Thursday, March 29, 2012

“One of Nature’s sublimest poems”—Chimney Rock, North Carolina

431 Main Street 
Chimney Rock, North Carolina 

N.B. Since I’m headed up here tomorrow for the weekend, I figured it would be nice to repost this entry. My writing about the area has inspired my dad to rent a cabin for the family for a nice weekend getaway. Thus, I’d like to dedicate this entry to my parents and my sisters. And I can’t forget Patrick, my sister’s husband who has recently joined the family. Thank y’all for dealing with me and accepting my eccentricities. I’m proud to be apart of such a loving, upstanding and interesting family.

 Originally published 5 May 2011.

My mind has been stuck in Western North Carolina recently. Since I wrote the last entry on Lake Lure, I stumbled on some interesting information on Chimney Rock, the large, granite monolith towering above Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure. In the entry on Lake Lure, I described the history of the area which is interwoven with the history of Chimney Rock itself.

Briefly, Chimney Rock was purchased in 1870 by Jerome B. Freeman with the intention of creating a tourist attraction and he opened the park to the public in 1885. The park was purchased by Dr. Lucius Morse and his brothers in 1902. It was Morse who dreamed of creating a mountain resort town based around a mountain lake. His dreams came to fruition in the 1920s with construction of a dam to create Lake Lure and the building of the Lake Lure Inn. Morse’s family owned the park until 2007 when it was sold to the state of North Carolina as a state park. At least that is the “white man’s history.”

Chimney Rock with Lake Lure in the background. Photo 2009,
by moonlightbulb. Released under a Creative Commons License.
This area has always contained a certain mystique. The Cherokee and the Catawba, the primary native peoples in the area, considered Hickory Nut Gorge sacred. The land beyond the stone pillar of Chimney Rock was called Suwali-nuna. This was part of a trading path that followed the Swannanoa River and then snaked through the gorge to the lands of the Catawaba and Sara in the east. This path was also used in search of tsa’lu or tobacco.

Suwali-nuna was inhabited by mythic beasts and spirits, but most notably, the Yun’wi Tsundsdi or “Little People.” James Mooney, a nineteenth century ethnographer who recorded much of the Cherokee mythology, history and lore in his History, Myths and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees, describe them as thus:

There is another race of spirits […] who live in rock caves on the mountain side. They are little fellows, hardly reaching up to a man’s knee, but well shaped and handsome, with long hair falling to the ground. They are great wonder workers and are very fond of music, spending half their time drumming and dancing. They are helpful and kind-hearted, and often when people have been lost in the mountains, especially children who have strayed away from their parents, the Yun’wi Tsundsdi have found them and taken them back to their homes. […] the Little People do not like to be disturbed at home, and they throw a spell over the stranger so that he is bewildered and loses his way… 
In Suwali-nuna, however, these benevolent beings are not so forgiving. They were guardians of the sacred tsa’lu, or tobacco, which they kept there and took harsh action against anyone trespassing in the gorge in search of it. In the beginning of the world, there was a single tsa’lu plant for all creatures but it had been used up. In one version of the story, the plant was stolen by geese and swiftly carried to a place in the south. Nonetheless, without the power of tsa’lu men grew weak and death was imminent. Swift warriors and powerful shamans sent into the gorge in search of the sacred medicine were crushed by boulders toppled by the Yun’wi Tsundsdi. The strong winds blowing through the stone hollow would sometimes throw these braves into the turbulent waters of the river and they would never be seen again. 

One young man, worried by the impending death of his father for lack of tsa’lu, traveled to Suwali-nuna in search of it. Reaching the mountains that border the gorge, the young man opened his medicine bag and brought out the skin of a hummingbird. Placing the skin over himself he transformed into the swift bird and flew, undetected into the heart of the gorge. Quickly, he gathered a few leaves of tsa’lu with some seeds and slipped, unseen, out of the gorge. Returning home he found his father very weak but with one draw from the pipe, he regained strength. The Cherokee planted the seeds and have had tsa’lu ever since. 

During his explorations throughout the Southeast, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto may have passed under the watchful pillar of Chimney Rock, a sign of the deluge of white men that would flood the gorge in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The gorge became part of Rutherford County, named for General Griffith Rutherford, a military leader who led American forces against Chief Dragging Canoe and the Cherokee during the Chickamauga Wars. As settlers poured into the gorge they were awed by the Cherokee’s mystical land. 

In 1806, an account appeared in the papers of the period describing an extraordinary vision witnessed by a family living near Chimney Mountain. On July 31st, an eight year old named Elizabeth Reaves spotted a man on the mountain. She brought this to the attention of her eleven year old brother, Morgan, and told him that she saw the man rolling rocks and picking up sticks. Incredulous, her brother went to where she had seen this sight and he was greeted by the sight of “a thousand things flying in the air.” They were joined by their fourteen year old sister, “a Negro woman” and their mother who also witnessed the spectacle. 

The mother described a host of beings of a variety of sizes that were rising off of the side of the mountain and collecting at the top of Chimney Rock. After gathering at the rock, three appeared to lift off and rise towards the heavens. Summoning Robert Siercy, a neighbor, they all witnessed the sight together watching as the crowd eventually vanished. 

Five years after the Reaves spectral vision in 1811, an elderly couple witnessed a different, though still extraordinary vision. Late one afternoon the couple, who lived near Chimney Rock Falls, witnessed the battle of a spectral army mounted on winged horses. The armies clashed and the couple heard the ping of steel upon steel and saw the glint of the weapons in the sunlight. After a battle of about ten minutes, one army was defeated and withdrew to the victorious cheers of the remaining army. It was also reported that other “respectable men” in the area witnessed the winged warriors, though not engaged in combat. 

In the two hundred years since these amazing visions, there are no further reports of such astounding sights, these stories do set the stage for the hauntings at the Lake Lure Inn and the Lodge at Lake Lure. I suspect there are further spirits walking the scenic shores of Lake Lure and floating about Chimney Mountain’s stone spire. Silas McDowell, who recorded the testimony of the witnesses to the 1811 vision described Chimney Rock as “one of Nature’s sublimest poems, where objects are so weird, beautiful and grand that words cannot translate them, and they can only be seen and felt when we look, wonder and admire in dumb amazement.” 

Carden, Gary and Nina Anderson. Belled Buzzards, Hucksters & Grieving 
     Specters: Appalachian Tales: Strange, True & Legendary. Asheboro, 
     NC: Down Home Press, 1994. 
Chickamauga Wars (1776-1794). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia
     Accessed 5 May 2011. 
Mooney, James. History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees
     Asheville, NC: Bright Mountain Books, 1992. 
Russell, Randy and Janet Barnett. Mountain Ghost Stories and Curious Tales 
     of Western North Carolina. Winston- Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1988. 
Rutherford County, North Carolina. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia
     Accessed 5 May 2011.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Southern Spirit Guide to Florida

This blog is all about evolution. This entry will be beginning of a series of long articles that will present information on haunted places within a specific state in a brief, more guide-like format. I’ll still continue with long-form articles exploring various locations, while this format will carry a short-form description with links to the long-form sections. It will also cover locations that may be covered in a longer format in the future.

Please note that all information is evolving and this guide will be updated and reposted periodically. Currently, this guide will be organized by city, though that may change.

Homestead, Miami-Dade County

Coral Castle
28655 South Dixie Highway

Inside the Coral Castle, 2009, by Milan Boers. Released under
a Creative Commons License.
Originally covered in “Haunted Florida” published 27 December 2010.

An eccentric Latvian immigrant, Edward Leedskalnin, began creating this most eccentric of places in 1923 nearby in Florida City. In 1936 he moved himself and the castle to Homestead where he worked on the place until he died in 1951. There have been questions about how Leedskalnin, who was five feet tall and weighed less than a hundred pounds, maneuvered the massive blocks of coral that sometimes weighed a few tons. When visitors would ask how he did it, he would only answer, “It’s not difficult if you know how.” This has given rise to numerous theories of how this massive complex was constructed including the help of aliens, though engineers surmise that much of his work was done using known techniques.

It is only appropriate that this legendary place has legends attached. More sensitive visitors have noted the existence of energy vortices throughout the complex. Throughout this masterpiece, Mr. Leedskalnin’s presence is felt. Other visitors have had figures appear among the castle’s huge coral blocks.

Coral Castle. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     26 March 2012.
Lapham, Dave. Ghosthunting Florida. Cincinnati, OH:
     Clerisy Press, 2010.
Moore, Joyce Elson. Haunt Hunter’s Guide to Florida.
     Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2008.
Thuma, Cynthia and Catherine Lower. Haunted Florida.
     Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008.
Walls, Kathleen. Finding Florida’s Phantoms.
     Global Authors Publications, 2004.

Key West, Monroe County

La Concha Hotel
430 Duval Street
The La Concha Hotel in the 1970s. Photo from the
Florida Keys Public Libraries System.
Originally published in “Haunted Hotels and Inns of the South, Part I,” 30 October 2010.

The theme that runs through the ghost stories of the La Concha Hotel in Key West is falling from a great height, both deliberately and accidentally. This seven story hotel, opened in 1926, is the tallest building in the city and has been the scene of suicides and a horrible accident. The building’s history has also experienced some great falls as well. Opened to great acclaim, this luxury hotel was visited by many of the notable names of the age: Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, even possibly Al Capone and his cronies, but with the stock market crash in 1929, business seriously dropped. The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane which swept the Keys destroyed the Key West Extension of the East Coast Railway which was one of the island’s major arteries.

Following World War II, the La Concha, much decayed, staggered on through the middle of the twentieth century with only the kitchen and the famous rooftop bar open to the public. The hotel was restored and reopened in 1986 to much fanfare. The La Concha Hotel has recovered from its fall, but, perhaps its spirits have not.

On New Year’s Eve, 1982 or ’83 (sources differ), a young man, unfamiliar with the hotel’s ancient service elevator, fell down the elevator shaft while cleaning up after a party. His spirit seems most active on the fifth floor and obviously, around the elevator. More deliberately, according to Dave Lapham’s Ghosthunting Florida, some 13 people have committed suicide from the rooftop bar of the hotel. Some of their spirits may also remain. One gentleman who took the leap in 2006 reportedly downed a glass of Chardonnay before doing so. Since then, patrons have reported their glasses of Chardonnay were sometimes suddenly jerked from their hands by an unseen force. Hopefully, these fallen spirits have found comfort in the Other Side.

1935 Labor Day hurricane. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     29 October 2010.
Jenkins, Greg. Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore,
     Volume 1, South and Central Florida. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple
     Press, 2008.
Lapham, Dave. Ghosthunting Florida. Cincinnatti, OH: Clerisy,
Rodriguez, Stacy. “La Concha Hotel turns 80.” The Key West
     Citizen. 20 January 2006.

Lake City, Columbia County

Hotel Blanche
212 North Marion Street
An old postcard of the Hotel Blanche.
Originally covered in “Haunted Florida” published 27 December 2010.

For decades, travelers heading down Highway 441 from Georgia to Florida would stop at the luxurious Hotel Blanche in Lake City, among them, gangster Al Capone on his way to Miami. This landmark, the heart of downtown Lake City, has been witness to the city’s history for more than a hundred years. Recently, one of the building’s owners described part of the building as a “death trap.”As the hotel’s clientele dwindled towards the middle part of the 20th century, the hotel began to deteriorate. The ground floors have remained occupied with businesses and the second floor has occasionally been used for office space and meetings, but the third floor has not been in use for some time. In fact, the door to the third floor has been screwed shut; perhaps to contain some force from the Other Side?

Over the past few years, arguments have arisen over what to do with the massive white elephant. The city has considered purchasing the building, though I can find nothing to definitively say if that has occurred. Taking up nearly a block of downtown Lake City, directly across from City Hall, the Hotel Blanche was once the heart of Lake City. The hotel was constructed in 1902 by Will Brown and named for his daughter. The hotel added two wings amidst the tourist boom of the 1920s. The hotel closed in 1967 and its third floor has not been used since that time.

The paranormal history of the hotel is less clear. Greg Jenkins reports in his Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore that the hotel may very well have a “large collection of spirits,” though this hasn’t been officially investigated. Apparently many sounds are heard including children running and giggling. The sounds of door slamming have also been heard as well as many odd smells including perfume, vinegar and sulfur (sometimes seen as an indication of a malevolent entity. The spirits, though, do seem as unsettled as the recent plans for the building.

Burkhardt, Karl. “Renovation of the Blanche Hotel,
     Lake City’s most famous historic structure, may
     restore it as a downtown centerpiece.” Lake City
     Journal. 18 July 2011.
Hotel Blanche. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 27 December 2010.
Jenkins, Greg. Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted
     Folklore, Vol. 2. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2005.
Lilker, Stew. “Conversation with Steve Smith, Blanche
     investment trust spokesman.” Columbia County Observer.
     21 October 2009.
Lilker, Stew. “The Blanche Hotel: The seventh inning stretch.”
     Columbia County Observer. 3 March 2010.
Lilker, Stew. “The Blanche: The city steps up, Councilman
     Hill wants to slow down.” Columbia County Observer. 21
     October 2009.

Lakeland, Polk County

Annie Pfeiffer Chapel
Florida Southern College
The Annie Pfeiffer Chapel, 2006, by hyku. Released under a
Creative Commons License.
Originally published in “Haunted Southern College and University Buildings—Alabama and Florida,” 15 May 2011.

Few colleges can boast about the tremendous architectural heritage that Florida Southern College possesses. Contained within its West Campus is a collection of nine structures designed by the master architect Frank Lloyd Wright and named by him “Child of the Sun.” Following Wright’s sometimes cryptic designs, students and faculty constructed these structures beginning with this chapel which was completed on the eve of World War II.

Around these visionary masterpieces legends have also sprouted. A number of the ghost legends have been documented by Daniel Barefoot in his 2004 book, Haunted Halls of Ivy. Many of the legends have also found documentation in The Folklore of Florida Southern College by Dr. Alexander Bruce, who was an English professor and Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs at the school. Among the legends is one about the chapel and its architect.

Between the buildings’ amateur construction workers and the cryptic plans, some mistakes were made. Legend holds that the choir screen which covers the choir loft above the congregation in the chapel was installed upside down. According to Bruce, that idea is pure bunk, though Barefoot still kicks around the notion that the chapel may be haunted by the upset spirit of Wright still contemplating the wrongly placed detail.

Barefoot, Daniel W. Haunted Halls of Ivy: Ghosts of Southern
     Colleges and Universities. Winston-Salem, NC: John F.
     Blair, 2004.
Bruce, Alexander M. The Folklore of Florida Southern College:
     A look at the history and mystery of Florida Southern College.
     Chula Vista, CA: Avetine Press, 2003.

Miami, Miami-Dade County

Miami International Airport
2100 Northwest 42nd Avenue

Originally covered in “Haunted Florida” published 27 December 2010.

It’s not unheard of that an airport could be haunted. An airport may be the last place that a plane may board before an accident or perhaps a destination that is not reached. Either way, an airport may attract spirits. Miami International was the destination for Eastern Airlines Flight 401 on December 29, 1972. As the plane flew over the Everglades on its approach to the airport, it crashed killing 77 including both pilots. While the plane never arrived, legend speaks of the form of the plane’s captain, Robert Loft, being seen in the airport near where the ticket counters for Eastern Airlines once stood and disappearing into the old Eastern concourse.

In the annals of paranormal phenomena, this plane crash is the focus of many stories. Stories abound of the appearance of the captain and 2nd Officer Don Repo on planes that utilized parts recovered from the crash site. After these stories began to surface, Eastern Airlines reportedly removed all these parts from service. Additionally, during the recovery efforts for victims, many working in the swamps late at night heard whimpering and sobbing and saw phantom faces in the black water.

Eastern Airlines Flight 401. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 27 December 2010.
Jenkins, Greg. Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted
     Folklore, Vol. 2. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2005.

Olustee, Baker County

Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park

Originally published in “Southern Civil WarGhosts, Part I,” 28 November 2010.

In February of 1864, Union forces set out from occupied Jacksonville, Florida with the intent of making inroads into the state to cut supply lines, free slaves and possibly recruit African-Americans for service in the Union army. Heading west towards Lake City, the Union forces under Brigadier General Truman Seymour encountered entrenched Confederates under the command of Brigadier General Joseph Finegan at Olustee Station near Ocean Pond. Among the union forces involved in this battle was the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, one of the first and most well known African-American units.

Fighting through thick forest of palmetto and pine, the almost equally pitted troops (5,000 Confederates versus 5,500 Union troops) fought throughout the afternoon of February 20. The Confederates repulsed the Union troops and inflicted heavy casualties, causing the Union to lose some 40% of their forces (203 killed, 1,152 wounded, and 506 missing, a total of 1,861 men) while the Confederates lost about 20% of their forces (93 killed, 847 wounded, and 6 missing, a total of 946 casualties in all). Union forces retreated to Jacksonville after being beaten back.

The battlefield, preserved as Florida’s first state park in 1912, is home to an annual reenactment and re-enactors have had a number of odd experiences primarily involving full-bodied apparitions. One of the more interesting of these was an encounter between a re-enactor on a horse and a spectral Union soldier. The specter appeared and tripped the horse throwing the rider. Before the re-enactor could recover, he was smacked in the face by a rifle butt. Looking around, the shaken re-enactor searched for evidence of the soldier who tripped him, no footprints or any evidence was found. While no other documented encounters have been as violent, many have seen apparitions of soldiers.

Battle of Olustee. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 27
     November 2010.
Brown, Alan. Stories from the Haunted South. Jackson, MS: University
     Press of Mississippi, 2004.
Lapham, Dave. Ghosthunting Florida. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy
     Press, 2010.

Palmetto Bay, Miami-Dade County

Deering Estate
16701 Southwest 72nd Avenue
The Richmond Cottage on the Deering Estate, 2010, by Zoohouse.
Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Originally covered in “Haunted Florida” published 27 December 2010.

It seems that the former estate of Charles Deering, the founder of International Harvester, may be just crawling with spirits. And a variety of spirits at that. One investigation photographed the possible spirit of a Victorian woman while spirits of Native Americans may be associated with burial grounds nearby. The Deering Estate also features ghost tours of the estate that the League of Paranormal Investigators (LPI) dubbed, “ground-zero for lost spirits.” LPI has documented at least two full-bodied apparitions as well as numerous EVPs.

The estate has been preserved by the State of Florida and Miami-Dade County as a cultural and educational facility. Two buildings dating from 1896 and 1922 remain and are surrounded by swaths of land in its natural state. Battered by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, restoration of the estate took years and the grounds did not reopen to the public until 1999. 

Charles Deering. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     27 December 2010.
Charles Deering Estate. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 26 March 2012.
Cohen, Howard. “Halloween howling.” The Miami Herald.
     27 October 2011.
Malone, Kenny. “Miami’s Deering Estate: A real haunted
     house?” NPR. 28 October 2009.
“Miami-Dade Estate deemed ‘severely haunted.’”
     The Miami Herald. 22 October 2009.

St. Augustine, St. Johns County

Ponce de Leon Hall
Flagler College
Ponce de Leon Hall, the centerpiece of Flagler College, 2010.
Photo by John W. Tuggle, released under a Creative Commons

Ponce de Leon Hall, the centerpiece of the campus of Flagler College, is an early Moorish Revival masterpiece from the architectural team of John Carrère and Thomas Hastings, leaders in the Beaux-Arts Movement. Constructed by Henry Flagler as the Hotel Ponce de Leon in 1888, this opulent hotel featured intricate woodwork and some of the earliest works by stained glass master Louis Comfort Tiffany. The hotel served many wealthy guests until the mid-60s when competing roadside motels sent its finances plummeting.

In 1968, the hotel began restoration and renovation to convert it into Flagler College, a private, four-year, liberal arts school. The development was lead by Lawrence Lewis, Jr., Henry Flagler’s grandson and the school has expanded by purchasing other historic structures for restoration as college buildings. The school is now ranked by the Princeton Review in the top tier of southeastern colleges.

While college students now roam the halls where America’s elite of the Gilded Age once walked, the occasional specter from the past still appears. The stories and legends of Ponce de Leon Hall are numerous and include not only anonymous hotel guests but the shades of the hotel’s visionary founder, Henry Morrison Flagler and two of his three wives. Legend holds that the first mysterious phenomena occurred just after Flagler’s death in 1913. He died after a fall in his home, Whitehall (which is also haunted), in Palm Beach. His body was returned to St. Augustine where his vision for Florida as a vacationer’s paradise first began to take shape. A public viewing was set in the hotel’s rotunda and while mourners stood by the massive oak doors slammed themselves shut. Shortly after the funeral a small tile on the floor was discovered that bore a resemblance to Flagler. Students have reported run-ins with a spirit believed to be that of Flagler.

Among the more anonymous spirits are the “Lady in Blue” and the spirit of a young boy. The legend behind her sad spirit tells of a young woman having an affair with a married man. When he refused to divorce his wife to marry her she began to race up the staircase to pack her things. He foot caught on the hem of her long skirt and she tumbled down the stairs breaking her neck. The spirit of the little boy has been encountered in the hallways where he asks if students are able to come and play with him. Like the Lady in Blue, is can be assumed he was likely a hotel guest, but their identities are unknown. Then again, the phantom footsteps, spectral music and disembodied voices heard throughout the hotel simply serve to remind the modern day of the college’s Gilded Age history.

Barefoot, Daniel W. Haunted Halls of Ivy: Ghosts of Southern
     Colleges and Universities. Winston-Salem, NC: John F.
     Blair, 2004.
Graham, Thomas. Flagler’s St. Augustine Hotels. Sarasota,
     FL: Pineapple Press, 2004.
Graham, Thomas. National Historic Landmark Nomination
     form for the Hotel Ponce de Leon. 7 July 2005.
Jenkins, Greg. Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore,
     Vol. 2, North Florida and St. Augustine. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple
     Press, 2005.

St. Pete Beach, Pinellas County

Don CeSar Beach Resort
3400 Gulf Boulevard
The Don CeSar, 2006, by Porkfork. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Originally published in “Haunted Hotels and Inns of the South, Part I,” 30 October 2010.

Thomas Rowe’s palatial pink dream faces the Gulf of Mexico at St. Pete Beach, opening in the waning years of the 1920s, it immediately became the playground of the Jazz Age glitterati and kept its popular position throughout the Great Depression until Rowe’s, the hotel’s builder and owner, death in 1940. As his will writing out his ex-wife hadn’t been signed at the time of his death, the old will was executed. Rowe’s ex-wife, unprepared for running a major hotel, took over and the hotel’s glittering position faltered. The hotel was purchased by the army for use as a veteran’s hospital and it remained as such until the 1960s.

After the army abandoned the massive hotel, it sat forlorn until it was purchased and restored to its 1920s splendor. During the time it was abandoned, stories surfaced of Jazz Age phantoms strolling the halls. Among the most famous stories from this Grande Dame tells of Thomas Rowe being seen in the company of a young woman, supposedly the woman for whom the hotel was built. Rowe met this young singer in London when she appeared in William Wallace’s opera, Maritana. While the lovers were forbidden to marry, Rowe built this edifice in her honor and named it for the hero of the opera, Don CeSar.

Don CeSar. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 28 October
Jenkins, Greg. Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore,
     Volume 1, South and Central Florida. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple
     Press, 2008.
Lapham, Dave. Ghosthunting Florida. Cincinnatti, OH: Clerisy,
Powell, Jack. Haunting Sunshine: Ghostly Tales from Florida’s
     Shadows. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2001.
Turnage, Sheila. Haunted Inns of the Southeast. Winton-Salem,
     NC: John F. Blair, 2001.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

“There’s a light”—Christ Church, Frederica

6329 Frederica Road
St. Simons Island, Georgia

In the velvet darkness
Of the blackest night
Burning bright
There’s a guiding star
No matter what or who you are
There’s a light.
--“Over at the Frankenstein Place” from The Rocky
Horror Show music and lyrics by Richard O’Brien

Christ Church lies some distance from the hubbub that is the southern portion of Georgia’s Saint Simon’s Island. The past few decades have turned this quiet, island retreat into a vacation mecca. I’ve been coming here since I was young and I’ve watched with sadness as the island has been developed. Quiet marshes have become condo developments and gated communities. Restaurants and shopping centers have replaced forests of palmetto and live oak. Though, with the masses that arrive from all over the region to relax at the beach, the roads have not been widened to maintain the stately oaks lining them.

Christ Church, 2012, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
The further north you travel, the development becomes more and more sparse. Interestingly, the Frederica area, the first area settled by Europeans, is not as well developed. This leaves the remains of Fort Frederica and Christ Church in far more bucolic settings. Though, some years ago I was heartbroken when a residential subdivision sprung up behind the church’s fabled cemetery. This place is one of my favorite places on earth. The beauty, history and mystery of this place provides me with solace. When I “go to a happy place” in my mind this is it.
Cycads grow in this Edenic cemetery. Photo 2012, by Lewis
Powell IV, all rights reserved.
Underneath the sprawling, moss-laden ancient oaks, this church and cemetery bear witness to a marvelous history. Fort Frederica, a fortified town a short distance down the road from the church was first ministered to by the inimitable Wesley brothers, John and Charles, in 1736, only three years after the founding of the colony of Georgia. John Wesley, General Oglethorpe’s Secretary on Indian Affairs and Chaplain, worked tirelessly to plant the seeds of faith among the rowdy bands who populated this most Southern of the colonies. Wesley would go to found a religious sect that would take the name of Methodists for the methodical way they led their lives.

Fort Frederica was mostly a ghost town by the American Revolution when the island began to be divided into plantations. In 1808 a small, clapboard building was erected within a small cemetery. The cemetery actually pre-dates the church by about five years. Over time, the cemetery became the burial sites for many of the families in the island’s plantations. It is from this pastoral period on the island that the legend of the Christ Church cemetery comes to us.

The azaleas are now blooming in the cemetery at Christ Church.
Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
The story has been passed around so frequently that there are numerous variations, but the basic premise remains the same. At some point during the antebellum years a young woman was buried in the cemetery. Her husband began a tradition of leaving a candle on her grave at night and even after his death, the candle still appeared. For years, island locals and visitors would see a light within the cemetery at night. Some versions of the tale tell of a young woman tormented by stories that had been told her by her Caribbean-born (hence a possible voudou connection) nurse. She was so afraid of the dark that she became adept at candle-making and some versions blame her early death on an infected wax burn. Regardless, this beautiful legend of undying love comes down to us to explain the mysterious light.

Alas, the march of progress has obliterated views of the light. A brick wall was built along Frederica Road some time ago. At night, large spotlights shine on the church and there are no modern reports that I can find of the light. Though, it’s not hard to imagine other spirits having the desire to return to this Eden, even in the moss-shrouded velvet darkness of night.

History ofChrist Church, Frederica. Christ Church, Frederica
     Website. Accessed 20 March 2012.
Killion, Ronald G. and Charles T. Waller. A Treasury of Georgia
     Folklore. Atlanta, GA: Cherokee Publishing, 1972.
Vanstory, Burnette. Ghost Stories and Superstitions of Old St.
     Simons. St. Simons Island, GA: Coastal Georgia Historical
     Society. No date.
Wangler, Chris. Ghost Stories of Georgia: True Tales of Ghostly
     Hauntings. Auburn, WA: Lone Pine Publishing, 2006.
Windham, Kathryn Tucker. 13 Georgia Ghosts and Jeffrey.
     Tuscaloosa, AL: U. of Alabama Press, 1973.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Vinoy, Women and Song—Vinoy Renaissance Hotel (Haunt Brief)

501 Fifth Avenue Northeast
St. Petersburg, Florida

Big news! Tween idols Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez actually stayed in a hotel somewhere!

Even bigger news! The hotel was the haunted Vinoy Renaissance Hotel in St. Petersburg, Florida!

Evidently, this is what passes for news on celebrity gossip sites. But it’s enough for me to write a Haunt Brief on it.

Lately, my concentration has been drawn to Florida and I’ve noticed that much of Florida’s haunted history lies in its hotels. From wooden edifices in small towns like Apalachicola’s Gibson Inn to St. Augustine’s monstrous monuments to the Gilded Age in the forms of the Hotel Ponce de Leon, Hotel Alcazar and Hotel Cordova; all the way to the towering grandeur of the grand hotels of the 1920s such as the Biltmore in Coral Gables and the Vinoy, all of these are haunted by a myriad of spirits.

The Vinoy Renaissance, 2008, by Ebyabe. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Of the grand resort hotels from the 1920s, many have very similar histories. These hotels were built to take advantage of Florida’s burgeoning reputation as a vacation spot, a trend started by Henry Flagler in the latter days of the nineteenth century. These resorts attracted many of the great names of the period ranging from silent film stars to politicians to sports heroes. Many hotels experienced issues during the Great Depression and some were purchased by the military for use as hospitals during World War II. Some, like the Biltmore, lingered as hospitals for a while after the war. Those that reopened as hotels after the war had difficulty competing with the motels springing up to take advantage of auto traffic and the state’s new draw, Walt Disney World. Most hotels spent some time abandoned and during that stage paranormal activity was noticed in the empty structures. Recently, most of the grand palaces have been restored and returned to service as first-class luxury hotels.

Bieber and Gomez are just the most recent in a long and varied list of celebrities that have stayed in the Vinoy’s storied halls, a list that includes Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Stewart and Babe Ruth. In fact, this hotel figures into baseball history as hosting the St. Louis Browns in the 1920s when they trained in nearby Tarpon Springs. Nowadays, the hotel hosts Major League Baseball teams in the area to play the Tampa Bay Rays. Among some of these players, there are stories of the hotel’s darker reputation.

Just last year when the Florida Marlins were in town to play the Rays, relief pitcher Steve Cishek reported on his Twitter feed, “Currently crapping my pants…can’t sleep…my room is def haunted.” He later said he heard a thump in the bathroom that sounded like a bar of soap falling, though nothing was out place when he checked.

One of the first and most widely reported stories dates to 2003 when relief pitcher Scott Williamson, who was playing for the Cincinnati Reds at the time, claimed to have had a bizarre experience in his room. He awoke to see an odd light coming from the pool outside. He then experienced an odd tingling sensation. Rolling onto his stomach he said he felt that someone sat on his back, making it hard for him to breathe. He rolled back onto his back and saw a man in period clothing standing near the window. “he was just looking right at me. It was almost like he was trying to get a point across to me or something. I jumped up and turned on the lights but he was gone.”

The Pittsburgh Pirates were the next team in town to stay at the hotel. It was strength coach Frank Velasquez’s turn to experience a figure in his room. He heard and sound and looked up to see a man standing near the window of his room “just staring” at him. The coach turned his head and closed his eyes, but the figure was still standing there when he looked again. On that same trip, two other Pirates coaches had odd experiences: the hitting coach awoke to find that the door to his room was standing wide open after he had closed and locked it while the bullpen coach reported an old dime falling out of the ceiling while he showered.

In 2008, the TAPS team from TV’s Ghost Hunters investigated. Staying mostly on the fifth floor where the activity seems to be concentrated, they uncovered some haunting evidence. One of the most interesting pieces of evidence came from a room where one of the investigators slept overnight. Just after setting up cameras throughout the hotel including one in that particular room, the closet door opened by itself. The investigators made a priority of investigating this phenomena and discovered that the closet door did not open with ease, so there was no obvious explanation to the event. Even more haunting was what happened after the investigator, Jason Hawes, went to bed for the night. He was later awakened by a loud male voice demanding that he “just get out.” Hawes awoke after the voice called out which was all caught on tape. About 20 seconds later the voice again demanded that he get out.

These events are only a small part of the record of activity within the hotel. In fact, one article on the hotel mentioned that the activity was minor but quite frequent.

There are some legends that have surfaced to explain the activity. A female spirit in the hotel has been identified as the spirit of the wife of the hotel’s founder. One male spirit is said to be that of a businessman who killed himself in the wake of the 1929 stock market crash. Needless to say, there are spirits in this celebrity hideaway.

Big news! Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez may not have had any experiences within this hotel!

Oh well…

Baxter, Kevin. “Dodgers Report: Hotel isn’t one of their
     favorite haunts.” Los Angeles Times. 25 June 2007.
     Hotel is Haunted? 11 March 2012.
Jenkins, Greg. Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted History,
     Volume 3: The Gulf Coast and Pensacola. Sarasota, FL:
     Pineapple Press, 2007.
Klinkenburg, Jeff. “Renaissance Vinoy Resort marks 85 years
     of history.” St. Petersburg Times. 17 December 2010.
Kruse, Michael. “St. Petersburg’s Vinoy hotel haunted, major-
     league baseball players say.” Tampa Bay Times. 29 February
Rebman, Kimberly P. Haunted Florida: A Guide to the Departed
     Soul. Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse, 2008.
Strikler, Lon. “A History of Hauntings at St. Petersburg’s
     Renaissance Vinoy.” Phantoms and Monsters Blog. 20 June

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

An Historic Playhouse--Photos from Fort Clinch

I've finally made it to North Florida and seen Fort Clinch! I'd known about the fort for some years before I wrote my article on it in November of 2010. That article has since been revised and reposted recently: see the article here.

Exploring the fort is an utterly delightful experience. It's like a huge playhouse with tunnels, towers, turrets, corridors, odd little rooms and staircases to explore. Unlike so many historic sites now, the fort is not littered with interpretive signs that you feel guilty for not reading, it's just open for exploration. Rooms within the interior buildings have been furnished and recreated as they would have appeared during the Civil War, otherwise, the fort is a huge, empty edifice. I was there last Saturday when there was a wind advisory. The wind blowing through and around the structure created a haunting, mournful tone. Other than that, I didn't see or feel any spirits. Though, I can imagine the place grows creepier after dark.

The fort does appear to need work. Even with massive cuts to the state budget, I hope that those in charge are seeing to the needs of this marvelous place. Certainly with visitors comes some income and I would encourage all my readers to check out this marvelous piece of our past.

The sally port. Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights

The ramparts from the outside. Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell
IV, all rights reserved.

One of the remaining barracks buildings. Photo 2012, by
Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Doors to the jail cells in the fort's brig. Photo 2012, by Lewis
Powell IV, all rights reserved.

The back of one of the barracks buildings. Photo 2012, by Lewis
Powell IV all rights reserved.

Looking down one of the tunnels leading towards
the parade ground. Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell IV,
all rights reserved.

My mother enters one of the fort's bastions. Photo 2012, by
Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Looking out of one of the bastions. Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell
IV, all rights reserved.

View of the parade ground from the ramparts. Photo 2012, by
Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

One of the rampart walls from the inside. Photo 2012, by Lewis
Powell IV, all rights reserved.

A number of guns still guard the fort. Photo 2012, by Lewis
Powell IV all rights reserved.
Looking out towards the St. Marys River from the gun emplacements.
Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
Photo 2012, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Mansion in Marianna—Joseph Russ Jr. House (Haunt Brief)

310 West Lafayette Street
Marianna, Florida

One of the issues I consistently encounter in researching the South is the lack of resources on hauntings in the rural South. Many major Southern cities have at least some resource on their ghosts, but beyond those city limits, the resources become fewer. Florida is fairly well covered in its well populated areas, particularly Southern Florida, but its northern section is not so well covered. The Panhandle is very sparsely covered and in my list of hauntings, I have no locations listed in Jackson County…until now.

Sitting just below the line separating Alabama and Georgia, Jackson County, Florida is a reminder of Florida before the building booms of the 20th century. The county seat, Marianna, “The City of Southern Charm,” was founded in 1828 and is currently home to around 6200 people. I’ve just realized that I passed through Marianna on the way to nearby Florida Caverns a few years ago. I remember the town being a very pleasant and typical small southern town, but I certainly would have paid more attention had I known of the ghosts.

The home to Marianna’s Chamber of Commerce, the magnificent Joseph W. Russ Jr. House, is apparently haunted. Appearing today in the Jackson County Floridian is a nice article recounting an investigation of the Russ House. As is typical in these types of stories, a reporter tagged along while a group of paranormal investigators, Emerald Coast Paranormal Concepts from Panama City in this case, investigate a local landmark. The reporter describes how the ghost hunters investigate, their beliefs about ghosts and may briefly describe the investigation itself. This article, however, spends a bit more time discussing the investigation and some of the activity the group encountered.

The Russ House’s unusual porch is the first thing that draws visitors. Fanning out from the main house, the porch is supported by Corinthian columns and topped with a cupola. This porch is part of an extensive remodel of the house that took place in 1910. The home was originally built in the Queen Anne style between 1892 and 1895. The property on which the house was built had been owned by the Russ family since they first settled in Marianna and family constructed homes around this house. The home remained in the family for many years. Parts of the property were sold off when the family’s fortunes soured after the Crash of 1929 including part of the front yard which served as a gas station and a series of businesses.

The Russ House, 2007, by Ebyabe. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Still, the house attracted visitors. Merritt Dekle, a descendant of Joseph Russ, writes of his grandmother dealing with visitors who would pull over and knock on the door of the intriguing house. Sometimes they would just ask of its history, but other times they would beg for a tour, to which she would decline politely with “I’m sorry, there’s sickness in the family.” By the time the house passed out of the family, much of it had been neglected. The house was deeded to the Marianna Chamber of Commerce in 1996 and has since been renovated for that purpose.

Employees and visitors to the house have reported a variety of odd phenomena. Footsteps, objects apparently moving on their own accord and the voices of children have been heard. According to the article, the house has been investigated by three other groups, though “minimal spirit activity” was reported. In his history of the house, Merritt Dekle mentions that the house has been considered haunted by locals for many years. He recalls staying in the house as a child and later as an adult and while the house was creepy, he didn’t have any unusual experiences.

During the investigation last Saturday, the group had a few odd experiences. Among the more unusual occurrences were a scraping sound and the word “help” being uttered both heard by the reporter and an investigator. A few other odd incidents were reported and the investigators will review the evidence captured during the evening.

Stay tuned for the results!

Buckhalter, Deborah. “Ghost hunters coming to Marianna." Jackson
     County Floridian. 26 February 2012.
Dekle, Merritt. “Ghosts of Times Past.” The History of the Russ House.
     July 2000.
Dekle, Merritt. “Introduction.” The History of the Russ House.
     July 2000.
Delgado, Lauren. “A ghosthunter in the Floridian office.” Jackson
     County Floridian. 6 March 2012.
Jackson County,Florida. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     6 March 2012.
Joseph W. RussJr. House. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     6 March 2012.
Marianna,Florida. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     6 March 2012.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Something in the Shadows--Reed Gold Mine

9621 Reed Mine Road
Midland, North Carolina

Last March, I posted an article about an odd video someone had taken in the famous Reed Gold Mine. While on a tour, a woman was startled to see a figure ahead of her in a corridor and captured it on video. She claimed the figure was a ghost and released the video on YouTube where it attracted a good deal of attention. The video has since been removed and some remarks, disparaging the video and the woman's actions, were posted on this blog by someone who was anonymous.

A few days ago, a reader from Lexington, NC who had seen the posting emailed me to let me know he may have captured an odd image in some photographs he had taken in the mine. In an email the reader explained that he, his son and some of his son's friends visited the mine last Saturday. He wrote, "It was roughly around 11:00 or so that morning, and the place was pretty much dead. We were the only people there on the self guided tour. We had actually wanted to go try our luck at panning for gold, but that part of the exhibit was shut down due to the troughs being reconstructed. Anyway, to make a long story short...we went into the mine shaft that you can tour, and I was taking some pictures with my iPhone, so I could show my wife when we got back home."

Quickly, let me remind you of the history of this location:

The mine possesses a marvelous history beginning with Johannes Reith, a Hessian mercenary who moved with his family to the area and anglicized his name to John Reed. A different legend involves Reed’s 12-year old son, Conrad, who discovered an odd, yellow rock in Little Meadow Creek in 1799. The story tells that the odd rock served as a doorstop for a few years before Reed sold the rock to a jeweler for the princely sum of $3.50. When he discovered that he was literally sitting on a gold mine he began mining his land. The mine ran until 1912 when it was abandoned. The state of North Carolina acquired the mine later and has opened it as a historic site.

There have apparently been stories told about the Reed Mine for some time. According to Troy Taylor’s Down in the Darkness: The Shadowy History of America’s Haunted Mines, Tunnels and Caverns, there is a legend about the mine. William Mills, a Welsh immigrant, arrived in Cabarrus County with his wife Eleanor to work in the mine. The relationship between William and his wife was quite tenuous and they fought a great deal. One evening, in the midst of a fight, Eleanor tripped on the hem of her dress and pitched head forward into a bench, hitting her head on the corner. William tried to revive his wife, but she was dead. Awakened from sleep and probably hoping that the events had been a bad dream, William checked his wife’s now cold body. He heard her voice begging him to take her back to Wales.

Even though her body was cold, William continued to hear her voice begging him. He wrapped her body up and threw is down one of the unused shafts, the Engine Shaft, at the Reed Mine. The legend continues that he continued to hear Eleanor’s voice and was driven to drink as a result. Meanwhile, others began to hear ghostly screams and cries emanating from the Engine Shaft.

Besides the recent video, I've not seen much said of the modern haunting of the Reed Mine.

Our reader, upon pulling the photos up on his computer discovered that one had an odd figure in it. Standing at the end of a corridor is a pair of legs and what, to me, appears to be part of a torso. The rest of the figure is missing. Upon zooming in, the figure does appear to be three dimensional, but it remains strange. One odd detail that emerges is that there is a ray of light that seems to be shining onto the torso. Without having been present when it was taken, I cannot vouch for the photo myself, but it does appear very odd. Both myself and the photographer would like to hear what you think. 

The original photo. The figure is the faint and grey
in the center. Photo by Bobby Troxler, used with

Zooming in, the figure becomes more
distinct. Is it a figure or just something
that resembled one? Photo by Bobby
Troxler, used with permission. 

I'd like to thank Mr. Bobby Troxler for letting me post his picture.

Knapp, Richard F. “The History of John Reed’s Mine.” Reed
     Gold Mine. Accessed 29 May 2011.
Reed Gold Mine. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     29 May 2011.
Rettig, Polly M. National Register of Historic Places Nomination
     form for Reed Gold Mine. Listed 15 October 1966.
Taylor, Troy. Down in the Darkness: The Shadowy History of
     America’s Haunted Mines, Tunnels and Caverns. Alton, IL:  
     Whitechapel Press, 2003.