Friday, May 24, 2013

Grand Ghosts

Grand Caverns
5 Grand Caverns Drive
Grottoes, Virginia

It’s not hard to imagine that investigating in pitch black darkness could be both terrifying and exhilarating. Ghost hunters are accustomed to stumbling about in dark spaces, but usually there is some dim light even if just from the moon or street lights outside. Within a cave, the inky darkness envelops you and there is no ambient light.

In an article from WHSV, the ABC affiliate out of Harrisonburg, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley, the founder of the Twisted Paranormal Society of Virginia talks about the adrenaline rush that he gets from investigating the shadier side of things. In the investigation report from this investigation he says, “Once the interior lights were turned off, [Grand Caverns] took on a whole new appearance.”

According to the history on its website, Grand Caverns is the oldest continually operating show cave in the nation. Throughout the world caverns have been opened—exploited some say—for tourists and these are show caves. Like so many caves, Grand Caverns was discovered when someone simply stumbled on it, in this case a hunter retrieving traps. Bernard Weyer discovered the cave in 1804 and within two years tours were being led through it. In the thick darkness, tourists imagined ghosts, demons and all those denizens of the underworld were just at their heels. The weird formations were transformed into manifestations of nightmares: Dante’s Inferno and George Washington’s Ghost among them. At Dante’s Inferno especially—a hole-like formation with rock that seemingly melts towards the mouth of Hell—tourists were warned of evil spirits there that would extinguish candles or torches: the only sources of light here.

Formations within Grand Caverns. Photo 2010 by P199.
Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Other areas inspired awe or whimsy. In one large room, grand balls were held while the sacred space of The Chapel was actually used on occasion for religious services. These things brought the curious to visit these caverns for just over two centuries. When the Virginia countryside was overrun with angry armies during the Civil War, soldiers visited, easing their minds of the weariness of war.

Years of the tramping feet of visiting tourists seem to have left a spiritual mark upon Grand Caverns just as a mark has been left upon the caverns much bigger cousin, Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave. Now protected as a national park service property, Mammoth Cave is known as the largest cave system in the world. While the history of Grand Caverns does not include Native American usage (as far as I can tell), Mammoth Cave’s history includes perhaps centuries of use. After Mammoth Cave was discovered—supposedly by a young man pursuing a wounded bear—in the very late years of the 18th century, its saltpeter was utilized during the War of 1812 when American ports were blockaded. Just years after Grand Caverns began to host visitors; Mammoth Cave began to attract them as well. One of Mammoth Cave’s most important early guides was Stephen Bishop, an African-American slave. Among the spirits spotted within the shadows of Mammoth Cave, an African-American family, quite possibly Bishop and his family.

The identities of the spirits within Grand Caverns is unknown. While the articles relating to the haunting point to the military visitors to the cave during the Civil War, though it appears that the soldiers simply visited and none died or were killed within the cave. Twisted Paranormal’s investigation did produce some results that may indicate the presence of spirits within the caverns, though their investigation was only 3 hours long. The group presents on their website some of the evidence they captured including some photographs with orbs and video of EMF detectors being set off with no one around. Unexplained flashing lights were also encountered.

Adams, Cindy. “Strange activity found in Grottoes Grand Caverns by paranormal
     investigators.” 26 June 2012.
History. Grand Caverns. Accessed 24 May 2013.
Lamb, Elizabeth. “Paranormal Activity Group Searches Grottoes Grand Caverns.”
     WHSV. 16 April 2012.
Lamb, Elizabeth. “Paranormal activity in the Caverns.” WHSV. 26 June 2012.
Olson, Colleen O’Connor and Charles Hanion. Scary Stories of Mammoth Cave.
     Dayton, OH: Cave Books, 2002.
Twisted Paranormal Society of Virginia. GrandCaverns. Accessed 24 May 2012.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

From the Archives—Kentucky Briefs

Since just before starting this blog, I’ve been collecting articles on Southern ghosts. This is an effort to utilize just a few of the articles I've collected.

Old Richardsville Road Bridge
Richardsville Road at the Barren River
Near Bowling Green, Warren County

Bridges are the centerpieces of numerous ghost stories. They can be symbols of the transition between life and death across the chasm of death. Perhaps that’s what also attracts ghosts. In a distant memory, I recall something about folklore stating that ghosts cannot cross water; that would certainly cause problems for many bridge-dwelling spirits.

The Old Richardsville Road Bridge is certainly something out of a different time. In proper bridge parlance it is a “three span bowstring arch truss bridge.” The span is a segment of the bridge supported on both sides by piers. Bowstring arch truss refers to the graceful curved iron arches, resembling a bow primed to shoot an arrow, that support each span. Located on both sides of the road, these graceful arches are also supported by another, squarish truss on each span. The deck is wooden and a single lane, which does present some issues for modern automobiles. Aesthetically, the bridge is an elegant marriage of form and function.

While the bridge may be somewhat unusual in its architecture, its legend is far more common. At some point in the bridge’s early history a young, unmarried woman found herself pregnant. Unable to face the shame and scorn that society heaped upon innocents gone astray like herself, she leapt from the bridge to drown in the waters below. Other versions of the story include the woman jumping as she fled an attack or driving off the bridge accidently or purposefully. The legend continues that if one drives onto the bridge, puts the car in neutral and turns it off, the car will be pushed towards the opposite end.

A 2011 article in the Bowling Green Daily News by Jack Montgomery recounts his informal investigation of the bridge legend. He and his companions tried to get their car pushed across the bridge, but to no avail. He then walked the bridge with a pair of dowsing rods. The rods did respond in three specific areas of the bridge. Other than that, he left with no other evidence of a haunting. Though, Montgomery did note that the wires on the bridge may produce high EMFs which may affect some who are sensitive. In addition, he noticed the creaks and groans of the old bridge which may give the impression of human cries or screams.

A more formal investigation of the bridge was conducted by Kindred Realm Investigations on three days in September of the same year. The first investigation produced no odd results. The second evening produced a single photograph with a possible orb. The third evening produced a few interesting results. The group finally had their vehicle, a large SUV, pulled along the bridge. A short time later, one of the group’s recorders picked up the sounds of singing or humming, as well as conversation and laughter from a female.

The bridge, built in 1889 by the King Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio, has held up well for more than a century. Though in recent decades, the bridge has shown its age. While the iron has remained in excellent condition, the stone piers and the stone entrances to the bridge as well as the wooden decking have deteriorated. However, the bridge has found a savior in the form of local resident David Garvin. Having been born and raised nearby, Garvin has “adopted” the bridge and financed repairs and restorative work with his own money. If only every endangered historic site could find such a savior!

Bernson, Barry. “Bernson’s Corner: The Caretaker of the Old Richardsville Bridge.”
     Fox41 News. 10 May 2010. “Old Richardsville Road Bridge.” Accessed 13 May 2013.
Kindred Realm Investigations. “Old Richardsville Road Bridge Bowling Green,
     KY.” Accessed 13 May 2013.
Montgomery, Jack. “The Old Richardsville Road Bridge: investigating a ghostly
     legend.” Bowling Green Daily News. 10 October 2011.

Fire Station #4, “Vogt Reel House”
246 Jefferson Street

The firemen working out of Fire Station #4 have adopted a ghost as their mascot. Painted on the side of the station’s fire truck is a skull wearing a fire helmet and the words, “The Phantom.” Indeed, the station staff does not shy away from their resident spirit and even the Lexington City Government webpage detailing the fire department’s facilities mentions the spirit.

The oldest fire house in the city, the building recalls an era when government buildings were elegantly ornamented and sometimes extravagantly designed. The 1904 building utilizes Jacobean Revival style and retains some of its interior elements including a cast iron spiral staircase fire pole. A truck now occupies the space where horse stalls once stood. The station’s fa├žade now bears the building’s nickname, the “Vogt Reel House,” name for a former city commissioner who donated the land the station sits upon.

Henry McDonald was nearly 70 years old, but still on duty on Christmas Day, 1945. World War II, the most devastating war in history had ended just a few months previous when Japan surrendered in August. He had lived to see two world wars dominate the headlines of the Lexington Herald and the Lexington Leader (these papers merged in 1983 to become the Lexington Herald-Leader). He drifted off the sleep in the firehouse and would not wake up. He was laid to rest in Winchester Cemetery down the road from Lexington.

At some point after McDonald’s death, things seemed to indicate that while his body was resting in the next county, his spirit still resided in the old firehouse. The sound of heavy boots treading the iron staircase was heard, unexplainable cold breezes were felt and McDonald’s beloved cane-bottom rocking chair was heard rocking by itself in the attic. While the activity sometimes chills firefighters working in the building, the resident spirit has earned their respect and affection. In an article from the local NBC station, it is noted that McDonald’s spirit “is a pretty good ghost. So good he has earned a bump in rank.”

The firehouse’s captain remarked that, “He has been promoted and now they call him The Captain.”

Edwards, Don. “Lexington, Kentucky Firehouse to Turn 100.”
     8 September 2004.
“The Fire Stations of Lexington, Kentucky.” Accessed 14
     May 2013.
“Mystery Monday: Haunted Fire Station.” LEX18. 25 March 2013.
Racer, Theresa. “Vogt Reel House—Lexington, KY.” Theresa’s Haunted History
     of the Tri-State. 28 March 2013.

Hayswood Hospital
West Fourth Street at Market Street

The large Neo-Classical building crowns a hill above West Fourth Street and turns its face towards the majestic Ohio River beyond the city’s downtown. It’s obvious that the building has been long abandoned. Windows stand open like empty eye sockets while other closed windows hold broken panes that stare jaggedly towards the river. Along the first floor, plywood covers the windows and doors, a thin barrier to intruders, both human and natural.

Hayswood Hospital has endured a long jag of bad luck since its closure in 1983. Just this year, the building was almost sold to collect on a nearly $6,000 unpaid tax bill, but at the last minute, the sale was withdrawn. Nearly a decade after its closure, the building was purchased with the intent of renovating it into apartments, though that has fallen through. In 1999, a condemnation order was placed on the structure requiring the owner to either demolish or renovate the building, but nothing has come of that. The order still stands like a death sentence over a weary prisoner.

Not only is the crumbling building a blight on the city’s face, but asbestos and lead paint within the building are a danger to the health of the community. The blight also attracts vandals and thieves including the two men who were arrested in the building as they tried to steal copper wiring. In addition to the health dangers, the building’s falling ceilings and weak floors are a physical danger to the curious who decide to investigate the building.

With the constant stream of legends flowing forth from abandoned (and even not so abandoned) medical facilities, it’s no surprise to hear that Hayswood has many of its own stories. Nothing about the reports of apparitions and voices provided in the article from the blog Most Haunted Places in America is particularly unusual. The blog reports apparitions throughout the building including that of a woman holding a baby in the old maternity ward.

A video posted on YouTube on Halloween 2006 purportedly shows a spirit in the building. The very grainy video taken of the exterior of the building at night shows a white figure appearing in one of the windows. The videographer focuses in on the figure and it appears to take on the features of a very large face then quickly vanishes. Personally, something doesn’t really look right about the video, but I cannot positively describe it as fake.

The grand hospital was constructed in 1915 and served the community well. The 87 bed hospital was bought by Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) in 1981 and it was closed when a new facility was opened nearby. The building remains in its uneasy slumber awaiting its fate and comforted only by the occasional spirit from its past.

The Hayswood Hospital building is closed to visitors, trespassers will be prosecuted.

Barker, Danetta. “Out of the hospital and into custody: Police make arrests
     at Hayswood.” The Ledger Independent. 22 September 2005.
“The Haunted Hayswood Hospital.” Most Haunted Places in America. 18 June
Maynard, Misty. “Video of ‘ghost’ at Hayswood Hospital getting plenty of
     attention.” The Ledger Independent. 22 October 2007.
Toncray, Marla. “For Sale: Hayswood Hospital.” The Ledger Independent. 22
     March 2013.
Toncray, Marla. “Hayswood sale plan halted.” The Ledger Independent. 26 April

Friday, May 10, 2013

Newsworthy Haunts 5/10/13—Alabama Battlefields and Charleston’s Jail

Alabama’s Haunted Civil War Battlefields

What Alabama lacks economically as one of the poorer states in the nation, it certainly makes up for in history and ghosts. Alabama’s paranormal teams also appear to be some of the busiest and most active in the South. Among them, the Alabama Paranormal Association which is starting a series of investigations of Civil War sites within the state.

The group has compiled a list of 12 battle sites, mostly throughout Northern Alabama, where they will investigate. Among the 12 is one site not from the Civil War—the Horseshoe Bend Battlefield which was the scene of a battle during the Creek War (not the War of 1812, as cited in the article) which was fought in 1814 in Tallapoosa County. The article includes as list of the locations the group is anticipating investigating. These include:

• Siege of Bridgeport, Jackson County
• Sack of Athens, Limestone County
• Battle of Sulphur Creek Trestle, Limestone County
• Battle of Decatur, Morgan County
• Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Tallapoosa County
• Battle of Mobile Bay, Mobile County
• Battle of Hog’s Mountain, Cullman County
• Battle of Crooked Creek, Cullman County
• Battle of Day’s Gap, Cullman County
• Battle of Blountsville, Blount County
• Battle of Bibb Furnace, Bibb County
• Skirmish at Black Creek, Etowah County

As the group has begun investigating, they have already yielded results. While gathering EVPs on the bridge in Bridgeport that was at the center of an 1862 skirmish, a female investigator said aloud, “A gentleman would greet a Southern lady.” Listening to the recording later, a voice clearly responds, “Huh?” Another voice was picked up pleading for help on the Sulphur Creek Trestle in Elkmont.

Also mentioned in the article is the historic Donnell House (601 South Clinton Street) in Athens. While not a part of the famous Battle of Athens, the house served as the headquarters for Union troops. During the Union occupation of the town, Union forces camped on the home’s lawn. One family member, Nannie Donnell, reportedly died of scarlet fever in the house during the occupation. A medium visiting the house in recent years felt the feverish heat that Nannie would have experienced before she died.

The Robert Donnell House, 1935. Photograph by Alex Bush
for the Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy of the
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
Jacque Reeves, director of the home, states that the spirits of the home’s builder Rev. Robert Donnell and his mother, Mary Bell Donnell, also reside within. She is a descendent of the Rev. Robert Donnell—who built the home—and author of a handful of books on regional history including When Spirits Walk which details a number of ghost stories from the area.

While the APA is working with Reeves to document the ghosts of the Donnell House, they’re also conducting town hall meetings to gather information on the history of these battles as well as experiences locals may have had at these sites. For further information, please see the Alabama Paranormal Association website here.

More from Charleston’s Old City Jail

In an article from Kingston, Ontario, Canada’s Kingston This Week, Rob Mooy published a photo he’d taken on a tour of the ancient Old City Jail. It was here that I took two interesting photos myself (see the entry here) and I have also covered the location here. Mooy’s photo, apparently taken in one of the basement rooms, shows another tour participant but with an odd figure passing between him and the photographer. The somewhat amorphous figure appears to also be in motion. The photograph may be seen here.

     Association (Odd Travels List).” The Huntsville Times. 9 May 2013.
     ghost says, ‘huh?’The Hunstville Times. 9 May 2013.
Mooy, Rob. “Paranormalphotography: Is it possible?Kingston This Week.
      3 May 2013.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Gourmet Burgers and Ghosts (Haunt Brief)

B&D Burgers
209 West Congress Street
Savannah, Georgia

In a city like Savannah with so much of the original built environment still intact, it can be expected that much of the spiritual realm will be intact as well. Even in places whose histories are not pocked with tragic events, there still may be residual energy left from the many souls using these places over decades and centuries. Apparently, this may be the case of B&D Burgers, a gourmet burger joint.

According to two recent stories from Savannah ABC affiliate, WJCL, the B&D Burgers location on West Congress Street, well inside the large Savannah Historic District, may have some spirits lingering about it premises. The Savannah Historic District, which has—in addition to being listed on the National Register of Historic Places—been deemed a National Historic Landmark District, a recognition afforded to only around 2,500 sites in the national and even fewer historic districts.

The plain, mid-19th century commercial building located on Congress Street looks out onto Ellis Square, one of the original squares laid out by General James Oglethorpe—the founder of Savannah and the Colony of Georgia—in 1733. The square and the market building within it were demolished in the mid-20th century and replaced by a glorious parking garage. Spurred by this sad fate, locals began to band together to preserve the history that was being demolished around them. When the lease on the parking garage expired almost 50 years later, the city did not renew it and took over the square again with plans to renew the streetscape. The garage was demolished and replaced with underground parking while the square was recreated and reopened in 2010. All this has been witnessed by the little brick building on Congress Street.

For some time, the employees of the burger joint have thought the building to be haunted. One manager reported having had his name called when no one was present. Others have felt very uncomfortable in the building’s basement. All of these things being classic signs of a haunting, but it wasn’t until surveillance video revealed some odd occurrences that a paranormal team was called in to investigate. One video shows an odd light moving around the busy bar area and then seeming to hover over the bar. Another video shows a stack of plastic glass pallets toppling over on their own accord. Granted, these odd videos themselves do not preclude the presence of paranormal activity, though when combined with reports from the restaurant’s staff, paranormal activity becomes quite a bit more evident.

It seems, the paranormal investigators, from 3D Ghost Hunters, did pick up on some spiritual energy within the building. Accompanied by a local psychic, the preliminary investigation of the building produced some high EMF readings and personal experiences for the investigators. A woman’s perfume was smelled, though none of those present were wearing any. Interestingly, when a brothel was mentioned, the odor of perfume got stronger. All of this evidence, coupled with the video and employee experiences appear to be enough to bring the investigators back for a full investigation.

WJCL included the surveillance videos on their website, but they do not appear to be working. A skeptical news site, Doubtful News, does have the videos, however.

Colwell, Josh. “B&D Burgers Ghost Hunt.” WJCL. 1 May 2013.
Colwell, Josh. “Ghost Busters Anyone?WJCL. 30 April 2013.
Squares of Savannah. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 2 May 2013.