Monday, October 28, 2013

Apparitions of Atlanta

N.B. Last Thursday, I did a presentation on Atlanta ghosts for the Atlanta History Center’s event, Party with the Past. This is the bulk of the presentation.

My first story comes to us from the New York Times, 2nd of June 1908. Entitled, “Ghost in Governor’s House: Wife and Daughter of Gov. Smith of Georgia Say They Have Seen It.”

ATLANTA, Ga. June 1.—The ghostly, grey-garbed figure of a young woman, which appears at all hours of the night is causing the inmates of the Executive Mansion of Georgia much perturbation, according to reports current here.”


I find it interesting that the residents of the Governor’s Mansion are referred to as “inmates,” perhaps it reflects on the status of women in this period?

The article continues by mentioning that Gov. Smith is away quite frequently and in his absence, his wife and daughter have seen the grey figure of a woman in the old mansion.

Gov. Hoke Smith of Georgia. Courtesy of the
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
The governor, Hoke Smith, made his name as the owner of the Atlanta Journal and used his position to provide strong support to Grover Cleveland during the presidential election of 1892. Following his election to the presidency, Cleveland appointed him as Secretary of the Interior. Returning to Georgia, he allied himself with the now notorious populist firebrand politician, Tom Watson, whose statue on the capitol lawn has just last week been slated to be moved, Hoke Smith was elected governor in 1907.

While he worked hard to appease Watson by disenfranchising the vote of African-American Georgians, Watson was still not pleased and in 1908 threw his support behind Joseph M. Brown, son of Georgia’s Civil War governor, Joseph E. Brown, thus necessitating his absence from the mansion.

But back to the ghost story: the lowly, unnamed reporter who wrote this story evidently sought out local African-Americans to comment on the apparition.

The negroes say the figure is the ghost of Miss Price, the niece of Gov. A.D. Candler, who died in the mansion when her uncle was Governor. It is said Miss Price was very happy in the mansion, and when dying said she would revisit the place, where she was so happy while in this life.

Governor Allen D. Candler served as governor of Georgia from 1898-1902. Interestingly, this is not the first or last story of a governor’s mansion being haunted. The old Georgia Executive Mansion in Milledgeville, Virginia’s Governor’s Mansion in Richmond and the North Carolina Governor’s Mansion in Raleigh are all reputed to be haunted.

One of the more notable structures in the Atlanta skyline, the Westin
Peachtree Plaza Hotel now occupies the site of the old Governor's Mansion.
Photo 2013, by Robert Neff, courtesy of Wikipedia.
 Sadly, this magnificent home on Peachtree Street was demolished in 1923. The site is now occupied by the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel.

Sources
“Ghost in Governor’s House.” The New York Times. 2 June 1908.
Maysilles, Duncan. “Hoke Smith (1855-1931).” The New Georgia Encyclopedia.
     22 August 2013.

Atlanta doesn’t have a very good record of preserving its historic environments. Historic preservation not only preserves the historic fabric of a location, but the spiritual fabric as well. That can most certainly explain cities such as Savannah, New Orleans, Charleston, SC and St. Augustine—cities known for their ghosts.

Disturbances in the historic fabric of a location can also uncover spirits. This is evident throughout the Atlanta area as the sacred ground where many gave their lives during the Civil War is developed. One of the better documented occurrences of this phenomenon took place on a development called Kolb Creek Farm in Marietta, just north of here.

Valentine Kolb House, 2011, Photo by Lewis O. Powell IV, all
rights reserved.
This house and a small family cemetery on Powder Springs Road in Marietta are all that remain of the Valentine Kolb farm where a minor battle was fought June 22, 1864, a battle leading up to the vicious Battle of Kennesaw Mountain which would be fought a few days later.

Behind this house, the farm fields have been developed into subdivisions. A couple, James and Katherine Tatum, purchased a home in the neighborhood in 1986. After a quiet first year in the house, the couple began to experience unexplained activity. The television show Unsolved Mysteries publicized their story and they were interviewed by Beth Scott and Michael Norman, interviews that were included in their 2004 book, Haunted America.

The first encounter occurred early one morning. “My husband and I had gotten up to go to the bathroom at the same time, about 2:30 AM. Our bedroom is upstairs. My husband used the bedroom bath and I went into the hall bath. The bathroom door was open. I saw a man walking down the hall in front of the open bathroom door. I assumed it was my husband looking for me since I was not in bed.”

After calling out to her husband with no response, Mrs. Tatum returned to the bedroom where she found her husband and asked if he’d been in the hall. He had not and he was disturbed by the idea that someone else might be in the out. Climbing out of bed, he retrieved his gun and searched the house to no avail, no one else was there.

Mrs. Tatum realized that the figure she had seen was wearing a hat and a coat. “I came to realize that when the man walked past me there had been no sound, as you would normally hear whenever someone is walking down the hall.”

For the Tatums, this would begin a series of odd events including something playing with an electric drill, pocket change on a dresser jingling on its own accord and a small bell ringing by itself.

Sources
Battle of Kolb’s Farm. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 28
     October 2013.
Scott, Beth and Michael Norman. Haunted America. NYC: Tor, 2004.

Apparently, this isn’t the only modern house with spiritual residue possibly left over from the war, homes and businesses throughout the area have activity as well.

Among the multiple stories coming out of the area, one recent story stands out.

On the night of October 8, 2007, a gentleman and his teenage son were driving across one of the many roads that cross the battlefield at Kennesaw Mountain. They spotted something about to cross the road and were amazed to see a horse with a Union cavalry officer upon it appear in their headlights.

“I quickly locked on my brakes as the horse proceeded to come right in front of us,” the anonymous driver told 11 Alive News, an Atlanta news station. The father and son watched in awe as the figure moved across the road and through a fence opposite before fading into the night.

Keep in mind, as you traverse Atlanta’s battlefield, keep on the lookout for ghosts.

Sources
Crawley, Paul. “Ghost rider at Kennesaw Mtn.?” 11 Alive News. 1 November
     2007.

The Civil War left a heavy, spiritual pall around the city, a pall that has been detected by visitors to Atlanta’s great necropolis, Oakland Cemetery.

[I have covered Oakland in depth here]

In downtown Atlanta, Peachtree Street, the city’s most famous thoroughfare is lined with many possibly haunted landmarks. On any haunted tour of the city, one of the primary stops should be 176 Peachtree St.—The Ellis Hotel.
 
The Ellis Hotel, formerly the Winecoff Hotel. Photo
2007 by Eoghanacht, courtesy of Wikipedia.
This boutique hotel possibly offers, in addition to its usual amenities, ghosts.

The Ellis opened originally in 1913 as the Winecoff Hotel. It was here in the early morning hours of Saturday, December 7th, 1946, that a fire broke out. The 15-story hotel, often advertised as ‘absolutely fireproof,’ was booked to capacity with Christmas shoppers, families in town to see the premier of the new film, Song of the South, and some 40 Georgia high school students in town for a mock legislative session.

Quite possibly starting on the third floor of the hotel, the fire spread. As the old hotel lacked modern fire preventive measures and the fire spread wildly up the single escape stairwell trapping everyone above it. The Atlanta Fire Department impressively responded with nearly 400 firefighters, 22 engine companies and 11 ladder trucks, four of them aerial. However, ladders were only able to reach people partway up the burning hotel.

As flames licked at their doors, guests began jumping or trying to lower themselves on improvised ropes of bed sheets. Others tried to propel themselves across to the Mortgage Guarantee Building across the alley off Ellis Street. The alley soon became dangerous as bodies began to fall. The sun rose that day to reveal 119 lives snuffed out among the still smoking carnage.

Sadly, the Winecoff itself was absolutely fireproof, just not the combustible interiors. The hotel’s modern incarnation as the Ellis can attest to that. Outside the hotel, a historical marker reminds passersby of “Georgia’s Titanic” while spirits may remain in the hotel to remind guests.

According to Reese Christian, some of the activity includes elevators operating by themselves on their own accord. During the buildings renovations into the Ellis Hotel, workers reported finding their tools moved or missing and guests are said to report the sound of children running and playing on the upper floors. Staff members have also reported that calls come to the hotel switchboard from unoccupied rooms. The smell of smoke also sometimes permeates rooms when no fire is present.

Sources
Christian, Reese. Ghosts of Atlanta: Phantoms of the Phoenix City. Charleston, SC:
     History Press, 2008.
Heys, Sam and Allen B. Goodwin. The Winecoff Fire: The Untold Story of America’s
     Deadliest Hotel Fire. Atlanta: Longstreet Press, 1993.

Moving on to a happier place on Peachtree in Midtown, we find ourselves at the Fabulous Fox which may possess a handful of “phantoms of the opera.” When this building opened, Christmas Day, 1929, one of the local papers called it “a picturesque and almost disturbing grandeur beyond imagination.” The grandeur, however did not last and the theatre floundered during the Depression. Under threat of demolition in the 1970s, Atlantans banded together to save the theatre and it has since been restored.
 
Fox Theatre, 2005. Photo by Scott Ehardt, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Some of the mysteries among the minarets include the holy grail of ghost hunting, a full body apparition seen by an investigator. An investigator with the Georgia Ghost Hounds, Denise Roffe (who, incidentally, wrote a book on the ghosts of Charleston, SC), had to use the restroom during an investigation. In the dark she found her way to the ladies restroom and upon entering a stall was shocked to see a young woman. “She was just standing there wearing a long, period dress and a hat.”

Startled, she screamed and other members of the group quickly joined her but the image was gone.

Another popular story involves a man hired to stoke the theatre’s furnaces. He lived down in the basement with a cot and his few, meager possessions. After his death, he has possibly continued to stay in the basement. He is said to like women and when they enter the basement they will, at times, detect a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere while men are sometimes harassed by the spirit.

Sources
Fox Theatre (Atlanta, Georgia). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 28
     October 2013.
Underwood, Corinna. Haunted History: Atlanta and North Georgia. Atglen, PA:
     Schiffer, 2008.

Just before Peachtree crosses over I-85, visitors to the city may be surprised to see what appears to be a castle looming above the road. Built with granite supplied from Stone Mountain, Rhodes Memorial Hall was constructed in 1904 for local furniture bigwig, Amos Rhodes. After serving as the home of the State Archives the building played a haunted house for a few years in the 1980s and 90s, despite actually being haunted.
Rhodes Memorial Hall in an undated photo from the Georgia
Trust for Historic Preservation. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
The house was investigated by the Atlantic Paranormal Team from SyFy’s paranormal investigation show, Ghost Hunters. To aid in this endeavor, the show’s producers called in the Real Housewives of Atlanta to perhaps scare up a few ghosts with their attitudes and fashion sense. While some scant evidence was uncovered, Rhodes Hall got to show off its ghostly activity which includes the typical unexplained footsteps, doors opening and closing by themselves and apparitions, though with a sardonic sense of humor that includes a bouquet of dead flowers supposedly being left on the desk of a staff member in the house.

Merwin, Laura. “Ghost Hunters meet Real Housewives of Atlanta and nothing.”
     Masslive.com. 2 December 2010.
Rhodes Memorial Hall. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 28 October 2013.

In terms of Atlanta hauntings, these are just the very tip of the iceberg. While some of these hauntings have been documented, I believe there are many more that should be documented from private homes to office complexes.
 
A MARTA train passes by Oakland Cemetery. Photo 2011, by
Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
I’d like to leave you with one final story. Ghosts do not just appear in old houses or buildings, but they’re also found in planes, trains and automobiles. Curt Holman in an article a few years ago from Creative Loafing Atlanta relates a story from MARTA, the Metro-Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority which operates a system of trains and busses throughout the city.

Holman relates that a young man riding on a nearly empty train on a winter’s afternoon. The young man was absorbed in the music he was listening to on his headphones and was startled to feel someone sit next to him. Looking at his reflection in the window, the young man saw a man in his 40s with dark hair and wearing a business suit sitting next to him.

Turning to speak to the man he found the seat empty.

Thank you very much and support your local ghosts!

 Sources
Holman, Curt. “The hauntings of Atlanta.” Creative Loafing Atlanta. 27 October
     2011.


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