Sunday, November 27, 2016
…for I doubt if there is another building in the while South that has been the theatre of more mental travail. Do you remember Hugo’s ‘Last Days of a Condemned Man?’ That horrible drama has been enacted over and over again inside its walls. And think of the desperate men who have taken their lives in its cells, and the other desperate men who have lain awake at night plotting escape. The old place has held the concentrated essence of every human emotion—hope, fear, rage, grief, remorse.
-- “By the By!” The Times-Democrat, 23 October 1899
The Ninth Precinct Prison once humbly squatted behind the Greek Revival magnificence of the Carrollton courthouse (719 South Carrollton Avenue). Originally the seat of justice for Carrollton while it was a part of Jefferson Parish, the courthouse and jail were designed by Henry Howard, a noted New Orleans architect, and constructed in 1855. When the burgeoning city of New Orleans absorbed Carrollton in 1874 the courthouse was transformed into a school while the jail remained open just steps from studious children, staffed by officers from the New Orleans Police Department.
After complaints from worried parents, the ancient jail was torn down in 1937 while the courthouse building remained an elementary school until the 1950s when it became Benjamin Franklin Senior High School. The high school had outgrown the old courthouse building by the late 1980s and a new building was constructed for the high school. The courthouse again became an elementary school and was in use until 2013. The courthouse building has been abandoned since that time and was listed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to its list of 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.
At the back of the old courthouse building where the jail once stood is now occupied by school trailers with no sign to indicate the inhumane building that once occupied that space. In this place criminals were locked away in dank cells some spending their last days here before they transcended this plane in the execution yard. It’s no wonder that stories began to pour forth from this building towards the end of the 19th century telling of spectral experiences and uncanny events. The Times-Democrat devoted a little more than two columns of space to the experiences of the “peculiarly level-headed and unimaginative” officers working there:
“I can tell what has happened easily enough,” said Sergeant Clifton, “but explain it, I can’t. I have been on duty here about a year and a half, and we have been bothered off and on, from the start by strange noises, things falling without apparent cause, and other unaccountable disturbances. Lately they have grown worse. Here in my office our attention was first attracted to that old sofa in the corner. Frequently at night one of the men would lie down on it to rest, and invariably something queer would happen. Sometimes the man would be thrown off violently, sometimes he would feel hands touching him, and several times the sofa would be moved bodily several feet from the wall. Strangers here have had the same experience. We have never been able to find any clew [sic] to the cause. Some weeks ago I was sitting one evening at my desk reading, when suddenly my chair was whirled entirely around. I was quite alone and several lights were burning brightly in the room. I was simply dumfounded, and all I can do now is to give you the facts. As I said before, the explanation is beyond me.
“A few nights later, I was talking to Corporal Perez, when a large picture of Gen. Beauregard, hanging on the wall above the washstand, came crashing down, and at the same instant, the stand itself, bowl and pitcher, were apparently hurled forward and struck the floor several feet away. Strange to say, nothing was broken, and oddest of all, the cord of the picture was intact and the nail on which it hung was as firm as ever. We had been talking about Beauregard during the evening and the coincidence startled us greatly. Next night the mirror, below where the picture had been, fell in exactly the same manner. That time the washbowl was broken. I have since placed the picture and looking glass elsewhere, and they have not been molested any further. These things occurred right before our eyes, under the glare of the electric light.
“One evening last week,” he went on, “two gentlemen and a lady dropped in to pay me a visit. While the men were sitting on the sofa talking, the lady arose and leaned against the wall. A moment afterward she staggered forward, crying out that some one had given her a violent push. We were all astonished, and in explaining to us what happened she again leaned against the wall and again bounded away exactly as if she had received a sudden thrust against the shoulders. She was greatly excited and alarmed, and it was some time before we could quiet her. There is the large bare brick wall; you can see for yourself how impossible it was for any trick to have been played. The lady had never heard of the ghosts.”
The most remarkable story of all is told by the head doorman, C.W. Foster. Officer Foster is a man of middle age, quiet, well educated and intelligent. He has been on duty at the jail about eight months.
“I heard all sorts of strange noises frequently,” he said, “and more than once searched the place from top to bottom trying to discover what caused them. But the first time I actually saw anything was one afternoon last July. The sergeant had stepped out, and I was occupied with something in the clerk’s office on the other side of the passage. The doors are on a line, and I could see through in the opposite room. Presently I looked up and was astonished to see two women standing by Sergeant Clifton’s desk. They were holding themselves very erect, looking straight toward me, and their stiff, unnatural attitude struck me as strange. Still I thought they were merely visitors, who had slipped in without my noticing them. They were young and both wore dresses of some sort of spotted stuff. They impressed me as being very light-skinned negresses.
“I got up, never taking my eyes from the pair, and started across the passage. Just as I was entering the other room both figures vanished. It was so sudden, so absolutely inexplicable, that I couldn’t believe my senses, and stood here for a moment literally paralyzed with amazement. The sun was shining brightly, the room was perfectly light and I was never in better health. It was hard for me to believe the appearance was an hallucination, yet there was no way in the world for the women to have left the room, for there was only one door, in which I stood. I never saw the women before or afterward.
“My next experience was even more startling. It was in the evening, and, as before, the sergeant’s room was temporarily vacant, while I was engaged in the clerk’s office. Lights were burning everywhere, and several men were in the building. When I got through my work in the office I stepped into the passage and happening to glace into the other room, I saw Sergeant Shoemaker, who died a year ago last July, standing between the desk and the sofa. I knew Shoemaker intimately for years, and there is absolutely no possibility of my being mistaken. He had charge of this jail up to the time of his death. The figure I saw was perfectly distinct and solid, and was in the full light of an incandescent lamp. His head was slightly bent, as if he was in a brown study, and he was walking slowly toward the sofa. While I stood there staring at him he vanished precisely as the two women had vanished. It was like snuffing out a candle—one instant he was there and the next instant he was gone.
“I admit frankly that I was frightened,” continued Officer Foster. “I never received such a shock in my life, but I forced myself somehow to go into the room. It was perfectly empty. I have seen nothing since, but hardly a day or night passes without noises and other manifestations. We have about ceased to pay attention to them.”
Mr. Joseph Crowley, the night clerk and operator, has had his full share of uncanny experience. When he was assigned to duty at the precinct he made a good deal of sport of the current ghost stories, but he soon witnessed enough to thoroughly puzzle him. One night last month, as he tells the story, he was at his desk writing, when something prompted him to look up, and he saw a tall, dark-bearded stranger standing outside the railed inclosure [sic]. The man look ill and thin, and was dressed in black. Mr. Crowley was about to inquire his business when the stranger glided away toward the door. Remembering the ghost stories, and sure that a trick was being played, he sprang through the gate and rushed towards the figure, which disappeared in the hall. He was only two steps behind, but the hall was empty. There was no egress except past the doorman, who was on duty, and not one of the several officers on the floors had seen a soul. They made an instant and thorough search of the building, but could find no trace of the mysterious visitor. He had vanished like a feat in conjuring.
A few nights afterward Clerk Crowley was again in the office, talking with Patrolman Edward Harrison and George Shafe, when the pale, bearded stranger suddenly appeared in the door. That time he was seen by all three of the men at about the same instant, and they rushed toward him with one accord. Exactly what happened they have some difficulty in explaining. As before, the strange man glided backward into the hall, passed into a little patch of shadow and that was the last of him. They ran over the very spot where he had been, questioned the doorkeeper, ransacked the building and searched the garden with lights from one end to the other, but all in vain.
Officer Harrison is a very practical, common sense type of man. He is perhaps fifty years old, but still active, and is tall and strongly built. He has a stern, aquiline face, and talks briefly and to the point.
“I don’t believe in ghosts,” he said yesterday. “That’s all nonsense, and there must be some explanation for these things. Still I don’t know what it is, and the best I can do is to state exactly what I witnessed. I saw the man with a beard. He simply appeared and disappeared, and where he went to I have no idea. It was the quickest thing I ever looked at. We made a very thorough search, and I’m certain he was not hidden about the house. I never saw the man before, but his face was very peculiar, and I would know it in a thousand. Yes, I have heard noises and footsteps—frequently. What causes them is a mystery. We’ve tried out best to find out, but have so far failed. All the same I don’t believe in ghosts.”
Mr. Crowley not only saw the phantoms, but felt them. He states that he was seated at his desk on another occasion when something that seemed like a cold hand gripped him by the neck. For an instant he was too startled to move, but at the first struggle he was released and whirling around found himself alone. The clock stood exactly at 3 a.m.
The sound of heavy footsteps in the hall and corridor has been heard at different times by nearly all the officers about the building. In conversation yesterday Corporal Harry Hyatt described that particular manifestation.
“I have heard it twice,” he said. “It sounded exactly as if some powerful man had entered the front door and walked as far as the office. On both occasions I ran out immediately and no one was there. The footfalls were as distinct as anything I ever heard in my life.”
Sometimes the sound of walking comes from the courtroom up stairs, where there was formerly a row of four “condemned cells,” used for confining prisoners under sentence of death. One night, when the noises from that quarter were particularly loud, several officers went up to investigate and were amazed to see the heavy docket fly through the air from the judge’s desk. It struck the floor with a crash audible all over the building, but what propelled it they were never able to find out. One of those who had an experience with the sofa, which seems to be the storm centre [sic], so to speak, of the sergeant’s room, was Driver Dell of the patrol wagon. He went in to get a bit of rest, and had no sooner stretched himself out then the sofa moved from the wall fully a yard and then moved back again. The motion was gentle, as if the legs were on well-oiled wheels, but the startled driver did not tarry from another ride. He sprang to his feet and sought his rest in another part of the building.
Many of the manifestations reported about the old building are perfectly meaningless and grotesque, and paradoxical as it may seem, they derive a certain impressiveness from that very fact. The theory of trickery presupposes more or less of a coherent plan, and it is hard to associate it with things that have no apparent purpose. For example, mounted officer Jules Aucoin went to the sergeant’s room at about 11 o’clock last Wednesday night to make a report. Glued to the wall above the fireplace is a large colored lithograph of Admiral Dewey, and as Aucoin entered he was surprised beyond measure to see the picture seemingly turning round and round like a wheel. He called to some of the others, but before they could get there the lithograph was still again. Many kindred stories are told. In one corner of the clerk’s office is a small ledge on which several books are kept. Lying on them were two large weights, such as are used by grocers. A few nights ago the weights described a curve through space and came crashing down on the floor. Several officers witnessed the occurrence, but nobody is able to offer any explanation. Now and then different articles of furniture act as if they are bewitched, tumbling about, shifting their places and echoing to invisible blows. Everybody in the station has been under suspicion as a practical joker, but nowadays that theory has been pretty thoroughly abandoned.
One night last week, a colored man named Charles Marquez was arrested on a capias issued by Judge Duggan on the charge of contempt of court and locked until morning in cell No. 3. When the doorman came to release him, he was a pitiable object. He was shaking with fright and declared that he had been tormented all night long by things he could not see. Viewless hands hauled him about the floor, snatched away his blankets whenever he spread them to lie down, and kept up and incessant rattling at his lock. A score or more of times he felt cold fingers drawn across his face, and from the patter of footfalls in the dark, he could have sworn he had a dozen companions. Such was the man’s story. He was unusually intelligent, and however he may have embroidered the narrative, there was no gainsaying the fact that he was half dead with terror. Something had certainly played havoc with his rest.
Cell 3, by the way, has an evil name. There is no particular legend connected with it, but most of the mysterious noises in that end of the building seem to have their origin there, and many other prisoners have reported experiences more or less resembling that of Marquez.
The author of the article ends by noting that the reports from the jail should be further investigated by the Society of Psychical Research out of London. The author was so insistent of this that in an article published in the same paper two days later, he (I’m assuming this is the same author, though bylines in papers were not common at that time) recounts a conversation about the case and a discussion of the Society’s investigation techniques.
As for the activity at the old jail, a few other sources state that a vague figure was seen as the building was torn down in 1937. The blog Seeks Ghosts notes that a strange figure is still seen in the area of the building.
“By the By!” The Times Democrat. 23 October 1899.
Carrollton Courthouse. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
Accessed 26 November 2016.
Lamkin, Virginia. “New Orleans: The Haunted Carrollton
“Real Ghost Story.” The Times Democrat. 21 October 1899.
Taylor, Troy. Haunted New Orleans. Charleston, SC: HistoryPress, 2010.
Saturday, November 19, 2016
Roll & Roll Hotel
1353 H Street, NE
Not far from the halls of the nation’s power, H Street—lined with handsome commercial buildings from another age—escapes towards Maryland. The Rock & Roll Hotel occupies one of these old commercial building, a building that is evidently still occupied by spirits from its previous incarnation: a funeral home. Some of the spirits may enjoy the loud, hard-driving rock music that has replaced the comforting organ music that is usually played throughout funeral homes, but other spirits apparently are disturbed by it.
According to a Halloween season article in the Washington City Paper, the nightclub’s staff (despite its name, the Rock & Roll Hotel is a live music venue and nightclub) has had numerous odd experiences throughout the building. One employee had his wife wait on him in the lobby while he locked up the building. When he returned, she was standing on the street.
“She’s like, ‘Weird, someone left the radio on.’ And it’s like some old talkie show, and they’re talking about her. And they’re describing her dress, and asking, ‘Who is she? Why is she here?’ So I come down five minutes later, and she’s literally standing in the middle of H street with her arms crossed like, ‘Nope, nope, nope.’”
Other members of the staff have heard the sounds of disembodied footsteps, voices, and have witnessed the occasional spectral figure within the building. Several staff members have been spooked in the building’s restrooms when they’ve heard stall doors slamming while in the restroom while they were alone. Candles that were distinguished by staff before locking up have been found burning the next day, even when they were doused with water.
Rudig, Stephanie and Justin Weber. “Some believe that the
Rock & Roll Hotel nightclub hosts more than just shows.”
Washington City Paper. 27 October 2016.
Sunday, November 13, 2016
During the first few minutes of the first annual Haunted History Tour in the small town of Wetumpka, Alabama, my tour group was shuffled into a room in the unrestored portion of the town’s Chamber of Commerce Building (110 East Bridge Street). The old room was in rough shape with a collection of folding chairs set out for tour participants. I glanced through a doorway into an adjoining room and was greeted by a scarecrow with a mischievous grin painted on its burlap face.
The thought ran through my head, “Someone has put out some tacky Halloween decorations out for this tour. Oh my God, I hope the rest of the tour isn’t like this!” My fears were allayed however when the guide began talking about how this scarecrow moved on its own around the third floor. Passersby on the streets outside have noted the scarecrow peering down on them from one of the third floor windows. When they look again the scarecrow is often looking down from a different window. Employees of the chamber of commerce have also noted the scarecrow’s erratic movement, even once finding it torn apart on the floor of the bathroom. Even more shocking was when the scarecrow reappeared “in pristine condition”—to use our guide’s words—the following day in its usual position overlooking downtown.
|The chamber's scarecrow that moves on its |
own accord. Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV,
all rights reserved.
The scarecrow is overseeing, along with the other spirited compatriots, a revival that’s taking place in downtown Wetumpka and throughout the state of Alabama. The state is beginning to awaken from its long, sad economic dream state and confidently stride back towards a fully awakened existence. Utilizing its own history, hominess, natural hospitality, stories, and even its ghosts, Alabama is brushing off the dust of its past and creating a more hopeful future.
Some of you may have noticed my absence during October. Please forgive me, I have been traveling throughout Alabama taking part in investigations and ghost tours. The life of a blogger can be rather dull when you’re only writing about these places rather than experiencing them. Last Halloween I promised myself that I would leave my schedule open this year so I could take advantage of the various investigations and ghost tours that crop up during the Halloween season. With one exception, all my investigations and tours were in Alabama, a state that I have discovered really wants its stories told.
My first jaunt, the first weekend of October, took me to Sylacauga, the Marble City. Located in central Alabama, Sylacauga (pronounced sil-uh-CAW-guh), is about 45 miles south east of Birmingham. The town was built primarily on marble quarrying: carving up the fine marble vein that spans thirty miles under this section of Talladega County. Near the downtown, the Comer Museum (711 North Broadway Avenue) is situated in an Art Deco-styled marble-clad building built in the 1930s as the town’s library. Sculptures and carvings from the local marble grace the entrance of the elegant building that serves as a virtual attic for the area squirrelling away and displaying an array of historic artifacts.
I was in town for an investigation at the museum with S.C.A.R.E. of Alabama, a group founded by authors Kim Johnston and Shane Busby (who wrote Haunted Talladega County together, Johnston is also the author of Haunted Shelby County, Alabama and Haint Blue: The Rockford Haunting). Members of the group include haunted collector and author Kevin Cain whose book, My Haunted Collection, is now a part of my Southern Spirit Library, he’s also written a number of supernatural fiction works; and Kat Hobson who hosts the radio show “Paranormal Experienced with Kat Hobson” on which I appeared a few months ago and will be appearing at the end of this month. The group hosted this investigation as part of a series of public investigations that they host as fundraisers for the places investigated.
The investigation was fascinating an concentrated on a number of objects throughout the building that may have spirit attachments. See my run down of the investigation here, “The Haunted Collection in the Marble City—Alabama.”
On the way to Sylacauga I passed through several small dried-up towns—including Wadley in Randolph County, with nary a single storefront that appeared to be occupied—and was reminded of the harsh economic conditions that have plagued much of rural Alabama. On the route I decided to stop outside of Childersburg to check out DeSoto Caverns & Family Fun Park (5181 Desoto Caverns Parkway). As I waited for the cave tour I watched a young father carry his child off the porch of the gift shop heading towards the family’s car. In his arms the child squirmed and cried in the depths of a temper tantrum. As they passed the statue of Hernando de Soto the father said, “Hey look, it’s Hernando de Soto!” The child only screamed louder. Goodness knows that de Soto inspired similar reactions from the natives when he marched through this area in 1540.
Scholars suggest that Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernando de Soto may have stopped in the area as he hacked his way through the forests and natives of the region. While there is no proof that he visited the cave, there is evidence that it was known to the local natives. Several native burials were located in the main room of the cave as well as the remains of a white trader who was killed after he carved his name in the cave which was considered sacred to the natives. Being a cave fan, I was happy when Johnston and Busby included the cave in their book on haunted Talladega County.
While I have had some creepy experiences in caves (see my experiences at Lost Sea Cave in Sweetwater, TN), I didn’t have anything odd happen. Johnston and Busby note that a young daughter of the cave’s owners had experiences with Native American spirits during her childhood on the property. Worried that these spirits may have been upset by the family’s use of the cave as a tourist attraction, the owners brought in members of the native tribes that once owned the land to cleanse the property and rebury the bones of their ancestors that had originally lain quietly in the cave. Apparently, the spirits have been appeased, though I do wonder if there is any residual energy that may cause some activity on occasion.
Sylacauga itself seems to be waking up however: a number of buildings in its downtown were occupied and open for business including what appeared to be several new restaurants. For dinner I considered Buttermilk Hill Restaurant (300 East 3rd Street) which occupies an early 20th century house just outside of downtown. Listed in Johnston and Busby’s book, the restaurant shares the house with an assortment of spirits and a dark history that includes a murder within the past decade. While the menu looks delectable, it was a bit pricey for my current budget, though I did take some pictures.
My second sojourn to Alabama took place over the penultimate weekend of October. Due to work on Friday, the trip turned out to be rather rushed and I didn’t have much time to really enjoy it the trip up. S.C.A.R.E. of Alabama sponsored an investigation of Jemison-Carnegie Heritage Hall Museum (200 South Street East) and the adjoining Armstrong-Osborne Public Library (202 South Street East) in Talladega. Despite NASCAR races taking place the same weekend at the nearby (and cursed, supposedly) Talladega Superspeedway in Lincoln, the leafy streets of Talladega were quiet and still. South Street boasts some fine institutions and a handful of ghosts. On this peaceful night, antebellum Manning Hall (205 South Street East), the huge, main edifice of the Alabama Institute for the Blind and Deaf, across the street from Heritage Hall was lit up like a beacon. Heritage Hall’s smaller, more feminine, Beaux-Arts façade was lit up as if in graceful answer to Manning Hall’s heavy, masculine Greek Revival colonnade. According to Johnston and Busby, Manning Hall does have some spirits of its own, quite possibly including the shade of the Institute’s founder, Dr. Joseph Johnson.
The Jemison-Carnegie Public Library was the dream of Louisa Jemison, a member of the prominent Jemison family who now have a handful of haunted places associated with them. Designed by noted Alabama architect Frank Lockwood, the library was built with a donation of land from Louisa Jemison and the Carnegie Foundation. When the library opened in 1908 local lore tells of a little 8-year-old girl sitting on the top step the first day and her being the first person to check out a book. The little girl, Gentry Parsons, would eventually pen her own books and donated many books to this library.
Since portraying the Atlanta architect Philip Schutze at the Atlanta History Center’s Swan House, I have come to know the power of good architecture. In creating beautiful spaces, the architect can physically manipulate those entering the space; the eyes and chin are raised and the dignity of the space encourages those entering to straighten their back out of respect. Those entering have their senses heightened and the feeling of awe can mellow into a sense of inspiration, lightness, refinement, and freedom. Like the great cathedrals of Europe, the architecture of Heritage Hall does exactly that. The high ceilings, airiness, and grace raises the senses of those walking up the front staircase and entering the front door. The main bay of the building is a large open space with a dramatic staircase directly ahead leading down to the main librarian’s desk.
|The interior of Heritage Hall looking down the stairs just inside|
the front door towards the old librarian's desk. Photo by Lewis O.
Powell, IV, all rights reserved.
After entering for the investigation I was greeted by the museum’s director and given an excellent tour of the building. The open space inside with the walls lined with art from local artists gives the place a sense of veneration and the art displays the tremendous talent throughout the region. I was also introduced to some of the paranormal activity that has been experienced here. With this building being a community center for such a long period of time, the energy that has passed and continues to pass through it has likely left a psychic imprint. That can be one explanation for the disembodied footsteps and doors opening and closing on their own accord. As a library, this building has also inspired passion for many people, people who return to this beloved spot in spirit. Some of the spirits believed to still oversee business here are Miss Willie, a former librarian; Tom Woodson, a long-time director of the museum who died a few years ago; and Louisa Jemison who may return to check on her beloved library.
Spooning Heritage Hall like a protective older sibling is the Armstrong-Osborne Public Library which opened in 1979. Sadly, the architects of the newer building did not take their cues from Lockwood’s design. The building is minimalist and angular with no ornamentation; utilitarian modernist at its worst. The interior is very typical late 20th century library design which emphasizes function over design. While the architecture is nothing to write home about, the institution itself seems to be very well stocked and the librarians and staff present were delightful and very interested in the investigation.
|Hall of Heroes entrance. Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV, all rights reserved.|
|The Hall of Heroes is lined with the photos of men and women|
who served in the armed forces from Talladega County. Photo
by Lewis O. Powell, IV, all rights reserved.
|Looking into the Genealogy Room before the investigation.|
Photo by Lewis O. Powell, IV, all rights reserved.
The library itself has experienced a modicum of strange activity particularly around the genealogy room and its adjacent hallway which are actually part of a 2006 addition to the building. That hallway is now the Hall of Heroes, honoring the many men and women of Talladega County who have served in the armed forces. The hall is lined with photographs ranging from World War I to the most recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. In this hallway the spirit of a woman has been seen while the sounds of a party sometimes emanate from the genealogy room itself when it’s empty. The investigation of the library and Heritage Hall didn’t really uncover much evidence-wise. After sitting with Ghost Boxes in the main reading room of the library we adjourned to the genealogy room and the Hall of Heroes. Fitted out with computers, microfilm readers, and shelves of books old and new, the genealogy room isn’t particularly creepy, even in the dark. We did an EVP session and at one point seemingly heard a “no,” though I was one of the few people to hear it. It may have also been gastric noises from one of the participants. After relocating to Heritage Hall we didn’t pick up much activity, though we had some K2 spikes when some of men began lounging on Miss Willie’s library desk.
My sojourn is not quite over, though I’m just realizing how much I’m rambling. Join me for more of my Alabama adventures in part two.
Johnston, Kim and Shane Busby. Haunted Talladega County.
Charleston, SC: History Press, 2015.
“History.” Talladegas Public Library. Accessed 12 November 2016.
“Our History.” Jemison-Carnegie Heritage Hall Museum. Accessed
12 November 2016.
Wetumpka Area Chamber of Commerce. Wetumpka Haunted
Heritage Tour. 28 October 2016.