Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Playhouse Phantoms of Pensacola


Pensacola Cultural Center
100 South Jefferson Street

Florida has a glut of haunted theatres; not that that’s a bad thing. A recent project has me researching theatres throughout the South, and it seems that Florida has more than anyone else. Perhaps it’s geography or something in the air or all the seawater that surrounds the state, it does give one pause.

On the official website for the cultural center, one statement stands out, “The spaces where judges handed out justice and criminals served their time are now filled with the positive energy of dancers, actors, artists, and students.” The building was initially constructed in 1911 as the Escambia County Building, housing the county Court of Records and the jail. Places where criminals were tried, sentenced, incarcerated and executed now thrum with the rhythm of the arts in this old building.

It seems that some of the criminals are still doing time in this Neo-classical structure. A man has been seen lurking within the building. A staff member working in the building after hours heard the operating of a nearby elevator. Shortly afterwards the dark shadow of a man walked past the staff member’s open door. She called out but did not get a response. When she looked into the hallway, it was empty.

A couple staff members working late in the auditorium when they saw a man sitting in one of the seats. They both saw him simultaneously and turned to look at each other. When they turned back, the man was sitting in a different seat, on the opposite side of the house. They described him as wearing a worn suit and having a gaunt face. Some have identified this male spirit as that of Hosea Poole, a small time criminal who murdered his brother. Poole was the last man executed in the jail when he was hung 31 July 1920. However, there is little evidence, other than coincidence, to solidly identify the spirit as Poole’s.

The playful spirit of a young girl, possibly from the 1920s or 30s has also been witnessed. Unlike the male spirit’s almost menacing presence, the young girl has been heard giggling and she has been seen playfully skipping through the hallways. She is known to peer curiously over shoulders and she is occasionally seen peering from shadowed corners.

Saenger Theatre
118 South Palafox Place

Known as the “Grande Dame of Palafox Street,” the Saenger Theatre was constructed from the ruins—the bricks and other fittings—of the Pensacola Opera House which was destroyed in the 1917 Nueva Gerona hurricane (so named for the destruction to the Cuban town of Nueva Gerona). The theatre opened in 1925 as a venue for live performances and film. Broadway shows and vaudevillians on The Road played here as well as films such as Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments which opened the theatre.

Saenger Theatre, 2010, by Ebyabe. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
The Saenger thrived as a cinema for a few decades until competition from multiplex big screens and the small screens now found in homes began to shrink the audiences to the Grande Dame. The theatre closed in 1975 but was reopened as a cultural center in 1981. The theatre was extensively renovated in 1996.

With the crowds that have passed through the theatre’s doors since its opening and whatever spiritual residue may be left on the old bricks and other fittings from the old opera house, it’s no wonder that the Saenger Theatre has some paranormal activity on hand. Voices have been heard in the balcony of the building and the spirits may affect the electrical circuits at times. Alan Brown records an incident that happened to the electricians working on a touring show. Just after hanging and adjusting the lighting for a show, the lights began to flash erratically on their own volition. The blame for this activity is laid upon the spirit of a worker who died when the boiler in the basement exploded, though—like Hosea Poole at the Pensacola Cultural Center—there is nothing to identify the culprit.

Sources
Brown, Alan. Haunted Pensacola. Charleston, SC: History Press,
     2010.
Jenkins, Greg. Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore, Vol. 3:
     The Gulf Coast and Pensacola. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2007.
Pensacola Cultural Center. About PCC. Accessed 26 February 2013.
Saenger Theatre(Pensacola, Florida). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 26 February 2013.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

William’s Ghost Walks of Georgetown—Review


I missed out on having dinner last night. But William Goins tour was so enthralling that I didn’t mind so much. It was a long tour, but the time passed quickly entrenched in stories of love, war, heartbreak, death and madness. Time only nagged in my sore feet and as the messenger bag on my shoulder grew heavier.

Georgetown, South Carolina is a timeless city lost in a haze of its own glorious history. While it’s still quite a small town, it has been at the heart of national struggles. It ranks among the oldest cities in America having been the site of a Spanish mission in the 16th century and the scene of Native American activities for centuries before that. As a notable seaport, the town attracted wealthy planters who constructed town houses here. After seeing action during the Civil War, the town returned to the timeless dream it still remains lost in. But the characters in that dream still walk its streets reliving their own glory days and that’s what brings me here.

William Goins is a genial bear of a man. Like Georgetown, there’s an air of the timeless about him with his long hair and beard. It’s not hard to imagine him cutting a dashing figure in a butternut grey uniform or the scarlet and blue of a Continental Army frock coat. In fact, Mr. Goins does participate in historic reenactments in his spare time.

Looking down Front Street towards the bell tower of the old
Georgetown market building, now the Rice Museum. Photo,
2011, by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.
His knowledge is extensive. He’s conversant in Low Country plantation life and lore, the genealogies of the myriad families in the region, the natural history of the marshes and scrub forests, and this tangled thicket of history of which Georgetown sits at the heart. Most of all, that knowledge encompasses, sometimes on a first hand level, the ghostlore of the region. He’s an investigator and has personally looked into many of the stories he relates on the tour. He incorporates the experiences of friends, family and many of the residents whose homes are located along the tour route.

His presentation is simple and unencumbered by the tricks that so many ghost tour guides utilize. There are no costumes, creepy voices or props used just Mr. Goins’ commanding presence, the smell of kerosene smoke from his lantern and Low Country drawl. The stories are simply presented as any good Southern storyteller would present them and they are most effective that way. Even coming on this tour with a knowledge of some of these stories, I found chills creeping up my back on more than one occasion.

Georgetown possesses a wealth of stories that would turn Charleston green with envy. What makes the stories so compelling is not only the hometown knowledge that Mr. Goins imparts, but the tales of recent activity. It’s the reminder that these spirits are still walking amongst us and are perhaps even listening in as the guide relates their own stories that really sends a cold tingle up my spine.

Among the plethora of stories from larger and more important cities, the stories of Georgetown have been somewhat overlooked by the paranormal community. If you’re looking for a diamond in the rough, a city whose paranormal side is only now being revealed, consider Georgetown and William Goins’ marvelous tour. Just keep in mind to have dinner first.

To book a tour, please see his website.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Guests and Ghosts on Columbia Square


Davenport House
324 East State Street

Kehoe House
123 Habersham Street
Savannah, Georgia

Savannah has worked hard to promote its ghosts. Perhaps it may be one of the more, if not most, active cities in the South. Its huge historic districts are just crawling with spirits, some strolling through its parks, stalking its streets and alleys, lingering in its gardens and cemeteries, residing amongst the living in private homes, floating between the tables of restaurants and bars and staying on past their reservations in the city’s hotels and inns. Savannah has no end of beautiful hotels and inns for guests and ghosts to haunt. From historic hotels like the Marshall House, 17Hundred90 Inn and the East Bay Inn to bed and breakfast inns like the Foley House Inn and the Hamilton-Turner House, ghosts and guests have quite a bit to choose from. Perhaps one of the grandest among these is the Kehoe House on Columbia Square.

Savannah was laid out by James Oglethorpe, the founder of the Colony of Georgia, in a style used initially by the ancient Romans for laying out their military encampments. This style consists of broad avenues punctuated by squares. Over time the strict lines of this plan have been softened by the many live oak trees planted along the streets and in the squares. The oaks provide a verdant canopy over the still vibrant historic streets and squares. Columbia Square is one of more peaceful and less bustling squares while two of its structures anchor its historic character: the Isaiah Davenport House and the Kehoe House. The ghostly reputations of both these houses also anchor them in the annals of the paranormal world

Built in 1820, the Isaiah Davenport House was built almost 70 years before the construction of the grand Kehoe House just across the street. Isaiah Davenport was a master builder from New England who used his family’s home to demonstrate his building skill; while William Kehoe was an Irish immigrant who climbed his way up the ladder in the iron industry and eventually bought the iron foundry where he began as an apprentice. In building his home, Kehoe sought to demonstrate the beauty and flexibility of his iron products which were used in the window and door frames, railings and balustrades. Both the Federal Davenport House and the Queen Anne Kehoe House reflect the progress of the American Dream in the 19th century.

The fates of both homes took similar paths. Both remained residences until the early 19th century when Savannah’s fortunes changed and the neighborhood declined. The homes were both converted to boarding houses, but the newer Kehoe House eventually became home to a funeral home. Its basements where servants had once toiled to support the family saw embalmers draining the blood of the dead to be replaced with formaldehyde. The parlors on the first floor that once buzzed with the excitement of society’s graces were filled with weeping and sorrow as family and friends stole one last glance upon their loved ones in the Viewing Room. The perfumes and colognes of the living throughout the house were replaced with the perfume of flowers for the dead.

The Kehoe House remained as a funeral home for some decades until it was sold to a group of investors including football star Joe Namath. Intending to turn the grand house in a gentleman’s club, the investors were rebuffed by the residents of Columbia Square and the rest of the neighborhood. In 1990, the house was sold again and began a restoration to transform it into a historic inn.

Meanwhile the Davenport House remained a boarding house of the lowest order through the first half of the twentieth century. In 1955, the shabby structure was purchased by the step daughter of the owner of the Goette Funeral Home across the street. It was intended that the eyesore would be demolished and replaced with America’s contribution to historic preservation: a parking lot. History-minded citizens in the city created the Historic Savannah Foundation with an eye towards saving the derelict house. On several occasions they tried to purchased the home but their advances were spurned. With just hours until the home was to meet its fate, the owner relented and sold it to the Foundation. The home underwent years of restoration and once again held her head proudly among the historic ladies of Columbia Square as a house museum.

Isaiah Davenport House, 2009. Photo by Cybersquire79,
Courtesy of Wikipedia.
While now the Davenport House is devoid of living residents, there are spiritual residents remaining. One of the first stories told of the house dates to its days as a boarding house. Among its diverse residents were a number of Chinese families including Robert Chung Chan whose daughter reported this story to Margaret Wayt DeBolt who included it in her magisterial Savannah Spectres. The simple story tells of Chan encountering a large yellow cat as he entered the house one day. The cat followed him up the stairs and bolted through the front door and disappeared down the hall. A subsequent search of the house did not reveal the yellow feline.

From source to source the description of the cat changes, perhaps from witness’s unfamiliarity with cat breeds. James Caskey describes the cat as an orange and white tabby, though he notes DeBolt’s description of a large yellow cat while Robert Edgerly notes the same description. Dr. Alan Brown goes further afield in describing the cat as a large Persian. Regardless, guests visiting the Davenport house have seen and felt the large cat on the premises. Some may have the same experience as Mr. Chan with the cat scurrying up the front stairs and disappearing in the hallway. Others see the cat following them into the gift shop. Robert Edgerly reports a guest standing on the second floor felt a purring cat rub against his leg, though when he looked down, there was nothing there. It should be noted that the museum does not allow pets on the premises, though they have adopted the spirited feline as part of the museum family and they now sell a plush version in the gift shop.

In addition to the scurrying, four-legged spirit, the Davenport House also plays host to a two-legged spirit as well. Guests have seen a small girl playing with toys on the second floor. She was spotted at one point by two tourists who were touring the house near closing time. Concerned that the girl seemed to be unsupervised, they mentioned her presence on the second floor to the cashier in the gift shop. The concerned cashier thoroughly searched the house to no avail. Tour groups passing the house have also observed the little girl peering from the upper windows of the house. Alan Brown ventures that the child may be the spirit of Laura Davenport who died after falling down the stairs of the home.

With guests staying longer at the Kehoe House, there’s more of a chance for run-ins with the resident spirits there. One of the more prominent spirits is that of a woman in white. She has been known to enter rooms, possibly checking in on the guests. The late Nancy Roberts, the author of numerous books on ghosts of the South, stayed in room 201 and encountered the Lady in White during her stay. Her first night in the inn she stayed up expecting something to happen. Exhausted, she closed her eyes around 1 AM but was awakened around 2 AM by the sound of a key in the lock of the door.
I was still half asleep when I heard the sound in the door. Then I heard a sharp crack as if the door was opening, followed by the sound of the door closing with a resounding crash.

I immediately opened my eyes and sat up in bed. In the far corner of the room, I could see a tall woman with long, dark hair. The woman’s floor-length gown was a luminous white. With trembling fingers, I turned on the bedside light and looked again, only to find that she was gone.

The following night, the nocturnal visitor did not return, though Roberts and her husband did note a cold spot in the room and her husband complained of the strong scent of roses that permeated the room. Oddly, his wife did not notice the odor.

Kehoe House, 2009. Photo by rjones0856.
Released under a Creative Commons License.
Robert Edgerly mentions an event that was related to him by hotel guests in 2004. A couple staying in the same room, 201, were awakened at 12:01 AM by a woman scream followed by the sound of someone falling down the stairs just outside their room. Rushing to the door and throwing it open, the couple found no one but the couple from room 203, just across the hall, who had been awakened by the same sounds.

These two rooms on the second floor seem to attract the most spirits. Ghost tour guide James Caskey surmises that at least some of the activity in these rooms may be caused by the spirits of a pair of twins who legend holds may have died in the home. The progeny of the Kehoe family, these curious twins died while exploring a chimney. As a result, their laughter and footsteps have been heard in the hall of the second floor. Additionally, a guest of room 201 was awakened by a young child caressing her face. The child quickly disappeared as the startled sleeper awoke.

However, it seems that the activity is hardly confined to the second floor. Recently, one of my best friends (who has been previously mentioned in this blog), Troy Heard, and his wife, the ever lovely Kady stayed in room 101 of the inn. Troy knows well the stories of the Kehoe House and the rest of Savannah, having conducted ghost tours of the city while studying for his masters at SCAD. Kady, who has an abiding interest in ghosts, was most happy to hear her husband’s stories. While Kady does not consider herself to be sensitive, she stated that her entire stay in Savannah she could never quite get comfortable and relax.

Their stay in the Kehoe House was also not that uneventful. One night around 3 AM, Kady was awakened by an odd scratching at the window. While this may not be odd, she soon heard the sound of footsteps in the hall. The jingle of keys soon followed and she heard the door to the room across the hall being opened. The next morning, the couple was surprised to see the door to the room across the hall still propped open (the rooms are opened when they’re not occupied). They inquired at the desk to find that no one checked into that room late at night.

While the phantom feline at the Davenport House is seen quite regularly, it seems the Kehoe House may be more active. There’s also mention made of a light being seen in the cupola of the house as well as the voice of a small boy inviting passersby to come play. The Kehoe House pays homage to its ghosts on its website and many authors have noted that the front desk takes notes on the experiences of guests. Should you pass by Columbia Square late at night, don’t be startled to see or hear playing children or a large, yellow cat, they’re just very permanent residents.

Sources
Brown, Alan. Haunted Georgia: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Peach
     State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008.
Caskey, James. Haunted Savannah: The Official Guidebook to the Savannah
     Haunted History Tour, 2008. Savannah, GA: Bonaventture Books, 2008.
Conversation with Troy and Kady Heard, 12 February 2013.
DeBolt, Margaret Wayt. Savannah Spectres and Other Strange Tales. Norfolk,
     VA: The Donning Company, 1984.
Edgerly, Robert. Savannah Hauntings. Savannah, GA: See Savannah Books,
     2005.
History of the Kehoe House.” KehoeHouse.com. Accessed 15 February 2013.
Isaiah Davenport House. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 15 February
     2013.
Our Institutional History.” Davenport House Museum. Accessed 15 February
     2013.
Roberts, Nancy. Georgia Ghosts. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair,
     1997.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Some Virginia Hauntings, Briefly Noted


Breeden Manor
Breeden’s Bottom Arcadia Campground
Arcadia

The Latin phrase “Et in Arcadia ego” (And even I am in Arcadia) is the title of a marvelous painting by the French painter, Nicolas Poussin. It depicts a group of shepherds in an idealized landscape contemplating a stone carved with these words. The words remind us that “I” (death in this case) is present everywhere, even in the most idyllic of places. Arcadia, Virginia, most certainly an idyllic location along the James River in Botetourt County in the central part of the state.

To bring tourists into this semi-rural and historic area, local planners are busy creating the Upper James River Blueway Trail. Unlike a regular trail over land, a blueway trail follows a water path. To capitalize on the family’s waterfront holdings, the Breeden family who have owned this land since the Great Depression, have opened the land and their historic farmhouse, Breeden Manor, to campers and tourists in the area seeking a scenic getaway.

Et in Arcadia ego, and death here lingers as a memento mori. The Breeden family has had many experiences within Breeden Manor causing them to ask if the home may be haunted. Mrs. Breeden was taking a shower one evening when ice cold water was thrown at her followed by a tapping from inside the wall. That event, among many others caused the family to ask the Central Roanoke Association of Paranormal Studies. The organization has investigated and also conducted tours of the home which have yielded very interesting results including a recording of a piano playing in the empty house.

Sources
Adams, Duncan. “Family says paranormal is the norm in old home.”
     The Roanoke Times. 17 October 2011.
Bowman, Rex. “Botetourt County ranchers re-create property for recreation.”
     The Roanoke Times. 10 September 2009.
Wiegandt, Jessica. “Haunted House Reviews: Arcadia.” The Roanoke Times
     Blog. 25 October 2012.

Piedmont Battlefield
Battlefield Road
New Hope

Honestly, reenactors get all the best activity at old military sites. From Fort Clinch and Olustee in Florida to Antietam in Maryland, reenactors often experience marvelous activity at these sites. Outside of New Hope, near the community of Piedmont, is an open field that was the scene of a battle, the 5th of June 1864.

Around 5 AM, June 5,, 1996, a group of reenactors camping on the southern edge of the battlefield were awakened by an unusual ruckus: the sounds of wagons approaching. In an effort to greet the approaching wagons, a few of the reenactors stepped towards a nearby fence. The sounds, the creak of wagon wheels, the tinkle of chains, the clop of horses hooves and their whinnies, increased for a moment as they apparently neared the awed witnesses then they suddenly ceased. Some of those present later discovered an overgrown trace or wagon road in the woods near the spot where they’d heard the sounds. It is believed that this road may have been in existence at the time of the battle.

Piedmont Battlefield, 1994, by Shenandoah1864. Courtesy
of Wikipedia.
Of course, there’s no way to know if the sounds were related to battle or simply spiritual residue from the road’s history. Either way, the reenactors will likely tell this story for years to come.

Sources
Shulman, Terry. “Did ghostly soldiers pay reenactors a courtesy call?”
     The News Leader (Staunton, VA). 10 July 2004.

Graffiti House
19484 Brandy Road
Brandy Station

It’s not hard to imagine that soldiers throughout the Civil War began to quickly feel their own mortality. As they lay wounded in the homes and taverns, churches and barns that had been hastily converted into hospitals throughout the nation, many scratched their names into adjacent plaster walls and floorboards, perhaps in hopes of gaining some type of immortality. With so much of this graffiti obliterated by the buildings caretakers and time, these exercises into immortality have become increasingly rare, despite their importance to historians and the residents of the modern age.

Built near a small railroad stop on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, Graffiti House was built by James Barbour in 1858 as a residence and possible commercial building. As battles raged around Virginia, Mr. Barbour’s building was converted into a hospital and the patients began to scrawl on the walls of the structure. In June of 1863, the war that had been trickling into the community until then arrived as a deluge when it was the scene of the largest cavalry battle fought on American soil.

The graffiti was only rediscovered in the early 1990s and the building was later purchased by the Brandy Station Foundation, an organization devoted to preserving the local battlefield and associated sites. But it’s not just graffiti that remains in the building, spirits are still active as well. A handful of paranormal investigation organizations have investigated Graffiti House and captured evidence.

A reporter from The Free Lance-Star in nearby Fredericksburg in 2007 observed a paranormal investigation by the Virginia Paranormal Institute. About an hour into the investigation he was apparently touched by something while an investigator had something grab her hand. During a more recent investigation by Transcend Paranormal, video of an anomalous light in an empty room was captured. The video is available on YouTube.

Sources
Graffiti House. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 6 February 2013.
Johnston, Donnie. “What was that touching my back?” The Free Lance-Star.
     23 November 2007.
     YouTube. 18 November 2011.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A House Remembers--Reviewing Sharon Day's "Growing Up With Ghosts"

Early on in Growing Up With Ghosts Sharon Day recalls an incident when her family was awakened by a tremendous boom. After digging in the basement, Day's father Stanley, discovers a cannonball. Revealing to the children the cause of the nighttime blast, the children still don't quite understand.
"How did it make a boom blast last night if it was shot a hundred years ago?" Kathy finally questioned.
As always, we siblings all turned to stare her down for ruining the fun with her questioning nature.
My father squatted down and brushed the trowel across the mortar in the pan. "I'm thinking the house remembers that hit."
Kathy frowned and couldn't seem to come up with a reply to that one.
That particular descriptive really struck me as a poetic way to describe this haunting.

This field of paranormal literature is made up almost entirely of haunted house stories of varying lengths. Among the first book length works in this genre are famous works like Harry Price's The Most Haunted House in England in 1940 about the infamous Borley Rectory and Jay Anson's 1977 The Amityville Horror, both books dealing with horrific and frightening hauntings. While both accounts end with the families fleeing in terror, Day's account ends with her family sadly leaving the haunted plantation and the house seemingly responding in sorrow.

As the youngest of four children, Sharon Day spent her formative years growing up in the family's historic mansion in Fairfax, Virginia. Located not far outside of Washington, DC, the Fairfax area has been at the heart of American history for centuries. Built in the mid 18th century, Aspen Grove, has born witness to the tide of history as its flowed through the area.

Perhaps it was the Civil War that left the biggest of impressions on the home. As many structures throughout the South, the home served as a hospital and was left with bloodstained floors, artifacts littering the grounds and spirits. But unlike the tortured and possibly demonic spirits of 112 Ocean Boulevard in Amityville, New York, the spirits of Aspen Grove seem to be kindly and protective. Just as the spirits and the house seem to adopt the family, the family adopts the spirits in turn in an almost symbiotic relationship.

Through the years, Sharon Day begins to understand her psychic abilities. She and her family witnesses a remarkable amount of activity from odd sounds, booted footsteps, wisps of smoke arising from the cold top of a marble topped table and the apparitions of soldiers. Regarding the spirits with more of a sense of curiosity and little fear, the family adjusted to their spirit compatriots.

The book is a lively coming of age memoir with a spirited cast, living and dead. Day's memories of her rather ideal childhood is rendered in lively and lush prose. It's an engrossing and delightful read that does produce some metaphysical questions. I would also highly recommend it for people beginning to explore the paranormal world for the first time or perhaps dealing with a possible haunting of their own.

The book is available in paperback and Kindle ebook editions.

Growing Up With Ghosts by Sharon Day, CreateSpace Publishing, 228 pages

Paperback

Kindle