Sunday, April 16, 2017

“Ghosts in High Carnival”—Atlanta, 1904

According to two 1904 editions of Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta’s phantasmagoric scene was in “high carnival.” The first article that appeared towards the end of January tells of an African-American family who was evidently plagued with a poltergeist. Generally, poltergeist activity centers on an adolescent female who may project the fears and confusion she is experiencing onto the physical environment around her, though, in this account the activity revolves around a young boy. The details of the story certainly show that this child’s situation was not ideal and likely put this young boy under a huge amount of stress.

Atlanta at this time, in fact, much of the South as a whole, was not a pleasant place for a young, poor, African-American child. The racism that permeated all levels of life is quite obvious here, but there is a much crueler subtext in the play on words in the title. “Spook” is not only a synonym for ghost but also a pejorative term for African-Americans.

The rental house where this took place does not appear to exist, and the address points to an area that is now quite developed.

Atlanta Constitution
28 January 1904

SPOOKS PLAY QUEER PRANKS

Remarkable Ghost Story in Which Police Took a Hand.

A remarkable spook story developed yesterday in a negro house at 360 Chapel street, in the rear of Smith & Simpson’s lumber yard. This spook story differs from the ordinary tales of the kind in that police officers took a hand and two of them actually saw the ghost doing his supernatural stunts.

Fully a thousand people visited the scene during the day and stories are told which have some very extraordinary features.

In the house there lived an old negro man, his aged wife and a little boy. The family moved into the house only a few days ago. Two nights ago, the table began to dance, the old man was hurled from a trunk and chairs in the house cut up all sorts of antics.

The negro told his neighbors about it and a large number of people saw the table moving about the house yesterday morning. The excitement became so great that three or four policemen went to the place. Among them was Call Officer Luck, who states that he saw the table jump about the floor, and, finally, turn over, breaking a lot of dishes. Sergeant Beavers also witnessed the remarkable phenomenon. What caused the table to move no one can say.

The old negro states that he has moved eighteen times during the past 12 months in order to get rid of spooks. In every house he has lived the table and chairs have moved about of their own free will, so he claims, and every dish he buys is broken. Chairs have also taken a notion to dancer over the house.

Yesterday afternoon the old man moved again, and the rent which he had paid in advance, was returned to him.

Sergeant Beavers says he believed the work is done by the negro child, for he noticed that whenever the boy approached a piece of furniture it began to move. He thinks the boy is possessed with some subtle electric power, such as made the exhibitions of Lula Hurst so remarkable.

When police officers saw the table skip across the room and beheld it overturned and all the dishes on it broken, they made an investigation, and could find nothing which would explain the matter.

The negroes in the neighborhood are greatly excited over the affair, and they believe firmly that the old negro is followed by ghosts. Somebody offered $100 to any negro who would sleep in the house last night, and the offer was not taken up.

It’s also interesting to see the police investigating this odd case. Stories of similar poltergeist cases have also been investigated by law enforcement and sometimes even they come away having witnessed things they cannot explain. The next story from the Constitution also involves the police, but in this case, this one officer was scared out of his wits by odd sounds within Oakland Cemetery. The keeper’s lodge where this officer had been stationed during his cemetery vigil remains and is now occupied by the offices of the Historic Oakland Foundation and visitors center. This building was still fairly new in 1904, having only been constructed in 1899.

 
The Oakland Cemetery Bell Tower and Keeper's Lodge where
a police officer heard disembodied footsteps in 1904. Photo 2005,
by AUTiger, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Atlanta Constitution
25 May 1904

GHOSTS IN HIGH CARNIVAL AROUND OAKLAND CEMETERY

According to all reports there are ghosts in Oakland cemetery, and even the members of the police department are giving the place a wide berth after nightfall.

Curious noises in all parts of the cemetery during the night are said to have been heard as of late, and at the keeper’s lodge, near the center of the burial place, the sound of footsteps can be heard stairs at all hours of the night. When these are investigated, no trace of anything living or moving can be found. As soon as those interested return to the office below the noise starts again.

A policeman, detailed for duty at the cemetery a few nights ago, tells an interesting story of his experience with the thing supernatural.

“I was in the keeper’s lodge, just starting to eat a lunch that had been brought me,” said the officer, “when I heard footsteps upstairs. Thinking possibly my ears were deceiving me, I refrained from speaking to the lad who had brought my lunch, but an instant later he called my attention to the fact that there was someone walking around on the upper floor.

“I drew my revolver and walked up the stairs, the boy following me. We searched every nook and corner of the place, but failed to find anything living, not even a fly being visible. We returned to the lower floor and no sooner had I resumed the eating of my lunch than the footsteps were heard again, this time even more distinct than on the first occasion.

“Thinking possibly I could see from the outside, I rushed into the open air, and as I stopped, when a few feet away, and turned to look at the upper story of the keeper’s house, I heard a slab fall in one of the nearby vaults.

“Hurrying in the direction of the vault from which the sound came, thinking to surprise grave robbers at work, I was astounded to find the door to the vault securely locked, and not a trace of anything living in the neighborhood. This, despite the fact that I had heard, very distinctly, but an instant before, the falling of a marble slab in the vault.

“After a thorough search of the surrounding lots, I returned to the keeper’s house and the first thing that greeted my ears when I entered the door was the sound of footsteps upstairs again.

“For the second time I hurried to the upper floor and made a thorough search. Diligent, careful and complete as it was, I failed to find even a suspicion of a living object.

“I endured the unearthly noises until time for my relief next morning, but there can be no more Oakland cemetery jobs for me. The next time I am detailed to the graveyard I am certainly going to be sick. I can stand up and fight a live man and take the whipping, if he is the best man, but I absolutely refuse to have to treat with things that make all manner of noises and peculiar sounds but do not show anything to the eye.

Others in addition to this officer, have told of peculiar noises in Oakland at night, and quite a stir has been created among those living in the vicinity of the cemetery.

Oakland Cemetery is indeed believed to be haunted and I have written about some of the more recent experiences here.

Sources
“Ghosts in high carnival around Oakland Cemetery.” Atlanta
     Constitution. 25 May 1904.
“Spooks play queer pranks.” Atlanta Constitution. 28 January
     1904.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Unhappy-Go-Lucky Ghost--Georgia

Historic Baker County Courthouse
Courthouse Square
Newton, Georgia

Georgia’s Southwest corner seems to have been mostly forgotten. The sparsely populated counties (mostly) that comprise the Plantation Trace region are some of the poorest in the state. Once served by the railroads, this area now lacks connection to any interstate highway which has led to much of the isolation from which the region suffers. Even one of the few major urban areas that anchors the region, Albany, is about 45 miles from I-75. Newton, the county seat of Baker County, has a long, quiet history marked by the flooding of the Flint River. Courthouse Square, once the beating heart of this rural county, is now a collection of weedy lots surrounding the still grand turn of the century courthouse, thanks to the severe 1994 flood that submerged the whole area.

While many of the living residents have fled this dried-up region, they have left behind history and ghosts. Sometimes the most fascinating history and the occasional ghost story can be found in the merest of footnotes. Thus, is the case of the Historic Baker County Courthouse and its happy-go-lucky architect, J. W. Golucke. Here, in burgeoning Newton, Mr. Golucke’s luck ran out and he met his sad fate. Many sources now refer to Golucke’s magnificent courthouses that still adorn many of Georgia’s county seats, but few make much of his death. A brief webpage from the Union County, Georgia Historical Society mentions his death and the possibility that he is still in residence in Newton.

The son of a German cabinetmaker, James Wingfield Golucke was born in either Taliaferro or Wilkes counties in east central Georgia in 1857. He was self-taught and began working as an architect in 1891. He quickly rose to prominence with his ambitious designs that transformed the overused classical architectural vocabulary to create graceful structures that seemed to evoke the power of law and justice with stone, bricks, and mortar. In 1904 in Newnan, Golucke ambitiously designed the Coweta County Courthouse which “displays a colossal pride and verticality with which, portico, building mass, and clock dome virtually stand ‘at attention,’” and at the whopping cost of $56,998. Courthouse squares from Blairsville to Sylvester, and Crawfordville to Zebulon, were graced with Golucke designs. He also created a number of other public buildings including schools and hotels.
 
An advertisement from The Atlanta Constitution, 18 September 1904.
The one remaining photograph of Mr. Golucke gives the impression that the young architect was perhaps a dandy. He stares out of the black and white with a haughty expression belying his brashness. His long face is accented with artistically tousled hair and a stylish mustache. He could easily be one of the Bohemians inhabiting attics and studios in Paris at the time, but he was a self-made architect in Atlanta. It’s not hard to imagine that he was most probably a member of the local “smarter set.”

He was engaged to design the courthouse for Baker County in Newton, but then during the construction Golucke and R. F. Hemphill, president of the Atlanta Fireproofing Company, were arrested for forgery. The Atlanta Constitution explains: “The whole trouble grows out the fact that it is alleged these two men altered a bond for $50,000, bearing the date of May 3, 1906, and changed it to make it read May 1, 1906. This is claimed to have been done with the intention of defrauding not only the Aetna Indemnity company, who went the surety, but also the county of Baker.” The paper continues, “Both Golucke and Hemphill, it is further claimed, contracted to construct a court house for the county in Newton some two years ago, but it was not finished by the time named.”

I’m no legal expert, but it seems that the county was upset that the courthouse wasn’t completed on time and trumped up the forgery charges in order to hold someone accountable. The 1991 county history sympathically remarks that Golucke proclaimed his innocence and suggested that he had not followed the building of the courthouse very closely. The county history continues, “Some local residents of that era have indicated suspicion that Golucke may have been wrongfully blamed for the misappropriation of funds and that someone locally may have been involved and used the self-made designer as a scapegoat.”

Both Golucke and Hemphill were arrested September 20, 1907 and held in Newton under a $20,000 bond. The paper takes pains to note that Golucke was held in town under the bond, though not held in the jail. Perhaps he was getting celebrity treatment? The 1991 county history states that Golucke wrote that he “could not stand being confined in jail and the disgrace it had brought upon him and his family.”

A little more than two weeks later the paper reports that Golucke attempted suicide during his confinement in the county jail in Newton. The brash young architect used a piece of glass to cut his wrists and throat but was spied by an African-American prisoner who raised an alarm. Doctors suspected that he was under the influence of some type of drug as well as he “lingered in a comatose state last night and was believed to be in a desperate condition.” He had left a suicide note.

The paper was silent on the subject until a death announcement appeared a few days before Halloween. Evidently, Mr. Golucke had recovered from his injuries but his life was ended by an attack of gastritis. An obituary suggests that he died from a brain fever. Regardless, this brash, likely innocent wraith is still identified as the spirit that roams the courthouse that brought on his sad fate. The courthouse itself, still standing as a startling sentinel among the barren town square, no longer serves as a courthouse after the disastrous 1994 flooding of the Flint River. Instead, it has been resigned to serve, no less nobly I might add, as the local library.

Sources
“Atlanta Man Tries Suicide.” Atlanta Constitution. 8 October 1907.
Baker County Historical Society. The History of Baker County.
     Roswell, GA: WH Wolfe Associates, 1991.
Craig, Robert M. "J. W. Golucke (1857-1907)." The New Georgia
     Encyclopedia. 7 December 2016.
“Death takes J. W. Golucke.” Atlanta Constitution. 28 October 1907.
“Two Atlantans Are Indicted.” Atlanta Constitution. 22 September
     1907.
Union County Historical Society. “The Ghost of J. W. Golucke.”
     Accessed 26 March 2017.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

A Big Fish of a Ghost Tale--Albany, Georgia

From the banks of the Flint River in Albany, Georgia, this ghost tale made the rounds of newspapers throughout the country in 1888. According to Dale Cox at the Explore Southern History blog, this story first appeared on July 9th of that year. Cox mentions that the tale of the headless equine is a holdover from Medieval culture and the spirit in the story is usually that of a woman cursed by God for her great sins. Whatever the origin of this spirit, ghosts do remain along the Flint as it passes through Albany especially in Bridge House, the home to the city's welcome center,

Broad Avenue Bridge over the Flint River in Albany. Photo 2015, by Michael
Rivera, courtesy of Wikipedia.
The Wilson Mirror
Wilson, North Carolina
22 August 1888

A FISHING STORY.

How Dink Melvin was Haunted by a Headless Horse.

Everybody in Albany knows Dink Melvin, the fisherman and boatman, and doubtless every one who has ever been on a fishing expedition with him up the Muckalee or Kinchafoonee has heard the story he tells about a ghost that haunts the banks of the river in the vicinity of the Fair Grounds, says the Albany News and Advertiser.

The ghost that Dink describes most eloquently is in the shape of big white horse without a head. The horse is perfect in shape except he has no head, and Dink says that he has been seeing it for the five or six years. Its trysting place is along the river banks in the vicinity of the Fair Grounds, and Dink says that he can show it to any man that will go with him after nightfall. If he gets in his boat and rows across the river the big white horse follows him to a certain place, and then disappears. It has given him several bad frights, and one Sunday evening as he was returning from the creeks above, the thing came right up to his boat and seemed to be trying to put its fore feet in. Dink says that he has been scared a good many times, but this was the worse fright he had ever had in his life.

The reporter was one of a fishing party that camped on the Muckalee one night last week, and heard Dink tell this wonderful story.

“I’d just like to see some man that had the grit to shoot at the thing, but I wouldn’t care to close to him when he done it,” said Dink.

“Well, sir, you take me there and show it to me, and I’ll shoot at it,” said the scribe.

“No, sir; boys don’t you do it,” interrupted Harrison Pettis, the scribe’s faithful boatman, from the outer edge of the tent, “Kase I tell you why—I knowed a man what shot at a ghos’, an’ he died in erbout three weeks. No, sir; don’t you shoot dat thing, for I don’t want you to die.”


An engagement was made with Dink to visit the haunted spot, but at the appointed time Dink begged to be excused saying that he was sick and did not feel well enough to take the walk and face the ghost. He then promised to call for the scribe between sundown and dark on the following evening, but he failed to show up.

Sources
     ExploreSouthernHistory.com. Accessed 8 April 2017.
"A Fishing Story." The Wilson Mirror (Wilson, NC). 22 August 1888.