Monday, January 9, 2012

A Carolina Cornucopia (Haunt Brief)

When I discover a new source, however brief, I do feel a little excitement. It’s probably the paranormal geek in me. On New Year’s Eve, while most people were stumbling around drunk, setting off fireworks and shooting off guns (this is the South, after all), I was studiously in my room reading up on Greenville, South Carolina (though I’d have rather had a bit more excitement). Among the books that I added to the Southern Spirit Library last year was Jason Profit’s Haunted Greenville, South Carolina. I’m still reading the book which, so far, has been excellent. In looking up the Poinsett Hotel on Google, the search results included “Poinsett Hotel haunted.” Bingo! The results pulled up an article from Quad-Cities Online, the online home to the The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus, newspapers based in Moline, Illinois. Now why they’re publishing an article about ghosts in the Carolinas is beyond me, but I’m grateful to see it.

Some of the locations included in this article are fairly well-known, while others I’m not familiar with. The author contacted the directors of ghost tours in cities throughout the Carolinas as well as Savannah, Georgia, and asked them to identify what they believed to be the most “haunted location” in each place. Therefore, I decided to create a Haunt Brief exploring these locations.

One quick note, I’m not a fan of describing locations as “most haunted.” I find the phrase to be ambiguous and vague. If something is “most haunted” precisely what does that entail? Does the location have more activity or more ghosts or both and how is that measured? The phrase is thrown around with such elan by so many people that it has really lost its meaning.

Helen’s Bridge
Beaumont Street
Asheville, North Carolina

Celebrated in legend and literature, the Zealandia Bridge, often known as “Helen’s Bridge” spans Beaumont Street as it rises up Beaucatcher Mountain. The rustic stone bridge was constructed as a carriageway for the Zealandia Estate in 1909. It was designed by R. S. Smith, who worked as an architect on the building of the Biltmore Estate. The looming structure has been threatened at least twice, once during the building of nearby Interstate 240 when supports were added to protect the structure during nearby blasting. In 1998 with the supports still in place and stones falling from it the city considered demolishing the structure. Local history buffs and preservationists won the fight and the supports were carefully removed. The bridge was structurally quite sound and it has recently been bought by the city to use as part of a greenway.

Helen's Bridge, 2008, by Molly Hare. Photo
released under a Creative Commons License.

One of Asheville’s favorite sons, writer Thomas Wolf, walked under the bridge many times while growing up and included it in a passage in his most notable work, Look Homeward, Angel. But it is perhaps the lore of the bridge that draws most. The legend speaks of a woman named Helen who lived near the bridge with her beloved daughter. After she lost her daughter in a fire the distraught Helen hung herself from the bridge. Her anguished spirit is said to still appear to motorists and curious teens out for a scare.

The legend has many versions, sometimes including a date or approximate date and providing more of an identity to the mysterious Helen. Some versions associate Helen with Zealandia, the nearby estate built for Pennsylvanian John Evans Brown who made his fortune raising sheep in New Zealand, thus the estate’s name. One version places the fire resulting in the death of Helen’s daughter taking place there while another version has Helen as the mistress of the estate’s owner who hung herself after she became pregnant. Researchers have found nothing to document the existence of an actual Helen, regardless, there still are stories of dauntless teens having interesting experiences there.

Old Burying Ground
Ann Street
Beaufort, North Carolina

Among the oldest cemeteries in the state, Beaufort’s Old Burying Ground lies in a verdant peace under ancient oaks. Created in the early 18th century, this burying ground holds a number of interesting graves including that of a young girl who died at sea. To preserve her body, it was placed in a barrel of rum and it was the same barrel that she was buried in. She may be the spirit of a little girl that has been reported walking among the graves.

Horace Williams House
610 East Rosemary Street
Chapel Hill, North Carolina

An interest in phrenology, the study of how the shape of the head affects intelligence and character, led to the interesting octagon design of the Horace Williams House. Construction on the home was begun in the 1850s by University of North Carolina chemistry professor Benjamin Hedrick. The book, A Home for All or the Gravel Wall and Octagon Mode of Building, by phrenologist Orson Fowler influenced Hedrick’s design. Fowler preached that the design of the home affected and influenced harmony between those living in the home. Subsequently, this book was important in the building of many octagon homes throughout the nation.

The home passed through a few hands until it ended up with Professor Horace Williams, a beloved professor of philosophy. Upon Williams’ death in 1940, the home and contents were left to the university and the house has been preserved as a museum. Activity in the home includes the apparition of a professorial gentleman, most likely that of Williams. Native American and Civil War artifacts discovered around the house indicate that other spiritual activity may be caused by a range of people who have inhabited the property in the past.

Biltmore Hotel
111 West Washington Street
Greensboro, North Carolina

Built in 1895, the building that now houses the Biltmore Hotel was the first in the city with indoor plumbing, electricity and an unmanned elevator. It opened initially as an office building for one of the local mills but became the headquarters of the post office just after the turn of the 20th century. In the 1920s, the building opened as a luxury hotel, but it fell on hard times after the stock market crash of 1929. After that, legend holds that some rooms were rented to ladies of the evening. The building was remodeled in the late 1960s following a disastrous fire and remains a luxurious boutique hotel.

Biltmore Hotel and the Alley next to it, 2006, by G. McFly.
Released under a Creative Commons License.

Among the spirits that roam the halls of the Biltmore is that of a young woman, quite possibly one of the ladies of the evening that “haunted” the halls and local street corners in the early 20th century. She is said to haunt one particular room and the staff works to keep her satisfied. They will often leave gifts to appease her and activity will quiet down for a short time.

Mordecai House
1 Mimosa Street
Raleigh, North Carolina

Certainly one of the grandest landmarks in Raleigh, the Mordecai House is perhaps one of the more active locations in the city as well. This house originally was constructed as a modest home by local tavern owner Joel Lane who was instrumental in the creation of Raleigh as the state’s capital. One of Lane’s daughters married an attorney, Moses Mordecai, who renovated the home into the grand, Greek revival manse it is now. Mordecai also donated land for Oakwood Cemetery nearby, which has been nicknamed “Hell’s Gate” for the paranormal activity supposedly taking place within its gates.

Mordecai House, 2010, by Mark Turner. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

There has also been a great deal of activity reported within Mordecai House itself. So much so, that the TAPS team from the reality show, Ghost Hunters, investigated the house in 2005. Their book doesn’t mention if they got any evidence as much of the team ended up with food poisoning and left the investigation early.

Among the reported activity in and around the house are spectral Civil War soldiers who possibly date to the home’s use as a Civil War hospital and a female apparition, quite possibly that of Margaret Lane Mordecai, the wife of Moses. Also on the property is the tavern where President Andrew Johnson was born. Within this building lights are sometimes seen at night.

Gallows Hill
Market & Fifth Streets
Wilmington, North Carolina

The intersection of busy Market Street and Fifth Street was, for many years in the city’s early history, the site of public executions. After the gallows were moved, the area became the site of a number of fine homes including the haunted Bellamy Mansion and a home built by Dr. William Price. Even though executions no longer occur in the area, many spirits apparently remain. According to the owners of Ghost Walks of Old Wilmington, paranormal activity is common all over the block. Activity ranges from phantom smells of tobacco, candied yams (a delicacy of the period) and fresh bread. The halls of the Dr. Price House, now an architectural firm, are filled with fleeting shadows and the sounds of the footsteps of the condemned.

Old Post Office Building
Park Avenue & Laurens Street
Aiken, South Carolina

Modeled on Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, the Old Post Office Building has been remodeled and restored into an office for Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, a company that provides management and operations for the nearby Savannah River Site. The post office opened in 1912 and remained as a postal facility until 1971. Also during that time, the basement of the building was renovated into offices for Senator Strom Thurmond. Since retirement, the building has served a variety of uses.

According to the owner of Aiken Ghost Tours, the flag atop the building was raised and lowered every day. Unfortunately, there was a good deal of danger walking the roof, especially in inclement weather. Legend holds that one of these brave souls fell and died one evening. Ever since, locals have regularly seen and reported a man walking on the roof of building.

The Castle
411 Craven Street
Beaufort, South Carolina

Reading something written about the paranormal by someone who is not an acolyte of the subject is always an interesting adventure. Most certainly, hauntings don’t usually get written up in the business magazine, Forbes; but then again, the ghost of The Castle is one of the most unusual in the South. One sentence, in particular, stands out to me, “Though likely the only haunted house in town, ‘The Castle’ is hardly the only antebellum mansion in Beaufort.” A ludicrous statement if there ever was one! Beaufort, South Carolina is one of the many Low Country towns visited by flocks of the living and the dead, hardly a “one haunted house” kinda town.

This 2006 article was highlighting this magnificent estate that had just been put up for sale for $4.6 million, of course that was nearing the height of the real estate market. In researching the house, I stumbled across the house listed on a real estate website for $2.9 million. I can’t be sure that the house has been for sale all this time, but I can’t help wondering what Grenauche or Gauche, the resident spirit, thinks of all this.

The home’s resident ghost is that of a dwarf. Legend holds that the small being only reveals himself to children who are ill. Terrence Zepke records a conversation that the spirit had with one child where he said he does not reveal himself to fools. The article in Forbes mentions that the daughter of a recent owner saw the spirit when she was in bed with the chicken pox. Nancy Roberts has the spirit appearing to the daughter of the home’s builder, Dr. James Johnson, while she played in the basement. She saw a jaunty and wizened man in a cap, breeches and pointed shoes.

The exact identity of the funny little man is lost in the haze of legend. Some identify him as a court jester who was among the early French Huguenot settlers nearby during the 16th century. Another legend claims him to be a Portuguese dwarf killed in an Indian raid in the early years of the 18th century. According to the stories, the dwarf told a child that he had taken up residence in the old manse because it resembled his old home in the old world. Regardless, his petite spirit may still haunt “The Castle.”

Circular Congregational Church Cemetery
150 Meeting Street
Charleston, South Carolina

The Circular Congregational Church, 2011, by Lewis
Powell IV, all rights reserved.

The long span of Meeting Street was named for the Congregational meeting house that has been located on this site since the 1680s, just after Charleston’s founding. The church itself dates only to 1891 while the cemetery surrounding the building is the oldest cemetery in the city. Within the confines of the ancient cemetery is the oldest slate grave marker in the United States. Among the old graves here there are also spirits. Numerous tours pass by and a few pass through this ancient place. While there are tales and legends about residents being seen near their graves, I can find no specific stories attributed to this most historic of places.

One of the ancient graves in the church cemetery. Photo 2011,
by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral Cemetery
1100 Sumter Street
Columbia, South Carolina

Among the many historic churches in the state of South Carolina, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral ranks among the most important. Sitting just across Sumter Street from the state capitol, the church has had a seat front and center to the panoply of South Carolina’s history. Modeled on York Minster Cathedral, Charleston architect Edward Brickell White designed this edifice in 1840. Construction began in 1845 with additions added throughout the 19th century.

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 1935, taken for HABS.

During General Sherman’s occupation of Columbia after its surrender in 1865, fires broke out throughout the city and quickly devoured much of the city. The grand statehouse across the street withstood six artillery strikes and was soon alight. While some public buildings were “put to the torch” by Sherman’s troops, there is controversy as to how many of the fires started. Legend holds that to spare the church from destruction, all signs of the church’s Episcopal denomination were removed and papier mache crosses placed on the roof to disguise the church as Roman Catholic. Supposedly this spared the church the fate of its neighbors.

The church’s cemetery holds the graves of some of South Carolina’s elite of the including three Confederate generals, Wade Hampton I and his son and grandson, poet Henry Timrod and assorted governors. According to Jody Donnelly of Spirits and Spectres of Columbia tours, there are also ghosts under the cemetery’s ancient oaks. He tells a story of a love triangle where one man shot the other. The woman they were both in love with ended up nursing the guy who was shot and they fell madly in love. Both were buried here, but their grave is visited by the spectre of the shooter, who also loved the woman.

Westin Poinsett Hotel
120 South Main Street
Greenville, South Carolina

The Poinsett Hotel, named for Joel R. Poinsett, President Millard Fillmore’s Secretary of War, was Greenville’s first skyscraper at 12 stories. Dominating Main Street, the hotel, billed as “South Carolina’s finest,” opened in 1925 partially to serve the textile industry that had blossomed in Greenville. It replaced the Mansion House Hotel which had served visitors to the city for nearly 100 years.

With the Great Depression hitting just a few years after the hotel’s grand opening, the hotel fell on hard times. The hotel would not make a profit again for nearly a decade. From that point, until the 1970s, the hotel served Greenville and its visitors successfully. Declining profits led to the hotel’s closing in 1975 and it was converted into housing for senior citizens. The enormous structure was condemned in 1987 and left abandoned. Vagrants, vandals, the homeless and curious teens ventured into the building and alarmed many local citizens who considered tearing the hotel down. The hotel reopened in 2000 after a multi-million dollar restoration and it has now returned to prominence as one of Greenville’s most luxurious hotels.

So far, some guests enjoying the luxurious amenities have encountered other, non-paying guests in the hotel. Jason Profit, in his book, Haunted Greenville, South Carolina, relates stories from two guests. A businessman staying in the hotel was awakened during the night by odd sounds from the bathroom. Twice he discovered the light on after he knew he had shut it off. The second time the sounds seem to be coming from the hallway and the businessman opened the door and peered into the mostly empty hallway to see an elderly man disappearing around the corner. Upset, he called the front desk to demand that whoever was cleaning at that time of the night needed to be quieter. He was told no one was cleaning at that time and he was the only person on that floor.

A young woman staying in the hotel had an even scarier experience. She and her boyfriend checked in and she was alone in the room hanging clothes in the closet while her boyfriend had gone to get drinks at the bar. Suddenly she found herself pushed into the closet and the doors shut behind her. She tried desperately to open the door but she said it felt as if the knob was being held from the other side (pun intended). She said it felt like nearly 15 minutes passed while she fought whatever it was trapping her in the closet. When she got out she grabbed her cell phone and told her boyfriend she would not be staying any longer in the hotel. Whether the spirits of former guests, elderly residents or vagrants, something is stalking the halls of the Poinsett Hotel.

Sources
Ambrose, Kala. Ghosthunting North Carolina. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press,
     2011.
Asheville Community News. “Savings Helen’s Bridge.” 1999.
Beaufort-nc.com. “Old Burying Ground.” 2011.
Biltmore Hotel. “About Us.” Accessed 9 January 2012.
Bordsen, John. “Find the most haunted place in these Carolina towns.”
     Dispatch-Argus. 31 October 2010.
Brown, Alan. Stories from the Haunted South. Jackson, MS: University
     Press of Mississippi, 2004.
Burgess, Joel. “City acquires historic bridge.” Asheville Citizen-Times.
     25 November 2009.
     Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 7 January 2012.
“Gallows Hill home called most haunted.” WWAY, News Channel 3.
     31 October 2007.
Hawes, Jason and Grant Wilson. Ghost Hunting. NYC: Pocket Books,
     2007.
     Accessed 8 January 2012.
Mould, David R. and Missy Loewe. Historic Gravestone Art of Charleston,
     South Carolina: 1695-1802. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2006.
National Register of Historic Places. Nomination form for the
     Poinsett Hotel. No date.
Profit, Jason. Haunted Greenville, South Carolina. Charleston, SC:
     History Press, 2011.
Roberts, Nancy. South Carolina Ghosts from the Coast to the
     Mountains. Columbia, SC: U. of SC Press, 1983.
Rolfe, Denise. Ghosts and Legends of Charleston. Atglen, PA: Schiffer,
     2010.
Rose, Lacey. “Carolina Castle.” Forbes. 17 April 2006.
Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, LLC. Newsletter. February 2010.
Schuette, Mary. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for
     Trinity Episcopal Church. 29 August 1970.
Tomlin, Robyn. “Zealandia Bridge Repairs Completed; Fixing historic
     bridge cost much less than originally forecast.” Asheville Citizen-Times.
     1 June 1999.
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral (Columbia, South Carolina). Wikipedia,
     the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 7 January 2012.
Warren, Joshua. Haunted Asheville. Johnson City, TN: Overmountain
     Press, 1996.
Workers of the Writers’ Program of the Work Projects Administration
     of the State of South Carolina. South Carolina: A Guide to the Palmetto
     State. NYC: Oxford University Press, 1941.
Zepke, Terrance. Best Ghost Tales of South Carolina. Sarasota,
     FL: Pineapple Press, 2004.

3 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. While the post started out about South Carolina, it seems to me you chose to highlight mostly NORTH Carlina. Two totally different places my man! Get your ghost facts and stories straight and put in the proper state! There are MANY stories of ghosts in SC. No need to combine NC with them!

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  3. I do realize there's a huge difference between the two states. I was following the information provided in an article. The locations are listed in the proper state AND there are 5 locations for both states. I realize there are just as many stories in SC as in NC and I'm working to provide information on as many as possible.

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