Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Heralded by the Owls—Thomas Divide Ghost Lights

I’ve returned to “real life” and have time to write here again. I wrote this just after seeing the Thomas Divide Lights last Thursday. For further information on the lights, see the previous entry.

August 14, 2014
Cherokee, North Carolina

I’ve been working up here since May and haven’t had time to see the lights until tonight. A friend of mine and I headed up to Thomas Divide Overlook to see the lights. He had been up here last year but had only heard about them; so I offered to take him.

We were alone in the quiet and dark night staring at the ridge hoping something would appear. The chatter of crickets and cicadas issued from the dark forest that surrounded us.

Then the owls started up. Barred Owls in the valley below us began their call of “who cooks for you, who cooks for y’all” (this is the South after all). Then a pair took up the call closer to us. Cherokee lore holds that owls are often heralds of bad news and death so I find the calls a bit nerve-wracking. As the owls continued a small light appeared on the ridge. It flickered, and the glow began to grow a bit. It appeared to move a bit, though that may be simply been an optical illusion.

The beacon was lit for about 5 minutes then, as abruptly as it had appeared, it disappeared. The owls started their calling again, though the light did not return. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Thomas Divide Ghost Lights

Thomas Divide Overlook
Mile Marker 464
Blue Ridge Parkway
Near Cherokee, North Carolina

High, high on the mountain
And down in the valley below,
It shines like the crown of an angel
And fades as the mists come and go.
Way over yonder,
Night after night until dawn…

--- from the classic Bluegrass song, “The Brown Mountain Light,” by
Scotty Wiseman

Thomas Divide sign. Photo 2014, by Lewis Powell IV,
all rights reserved.
My mother couldn’t quite grasp what we were seeing a couple years ago.

“You mean there’s nothing over there?”

“Well, there’s a mountain, but it’s inside the park so it’s undeveloped.”

My parents and I returned to watching the lights up on the mountain across the valley from the Thomas Divide Overlook off the Blue Ridge Parkway. The lights put on a spectacular show for us that night as well as the other spectators who had gathered to observe the mysterious phenomena. We watched for a few minutes as the lights flickered on, shone brightly for a few minutes, then flickered off, all from the ridge opposite. One light appeared to divide in two and another light changed color—from a white light to red. At one point, the lights even appeared like the brake lights of a car.

View from Thomas Divide. The lights appear along
the ridges in the distance. Photo 2014, by Lewis Powell
IV, all rights reserved.
Continuation of the view from Thomas Divide. Photo 2014,
by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
I’ve written quite a bit about Cherokee, North Carolina, where I’m currently spending the summer. Sitting at the heart of the Qualla Boundry—commonly known as the Cherokee Indian Reservation—this land is filled with the magic and mystery of the Cherokee who have existed here for centuries. As a Cherokee friend of mine stated a few years ago, “To the Cherokee, the supernatural is just natural.” Here, ghosts and spirits are just another feature of the landscape. The spiritual activity here is stunning and ranges from ghost lights to full-blown apparitions.

Ghost light lore is found throughout the world and on every continent. Throughout the South these ghost lights appear with regular frequency: from Maryland’s Hebron Light to Florida’s Oviedo Lights, Beauregard, Mississippi’s Illinois Central Light to Georgia’s Surrency Light. North Carolina has a number of ghost lights: the Maco Light in Wilmington, the Cove City Light, the Vander Light in Cumberland County, the Pactolus Light in the small town of Pactolus and the previously mentioned Brown Mountain Lights on Brown Mountain near Morganton. Notably, the Maco, Vander and Pactolus Lights are associated with railroad tracks. The Brown Mountain Lights, according to L.E.M.U.R. Paranormal Investigations, were first seen by the local Native Americans and first recorded by German engineer, John William Gerard de Brahm one of the first explorers of the area. The lights have been seen by many and various legends have grown up to explain them.

Of course, science has attempted to explain these various lights throughout the world. Commonly, they are explained as swamp gas or, more properly, biogas that’s released as organic matter decays. Another explanation lies in ball lightning, a phenomena that’s not well understood. For many of these lights, their frequency would seem to rule out the ball lightning theory and certainly in dry area such as the desert surrounding Marfa, Texas, home to the famous Marfa Lights, the dry conditions would rule out swamp gas. The Brown Mountain Lights have been investigated by the United States Weather Service and the Geological Survey and neither have conclusively explained the lights. The Geological Survey blamed car headlights and locomotive headlights, but that would not explain the sighting dating to the eighteenth century, well before the existence of cars and trains.

The Thomas Divide Ghost Lights are apparently North Carolina’s least known ghost lights. So far in my research, I’ve found little documentation, but I can personally say that there is something going on at Thomas Divide. On more than one occasion, I’ve watched the strange lights.

To experience the lights one drives up to the Thomas Divide Overlook after dark and parks facing the Thomas Divide Ridge ahead across the valley. After flashing your headlights and possibly honking your horn the lights may appear in the distance. The first time I saw the lights, they appeared as balls of lights that shot up vertically in the air like a bottle rocket, but then circled around to drop back to earth only to shoot up again to follow the same route. The lights were rather dim when I saw them in the middle of the summer, but according to an article in the Western Carolina University Western Carolinian, they are brighter in the winter.

When I saw them with my parents, the lights were very bright; so bright it was like looking at a lighthouse. There was already a crowd assembled, so we didn’t worry about flashing our headlights. At other times, however, the lights are quite dim, possibly affected by fog or mist in the area.

There are numerous legends behind the lights. The WCU article does mention the legend stating that it involves a Cherokee shaman who tried to remain in the beloved mountains that the Cherokee had called home for centuries after the American government ordered their removal. Believing he and his family could remain on their land, they escaped into the deep coves of the mountains. Many natives escaped into the mountains and were tracked by soldiers. When the shaman was caught he was executed as an example to the others. His body was dismembered and the parts spread throughout the mountains. The Thomas Divide Lights are his spirit attempting to find all of his parts.

Other legends include the lights as being from the lanterns of the Cherokee Little People or fireballs hurled by Judaculla, a mythical giant from Cherokee lore. More sensible people have suggested that the lights may be hikers or from camp fires, though that would not explain the erratic movement or the lights changing color.

Like the Brown Mountain Lights, these lights may be just as old. A recent article about the phenomenon from The Smoky Mountain News, quotes the Beloved Man of the Cherokee, Jerry Wolfe. Nearing 90 years of age, he recalls seeing the lights when he was a teenager. A local paranormal investigator is quoted in the article as saying that, according to lore from various Cherokee families, the lights have been seen since the 18th century.

Regardless of their origin, the lights still flicker and glow nightly and I’m glad I was able to share them with my parents.

This is a rewrite and edit of the entry posted on this topic September 12, 2010

Ball lightning. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 12 September
Brown Mountains Lights. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     12 September 2010.
Hester, Margaret. “The Thomas Divide.” The Western Carolinian. 10
     November 2006.
Kasper, Andrew. “Theories swirl around perplexing mountain lights.”
     Smoky Mountain News. 23 January 2013.
L.E.M.U.R. Paranormal Investigations. History. BrownMountainLights.com.
     Accessed 12 September 2010.
Rivers, Micheal. Appalachian Mountain Folklore. Atglen, PA: Schiffer,
Toomey, Michael. John William Gerard de Brahm. Tennessee Encyclopedia
     of History and Culture. Accessed 12 September 2010.
Will-o’-the’wisp. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 12 September 2010.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Old Folks Still at Home (Newsworthy Haunts)

Museum of Seminole County History
300 Bush Boulevard
Sanford, Florida

That’s where the old folks stay.
--“Old Folks at Home,” Stephen Foster, 1851

It’s rather fitting that a former old folks home is now the home to a county historical museum. Of course, it’s no surprise that the same location remains home to old folks who have passed on. Such is the case of the Seminole County Old Folks’ Home which now houses the county’s historical museum.
Seminole County Old Folks' Home, now home to the county's
historical museum. Photo by Ebyabe, 2006, courtesy of
In the era before the advent of government assistance, many local governments provided poor houses and poor farms where the poor and indigent could seek shelter and attempt to support themselves. Seminole County constructed this building in 1926 as part of an 82 acre county farm. This site was operated as the county’s “Old Folks’ Home” until 1964 when the structure was converted for use as the county’s Agricultural Center. It served in that capacity until a new center was built in the early 1980s. The structure became the county’s museum in 1982.

However, it seems like some of its residents may have not left. A recent article in Florida Today notes that the museum is now providing paranormal activity tours of the building. With a tablet computer as a guide, guests can see evidence from the two paranormal investigations of the building and discover the varied types of paranormal activity witnessed in each room.

While the spirits have not been identified, many of their activities have been noted.  One guest had their sunglasses knocked from their head while a museum employee has discovered lights on that she specifically turned off. In one case, the employee experienced what she described as a feeling of being lightly tased. Investigations of the museum have uncovered photographs of orbs and EVPs.

     Florida Today. 17 June 2014.
Old Folks Home Marker.” HMdb.org. Accessed 18 June 2014.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Louisiana and Mississippi: Newsworthy Haunts—6/3/2014

First up, we have a pair of hauntings from Louisiana:

Eunice Public Library
222 South Second Street
Eunice, Louisiana

If there is a spirit haunting the public library in the small town of Eunice, then it may really like children’s literature. According the librarian, a book by Mary Alice Fontenot, a local children’s author, “has gone missing from our shelves, and after replacing this book, the replacement went missing as well.” But this is only one of a number of incidents that remain unexplained including the staff opening the library in the morning and discovering that the restroom door is locked with the light on inside.

After discovering that a local psychic and paranormal investigator had had odd experiences at the library as a child, the library asked the investigator’s group, On the Edge Soul Seekers, to conduct an investigation. The results were presented to the public on May 29th, with nothing published yet on what those findings were.

Johnson, William. “Is the Eunice Public Library haunted?” Daily World
     29 May 2014.

Spring Street Historical Museum
525 Spring Street
Shreveport, Louisiana

At the Spring Street Historical Museum in the old Tally’s Bank Building in Shreveport, the ghost is more interested in the welfare of the employees there than children’s literature. A 2013 article mentions that a museum employee was about to get up on a ladder when he saw the museum’s front door open by itself. The sturdy door was not prone to open easily and the employee was a bit frightened. When he returned to the ladder, he discovered he had not set it up properly and may have fallen should he have climbed upon it.

The museum occupies the Tally’s Bank Building, considered one of the oldest in Shreveport. It was constructed as a bank just after the close of the Civil War. With the South’s economy still rather unstable, the building housed three different banks. The first two failed, but the third—B. Jacob’s Bank—became First National Bank of Shreveport in 1885. That bank occupied this Italianate-style building until the 1950s when the bank needed more space. The structure served as a bar for a number of years until it was donated to the local Colonial Dames organization for use as a museum.

The stories of paranormal activity from the building have led to its being investigated three times. According to a recent article in the Shreveport Times, the primary spirit is of a former bank manager named Edward.

Louisiana State Historic Preservation Office. Document on Tally’s Bank.
     Accessed 1 June 2014.
Spradlin, Courtney. “City Explorer: Step inside downtown’s Spring
     Street Historical Museum.” Shreveport Times. 28 May 2014.
Thomas, Angela. “Before ‘Ghost Hunters,’ Louisiana Spirits Explored
     Shreveport’s Haunted Past.” KEEL News Radio 710. 13 June 2013.

1905 City Hall
300 South Second Street
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Two hurricanes, Katrina in 2005 and Camille in 1969, tossed this Bay St. Louis landmark about pretty badly. Camille blew off the building’s cupola and Katrina severely damaged the building when it made landfall near Bay St. Louis. Now, tenants of the restored building are experiencing something that’s tossing things around inside the building.

Originally, the building housed the city’s Mayor’s office, City Council chambers, police department and the jail. Over the years, many city departments have occupied the building which, after Katrina’s destructive blow to the city, required extensive restoration. After its Georgian splendor was restored recently, the building now houses a variety of businesses and offices with a restaurant, the Cypress Café, occupying the entire first floor. It is here, where the old jail was once located, that quite a bit of paranormal activity has been experienced.

An article from a local TV station, WLOX, quotes the café’s owner as saying, “We’ve had a lot of things move around, we’ve had glasses fly around. Doors just open and close real quick, and all of our doors have safety mechanisms which [means] you can’t actually open them. There’s just so many things that happened here on a regular basis that just didn’t seem normal.” After initially attempting to ignore the activity, the owner and staff decided to call in a paranormal team.

The café has just seen its second investigation after an earlier investigation by The Atlantic Paranormal Society. Just recently, G-COM: Ghost Chasers of Mississippi, investigated and captured evidence of three possible spirits.

Legend points to an incident in 1928 which may provide the origin of some of the building’s activity. That year, a man incarcerated in the jail shot his way to freedom, killing a man in the process. After he was recaptured, the prisoner became the last person executed by hanging in Hancock County.

For the café’s owner, however, the spirits are not fearsome, “nothing bad has really happened, it’s really kind of cool,” she said.

G-COM has produced a video of their investigation, it can be viewed here.

Belcher, Geoff. “Old Town ‘Haunt’—Paranormal investigators probe
     historic Bay building.” The Seacoast Echo. 4 April 2014.
Showers, Al. “1905 city hall restored in Bay St. Louis.” WLOX. 29 October
Showers, Al. “Could the historic city hall in Bay St. Louis be haunted?”
     WLOX. 29 May 2014.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Not So Colonial Hauntings--Williamsburg, Virginia

Kimball Theatre
formerly the Williamsburg Theatre
428 West Duke of Gloucester Street
Williamsburg, Virginia

Williamsburg is more reconstruction than restoration. When John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and W. A. R. Goodwin began their project to return part of the town to what it had been in the mid-18th century, the passage of time had taken its toll on the city. Some buildings were missing and had to be reconstructed while others had modern additions that had to be removed. Plus, there was a need to provide accommodations and conveniences that modern visitors would expect.
Merchant's Square with the Kimball Theatre as the two-story
brick building on the right. Photo 2008, by Ser Amantio di
Nicolao. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Rockefeller envisioned Merchant’s Square as providing many of the modern shopping and entertainment conveniences that would be required by visitors and residents alike while still maintaining a colonial atmosphere. Among the entertainment options offered was the Williamsburg Theatre which offered live performances as well as films in a graceful and air-conditioned structure. The theatre opened in January of 1933 with a performance of George Farquhar’s Restoration Comedy, The Recruiting Officer. According to the Colonial Williamsburg foundation, this play was the first play performed in British North America when it was produced in Williamsburg. Additionally, this play was the first play performed in the Dock Street Theatre in Charleston, South Carolina. The theatre was restored in 2000 and named for Bill and Gretchen Kimball, who sponsored the restoration.

As one might expect, not all the spirits in Colonial Williamsburg are from the 18th century. With Williamsburg’s location among the many Virginia battlefields of the Civil War, it seems that there are far more spirits left over from that conflict. Legend holds that the spirit within the Kimball is a Union soldier.

The land now occupied by the Kimball Theatre was once the home of the Ware family. During the Civil War, the Ware women, as many did during the war, took in wounded soldiers and attempted to nurse them back to health. They took in a young soldier who had been wounded in the Battle of Williamsburg, though their care was in vain. The soldier passed away and the ladies took his body to the parlor to await disposal. After Union soldiers captured the town they went house to house in search of Confederates hiding among the civilians. Upon reaching the Ware house one soldier was shown to the parlor and the sheet covering the young soldier’s body pulled back. The young Union soldier was terrified to see the body of his own brother who with his different political biases had joined the Confederates. Sadly, the young Union soldier was not long for this earth and was killed not long afterwards.

A spirit, possibly that of the Union soldier, has been seen within the theatre. Wearing blue, he appears to be frantically searching for something among the backstage rooms and then suddenly disappears.

Behrend, Jackie Eileen. The Hauntings of Williamsburg, Yorktown, and 
     Jamestown. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1998.
Chappell, Edward, Mary Harding Sadler and Llewellyn Jewell Hensley. National
     Register of Historic Places nomination form for Merchants Square and Resort 
     Historic District. 28 February 2006.
Colonial Williamsburg. “Kimball Theatre.” Accessed 6 April 2013. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Hanoverian Haunting

Hanover Tavern
13181 Hanover Courthouse Road
Hanover Courthouse, Virginia

For nearly three centuries, Hanover Tavern has served as a center of this small community just outside of Richmond. It’s not hard to imagine patrons, guests, slaves and proprietors telling stories and singing songs over pints of ale around the tavern’s fireplaces over the years. Appropriately, this amateur theatre in the building was elevated to a professional level when the Barksdale Theatre took over the building—ghosts and all—in 1953.

Taverns were a mainstay throughout Colonial America. They served as centers for the communities, gathering places for people from outlying plantations and farms, courthouses in rural areas, stage coach stops, post offices and stops along lonely roads providing a warm meal and bed. The tavern in Hanover was licensed in 1733 and, by the time it was sold a decade later, was the center of a 550 acre plantation. The tavern was owned by John and Eleanor Shelton in the mid-18th century, parents of Sarah Shelton who married a country lawyer named Patrick Henry. Henry, of course, would become one of the founding fathers of the nation. Incidentally, Scotchtown, the nearby plantation where Henry and Sarah settle with their family, is haunted by Sarah’s spirit.
Hanover Tavern, 2007 by BrandlandUSA. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Besides Patrick Henry, Hanover Tavern saw a great many important people pass through its corridors including George Washington, General Lord Cornwallis, the Marquis de Lafayette and countless Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. In 1800, slaves here whispered of rebellion: an attempt by the slaves in this region to destroy Richmond, capture the governor and destroy slavery in Virginia, later known as Gabriel’s Rebellion. The rambling wooden building had nearly fallen into ruins when it was bought in the middle of the 20th century for use as a professional theatre.

Six professional actors from New York, two children and a dog created the professional Barksdale Theatre here. The basement was converted into a performance space while the main floor was used for serving dinner to the patrons. Here the theatre produced some of the first professional productions in the state of Virginia by many of the 20th century’s greatest playwrights like Tennessee Williams, Thornton Wilder, Edward Albee and Lorraine Hansberry. Defiantly thumbing their nose at the state’s Jim Crow laws, the theatre offered one of the first integrated public spaces in the region.

Unable to keep up with repairs on the theatre’s ancient structure, the building was sold to the Hanover Tavern Foundation, an organization charged with a mission to preserve and utilize the structure for historic and educational purposes while maintaining space for the theatre company’s performances. In order to accommodate a full restoration of the Hanover Tavern, the Barksdale Theatre moved to a new facility and created a new performing season at the Hanover Tavern in 2006. In 2012, the still vigorous theatre company merged with Theatre IV, a nationally recognized local children’s theatre company, to create the Virginia Repertory Company.

It has been reported that motorists driving past the darkened tavern at night have reported seeing a face peering at them from a third floor window. Perhaps this is the same spirit whom actors and servers have encountered wearing all black and crying in the tap room on the main floor. One former artistic director heard running footsteps in the empty building one evening. He was working in his third floor office when he heard footsteps in the hallway outside. As they passed his office, he saw nothing but heard the footsteps running down the hall, down the stairs, through the dining room then down the stairs again and through the tap room. While perplexing, the director said there was something child-like and playful about the experience. Remarkably, another actor had the vision of a collie in the dining room one evening; a collie was a part of the founding group of actors who founded the theatre.

Hanover Tavern Foundation. “Hanover Tavern Foundation History.” Accessed 4 April
Hanover Tavern Foundation. “Tavern History.” Accessed 4 April 2013.
Harding, Jayne. “Ghostly Events.” The Free Lance-Star. 27 October 2007.
Persinger, Mark. “The Haunts of Hanover Tavern.” Virginia Rep Blog. 25 October 2012.
Virginia Rep. “History of the Barksdale Theatre.” Accessed 4 April 2013.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Spirits and spirits—Newsworthy Haunts

Triangle Brewing Company
918 Pearl Street
Durham, North Carolina

He died anonymously and his body was dumped in a trash bag, though with spirited libations and good cheer, he is now celebrated as the “patron saint” of a brewery.

The South has always had a tradition of spirit-making: from the bourbons of Kentucky and whiskies of Tennessee to the modern micro-breweries that dot the landscape to even the backwoods moonshine that was created when legal liquor production was outlawed. Of course, this activity has also spawned spirits, not only in the breweries themselves, but in historic structures now occupied by spirit makers.

When renovations were conducted in the old warehouse that now houses Durham’s Triangle Brewing Company, human remains were found in a trash bag partially buried in the floor of the basement. Time had taken a toll, leaving only bones and teeth which could not be identified by the Durham Police Department. Not even a date could be established for the remains.

Presumably, the remains were buried in a local cemetery, though they may be associated with the spirit that still rambles about the building. According to the spirit’s page on the brewing company’s website, he’s a good sort of spirit who occasionally whispers, moves things and knocks darts off the dart board. The owners of the brewery have decided to keep him on as the business’ patron saint and have dubbed him “Rufus.”

When he gets a bit rowdy, they pour a beer down the drain to sooth his antics.

Rufus. Triangle Brewing Company. Accessed 23 April 2014.
Shaffer, Josh. “Durham brewery celebrates 7 years of Rufus the sudsy specter.”
     The News-Observer. 16 March 2014.

Talon Winery Tasting Room
7086 Tates Creek Road
Lexington, Kentucky

Unlike the anonymous spirit spreading cheer around the Triangle Brewing Company, Talon Winery’s resident spirit has possibly been identified: none other than famed Lexington transvestite, Sweet Evening Breeze.

James Herndon—known best as “Sweet Evening Breeze” or “Miss Sweets”—is considered “the city’s most colorful character.” The transgender blog, TransGriot, states that Herndon “often wore makeup, occasionally performed or appeared on Main St. on Saturdays in drag, and was apparently quite effeminate. Long before there was RuPaul, Lexington’s Sweet Evening Breeze was titillating and gaining respect from the locals.” The biographical sketch ends by stating that Herndon “cut a path as an openly gay man, drag queen, and possibly a transgendered person.”

In an article from LEX18, Lexington’s NBC affiliate, Herndon is described—somewhat incorrectly—as “a man who liked to wear wedding dresses back in the 1950s.” The article quotes the owner of the winery, “if they go to the stairway that’s where they see the white wedding dress with the dark hair.”

According to what little history that can be found on the winery, the house was built in the 1790s, quite possibly by Isaac Shelby, the state’s first governor. Of course, some of the previous owners have remained in the house and staff reports that children have been seen peering from the windows of the house.

“Agritourism and wine: A natural pairing.” Agritourism Monthly.
     February 2014.
Jones, Jeff. “Sweet Evening Breeze.” TransGriot. 8 February 2007.
“Mystery Monday: Haunted Wine Tasting Room.” LEX18. 31 March