Sunday, November 27, 2011

“…the Heav’n rescued land…”—Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Maryland

Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
--Francis Scott Key, “The Defense of Fort McHenry”

One can hardly fathom the sheer terror that Francis Scott Key must have experienced as he watched the bombardment of Fort McHenry on the night of September 13 and into the early morning hours of the 14th, 1814. That evening, Key, a thirty five year-old Maryland-born lawyer from Georgetown in the district of Columbia, had dined with enemy officers aboard an enemy ship in order to negotiate the release of American prisoners. Because he was now privy to British plans for the bombardment and invasion of Baltimore, Key and American Prisoner Exchange Agent Colonel John Stuart Skinner were detained aboard the HMS Tonnant.

The guns of Fort McHenry now overlook the Francis Scott
Key Bridge which carries I-695. Photo by renpytom, released
under Creative Commons licensing. 

Key likely knew of the systematic destruction of Washington, D.C. by the British and quite possibly worried about destruction of his own home on the opposite bank of the Potomac River. Now detained aboard an enemy ship in Baltimore harbor, it’s imaginable that he worried about the probable destruction of another American city. Below decks, American prisoners lay shackled and there was fear that the British would mercilessly hang these citizens including a respected doctor, William Beanes, from Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Key and Skinner watched with horror the bombardment of Fort McHenry with its huge flag.

A reproduction of the fort's huge flog still flies.
Photo by renpytom, released under Creative
Commons licensing.

The bombardment by the British fleet in Baltimore harbor began on the morning of the thirteenth with an initial exchange. The Americans had sunk a series of merchant ships in the harbor to prevent the British from getting close enough to the fort. After the initial bombardment, the British withdrew to just outside of the range of Fort McHenry’s cannon. At 1 AM the next morning, the British began their heaviest and most long-lasting bombardment that would last most of the next day. They poured some 1500 to 1800 Congreve rockets and mortars onto the fort from a series of ships. Firing mortars onto the fort were ships bearing names like Devastation, Terror, Meteor, Volcano and Aetna. Fortunately, the mortars were poorly designed and few of them actually reached their targets while many of the Congreve rockets exploded mid-air. “…And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air…”

With dawn’s early light, Fort McHenry’s huge flag which had been sewn by Mary Pickersgill and her 13 year-old daughter was revealed to still be flying, an indication that the city and fort had repelled the invasion. Relieved, Key wrote an ode to the flag that was set to an English tune, “To Anacreon in Heaven.” The song gained popularity and was eventually deemed the national anthem in 1931. The grand flag has been cherished and preserved in the Museum of American History while Fort McHenry has been deemed a National Historic Shrine: a shrine to liberty, American defiance, hope, history and spirits.

A view of one of the bastions. Photo by Ad Meskens, courtesy
of Wikipedia.

Whetstone Point juts into an arm of the Patapsco River as it meets the Chesapeake Bay. This peninsula provides the perfect perch from which to oversee ships sailing into Baltimore Harbor and it was here that a fort was first constructed during the American Revolution in 1776. Baltimore was never under British threat during that war, but the local citizens thought it necessary to expand the fort following the war using a five-pointed star design by Jean Foncin. Among the fort’s biggest cheerleaders during this time was Secretary of War James McHenry, for whom the fort was later named.

In the midst of the tumult of the early nineteenth century, American decided to finally stand up against British bullying and declared war. It was this action that brought intense military scrutiny to the region and then action in 1814. Brevet Lt. Col. George Armistead commanded the fort during the day-long bombardment and saw only four casualties among his men. Following the war, the fort resumed its duties standing guard over the harbor until the nation it kept intact was torn apart by Civil War. As Maryland remained neutral there was fear that those with Southern sympathies would try to secede, thus leaving Washington, D.C. surrounded by enemy territory. Politicians suspected of having rebel sympathies were imprisoned in the fort including Baltimore’s mayor, city council and police commissioner. Legend states that the fort’s guns were even trained on the city it had so dutifully protected.

After the Civil War the fort resumed its regular duty and when war once again tore Europe apart during World War I, the fort became a 3000 bed hospital for American troops. After medical duty, much of the fort was restored and it was named a National Park in 1925. On the eve of the Second World War, the fort was named both a National Monument and Historic Shrine, a unique designation from a grateful nation. Once again, the fort resumed duty, like many historic coastal forts. The fort was used by the Coast Guard who worked to protect American shores and shipping from German U-boats.

Under the purview of the National Park Service, the typical line is taken: there are no ghosts at Fort McHenry, though many experiences have been documented. Ed Okonowicz in his masterful Baltimore Ghosts catalogs the numerous spirits that have been witnessed through the old fort. Among them are one, possibly two spirits from the British bombardment in 1814. During one of the engagements, the British scored a direct hit on a gun emplacement on Bastion 3. The explosion killed two Baltimore merchants serving in the Maryland Militia, Lt. Levi Clagett and Sgt. John Clemm. Visitors and staff near “Clagett’s Battery” as it is now called, have spotted the visage of a soldier in period uniform. Visitors sometimes inquire at the visitor’s center as to the identity of the reenactor in that area when none are present. During preparations for a visit by President Gerald Ford, the Secret Service spotted a uniformed soldier walking the same bastion where Clagett and Clemm died.

One of the fort's gun emplacements. Photo by sneakerdog,
released under Creative Commons licensing.

The barracks hosts a female spirit who has been spotted looking out the window and who may be responsible for two “attacks” that have taken place there. An artist who was exploring the building walked through a doorway and was knocked out cold by an invisible something. He stated that it felt like he was hit in the face with a frying pan. He was discovered a short time later by a park ranger who escorted him from the building and who did not seem surprised by the artist’s experiences, replying that he had had a woman in nineteenth century clothing try to push him down the stairs. According to Okonowicz, the identity of the woman may be that of a military officer’s wife who lost both her husband and children to an epidemic sometime after the War of 1812.

The parade ground with barracks and the sally port. Photo
by David Smith, released under Creative Commons licensing.

Perhaps one of the saddest spirits of the fort is the pathetic form of Private John Drew. Drew was on guard duty one evening in 1880. He was arrested the following morning when he was found to have fallen asleep on the job. Unable to deal with this horribly embarrassing episode, Drew shot himself in his cell. Drew’s form has been seen near where he was supposed to be standing guard on that fateful evening. Others have felt a chill within the cell where Drew took his life.

The statue of Orpheus with the Baltimore skyline in the background.
Photo by pwbaker, released under Creative Commons licensing.

One of the more interesting experiences reported on the grounds of the fort comes from near a large statue of Orpheus honoring Francis Scott Key. The large statue stands on the grounds outside the fort and it was here that one visitor saw the figure of man in uniform seemingly floating in mid-air. It was discovered later that that particular area had been the scene of an execution in 1862. A young private had been found guilty of murdering another soldier and it was here that he made his “air-dance,” in other words, he was hanged. Most likely, this is just a sample of the spirits that roam the historic battlements of Fort McHenry; battlements that still witness “the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,” every Fourth of July when fireworks celebrate the freedom this place helped maintain.

Sources
Fort McHenry. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 22 November 2011.
Francis Scott Key. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 22 November
     2011.
Okonowicz, Ed. Baltimore Ghosts: History, Mystery, Legends and Lore.
     Elkton, MD: Myst and Lace Publishing, 2006.
The Star-Spangled Banner. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 22
     November 2011.
Varhola, Michael J. and Michael H. Varhola. Ghosthunting Maryland.
     Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2009.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Joy of Secs—New Southern Spirit Library Acquisitions

And by “secs” I’m referring to second hand books, what did you think I meant?

Southern Spirit Guide spent yesterday traipsing around North Georgia, particularly through the old train tunnel at Tunnel Mountain, but also through one of my favorite used books stores, McKay Used Books (7734 Lee Highway), just over the state line in Chattanooga, Tennessee. McKay Used Books, with locations in Knoxville and Nashville as well, is a feast for bibliophiles. It is literally a warehouse of used books, CDs, DVDs with a huge range of topics including an excellent selection of books on ghosts.

To my knowledge, McKay is not haunted, though there is an old Confederate Cemetery next door, but, they have a fine array of books on ghosts and hauntings. I arrived with my Southern Spirit Library inventory in one hand and my debit card in the other. Within 15 minutes, I had 24 new additions to my library, all relating to the South in some shape or form. Really, this collection is remarkable as it spans the South from Baltimore to Key West with a number of books on the Southern Appalachians. If you find yourself looking for haunted places in Chattanooga (or Knoxville or Nashville), you may want to swing by the McKay location to peruse their ghost books, I know I left a few things on their shelves.

Of course, there’s a reason why this entry is so named. Last night I traveled back to Atlanta and stayed with friends. We went out and I was left with little time to really look through my new purchases. I was scheduled to work today, so I hustled back to LaGrange this morning to work. Since Sundays are slow I took my box of books in with me to look through when I had little to do. There is so much on and under the counters in the drug store where I work that I left the box sitting on the counter in the consultation booth while I helped customers.

One of my coworkers is a ghost hunter and enthusiast, so I invited her to look through the books with me. She pulled out a small, gray book, Ghosts Around the House by Susy Smith (World Publishing, 1970) and began flipping through it. The book opened to a section of photographs, the first featuring a picture of the Audubon House in Key West and I noticed there were two items stuck in the book. They were both old, black and white photos, the first of which had something that was very white. I picked up the photos and quickly realized I was looking at a nude female on all fours. The second photograph showed the same female, in an outdoor setting, smilingly reclining nude. Amateur pornography! Hardly what I expected to find in an innocent book on haunted houses! My coworker and I began laughing hysterically and she, of course, had to share it with the rest of the employees in the store who all found it amusing. I placed the photos back in the book and buried it under a few other books.

Later this afternoon an elderly, regular customer sauntered in. This Sunday school teacher is certainly the epitome of the proper and very religious Southern woman. I had just left the store to make a delivery when this customer entered and while she was being helped, she waited in the consultation booth. Since, as luck may have it, righteousness and curiosity are two traits that don’t quite cancel each other out, she began perusing my box of ghost books and naughtiness, quickly stumbling onto the pictures in question. The suddenly stricken matron asked a coworker if she knew there was “filth” in the box. The coworker replied that we had just discovered the photos and would be disposing of them in short order.

I returned to the store to find the usually chatty matron to be rather cool. Now I know she was suspecting that I was a pervert. I’ll happily add that to my list of descriptives: paranormal researcher and writer, actor, musician, bibliophile, pervert… I think it fits rather nicely.

Ok, in order to pull this blog entry out of the gutter, I’ll breakdown the latest library acquisitions:

John Kachuba’s Ghosthunters: On the Trail of Mediums, Dowsers, Spirit Seekers, and other Investigators of America’s Paranormal World seems like an interesting exploration for someone like me who, as of yet, has not actually investigated ghosts in a physical sense.

Two books about Tennessee’s most famous paranormal episode, the Bell Witch: Charles Bailey Bell and Harriet Parks Miller’s The Bell Witch of Tennessee (1972 reproduction of the original published in 1934) and The Infamous Bell Witch of Tennessee by Charles Edwin Price.

Five anthology type books covering American ghosts: James Reynolds’ Ghosts in American Houses, Hans Holzer’s More Where the Ghosts Are: The Ultimate Guide to Haunted Houses, Charles A. Columbe’s Haunted Places in America, Nancy Roberts’ Animal Ghost Stories, and the previously mentioned book with additional naughtiness.

Two books on Civil War ghosts: Christopher K. Coleman’s Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War and Nancy Roberts’ Civil War Ghosts and Legends.

Three anthologies about the South: S. E. Schlosser’s Spooky South: Tales of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, and Other Local Lore, Edrick Thay’s Ghost Stories of the Old South and Randy Russell and Janet Barnett’s Ghost Dogs of the South.

Five state and regional related books: Tally Johnson’s Ghosts of the South Carolina Midlands; Nancy Roberts’ North Carolina Ghosts and Legends; James V. Burchill, Linda J. Crider and Peggy Kendrick’s The Cold, Cold Hand: Stories of Ghosts and Haunts from the Appalachian Foothills and an earlier book by the same group with Marcia Wright Bonner, Ghosts and Haunts from the Appalachian Foothills; and Randy Russell and Janet Barnett’s The Granny Curse and Other Ghosts and Legends from East Tennessee.

Finally six local books: Taylor’s The Ghosts of Williamsburg, Vol. II, Maggie Carter-de Vries’ Ghosts of Amelia [Amelia Island, Florida] & Other Tales, Suzy Cain and Dianne Jacoby’s A Ghostly Experience: Tales of St. Augustine, Florida, Melissa Rowell and Amy Lynwander’s Baltimore Harbor Haunts: True Ghost Stories and two books by David L. Sloan on Key West, Florida: Haunted Key West and Ghosts of Key West.

The Audubon House with naughtiness, in situ. Photo by Lewis
Powell IV, all rights reserved.
I’ll keep the naughtiness in its original spot in the book. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Haunted Red Stick—Baton Rouge, Louisiana (Haunt Bit)

While I’ve been spending time working on a revision of my entry on Columbus, Mississippi, I decided to take a break and write a little something about another city. The basis of this came from a single 2009 article from The Daily Reveille, the student newspaper of Louisiana State University. Other than that article, and a few scattered references, there’s not much on the ghosts of Baton Rouge.

The name, Baton Rouge, “red stick” in French, refers to a red cypress pole festooned with bloody animals that French explorer Sieur d’Iberville, the founder of the Louisiana colony, encountered in the area. It was placed there to mark the boundary between the hunting grounds of the Houma and the Bayou Goula peoples of the region. Research and archaeological evidence reveal that the area now occupied by Baton Rouge has been inhabited since roughly 8000 BCE. These indigenous peoples have left the area dotted with mounds and other landmarks.

The city was incorporated in 1817 and made state capital in 1849. Architect James Dakin departed from the usual designs for state capitols which paid homage to the U.S. Capitol  building in Washington and designed the building in a Neo-Gothic style complete with turrets, towers and crenellations. The site chosen for this grand castle, overlooking the Mississippi River, is believed to be the location of the red stick that Sieur d’Iberville named the city for.

Since its construction, the Old Louisiana State Capitol Building (100 North Boulevard), has had a busy and somewhat tragic history. During the Union occupation of the city, the building was used as a prison and a garrison for African-American troops. The building caught fire twice and by the end of the war was left a hulking, gutted ruin. The building was restored in 1882 and at this time much of the building’s noted stained glass was added. The legislature used the building until 1932 when a new, modern, art deco styled state capitol was opened. The building underwent full restoration in the 1990s and is now open as a museum of political history.

The Old State Capitol Building. Photo 2009 by Avazina.
Courtesy of Wikipedia.

There is one particularly enduring legend about this Gothic edifice involves a late legislator. Pierre Couvillion, a representative of Avoyelles Parish had a heart attack amid a passionate debate. Though he was buried near his home in Marksville, he spirit may still reside within the halls and chambers of the old building. Staff members and visitors have reported odd occurrences. One security guard watched as movement detectors were set off through a series of rooms while nothing was seen on the video.

Two organizations investigated the building in 2009 and uncovered much evidence. Louisiana Spirits Paranormal Investigations picked up a number of interesting EVPs including someone singing the old song, “You Are My Sunshine.” Everyday Paranormal, in their investigation had a few encounters in the basement of the building, the area used as a prison during the Union occupation. It seems that there are many spirits within the crenellated walls of the Old Capitol.

Many spirits, of the ghostly and liquor kind reside in an old bar on the waterfront. The building that now houses The Spanish Moon (1109 Highland Road) served as a temporary morgue for victims of the flooding that ravaged the area in the early 20th century. The spirit of a young girl who legend holds was trampled by horses in the building may also reside within the creepy structure.

Another spirit among spirits may be found at Willie’s on the River (140 Main Street), so named for its resident spirit. Legend holds that Willie was crushed by a falling wall here sometime in the 19th century. Staff members have reported that the spirit is fond of billiards and balls were seen moving by themselves.

Also on the riverfront is the U.S.S. Kidd Veterans Memorial (305 River Road South), a ship named as a memorial to Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, the highest-ranking officer to die during the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. This memorial ship now serves as a memorial to Louisiana’s World War II veterans.

U.S.S. Kidd, 2006, by Christopherlin, courtesy of Wikipedia.

This Fletcher-class destroyer saw a great deal of action in the Pacific during World War II and the Korean War as well as serving admirably during the Cold War. It was during service in the campaign for Okinawa that the ship was struck by a kamikaze resulting in the deaths of 38 and 55 wounded. It is perhaps this single event that has left a spiritual impression on the now museum ship. Visitors have encountered various apparitions onboard including the images of a single arm or leg moving as if still attached to a human being.

Along the famous River Road which stretches from New Orleans to Baton Rouge that is lined with many historical and haunted plantations are the ruins of The Cottage Plantation (River Road at Duncan Point) just south of the city. Though now reduced to ruined columns forlornly sitting in a private field by the roadside, these ruins were once part of a grand plantation home until a lightning strike and fire reduced it to rubble in 1960. Legend speaks of a man seen wandering the ruins who is believed to be the specter of Angus Holt who served as a personal secretary to Frederick Conrad. Conrad owned the plantation during the Civil War and died before war’s end. Holt returned to run the plantation until his death in 1880. His spirit still lingers to check on the ruins of the mighty manse.

This handful of spirits is most likely just the beginning of the mélange of spirits still dancing about The Red Stick.

Sources
Baton Rouge,Louisiana. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     9 November 2011.
Duvernay, Adam. “Several Baton Rouge sites said to be haunted.”
     The Daily Reveille. 27 October 2009.
Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans. Gretna, LA:
     Pelican Publishing, 2007.
Louisiana Spirits Paranormal Investigations. Old State Capitol, Baton
     Rouge, LA. Accessed 11 November 2011.
Old LouisianaState Capitol. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     9 November 2011.
Southeastern Students. “Old State Capitol Still Occupied by Former
     Ghosts.” Nola.com. 29 October 2009.
USS Kidd(DD-661)Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 14
     2011.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Roadway Revenant—WV Route 901

West Virginia Route 901
Near Spring Mills Plantation
Berkeley County, West Virginia

In the recent past a couple was driving Route 901 near Spring Mills Plantation late one evening in October. Near Harlan Run the couple entered a bank of fog and the interior of the car became quite cold. The fog began to take on a greenish hue and suddenly, the car came to a stop; the engine went dead and the headlights shut off. The couple was left in cold, silent darkness.

From out of the darkness the couple was stunned to see the form of a bedraggled Confederate soldier appear. He held his back as if he’d been wounded and he appeared to notice the couple as he neared the front of their car. With a thump he laid his hands on the hood and peered pleadingly before collapsing leaving bloody handprints on the car. The husband opened his door and walked to the front of the car to help the pathetic figure who now lay prone in the roadway. When he reached out to the poor soldier the figure disappeared along with the bloody handprints. The couple quickly left vowing never to drive that stretch of road in the dark.

So far I’ve found this story repeated, with some different details, in two sources. There also seems to be some argument as to the exact location of this incident. Walter Gavenda and Michael T. Shoemaker in their 2001 A Guide to Haunted West Virginia provide the most exact location, on Route 901 just over Harlan Run near Spring Mills Plantation. Patty A. Wilson’s 2007 Haunted West Virginia places the story on Route 11, which is described as the “Highway of Bones” due to the many deaths along its run during the Civil War. Gavenda and Shoemaker also state that a noted West Virginia folklorist has recorded a handful of similar stories from this location. This area was certainly the scene of activity during the Civil War.

The area around Harlan Run is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Spring Mills Historic District. This district is comprised of seven different structures including a late 18th century mill, a few houses, Falling Waters Presbyterian Church and its cemetery. Together these buildings remain as an example of a small rural hamlet in the early 19th century. Indeed, they may have also played a part in the conflicts in the region during the Civil War.

According to the National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the historic district, the area did not see any actual fighting, though it may have been used frequently for encampments with the nearby Dr. Hammond House serving as headquarters for a few generals on both sides. Still, this does not explain the frightening apparition in the road, but it does make for a wonderful story. Nor is this the first roadside revenant in the region. These type stories are found associated with many of West Virginia’s winding mountain roads and extending throughout the rural South.

Sources
Gavenda, Walter and Michael T. Shoemaker. A Guide to Haunted West Virginia.
    Glen Ferris, WV: Peter’s Creek Publishing, 2001.
Taylor, David L. National Register of Historic Places form for the Spring Mills
     Historic District. October 2003.
Wilson, Patty A. Haunted West Virginia: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the
     Mountain State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2007.