I’ve had a fascination with ghosts since I was a kid. Growing up in the South, I can recall Sunday afternoons on my grandparent’s front porch listening to the adults talk. On occasion, there would be whispers of haunted houses and ghosts. Usually, I wouldn’t be given much more information so as “to not scare me,” but I was hooked. As I grew up, I collected books of ghost stories whenever I could find them. So, it’s only natural that I would consider writing my own book (and I still plan to and hopefully, more than one) but for now, I’m turning to the blogosphere as I gather my sources.
So why concentrate on Southern ghosts? For one, I’m a Southerner. Much of my family has been in the South since arriving in Virginia in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Over time, they travelled south and ended up here in Georgia in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. My own blood is bound up in the struggle to create this place. This is a land my forefathers wrought. As they always say, write about what you know, so what better than to support my local ghosts and indeed, the South is positively infested with them. Not only that, but I believe that in the national conversation now taking place on the topic of ghosts and the paranormal in general, Southern ghosts have been given a bit of the cold shoulder.
Certainly, Southern ghosts have not been ignored, far from it. Some of the most famous and important hauntings in the United States can be found in the South, these include Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Louisville, Kentucky; The Myrtles Plantation, St. Francisville, Louisiana; Moundsville Penitentiary, Moundsville, West Virginia; the Manassas Battlefield, Manassas, Virginia; the “Bell Witch,” Adams County, Tennessee; the Surrency Poltergeist, Surrency, Georgia; the Brown Mountain Lights, North Carolina; the Antietam Battlefield, Antietam, Maryland; Bobby Mackey’s Music World, Wilder, Kentucky; plus cities that seem to be crawling with ghosts: Savannah, Georgia; St. Augustine, Florida; Charleston, South Carolina; Louisville, Kentucky; Franklin, Tennessee; Natchez, Mississippi; New Orleans, Louisiana; Washington, D.C. and Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
History provides many reasons why the South has earned its ghosts but I am loathe to describe the South as the most haunted region or even more haunted than any other region. Indeed I bristle at the use of the phrases “more haunted” or “most haunted.” A location either has activity or it does not; like death, there is no grey area. Some cities or locations may appear to have more activity or more spirits but considering the fact that many places are poorly researched, I believe it’s bad form to state that a place may be “more haunted” when its ghosts have simply been better researched. For example, Savannah, Georgia which has eight books about its ghosts (that I can count off the top of my head), compared to Chattanooga, Tennessee which may be just as haunted but has, to my knowledge, not a single book about its ghosts. Savannah is simply better researched but may not actually be “more haunted.” I’ll step off my soapbox now.
The South is the location of some of the earliest European settlements in North America in addition to numerous Native American settlements, many of which were taken over by European settlers. This early history begins to provide a foundation for Southern ghost stories which are often punctuated with Native American curses, violated burial grounds and lands in general. Add to this equation the scars of war: various conflicts among and with Native Americans as well as part of the American Revolution and the bulk of the Civil War. Round out all of this bloody history with religious ecstasy and slavery and its proceeding horrors of racism culminating in the Civil Rights Movement and you have a place that is teeming with spiritual energy.
As for the cold shoulder, like I’ve said, it’s not that the South has been ignored, but it hasn’t gotten as much attention as I think it deserves. In the realm of television for example, which is one of the main reasons for the rise in interest in the paranormal, Ghost Hunters and its spinoff Ghost Hunters International (which doesn’t concern us) on Syfy, A&E’s Paranormal State and The Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures are among the best known paranormal television shows at the moment. Out of curiosity, I decided to tally the number of Southern hauntings these shows investigated. Ghost Hunters and Paranormal State both center on ghost hunting organizations that are located in the Northeast (Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, respectively), so it’s no surprise to find that Southern ghosts are not as well represented. Ghost Hunters, currently in the middle of its sixth season, has aired 112 regular episodes as well as 6 specials (not counting those specials that do not feature an actual investigation), only 9% of the regular episodes feature locations in the South, while half of its specials feature locations south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
On the other hand, Paranormal State, which has ended its fourth season, is less concerned with locations and more with helping people experiencing paranormal activity, therefore, the locations of its investigations are not always revealed. Based on the episode list on Wikipedia, of its 65 episodes, 24% are Southern. It also appears that the show takes a more varied array of locations, geographically, so roughly a quarter of the locations would more accurately reflect the South in terms of the rest of the nation.
Ghost Adventures seems to represent the South fairly well. Having aired three seasons, 30% of its 26 episodes involve Southern locations. The show’s first season featured a wide array of Southern locations ranging from Birmingham, Alabama’s Sloss Furnaces to Wilder, Kentucky’s Bobby Mackey’s Music World. The show also featured five live specials of which three deal with Weston, West Virginia’s Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum.
Within the publishing world the coverage of the South is spotty. While, yes, there are a few hundred books on the South ranging from books covering a variety of Southern stories to books on specific states, regions and cities, there are still large geographic areas that are not well covered. For example, the state of Mississippi has a grand total of two books about it. Besides Mobile (with two books), no other major cities in Alabama have books about them (the 10 largest would be Birmingham, Montgomery, Auburn, Tuscaloosa, Hoover, Dothan, Decatur, Gadsden and Huntsville), yet there are two books about the town of Muscle Shoals (population 12,846) in northwest Alabama. In Georgia, South Georgia remains virtually unwritten about. In fact, most rural areas throughout the South are poorly covered.
Online, the situation is fairly bleak. There are a host of user submitted sites but this information is questionable and untrustworthy. One of the largest of these sites is Shadowlands which has been copied repeatedly and parts of it are spread all over the Web (If you notice a long list of haunted places on a site, find the corresponding list on Shadowlands and compare them, they will usually be exact). While these lists of haunted places are quite interesting and extensive, they are rife with mistakes and cite no sources. A Google search of Southern ghosts does produce a few blogs, one on Tennessee and another on North Carolina, both of which are well written, but neither cite sources. There is also a decent site on Alabama ghosts from author Alan Brown, Alabama Ghostlore, but the site covers only 20 locations and again, cites no sources, though, to his credit, Mr. Brown’s books are very well sourced. While all of these blogs are well written, much of the information presented throughout the Internet is poorly written and filled with spelling and grammatical errors as well as historical issues.
My plan for this blog is to begin to address these inadequacies with in-depth research (when I can), a healthy dose of skepticism and decent writing. Beyond that, I plan to explore not only well-known hauntings, but those hauntings that have received little attention. Since I have a strong interest in research, I am analyzing and synthesizing information from a variety of resources, not only those relating to the paranormal, but historical resources which may prove or perhaps discredit legends and paranormal sources.
This is a huge task to accomplish and not without myriad difficulties. One major issue comes from research. Historical research from a distance can be difficult at times and currently the range of my travels is limited. I will try to do as much digging as I can online and use the resources of local libraries, but that sometimes runs up against a brick wall. I do welcome information from readers and other interested parties, though, please, provide sources!
One other point I should address is in the title of this blog and that is the word “guide.” I wish for this blog to serve as a travel guide, of sorts, to the haunted locations of the South. These are places where my primary interests lie: places that can be readily identified and in some cases visited. While simple ghost stories can be interesting, if they lack a specific location, they lose my interest and are simply stories. Without a location, these stories cannot provide a historical context which can often help to provide an explanation of why this place is haunted.
If you have read this far, thank you! I hope you will continue reading this blog. If you have information on Southern ghosts and hauntings, please let me know and I will look into them for possible inclusion.