Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Spectral Humor--Fort Clinch, Fernandina Beach, Florida

Fort Clinch State Park
2601 Atlantic Avenue
Fernandina Beach, Florida

N.B. This is yet another reissue originally posted 14 November 2010. There has been some updating, added sources and new photos.

Fort Clinch is a popular place. This state park offers camping, wildlife, fishing and swimming as well as what the park website describes as “one of the most well-preserved 19th century forts in the country.” The fort is also popular with historic re-enactors, those people who enjoy spending time living in a different era. During a historic encampment one July weekend, two re-enactors sitting on the porch of one of the barracks witnessed four spectral soldiers. The soldiers emerged from one of the bastion tunnels wearing Civil War era uniforms, crossed the parade ground, marched up the ramp and disappeared. The following year during the same encampment, the re-enactors took their seats again on the barracks porch to see if the specters returned. Sure enough, three uniformed ghosts emerged from the tunnel and began making their way across the parade ground. One of the witnesses called out, “There were four of you last year, where’s the fourth man?” One of the ghosts responded, “He’s sick tonight, couldn’t come.” The spectral trio continued up the ramp and disappeared.

This story amuses me greatly. So often in dealing with ghost stories, we are dealing with sometimes horrible deaths involving war, murder, pestilence, illness and we forget that these spirits have a sense of humor. I recall an episode of Ghost Hunters where the TAPS team was investigating the well house of a farm that was known to have a prankster ghost. The ghost turned on the investigator’s flashlight upon request and later analysis revealed an EVP of a man laughing at the time. Ghosts DO have a sense of humor!

This story, however, has become one of the most enduring legends surrounding the fort. I’ve seen this story retold in a few different sources and each includes different details. Maggie Carter-de Vries, a local author, includes the story in her 2008 book, Ghosts of Amelia and Other Tales. She does provide a date for this story, 1952, and includes that the witness was a park ranger.

Aerial view of Fort Clinch, 2003, by Fl295. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Of course, Fort Clinch is hardly a place for much sadness. The fort has never seen military action; only the ennui that accompanies waiting for military action to occur. The site of the fort, at the northern end of Amelia Island on the northern Atlantic coast of Florida, has been occupied by various military installations since 1736, all guarding the St. Marys River from attack. Construction on the fort commenced in 1847 as part of the federal government’s plan to fortify the American coast. By the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the fort was only partially constructed with only two bastions facing the river and two walls connecting them as well as other necessary buildings in different stages of completion. At the time of Fort Sumter’s bombardment by Confederate forces in April of that year, no guns had been placed within the fort but the Confederacy took over control of the fort and installed guns. The fort aided blockade runners running supplies into the port of St. Marys, Georgia on the other side of the river.

By 1862, many of the neighboring islands had been captured by Union forces leaving Amelia Island and Georgia’s Cumberland Island, a barrier island to the north, isolated. General Robert E. Lee gave orders for troops to abandon the fort. On March 3rd, as the last of the Confederate troops left the fort, Union gunboats arrived and immediately took control of the fort. The First New York Volunteer Engineers company was brought in to resume construction on the fort. Work continued through the war and was halted in 1867 when the construction was deemed obsolete and the fort was placed under the eye of a caretaker.

The fort's guns, 2004, by Sir Mildred Pierce. Released under
a Creative Commons License.
The forgotten fort was briefly returned to military usage in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, but in September of that year was deemed obsolete and closed. The decaying ramparts remained desolate until 1926 when the site was offered for sale. The state of Florida purchased the site in 1935 and the Civilian Conservation Corps began work restoring it. Fort Clinch State Park opened as the first park in Florida’s state park system in 1938. During World War II, with German U-boats patrolling off the coast and sinking vessels within sight of land, the fort was reactivated for surveillance.

View across the parade ground, 2009, by mediafury.
Released under a Creative Commons License.
The past is still very much with us at Fort Clinch, not only literally, but spiritually as well. Re-enactors operate at the site regularly, demonstrating the harsh realities of military life during the Civil War. These same re-enactors seem to also witness the spiritual realities of the fort as well. Author Jack Powell in his Haunting Sunshine: Ghostly Tales from Florida’s Shadows notes that there is a surprising amount of interaction between the ghosts of Fort Clinch and the re-enactors, rangers and the occasional visitor. People staying in the barracks have been awakened by the clomping steps of booted feet and the appearance of a woman with a lantern, possibly a nurse still checking on patients.

Another interesting interaction involved this same female spirit. A female volunteer was looking for something in a darkened barracks room. The female spirit passed through with her lantern and the woman, not realizing the lantern-bearing woman was not another volunteer, asked her to hold up the lantern while she continued to search. The woman stopped, held the lantern aloft while the volunteer searched. She found what she needed and the other woman left the room. The volunteer approached a woman outside who she believed to have helped her and thanked her to discover that she hadn’t been walking around with a lantern, nor had any other women present.

Looking out through one of the bastion tunnels, 2004, by
Sir Mildred Pierce. Released under a Creative Commons License.
In their book, Ghost Stories of the Civil War, by Dan Asfar and Edrick Thay includes a marvelous story from 1999. A family taking a candlelight tour of the fort at night was greeted by a Union officer standing in a window of the Officer’s Quarters. The man looked at them, doffed his cap in acknowledgement and vanished. After seeking out the guide, the family learned that they were not the first to see the officer, nor were they the only members of that particular tour group to see him.

Not all of the spirits roaming the fort are martial in nature, staff and visitors have reported the sound of a baby crying in the southwest tunnel. There’s speculation that the baby’s spirit may remain from the time when, while abandoned, the fort was home to a homeless family. The family is said to have had a baby that died. It seems that both military and civilian life continue at Fort Clinch.

Sources
Asfar, Dan and Edrick Thay. Ghosts Stories of the Civil
     War. Auburn, WA: Ghost House Books, 2003.
Carter-de Vries, Maggie. Ghosts of Amelia & Other Tales.
     Bloomington, IN: Author House, 2008.
Fort Clinch. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     11 August 2010.
Fort Clinch State Park. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 11 August 2010.
Moore, Joyce Elson. Haunt Hunter’s Guide to Florida.
     Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 1998.
Powell, Jack. Haunting Sunshine: Ghostly Tales from Florida’s
     Shadows. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2001.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Haunting Huntsville, Alabama (Haunt Brief)

Early in this blog’s history I explored (or tried to) the ghosts of Huntsville, Alabama. The problem was that there was very little available. I found a few poorly written and unsourced articles that basically just repeated each other in terms of information. Besides those articles, there was very little, or so I thought. Just days before I posted the entry, Jessica Penot’s marvelous Haunted North Alabama had been released and in it, there were good, reliable information on a number of Huntsville’s hauntings plus information on locations that were not included in the few articles on the subject. After getting my copy of Ms. Penot’s book, I also began reading her blog which has included more locations in Huntsville. Since, I’ve kept an eye out for articles relating to Huntsville. In my usual search through Google News, I was surprised to find two articles about Huntsville tonight.

The first article, from the local ABC station, WAAY, concerns a business located on courthouse square, Huntsville’s historic heart. In many towns and cities in the South (and really throughout the nation), the courthouse or main square is also ground zero for hauntings, often due to the historic fabric that may be intact there. Huntsville is no exception, with a starkly modern courthouse sitting amid historic commercial buildings. The business is a pizzeria, Sam & Greg’s Pizzeria Gelateria (119 North Side Square), which is located in one of those historic commercial buildings.

The pizzeria’s website describes the building as having been built in the early nineteenth century and being one of the original buildings on the square. It continues by saying that the building has served as a general store, a dress shop and a gallery before becoming a pizzeria. The article states that the main floor of the pizzeria is quite normal, but it’s the large, unrestored room upstairs that has activity. The building was recently investigated by the Alabama Paranormal Association who certified the building as haunted.

The pizzeria’s location reminded me of an article from Jessica Penot’s blog, Ghost Stories and Haunted Places, regarding the Madison County Courthouse (100 North Side Square). A brief internet search does not reveal the history of the current courthouse building, but I would assume from the architecture that it was built anytime between the 1960s and the 1980s. I did discover, however, that the building sits on the site of the original courthouse that was constructed in 1818. According to the blog’s entry, apparitions have been seen in the building along with orbs and odd sounds and lights. One of the spirits may be that of Horace Maples, an African-American who was lynched by a mob on the courthouse lawn.

Madison County Courthouse, 2011, by Spyder_Monkey.
Courtesy of Wikipedia.
The second article I stumbled across concerns an upcoming investigation at the Veterans Memorial Museum (2060 Airport Road, SW) a museum displaying memorabilia from wars dating back to the American Revolution. Interestingly, the article points out that the investigation will not be in search of spirits that haunt the museum, but those attached to the artifacts within, specifically those from World Wars I and II. While it has been known that spirits may attach themselves to objects, interest in this has increased in the paranormal community, especially with the recent television show, Haunted Collector. The show features investigator John Zaffis who investigates a variety of hauntings usually centered on a specific object.

Tucked away in my files on the paranormal South is another article on an investigation at another Huntsville location, Merrimack Hall Performing Arts Center (3320 Triana Boulevard). Opened in 2007, the performing arts center is located in an 1898 structure that once served as the company store for the mill village serving Merrimack Mills. This building and some 200 mill houses are all that remain of this important textile hub.

The investigation, conducted by the Alabama Paranormal Society, appears to have uncovered some interesting evidence. Among the evidence mentioned in the article, odd bangs heard in response to questions, a mysterious drop in temperature in the theatre and orbs are seen on video wheeling about the building. According to the article, the building may be inhabited by multiple spirits.

I imagine this is just the tip of the iceberg of haunted Huntsville.

Sources
     January 2012.
About Sam & Greg’s.” Accessed 28 January 2012.
About theVeterans Memorial Museum.” Accessed 28 January 2012.
     investigation.” The Huntsville Times. 25 January 2012.
Cure, Sarah. “Investigating Merrimack Hall with Alabama Paranormal
     Society.” The Huntsville Times. 31 October 2010.
Gallimore, Chase. “Huntsville Pizzeria Officially Haunted.” ABC WAAY.
      26 January 2012.
Penot, Jessica. “The Ghost of the Lynched.” Ghost Stories and Haunted
     Places. 17 March 2011.
Richter-Haaser, Elfriede. “History of Madison County.” Madison County
     Website. Accessed 29 January 2012.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gonzalez-Alvarez House

14 St. Francis Street
St. Augustine, Florida


N.B. This entry was originally posted October 13, 2010. Since I now have many more sources at my disposal, I tried to add to the research I’ve presented here, but no further sources could be immediately found, so I’m reposting this with only minor changes. It’s interesting to note that this location is not found in most books on the ghosts of St. Augustine. I still find the video that inspired this post absolutely fascinating. Regular readers may also recognize my “most haunted” rant here, as well.

It is said that St. Augustine, Florida is the most haunted city in America, at least according to a number of authors. As I mentioned in this blog’s very first entry, I find this description to be somewhat distasteful. On one count, the term “haunted” really can’t be any further qualified. Something is either haunted or it isn’t; it’s like death: one is either dead or alive not “more dead” or “more alive.” Therefore, a location either has spiritual activity or not. Certainly, what authors mean is that St. Augustine has more spiritual activity and that may be the case.

Gonzalez-Alvarez House, 2008, by Ebyabe. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Taking this further, though, the phrase “most haunted” is tossed around easily. When cities or locations are rated or ranked as “most haunted,” the basis for this conclusion is often not presented. What makes New Orleans more haunted than Savannah? Why is St. Francisville, Louisiana’s The Myrtles the most haunted place in the nation? Based on what? Granted, a good deal has been published on all three locations, but what criteria make them “more haunted?” Certainly, these locations may have a number of spirits and be very spiritually active, but they are no more haunted than any other location.

Additionally, there’s also the issue of research and documentation. Of the three previously mentioned locations, all of them have been well researched and documented, but does that make them any “more haunted” than a location that is not well documented. That’s one of the goals of this blog: to document Southern locations that may be quite active, though perhaps not as well documented. In addition, I’m also adding to the scholarship on locations that are well documented by synthesizing the available information.

The Gonzalez-Alvarez House is called “The Oldest House” in America and is located in America’s “Oldest City.” The only part of that statement that bears even partial truth is the fact that St. Augustine is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the continental United States. There are Native American cities, notably the Acoma and Taos Pueblos in New Mexico that are far older, but St. Augustine is the oldest European settlement. The Gonzalez-Alvarez House is not the oldest house in America by any stretch of the imagination. There are far older houses in New England and even as far south as Virginia, but the house sits on a site with far more history than its early 18th century walls can attest to. In fact, this house may not even be the oldest house in St. Augustine. The moniker dates to a time when the house was believed to date to the 16th century.

While the location of the Gonzalez-Alvarez House may have been inhabited as far back as the initial founding of the city in 1565, archaeologists can only prove inhabitants at the site as far back as the early 17th century. Regardless, the centuries of hope, despair, madness, birth, death, pain and joy have left both physical and spiritual scars on the house.

I was first acquainted with “The Oldest House” on a visit to St. Augustine as a child. An avid collector of travel brochures, seeing racks of brochures in a hotel lobby would give me heart palpitations and soon my little fist would be clutching a stack to take home. Among the brochures I gathered on this trip was one from “The Oldest House.” We didn’t visit, but I was certainly fascinated by the numerous “oldest” places throughout the city.

That memory wasn’t jarred until I came across this video on YouTube one evening. The video’s creator doesn’t provide much information on the video itself, but I found it to be quite intriguing. The first part of the video shows a series of haunted locations in the city including “The Oldest House.” The second part of the video (starting around 3:35) is from a camera placed in a room of one of the houses on the site (there is a handful of buildings located on the site) where supposedly some 50 people were slaughtered by the Spanish, though I can find no reference to this event in any materials I have found). The piece of video, taken during the day, shows what appears to be the shadowy figure of a man, with his hands behind his back, walking through doorway on the right and disappearing into the other room. What I find remarkable is the fact that the figure, unlike an actual shadow, does not fade when it walks into the sunlight in the next room. Perhaps this video is faked, I don’t think so and it’s an excellent fake if it is.

In his marvelous guide to haunted America, Haunted Places: The National Directory, Dennis William Hauck presents some of the activity that has been witnessed in the house. According to him, objects move about the house on their own accord specifically in Maria’s Room. This report is backed up by Dave Lapham in his Ancient City Hauntings. Lapham reports that objects throughout the house move according to one long-time staff member. Hauck also includes strange lights seen in various rooms and the experience of a tourist whose poodle was upset inside the house. Apparently, once the dog was taken outside it was fine. It is believed that animals can sense spirits and may sometimes be upset by them. Interestingly, none of the accounts of spiritual activity include figures such as the one in the video, though there are relatively few accounts of activity that I could find.

A postcard view of the Gonzalez-Alvarez House, c. 1914.

As stated earlier, the site of the house had been inhabited for some time when the existing house was constructed. The date of construction, however, is in question and could be anytime between 1703 and 1727. Documentary evidence indicates that this house was home to Tomàs Gonzàlez y Hernàndez and his wife, Maria Francisca Guevara y Domínguez. Gonzàlez was a Canary Island-born sailor who served as a soldier. When Spain ceded Florida to the English in 1763, the Gonzàlez family fled the city and the house stood vacant until 1775 when Englishman Major Joseph Peavett purchased the house. Peavett enlarged the house and following his death in 1786, the house was acquired by a Spaniard, Gerònimo Àlvarez. The Àlvarez family owned the house for nearly a century and in 1884, the house was purchased by dentist, Dr. C. P. Carver who began opening the house for tours and who also began calling the house, “The Oldest House.” The house came under the ownership and operation of the St. Augustine Historical Society in 1918 and has been operated as a museum ever since.

The Gonzalez-Alvarez House was named a National Historic Landmark, 15 April 1970.

Sources
Gonzalez-Alvarez House. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     12 October 2010.
Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory: Ghostly
     Abodes, Sacred Sites, UFO Landings, and Other Supernatural Locations,
     2nd Edition. NYC: Penguin, 2002.
Lapham, Dave. Ancient City Hauntings: More Ghosts of St. Augustine.
     Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2004.
Oldest buildings in the United States. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 12 October 2010.
Snell, Charles. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form
     for The Gonzalez-Alvarez House. Listed 15 April 1970.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Preserving Haunted History (Haunt Brief)

Temperance Building
Walden and Roane Avenues
Harriman, Tennessee

Historic preservation and hauntings go hand in hand. Most often, those places known for their paranormal activity are also places that have preserved a great deal of their history: Savannah, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; St. Augustine, Florida and Natchez, Mississippi would most certainly qualify. This notion has made strange bedfellows at times with historians, scholars and preservationists teaming up with ghost hunters and paranormal investigators to help preserve historic locations. This was recently seen in an article from Britain’s Daily Mail, though the author takes it in more of a tongue in cheek fashion.

Temperance Building, 2010. Photo by Brian Stansberry, courtesy
of Wikipedia.

I’d be interested to know how the citizens of Harriman, Tennessee and their efforts to restore their city hall reached the ears of the British Press. One wonders if they hacked the cellphones of the local city government in order to extract some of the details. Really, the story made the rounds via the Reuters News agency in a more respectful article by Tim Ghianni and was picked up by the British Press the next day.

Harriman, Tennessee is a quiet town in East Tennessee, just off of Interstate 40 near Knoxville. The town was founded in 1889 by leaders in the Temperance Movement, the Victorian movement to free the country from the vise-grip of the vice of alcohol. Hopefully this utopia would provide a cleansing presence among the moonshiners of Appalachian Tennessee. In the Panic of 1893, the East Tennessee Land Company, which had been established to create the city, was forced into bankruptcy, though the Temperance leaders involved in the town marched forward. The large Romanesque revival structure on Roane Avenue was constructed to house the land company and with its closure, the building became the main hall for American Temperance University.

In the second year of the university’s existence (1894), it boasted some 345 students but that number dwindled by 1908 and the university shut its doors. The large building then served as a jail and went through a number of other uses before being occupied by the City of Harriman as a City Hall. Recently, the over 120-year-old building has required more and more maintenance; work that a city in the grips of the economic recession that has plagued the US can ill afford.

Locals have described the antique edifice as haunted for quite some time. The building is listed in John Norris Brown’s encyclopedic Ghosts and Spirits of Tennessee website. Brown mentions that shadowy apparitions have been reported in the structure which have been identified as some of the early city leaders. These reports brought out the investigative team from G.H.O.S.T., the Ghost Hunters Of Southern Tennessee to investigate the building recently.

During their investigation, the team captured possible video evidence of spiritual activity as well as EVPs which they presented to the city council. In displaying this evidence, they have suggested that the city consider hosting tours and paranormal investigators with the city taking half of that revenue for use in restoring the building. This is a concept which has been employed successfully elsewhere including the Old Jail in Charleston, South Carolina.

Tennessee State Prison
6410 Centennial Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee

The article about the Temperance Building’s ghost was posted by Courtney Mroch of the blog, Haunt Jaunts, on the Haunt Jaunts Facebook page. A fan posted a link to a petition to save the Tennessee State Prison on the site’s wall and I made the connection between the two. While the petition is not concerned with the old correctional facility’s ghosts, it’s an important building that should be preserved.

Main Building of the Tennessee State Prison, 2006. Photo by
Pepper6181, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Not long after Harriman’s Temperance Building was constructed, Tennessee’s new state prison was opened in Nashville. The Tennessee State Prison opened in 1898 to replace the old prison, which had been built in 1830. The new prison was constructed using prisoner labor and after opening, outbuildings were constructed using salvaged materials from the old prison. The day the prison opened, some 1400 prisoners were transferred into the facility which had been built to house only 800.

For almost a century, the prison operated at more than capacity and the treatment of prisoners was one of the issues driving the creation of Riverbend Maximum Security Institution nearby. When the prison closed in 1992, an injunction was issued preventing the state from ever using the prison to house inmates again. While the building has sat abandoned, it has been used as a set for a variety of movies including Earnest Goes to Jail and The Green Mile. It has also been used for television and recently was used for the video for Pillar’s “Bring Me Down.” Following the prison’s closure, it was opened to tourists, but the deteriorating buildings have become dangerous and are closed to the visitors. Guards now patrol the grounds keeping away the criminal and the curious.

Like hospitals and battlefields, most prisons tend to have paranormal activity. Visitors to the Tennessee State Prison have reported numerous sounds including the sound of the heavy metal doors closing. Other visitors have encountered apparitions of prisoners in the corridors and exercise yards while people passing by have reported seeing faces peering from the windows.

Throughout the US, historic prisons are being restored and maintained as museums to prison life and the inmates. Not only does this site possess an interesting and important history, but the Gothic-revival structure is architecturally significant. Additionally, these prisons bring tourists and ghost hunters to the area. Please consider signing the petition to save this important location.

Sources
American Temperance University. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 18 January 2012.
Brown, John Norris. “Temperance Building.” Ghost & Spirits of
     Tennessee. Accessed 18 January 2012.
Ghianni, Tim. “Ghost Hunters to raise money for ‘haunted’ Temperance
     Building in Harriman, Tenn.” The Huffington Post. 15 January 2012.
Harriman, Tennessee. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 18
     January 2012.
Keneally, Meghan. “Modern-day ghostbusters hoping to save their
     haunted house with guided tours may have a problem: lack of
     scary ghosts.” Daily Mail. 17 January 2012.
Morris, Jeff, Donna Marsh and Garett Merk. Nashville Haunted
     Handbook. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2011.
Save the Old Tennessee State Prison. ipetitions.com. Accessed 18
     January 2012.
Tennessee State Prison. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     18 January 2012. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Night in Nashville—Review of “Nashville Haunted Handbook”

The Nashville skyline, 2009, by Kaldari. This city is haunted by country music
legends, Civil War soldiers, spectral slaves and socialites. Photo courtesy of
Wikipedia. 


It was the morning of July 9, 1918 just outside of Nashville. Train No. 4 of the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railroad had just departed the recently built Union Station (now the Union Station Hotel) in downtown Nashville. Train No. 1 was headed to Union Station from Memphis and was running some 35 minutes late. A series of errors had led to numerous mistakes on the part of conductors, crew, switchmen and other railroad authorities. At Dutchman’s Curve at 7:15 the trains met head-on. Some of the wooden passenger cars crumbled while others were thrown into the adjacent fields. The wreck resulted in over 100 deaths with many more injuries and is considered the worst railroad disaster in American history. Reports have surfaced that the sounds of squealing brakes, screams and moans have been heard at the site, which is now a small park.

With a turn of the page, the reader arrives at Edwin Warner Park which was once a lover’s lane of sorts. Here there is a legend of an escaped inmate from a nearby insane asylum. He had lost a hand and it had been replaced by a hook. Teens who had parked their cars here for “necking” were terrorized by a crazed figure with a hook for a right hand. Stories still circulate of people seeing the figure of a man with a hook for a hand.

Turn a few more pages and the reader is standing at Fort Negley, one of the fortifications built by Union occupiers to defend the city against Confederate forces. Following the war, the Union fort was largely forgotten and became overgrown. When the Ku Klux Klan was created, they may have held ceremonies in the abandoned fort, burning crosses and possibly lynching unfortunate African-Americans. Visitors to the fort have encountered odd lights at night as well as the apparition of a Union soldier without a face.

Turn a few pages back and you will encounter a man in a black suit walking through Hendersonville Memory Gardens in the northeast suburb or Hendersonville. This “Man in Black” is seen walking near the grave of a very famous “Man in Black,” Johnny Cash. Is the spirit of Cash still walking near his grave before stepping into that eternal burning ring of fire?

The Nashville Haunted Handbook by Jeff Morris, Donna Marsh and Garett Merk (Clerisy Press, 2011) really covers a huge range of hauntings throughout the Nashville Metro-Area which encompasses much of middle Tennessee. Within it are included some of the enduring legends from this state including the famous Bell Witch of Adams in Robertson County and the spirit of President Andrew Jackson who still haunts his home, The Hermitage, just outside of Nashville. Some of the hauntings of Franklin, perhaps one of the more paranormally active cities in the region, are also included. Those hauntings include the famous Carter House and Carnton Plantation, both of which are haunted by specters from the Battle of Franklin.

What I find fascinating is to see such a range of an area’s hauntings presented in such a concise format. And that range is very wide, as illustrated by the examples above: a haunted disaster site, a lover’s lane haunted by an urban legend (and a very common urban legend at that), a Civil War haunt and a legend of a legend who died quite recently (2003, in fact). Indeed, the range of locations is astounding ranging from small family cemeteries to major hotels, a McDonald’s a Captain D’s restaurants to National Historic Landmarks.

It is interesting to note what is included. There are two other books about the ghosts of Nashville: Ken Traylor and Delas M. House Jr.’s Nashville Ghosts and Legends (History Press, 2007) and Frankie and Kim Meredith Harris’ Haunted Nashville (Schiffer, 2009). Both are fairly good and while they share some hauntings with this new book, there are some notable locations that are absent from the handbook. I’m curious how places like the Hermitage Hotel, Southern Turf Building, Fort Nashborough, Hurricane Mills and the Adelphi Theatre/Tennessee Performing Arts Center ended up being left out. Regardless, the list of locations in the handbook provides information on numerous hauntings that have not been adequately documented in print.

The book is organized by type of location: cemeteries, historic houses, bars and restaurants, stores and hotels, roads and parks and finally, miscellaneous. Each haunted location includes precise directions, history, a breakdown of the paranormal activity and information on visiting. The book also includes descriptions of haunts further afield.

The end of the book also includes something very simple, but that I find fascinating: a checklist. I love all types of lists, but a checklist of haunted places is really cool. After seeing it, I started thinking about the list in terms of a life list, something that bird watchers use. They will often keep a list of all the species they have seen in their life and attempt to outdo each other with the number. It’s an idea that could easily translate to the world of ghosts with people keeping a list of haunted places they have visited. “I’ll think it over tomorrow, at Tara.”

My only real criticism is the lack of a source list or bibliography. It is an absolute necessity when documenting the paranormal that a list of reliable sources be provided. Not only does this help provide accountability to the authors but it helps researchers out there like me follow the writer’s path. Otherwise, I’d highly recommend this book if you’re curious about nights (and days) in Nashville.

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.

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