I’m on the road again, this time to southeast Alabama to explore a few hauntings here. As I drove through rural Bullock County, I passed the road to a place called Smuteye. This is a land that wears its history on its sleeve. As I drove towards tonight’s destination, Ozark, I passed through small towns still bearing the scars of Reconstruction. Slavery’s grim face still shown on the streets and in the peeling paint of the grand, white houses lining the main streets. Discounting the modern cars, in some places it could still be 1965 or 1920 or 1885.
Driving through places like Union Springs, Brundidge, Tuskeegee, history is ever present. Tuskeegee, where African-Americans under the watchful eye of Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver began to raise themselves from oppression to tolerance to the hallowed halls of the White House, is sadly decaying with the main street lined with crumbling old homes and boarded up commercial buildings. Passing through Union Springs on AL-29, architectural gems of past ages lined the street with occasional modern infill housing and run down mobile homes butting up against the Greek-Revival, Italianate, and Victorian manses. Between these towns churches every few miles remind travelers that this is God’s country.
This is also a land rife with ghosts, though most of these spirits are simply not discussed. The purpose of this trip is ultimately to see the Rawls Hotel in Enterprise, though I’m finding a few other hauntings along the way to occupy my interest. Had I done my research before my drive, I would have stopped in Union Springs to photograph the three possibly haunted locations in downtown: the BULLOCK COUNTY COURTHOUSE, the PAULY JAIL and the JOSEPHINE HOTEL.
All three locations have been investigated by the Alabama Paranormal Research Team with the courthouse and the jail investigated in 2009 and the hotel investigated the following year. According to the investigation reports they have published on their site, activity was uncovered in the courthouse and the hotel, but the jail, oddly, seemed quiet.
The Second Empire style Bullock County Courthouse was constructed in 1871-2, during Reconstruction. It was here that the paranormal team was told of the frightening photograph of a Confederate soldier hanging inside. Recently, one of the sheriffs reported that the portrait made him feel uneasy, to the point that he had the photograph covered. In addition, there were reports of the elevators operating on their own volition, which is not an uncommon occurrence. The investigation revealed some odd activity in the courtroom including odd static charges coming from the floor and certain seats. Some EVPs were recorded and a few strange photos were taken.
Behind the courthouse, the intimidating Pauly Jail stands. Named for the Pauly Jail Building and Manufacturing Company which constructed it in 1897, the jail is the oldest jail still in existence in the state. Unfortunately, the building produced no results during the investigation.
Just down the street stands the old Josephine Hotel which is now home to the Josephine Arts Center. This 1880 hotel did reveal some paranormal activity. At one point during the investigation, the investigators witnessed an orb of light moving through a hallway. Upon reviewing the video collected at the hotel, this orb was found to have been captured. In addition, an EVP was also collected. This was enough evidence for the organization to indicate that there is some activity within the building.
Down the road in Dale County outside of the town of Newton is the peculiar “CHOCTAWHATCHEE BRIDGE HOLE.” Legend tells us the sad story of Bill Sketoe, who was put to death near the bridge over the Choctawhatchee River which now carries Alabama Highway 123. In 1864, when the Confederate Army was desperate for manpower, poor Bill Sketoe was arrested by a company of soldiers and accused of desertion. Arguing that he had hired a substitute to fight on his behalf, Sketoe was hung from a nearby water oak. The amateur hang man misjudged Sketoe’s height and his feet were still touching the ground after the noose was tightened. One of the men slowly scraped away the dirt from under Sketoe’s feet and he was slowly strangled, most certainly a brutal death.
For years, the hole remained and refused all efforts to fill it. Kathryn Tucker Windham immortalized this story in her 1969 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey. Sadly, this was not enough to save the actual hole. When a new bridge was built to carry AL-123 over the river, the hole was covered. Though, the hole was recreated in a nearby park. Of course, it isn’t the same.
The point of this trip is to make a pilgrimage to the RAWLS HOTEL that I have previously written about, though I will be stopping past the recreation of Bill Sketoe’s hole as well. This is a fascinating landscape and I hope to find more about the spirits of the region.
- Alabama Paranormal Research Team. Investigation Report for Bullock County Courthouse. Accessed 29 November 2012.
- Alabama Paranormal Research Team. Investigation Report for The Josephine Hotel. Accessed 29 November 2012.
- Cox, Dale. “The Ghost of Sketoe’s Hole—Newton, Alabama.” Exploring Southern History Blog. Accessed 25 January 2013.
- Fox, Jovani. “Paranormal research team investigates Pauly Jail.” Union Springs Herald. September 2009.
- Union Springs, Alabama. “A Tour of Union Springs.” Accessed 25 January 2013.
- Windham, Kathryn Tucker & Margaret Gillis Figh. 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1969.