Thursday, April 24, 2014

Spirits and spirits—Newsworthy Haunts

Triangle Brewing Company
918 Pearl Street
Durham, North Carolina

He died anonymously and his body was dumped in a trash bag, though with spirited libations and good cheer, he is now celebrated as the “patron saint” of a brewery.

The South has always had a tradition of spirit-making: from the bourbons of Kentucky and whiskies of Tennessee to the modern micro-breweries that dot the landscape to even the backwoods moonshine that was created when legal liquor production was outlawed. Of course, this activity has also spawned spirits, not only in the breweries themselves, but in historic structures now occupied by spirit makers.

When renovations were conducted in the old warehouse that now houses Durham’s Triangle Brewing Company, human remains were found in a trash bag partially buried in the floor of the basement. Time had taken a toll, leaving only bones and teeth which could not be identified by the Durham Police Department. Not even a date could be established for the remains.

Presumably, the remains were buried in a local cemetery, though they may be associated with the spirit that still rambles about the building. According to the spirit’s page on the brewing company’s website, he’s a good sort of spirit who occasionally whispers, moves things and knocks darts off the dart board. The owners of the brewery have decided to keep him on as the business’ patron saint and have dubbed him “Rufus.”

When he gets a bit rowdy, they pour a beer down the drain to sooth his antics.

Rufus. Triangle Brewing Company. Accessed 23 April 2014.
Shaffer, Josh. “Durham brewery celebrates 7 years of Rufus the sudsy specter.”
     The News-Observer. 16 March 2014.

Talon Winery Tasting Room
7086 Tates Creek Road
Lexington, Kentucky

Unlike the anonymous spirit spreading cheer around the Triangle Brewing Company, Talon Winery’s resident spirit has possibly been identified: none other than famed Lexington transvestite, Sweet Evening Breeze.

James Herndon—known best as “Sweet Evening Breeze” or “Miss Sweets”—is considered “the city’s most colorful character.” The transgender blog, TransGriot, states that Herndon “often wore makeup, occasionally performed or appeared on Main St. on Saturdays in drag, and was apparently quite effeminate. Long before there was RuPaul, Lexington’s Sweet Evening Breeze was titillating and gaining respect from the locals.” The biographical sketch ends by stating that Herndon “cut a path as an openly gay man, drag queen, and possibly a transgendered person.”

In an article from LEX18, Lexington’s NBC affiliate, Herndon is described—somewhat incorrectly—as “a man who liked to wear wedding dresses back in the 1950s.” The article quotes the owner of the winery, “if they go to the stairway that’s where they see the white wedding dress with the dark hair.”

According to what little history that can be found on the winery, the house was built in the 1790s, quite possibly by Isaac Shelby, the state’s first governor. Of course, some of the previous owners have remained in the house and staff reports that children have been seen peering from the windows of the house.

“Agritourism and wine: A natural pairing.” Agritourism Monthly.
     February 2014.
Jones, Jeff. “Sweet Evening Breeze.” TransGriot. 8 February 2007.
“Mystery Monday: Haunted Wine Tasting Room.” LEX18. 31 March

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Packing Plant is Packed In

Cape Fear Meat Packing Plant
Navassa, North Carolina

The old and haunted Cape Fear Meat Packing Plant is no more. In its stead, speeding cars will traverse the final leg of Interstate 140, the Wilmington Bypass.

This region saw a great deal of industrial growth in the late 19th and early 20th century as the South tried to resurrect itself following the Civil War. Business was booming so much so that even the title banner of the local paper, The Wilmington Morning Star, is set on a background of industrial buildings, a ship and a locomotive. Wilmington—just across the marshes of the Cape Fear River—was a booming industrial town at that time.
The banner of The Wilmington Morning Star with its optimistic
industrial background.
Navassa saw growth from its connection with a small, uninhabited island between Jamaica and Haiti called Navassa Island. The turpentine industry, which was supported by the huge swaths of pine trees in the region, sent much of its product to the West Indies but had nothing to fill the ships returning, until huge amounts of guano—bird and bat excrement—were discovered on this tiny island. In North Carolina, the first fertilizer plant opened in this area in 1869 with other plants opening in turn. Around these plants, the community of Navassa grew up.

An editorial in 1917 praised the building of the new meat packing plant in Navassa and hailed the coming of a new industry to the region, “a new opportunity as broad as North Carolina.” The editorial continues with all the verbose pomp of the era:
We make obeisance and acknowledge allegiance and loyalty to King Cotton and Lady Nicotine, but they have not yet established a capital of one iota of the magnitude and grandeur of any of the swineopolitan centres [sic] of the livestock and grain domain. We simply mention this is order to emphasize the possibilities in energetically and practically promoting the livestock and packing house industries as a potential means of making Wilmington the Chicago of the South. [The Wilmington Morning Star, 9 December 1917]
The editorial also notes that the new meat packing plant was expected to be completed the next year.

This plant was built for the Cape Fear Meat Packing Company which opened on the heels of the Carolina Packing Company which opened a plant in Wilmington just a few short months before the Navassa plant opened. The Cape Fear Meat Packing Company was formed by G. Herbert Smith in partnership with his son in law, Walter L. Griffith. With its opening, the plant rode of a tide of optimism, the company did not survive very long. On May 14, 1921, G. Herbert Smith was found dead in the bathroom of his home. From his untimely death, ghost stories began to swirl.

Most legends pointed to Smith’s death as being a suicide, though the newspaper account the day after his death indicates his death was accidental.
There were many reports current during the afternoon that he had committed suicide, but these were scouted by friends of the family who were familiar with the circumstances. There is every indication, friends state, that he was preparing to take a bath, either upon his arrival early Saturday morning, or later in the day when getting up, and that he was overcome by escaping gas from a water heater. The coroner declared there was nothing to indicate, insofar as he could learn, other than that death was accidental. [The Wilmington Morning Star, 15 May 1921]
Smith was found in the bathroom of his home in Wilmington clad in underwear. He had returned from a business trip to Richmond, Virginia and wasn’t feeling well. His body was discovered by his wife who had noticed the gas fumes coming from the bathroom.

The Cape Fear Packing Company lingered on for a few years after Smith’s death, declaring bankruptcy in October of 1922. Just before the turn of the new year, the company was purchased by the Southern Packing Company, which used the plant as a slaughterhouse. Recent articles indicate that the plant was closed a short time after that, though contemporary papers do not seem to indicate when the plant closed.

For decades, the structure sat abandoned gathering graffiti, curious teenagers and ghost stories. Among those stories, it was said that Smith had committed suicide within the building by hanging. For decades, this was noted as the only death associated with the building, besides the legions of pigs that had been slaughtered there. In 1982, one of the curious teens attracted to the building fell to his death from atop the concrete building. A 2006 article from the Wilmington Star-News, quotes Navassa mayor Eulis Willis as believing that many more deaths could be associated with the building.

While the building is almost universally acknowledged as being haunted, there are no published stories regarding the site. I’d most definitely like to hear locals or investigators familiar with the site as to what the activity was.

For now, the sad history of the haunted slaughter house has come to an end.

Navassa Island. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 20 April
Navassa, North Carolina. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
      20 April 2014.
“An Opportunity as Broad as North Carolina.” The Wilmington Morning
     Star. 9 December 1917.
“Progress That Makes the Way for More Progress.” The Wilmington
     Morning Star. 17 June 1917.
“Southern Packing Corporation Absorbs Cape Fear; Plant Here to be
     Merged with Old Carolina.” The Wilmington Morning Star. 29 December
Spiers, Jonathan. “Former meat packing plant, said to be haunted, gives
     way to Wilmington Bypass.” Port City Daily. 17 April 2014.
Tatum, Crystal S. “Haunted histories.” Star-News. 18 October 2006.
Wilmington, North Carolina. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     20 April 2014.
“Wilmington Shocked By Sudden Death of Prominent Citizen.” The
     Wilmington Morning Star. 15 May 1921.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Distant Past and the Very Near Future—Tennessee Brewery

Tennessee Brewery
495 Tennessee Street
Memphis, Tennessee

I covered the Tennessee Brewery about two years ago as part of an article on abandoned and possibly haunted buildings in Memphis. There have been developments with the Sears Crosstown Building as the local arts community has begun using the building for arts functions. The Sterick Building remains closed and for sale as far as I know while the Tennessee Brewery has been scheduled a date with destiny.

The owners of the building have announced that the building will be demolished on August 1st if no one steps forward to purchase the abandoned structure before then. However, innovative plans have recently been hatched to temporarily use the building ahead of the possible demolition in an effort to arouse interest. Six weeks of events, titled “Tennessee Brewery Untapped,” will be held in the building and expected to draw a crowd. Live music will echo through the aging halls of the brewery while beer—the products of local micro-breweries—will be served in a cafĂ© that will operate in the building. Other events will include food trucks, mobile retail, movie screenings and workshops.
The massive Tennessee Brewery, 2010, by C ammerman.
Courtesy of Wikipedia.
With so many people expected to crowd into the massive structure, it will be interesting to see how the spirits react. Laura Cunningham in Haunted Memphis states that the spirits “appear to be angry.” This anger may be assumed from the loud noises that can sometimes cause the building to shake while some investigators have been touched, pinched and pushed.

Interestingly, in a 2012 article for the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Michael Einspanjer, founder of Memphis Paranormal Investigators states that “the spirits stuck in the building just couldn’t let go in life, they aren’t threatening.” The article notes that Einspanjer’s group has investigated the brewery at least 12 times, and he states that the building is “a very haunted place.”

In looking through the material on the haunting of the brewery, it is very interesting to note that most sources do not speculate as to why the brewery may be haunted. Spurred on by the articles relating to Tennessee Brewery Untapped, I decided to check to see what may be found relating to the brewery’s history. Indeed, I came up with a few very interesting leads.

The first event dates to 1888, just before the brewery’s construction: papers in early August report a massive fire at the brewery that destroyed parts of the brewery as well as adjacent structures. The current structure dates to 1890. No deaths are reported in any of the articles, though the massive fire may have left a spiritual imprint on the site.

The second event dates to 1903 and involves at least one death. On April 15 of that year, Adolph Heinz, a German citizen and employee of the brewery was shot and killed. The article appeared in countless papers, obviously pulled from wire services and does not state exactly where the shooting took place. Reportedly, an African-American man named Gary Morgan asked Heinz to bring him a pail of beer. When Heinz refused, Morgan—“a negro with a picturesque police record”—shot him. The article notes that members of the local German community assembled to hunt down Morgan to lynch him. As of yet, nothing has turned up to reveal if Morgan was apprehended.

A third event was reported by the Associated Press in 1950. Prior to December 17th, an employee at the brewery fell from a stairway at the brewery and was killed when his head struck the floor. Perhaps his spirit is among the spirits remaining in the building.

Tennessee Brewery Untapped is scheduled to begin April 24th and run through June 1st.

Cunningham, Laura. Haunted Memphis. Charleston: History Press, 2009.
Douglas, Andrew. “Group pushes to save old Tennessee Brewery building.”
     WMCTV. 31 March 2014.
“FLAMES IN A BREWERY: The Tennessee Brewery at Memphis Badly
     Damaged—Other Fires Yesterday.” Chicago Daily Tribune. 11 August
“Killed in fall.” Kingsport Times-News. 17 December 1950.
Meek, Andy. “New Partners Sign On to Tennessee Brewery Effort.” Memphis
      Daily News. 4 April 2014.
Meek, Andy. “Plans Coming Together for Tennessee Brewery Untapped.”
     Memphis Daily News. 26 March 2014.
“One of the Kaiser’s Subjects Killed by Memphis Negro.” The Atlanta
     Constitution. 16 April 1903.
Pickrell, Kayla. “Haunted Memphis: Brewery a piece of history.” The
     Commercial Appeal. 24 July 2012.
Poe, Ryan. “Tennessee Brewery Untapped gets beer license.” Memphis Business
     Journal. 2 April 2014.