Friday, September 3, 2010

Haunted Huntsville, Alabama (The Research)

Initially, my vision for this blog was to be a blog all about ghosts, but I’m adding some entries on research. The title of this entry is not misleading. Originally, my intent for this entry was to explore the ghosts of Huntsville, Alabama and provide a short description of each as well as a citation. But, as fate would have it, that won’t be the case. So, I’m talking about Huntsville ghosts, but from the angle as to what’s available on the subject.

As I noted in the purpose statement, this blog was established to begin to fill in gaps in the study of Southern ghosts. Certainly, it’s a subject that’s been decently covered, but geographically, there are regions that lack serious study. In terms of regions, Northern Alabama (by my definition, the upper half of the state) has been covered decently and there are a few books that do cover this region, but none that so far cover specific cities. Debra Johnston’s two books on The Shoals region in the northwest corner of the state might constitute the one exception to that. Besides those, there is Jacquelyn Proctor Gray’s When Spirits Walk, which covers a number of stories from the region. The History Press has also just published a book, Haunted North Alabama by Jessica Penot last week on the region, but I have yet to obtain a copy.

This region does include the most populous urban areas in the state including Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Gadsden and of course, Huntsville; all areas that certainly have a good deal of history, especially preserved historic areas and are most likely haunted. I’m not sure why I’ve zeroed in on Huntsville, other than the fact that it’s a city I really am not familiar with and have never visited. But, it has a long history and being one of the earliest cities in the region is most certainly haunted. The area was first settled by white men in 1805 and called Twickenham after the home of English literary giant, Alexander Pope. In 1811, the name Huntsville was chosen to honor the area’s first settler, John Hunt. The booming frontier town became the site of Alabama’s constitutional convention in 1819 and served as the new state’s capital for one legislative session until the capital was moved to Cahawba, located near the center of the state near Montgomery, the state’s current capital. The city was also an important player in the Civil War, being captured in 1862 by Union troops, only to be recaptured by Confederate forces and then reoccupied by Union troops the next year.

Following the tumult of war, Huntsville played host to textile mills and their accompanying villages of employees, but the city remained small. With the clash of powers all over the world during World War II, Huntsville’s growth exploded when it became the site of the Huntsville Arsenal. This designation brought with it munitions and chemical factories. After the war, the city became a site for missile research and the fledgling field of space exploration.

After doing a bit of reading on the history of the city I thought that finding information on the ghosts of the city would be a piece of cake. I was wrong. I searched through a handful of volumes in my personal library that I thought would possibly include stories, but found scant information. So then, I turned to the trusty (not really) internet. Of course, I took a look at the Shadowlands Alabama Haunted Places Index, which not surprisingly, had a number of listing but as a user submitted site is hardly trustworthy. But as I began to peruse the other websites that Google produced, it seemed most of them basically repeated the sites from the Shadowlands pages (sigh).

One of the sites I uncovered is a place called Helium.com. Helium describes itself as a “knowledge co-operative.” The site publishes articles from a variety of authors on a variety of subjects, ghosts included. In my Google search for the ghosts of Huntsville, I uncovered four articles on Helium. To me, these articles illustrate many of the issues I encounter in researching ghosts.

All the articles are titled “Ghost stories of Huntsville, AL,” but each is written by a different author. The first article (the articles are numbered on the site), by Linda S. Watts, features many more locations than any of the other articles. The second article, by M. Pereira, is the shortest and only features four locations, two of which appear to be the same location. The third article is the most interesting to me, as it is written by Rhetta Akamatsu, the author of Haunted Marietta, which was published last year. The final article, by Richard Serra, includes only a single story which has no specific location.

The first three articles are almost undistinguishable except that the first article has more locations. Most of the locations provided seem to come directly from internet sources including Shadowlands, but the Akamatsu article, however, does provide more historical information about some of the locations including the Old Dallas Mill though it does misidentify Cedarhurst Plantation as the “Carter House” (an error I’ve seen made all over the ‘net). Interestingly, none of the internet sources, including these articles, mentions the haunting of the Huntsville Depot, which appears in a few books about Southern ghosts.

I’ve begun exploring the archives of the Huntsville Times which are partially (back to 1991) online, but currently the cost per article ($2.95) is a bit much so, I’ve decided to take a research trip to the city when money and time permit. Part II of this entry will be the list if haunted places in Huntsville that I have so far.

Sources

Akamatsu, Rhetta. Ghosts of Huntsville, AL. Helium.com,
     Retrieved 3 September 2010.
Gray, Jacquelyn Procter. When Spirits Walk. Bloomington,
     IN: AuthorHouse, 2006.
Huntsville, AlabamaWikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
     Retrieved 3 September 2010.
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.
Pereira, M. Ghosts of Huntsville, AL. Helium.com, Retrieved
     3 September 2010.
Serra, Richard. Ghosts of Huntsville, AL. Helium.com,
     Retrieved 3 September 2010.
Watts, Linda S. Ghosts of Huntsville, AL. Helium.com,
     Retrieved 3 September 2010.

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