Friday, October 7, 2016

The Haunted Collection in the Marble City—Alabama

Comer Museum & Arts Center
711 North Broadway Avenue
Sylacauga, Alabama

The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets. 
--William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act I, Scene 1

The Comer Museum, 2016, by Lewis O. Powell IV. All
rights reserved.

Standing in the dark, listening to the multitude of odd, disconnected syllables pouring forth from the voice box at the Comer Museum last Saturday evening, this quote popped into my head. While most of the noise from the voice box was unintelligible “squeaking and gibbering” the occasional word would pop out almost miraculously. Occasionally these odd words would begin to make sense. A question may be asked only to receive an intelligent answer. Someone asked a question of Harriet, the Comer Museum’s own haunted doll inquiring how old she was only for the assembled group to be treated to a cheeky reply: “nine” said a little girl’s voice a moment later.

It’s very appropriate that the Comer Museum--which could be called Sylacauga’s attic—is within a marble clad building. Sylacauga sits atop a huge vein of marble, often considered comparable to Italian marble, and the city is often referred to as “The Marble City.” Originally constructed as the city’s first public library building by the WPA in 1939, the museum’s exquisite marble façade beckoned members of the community for decades before the library moved to a new building in 1979. The old library building was rededicated in 1982 as a local history and art museum. The rooms that were once filled with books are now filled with the detritus of local history. Old signs, photographs, works of art, Native American artifacts, antique clothing, glorious marble sculptures and one creepy-ass (pardon my French) haunted doll, fill the museum from top to bottom.

When I arrived for I was greeted warmly by the members of Spirit Communications and Research of Alabama (S.C.A.Re) who were leading this public investigation. Kat Hobson, who recently interviewed me as a guest on her radio show whisked me off for a tour of the building. The museum is not large, though it seems that every room is packed with historic bits and pieces. Along the way Kat pointed out various things that oddly gave off high EMF readings including an Edwardian gown and a typewriter. On the first floor I was introduced to Harriet, the haunted doll. The doll gave off a weird energy that gave the air around it a tingly sensation. My first reaction was to say, “I don’t like it.” Kat responded, “I don’t really like it either.”
Harriet, the museum's haunted doll sits forlornly amidst flashlights and
other investigative devices. Photo 2016, by Lewis O. Powell IV. All rights
We headed down to the basement where we peeked into a recreation of a pioneer log cabin. Again, the air seemed to tingle with the same odd energy that Harriet had given off. It was uncomfortable, but rather intriguing. I noted that I’m not sensitive, so the energy must be strong if I’m feeling it. Kat is a bit sensitive and pointed out that the group had had some activity in the cabin, particularly some shadow play around the cradle in the center of the room. Much of the rest of the basement is used for art classes and the spirits continue their antics including a little boy who is known to kick people in the shins.
Recreated pioneer cabin in the museum's basement. Photo 2016,
Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.
Upstairs, the investigation began with the group observing three haunted dolls from the haunted collection of Kevin Cain. With these three far less creepy dolls set up on a glass case, Cain provided the tragic histories behind each doll. With a temperature gauge sitting in front of her, the doll named Tammy may have affected the temperature as Cain related her sad tale. Throughout his story the gauge whined almost with sympathy for Tammy’s calamitous plight.
Kevin Cain's haunted dolls. Note the temperature gauge in front of
Tammy on the left. Robin sits in the middle with Maci on the right.
Photo 2016 by Lewis O. Powell IV, all rights reserved.
The team and guests for the investigation then headed to basement for a voice box session. Here we were treated to our first taste of the dead’s squeaking and gibbering. During the session proper names popped through and a few questions were answered directly. Some of the guests had some uneasy sensations there.

Perhaps the most interesting moment of the evening came as the group communed with Harriet. One of the guests holding a thermal imaging camera spotted at odd ball of light in the upstairs balcony. The light was not visible to the naked eye but was present on the thermal camera. Two investigators headed upstairs and looked for a source. After a good deal of waving from the investigators, the light remained on the camera, though no source or reason could be found. The pair of investigators remained upstairs where they began to get the sensation of being touched. Even the admitted skeptic of the group, Shane Busby felt the caress of a hand on his cheek and shoulder. Tristen Cox, the other investigator felt a hand on her upper arm. After she reported being touched Busby pointed his thermal imaging camera at her to reveal a handprint on her arm.

According to Kat Hobson, the haunting of the Comer Museum seems more connected with the various personal artifacts owned by the museum and less with the building itself. I would suggest that the makeup of the building itself and the tremendous marble deposits below may provide a platform for the psychic energy here. Marble is a type of limestone, which some paranormal investigators and researchers consider to be an excellent conductor for psychic energy. Consulting Timothy Yohe’s 2015 work, Limestone and its Paranormal Properties, the author asserts that buildings constructed of limestone can cause powerful EMFs to be emitted which may lend energy to spirits and other entities. The Comer Museum’s large marble façade, the use of marble throughout the building, marble sculptures and architectural elements in the collection may perhaps spur the activity that has been experienced here for years.
The S.C.A.Re of Alabama team with the Southern Spirit Guide.
Back left: Lewis O. Powell IV, Shane Busby, Tristen Cox, Kevin Cain.
Front left: Harriet the Haunted Doll, Kat Hobson, Kim Johnston.
After the investigation S.C.A.Re’s founder and author Kim Johnston graciously autographed my copies of her books, even inscribing “To Lewis—My favorite blogger” in my copy of Haunted Shelby County, Alabama. She then requested that the investigators take a group photo with me. It seems like many of us were touched physically and emotionally by the people of Sylacauga, both living and dead, I know I was also touched by the Comer Museum and S.C.A.Re’s graciousness and generosity. Thank you, guys!

Ford, Gene A., Linda Ford, and Christy Anderson. National
     Register of Historic Places Nomination form for B.B. Comer
     Memorial Library. August 2001.
S.C.A.R.E. of AL. Comer Museum Investigation. 1 October 2016.
Yohe, Timothy. Limestone and its Paranormal Properties: A
     Comprehensive Approach to the Possibilities. Timothy Yohe,

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Road of Legend —US-1 in Maryland

Stretching from Key West, the southernmost point in the country to the Canadian border at the St. John River in Fort Kent, Maine, US-1 connects the East Coast. In the South it links together important cities from Miami to Jacksonville, Florida; Augusta, Georgia; Columbia, South Carolina; Raleigh, North Carolina; Richmond and Arlington, Virginia; Washington, D. C.; to Baltimore, Maryland before entering into Yankee territory. It also links historic and haunted cities like St. Augustine, Florida; Aiken and Camden, South Carolina; Petersburg, Fredericksburg, and Alexandria, Virginia before it solemnly passes The Pentagon, with Arlington National Cemetery beyond it, before crossing the Potomac into Washington.
US-1 in Maryland, 2004 by Doug Kerr. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
US-1 could be considered among the most haunted roads in the country. Not only does it directly pass a number of haunted places, but many more can be found within a short drive of this legendary road. This tour samples just a few of the legendary spots found alongside or near this legendary road.

Pig Woman Legend
Cecil County

As US-1 dips south out of Pennsylvania into the countryside of Maryland it enters Cecil County, the domain of the Pig Woman. According to local folklorist, Ed Okonowicz, the Pig Woman stalks the northern counties of the state as well as the marshes of the Eastern Shore, though the primary setting is usually in Cecil County. Okonowicz’s version of the tale begins near the town of North East where a farmhouse caught fire in the 19th century. The lady of the house was horribly burned in the fire and witnesses watched her flee into the nearby woods. She usually confronts drivers near a certain old bridge and causes cars to stall. The drivers see the specter of the Pig Woman who scratches and beats on the car. Terrified drivers who flee their vehicles are never seen again, though those who stay in their cars are left with horrible memories and odd scratches and dents on their vehicles.

This tale has been told around Cecil County for decades with hotspots for Pig Woman encounters being reported around North East, Elkton, and, in the 1960s, near Rising Sun, through which US-1 passes. Matt Lake, author of Weird Maryland associates this tale with tales from Europe that tell of a woman with a pig-like face, particularly stories that ran rampant in early 19th century London. Despite deep European roots, the Pig Woman Legend remains fairly unique among Southern ghostlore.

Lake, Matt. Weird Maryland. NYC: Sterling Publishing,
Okonowicz, Ed. The Big Book of Maryland Ghost Stories.
     Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2010.
Wormuth, Laura. “Decoding the Pig Lady of Elkton legend.”
     Chesapeake360. 31 October 2013.

Susquehanna River
At the Conowingo Dam
Between Cecil and Harford Counties

The Conowingo Dam, built between 1926 and 1928, carries US-1 over the Susquehanna River. Only five miles from the Pennsylvania border, this area was rife with activity when the Underground Railroad was in operation before the Civil War. Slaves seeking freedom in Pennsylvania would ply the river at night looking for red lanterns on the riverbanks that marked the safe houses. Slave catchers also used red lanterns to capture contraband slaves only a scant few miles from freedom in order to return them to their owners. Flimsy rafts were often employed here that led to the drowning deaths of some.

1930s era postcard of the Conowingo Dam. Courtesy of
Along the river the red lights still bob and dance on the riverbanks even today while the moans of slaves and even spectral bodies in the water are encountered by hikers, campers, and fishermen in the area.

Okonowicz, Ed. Haunted Maryland. Mechanicsburg, PA:
     Stackpole, 2007.
Ricksecker, Mike. Ghosts of Maryland. Atglen, PA: Schiffer,

Peddler’s Run
Flowing parallel to Glen Cove Road and MD-440
Near Dublin

On the western side of the river, one of the tributaries offering up its waters to the Susquehanna is named for a ghost, it’s called Peddler’s Run. As the legend states, in 1763 a poor peddler on the Dublin-Stafford Road (now MD-440) was found decapitated near John Bryarley’s Mill on Rocky Run. Locals buried the body near the creek where it was discovered. Not long after the peddler’s burial, his specter was seen walking along the creek without his head. In 1843 a skull was found by another local farmer. Presuming it to be that of the now legendary peddler, the skull was buried with the traveler’s remains. The peddler’s spirit was not seen again, though his name still graces the creek.

Dublin, Maryland. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.  Accessed 17
      September 2016.
Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory. NYC:
     Penguin Press, 1995.
Varhola, Michael J. and Michael H. Varhola. Ghosthunting Maryland.
     Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2009.

Tudor Hall
17 Tudor Lane
Bel Air

As it hurries towards Baltimore, US-1 passes through the county seat of Harford County, Bel Air. Northeast of downtown is Tudor Hall, the former home of the famous and infamous Booth family. Junius Brutus Booth, one of the greatest American Shakespearian actors of the first half of the 19th century, built this Gothic-style home for his family. In this fine home, Booth’s family were immersed in the family occupation of acting. The halls rang with snippets of Sheridan and Etheredge while family members are supposed to have performed the balcony scene from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet using the balcony on the side of the house. Some of the elder Booth’s children would achieve their own celebrity including his sons Edwin, Junius Brutus Jr., and his daughter, Asia. Booth’s son, John Wilkes, who inherited his father’s fiery personality, would achieve notoriety after he assassinated President Lincoln after the end of the Civil War heaping infamy of Shakespearean proportions on the family name.

As word of Lincoln’s assassination spread, troops began to seek out members of the Booth family. Troops searched Tudor Hall which was still owned by the Booths but being rented to another family. The house passed out of family hands a few years later and has been owned by a host of individuals. Now owned by Harford County, the house is home to the Center for the Arts and is open a few times a month for tours.

Tudor Hall, 1865. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
The Booth’s legacy has extended from the theatrical realm into the spiritual. The spirits of several Booth family members have been reported throughout the South including John Wilkes Booth’s spirit which may still stalk Ford’s Theatre in Washington and Dr. Mudd’s farm in Waldorf, Maryland, where he was treated for a broken leg after his dastardly deed at the theatre. Legend holds (wrongly so) that Edwin’s dramatic spirit still appears on the stage of Columbus, Georgia’s Springer Opera House where he appeared in the early 1870s as well as in the halls of the Players’ Club in New York City where he died. Junius Brutus Booth’s fiery spirit may still roam the halls of Charleston, South Carolina’s Dock Street Theatre, formerly the Planter Hotel, where he stayed in the 1850s. Appropriately the building was transformed into a theatre in the 1930s.

Of course, the family’s seat in Bel Air may also be haunted by members of the spirited family. One couple who owned the house told the Washington Post in 1980 that they once were greeted by small brown and white pony. The curious creature looked into the couple’s car and then peeked into the house through a rear window. Moments later the creature vanished. The couple believed the animal was the spirit of Junius Booth’s favorite pony, Peacock. The same couple had a dinner party interrupted by spectral antics when a guest asked for seconds. The hosts and their guests were astonished as the top of a cake lifted up and landed at the place of that guest. People who have lived and worked in the house continue to tell stories of unexplained footsteps, voices, and things moving on their own accord with this storied house.

Allen, Bob. “In Maryland, a couple preserves the estate of
     the ill-starred Booth family.” The Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA).
     21 December 1986.
Meyer, Eugene L. “House Booth built is slightly spooky.”
     Washington Post. 10 January 1980.

Perry Hall Mansion
3930 Perry Hall Road
Perry Hall

It is arguable that the namesake of this Baltimore suburb is actually haunted. This grand colonial mansion sat derelict for many years and acquired a reputation of being haunted. The legend that has persisted about this house states that builder of this home and his wife both died on Halloween night in the late 18th century and that in the time since, some 50 other people have died here under mysterious circumstances some of whom still haunt the house. Though, according to the mansion’s website, none of this is true.

Baltimore businessman Harry Dorsey Gough acquired this vast estate in the 1770s and constructed this mansion which he named for his family’s ancestral home in Britain. Gough lived the life of a colonial playboy for a while after Perry Hall was constructed but after a visit to a Methodist meeting in Baltimore, he converted to the new Christian denomination. After distinguishing himself as a planter, businessman and politician, Gough passed away here in May of 1808 (not Halloween as the legend states). The estate remained in the family until 1852 when it began its long journey in the hands of others. Baltimore County acquired the derelict house recently and will be used as a museum and events facility.

In a 2011 article for the Perry Hall Patch Jeffrey Smith, then president of the Friends of Perry Hall Mansion debunked some of the legends around Perry Hall. Using the version of the legend in Matt Lake’s 2006 book, Weird Maryland, Smith breaks down the points of the legend. While there have likely been deaths in the house, the 50 deaths under mysterious circumstances that the legend purports are absurd. Smith notes that the house is hooked up to electricity and lights seen inside may have simply been left on by a previous visitor. Where the legend states that visitors have been unable to capture video of the house is also preposterous. While this house has reasons to be haunted on account of its history, there are no stories to support that assertion.

Coffin, Nelson. “Perry Hall Mansion shuttered while updates
     considered.” Baltimore Sun. 1 March 2016.
History of the Perry Hall Mansion.” Historic Perry Hall Mansion.
     Accessed 23 September 2016.
Lake, Matt. Weird Maryland. NYC: Sterling Publishing, 2004.
Smith, Jeffery. “Perry Hall’s most renowned and mistaken
     ghost story.” Patch. 31 October 2011.

Green Mount Cemetery
1501 Greenmount Avenue

As US-1 bypasses downtown Baltimore it forms a northern border for this venerated cemetery. After visiting Boston’s Mount Auburn Cemetery, the first “garden cemetery” in the country, Samuel Walker, a Baltimore merchant, began to draw up plans for a similar cemetery to occupy a former estate called Green Mount. Hiring Benjamin Latrobe, architect for the U.S. Capitol Building, to design this park-like cemetery which opened in 1838. In the decades since, the cemetery has become the resting place for famed statesmen, artists, writers, and military figures, as well as the infamous including John Wilkes Booth who is buried with his family.

Gates of Green Mount Cemetery, 2010, by Pubdog. Courtesy
of Wikipedia.
While numerous articles state that Green Mount is haunted, none of them connect specific stories with this august resting place. However, the cemetery has one very interesting connection to the paranormal, the grave of Elijah Bond, the creator of the Ouija Board. It was not until recently that Bond’s grave was marked, appropriately with a stone engraved with his Ouija board design.

“Baltimore headstones, horrors for a hair-raising, haunted Halloween.”
     The Towerlight (Towson University). 27 October 2013.
History.” Green Mount Cemetery. Accessed 23 September 2016.
Oordt, Darcy. Haunted Maryland: Dreadful Dwellings, Spine-
     Chilling Sites, and Terrifying Tales. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot
     Press, 2016.

Hilton Mansion
Campus of the Community College of Baltimore County

Hilton 2009, by Pubdog. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
As US-1 leaves Baltimore it swings by the suburb of Catonsville. According to a 2004 lecture given on the haunts of Catonsville, community college faculty held contests to select a member to attempt to spend the night in this haunted mansion. Some encountered the sword-wielding Confederate soldier who is supposed to guard the home’s main staircase. Author Tom Ogden notes that the apparition of a woman wearing a nightgown and holding a candle has also been encountered here. The house dates to the early 19th century, though the interior was completely replaced in the early 20th century. The home now serves as the college’s Center for Global Education. (Ogden 2014; Hagden-Savala 3/4/04)

Hagner-Salava, Melodie. “’Spirited’ talk evokes ghosts of
     Catonsville’s past.” Catonsville Times.  4 March 2004.
Ogden, Tom. Haunted Colleges and Universities: Creepy Campuses
     Scary Scholars and Deadly Dorms. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot
     Press, 2014.

Historic Savage Mill
8600 Foundry Street

Located between Baltimore and Laurel, Savage, Maryland is a quiet, unincorporated community on the banks of the Little Patuxent River. Downtown Savage lies between busy I-95 and slightly less busy US-1. The community was created as a mill town providing employees for the Savage Manufacturing Company’s textile mill which was constructed in the 1820s. The mill was in operation for more than a hundred years before it closed just after World War II. The old mill complex was used for the manufacture of Christmas ornaments for a few years before it was purchased for use as a warehouse. In 1985, the mill was reopened as a venue for boutiques, restaurants, and antiques dealers.

Aerial view of Savage Mill and the Little Patuxent River, 1970,
by William E. Barrett for the Historic American Buildings Survey.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs
The mill has since become one of the driving forces for tourism to the area drawing more than a million people in 2010, but not all those people are attracted by shopping and attractions at the mill, some are brought because of the ghosts. The owners of the mill started ghost tours in the mid-2000s to capitalize on the ghost stories surrounding the mill complex.

Throughout the mill complex, spirits of former millworkers still linger. Merchants and patrons of the mill have heard their names called, been tripped by the puckish little girl’s spirit on the steps of the New Weave Building, seen faces at the windows, or perhaps encountered the spirit of Rebecca King who fell down the steps in the mill’s tower.

Alexander, Sandy. “Using the supernatural to sell Howard County.”
     Baltimore Sun. 4 October 2004.
“Ghostly history.” Washington Times. 23 October 2004.
Hoo, Winyan Soo. “At Maryland’s Savage Mill, history and commerce
     converge.” Washington Post. 28 April 2016.

St. John’s Episcopal Church
11040 Baltimore Avenue

Like a moralizing parent looking over wild children, St. John’s Episcopal Church presides over the sprawl of US-1 (known as Baltimore Avenue here) as it passes through Beltsville. During the Civil War this commanding site featured a Federal artillery battery. The wife of a rector here in the 1970s recorded a number of experiences with spirits both in the church and in the churchyard. One evening while the wife and her children picked flowers in the churchyard they were startled to hear the sounds of a service coming from the church. After intently listening, the family entered the sanctuary to find it darkened and empty.

Carter, Dennis. “Hunting for haunts.” The Gazette.
     25 October 2007.

Tawes Fine Arts Building
Campus of the University of Maryland
College Park

Moving south out of Beltsville, US-1 passes through College Park and the University of Maryland Campus. Though no longer home to the Department of Theatre, the Tawes Fine Arts Building retains its theatre and recital hall. The current home to the university’s English department, the building may still also retain its resident spook. Not long after the building’s opening in 1965, students began noticing the sound of footsteps in the empty theatre and would occasionally have mischievous jokes played on them, seemingly from beyond.

With quite a population of resident ghosts on campus, the university archivists have started documenting the stories. According to one of the archivists quoted in Michael J. and Michael H. Varhola’s Ghosthunting Maryland, Mortimer, Tawes’ ghost, may actually be a dog rather than a human spirit. According to campus lore, Mortimer was brought into the theatre during its construction and would frolic on the stage. The theatre’s seats had yet to be completely installed and the house was filled with metal frames the seats would be attached to. The frolicsome canine jumped from the stage into the house and impaled himself on one of the frames. Supposedly, he was buried in the building’s basement.

Okonowicz, Ed. The Big Book of Maryland Ghost Stories. Mechanicsburg,
     PA, Stackpole, 2010.
Tawes TheatreWikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     5 April 2013.
Varhola, Michael J. and Michael H. Ghosthunting Maryland
     Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2009.

Bladensburg Dueling Ground
Bladensburg Road and 38th Street
Colmar Manor

When Washington outlawed dueling within the limits of the district, the hotheaded politicians and gentlemen of the district needed a place to “defend their honor.” They chose a little spot of land just outside the district in what is now Colmar Manor, Maryland. The activities at the dueling ground provided the name for the nearby waterway, Dueling Creek or Blood Run, now blandly called Eastern Branch. When the city of Colmar Manor was established in 1927, the city used dueling imagery on its town crest including a blood red background, a pair of dueling pistols and crossed swords.

Senators, legislators and military heroes are among the hundred or so men who dueled at this place in some fifty duels that are known and countless others that took place at this spot. Commodore Stephen Decatur was killed here in a duel with Commodore James Barron in 1820 and Representative John Cilley of Maine, who knew little of firearms, died here after combat in 1838 with Representative William Graves of Kentucky. The spirit of Stephen Decatur has been seen here along with other dark, shadowlike spirits that still stalk the old dueling grounds. The bloody grounds are now a park that stands silently amid the roaring sprawl of suburbia.

Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory.
     NYC: Penguin, 2002.
Taylor, Troy. “The Bladensburg Dueling Grounds, Bladensburg,
     Maryland.” Ghosts of the Prairie. 1998.
Varhola, Michael J. and Michael H. Varhola. Ghosthunting
     Maryland. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2009.

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