Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Newsworthy Haunts 1/30/2013

It’s a gloomy stormy day in the Deep South, a perfect time to check for news of Southern ghosts.

TacoLu Baja Mexicana
1712 Beach Boulevard
Jacksonville Beach, Florida

The famous and haunted Homestead Restaurant has gone south, south of the border, that is. Opened in 1947, The Homestead Restaurant was, until a few years ago, a Jacksonville Beach landmark known for its fried chicken and other Southern specialties. Sadly, recent years have not been so kind to the restaurant or fat, sugar and cholesterol laden Southern cuisine in general. The restaurant was closed for a while but then reopened. Evidently, it was not the same and the restaurant closed again. Recently, a local taco joint has taken up residence in this haunted landmark and, according to a recent article in The Florida Times-Union, they’re still being visited by something otherworldly.

After inheriting the 1932 structure, Alpha Paynter opened the building that would become the restaurant as a boarding house. As boarding houses fell out of fashion, Mrs. Paynter opened the place as a restaurant, The Homestead Restaurant. The place became known for its fried chicken as much as its kitschy interior. Mrs. Paynter sold the restaurant in the early 1960s and died that same year, though her indomitable spirit that built the successful restaurant remained.

 The tales of ghosts in the building go back many years and have been widely recorded. A spirit, believed to be Alpha Paynter, has been spirits and causes the occasional lighthearted disturbance. But two other spirits in the restaurant may not be so lighthearted. Dave Lapham reports in his Ghosthunting Florida that there may be two other female spirits: the unhappy shades of two former residents who committed suicide in the building 10 years apart.

A glance at the menu shows no sign of a Fried Chicken Taco, perhaps that might be a good idea to pay homage to Mrs. Paynter and her two spiritual companions.

FitzRoy, Maggie. “Local legend lives on at Beaches restaurant.”
     The Florida Times-Union. 27 January 2013.
Lapham, Dave. Ghosthunting Florida. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press,
Mills, Gary T. “Dining Notes: TacoLu plans move to former Homestead
     spot in Jacksonville Beach.” The Florida Times-Union. 31 August

Ijams Nature Center
2915 Island Home Avenue
Knoxville, Tennessee

The Ijams Nature Center is reveling in its haunted side. The famed nature center is hosting a ghost hunt for the public this upcoming Saturday. If I didn’t have a previous engagement, I’d love to attend.

This public park, established by bird expert Henry Ijams and the “First Lady of Knoxville Garden Clubs,” Alice Yoe Ijams, serves to preserve nature within Knoxville and educate the public. Except for information on the ghost hunt, I’ve not been able to locate any details on the ghosts of the park, though I’ll be looking forward to finding out more.

History.” Ijams Nature Center. Accessed 30 January 2013.
News Sentinel Staff. “Ijams Nature Center to host ghost hunt.”
     Knoxville News Sentinel. 23 January 2013.

Longwood Village Inn
300 North Ronald Reagan Boulevard
Longwood, Florida

I really want to find out how George Bunker-Clark died. The owner of the then St. George Hotel, Bunker-Clark died in April 1923 during an ice cream social he was hosting there for the community. So far, none of the sources have revealed the actual circumstances of his death, though most report that he died at the rear of the building.

Longwood Village Inn, 2007. Photo by Ebyabe, courtesy of
The latest news about the Longwood Village Inn is that the building is for sale. Built during Florida’s first railroad boom in 1885, this historic hotel may get a second chance during Florida’s second railroad boom in the very near future. With support from the Federal government, state and local governments, SunRail is being constructed. This rail system will connect Poinciana to DeLand through the heart of downtown Orlando. The station linking Longwood will be constructed just across the street from the inn.

But it seems that George Bunker-Clark’s spirit is not the only one in the 30 room hotel. The hotel has most recently been used as office space and workers in the old rooms have reported the sounds of giggling and tapping while others have smelled cigar smoke. Strange lights and apparitions round out the paranormal activity.

     of SunRail.” Orlando Sentinel. 17 January 2013.
Lapham, Dave. Ghosthunting Florida. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press,
“A piece of haunted history goes up for sale in Longwood.” WFTV.
     18 January 2013.
Randall, Elizabeth. “Haunted Longwood Village Inn has Ghostly
     Residents.” Suite101. 4 August 2011.
SunRail. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 30 January 2013.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Road to Smuteye—Southeast Alabama

I’m on the road again, this time to southeast Alabama to explore a few hauntings here. As I drove through rural Bullock County, I passed the road to a place called Smuteye. This is a land that wears its history on its sleeve. As I drove towards tonight’s destination, Ozark, I passed through small towns still bearing the scars of Reconstruction. Slavery’s grim face still shown on the streets and in the peeling paint of the grand, white houses lining the main streets. Discounting the modern cars, in some places it could still be 1965 or 1920 or 1885.

Driving through places like Union Springs, Brundidge, Tuskeegee, history is ever present. Tuskeegee, where African-Americans under the watchful eye of Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver began to raise themselves from oppression to tolerance to the hallowed halls of the White House, is sadly decaying with the main street lined with crumbling old homes and boarded up commercial buildings. Passing through Union Springs on AL-29, architectural gems of past ages lined the street with occasional modern infill housing and run down mobile homes butting up against the Greek-Revival, Italianate, and Victorian manses. Between these towns churches every few miles remind travelers that this is God’s country.

This is also a land rife with ghosts, though most of these spirits are simply not discussed. The purpose of this trip is ultimately to see the Rawls Hotel in Enterprise, though I’m finding a few other hauntings along the way to occupy my interest. Had I done my research before my drive, I would have stopped in Union Springs to photograph the three possibly haunted locations in downtown: the Bullock County Courthouse, the Pauly Jail and the Josephine Hotel.

All three locations have been investigated by the Alabama Paranormal Research Team with the courthouse and the jail investigated in 2009 and the hotel investigated the following year. According to the investigation reports they have published on their site, activity was uncovered in the courthouse and the hotel, but the jail, oddly, seemed quiet.

Bullock County Courthouse, 2000, taken by the US Dept.
of Agriculture.
The Second Empire style Bullock County Courthouse was constructed in 1871-2, during Reconstruction. It was here that the paranormal team was told of the frightening photograph of a Confederate soldier hanging inside. Recently, one of the sheriffs reported that the portrait made him feel uneasy, to the point that he had the photograph covered. In addition, there were reports of the elevators operating on their own volition, which is not an uncommon occurrence. The investigation revealed some odd activity in the courtroom including odd static charges coming from the floor and certain seats. Some EVPs were recorded and a few strange photos were taken.

Behind the courthouse, the intimidating Pauly Jail stands. Named for the Pauly Jail Building and Manufacturing Company which constructed it in 1897, the jail is the oldest jail still in existence in the state. Unfortunately, the building produced no results during the investigation.

Just down the street stands the old Josephine Hotel which is now home to the Josephine Arts Center. This 1880 hotel did reveal some paranormal activity. At one point during the investigation, the investigators witnessed an orb of light moving through a hallway. Upon reviewing the video collected at the hotel, this orb was found to have been captured. In addition, an EVP was also collected. This was enough evidence for the organization to indicate that there is some activity within the building.

Down the road in Dale County outside of the town of Newton is the peculiar “Choctawhatchee Bridge Hole.” Legend tells us the sad story of Bill Sketoe, who was put to death near the bridge over the Choctawhatchee River which now carries Alabama Highway 123. In 1864, when the Confederate Army was desperate for manpower, poor Bill Sketoe was arrested by a company of soldiers and accused of desertion. Arguing that he had hired a substitute to fight on his behalf, Sketoe was hung from a nearby water oak. The amateur hang man misjudged Sketoe’s height and his feet were still touching the ground after the noose was tightened. One of the men slowly scraped away the dirt from under Sketoe’s feet and he was slowly strangled, most certainly a brutal death.

For years, the hole remained and refused all efforts to fill it. Kathryn Tucker Windham immortalized this story in her 1969 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey. Sadly, this was not enough to save the actual hole. When a new bridge was built to carry AL-123 over the river, the hole was covered. Though, the hole was recreated in a nearby park. Of course, it isn’t the same.

The point of this trip is to make a pilgrimage to the Rawls Hotel that I have previously written about, though I will be stopping past the recreation of Bill Sketoe’s hole as well. This is a fascinating landscape and I hope to find more about the spirits of the region.

Alabama Paranormal Research Team. Investigation Report for Bullock County
     Courthouse. Accessed 29 November 2012.
Alabama Paranormal Research Team. Investigation Report for The Josephine
     Hotel. Accessed 29 November 2012.
     Southern History Blog. Accessed 25 January 2013.
Fox, Jovani. “Paranormal research team investigates Pauly Jail.” Union
     Springs Herald. September 2009.
Union Springs, Alabama. “A Tour of Union Springs.” Accessed 25
     January 2013.
Windham, Kathryn Tucker & Margaret Gillis Figh. 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey.
     Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1969.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Some Alabama Hauntings, Briefly Noted

Albertville Public Library
200 Jackson Street

This location is not haunted. See my post here on how ghostlore is created. 

Bama Theatre
600 Greensboro Avenue

Like the spirit or spirits that haunt the Albertville Public Library, the identity of the spirits at the Bama Theatre are just as mysterious. This historic 1938 theatre was built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression. While research into the theatre’s past have revealed no deaths to link the haunting to, this may be a case of residual energy remaining after years of crowds visiting the theatre.

Marquee of the Bama Theatre, 2010, by Carol M. Highsmith.
Courtesy of the George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama
Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress,
Prints and Photographs Division.
One particularly interesting story from the theatre involves an employee who arrived early one morning. As he was making coffee, he heard the elevator moving. He stood at the doors expecting to greet the rider but when the doors opened, he was greeted with a blast of icy air. This is perhaps the most chilling of the paranormal events in this building. Others working in the building have reported shadow figures, odd lights and the distinct feeling of being watched. The building was investigated by the Alabama Paranormal Research Team in recent years, though little evidence to support a haunting was uncovered.

Alabama Paranormal Research Team. Investigation Report on The Bama
     Theatre, Tuscaloosa, AL. Accessed 29 November 2012.
Higdon, David & Brett J. Talley. Haunted Tuscaloosa. Charleston, SC:
     History Press, 2012.

Bluff Hall
405 North Commissioners Avenue

The fortunes of Demopolis’ Lyon family reflect the rise and fall of the entire state during the 19th century. While the family owned a large plantation, Bermuda Hill, outside of town, the family required a home in town for business and social functions. The home, Bluff Hall, was constructed in 1832 by Allen Glover for his daughter Sarah and her husband, Francis Strother Lyon.

Bluff Hall, 2008, by Altairisfar. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
The revised WPA guide to the state describes the house as “fortress-like in its strength and severity,” an apt description for the magnificently sited home. Occupying one of the bluffs above the Tombigbee River, the home illustrates the Lyon family’s remarkable and powerful position in the region. Francis Lyon, the home’s first owner, served in the Alabama State Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives and the Confederate Congress, all the while running his plantation at Bermuda Hill. The home remained in the Lyon family until just after the turn of the 20th century when another family purchased it as a residence. The Marengo County Historical Society purchased the home in 1967 and restored it to its antebellum glory.

Since its purchase by the historical society, evidently no one had stayed the night in the home until 2003. A group of people staying overnight in the home encountered odd sounds during the evening. When the President of the local Chamber of Commerce went to investigate she was confronted with the apparition of a child on the stairs. Local historians have suggested that the child was the spirit of Leonidas Mecklenburg “Merk” Polk, Francis Lyon’s grandson and also grandson to Confederate General Leonidas Polk, who passed away in the home of scarlet fever in 1877.

“Area rich in ghost stories, folk lore.” Demopolis Times. 30 October
Bluff Hall. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 14 December
Francis Strother Lyon. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     14 December 2012.
Hendrix, Barry H. “Image may have been real.” Demopolis Times.
     5 November 2003.
Walker, Alyce Billings. ed. Alabama: A Guide to the Deep South, New
     Revised Edition. NYC: Hastings House, 1975.

Interstate 65
Between Evergreen and Greenville

Interstate 65 ferries drivers from the shores of the Gulf of Mexico in Mobile, Alabama north to the shores of Lake Michigan in Gary, Indiana. The roughly 40 mile stretch between Evergreen, in Conecuh County, and Greenville, in Butler County, is the setting for a legend. Like much of the state of Alabama, this area was initially part of the huge nation of the Muscogee or Creek people. After Alabama’s creation in 1819, these native lands were flooded by land hungry pioneers and tensions rose as the natives watched the theft and degradation of their homeland. Skirmishes between the two groups brought war and orders of removal from Washington. Thousands of Muscogees were forcibly removed from their rich and fertile homeland and resettled in the dry and barren Oklahoma territory.

The Muscogee left behind villages, farmland, their hunting grounds, trails and the bones of their ancestors. According to legend, I-65 cuts a swath through part of this sacred Muscogee territory and, as a result, this section of interstate is cursed. One statistic on this stretch of road that has been passed around states that “between 1984 and 1990, there were 519 accidents, 208 injuries, and 23 deaths on this 40 mile stretch of highway, though the road is straight, even and well maintained.” Not being an expert on highway statistics, I don’t know how this compares to comparable stretches of road. It sounds high, but then again, out of context, I’m not sure how to interpret it.

Back to the legend, many of these accidents are supposedly caused by a something, possibly a human figure, darting across the road. Other reports involve bright lights temporarily blinding drivers. Then again, none of the information on this legend provides specific reports. Perhaps it may just be another old Indian curse legend.

     Alabama." Yahoo Voices. 24 October 2011.
Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory. NYC:
     Penguin, 2002.
Haveman, Christopher. “Creek Indian Removal.” Encyclopedia of
     Alabama. 23 February 2012.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Tragedy and Triumph—Drish Mansion (Photos)

2300 17th Street
Tuscaloosa, Alabama
The earliest available image of the Drish Mansion from a 1907
 Last week saw much celebration in Tuscaloosa and across the Deep South as fans of the University of Alabama’s football team, the “Crimson Tide,” celebrated the team’s victory over Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game after a nearly perfect season. But this is also a city that has seen the depths of despair after a massive EF4 tornado struck the city in 2011. The tornado cut a huge swath through the city killing some 44 and injuring scores more. After leaving Tuscaloosa the funnel barreled through rural Alabama flattening homes and small communities before striking Birmingham.

As the tornado swept through the eastern portion of Tuscaloosa, the tower of the Drish Mansion would have afforded a nearly front-row seat. The tornado first touched down in neighboring Greene County and then moved towards Tuscaloosa almost following the route of I-20. The mansion sits on a small knoll in a traffic island where 17th and 23rd Streets intersect, close to the intersection of I-359 and 15th Street. The tower of the mansion would have afforded a spectacular view of the 1.5 mile funnel as it began its rampage through the city. Crossing I-359, the tornado slammed into Rosedale Park about a mile south of the Drish Mansion. The funnel cloud continued through the city ripping its way through residential and commercial areas and devastating this mighty university town.

Devastation from the 2011 tornado in Tuscaloosa. Photo from
the US Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District. Released
under a Creative Commons License.

This would not be the first nor the last tornado this manse will witness and it only adds to a lengthy list of tragedies it has seen. Seemingly, every time I begin research on this home it seems that another tragedy or tragic period appears. Glancing through the WPA guide to Alabama (originally published in 1941 and revised in 1975), I discovered a statement that the house was used to house Confederate prisoners of war after the battle of Shiloh in 1862. Add this to years of other tragedies and you have a host of ghosts on hand.

The most striking feature of the house is an elegant, Italianate-style tower that rises from the fa├žade. It is somewhat at odds with the obviously Greek revival architecture but the overall effect is quite imposing. According to David Higdon and Brett J. Talley in their recent Haunted Tuscaloosa, the tower was also used to appease one of the vices of the home’s builder, Dr. John Drish. He is described as a jealous man and the tower was used to observe the building of the Jemison house (now known as the Jemison-Van de Graaf Mansion and also haunted), being built by rival planter Robert Jemison, Jr.

It is also this tower upon one of the house’s many ghost stories is centered. Dr. Drish is described by Kathryn Tucker Windham as being a man who “gambled and drank—and did both very poorly.” In an alcoholic rage one night in 1867, Dr. Drish stumbled to the staircase where he uttered a shriek and dropped dead. Before the funeral, Sarah, Dr. Drish’s wife, had the body lay in state in the home with candles surrounding the bier. Following his interment at Greenwood Cemetery, she stored the candles away with strict orders that the same candles be used during her own funeral. When she passed away in 1884, the candles could not be located. Since that time, passersby at night have witnessed flames leaping from the tower, the vengeful acts of an earthbound and unhappy spirit.

The  Drish Mansion, 1934. Photo by W. N. Manning for the
Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy of the Library
of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. 
 The 20th century saw the degradation of this beautiful house. The 1941 publication of Walker Evans’ Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, attests to it with a photograph of the Drish House serving as the Tuscaloosa Wrecking Company. Photos from the Library of Congress show the delicate architecture marred as the building served as an auto parts store. In the 1950s, the home became part of Southside Baptist Church which was built adjoining the house. The church remained, obtrusively sticking off one side of the house, until its demolition in 2009. The house is now owned by the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society who is working to return this home to its antebellum splendor.

Rear view of the Drish Mansion, 1934. Note the junked cars.
Photo by W. N. Manning for the Historic American Building Survey.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

The porch of the Drish Mansion, 1936.
Photo by Alex Bush for the Historic American Building Survey.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Front Hall of the house, Photo by W. N. Manning for the Historic American Building Survey.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Shelves of auto parts in one room. Photo by W. N. Manning for the Historic
American Building Survey. Courtesy of the Library of Congress,
Prints and Photographs Division.

The mansion in 2010 by Carol Highsmith. Courtesy of
the George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs
in Carol M. Highsmith's American Project in the Carol M.
Highsmith Archive. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs

Higdon, David & Brett J. Talley. Haunted Tuscaloosa, Charleston, SC:
     History Press, 2012.
Stevenson, Tommy. “Church demolition restores look of Drish House.”
     Tuscaloosa News. 12 December 2009.
Walker, Alyce Billings, ed. Alabama: A Guide to the Deep South. NYC:
     Hastings House, 1975.
Windham, Kathryn Tucker & Margaret Gillis Figh. 13 Alabama Ghosts
     and Jeffrey. Tuscaloosa, AL: U. of Alabama Press, 1969.