Thursday, September 15, 2016

"There surges forth a shriek...Maryland, my Maryland!"

A new post of my column, "A Grand Tour of Southern Ghosts," on Haunt Jaunts has been posted. Explore the paranormal thrills of Point Lookout, MD.

"There surges forth a shriek...Maryland, my Maryland!"

The haunted lighthouse at Point Lookout, MD.
Photo 2013 by Jeremy Smith, courtesy of Flickr.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Straddling the line--Virginia and Tennessee

East Hill Cemetery
East State Street
Bristol, Tennessee and Virginia

The city of Bristol straddles the border between Virginia and Tennessee with East State Street marking the state line west of East Hill Cemetery. The cemetery itself is divided into nearly equal portions as it passes through the cemetery itself. The primary entrance, however is located on the Tennessee side.

The death of a child is always traumatic, though it was especially harrowing when five-year-old Nellie Gaines passed away in 1857 as the family prepared to leave the area. Worried that the pitiful grave would be neglected and forgotten, the family sought a proper place for their daughter. One of Bristol’s founders, Samuel Goodson owned a hill east of town and suggested it be a proper burial place. Prodded by a branch snapped off by the driver a horse hauled wagon bearing the youngster’s body up the hill. After the service the branch was stuck into the earth to mark the grave. The branch grew into a tree that marked the grave until the early 1970s. Over the years the hill began to collect graves and eventually became an official cemetery.
East Hill Cemetery by Dan Grogan, 2013. Courtesy of Flickr.
This hill had been the scene of strange occurrences for many years prior to its use as a cemetery. During the latter days of the 18th century this area was a favored hunting ground for General Evan Shelby who lived nearby. As the old general developed dementia in his old age and took to wandering his old hunting grounds and sitting on stumps and logs on the hillside. After his death passersby still spotted the visage of the old general haunting the hillside.

Even stranger was the image of a burning tree that was spotted on rainy nights. Brave souls who ventured into the cemetery in search of the torch-like tree never found any sign of a burning tree. A local reverend built a home on a nearby hill with a good view of East Hill and he and his family regularly witnessed this phenomena that they dubbed the “burning tree ghost.”

Sometime after the cemetery was formally established here a man taking a shortcut through the cemetery late on a snowy night heard the sounds of children playing. Thinking the sounds odd, he stopped momentarily to listen and was shocked to see three white figures moving towards him. He fled. Over the years, many others have reported similar sounds on cold, snowy evenings.

Local historian Bud Phillips tells a more recent story involving a woman searching for the grave of her great-grandmother. After tramping through the cemetery and have no luck finding her great-grandmother’s marker the woman decided to give up. As she walked back to her car she saw the strange figure of a woman standing not far away wearing a pink gown and pointing to a shrub. The figure vanished and the intrepid visitor decided to take a closer look at the shrub the woman had been pointing at. Lo, and behold, the shrub was covering her great-grandmother’s marker. A short time later, the woman remembered that her great-grandmother had been buried wearing a pink gown.

Phillips, Bud. “East Hill Cemetery is the most haunted
     place in the city of Bristol.” Bristol Herald Courier. 30
     December 2013.
Phillips, V.N. (Bud). Pioneers in Paradise. Johnson City, TN:
     Overmountain Press, 2002.
Stothart, Gray. National Register of Historic Places nomination
     form for East Hill Cemetery. 30 May 2010.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Just whistling Dixie—Rural Hall, North Carolina

Payne and Edwards Roads
Rural Hall, North Carolina

The ritual is thus: drive out at night to the bridge where Edwards Road crosses over Payne Branch, stop your car in the middle of the bridge, and put it into neutral. Open the windows and begin to whistle “Dixie.” Supposedly the engine will die and you will be unable to restart the car until it is pushed from the bridge.

Author Michael Renegar tells of a friend of his who performed this ritual and was frightened by the results. This friend, a young man and two female companions ventured out to haunted Payne Road one night looking for a thrill. The trio performed the ritual on the bridge and lo, and behold, the car sputtered and died. The young man got out and pushed the car off the bridge and was able to crank the car, despite the feeling of being watched that emerged once he exited the vehicle. Reportedly, the vehicle never acted the same after that. Besides the scary moments the trio experienced on the bridge, the three also noted that when they drove past one of the old cemeteries an angel on the edge of the cemetery faced away from the road, but was facing them as they drove past the second time.

Burt Calloway and Jennifer FitzSimons record an earlier encounter on the bridge where a young man was hoping to impress his date by pitting his bravado against the spirited forces at this bridge. The young couple performed the ritual and the young man left his date sitting in the car as he strutted around the lonely bridge provoking the spirits to come out. A thunderstorm was rolling up and lightning revealed something to the young man. He stumbled, terrified back to the car and attempted to crank it. It refused to start and the young man just sat stunned in the driver’s seat. His date, not too pleased with his sudden fear, cranked the car and drove them away from the bridge. The young man only revealed to his date that he saw a ghost during the lightning’s flash.

The stories of Payne and Edwards Roads have circulated in this rural area of Forsyth and Stokes Counties for decades. The legendary history has entered the digital realm where it is discussed and argued among the more than 3500 members of the Legend of Payne Road group on Facebook. To add more fuel to the fiery legends that exist about this location, the viral website Only In Your State published an article last Friday repeating many of the disputed legends of these haunted roads.

First off, there is a great deal of confusion regarding the exact location of the hauntings. Edwards Road branches off from Broad Street in Rural Hall. Google Maps notes that the road is NC-1903 until after it intersects Forsto Road at which point it becomes NC-1961. Apparently, the haunted portion of the road is located south of Payne Branch where the road has a series of curves before crossing over Payne Branch. Edwards Road terminates at Payne Road just north of the bridge. Payne Road east of Edwards is NC-1961, while the western section is NC-1962. At some point, part of Payne Road may have been renamed Edwards Road, but that is only speculation, however the roads do appear to have been named for the families that once owned the land: the Paynes and the Edwards.

The Only In Your State article notes three legends associated with this road, though, like all legends, these legends change from storyteller to storyteller and article to article. The first legend involves the story of Payne Edwards, a cruel plantation owner whose daughter was impregnated by a slave. After killing the slave Edwards began to practice devil worship and eventually killed his entire family and burned the plantation killing all the remaining slaves.

A different version of the story casts Payne Edwards as the head of a large household here in the 1930s. After losing his mind he decided to murder his family and tied his wife to a chair in the living room. One by one he escorted his children and had them kiss their mother before he took them upstairs and slit their throats. The wife was able to escape and was beheaded by Edwards who then threw the couple’s infant child into a well.

While these stories are both grotesquely fascinating, they are utter balderdash. One of the best sites for a well-researched view of this story is the blog of the North Carolina Room of the Forsyth County Public Library. Last Halloween, one of the research librarians presented these two stories from Payne Road and checked their validity against the historic records. She found no record of Payne Edwards, though an early settler in the area, Robert Payne, owned land in the area. According to the Federal Census, Robert Payne was also a slave owner and had several children, though most apparently survived him.

The detail of a man murdering his entire family is also quite interesting. This detail is borrowed from an actual murder that occurred nearby in 1929. On Christmas Day, Charlie Lawson systematically killed his wife and six of his seven children (his oldest son was away from the family farm) and then shot himself a short time later. Lawson’s reasons for the murders went to the grave with him, though family and acquaintances have speculated that domestic issues including possible incest may have led to the tragedy. This gruesome mass murder elicited awe and curiosity from locals for many years and the family’s farmhouse was open as a tourist attraction for many years. Interestingly, these murders occurred roughly 5 miles from Payne and Edwards Roads on Brook Cove Road outside of Germanton. Though the family’s ramshackle farmhouse was demolished decades ago, there are still reports of paranormal activity in the area linked to the family’s murder.

While this tragedy did not occur in the Payne/Edwards Road area, there are a number of documented tragedies that have occurred here. In 1955, Milus Frank Edwards—who lived at the curve in Edwards Road just south of the bridge—committed suicide with a stick of dynamite. From the Gastonia Gazette, 7 October 1955:

Man Takes Life with Dynamite

Danbury—(AP)—A 73-year-old Stokes county man committed suicide yesterday with a dynamite explosion.

Sheriff Harvey Johnson said Milus Frank Edwards of Rt. 1, Rural Hall, apparently parked his pickup truck in a shed at his home, climbed into the truck bed and set off a stick of dynamite near his head.

A coroner’s jury ruled that death was self-inflicted.

Aubrey Edwards, son of the dead man, said his father had made several threats to end his life.

Sadly, this was among a handful of suicides to plague this family. According to the North Carolina Room blog, Mr. Edwards had four siblings also take their own lives. The blog poster further speculates that this is the beginning of the urban legends that surround these roads.

A more recent misdeed in the area can only be used to back up the tragic nature of this place. In December 1992 several men picked up a young woman in Winston-Salem. The young woman was driven to an old logging road off Payne Road. She was tied to a tree, raped, possibly tortured, and stabbed to death. More than a decade later one of the men involved was found guilty, though that conviction was later overturned based on DNA evidence.
This photograph appears in the 1990 book, Triad Hauntings, and
is identified as the "Payne Road House," though I cannot positively
identify it as the haunted farmhouse.
While many of the legends that have accumulated around this area appear to be mostly fantasy embellished with fact, the experiences of locals and investigators cannot be denied. Writer Edrick Thay includes an interesting post-script to this research in his 2005 book, Ghost Stories of North Carolina. In a chapter entitled “The Haunted Farmhouse,” Thay recounts an investigation of an abandoned farmhouse by Haunted North Carolina Paranormal Investigators and Research that the group first looked into in 2002. Thay attempts to disguise the location saying that the lead investigator “refuses to disclose the farm’s location, except to say that it may or may not be around Winston-Salem.” Later details of the history make it certain that this is the old Edwards farmhouse outside of which Frank Edwards died by his own hands. “With this abandoned farm, the sheer number of the deaths from suicide and foul play over the last 50 years is staggering.” The investigator continues noting “gruesome accounts of people exploding themselves with sticks of dynamite, of the Mafia-style executions of two individuals beneath the awnings of an outbuilding and of the torture and grisly murder of a prostitute.”

During the several investigations the group has conducted here they have encountered high levels of activity in and around the old farmstead. On the first investigation several investigators were touched by unseen hands. One had their backpack grabbed and a nearby video camera proved her experience while another was touched on the hand leaving a red welt. Voice recorders used throughout the investigation recorded a number of EVPs including one with “many plaintive voices calling ‘help us!’” Perhaps the most interesting moment occurred when four investigators simultaneously witnessed a shadowy apparition moving along the banks of the nearby creek.   

This investigation was conducted some years ago before the farmhouse and outbuildings were destroyed by vandals and an arsonist. Payne and Edwards Roads have both been paved and the mysterious haunted bridge has been replaced by a culvert. Despite these intrusions of modernity, teens and the curious still drive this road at night legend tripping. Hopefully they’re not just whistling Dixie.

Breedlove, Michael. “Local Haunts: Investigating the
     Monthly. 29 September 2014.
Calloway, Burt & Jennifer FitzSimons. Triad Hauntings.
     Winston-Salem, NC: Bandit Books, 1990.
Karen. “The Legend of Payne Road.” North Carolina Room—
     Forsyth County Public Library. 29 October 2015.
“Man takes life with dynamite.” Gastonia Gazette. 7 October
“Prosecutors confident they can convict Penland anew.”
     Asheville Citizen-Times. 1 August 2005.
Rakestraw, Emory. “Driving down this haunted North
     Your State. 26 August 2016.
Renegar, Michael. Roadside Revenants and Other North
     Carolina Ghosts and Legends. Fairview, NC: Bright Mountain
     Books, 2005.
Renegar, Michael. Tar Hell Terrors: More North Carolina Ghosts
    and Legends. Fairview, NC: Bright Mountain Books, 2011.
Thay, Edrick. Ghost Stories of North Carolina. Auburn, WA:
     Lone Pine Publishing, 2005.
Whitmire, Tim. “Lawyers: DNA tests show Penland wrongly
     convicted in ’92 killing.” Asheville Citizen-Times. 9 July 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Introducing 'A Grand Tour of Southern Ghosts'

Courtney Mroch, Director of Paranormal Tourism at the blog, Haunt Jaunts, recently issued a call for writers. I have always dreamed of writing a column about Southern ghosts, so I applied and Courtney has been very enthusiastic about me writing for her site. My column, 'A Grand Tour of Southern Ghosts,' will now appear on Thursdays every two weeks.  The column will explore places that I consider paranormal landmarks throughout the South. My introduction column looks at why Southern ghosts are special and includes the hauntings at Brice House in Annapolis, MD; Rowan Oak in Oxford, MS; and the Shelton Laurel Massacre Site near Alleghany, NC. 

Rowan Oak, the home of William Faulkner,
Oxford, MS by Gary Bridgeman, 2010.
Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Please check out my first column here!

Also, for those who missed my radio interview on WCJV's Paranormal Experienced with Kat Hobson last Wednesday, you can hear the interview here

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Radio Interview 8/24 on WCJV

I'll be appearing on "Paranormal Experience with Kat Hobson" on WCJV out of Youngstown, NY tomorrow evening at 8PM ET. The station can be accessed online at Kat Hobson is a paranormal researcher and investigator out of Birmingham, AL and I am looking forward to a stimulating conversation. Please join us!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

No milkshakes after midnight—Bolivar, Tennessee

Old Hardeman County Jail
305 East Market Street
Bolivar, Tennessee

On a recent investigation of the old Hardeman County Jail in the small, but well-haunted town of Bolivar (pronounced BAH-lih-vur to rhyme with Oliver), paranormal investigators had a long conversation with a spirit that requested a chocolate milkshake. One wonders if milkshakes are unavailable in the afterlife. Certainly they’re unavailable in Bolivar after midnight.

Looking at the building from the all-seeing eye of Google Streetview, the old jail is a fairly unremarkable mid-century modern building as one heads out from downtown. According to a recent article from Mississippi News Now, this structure possesses several dark secrets. For one, the building is constructed atop a cemetery. Construction crews in the late 1950s did not relocate the graves on the site, choosing instead to simply build over them.

Of course, during the time that it served as a jail a great deal of sadness filled the building. Much of that sad energy continues to linger. A black figure has been reported walking through the booking area, the spirit of an inmate who took his life remains in his former cell, and the sounds of a woman’s sobbing emanates from the cells that once held females. The spirit of a former sheriff who also died in the building is sometimes felt. On this recent investigation he may the source of an EVP captured at the door to the former sheriff’s office.

EPIC Haunted Tours is now conducting investigations in the old jail and in other historic buildings throughout Bolivar including The Pillars and the Little Courthouse Museum—located just a few doors down from the old jail. If you visit Bolivar, you might consider dropping off a chocolate milkshake at the old jail.

Clinard, Cameron & Amelia Carlson. “EPIC Haunted Tours
     25 July 2016.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Those Old Campus Spirits—University of North Alabama

On a cold day in January of 1830, a small Methodist school was carved out of the North Alabama wilderness and named LaGrange College. The college was built in the community of LaGrange near what is now Leighton in Colbert County, south of Lauderdale County where it is now located. With 70 male students and 3 professors, the college was fairly successful. Twenty-five years after opening, the Methodist conference decided to move the school to Florence and renamed the school Florence Wesleyan University. A large, Gothic structure, named Wesleyan Hall, was constructed for the school and it was here that Union General Sherman stayed as he and his forces passed through the city during the Civil War.
Harrison Plaza and Bibb Graves Hall, the school's administration
building. Bibb Graves Hall is said to be haunted. Photo 2007 by
Burkeanwhig, courtesy of Wikipedia.
The school struggled during and following the war and in 1870 the Methodist conference offered the school to the state of Alabama. After the state’s acquisition, the college became a teachers’ college and has operated successfully under a series of different names until it took on the name University of North Alabama in 1974. Operating on a campus designed by the sons of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead and within a mix of historic and modern structures, the university has over 7,000 students, over 350 faculty members, and a number of spirits.

We shall begin this tour of the haunted campus just off campus at one of the more well-known haunted places in Florence, the Off Campus Bookstore (472 North Court Street) Sitting on the corner at the intersection of North Court Street and East Irvine Avenue, this could very well be named the most haunted intersection in Florence. Just next door to the bookstore is the Edward Asbury O’Neal House, the haunted home to two state governors. Across North Court is historic and haunted Coby Hall, then across East Irvine is the modern and haunted hulk of Norton Auditorium with antebellum Rogers Hall (also known as Courtview) next door. While Rogers Hall is purported to be haunted, there is little documentation.

In the presence of these grand buildings, the Off Campus Bookstore, located in an early 20th century bungalow, may seem out of place, but its story is perhaps the saddest and most terrifying. The story began with the young daughter of the family living here being bitten by her dog. The dog was foaming at the mouth, and when the little girl extended her hand, it bit her, infecting her with rabies. With no treatment options at that time, the child died painfully in one of the upstairs bedrooms.

Since the girl’s death, she has continually been seen both in and around the house, sometimes in the presence of her beloved pet. Debra Johnston recounts an evening once, during the time that this house served as the Kappa Sigma fraternity house, when some brothers in conversation were interrupted by the apparition of a small girl asking, “Have you seen my dog?” In the 1980s, while the house was being renovated for use as a bookstore, a gentleman in the house witnessed a floating pink mist accompanied by the sound of a child walking barefoot.

Store employees still see the little girl around the store and note that candy often turns up missing when the store is opened in the mornings. Passersby still see the little girl looking from the windows of the bookstore at night and sometimes report hearing a child inquiring about her dog.

Directly across the street from the bookstore stands graceful Coby Hall which served as a private residence until the early 1990s when a school benefactor bought the house and donated it to the university in memory of his wife. Originally named Courtland Mansion, the home was constructed in the 1830s, and it has had an interesting history. During the Civil War, the house was occupied by troops of both sides including Confederate General John Bell Hood. The home is now an events space for the university.
Coby Hall, 2006 by Burkeanwhig, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Many staff members and students working in the house have experienced paranormal activity. The apparition of a woman wearing a navy skirt and white blouse has been seen on the first floor of the house, though her identity hasn’t been established. Jessica Penot reports that the spirit of Margaret Patton Simpson, wife of John Simpson who built the home, is still in residence here and dislikes disorder and chaos within her former home.

Across East Irvine from Coby Hall sits modern Norton Auditorium. During construction of this auditorium in the 1960s, tradition holds that a worker was killed in a fall and subsequently remains in the building in spirit. Interestingly, this common feature in ghostlore can also be related to two other Southern college theatres: Price Theatre, LaGrange College, LaGrange, Georgia and Van Meter Hall, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Kentucky.

While the exact identity of the spirit remains unknown, the spirit has been named “George” by those working in the auditorium. George has become notorious for causing odd sounds throughout the building and messing with the lights. Two young men spending the night in the building actually witnessed all the lights in the building turning on at once, though the main electrical breaker was switched off. Members of the staff of the campus newspaper, The Flor-Ala, were able to communicate with George via a Ouija board in 2011 (not something I can recommend for amateurs).

Behind the auditorium Oakview Circle branches off of North Pine Street. Along this street of gracious old Southern homes is the Phi Gamma Delta House (523 Oakview Circle) where the brothers of the Phi Upsilon Chapter reside along with a female ghost named Ella. According to legend, Ella fell down the stairs here and died. Her screams are sometimes heard here and the spirit acts out when brothers bring their girlfriends into the house.
Phi Gamma Delta House, 2007 by Burkeanwhig, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Continuing down North Pine Street, the long, International Style LaGrange Hall stretches off to the right just after the bridge. This 1960s era residence hall has been the scene of some paranormal activity. A recent article from The Flor-Ala recounts the experiences of a student in this residence hall during the 2014-2015 school year. She reported a feeling of being watched in the bathroom and seeing stall doors open on their own.

Towards the east side of campus along North Wood Avenue is the oldest building on campus, Wesleyan Hall, where the pathetic form of a young boy still wet from his fatal swim has been observed. At times, the young boy’s wet footprints have been seen on the floor, but questions still linger as to the youngster and how he downed. Tradition holds that the boy is Jeremiah, a young Union drummer boy, and the son of one of General Sherman’s officers. Sherman is traditionally thought to have occupied the building during the Civil War.

In some versions of the legend, young Jeremiah was kidnapped by locals and used as a pawn to prevent Sherman from burning the town. After Sherman threatened to do that very thing if the boy was not returned, the boy was returned unharmed. In other stories, the boy simply went for a swim in a nearby creek and drowned.
Wesleyan Hall, 2007 by Burkeanwhig, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Wesleyan Hall is considered a magnificent example of Gothic Revival architecture and was constructed in 1855. During the Civil War, troops of both sides occupied the building. An investigation conducted by the staff of the Flor-Ala, the campus newspaper, in a number of haunted buildings on campus in 2011 turned up doors opening and closing by themselves here, and a computer turning itself on and off.

A product of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, Willingham Hall was constructed as a men’s dormitory in 1939. It has seen a variety of uses in the years since and currently houses offices for history, English and political science faculty. It was an English instructor who had a fearful experience here late one night a few years ago. He had returned to his office to retrieve a book when he heard a loud pounding that seemed to come from the basement. Looking in the basement, the instructor saw nothing and returned to his office. The pounding started up again accompanied by male voices. At that point the instructor calmly fled the building.
Willingham Hall, 2007 by Burkeanwhig, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Willingham Hall sits on what was the site of the Locust Dell Academy which was operated by Nicholas Hentz. Local historian and ghost author Debra Glass noted that Hentz was known to play music very loudly into the night. Perhaps he is still responsible for the spectral racket that is heard here.

Towards the center of campus sits the massive Guillot University Center. Built in 1986, this structure replaced O’Neal Hall which had originally stood on this site since 1913. The resident spirit of O’Neal Hall was Priscilla, who legend holds committed suicide by hanging herself in an elevator shaft. The reasons behind her pain have been lost to history, though her form was seen a number of times within the old building. In 1984 a student locking up the building after a fraternity meeting was drawn by the sounds of a woman sobbing. Venturing upstairs, the young man encountered the diaphanous form of a young woman weeping. He fled.
Guillot University Center, 2007 by Burkeanwhig, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Author and local ghost expert Debra Johnston has recounted that while giving tours in front of the Guillot Center after hours the elevator doors were seen to open and close despite no one being inside the building. The front door of the building then opened by itself, though the building was locked for the night. She ventured that perhaps Priscilla had come out to hear her own ghost story.

Delinski, Bernie. “UNA possesses lion’s share of ghost stories.”
     Times-Daily. 31 October 2015.
“Haunting at UNA.” The Flor-Ala. 27 October 2011.
Honeycutt, Lauren. “Ghost encounters on campus.” The Flor-Ala. 22
     July 2016.
Johnston, Debra. Skeletons in the Closet: True Ghost Stories
     of the Shoals Area. Debra Johnston, 2002.
Johnston, Debra. Skeletons in the Closet: More True Ghost
     Stories of the Shoals Area. Debra Johnston, 2003.
Lindley, Alex. “University of North Alabama (UNA).” Encyclopedia of
     Alabama. Accessed 22 July 2016.
Penot, Jessica. Haunted North Alabama. Charleston, SC:
     History Press, 2010.
Tew, Kaitlyn. “UNA alumna, faculty recount campus ghost stories.”
     The Flor-Ala. 31 Oct 2013.
University of North Alabama. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 22 July 2016.
Willingham Hall. UNA. Acc. 30 Jun 2015.