Beulah and Pat Buckley. “History.” Accessed 6 June 2015.
  • “Horrible murder of two women by a crazy negro.” The Marion Times-Standard. 14 December 1881.
  • Kazek, Kelly. “Few historic stagecoach inns and taverns survive across Alabama, take a tour.” com. 14 August 2014.
  • Lamar County Heritage Book Committee. Heritage of Lamar County, Alabama. Clanton, AL: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 2000.

Lauderdale County

Forks of Cypress
Jackson Road
Florence

Crowning a hill above Jackson Road are the skeletal remains of the graceful Forks of Cypress, built in the latter half of the 1820s. Until it burned in June 1966, the house was known as one of the grandest homes in the area. James Jackson, an Irish-born venture capitalist who moved to the area in 1818 and is considered the founder of the city of Florence, constructed the home.

Ruins of Forks of Cypress, 2010, by Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy of the George S, Landreggar Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Even before a conflagration destroyed the house, it was known to be haunted, and spirits may continue to roam the picturesque ruins. The Jackson family cemetery not far from the house has also seen some paranormal activity. Debra Johnston records an incident whereby a visitor to the cemetery one afternoon encountered a young man on horseback. As he talked with the strange young man, he realized the young man was one of the sons of James Jackson. The visitor was astonished when he shook hands with the man and watched him vanish before his eyes.

Southwest of the ruins, a bridge spanned Cypress Creek until its recent demolition. Known as “Ghost Bridge,” the bridge was associated with a typical crybaby bridge story. The woods near the bridge, tradition holds, are supposed to be haunted by a spirit carrying a lantern, a possible holdover from a skirmish fought here during the Civil War.

Sources

  • Farris, Johnathan A. & Trina Brinkley. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for Forks of Cypress. 2 May 1997.
  • Johnston, Debra. Skeletons in the Closet: True Ghost Stories of the Shoals Area. Debra Johnston, 2002.

Lawrence County

Henry Hill
CR-25
Mount Hope

Almost as common as Cry Baby Bridges throughout the South are “Gravity Hills;” roads or hills where a car put in neutral will seemingly be pushed up an incline. Along County Road 25, just outside of the community of Mount Hope, is a dip in the road where legend has it a man named Henry was killed. Most legends have Henry’s car breaking down along this road and him trying to push it out of the way when he was struck and killed by another vehicle. When a car is stopped here, Henry still dutifully pushes the car to safety to prevent another driver from having to endure a similar end.

Sources

Florida Hauntings, County by County—Part II

This is part two of a project to examine a ghost story from every single county in Florida.

See part I (Alachua-Brevard Counties) here.
See part II (Broward-Clay Counties) here.

Broward County

Stranahan House
335 Southeast 6th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale

View of the Stranahan House from the New River, 2010. Photo by Ebyabe, courtesy of Wikipedia.

When viewed from the New River, the Stranahan House is nestled among many large buildings, an apt context for the site from which this city sprang. Frank Stranahan moved to Florida in 1893 to operate the ferry across the New River here. He also built a trading post to encourage trade with the Seminole Indians who lived on the opposite shore. After marrying the local schoolteacher, Ivy Cromartie, Stranahan eventually constructed the current house in 1901 as a wedding gift. The house served as an office for Stranahan’s many business interests as well as a family home for many years until a series of events in the 1920s began to sap his business interests.

In 1926, Florida was struck by a massive hurricane that moved ashore near Miami resulting in hundreds of deaths and striking a tremendous blow to business interests throughout the state. Saddled with financial ruin and a diagnosis of prostate cancer—which was untreatable at the time—Frank Stranahan attempted suicide. As a result, Stranahan was confined to a local sanitarium. With his death being imminent, his wife wrote to the sanitarium pleading for her husband’s release so he could die at home. Once he was finally released, Stranahan could not find his way out of the abyss of depression and not long after his homecoming, he chained himself to a sewer grate and threw himself into the river. Despite valiant attempts to rescue him, Stranahan drowned.

Ivy Stranahan continued living in the house and filled its rooms with borders to make ends meet. Continuing her husband’s community activism, Stranahan worked to build Fort Lauderdale into a modern and vibrant community. Eventually, she rented out the first floor of the house as a restaurant while continuing to live on the second floor. She died in 1971 and left the house to her church who eventually sold it to the local historical society. The house was restored as a house museum in the early 1980s and is open to the public.

The house remains the home of Frank and Ivy Stranahan who are still very much spiritually in residence along with several other spirits including a small Seminole girl who collapsed and died at the front door. The house has opened at various times for ghost tours. In 2003, an article in the local paper described the spooky experiences a group of schoolchildren had on a tour, “”Some smelled perfume, the eyes in Frank’s portrait downstairs moved, laughter came from the vents in the dining room, and one child felt someone tap him on the shoulder when he was upstairs.” An article from later that year recounts that docents in the house have experienced doors opening and closing by themselves, beds being found in disarray moments after being made, and the odor of lilac perfume believed to be one of Ivy Stranahan’s favorite.

Sources

  • Carr, John Marc. Haunted Fort Lauderdale. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2008.
  • Kneale, Dennis. “Campaign planned to save historic Stranahan house.” Fort Lauderdale News. 13 August 1981.
  • LeClaire, Jennifer. “Stranahan House gets in the Halloween spirit.” Sun-Sentinel. 24 October 2003.
  • Wallaman, Brittany. “Putting tourists in good spirits.” Sun-Sentinel. 1 September 2003.

Calhoun County

Information on a Calhoun County haunt was not available when this article was first created. I have recently explored the haunting of the Old Calhoun County Jail in Blountstown.

Charlotte County

Indian Spring Cemetery
5400 Indian Spring Road
Punta Gorda

The resting place of the 20th governor of Florida and founder of Punta Gorda, Albert Gilchrist, Indian Spring Cemetery was laid out by him on land donated to the city by city councilman, James Sandlin. A nearby spring feeding into Alligator Creek may have been used by Native Americans, thus the name. Over its nearly 150 years of existence, more than 2000 souls have been laid to rest here under the moss-draped oaks.

Paranormal activity here consists of audio phenomena with sounds of weeping, wailing heard within the empty cemetery. Cemetery lights, a phenomenon where orbs of lights are scene around burial locations, have also been experienced here. Dave Lapham includes the experience of a local who, while walking with her mother and her dog, witnessed orbs of light floating about three to four feet above the ground. Fearing the lights, the group fled.

Sources

  • Charlotte County Government. “Indian Spring Cemetery.” Accessed 4 September 2017.
  • Lapham, Dave. Ghosthunting Florida. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2010.

Citrus County

Crystal River Archaeological State Park
3400 North Museum Point
Crystal River

The Crystal River on Florida’s west coast is one of many natural wonders in the state. Fed by warm waters from some 30 natural springs, the Crystal River is known for its large numbers of West Indian Manatees who luxuriate in the gently heated water. On the river banks, Native Americans built their own utopia, the remains of which are preserved in Crystal River Archaeological State Park.

Sunlight falls on one of the mounds at Crystal River Archaeological State Park, 2007. Photo by Ebyabe, courtesy of Wikipedia.

This state park encompasses a complex of six mounds that include burial mounds; middens, or refuse mounds; and platform mounds atop which high-status officials may have lived. Among the mounds are two remarkable steles, or stone monuments, one of which features the crude likeness of a human face. Steles are generally regarded as a feature found among the civilizations of Central America, and very rarely found among North American civilizations.

For her 2004 book, Finding Florida Phantoms, Kathleen Walls spoke with a ranger who reported that voices had been heard among the mounds when no one was present, and some apparitions have apparently been spotted here as well.

Sources

  • Cox, Dale. “Crystal River Archaeological State Park—Crystal River, Florida: Prehistory on the Crystal River.” com. Accessed 5 September 2017.
  • Walls, Kathleen. Finding Florida’s Phantoms. Global Authors Publications, 2004.

Clay County

Old Clay County Jail
21 Gratio Place
Green Cove Springs

The Florida Times-Union has deemed the Old Clay County Jail to be a place where it is always Halloween. Paranormal investigators have deemed the building to be one of the most active that many of them have seen.

Built by the Pauly Jail Company in 1894, the building saw its last inmate in 1972. The building now serves as home to the Clay County Archives. Like most corrections facilities, this building has seen the worst of society and a number of tragedies in its long history. Among the tragedies was the assassination of a sheriff, an inmate suicide, five executions and another suicide on the front lawn.

Old Clay County Jail, 2010. Photo by Ebyabe, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Reports of activity from the jail include voices, apparitions, and hair-pulling. Activity has become so well known that the Clay County Historical Archives website features a page describing the haunted conditions of the building.

Sources

  • Buehn, Debra W. “Old Clay County Jail stars in Local Haunts’ TV show Sunday.” Florida Times-Union. 1 April 2010.
  • Clay County Historical Archives. Ghosts in the Old Jail. Accessed 9 October 2014.

Southern Spirit Guide to Haunted Alabama

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

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

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

Alabama State Capitol
600 Dexter Avenue
Montgomery

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

Bear Creek Swamp
County Road 3
Prattville

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

Belle Mont
1569 Cook Lane
Tuscumbia

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

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

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

Sources

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

Bragg-Mitchell Mansion
1906 Springhill Avenue
Mobile

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

Fort Morgan State Historic Site
51 AL 180
Baldwin County

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park
11288 Horseshoe Bend Road
Dadeville 

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

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

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

Sources

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

Linn-Henley Research Library
2100 Park Place
Birmingham

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

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

Moundville Archaeological Park
634 Mound State Parkway
Moundville

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

    Timmons Cemetery
    Buxton Road
    Redstone Arsenal

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

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

Sources

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

The Warriors of Nikwasi

Nikwasi Mound
Nikwasi Lane
Franklin, North Carolina

Throughout the South and across the country, Native Americans have left a legacy, though one that has been obscured. This legacy delves deeply into our geography, language, culture and into the heart of our national identity. Certainly, the geographic legacy is the most evident with places throughout the nation bearing names derived from Native American names or descriptions. While some place names have been translated into English, often the names in their native forms (or a version thereof) have been stripped of their meanings and roots; so to most people it’s just a funny sounding name devoid of meaning.

Besides names, there are some Native American landmarks remaining, though very few. Mostly these are earthworks such as mounds that have survived the elements and the destructive nature of modern man. Franklin, North Carolina has one of these landmarks: the Nikwasi Mound, the former centerpiece for a major town of the same name. The meaning of that name has been lost to history, though the mound remains; now sandwiched between commercial buildings and the business route of busy US 441. When I visited last week, I had to drive past the landmark a few times before even picking it out amongst the urban sprawl.

There is controversy as to who actually constructed the mound. Wikipedia credits the Mississippean culture peoples as having originally constructed the mound around the year 1000 CE. Though, in speaking to local Cherokee, they take credit for it themselves. Members of the Cherokee tribe, who later used the mound up until most of them were removed from the area in the early 19th century, will often describe their origins by saying they have always been here (in the Southern Appalachians). The more academic answer is that their origins are disputed. Some believe that the Cherokee have existed in the area for much of the first millennia, while others believe that the Cherokee arrived as late as the 15th century CE. Despite these arguments, however, the mound is quite ancient.

James Mooney, the late 19th and early 20th century ethnographer who preserved much of the Cherokee’s knowledge, history and legends in his seminal work, History, Myths and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee states that some believe the mound was built as a townhouse mound to protect the townhouse (which served as a the center of village life) from flooding. According to Mooney, these mounds were constructed by piling earth atop the grave of a prominent chief or priest or possibly the remains of chiefs or priests from each of the seven clans. Along with these burials were included other sacred objects including an eagle feather (the eagle was one of the more sacred creatures to the Cherokee). The earth would be lain over these things and a hollow cedar log placed in the center of the mound to protect the sacred fire that will burn in the townhouse.

The townhouse served as the focal point of village life. Within this seven-sided building (seven being a sacred number to the Cherokee) business was conducted: legal, social, governmental and religious business and it was here that all the members of the village could sit. In the center of the building, under a small hole in the center of the roof acting as a chimney, burned the sacred fire from which all of the fires in the village were kindled. These fires at the hearths of local homes were kept burning throughout the year but were extinguished before the ceremony of the Green Corn. At that time, all the fires were extinguished and hearths swept clean. Embers from the eternal fire in the council house were taken to create new home fires. During this ceremony of renewal all debts and sins were erased and all started anew with a clean slate, so to speak. Mooney states that it is possible that the truly everlasting flames were only found in the larger towns like Nikwasi and nearby Kituhwa (near Bryson City, NC and considered by the Cherokee to be the “center of the earth”).

The Nikwasi Mound, 2012, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

It was here in 1730 that Sir Alexander Cumming, a Scottish trade envoy, crowned Chief Moytoy of Tellico as “Emperor of the Cherokee.” The town, and likely the townhouse with it, was destroyed in 1761 in hostilities that included the massacre of peace chiefs at Fort Prince George (in the Province of South Carolina) and the siege of Fort Loudon (in what is now Tennessee) all leading up to the expedition of Henry Timberlake (which included Sgt. Thomas Sumter and trader John McCormack) to the Cherokee to sue for peace in 1762. The town was again destroyed during the in 1776 by American General Griffith Rutherford as part of the Chickamauga Wars. Nikwasi was rebuilt but then ceded to the white man in treaties signed in 1817 and 1819. While some Cherokee in the area escaped in the mountains, they were later resettled on the nearby Qualla Boundry.

The city of Franklin was created in 1819, following one of the Cherokee treaties and the Nikwasi Mound remained outside the city as a curiosity. The old mound was part of farmland and in discussion with a local Cherokee historian I was told that a man with a plow and a team of horsemen took a week to plow the mound down in the early 20th century. So much for preserving history!

When the mound was threatened by a developer just after World War II, a prominent local attorney, Gilmer Jones, raised $1500 in pennies from local school children to purchase the mound. The mound was deeded to the Town of Franklin to be preserved for posterity, though the property only consists of the mound and the adjoining properties have been developed commercially. The mound has been sitting quietly under a historical marker until recent years. Or has it?

The mound from a different angle, note the dead grass and the commercial sprawl around it. Photo 2012 by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Cherokee legend speaks of the mound as being inhabited by the Nunne’hi, the race of “immortals” whose name translates, according to James Mooney, as “people who live anywhere.” The Nunne’hi (pronounced nun-eh-HEE) are similar to the Yunwi Tsunsdi, or the “Little People,” in that they are also spiritual defenders of the Cherokee, though the Little People are small as their name indicates while the Nunne’hi appear as regular humans when they wish to be seen. The Nikwasi mound is believed to be one of their homes. This became known many moons ago during a pitched battle when the Cherokee found themselves losing against a fierce enemy. This invader had fought their way through many villages and was now moving into the mountains. As their numbers waned in the heat of battle, the Cherokee defending Nikwasi had begun to fall back. I’ll allow Mooney to take it from here:

…suddenly a stranger stood among them and shouted to the chief to call off his men and he himself would drive back the enemy. From the dress and language of the stranger the Nikwasi people thought him a chief who had come with reinforcements from the Overhill settlements in Tennessee. They fell back along the trail, and as they came near the townhouse they saw a great company of warriors coming out from the side of the mound as through as open doorway. Then they knew that their friends were the Nunne’hi, the Immortals, although no one had ever heard before that they lived under Nikwasi mound.

The Nunne’hi poured out by hundreds, armed and painted for the fight, and the most curious thing about it all was that they became invisible as soon as they were fairly outside of the settlements, so that although the enemy saw the glancing arrow or the rushing tomahawk, and felt the stroke, he could not see who sent it.

The invaders were sent fleeing with the Nunne’hi in full pursuit. When the attackers attempted to take cover behind rocks and trees, the arrows followed and found their targets. Only half a dozen were left to return to their villages with the awful news of their comrades’ deaths. These survivors sat down some distance from the battlefield and cried. As they wept, the Nunne’hi chief approached and explained that they deserved this terrible defeat for attacking a peaceful tribe. The attackers fled and the Nunne’hi returned to their mound unscathed.

Legend holds that the Nunne’hi may have also appeared during the Civil War when a contingent of Federal troops were supposed to make a surprise raid against the town of Franklin. The town was supposed to be guarded by only a small force of Confederate troops. When the Federals arrived, they spied a large group of defenders and did not attack. Perhaps the Nunne’hi had taken to wearing butternut grey?

While the Nunne’hi are rarely visible, they are heard quite often. As they are fond of drumming and dancing, their music and merrymaking is sometimes heard near their townhouses. Though when the curious attempt to trace the source of the sounds, the sound travels. At least one source states that these sounds sometimes issue from the mounds, but I can find no specific reports of these sounds. Such sounds, however, are heard throughout Cherokee country. In conversation with a Cherokee friend, I was told that one of the Nunne’hi townhouses may be located on one of the mountains that forms the Oconaluftee River valley in downtown Cherokee, NC. He stated that people often heard the sounds of a party from this mountain which is opposite the mountain where the Mountainside Theatre is located. Incidentally, I have personally heard the sounds of a party coming from that direction while sitting at the Mountainside Theatre late at night. My friend went on to state that the sounds are rarely heard any longer as the sounds of modern life now drown them out.

Just today I spoke with some friends who had been swimming last night along the Oconaluftee River just north of Cherokee. They reported that they had heard the sounds of drumming and laughter nearby, but were unable to trace the source. They presumed that it was the Yunwi Tsunsdi and left them alone. Both spirit races are known for their music and merrymaking, though I wonder if the music they heard was issuing from an unknown Nunne’hi townhouse.

Nikwasi mound still stands, only a fraction of what it once was and now denuded of grass. Recently, the town of Franklin sprayed herbicide on the mound angering the Eastern Band of Cherokee and raising questions as to how to better care for this precious landmark. While the anger lingers, there is renewed hope that a good preservation solution can be put into place that will preserve this sacred place. If you happen by the mound late at night, roll down your windows and perhaps, over the noise of modern life, you’ll hear the ancient ruckus of a Nunne’hi party.

Sources

  • Cherokee. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 17 June 2012.
  • Dalrymple, Maria. “Nikwasi Mound deed could be transferred to create park.” Macon County News. 3 September 2009.
  • McKie, Scott. “Herbicide put on Nikwasi mound.” Cherokee One Feather. 9 May 2012.
  • Mooney, James. History, Myths and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. Asheville, NC: Bright Mountain Books, 1992.
  • Moytoy of Tellico. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 17 June 2012.
  • Nikwasi. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 14 June 2012.
  • Pruett, Kimberly. “Nikwasi Mound debate continues.” Macon County News. 30 June 2011.

“One of Nature’s sublimest poems”—Chimney Rock, North Carolina

Chimney Rock State Park
431 Main Street
Chimney Rock, North Carolina

N.B. Since I’m headed up here tomorrow for the weekend, I figured it would be nice to repost this entry. My writing about the area has inspired my dad to rent a cabin for the family for a nice weekend getaway. Thus, I’d like to dedicate this entry to my parents and my sisters. And I can’t forget Patrick, my sister’s husband who has recently joined the family. Thank y’all for dealing with me and accepting my eccentricities. I’m proud to be apart of such a loving, upstanding and interesting family.

Originally published 5 May 2011.

My mind has been stuck in Western North Carolina recently. Since I wrote the last entry on Lake Lure, I stumbled on some interesting information on Chimney Rock, the granite large granite monolith towering above Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure. In the entry on Lake Lure, I described the history of the area which is interwoven with the history of Chimney Rock itself.

Briefly, Chimney Rock was purchased in 1870 by Jerome B. Freeman with the intention of creating a tourist attraction and he opened the park to the public in 1885. The park was purchased by Dr. Lucius Morse and his brothers in 1902. It was Morse who dreamed of creating a mountain resort town based around a mountain lake. His dreams came to fruition in the 1920s with construction of a dam to create Lake Lure and the building of the Lake Lure Inn. Morse’s family owned the park until 2007 when it was sold to the state of North Carolina as a state park. At least that is the “white man’s history.”

Chimney Rock with Lake Lure in the background. Photo by Jmturner, 2008. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

This area has always contained a certain mystique. The Cherokee and the Catawba, the primary native peoples in the area, considered Hickory Nut Gorge sacred. The land beyond the stone pillar of Chimney Rock was called Suwali-nuna. This was part of a trading path that followed the Swannanoa River and then snaked through the gorge to the lands of the Catawaba and Sara in the east. This path was also used in search of tsa’lu or tobacco.

Suwali-nuna was inhabited by mythic beasts and spirits, but most notably, the Yun’wi Tsundsdi or “Little People.”  James Mooney, a nineteenth century ethnographer who recorded much of the Cherokee mythology, history and lore in his History, Myths and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees, describe them as thus:

There is another race of spirits […] who live in rock caves on the mountain side. They are little fellows, hardly reaching up to a man’s knee, but well shaped and handsome, with long hair falling to the ground. They are great wonder workers and are very fond of music, spending half their time drumming and dancing.  They are helpful and kind-hearted, and often when people have been lost in the mountains, especially children who have strayed away from their parents, the Yun’wi Tsundsdi have found them and taken them back to their homes. […] the Little People do not like to be disturbed at home, and they throw a spell over the stranger so that he is bewildered and loses his way…

In Suwali-nuna, however, these benevolent beings are not so forgiving. They were guardians of the sacred tsa’lu, or tobacco, which they kept there and took harsh action against anyone trespassing in the gorge in search of it. In the beginning of the world, there was a single tsa’lu plant for all creatures but it had been used up. In one version of the story, the plant was stolen by geese and swiftly carried to a place in the south. Nonetheless, without the power of tsa’lu men grew weak and death was imminent. Swift warriors and powerful shamans sent into the gorge in search of the sacred medicine were crushed by boulders toppled by the Yun’wi Tsundsdi. The strong winds blowing through the stone hollow would sometimes throw these braves into the turbulent waters of the river and they would never be seen again.

One young man, worried by the impending death of his father for lack of tsa’lu, traveled to Suwali-nuna in search of it. Reaching the mountains that border the gorge, the young man opened his medicine bag and brought out the skin of a hummingbird. Placing the skin over himself he transformed into the swift bird and flew, undetected into the heart of the gorge. Quickly, he gathered a few leaves of tsa’lu with some seeds and slipped, unseen, out of the gorge. Returning home he found his father very weak but with one draw from the pipe, he regained strength. The Cherokee planted the seeds and have had tsa’lu ever since.

During his explorations throughout the Southeast, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto may have passed under the watchful pillar of Chimney Rock, a sign of the deluge of white men that would flood the gorge in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The gorge became part of Rutherford County, named for General Griffith Rutherford, a military leader who led American forces against Chief Dragging Canoe and the Cherokee during the Chickamauga Wars. As settlers poured into the gorge they were awed by the Cherokee’s mystical land.

In 1806, an account appeared in the papers of the period describing an extraordinary vision witnessed by a family living near Chimney Mountain. On July 31st, an eight year old named Elizabeth Reaves spotted a man on the mountain. She brought this to the attention of her eleven year old brother, Morgan, and told him that she saw the man rolling rocks and picking up sticks. Incredulous, her brother went to where she had seen this sight and he was greeted by the sight of “a thousand things flying in the air.” They were joined by their fourteen year old sister, “a Negro woman” and their mother who also witnessed the spectacle.

The mother described a host of beings of a variety of sizes that were rising off of the side of the mountain and collecting at the top of Chimney Rock. After gathering at the rock, three appeared to lift off and rise towards the heavens. Summoning Robert Siercy, a neighbor, they all witnessed the sight together watching as the crowd eventually vanished.

Five years after the Reaves spectral vision in 1811, an elderly couple witnessed a different, though still extraordinary vision. Late one afternoon the couple, who lived near Chimney Rock Falls, witnessed the battle of a spectral army mounted on winged horses. The armies clashed and the couple heard the ping of steel upon steel and saw the glint of the weapons in the sunlight. After a battle of about ten minutes, one army was defeated and withdrew to the victorious cheers of the remaining army. It was also reported that other “respectable men” in the area witnessed the winged warriors, though not engaged in combat.

In the two hundred years since these amazing visions, there are no further reports of such astounding sights, these stories do set the stage for the hauntings at the Lake Lure Inn and the Lodge at Lake Lure. I suspect there are further spirits walking the scenic shores of Lake Lure and floating about Chimney Mountain’s stone spire. Silas McDowell, who recorded the testimony of the witnesses to the 1811 vision described Chimney Rock as “one of Nature’s sublimest poems, where objects are so weird, beautiful and grand that words cannot translate them, and they can only be seen and felt when we look, wonder and admire in dumb amazement.”

Sources

  • Carden, Gary and Nina Anderson. Belled Buzzards, Hucksters & Grieving Specters: Appalachian Tales: Strange, True & Legendary. Asheboro, NC: Down Home Press, 1994.
  • Chickamauga Wars (1776-1794). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 5 May 2011.
  • Mooney, James. History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. Asheville, NC: Bright Mountain Books, 1992.
  • Russell, Randy and Janet Barnett. Mountain Ghost Stories and Curious Tales of Western North Carolina. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1988.
  • Rutherford County, North Carolina. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 5 May 2011.

Legends of Long Island—Long Island of the Holston

Long Island of the Holston
Kingsport, Tennessee

Had this four mile long, half mile wide island been located in any other river in Tennessee it would not possess the significance that it has. This spit of land could be called the birthplace of Tennessee and even Kentucky for the treaties signed with the Cherokee that opened their lands to settlements by the white man. One possible origin for the name for the state of Tennessee, from the language of the Yuchi Indians, “Tana-see,” possibly meaning “the meeting place,” may be derived from this island. It is no wonder that the Federal government named Long Island a National Historic Landmark in 1960.

Aerial view of Long Island of the Holston, 2009. Photo by Worldislandinfo, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The island is located near the junction of the North and South forks of the Holston. The Holston flows southwest towards Knoxville where it meets the French Broad River creating the mighty Tennessee River. Nearby, the Great Indian Warpath, a major trail leading to the northeast from central Tennessee, brought many natives past this island. This island served as an important ceremonial site for the Cherokee Indians who occupied this area until the late 18th century. The island was a sacred ground for rituals but also for councils and treaties. So sacred was this island that, according to a number of sources, it was forbidden to kill or molest anyone on this sacred ground.

The first major intrusion of whites into the area occurred with Colonel William Byrd’s expedition in 1761 which constructed Fort Robinson near the river junction. When the outpost was abandoned a short while later, the Cherokee resumed control of the area. However, the building of the fort only emboldened white incursions into the area. Hunters, explorers and the occasional courageous settler were soon found in the lands surrounding the island. When Daniel Boone, that great trailblazer to the Kentucky territory, arrived in March of 1775 with an axe-wielding crew to cut a trail to the new territory, the real trouble began. Long Island became the starting point for Boone’s Wilderness Road, bringing hundreds of thousands of white settlers through the area.

With the outbreak of war, many of the Cherokee sided with the British due to the increasing pressure from frontiersmen and by the middle of 1776 they had worked to free the area from whites. Colonial soldiers set out from Eaton’s Fort near the junction of the Holston’s two forks and crushed the Cherokee in battle at the Long Island Flats on August 20. The next year, a treaty was negotiated on Long Island ceding much of the Cherokee lands in East Tennessee and everything east of the Blue Ridge to white settlers. However, the Cherokee still maintained possession of Long Island, though Joseph Martin and his Native American wife, Betsy, established a trading post there; the first white settler on the island.

While many Cherokee had cleared out of the newly claimed area, there were still attacks on white settlements. A peace was negotiated at Long Island in 1781 just before the end of the Revolution. The activity of settlers increased and a boat yard was established on the river, opposite the western tip of the island. The year 1805 saw a number of treaties ceding the remaining Cherokee land in the area to white settlers including Long Island. Legend says that among the natives to leave the island for the last time was a medicine man who laid a curse on the island that no white would be able to comfortably settle on the island. Around the island, the city of Kingsport was created with the merger of Christianville and Rossville in 1822. The island was later incorporated into the town.

Parts of the island were developed and residences sprang up, but, according to the legends, insanity and crime occurred on the island in higher rates than elsewhere in Kingsport. Perhaps the curse was beginning to take its toll? Over time, the legend has been oft-repeated receiving additions on occasions such as the addition from the era of World War II.

Folklorist Charles Edwin Price recounts this tale in his Haints, Witches, and Boogers: Tales from Upper East Tennessee; this tale is recounted in a few other sources, but apparently based upon Price’s version of the tale. The tale, according to Price, tells of Amos Ross, whose son was a Marine in the war. On leave, his son and his son’s girlfriend at the time, went out to Long Island one evening to spend some time together. Ross, a fine upstanding Christian, worried that his son was committing a mortal sin followed the couple out to the island. Finding the couple in flagrante delicto, Ross became enraged and attacked, killing them both. After the incident, legend says, he was never seen again, though couples necking on the island, which may have been a “Lovers Lane” were occasionally attacked by the enraged man or at least his spirit. While this is a marvelous tale, it does leave some questions. Unfortunately, without access to the Kingsport papers of the World War II, era, I cannot prove this is just a legend or if it is grounded in fact.

Besides this violent morality tale, there are other incidents occurring on the island. Again, these tales are told without specific reports of incidents. After dark, it is said that Native Americans have been seen on the island. Campfires are seen blazing with natives dancing about and performing rituals. In the early morning mist on the river, warriors have been seen gliding along silently in their canoes.

Sadly, much of the historic nature of the island is now gone. In 1996, the historical integrity of the island had been so depleted that the National Park Service, administrators of the list of National Historic Landmarks, suggested that the island be delisted. While the landmark designations has not been removed, much of the island is now heavily industrialized. Viewing the island via Googles Maps, it appears that most of the island is now paved over and covered with industrial development. The western portion of the island is now the location of a park and baseball fields are quite obvious, but little of the island’s original sylvan nature remains. The city of Kingsport, realizing the enormous value of having this marvelous landmark in town has done some work towards attracting visitors.

In 1976, a mere three acres of the island were given to the Eastern Band of Cherokee. These acres are a part of a park on the western end of the island, but the island still remains heavily industrial. It’s not hard to imagine that spirits returning to this haunted island, paddling around in the morning mist, don’t even recognize their spoiled sacred island.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Tennessee: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Volunteer State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2009.
  • Brown, John Norris. “The Long Island Curse.” Ghosts & Spirits of Tennessee. Accessed 14 July 2011.
  • Lane, Matthew. “Tribes discuss role of Long Island in King’s Port on the Holston.” Kingsport Times-News. 17 May 2007.
  • Long Island (Tennessee). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 14 July 2011.
  • McGuiness, Jim. “Tales of paranormal activity abounds in Tri-Cities region.” Kingsport Times-News. 28 October 2007.
  • Mooney, James. History, Myths and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. Asheville, NC: Bright Mountain Books, 1992.
  • Price, Charles Edwin. Haints, Witches, and Boogers: Tales from Upper East Tennessee. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1992.
  • Rettig, Polly M. National Historic Landmark Nomination form for Long Island of the Holston. 4 June 1976.

Mountainside Theatre: A Personal Experience

Mountainside Theatre
688 Drama Drive
Cherokee, North Carolina

If you’ve read this blog for awhile or have checked the very brief bio to the right of this entry you’ll know that I’m an actor. If you didn’t know, my secret is out. By nature, theatre people tend to be very superstitious and it’s noted that any theatre worth its salt should have a ghost. The Mountainside Theatre is no exception.

Three of the best summers of my life were spent working in Cherokee at the Mountainside where the outdoor historical drama, Unto These Hills, has been performed every summer since 1950. The Appalachians hold a particular charm and having lived there, even just a few months, I truly feel that part of my heart is there. Of course the atmosphere of living among fellow theatre people—who possess tremendous energy, intelligence and creativity—enhances that experience. And the parties and Bohemian life was awesome as well!

Cherokee lies at the heart of the Qualla Boundry Cherokee Indian Reservation, the seat of the Eastern Band of Cherokee. The Mountainside Theatre was built to house Kermit Hunter’s play, Unto These Hills, which tells the story of these particular Cherokee people. The drama utilizes both hired actors and members of the Cherokee community in telling the story and for many of the locals the drama has become a family tradition with grandparents performing alongside their grandchildren and sometimes great-grandchildren.

My first year in Cherokee, I played the role of the Lieutenant, a rather gruff, white Federal officer who viewed the Cherokee with contempt. In the scene depicting the beginning of the Trail of Tears, I led the march just behind Major Davis and took a position standing on a boulder on the side stage, rifle in hand, watching as the Cherokee marched off towards Oklahoma. Nightly I would look into the faces of these people walking in the steps of their ancestors and would see scowls and expressions of outright hatred, even from people that I considered friends offstage. It was a moving experience to see history recreated and see the consequences of that same history juxtaposed into that.

Entrance to the Mountainside Theatre, November 2012. Photo by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

The theatre itself is a huge open air amphitheatre that can seat a few thousand. The theatre is surrounded by forest and the backstage area has been constructed to preserve the tree line that gives the theatre a wonderful sylvan quality. The stage and side stages include trees, shrubbery and boulders to complete the picture. Behind the back wall of the stage there is a covered walkway with a props storage area just off stage left. Below this walkway, the terrain drops a bit further which is spanned by a covered walkway, called “The Bridge,” that connects the stage to the rest of the backstage area. Wrapping around the side of the mountain is a long building with the stage manager’s office, costume shop and dressing rooms. At the very end of this building, parallel to the driveway leading up the hill to cast housing, is the laundry room and a small porch called the “laundry porch.”

Entrance to the Mountainside Theatre, November 2012. Photo by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Except for the very top tier of the actors hired for the production, most other performers in the show served double duty either doing technical work (the Actor Techs or ATs) or working in the costume shop. I worked in the costume shop and part of my duty was to do laundry once a week after the show. Once the show was up and running, everyone went on to “Cherokee Time” where bedtime was sometime between 4AM to sunrise and wake up time was around noon or sometime thereafter. None of us usually had to be at work at the theatre until 6PM, so many of us became partially nocturnal.

Within a few days of my first arrival on “The Hill,” I began to hear stories and legends about the area. One of the costumers in those first few days had gone down to the theatre late one evening for some quiet. As he sat in the empty theatre he heard the sound of a horse running around the theatre. Interestingly, there were no horses in the area nor had any ever been used in the show. Other stories began to surface from some of the longtime cast members of others having odd experiences in the theatre at night. I can recall hearing one story of someone sitting in the theatre alone only to turn his head to see someone sitting in the row behind him staring straight ahead, trancelike.

Another story involved a particular former cast member, since deceased, who would sit on the laundry porch during the show. It was said that people driving past the theatre would still occasionally glimpse her sitting on the porch. An even further tale told of the techies who fired guns offstage for sound effects seeing a Cherokee dancing among the trees in the dark woods offstage. In some versions of the story he was seeing floating some feet off the ground as he danced.

The one legend that I heard almost invariably involved the Cherokee Little People, or Yun’wi Tsundsdi. I described this mythic race in my article on Chimney Rock, please see the article for a better description. In the lore of the area, the Mountainside Theatre had been constructed on ground that was sacred to the Yun’wi Tsundsdi. During the day, the theatre was lent to humans for their uses, but at night it returned to their territory. We were taught to announce ourselves whenever we went to the theatre at night. When we reached the bridge we would call out, “I mean you no harm, don’t mind me.” Failure to do so would cause the Little People to play tricks on you.

However, theatre people do love a good story. I’m not sure how much of this was truly real and how much had been concocted to scare naïve new “Hillbillies.” Nonetheless, this was the mythology that was in place.

At least I thought this was mostly mythology until one night. It was my laundry night and I had dutifully put a load of laundry in the wash. The evening was fairly quiet and there wasn’t much partying. Not really being a partier myself I had been in my room reading a book about the Yun’wi Tsundsdi. Around 3AM I walked down the hill to the laundry room to put the load of laundry in the dryer. As I walked, I muttered the Cherokee name of the Little People repeatedly in an attempt to commit it to memory. It’s a fun name to say. However, I didn’t realize that it also calls them.

I put the laundry in the dryer and started back up the hill to my room in the Boy’s Dorm. Between the end of the laundry porch and the first of the cabins of “Lower Suburbia” there is maybe 100 feet (by my estimation and I’m a poor judge of distance). On one side of the drive is forest with laurel and rhododendron growing thickly among the pines. From this thick forest I suddenly heard the sound of high pitched giggling. It was not drifting down from the ever present crowd at the picnic table outside of the Girl’s Dorm, it was coming from the forest next to me. I stopped for a moment and tried to peer into the shadows. There wasn’t anything to be seen. I uttered a tentative, “Hello?” but it was met with silence.

The view from the laundry porch towards the woods where I heard giggling, October 2012. Photo by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Again, the giggle issued from the thick shrubbery and again I said hello. No answer. The night time cacophony of the Appalachians can be quite startling to an outsider from the scream of the bobcat (which I thought was a woman being raped when I first heard it) to the various night birds (nighthawks and owls), but this was none of those. It was a childish giggle. Once more I heard it coming from the thick woods directly in front of me. At that point the instinct of fight or flight kicked in and I flew; up the hill and back to the safety of my room. Having been reading about the Yun’wi Tsundsdi, I assumed that it was them that I heard. This was confirmed the next day by a close Cherokee friend.

I can only describe what happened. I’ve thought about it many times since and searched for a more likely explanation, but I can find none. That was my only experience on The Hill. There were times when I would find myself alone at the theatre during my laundry night and I would feel uncomfortable; that feeling of not being alone and sometimes being watched.

While I cannot say for certain that the Mountainside Theatre is haunted, it’s certainly a place that could easily inspire such stories. The play Unto These Hills, although in a different form from Kermit Hunter’s original version, is still performed nightly during the summer and the theatre is open to visitors during the day. Tickets for the show may be purchased at the Cherokee Historical Association Offices, also known as “The Hut,” (which is also haunted) at the bottom on the hill in the village at 564 Tsali Boulevard.

Sources 

Of Fowl and Phantoms–Haunted Dauphin Island, Alabama

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

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

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

Indian Shell Mound Park
Cadillac Avenue

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fort Gaines
51 Bienville Boulevard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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