Thursday, March 31, 2011

Haunted Dauphin Island, Alabama: Of Fowl and Phantoms

Whenever I visit the coast, I find myself thinking about the impermanence of things. As someone who has always believed in historic preservation, I’m always saddened when I see historic places destroyed, especially through the ignorance or perhaps the arrogance of man. Of course when the destruction is wrought by nature, it’s sad as well. Along the coast, there’s always a threat of hurricanes and now add the threat of rising sea levels with global warming and I’m deeply saddened for beautiful places like Dauphin Island.

Hurricane Katrina roared ashore at Dauphin Island in 2005 and decimated the western end of this barrier island. A further barrier island, Sand Island, protected the eastern end of the island from the devastation. When I visited the island in 2008, the western end had been mostly rebuilt and I could only shake my head and wonder if these homes would survive the next big hurricane. Of course, since my visit, the sugar-white sands have been spoiled by oil from the BP spill, though I hope much of that has been cleaned up.

On the lush eastern end of the island, the section that survived the wrath of Katrina, Dauphin Island boasts nationally known birding habitat. The island is one of the first bits of land spotted by neo-tropical migrants as they migrate from their wintering grounds in Central and South America and take flight over the Gulf of Mexico. Many of these species alight to rest in the parks and bird sanctuaries among the vacation homes and birders flock to the island to see this plethora of warblers, tanagers, vireos and thrushes. There’s a large Audubon Bird Sanctuary adjacent to Fort Gaines that attracts birders throughout the year and where I saw my first pair of Black-throated Green Warblers (Dendroica virens); two perky brightly colored fellows that had attracted a good deal of attention from birders who had gathered nearby.

Indian Shell Mound Park
Cadillac Avenue

While my interest in ghosts predates my interest in birds, I didn’t do any research on the island’s legends before my trip. The purpose of the trip was solely to add birds to my life list; otherwise I would have paid more attention to the island’s more historic and haunted features. I’m sure the thought passed through my mind that there might be more to the Shell Mound than just history and birds. I have a distinct memory of feeling an odd chill upon arrival. As birds are most active in the hours just before and after dawn, I arrived fairly early at the Shell Mound to start birding. Stepping out of the car into the cool of an April morning I was flabbergasted by the sound of calling owls. The owls, it turns out, were cooing Eurasian Collared Doves (Streptopelia decaocto), a non-native species that has begun spreading through the Southeast.

One of the ancient oaks at Indian
Mound Park, 2010. Photo
by Jeffrey Reed, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Even in full daylight, the park is a bit creepy. The mounds are covered in dense undergrowth and massive ancient oaks laden with Spanish moss. I realized fairly quickly that I was apparently alone in the park and I felt a bit of trepidation exploring the winding park paths by myself. After reading one of the historical signs, the thought that here I was among hundreds of years of history sent a chill down my spine. My attention was quickly diverted (ADD perhaps?) by some slight movement near the top of one of the looming oaks. Picking it up with my binoculars, it was my first Blackpoll Warbler (Dendroica striata), the first bird of a day that would add some 40 new species to my life list.

The shell mounds are evidence of hundreds of years of human visitations to Dauphin Island. These mounds are known as middens, which are basically ancient trash heaps. The island was visited by Native Americans beginning during the Mississippian period (roughly 1100 to 1500 C.E.) who harvested oysters and fish probably during the summer months. Both the oysters and fish could be consumed on the spot or dried for later use. The oysters would be steamed by wrapping them in seaweed and placing them on heated coals. The steam would cause the oysters to open and the shell would be discarded near the fire. On writer suggested that one of the mounds of the six in the park may have reached a height of 50 feet.

With them, the natives also brought a variety of plants to the area, many of which, while not native, have thrived in the semi-tropical environment of the island. Even centuries after the native’s final visit to the island, these plants remain. The magnificent live oak trees on and around the middens are believed to have witnessed the native’s oyster and fish roasts and the first arrival Spanish in 1519. Over the centuries, these branches have hosted nearly 400 different species of birds as they passed the island on their migrations.

Certainly the oaks may still witness the spirits of natives who still stalk the humid nights. There are tales of strange goings on after dark in the park, though I have not been able to locate any specific reports of these nocturnal activities. Indeed, there is a possibility that native spirits and others may be still rambling about, but I have found no distinct evidence of this.

While the idyllic life of the natives could have continued for centuries, the Mississippian period ended shortly after the Spanish began exploring the Southeast hacking their way through the forests and the natives. Around this time, the Mississippian peoples were replaced by the Choctaw and Muskhogee (also known as the Creek) Peoples who visited the island like their previous brethren. The French first visited the island in 1699 under Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, who would establish the city of Mobile and the entire Louisiana colony. Upon arrival, d’Iberville encountered a number of human skeletons and named the island “Massacre Island.” Some historians speculate that a hurricane had eroded a burial mound exposing the skeletons that the French discovered. The name would stick for some time but was later changed to honor the son of the French king, the Dauphin. Of course the pronunciation has been eroded over time with the final nasal syllable being replaced by an anglicized “fin” so the name sounds more akin to the word “dolphin.”

Fort Gaines
51 Bienville Boulevard

After visiting the Shell Mounds and seeing a few birds, I moved on to try my luck at the Audubon Bird Sanctuary. My path took me through the forest of the sanctuary and through the campground on the opposite side and towards the eastern tip of the island around Fort Gaines. While the fort may look intimidating from both land and sea, the real threat is the sea. When construction on the fort began in 1819, the project quickly ran over budget and the plans had to be redrawn as the fort sat too close to the water and high tides would flood the construction.

Aerial view of Fort Gaines, 2002,
showing itsproximity to the sea
and rock breaks and jettys protecting it.
Photo by Edibobb, courtesy of

Over time, the threat from the sea has been constant. Hurricanes have eroded the beach next to the fort causing parts of the masonry to collapse. The collapsed portions have been repaired, but the fort is still under threat from nature just as it was under threat from Admiral David Farragut’s Union naval forces in August of 1864.

With the tide of war turning against the Confederacy, the Union fleet under Farragut set out to capture the ports of Mobile thus tightening the vice grip they held on the Confederacy. Fort Gaines to the west and Fort Morgan to the east guarded the entrance to Mobile Bay. Mines or “torpedoes,” as they were called in that period, were scattered in fields across the entrance forcing ships into a narrow channel near the heavily fortified and gunned Fort Morgan. When the Union fleet arrived on the morning of August 5, the guns of Fort Morgan opened fire. Even losing the USS Tecumseh, the Union fleet continued into the bay with Farragut famously lashed to the rigging of the USS Hartford yelling, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”

Painting of the action at Fort Morgan
by Louis Prang, ca. 1884. This is similar
to the action Ft. Gaines experienced.
Upon entering the bay, the specter of the ironclad CSS Tennessee loomed ahead. Fighting just a mile north of Fort Gaines, the Tennessee and a number of smaller gunboats took on the Union fleet. Finally, exhausted and basically dead in the water, the Tennessee surrendered. The fight turned towards Fort Gaines and volleys of ammunition were poured onto the masonry structure for almost three days. It is said that at one point in the fighting, the monitor gunboats fired upon the fort from almost point blank range. On August 8, battered into submission, Colonel Charles Anderson surrendered the fort and the nearly 800 men inside.

Since that day of defeat, the fort served as a military post through World War II, but it has not again seen action. The cries of men and the boom of guns have been replaced by the gentle susurrant sea breeze and the cries of wheeling seabirds. But still, spiritual elements still linger.

In researching the haunting of Fort Gaines, I’ve only come across one specific sighting. Many sites online describe Fort Gaines as being haunted but don’t venture into specifics. An article by Michael Baxter, “Ghostly Getaway to Dauphin Island,” describes the experience on one island resident driving past the fort at night. The resident and a friend witnessed the apparition of a woman walking along the battlements. She walked for a bit, stopped, looked at her observers and faded slowly. A number of sources also speak of paranormal investigations on the fort, but I can find no actual reports of such. Like Shell Mound, there is certainly a reason that Fort Gaines could be haunted, but little specific evidence.

There are other stories of ghosts walking the beaches and streets of Dauphin Island, but again, little that is verifiable or specific. Michael Baxter’s article, really one of the best sources of island tales speaks of a number of wandering spirits but these are hard to pin down. Of course, as the island continues into another century eroded by wind and sea I wonder if the birds or even the spirits will remain.

Baxter, Michael. “Ghostly Getaway to Dauphin Island.”
     Dauphin Island Chamber of Commerce. Accessed 28
     March 2011.
     Alabama.” Accessed 30
     March 2011. Accessed 31 March 2011.
Dauphin Island, Alabama. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 29 March 2011.
Fort Gaines (Alabama). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 29 March 2011.
     the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 29 March 2011.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Pinewood Cemetery

Erwin Road
Coral Gables, Florida

It’s hard to imagine among all the modernity that is South Florida that this area has been settled for many centuries. Native Americans lived here until pressure from the government and white settlers began forcing them out starting in 1822, just after Florida became a state. With most of the Native Americans gone white settlers began building cabins and farming, some with slaves. The area would remain a quiet backwater until Henry Flagler began shaping Florida’s new image in the latter part of the century and speculators and developers began buying land.

Bit by bit, the old Florida began to vanish under the developer’s vision and old Florida disappeared under development or the scrub pines and yucca grew to cover it. Pinewood Cemetery, a piece of Old Florida, disappeared in a forest its tombstones and graves weathering and later broken and vandalized by hoodlums in search of a thrill. The cemetery was forgotten by most of the living and left for some time to the vigilant care of the cemetery’s own spirits.

Pinewood Cemetery’s air of desolation and dereliction has spawned mysterious stories and legends. A 2006 article on the cemetery in The Miami Herald mentions that neighbors have spoken of midnight burials in the cemetery. Ghost tales have also emerged telling of shadow people, strange noises and, more commonly, odd feelings. One paranormal investigation discovered a large cleared circular patch where nothing was growing, possible evidence that late night rituals may also be held there. The group’s psychic investigators felt that some animal sacrifices may have been conducted there. Regardless, according to evidence gathered by investigators, most of the spirits in the cemetery seem to simply be curious residents intending no harm to the living.

Before the establishment of the large City Cemetery (which may also be haunted) in Miami and the city’s official incorporation in 1896, Pinewood was the main cemetery south of the Miami River. Once the city cemetery established, most of the burials north of the river were removed there, while Pinewood remained quietly in its forest home. Some legends speak of the Pinewood site as originally a burial ground for the area’s Tequesta Indians, though there’s no hard evidence of this. The first pioneer burials are said to have occurred around 1855 and included some of the area’s earliest settlers. The cemetery’s “official” history does not appear in the historical record until the land was deeded to the Trustees of Pinewood Cemetery in 1897.

Over the next 30 or so years the cemetery accepted burials. Included among those buried during this time were Dora Perry Suggs, a young mother who disappeared during a walk from the local general store. Her body was discovered in deep woods by a search party and she was interred in Pinewood in 1905. The cemetery was cleaned up following the great 1926 Miami hurricane, a category four storm that did considerable damage and caused between 250 and 350 deaths. Over time, the cemetery was neglected and trees and legends grew up around it.

Some notice was taken of the cemetery’s plight in the 1960s, but no action was taken. Development also began to encroach on the 4 acre cemetery. Stories have appeared of construction workers finding bones as they dug foundations adjacent to the cemetery. At the time, only a small portion of the possibly 250 burials in the cemetery were even marked, many tombstones having been stolen or broken. In 1983, the City of Coral Gables created an advisory board to oversee the cemetery and steps have been taken to preserve and restore the cemetery. Headstones have been erected to replace missing stones. Interestingly, current plans leave the cemetery in its wooded, natural state rather than clearing it. This preserves the more park-like setting and creates a place where local students and residents can explore nature and Old Florida history side by side.

1926 Miami hurricane. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 26 March 2011.
Bonawit, Oby. “History of Pinewood (Cocoplum)
     Cemetery.” Tequesta: The Journal of the Historical
     Association of Southern Florida. Vol. 1, No. 38.
Del Marmol, Sebastian. “Spend a Spooky Morning
     at Pinewood Cemetery for Pioneer Day This
     Saturday.” Miami New Times. 18 March 2011.
Herrera, Ana I. “Pioneers remembered at Pinewood
     Cemetery celebration.” 20
     March 2011.
History of Florida. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 24 March 2011.
League of Paranormal Investigators, Inc. Investigation
     25 March 2011.
McGrory, Kathleen. “Pioneering Spirits.” The Miami
     Herald. 27 August 2006.
Miami. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     25 March 2011.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Review of Barbara Sillery’s 'The Haunting of Mississippi'

While the initial mission of this blog has so far been to explore haunted locations, I think it’s very important to also cover the sources for much of this information. This morning, I was very excited to discover a package in the mail from Finally, Barbara Sillery’s The Haunting of Mississippi, published just this month by Pelican Publishing, had arrived!

For those long term readers of this blog, you will be well familiar with my complaints about the lack of books about Mississippi. So far, I’ve only been able to find two books: Kathryn Tucker Windham’s 13 Mississippi Ghosts and Jeffrey, published in 1974, and Sylvia Booth Hubbard’s Ghosts! Personal Accounts of Modern Mississippi Hauntings, published in 1992. So basically, a book has been published every roughly 20 years.  While there is other information available in other books and sources, these are the only books devoted completely to the Magnolia State.

I must confess, I’ve only had this book in my hands for a few hours and have only had a chance to read the first two of twenty-four chapters, but what I’ve read is excellent. Skimming the table of contents, I do see many locations that I’m already familiar with and that Windham and Booth have covered, though, judging from the first two chapters, Sillery explores these subjects far more in depth than I’ve seen elsewhere.

Among these familiar hauntings are Vicksburg’s McRaven House and Anchuca; Natchez’s King’s Tavern, Stanton Hall and Linden; and Columbus’ Temple Heights and Waverly. While information on these hauntings is widely available, Sillery provides well-researched history as well as reports of recent unusual phenomenon.

But there are some locations that have not been on my radar such as Tupelo’s Lyric Theatre, the ghosts of Greenville and the ghosts of the old state capitol building (I’m beginning to think ALL state capitol buildings, old and new, must be haunted). Sillery has done well to add to the list of Mississippi’s hauntings.

I’m very excited to continue my reading!

Barbara Sillery. The Haunting of Mississippi. Pelican Publishing, Gretna, LA, 2011. $17.95.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Haunted West Virginia

A selection of 9 haunted places around the state of West Virginia.

Berkeley Castle
WV 9
Berkeley Springs
Berkeley Castle. Photo by Jeanne Mozier, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Berkeley Springs, also known as “Bath,” has attracted visitors who come to take the waters of the mineral springs located there. Overlooking this quaint town from a commanding position on Warm Spring Mountain sits Berkeley Castle, seemingly a piece of medieval Britain transplanted. Modeled and named after Britain’s own Berkeley Castle, the castle was built as a wedding gift from Colonel Samuel Suit for his bride, Rosa Pelham. The Colonel, who was quite a bit older than his bride, died before the castle was finished and his widow finished the building. She lived in the castle after his death and squandered the fortune she inherited and died penniless well away from the castle, but legends speak of her return.

The castle was purchased by paranormal investigators in 2000 but sold fairly shortly after that. Once open for tours, the castle is now primarily a private residence, though it may be rented for weddings, parties and other events.

Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park
Route 219
Pocahontas County
Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park, 2006. Photo by Beeflower,
courtesy of Wikipedia.

One of the largest engagements in the state during the Civil War, the Battle of Droop Mountain, November 6, 1863, was the final stand for Confederate forces in West Virginia. Confederate forces under General John Echols engaged Union forces under General W. W. Averell and were driven back to Droop Mountain where the Confederates held out enduring many casualties until they were forced to retreat back to Virginia. There is apparently an extraordinary range of unusual activity on this old battlefield. This activity includes some poltergeist activity experienced by a family living on the battlefield in the years following the war to reports of a headless Confederate. Still others have seen a phantom regiment of Union cavalry moving across the old field of glory as well as hearing disembodied voices.

High Street
Harpers Ferry
High Street, 2004. Photo by Jan Kronsell,
courtesy of Wikipedia

While Harpers Ferry may be known for its ghosts, many of whom are related to John Brown’s raid on the Federal Arsenal in 1859, the first legend of this legendary city dates to just before the turn of the nineteenth century. In 1798 at the upper end High Street a contingent of soldiers set up camp (now known as “Camp Hill”) under “General Pinkney” who drilled his soldiers up and down the street to the sounds of drums and fifes. Cholera swept through the camp and many soldiers died and since that time many have heard the sounds of drums and fifes accompanied by the march of many feet though the phantom army cannot be seen.

This story has certainly been passed around a good deal and nearly every source I have on Harpers Ferry tells the same story, but in trying to confirm the initial events, I’ve run into trouble. Most sources mention the reason for the camp being an impending war with France. For two year, 1798 to 1800, America was embroiled in the “Quasi-War” with France but this was mostly fought at sea. Most sources also mention this camp was set up under “General Pinkney.” The problem is that I can find no reference to a General Pinkney. This may perhaps be General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (the last name is off by one letter) who was a hero of the American Revolution and also served in the constitutional convention just before these events, though I can find nothing about service during the Quasi-War. It seems that most histories of the city are silent about this time period usually skipping from George Washington’s establishment of the Federal Armory to John Brown’s raid on it in the middle of the next century.

I find this very intriguing and I plan to pursue this when I have more time to spend on research. Indeed, not only are the events interesting themselves, but I’d be interested to find the first place where this phenomenon is documented. And now, like the city’s histories, I’ll skip to John Brown’s Raid.

John Brown’s Fort
Shenandoah Street
Harpers Ferry
John Brown's Fort, 2007. Photo by Joy Schoenberger,
courtesy of Wikipedia

It’s hard to imagine that Harpers Ferry would have become the landmark it is without John Brown’s bloody raid. Certainly, it was the site of an important federal armory, but without the raid, progress may have destroyed much of the history of this sleepy hamlet. John Brown was an ardent abolitionist; rabidly ardent, and his raid was intended as the fuse to destroy slavery in the nation, but initially in Virginia. Brown hoped by capturing the weapons in the armory, he could arm the local slaves who would rise up. When Brown and his men were discovered in the armory on the morning of October 17, 1859, locals immediately cut off escape routes and Brown and his men holed up in a small engine house near the armory, now known as John Brown’s Fort. The men were able to hold out until the following day when a few of them were killed and the rest captured. John Brown was tried for treason and hung later that year in nearby Charles Town

The building itself has been moved from its original location near the now demolished armory. But while the location has changed there are reports of tourists encountering the bearded man who resembled Brown. Beth Scott and Michael Norman report a family from Alabama who asked this gentleman to pose with their family for a few photos. When the photographs were developed, however, the lanky, bearded man was conspicuously absent.

Raleigh County Courthouse
215 Main Street
Raleigh County Courthouse, 2007. Photo by Tim Kiser,
courtesy of Wikipedia

Constructed around 1934, the Art Deco style Raleigh County Courthouse sports a ghost. According to James Foster Robinson’s A Ghostly Guide to West Virginia, the “Lady is Red” has been witnessed in both the juror’s room and the main courtroom. An article from the Charleston Daily Mail in 2000 mentions that a circuit court was rather disturbed by the dark figure that appeared in the back of the courtroom. This figure was actually captured on the closed circuit security system.

Shepherd Hall
Kruger Street
Shepherd Hall, 2010. Photo by Bwsmith84,
courtesy of Wikipedia

Lydia Shepherd Cruger bore witness to the extraordinary events that shaped her life and the nation until her death at the age of 101 in 1867. She had lived through and participated in events during the American Revolution and witnessed the Civil War and fall of slavery. Having remained on this plane for so long and much of that in the large stone mansion in Wheeling, it’s no wonder that she may have remained in the home her first husband built. Her form has been seen throughout the house while staff and residents (the house is currently a private residence) have reported the sounds of laughter and music.

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
South River Avenue
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, 2006. Photo by Tim Kiser,
courtesy of Wikipedia

West Virginia has a handful of locations that have recently gained national notoriety for their hauntings such as the West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville, Harpers Ferry and the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston. Construction on this massive structure designed by Baltimore architect Richard Snowden Andrews began in 1858, but was interrupted by war and West Virginia’s withdrawal from the state of Virginia. The building was finally completed around 1880 or 1881 and is the largest hand-cut masonry structure in the United States. At its peak, the building held some 2400 patients in overcrowded conditions. The state opened a new hospital in Weston in 1994 and the building was closed.

As it is with many former psychiatric facilities and hospitals, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is reportedly haunted. Apparently, some years before the hospital closed, staff began reporting unusual activity including the sound of gurney being pushed down hallways, voices and full body apparitions of patients and doctors. Since being purchased by new owners, the hospital is being preserved and paranormal investigations have been allowed including teams for the shows Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters.

West Virginia State Capitol
1900 Kanawha Boulevard East
West Virginia State Capitol Building, 2006. Photo by Analogue Kid,
courtesy of Wikipedia

After arguing over the location of the state capitol’s location in either Charleston or Wheeling, the citizens of the state finally settled on Charleston and work begun on a capitol building. This first building was destroyed by fire in 1921 and that building’s replacement burned six years later with two deaths. The current building was dedicated in 1932 and, according to James Foster Robinson is haunted by a few spirits, quite possibly the two people killed in the second fire.

West Virginia State Penitentiary
818 Jefferson Avenue
West Virginia State Penitentiary, 2006. Photo by Tim Kiser,
courtesy of Wikipedia

The penitentiary at Moundsville simply looks haunted. The Gothic revival architecture used in its construction gives it a mysterious and dubious air. This particular style of architecture was used because it "exhibit[ed], as much as possible, great strength and convey[ed] to the mind a cheerless blank indicative of the misery which awaits the unhappy being who enters within its walls." Certainly, a good reason.

The Moundsville prison is among the three (the other two being Harpers Ferry and the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum) most well known West Virginia hauntings. Like so many haunted prisons, the phenomenon ranges from full body apparitions to odd sounds, to a chilling atmosphere. An article from Marshall University’s The Parthenon, quotes a prison staff member as saying, "I definitely believe there is paranormal activity here. There are things that happen here that just can't be explained." He continues saying that while some of the stories may be fabricated, there is just too much activity for something else to not be happening.

Associated Press. “Judge haunted by courtroom apparition.”
     Charleston (WV) Daily Mail. 27 September 2000.
Battle of Droop Mountain. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 19 March 2011.
Bias, Ashton. “Paranormal Activity.” The (Marshall University)
     Parthenon. 30 September 2010.
Fischer, Karin. “Castle in Eastern Panhandle could be in need
     of a new lord this spring.” Charleston (WV) Daily Mail. 21
     November 2000.
History Berkeley Castle. Berkeley Castle website. Accessed 19
     March 2011.
Jefferson County Historical Society. History of Jefferson County,
     West Virginia. Jefferson County Historical Society website.
     Accessed 17 March 2011.
John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 18 March 2011.
     Asylum.” Ghost Eyes: Most Haunted Places in America Blog.
     Accessed 18 March 2011.
Norman, Michael and Beth Scott. Historic Haunted America.
     NYC: Tor, 1995.
Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 17 March 2011.
Quasi-War. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 17 March 2011.
Robinson, James Foster. A Ghostly Guide to West Virginia.
     Winking Eye Books, 2008.
Samuel Taylor Suit Cottage. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 19 March 2011.
Shepherd Hall (Monument Place). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 19 March 2011.
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 18 March 2011.
West Virginia SHPO. National Register of Historic Places Nomination
     form for Weston Hospital Main Building. Listed 19 April 1978.
West Virginia State Capitol. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 19 March 2011.
West Virginia State Penitentiary. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 19 March 2011.
Wilson, Patty A. Haunted West Virginia: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena
     Of the Mountain State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2007.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Haunted Virginia

A selection of ten haunted places in the state of Virginia.

Aquia Church
2938 Jefferson Davis Highway
Aquia Church. Photograph taken for the Historic American
Buildings Survey (HABS), courtesy of the Library of Congress,
Prints and Photographs Division.

As with many of Virginia’s great landmarks, Aquia Church has a ghost story attached. The legend tells of a young woman murdered in this National Historic Landmark church at some time in the eighteenth century and her body hidden in belfry. Accordingly, her spirit descends from the belfry at night and has been witnessed by many over the centuries. One caretaker also spoke of seeing shadowy figures among the tombstones in the graveyard. The current Aquia Church building was built in 1751 and destroyed by fire just before the construction was complete. Using the remaining brick walls, the church was rebuilt in 1757.

Assateague Lighthouse
Assateague Island
Assateague Lighthouse, 2007. Photo by DCWom,
courtesy of Wikipedia.

In terms of books documenting the spiritual residents of the state, Virginia has an embarrassment of riches. Marguerite DuPont Lee can be noted as one of the first authors to document many of Virginia’s ghosts in her 1930 book, Virginia Ghosts. More recently, L.B. Taylor, Jr. has published some 22 volumes covering the state. Most recently, Michael J. Varhola published his marvelous Ghosthunting Virginia and it is that book that documents the haunting surrounding the Assateague Island and its lighthouse.

Assateague Island is a barrier island along the coast of Maryland and Virginia. Much of the island is now Assateague Island National Seashore with parts of Assateague State Park and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The island is famous for its feral horses, descendants of the horses aboard the Spanish ship, La Galga, which wrecked just off the island in 1720. It is said the spirits of the humans who died in the wreck still comb the island near the Assateague Lighthouse. The lighthouse, constructed in 1866 and first lit the following year to replace an earlier lighthouse from 1831, may also have some spiritual activity related to it. Varhola cites a National Park Service employee who tells of the door to the lighthouse being found mysteriously unlocked.

Bacon’s Castle
465 Bacon’s Castle Trail
Bacon's Castle, 2007. Photo by Yellowute, courtesy of

Bacon’s Castle ranks highly on a number of lists. It’s described as the only Jacobean house in America and one of three in the Western Hemisphere; one of the oldest buildings in the state of Virginia and the oldest brick home in the United States. Indeed, it may be one of the oldest haunted houses in the US as well. Researchers in 1999 dated tree rings on some of the home’s beams and determined the house was constructed around 1665. Originally called Allen’s Brick House, the house acquired its current name during Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 when some of Nathaniel Bacon’s supporters took over the house. The house has survived and witnessed centuries of American history and is now a house museum.

As for the ghosts, this house may possess many. The final private owner of the house, Mrs. Charles Walker Warren, told many tales of the house involving doors opening and closing by themselves and footsteps that were heard. Certainly the most well known phenomena regarding Bacon’s Castle is the red fireball that has been seen rising from the house and disappearing in the churchyard of Old Lawne’s Creek Church nearby.

Belle Isle
Belle Island, April 1865, just after control of the island
was returned to the Old Dominion Iron and Nail Works.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Glass
Negative Collection.

Originally called Broad Rock Island, Belle Isle was used for mostly industrial purposes in the nineteenth century. Mills, quarries and a nail factory appeared on the tranquil island in the James River. Notoriety came to the island in 1862 with the opening of a Confederate prisoner of war camp that was as notorious as Georgia’s dreaded Andersonville and with a huge influx of prisoners, the camp descended into squalor. Prisoners lived in tents that provide little insulation from the bitter cold of Virginia winters or the heat of the summer sun and were offered little in the way of food. By 1865, most of the prisoners had been shipped to prison camps throughout the South and the island was returned to its more tranquil use as the site of a nail factory. The Old Dominion Iron and Nail Works operated on the island until it closed in 1972 and many of its buildings demolished. The island became a park around that same time and has been a popular spot for hiking and jogging.

Still, remnants of the island’s past linger: the site of the prison camp is marked but little else remains while there are ruins of some of the old industrial buildings. Indeed, spirits from the islands past may also linger. There are reports from island visitors of shadow people, hearing footsteps on the trail behind them, lights in the woods at night and photographic anomalies. Author and investigator Beth Brown in her Haunted Battlefields: Virginia’s Civil War Ghosts conducted an investigation and picked up an EVP of a male voice clearly saying, “Where are we?”

Martha Washington Inn
150 West Main Street
Martha Washington Inn, 2006. Photo by RebelAt,
courtesy of Wikipedia.

War changes many things and the Civil War certainly changed Martha Washington College. The young girls that had studied and gossiped in the colleges rooms became nurses for the wounded young soldiers brought from battlefields far and near and some of those rooms housed able young men who were training on the grounds. Like so many buildings that served as hospitals during the Civil War, the pain and death left its mark upon the college. A number of soldiers still are rumored to walk the halls and occasionally shock guests and staff alike. In addition a ghostly horse, still looking for its long-dead master still walks the grounds outside.

Built as a private residence, General Francis Preston’s 1832 home became an upscale women’s college in 1858. The Great Depression’s punch to the nation led to the school’s closure in 1932 and “The Martha” was later reopened as an inn. The inn is now a part of The Camberley Collection, a group of fine, historic properties.

Michie Tavern
683 Thomas Jefferson Parkway
Michie Tavern, 2005. Photo by Forestufighting, courtesy
of Wikipedia.

My first introduction to the Michie Tavern came through the eyes of paranormal researcher and writer Hans Holzer. Among some of the first books about ghosts I read were some of Holzer’s books and I still vividly remember reading of some of his investigations. For his books he traveled the world with a psychic medium in tow investigating haunted and historical locations such as the Morris-Jumel Mansion in New York City and the famous house at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York, the basis for the “Amityville Horror.” On his travels through Virginia he visited the Michie Tavern and nearby Monticello and was able, through his medium Ingrid, to find spirits still partying in the ballroom of this 1784 tavern. Staff members have reported the sounds of a party in that very room late at night.

931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway
Monticello, 2010. Photo by YF12s, courtesy of Wikipedia.

In 1928, a Charlottesville preservationist purchased the Michie Tavern, an 18th century tavern in nearby Earlysville and moved it near to Thomas Jefferson’s “little mountain,” Monticello. Jefferson, perhaps one of the country’s most brilliant, enigmatic and creative presidents, designed and built his home over many years at the end of the eighteenth century and into the early nineteenth century. Over the years that the house has been open as a museum, there have been a few reports of phantom footsteps and other minor incidents including the occasional sound of someone cheerfully humming.

Octagon House (Abijah Thomas House)
631 Octagon House Road
Octagon House, 2007. Photo by RegionalGirl137, courtesy
of Wikipedia.

In a state of magnificently preserved historical homes, it is surprising to find a magnificent architectural gem like the Abijah Thomas House standing forlornly unrestored.  Neglect and vandalism by teenagers out for a “scare” have also taken their toll on this home. The octagon house style found prominence in the middle of the nineteenth century and currently only a few hundred to a few thousand (sources differ) survive. This particular house, described in its National Register of Historic Places nomination form as “the finest example in Virginia of a 19th-century octagonal house,” also has a number of legends about it. According to Michael Varhola, the internet is full of these legends that seem scary but are unlikely to be true. Certainly, this old house is creepy in its deteriorated state, but it really needs a professional investigation.

Old 97 Crash Site
Route 58 and Riverside Drive
The wreck of the No. 97 train, 1903. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

It’s a mighty rough road from Lynchburg to Danville,
And a line on a three mile grade.
It’s on that grade that he lost his airbrakes.
You see what a jump he made.
-- “Wreck of the Old ‘97” first recorded by G.B. Grayson and Henry Whittier

On September 27, 1903, the No. 97 “Fast Mail” train jumped its track on the Stillhouse Trestle in Danville and plunged some 75 feet into the ravine. The train’s engineer, who was rushing to get to Spencer, North Carolina on time, tried to slow the train as it approached the trestle, but the train did not slow. Of the 18 souls aboard, 10, including the engineer were killed. Not long after the crash stories emerged of people seeing odd lights in the ravine where the crash occurred. Even after the trestle was removed and the ravine was filled with growth, the lights are still said to appear.

5113 Old Rosewell Lane
Ruins of Rosewell, 2003. Photo by Agadant, courtesy of

The magnificent main house at Rosewell burned in 1916, but it is hardly a distant memory. The brick wall still stand and archaeological excavations have uncovered the remains of items that were inside the house during the fire. Construction began in 1725 and the house was completed in 1738 for the powerful Page family. The power of the Page family extended into the nineteenth century and included friendships with people such as Thomas Jefferson who legend says drafted the Declaration of Independence within the walls of Rosewell. The ruins have been preserved as a historic site and still attract visitors and spirits. An old legend speaks of a woman in red seen running down the remains of the house’ front stairs with the sound of slaves singing has also been heard.

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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Haunted Tennessee

A selection of ten haunted places from around the state of Tennessee.

Bijou Theatre
803 South Gay Street
Bijou Theatre, January 2011. Photo by Lewis Powell, IV,
all rights reserved.

Originally constructed as a hotel, the building that now contains the Bijou Theatre is oldest commercial structure in Knoxville still in commercial use. The building opened as the Knoxville Hotel in 1817 and operated as a hotel for nearly a century. During the Civil War, the hotel, then the Lamar Hotel, served as a hospital and it was here that Union General William P. Sanders died. Possibly some of the deaths and trauma that occurred during this time has left an impression on the building. The hotel was converted into a theatre in 1909 and has hosted live theatre and operated as a pornographic movie house in the 1960s and 70s. Preservationists restored the building for use as a theatre and it remains as such today.

It appears that multiple spirits remain in the theatre. In addition to performers and patrons who have had experiences in the theatre ranging from voices to apparitions, paranormal investigators have recorded EVPs and captured activity on film and video. Among the spirits that apparently haunt the building are a young girl, a stage technician, “The General” – possibly the spirit of General Sanders – and a construction worker.  

Cherry Mansion
265 Main Street
Cherry Mansion, 1974. Photo by Jack Boucher for the Historic
American Building Survey (HABS), courtesy of the Library of
Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Kathryn Tucker Windham in her 13 Tennessee Ghosts and Jeffrey recounts an interesting occurrence at the Cherry Mansion in 1976. A trio of young people was sitting on the mansion’s porch around 11 PM when a man in a white suit and a wide brimmed hat walked up to the historical marker in front of the house. He stood there for a few moments reading the marker then vanished to the shock of the trio on the porch. This was neither the first nor the last of many strange incidents in the long history of this 1830 house. The owners of the Cherry Mansion during the Civil War were staunch Unionists and opened their home to the generals whose army was camped at nearby Pittsburgh Landing. It was here that General Ulysses S. Grant was having breakfast when he heard the opening shots of the battle that would take its name from a small church nearby, Shiloh.

Two Union generals would die in this house: one wounded in the battle, another cursing the fate that did not allow him to attend to the battle. There is a possibility that both of these men’s spirits still linger in the halls of Cherry Mansion. A figure that resembles a Union officer has been seen staring out a second floor window and the sounds of heavy footsteps have been heard on the porch.

200 Cragfont Road
Castalian Springs
Cragfont, 2008. Photo by Brian Stansberry, courtesy of

Pioneer James Winchester constructed this house on a high bluff over a spring that feeds into Bledsoe’s Creek and named it Cragfont. Construction began in 1798 and lasted four years. Winchester was instrumental in the creation of the state of Tennessee and he served as a general in the War of 1812. Among his other accomplishments is his work laying out the city of Memphis. The home he built is now preserved as a house museum and a number of spirits are still felt, heard and seen throughout the home including candlelight that appears in the window at night.

Craighead Caverns (Lost Sea Cave)
140 Lost Sea Road
Anthodite formation on the ceiling of Craighead Caverns.
Photo by Oydman, courtesy of Wikipedia.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
-- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Kubla Khan”

Craighead Caverns, an extensive network of caverns in eastern Tennessee, boasts the largest underground lake in the Western Hemisphere and among the largest in the world. This series of caverns was discovered in the Stone Age by Native Americans and evidence proves that it was used by them. Many centuries before, during the Pleistocene era, a large jaguar stumbled into the cave a died after falling into a crevice. Its prints and skeleton were uncovered in 1939. White men discovered the caves in the early 19th century and utilized them for cold storage and during the Civil War for making saltpeter, a key component of gunpowder.

It is believed that both the jaguar and a Union spy who was captured and summarily executed may have left spiritual remnants within these caverns. Legend speaks of a Union spy who discovered the saltpeter operation in the cave and was caught just as he attempted to blow up the operation. He was shot just outside of the cave’s entrance but may still linger in the caverns.

Hunt-Phelan House
533 Beale Street
Hunt-Phelan House, 2010. Photo by Thomas R. Machnitzki,
courtesy of Wikipedia.

Marking the Lauderdale Street end of the “infamous section” of Beale Street where Blues music first developed, the Hunt-Phelan House has just as infamous a history. Built in 1832 by George Wyatt, during the Civil War the house was used a headquarters for Confederate General Leonidas Polk while planning the Siege of Corinth, Mississippi and a few months later after the fall of Memphis, the house was headquarters for Union General Ulysses S. Grant while he planned the Vicksburg Campaign. The house then served as a Freedmen’s Bureau and was finally returned to the family by President Andrew Johnson in 1865. More recently, the house has been opened as The Inn at Hunt-Phelan featuring four-star accommodations and restaurants.

As with a house this old and historically important, it does have some legends. Among them is the legend of servant, Nathan Wilson. In 1873, during the height of a yellow fever epidemic, the Hunt family fled Memphis and entrusted a chest of gold to their faithful servant. He was later found dead in his room but the mud on his boots indicating he may have buried the gold before he died. Stories have emerged that his spirit is still seen and will guide people to his treasure.

Orpheum Theatre
203 South Main Street
Orpheum Theatre, 2008. Photo by Claire H., courtesy of Wikipedia.

Perhaps one of the more well-known, even famous, ghosts in the state is the girl, Mary, who haunts Memphis’ Orpheum Theatre. The Orpheum anchors one end of the “infamous section” of Beale Street while the Hunt-Phelan House anchors the other. The legend of Mary states that she was killed when she was hit by a car on Beale Street in 1921 and took up residence in the original Orpheum Theatre before it burned in 1923. The current theatre opened in 1928 and still hosts Mary’s antics. She has been seen and heard throughout the theatre.

Rippavilla Plantation
5700 Main Street
Spring Hill
Rippavilla Plantation, 2009. Photo by Hal Jespersen, courtesy
of Wikipedia.

Like Savannah’s Cherry Mansion, Rippavilla Plantation in Spring Hill hosted a general on the eve of a major battle, this time Confederate General John Bell Hood and his staff before the Battle of Franklin. After recent investigations of the house by Volunteer State Paranormal Research, one investigator described the house as “the most active site I have ever visited.” Investigations of the house have produced numerous EVPs as well as some personal experiences.

Shiloh National Military Park
1055 Pittsburg Landing Road
Sunken Road, one of the areas of heaviest fighting on the Shiloh
Battlefield, 2007. Photo by Ernest Mettendorf, courtesy of

The Battle of Shiloh was a real shock to Americans. Fought in April of 1862, Shiloh was one of the bloodiest battles of war up that point. As with all battlefields preserved by the National Park Service, officially the battlefield does not have any ghosts, but numerous staff members, re-enactors and visitors have had odd experiences on this hallowed ground. Spirits have been spotted near Bloody Pond and near the Confederate burial trench between Water Oaks Pond and Crescent Field. It is near the trench that a spectral soldier is seen and others have reported hearing what may be the Confederate war whoop, the “Rebel Yell.”

St. Mary’s Catholic Church
330 Fifth Avenue, North
St. Mary's Catholic Church, 2010. Photo by Andrew Jameson,
courtesy of Wikipedia.

Formerly St. Mary of the Seven Sorrows, St. Mary’s was designed by William Strickland who would later design the state capitol (see below). During the Civil War, the building served as a hospital and according to some sources, some 300 men died on the floors of the church. But, the spiritual activity seems to surround a spectral priest who was seen starting during the Great Depression. Some have identified the spirit as that of Bishop Richard Pius Miles, first bishop of Nashville, whose tomb was discovered in the church in 1969 and he was reburied within the church. According to some the activity ceased after Bishop Miles’ reburial.

Tennessee State Capitol Building
Charlotte Avenue
Tennessee State Capitol Building, 2009. Photo by Kaldari,
courtesy of Wikipedia.

William Strickland, the renowned American architect who designed the Tennessee Capitol moved to Nashville to oversee the construction expecting to be gone only a short time. Strickland died in Nashville in 1854 still awaiting the completion of the building which had been started in 1845. To honor Strickland, the state of Tennessee entombed him within his masterpiece. Some years after construction was completed, the same honor was bestowed upon Samuel Morgan, chairman of the State Building Commission and the man who had overseen construction. It is said that Morgan’s desire to finish the project under-budget clashed with Strickland’s desire to realize his masterpiece and the two bickered constantly. Indeed, after the two were entombed in the same tomb the sound of two men bickering began to be heard. Even recently, security guards have been disturbed by loud shouts near the tomb.

But the two fighting ghosts are not the only ones witnessed within in the Tennessee Capitol. When the Union occupied Nashville during the Civil War, the capitol, built on the highest hill in the city, was fortified and cannon placed around the building. A small skirmish did occur when rebels attempted to seize the fortress. A Union sentry, possibly related to this conflict has been seen patrolling the grounds and has angrily approached people moving furniture, breaking things or even vandalizing the grounds. On the grounds of the building is the tomb of President James K. Polk and his wife Sarah where a darkly clothed man, possibly Polk himself, has been seen kneeling while the specter of First Lady Rachel Jackson, wife of President Andrew Jackson, is said to appear in the cupola of the building.

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