Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Southern Feast of All Souls—Passover

Happy Halloween and a Blessed Samhain!

Haunted Hotel on Ursulines
623 Ursulines Avenue
New Orleans, Louisiana

Exodus, Chapter 12
King James Version

21 Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel, and said unto them, Draw out and take you a lamb according to your families, and kill the passover. 22 And ye shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two side posts with the blood that is in the basin; and none of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning. 23 For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you.

A dark lord passed over New Orleans on the night of March 18th, 1919. Instead of a demand that each home’s occupants paint their doors with lamb’s blood, he ordered that a jazz band be at full swing within each home. At fifteen minutes past midnight on this Tuesday night the city’s dance halls were filled to capacity while the strains of jazz poured out of homes throughout the city. Clarinets wailed while trombones tramped up and down scales stomping the precious blue notes that flavored this music. Crooners of all colors sang of love lost and regained against a backdrop of banjos, trumpets and tubas. Thousands of feet kicked up in time to the syncopated rhythms. This was a city at its most alive fearing the shroud of death that was lurking somewhere with axe and razors at the ready. Death did not sting that night. The dark lord would return in August to continue his spree.

The mysterious Axeman of New Orleans was never caught. Between May 1918 and October 1919, at least twelve people were attacked and killed at the hands of this heinous killer. As most of the victims were of Italian origin, many suspected that the crimes were associated with the Mafia that was active in the city. Someone claiming to be the killer wrote to The Times-Picayune:

Hell, March 13, 1919

Esteemed Mortal:

They have never caught me and they never will. They have never seen me, for I am invisible, even as the ether that surrounds your earth. I am not a human being, but a spirit and a demon from the hottest hell. I am what you Orleanians and your foolish police call the Axeman.

When I see fit, I shall come and claim other victims. I alone know whom they shall be. I shall leave no clue except my bloody axe, besmeared with blood and brains of he whom I have sent below to keep me company.

If you wish you may tell the police to be careful not to rile me. Of course, I am a reasonable spirit. I take no offense at the way they have conducted their investigations in the past. In fact, they have been so utterly stupid as to not only amuse me, but His Satanic Majesty, Francis Josef, etc. But tell them to beware. Let them not try to discover what I am, for it were better that they were never born than to incur the wrath of the Axeman. I don‘t think there is any need of such a warning, for I feel sure the police will always dodge me, as they have in the past. They are wise and know how to keep away from all harm.

Undoubtedly, you Orleanians think of me as a most horrible murderer, which I am, but I could be much worse if I wanted to. If I wished, I could pay a visit to your city every night. At will I could slay thousands of your best citizens, for I am in close relationship with the Angel of Death.

Now, to be exact, at 12:15 (earthly time) on next Tuesday night, I am going to pass over New Orleans. In my infinite mercy, I am going to make a little proposition to you people. Here it is:

I am very fond of jazz music, and I swear by all the devils in the nether regions that every person shall be spared in whose home a jazz band is in full swing at the time I have just mentioned. If everyone has a jazz band going, well, then, so much the better for you people. One thing is certain and that is that some of your people who do not jazz it on Tuesday night (if there be any) will get the axe.

Well, as I am cold and crave the warmth of my native Tartarus, and it is about time I leave your earthly home, I will cease my discourse. Hoping that thou wilt publish this, that it may go well with thee, I have been, am and will be the worst spirit that ever existed either in fact or realm of fancy.

The Axeman

In a very recent article from the New Orleans ABC affiliate, WGNO, highlighted the possible, albeit tenuous, connection between the axe murderer and the Haunted Hotel on Ursulines. Located within the French Quarter, I’ve found nothing on what makes this hotel haunted, in fact the hotel does not appear to have a web presence. The article doesn’t provide much more information than to say it is an extended stay hotel and that it may be haunted by the spirit of the Axeman. Information on the haunting comes from a ghost tour company, which are often not reliable. In this case, the hotel was apparently investigated and something indicated that a particular corner of the courtyard had paranormal activity. The readings somehow indicated that the spirit may have killed someone and hid in that particular corner.
 
A 1919 newspaper map of the Axeman's killings. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
The 1919 map of the killings doesn’t show any murders taking place in the French Quarter, so there’s really nothing to connect the Axeman with this particular building, other than some anomalous readings during a paranormal investigation. Ursulines Avenue, however, boasts a fairly impressive roster of spirits as it slices through the famous French Quarter. As you stroll these ancient streets, think what it must have been like on the night of the Axeman’s Passover with jazz spilling from every open window warding off an axe and razor bearing dark lord as he passes over.

Sources
     Picayune. 23 October 2011.
Axeman of New Orleans. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 31
     October 2015.
Taylor, Troy. “The Axeman’s Jazz.” Prairie Ghosts. 2004.
     hotel in the French Quarter.” WGNO. 27 October 2015.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Southern Feast of All Souls—Patient Souls at the Park

E. P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park
3000 Freys Hill Road
Louisville, Kentucky

On a cool Sunday morning in Fall, like today, it’s not hard to imagine that E. P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park is teeming with life. Joggers, bikers, walkers, families with children, throng the paths, playgrounds and Activities Center in the park, unknowing of the patient souls that still roam these grounds. Some of these souls may still suffer the effects of the mental illnesses that afflicted them in life. There is some indication that death may not end the mania, though I would prefer to believe that these poor patient’s souls have passed on leaving only the confused energy that they exuded in life.
 
One of the park's paths. Photo 2008, by TeleD, courtesy of Wikipedia.
The grounds of this modest state park were home to Native Americans for centuries before the intrusion of white men into the utopian “Kaintuck” territory. The land was later settled by the Hite family. According to an article from Louisville TV station, WDRB, Isaac Hite died from injuries sustained in a Native American attack here.

In 1869 the state of Kentucky acquired the land and began construction on the State House of Reform for Juvenile Delinquents at Lakeland. This facility evidently went through a series of name and purpose changes with adults being moved to the facility. Around 1900, the facility became Central Kentucky Asylum for the Insane. Throughout the 20th century, the hospital was investigated a number of times after allegations of corruption and abuse surfaced. The old hospital was closed in 1986 with patients being moved into a newer facility nearby. After sitting abandoned for a decade, the deteriorating hospital buildings were demolished by the state. The land near the old hospital that had once served as a farm was converted into a state park in 1974. The park was named for E. P. “Tom” Sawyer, distinguished local judge and county executive who was the father of journalist Diane Sawyer.
 
Main building of the Central State Hospital, ca. 1920. This is
one of the buildings demolished in 1996. Courtesy of Asylum
Projects.
While the park grounds were not actually the site of the hospital, they are still possibly occupied by the spirits of some of the patients who died there. Many of the graves of former patients are unknown and may be scattered throughout the park’s property. Paranormal investigators within the park have captured numerous EVPs, especially around the Sauerkraut Cave. Legend holds that patients who became pregnant were brought to the cave and some of those infants were possibly disposed of here. Others mention that the cave was also used by patients trying to escape the facility. For someone escaping through the cave without flashlights or other equipment, it is likely that the escapees got lost and died within the labyrinth.

Of the cave, an article on Louisville.com quotes the park’s naturalist as saying, “They say it’s kind of a sad place. There’s people trapped there, spirits trapped there. There’s a man who’s angry and they say he’s not letting any of the other spirits go.” Indeed, one recent paranormal investigation captured the image of a large burly man within the cave. Should you take some time to visit the park, be mindful of the patient and not so patient spirits of patients who still reside here.

Sources
Central State Hospital. Asylum Projects. Accessed 25 October
     2015.
Central State Hospital (Kentucky). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 25 October 2015.
E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 25 October 2015.
E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park History. Accessed 25 October 2015.
Jones, Elizabeth F. Kentucky Historic Resources Inventory form for
     Central Kentucky Lunatic Asylum. 17 October 1979.
     Legacy of Lakeland Asylum.” Louisville.com. 10 October 2014.
Sutter, Chris. “Exploring paranormal activity at E. P. Tom Sawyer Park.”
     WDRB. 24 October 2015.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Southern Feast of All Souls—Encountering the Souls of Petersburg

Review of Paranormal Petersburg, Virginia & the Tri-Cities Area
Pamela K. Kinney
Schiffer Publishing, 2015

When the producers and designers for Steven Spielberg’s recent film Lincoln, were scouting for historic landscapes to use in the film, Petersburg, Virginia came in very high on the list. It can often be difficult to find cities where lines of historic buildings are uninterrupted by modern intrusions, though Petersburg has those. Along with these lines of historic structures the city also has ghosts, many of them. Author Pamela Kinney set out recently to meet some of them.



Kinney is very lucky in her investigations. She seems to be able to capture really great evidence often without the myriad equipment that other investigative teams often lug about. She’ll go into a location with a voice recorder, a camera, and perhaps a Ghost Box. After asking a few prescient questions, she’ll often leave with some interesting answers. While some authors, myself included, simply investigate from the comfort of their desk or a library table, Kinney does the footwork to personally meet many of the ghosts herself.

The range of sites covered in Paranormal Petersburg, Virginia & the Tri-Cities Area provides a unique view into the plethora of hauntings in Petersburg and the surrounding area including Colonial Heights, Dinwiddie, Hopewell, Chester and Ettrick-Matoaca. Included in this book are Civil War sites, historic churches, a sushi restaurant, theatres, an old motel, cemeteries, and a splendid collection of historic homes. Lavishly illustrated with color photographs, the book is a fun and informative guide to this most historic region of Virginia.

For further information and to read a chapter of this book, see Kinney's blog book tour visit here.

Copies of the book are available at the following sites:

Barnes and Noble

A Southern Feast of All Souls—Newsworthy Souls

A collection of hauntings from recent news.

Brandi’s Blues Café
424 West Beacon Street
Philadelphia, Mississippi

The chat Brandi’s Blues Café was working in the kitchen early one recent morning. Startled by a loud bang he continued working until he heard water running in the sink. He walked over, turned the sink off and returned to his work. Glancing up he saw a figure standing near the kitchen door. It was “about 6 ft. It had a little pot belly. I saw it for three or four seconds.” Thinking it was a co-worker, the chef returned to work. After discovering he was alone in the building he began to hear footsteps and he left the building until his co-workers showed up.

After researching the history of the building and the area, it was discovered that a man was executed in a nearby street in the 1940s. Paranormal investigators brought in to investigate did pick up an EVP response when they spoke the name of the man executed.

Sources
Gater, Harold. “Is this Mississippi blues café haunted?” The
     Clarion-Ledger. 24 September 2015.
Jennings, Lindsey. “Haunted Philadelphia Café Investigated.”
     WTOK.  24 September 2015.

McRaven House
1445 Harrison Avenue
Vicksburg, Mississippi

The new owners of the McRaven House, often described as the most haunted house in the state, have been very busy restoring the historic house and mingling with the home’s famous ghosts. In one interaction, the new owners captured an EVP of a female’s voice saying, “That’s a funny old clock.” The house has a number ghosts covering nearly all periods of the home’s history from the late 18th century to the present day. McRaven is now open to visitors for history and haunted history tours.

Sources
Norris, Alana. “McRaven House opens its doors Friday.” Vicksburg
     Post. 28 September 2015.

Old Chatham County Jail
145 Montgomery Street
Savannah, Georgia

The Savannah Ghost Research Society has recently deemed the Old Chatham County Jail to be “the most haunted place” in this paranormally active city. Ryan Dunn, founder and head of the society told the Savannah Morning News, “We came in with a lot of equipment and pretty much investigated the place. We caught a lot with audio. We did capture a couple with thermal imaging and thermal cameras.” Dunn notes that the group captured more audio evidence here than they have captured at any other investigation.

The old jail is a formidable modern building that stands out from the historic buildings which surround it within the venerable Savannah Historic District. In use as a detention facility until 1989, the building has since been used for storage of archival records and, for Halloween, the building is being used for a haunted house called “Panic in the Pen,” and hosting paranormal tours as a fundraiser by the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff called in paranormal investigators to help add some real life terror to this already terrifying building.

Employees in the old facility have noted paranormal activity here since the building’s retirement as a correctional facility. One of the sheriff’s deputies remarked that he remembers hearing doors slam and footsteps in the building at night.

Sources
Hoagland, Karen. “Old Chatham County Jail investigated for paranormal
     activity.” Savannah Morning News. 13 September 2015.
Ray, Brittini. “Investigators: Old Chatham County jail ‘’most haunted
     place in Savannah.” Savannah Morning News.  1 October 2015.

Monday, October 12, 2015

A Southern Feast of All Souls—A Book of Souls

Mid 19th-century era illustration of the attack on Fort Mims. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In the hot, humid August air of a Deep South summer in 1813, the stench of blood mingled with smoke at Fort Mims. A pall of shocked silence hung over the bodies of men, women and children; a mix of races, Muscogee Creek, white, enslaved Africans; all laying together among the burning ruins of the frontier stockade where they sought shelter. The Red Stick Creeks who attacked the fort had been victorious and still exclaimed their glee in war cries as they disappeared back into the thick scrub forest surrounding the forest.

As the town of Athens, Alabama was sacked by Union troops in May 1862, 16-year-old Nannie Donnell lay in her bed suffering from scarlet fever. On the lawn of her family’s house, now known as the Donnell House, the noisy soldiers drank and caroused despite pleas from the family to allow the child to sleep in peace. Nannie Donnell soon left this world accompanied by Yankee music, but does she still return to the room where died?
 
The Donnell House, 1935, by Alex Bush for the Historic American
Buildings Survey (HABS), courtesy of the Library of Congress,
Prints and Photographs Division.
On December 1, 1888 Richard Hawes took his daughter, Mary, to East Lake in Birmingham. A few hours later he left without his daughter. Her limp, lifeless body was discovered a few days later under the cool waters of the lake. Her father was arrested not long after for her murder as his train pulled into the city with his new bride. After it was discovered that his wife and other daughter had been murdered as well, Birmingham exploded in outrage. Hawes left this world from the end of a rope, but his daughter’s frail spirit may still linger by the lake.

State Attorney General nominee Albert Patterson left his office in the Coulter Building in downtown Phenix City on the evening of June 18, 1954. Known as “Sin City, USA,” Phenix City had been rife with corruption and organized crime for years and Patterson had pledged to clean it up. He walked to his car in the small parking lot between his office building and the Elite Café. Shots rang out and Patterson stumbled to the sidewalk in front of his office building where he collapsed and died.



With each of these events they entered not only the annals of the history of Alabama but the state’s folklore as well. Folklore speaking of ghosts and spirits has developed around each of these historic sites and many others throughout the state. My first book, Southern Spirit Guide’s Haunted Alabama: A Guide to Ghostlore, Legends and Haunted Places, explores, county-by-county, location-based ghostlore throughout the state of Alabama. Each entry is based on the most reliable sources including interviews with eyewitnesses to paranormal activity at many locations. Explore haunted Alabama with Southern Spirit Guide and get your copy today! Available on Amazon! 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Southern Feast of All Souls—‘A genteel visit’

In recent years, the sightings of the supernatural have spread by word of mouth among those seeking a genteel visit with those who have crossed over.
-- Steve Wong

 The Oaks Bed & Breakfast
339 Greenville Street
Saluda, North Carolina

Steve Wong’s delightful article in the October 5th, 2015 Tryon Daily Bulletin, “Hoping for ghosts in an old Saluda B&B,” is a charming description of one reporter’s search for the supernatural at The Oaks Bed & Breakfast. Admitting that he really wants to believe, Wong spends a night prowling the halls of this late 19th century inn in search of some of the genteel specters that remain here.


Saluda was built by the railroad that arrived in 1878. The town is located at the top of the Saluda Grade, the steepest mainline railway grade east of the Rockies. Nearly ten years after the railroad’s construction, almost 3,000 visitors per year were arriving in this tourist town. Many private homes, including this 1895 house, were transformed into inns to host the visitors. This turreted home, originally built for a physician, became an inn in 1906.

Wong’s marvelous article provides some of the first documentation of the inn’s spectral activity that had previously only been spread by word of mouth. While the article doesn’t hint at a possible identity for the spirits, but it seems that it may be a past innkeeper. A woman has been seen ascending the staircase apparently checking to make sure that guests are well taken care of. One of the innkeepers admitted that some guests have been overcome with “a strange feeling about the house that compelled them to tidy up their rooms.” Overall, this inn and its spirits seem to be the epitome of Southern hospitality.

Sources
Historic Victorian Home.” The Oaks Bed & Breakfast. Accessed 6
     October 2015.
Saluda Grade. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 6 October
     2015.
Saluda, North Carolina. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     6 October 2015.
Wong, Steve. “Hoping for ghosts in an old Saluda B&B.” Tryon Daily
     Bulletin. 5 October 2015.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Southern Feast of All Souls—A Soul on the Stairs

The Myrtles
7747 US Highway 61
St. Francisville, Louisiana

Despite my own misgivings (see my entry here) about the stories that have been told for years about The Mytles, which is often described as “America’s most haunted house,” I still believe there is an excess of paranormal activity here. In conversation with a friend last night, she sent me two very interesting photos that she took.
 
The Myrtles, June 2012, by Lyna Howells. All rights reserved.
My friend, Lyna Howells, loves visiting haunted places and took a trip in June of 2012 with friends to check out The Mytles. During their tour of the house the group saw the famous mirror in the home’s foyer. Howells took a series of pictures of the mirror. After the group returned to the hotel, she was shocked to discover that someone appeared sitting on the stairs. The first photo shows the empty stairs, while the second photo, taken from a different angle, shows a woman sitting on the stairs.


Howells stated that the stairs were roped off to keep visitors off them while none of the group members were dressed like the mysterious figure on the stairs. When asked if there was anything at the time that could have indicated the presence of a spirit, Howells replied that the lights in the foyer were flickering. The identity of this strange woman is unknown.


Howells' first photograph with an empty
staircase. All rights reserved.


Howells' second photograph with the
odd figure on the stairs. All rights reserved.

Closeup on the figure on the stairs. Is this
one of the host of spirits who inhabit The
Myrtles? All rights reserved.

Monday, October 5, 2015

A Southern Feast of All Souls—Thrilling Souls

Night creatures call
And the dead start to walk their masquerade…
--Michael Jackson, “Thriller”

Charlotte Jane Memorial Park Cemetery
3650 Charles Avenue
Miami, Florida

The scene is iconic of the early 1980s and plays a bit part in my own childhood: Michael Jackson donned in classic red leather dancing with a host of zombies outside a cemetery. Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ album was the first pop album I owned and I’m sure my own interpretations of the song and video in my parents’ basement playroom hinted at my future interests in theatre and the supernatural. In 2009, this video was considered important enough to be preserved as part of the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

As I was searching out an article on ghost tours being conducted at Miami’s Deering Estate, I happened on a 2012 article on creepy Miami from The Huffington Post. While I was familiar with most of the locations, Charlotte Jane Memorial Park stood out. The articles notes that neighbors of the cemetery claim that it was where the graveyard scenes in the ‘Thriller’ video were shot here. According to the excellent Wikipedia article on the video as well as later in the Huffington Post article, the video’s director John Landis has stated that the video was shot entirely in Los Angeles.

After looking at the music video, the cemetery does bear some semblance, especially in the fact that both cemeteries appear to be old, crowded cemeteries, but that's really where the semblance stops. A page from a website called Miami for Visitors, claims that Charlotte Jane Memorial Park provided the inspiration for the cemetery. But there is no real evidence behind this tenuous connection between the cemetery and the music video.

A further glance at the history of this cemetery, however, brings one into the mists of the early history of South Florida. Miami was a scrappy collection of settlements at the mouth of the Miami River when the city was incorporated in 1896. Henry Flagler, the railroad magnate who was instrumental in the creation of the modern state of Florida, had begun expanding his Florida East Coast Railway through the area the previous year. Coconut Grove was a well-established town by this time and continued to grow with the influx of immigrants from the Bahamas who enjoyed the South Florida climate that closely resembled that of their island homes. After Miami’s incorporation, wealthy families from the northeast began flooding into Coconut Grove and began erecting mansions such as the Deering Estate. In 1925 Coconut Grove was annexed by the City of Miami, though it remained a Bohemian and Bahamian enclave.

Charlotte Jane Memorial Park was established as the second Bahamian burying ground in the city, the first was located a little ways up Charles Avenue just after the turn of the 20th century. Named for the wife of community leader E.W.F. Stirrup, Charlotte Jane Memorial Park was originally called the Coconut Grove Bahamian Cemetery and founded around 1913. The cemetery features above ground tombs that painted silver and white. According to Alex Plasencia’s thesis examining the history and race relations in Coconut Grove, the graves are traditionally painted during the Goombay Festival, which is held annually to celebrate Bahamian culture.

This historic cemetery has been noted for odd occurrences for many years. A 1990 article in the Miami New Times explores the city’s historic cemeteries and mentions an incident at Charlotte Jane Memorial Park that had taken place in 1983. On a night of a full moon, a brown paper bag with flies swarming around it was discovered just inside the cemetery’s gates. When investigators opened the bag, the decapitated carcass of a chicken was discovered inside. After it appeared that a nearby mausoleum had been broken into, investigators discovered that a casket had been pried open and the corpse inside had been decapitated. A rusty hunting knife lay on the floor of the crypt. An investigator with the medical examiner’s office concluded that the head had possibly been taken as a part of a Santeria ritual. Sadly, a similar incident was reported earlier this year and a local man was arrested on charges of burglary, disturbing the contents of a grave and vandalizing a grave.

According to a variety of sources, there is some spiritual activity here including shadow figures and disembodied voices; activity which has been witnessed in many cemeteries. Those same sources also claim that the Michael Jackson, who may or may not have been inspired by this cemetery, has been seen here following his unexpected death in 2009. If, while exploring this historic cemetery, you encounter spirits, you may want to have some killer dance moves prepared.

Sources
     at cemetery.” Local10. 13 August 2015.
Coconut Grove. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 5 October 2015.
Coconut Grove Bahamian Cemetery. Miami for Visitors. Accessed 5 October
     2015.
     The Huffington Post. 25 October 2012.
Michael Jackson’s Thriller (music video). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 5 October 2015.
Plasencia, Alex. A History of West Coconut Grove from 1925: Slum
     Clearance, Concrete Monsters, and the Dichotomy of East and West
     Coconut Grove. Clemson University Thesis. 2011.
Rowe, Sean. “Boneyard Ramble.” Miami New Times. 24 October 1990.
Travel Channel. “Miami’s most bone-chilling haunts.” The Traveling
     Type. 10 July 2014.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Southern Feast of All Souls—“Hellish Paradises”

My earlier articles on the haunted plantations of Louisiana’s River Road are among the most visited articles on my blog. Therefore, I’ve decided to revisit and update some of these articles.

The plantation is one of the most iconic images of historical South and Louisiana has preserved many of these cherished places. Some of these grand homes are run as museums while others host guests as bed and breakfasts. Others still have been reduced to ruins.

What is often forgotten, however, is that these plantations were built on the backs of enslaved labor, mostly African. While these grand estates served as paradises for the ruling class—which in Louisiana included people of French and Spanish origin as well as occasionally mixed race people and even freedmen—these same estates were often pure hell for the enslaved. It’s no wonder that these hellish paradises have been imprinted by all the tragedy and triumph they have been witness to. These are some of their stories.

Oak Alley Plantation
3645 Louisiana Highway 18
Vacherie

Of Louisiana’s plantations, Oak Alley is certainly the most iconic with its alley of 14 majestic oaks that frame the view of the house from the river. When viewed from the river, the main house appears tiny, but up close, the home’s 28 peripteral columns seem to translate the trunks of the oaks into classical architectural terms. The oak alley was planted some years prior to the construction of the grand, colonnaded house which was begun in 1837 and was completed two years later. Jacques Telesphore Roman, for whom the house was constructed, owned the house until 1866 when it was sold and passed through the hands of a number of landowners. When Andrew and Josephine Stewart purchased the property in 1925, the house was in a state of serious decay. With the help of architect, Richard Koch, the house was returned to its former glory. It was the restoration of this plantation that started the movement to preserve other plantations in the area.

The house and its majestic grounds have been used in a number of films including 1964’s Bette Davis thriller, Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte, Interview with a Vampire and Primary Colors. Additionally, the music video for Beyoncé’s 2006 song, “Déjà Vu,” shows the singer dancing under the canopy of the oaks in front of the house.
 
Oak Alley Plantation. Photo 2012, by Emily Richarson, courtesy
of Wikipedia.
Among the shadows of the oaks and the house’s massive colonnade numerous spirits have been reported. At least two female spirits have been seen in and around the house including one that appeared in a photograph in 1987. A couple from Texas was taking pictures in the master bedroom of the house. A dress form that stands in that room appeared in one of the photographs to have a head on it. Oddly, the “head” is not reflected in a nearby mirror. Perhaps, Monsieur Roman’s wife, Celine has returned to have her photograph made.

Jeff Dwyer in his 2007, Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans, describes the sound of a carriage, complete with the rattle of chains and the neighing of horses, has been heard on the drive leading to the house. The Oak Alley website features a page of ghost stories including a note from a pair of tour guides who recall witnessing billowing dust and sound of horse’s hooves upon the gravel driveway when there was nothing to be seen.
 
A view of the main house at Oak Alley Plantation. Photo 2011,
by Emily Richardson, courtesy of Wikipedia.
One of the home’s staff members related a story to author Jill Pascoe which she included in her 2004 book, Louisiana’s Haunted Plantations. The staff member had begun securing the house for the night and was waiting on the final tour to finish. She took a seat in the parlor to wait. As she was sitting there she saw a woman dressed entirely in black and wearing a black veil approach the bottom of the staircase. The staff member stood to confront this visitor when the figure turned towards her and disappeared.

Investigations by Louisiana Spirit Paranormal Investigators have produced EVPs and many recorded personal experiences. In 2008, Oak Alley was investigated by the The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) as part of the Syfy Channel series, Ghost Hunters. The investigators came up with some interesting evidence. One piece of thermal imaging video shows something with a heat signature moving outside of a window. When Jason Hawes asked Grant Wilson (the main investigators) to step outside on the veranda outside of the window, nothing can be seen. Other evidence include a flashlight coming on by itself and hits on a K2 meter in response to questions.

Sources
Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans. Gretna, LA:
     Pelican Publishing, 2007.
Episode 408, “Oak Alley Plantation.” Ghost Hunters. Syfy
     Channel. Originally aired 8 October 2008.
Ghost Tales.” Oak Alley Plantation. Accessed 31 January 2015.
Goeldner, Paul. National Register of Historic Places nomination form
     for Oak Alley Plantation. 3 July 1974.
Louisiana Spirits Paranormal Investigations. Investigation
     Report for Oak Alley Plantation. Accessed 7 September 2010.
Louisiana Spirits Paranormal Investigations. Investigation
     September 2010.
National Park Service. “Oak Alley Plantation.” Southeastern Louisiana:
     A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary. Accessed
     6 September 2010.
Oak Alley Plantation. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed
     30 Janurary 2015.
Pascoe, Jill. Louisiana’s Haunted Plantations. Gilbert, AZ: Irongate
     Press, 2004.
Sillery, Barbara. The Haunting of Louisiana. Gretna, LA: Pelican
     Press, 2001.

San Francisco Plantation
2646 Louisiana Highway 44
Garyville

It’s not hard to imagine that San Francisco Plantation was designed by a deranged carnival clown. The house is representative of Steamboat Gothic architecture, a style the National Park Service describes as a “potpourri of architectural designs.” A dozen highly skilled slaves were purchased to aid in the construction of this brightly painted home. The immense cost of the house’s construction in 1849, may have led to the name of the house, a bastardization of “saint-frusquin” or “without all that one possesses.” Edmond Marmillion started off in enormous debt after he purchased the land from a free man of color, Elisée Rillieux, for nearly $100,000, a huge sum of money in the early 19th century.
 
Facade of San Francisco, 2011, by Elisa Rolle. Courtesy of
Wikipedia.
Marmillion created an extensive sugar plantation and eventually found financial success in the 1850s. But a pall of sickness hung over this successful period. Marmillion’s wife contracted tuberculosis and died in 1843. The couple’s eight children also contracted the dread disease and six of them died over a period of about 20 years. The marvelous plantation remained in the family until the late 19th century when it passed out of the family. Following the disastrous Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, many riverside plantations, including San Francisco, were threatened with destruction as the Army Corps of Engineers constructed a levee to contain the river. Some plantations were saved and the levee was rerouted to save San Francisco. The house remains, though a massive petroleum plant looms behind the house museum.
 
Oblique view of San Francisco, 2011, by Elisa Rolle. Courtesy
of Wikipedia.
With the dearth of complex and rich history at San Francisco, it is surprising that descriptions of the plantation’s spirits only amount to a few paragraphs. Most sources mention that the spirit of Charles Marmillion, one of Edmond’s sons, has been seen in the house. Psychics with one investigation team noted his sickly form in the office and one of the bedrooms. The apparitions of two young girls have been encountered playing under the trees around the house.

Sources
Brown, Alan. The Haunted South. Charleston, SC: History Press,
     2014.
Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans. Gretna, LA:
     Pelican Publishing, 2007.
Goeldner, Paul. National Register of Historic Places nomination form
     for San Francisco Plantation. 17 January 1974.
Malone, Paul and Lee. The Majesty of River Road. Gretna, LA:
     Pelican Publishing, 1991.
National Park Service. “San Francisco Plantation House.”
     Southeastern Louisiana: A National Register of Historic
     Places Travel Itinerary. Accessed 6 September 2010.
Plantation History.” San Francisco Plantation. Accessed 31 January
     2015.
Sexton, Richard. Vestiges of Grandeur: The Plantations of Louisiana’s
     River Road. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 1999.

The Cottage Plantation
River Road at Duncan Point
Baton Rouge

On the 18th of February 1960, firefighters battling the lightning-caused blaze that destroyed The Cottage Plantation reported that they saw a man looking out one of the upper windows of the grand home. The firefighters yelled at him trying to encourage the gentleman to jump, but the man didn’t seem to notice the firefighters on the lawn or the flames that were engulfing the house in which he stood. Shortly after the man’s appearance, the roof collapsed. Human remains were not found in the smoldering ruins of The Cottage. Perhaps this may have been the same man whose visage was captured on film just ten years earlier peering out of the moldering house through a broken window.

Only forlorn columns standing in a weedy privately owned field mark the site of The Cottage alongside River Road just south of Baton Rouge. The home was constructed in 1824 as a wedding gift from Colonel Abner Duncan to his daughter, Frances and her husband, Frederick Daniel Conrad. It was under Conrad’s ownership that a certain Ezra Holt was brought to work at the plantation, though stories differ as to what his function was. All stories, however, point to Mr. Holt’s dedication to the Conrad family and The Cottage Plantation.

Legend speaks of Mr. Holt returning to the house after the Civil War to maintain it for the Conrad family. Living alone in the huge house, Holt became a recluse and is said to have grown a long, white beard. After he passed, he was buried in a family cemetery on the site, though stories emerged describing his spirit as continuing to wander the house and grounds. There is some indication that these stories may have been produced to keep vandals and curiosity-seekers away from the decaying house. The house was restored by members of the Conrad family in 1920 and was used as a museum, even appearing in a few films including the 1957 Clark Gable vehicle, Band of Angels.

Even before it was destroyed by fire, visitors and staff reported seeing a man with a long beard wandering the halls of the house. Even now, many years after its destruction, stories of a man seen among the ruins persist. Some, who have trespassed beyond the electric fence that now surrounds the ruins (I cannot recommend anyone breaking the law to see the ruins up close), have reported hearing voices and the sounds of a spectral party among the decrepit columns of the once grand home.

Sources
Duvernay, Adam. “Several Baton Rouge sites said to be haunted.”
     The Daily Reveille. 27 October 2009.
Dwyer, Jeff. Ghost Hunter’s Guide to New Orleans. Gretna, LA:
     Pelican Publishing, 2007.
Franklin, Wade. “Ghostly Thought—Haunted House Tour.”
     Waukesha Daily Freeman (Waukesha, WI). 21 April 1977.
Pascoe, Jill. Louisiana’s Haunted Plantations. Gilbert, AZ: Irongate
     Press, 2004.
Steed, Bud. Haunted Baton Rouge. Charleston, SC: History Press,
     2013.
Stefko, Jill. “Haunted Cottage Plantation: One Ghost is Mr. Holt.”
     Suite 101. 21 October 2011.
Taylor, Troy. “The Cottage Plantation.” Ghosts of the Prairie. 1999.


Saturday, October 3, 2015

A Southern Feast of All Souls—The Souls of Sloss

Sloss Furnaces
20 32nd Street, North
Birmingham, Alabama

Perhaps one of the most iconic haunted places in the state of Alabama, this National Historic Landmark site is reminiscent of Birmingham’s history. Birmingham was built on industrial facilities like this producing iron during the latter half of the 19th and into the 20th centuries. While the facility opened in 1882, nothing remains of the original furnaces. The oldest building on this site dates to 1902 with much of the equipment installed and added in later years. This facility closed in 1971, and local preservationists began work to save the facility soon after. Their efforts paid off, and the facility is open as a museum and events facility.
 
Sloss Furnaces, 2011, by Matthew Gordon.
Courtesy of Wikipedia.
There is always a chance for death in industrial sites, even more so around molten metal in a furnace. In 1887 Theophilus Jowers assistant foundryman at the Alice furnace (one of the first furnaces on this site), fell to his death into the molten iron in the furnace. Some of his remains—his head, bowels, two hip bones and some ashes—were fished out of the molten iron. Jowers’ death remains one of the most spectacular and grisly, though many more men died throughout the time that the furnaces were in operation.

After Jowers’ death, his spirit was observed by co-workers. Kathryn Tucker Windham quotes one former employee, “We’d be getting ready to charge the furnace, and we’d see something, something like a natural man walking around on the hearth. Just walking slow and looking around like he was checking to make sure everything was all right.” Windham describes the first time that Jowers’ son saw his father’s spirit in 1927. The grown son took his own son for a drive over the First Avenue Viaduct and there, while watching the action at the furnace, they observed a man walking through the showers of sparks and flames.

Two more spirits are believed to be in residence at this site, but their stories are less historically based. A white deer that has been seen on the grounds is believed to be the spirit of a pregnant girl who committed suicide by throwing herself into the furnace. The other “apocryphal”—as Alan Brown describes him—spirit is that of a fiendish foreman named James “Slag” Wormwood. Like Jowers and the pregnant girl, Wormwood supposedly fell to his death into one of the furnaces, though it is suspected that he was really pushed by an angry employee. It is Wormwood’s angry spirit that is responsible for pushing employees and visitors even today.

The furnaces are known as a hotbed of paranormal activity and were investigated for the first time in 2005 by Ghost Chasers International out of Kentucky. They were joined by psychic Chip Coffey who would soon make his name working on the A&E show, Paranormal State. During the investigation, Coffey made contact with the spirit of a man who had lost a limb in an accident there. Moments after losing contact with the spirit, team members noticed blood on Coffey’s hands. After investigating him for scratches or another injury that could have produced blood, nothing was found. Over the past 10 years of paranormal investigations at the site, a slag heap of evidence has been captured here.

Sources
Brown, Alan. Haunted Birmingham. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2009.
History.” Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark. Accessed 12 June
     2015.
Parks, Megan. “Sloss Fright Furnace: The haunts heat up in Alabama.”
     USA Today. 14 October 2014.
Windham, Kathryn Tucker. The Ghost in the Sloss Furnaces. Birmingham,
     AL: Birmingham Historical Society, 2005.



Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Southern Feast of All Souls

The army of the Dead slept in this marble camp.
--The Times-Picayune, 2 November 1882

‘Tis now the Halloween season. As the days shorten and the leaves begin to change, we begin counting down the days until the thinning of the veil between the physical and spiritual planes. Within the Christian Church this time is marked with reflection and celebration for all souls who have passed from the physical realm. The Church officially has named November first as the Feast of All Saints or All Hallows, a time to celebrate those saints of the church. The following day is the Feast of All Souls when all the dead are celebrated. As the celebration of the Feast of All Hallows begins on the previous evening, that day has been named All Hallows Eve, which has become Halloween. To celebrate this season throughout the days leading up to the Feast of All Souls, I’ll be celebrating some of the Southern souls who remain here among us.
 
"All Saints' Day in New Orleans--Decorating the Tombs" by John Durkin.
Published in Harper's Weekly, November 1885.
For centuries these days were celebrated with family gathering in cemeteries and decorating the graves of their loved ones who had passed on. This was especially practiced in Catholic areas of the region. Unfortunately, many of these practices have fallen out of favor since the Victorian era leaving many cemeteries, and graves therein, neglected.

An article from the New Orleans Times-Picayune November 2, 1882, describes the scene in the cemeteries of that city.

IN THE CEMETERIES.

Celebrating the Festival of the Dead.

Tombs of Great Men in Louisiana History—Scenes and Episodes.

The scenes usual on that great Sacred Festival, All Saints’ Day, were enacted yesterday in the cemeteries of the city. While the crowd of visitors was probably as numerous as ever, it was remarked that the floral offering were not so profuse as on some former occasions. A detailed description of the decoration of the tombs would certainly prove monotonous to the general reader, since it would be but a repetition of what has been written year after year from the earliest time at which the custom was adopted. These tributes to the dead, taking the form of harps, lyres, crosses, anchors, crowns, garlands, wreaths—symbols of profoundly tender religious sentiments—were to be seen everywhere upon the resting-place of the rich man and the poor.

The air was redolent of sweet perfumes, and rich huses of vivid blooms were displayed on the white beauty of polished marble, the gray rough granite, or contrasted with the dark green of luxuriant grass and clustering vines. The exquisite taste of women, combined with the art of the florist, to produced the loveliest designs expressive of affectionate remembrance.

Notwithstanding the hot and sultry weather, immense numbers of people visited the cemeteries during the day. Between ten and fifteen thousand persons went to the Canal street cemeteries, the cars being well filled at an early hour, and densely packed in the evening with passengers. But had the entire population of the city thronged the graveyards the dead would have been more numerous than the living. During the period from 1817 to 1878, sixty-two years, 342, 000 persons died in the this city, and reckoning from the date of the foundation of New Orleans, 160 years ago, it may be asserted that more than 400,000 human bodies have been laid within the precincts of her cemeteries. This is an impressive statement of a tremendous fact, which must arouse in thinking minds somber reflections concerning the brevity of human existence.

In the afternoon the Canal street cemeteries presented a singular spectacle. Long lines of vehicles—carriages, buggies, carts laden with flowers—almost blockaded the roadway. Along the banquettes were ranged all manner of refreshment booths, the proprietors of which made great clamor in their efforts to attract patrons.

At the entrance to the cemeteries the orphans from various asylums appealed to the benevolence of the charitable. Within the cemeteries themselves, there was the continual movement of the crowd of promenaders passing to and fro; a hum of voices, and sometimes the unseemly laughter of the frivolous or thoughtless.

Approaching the ancient St. Louis Cemetery, one beheld on high the draped folds of flags—French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese—over the tombs of the societies of those nationalities. The white sepulchers at a distance seemed like so many tents and over them were the banners. The army of the Dead slept in this marble camp.

Have a spooky, safe and joyous Halloween season!


Welcome to the Southern Feast of All Souls!