Historic Haunted Americaby Michael Norman, Beth Scott
Continuing the success of the nationally acclaimed Haunted America, Historic Haunted America is a further investigation into North American ghost legends.
This chilling collection documents yesterday's and today's most terrifying hauntings in the United States and Canada in more than seventy-five shocking stories!See more details below
Continuing the success of the nationally acclaimed Haunted America, Historic Haunted America is a further investigation into North American ghost legends.
This chilling collection documents yesterday's and today's most terrifying hauntings in the United States and Canada in more than seventy-five shocking stories!
Read an Excerpt
HISTORIC HAUNTED AMERICA (Chapter One)Alabama
Mrs. Thomas Saunders had little doubt that the plantation her husband inherited two miles west of tiny Courtland harbored a ghost. A clanking of chains from the basement, persistent tapping in various rooms, and a pervasive sense of being watched bothered Mrs. Saunders so much that finally she confronted her fears.
"Either speak up, or go away and leave me alone," she shouted to an empty room. To her dismay a quiet voice answered, "Do not be doubting for I am truly here."
Later that same day, Mrs. Saunders, whose husband was a descendant of the plantation's original owner, saw a woman in the billowing petticoats of the antebellum South standing at the bottom of the majestic, spiral staircase. Assuming that the woman was involved with Courtland's centennial celebration and had gotten into the mansion without knocking, Mrs. Saunders reached out to shake hands with her unexpected guest. She vanished. The mistress of the house knew then it was the family ghost out to prove that she was "truly here."
Nothing remains today of Mrs. Saunders' home, Courtland's Rocky Hill Castle, on the road to Town Creek and the Tri Cities, save hard-packed earth where the house stood and the indistinct outline of the foundation. But for well over a century, the Castle was among the finest plantation homes in northwest Alabama.
Built in the late 1840s and early 1850s by James Edmonds Saunders, the plantation got its name from a six-story, medieval-style lookout tower Saunders had built adjacent to the house. From this vantage point, Saunders could keep watch over his cotton fields and the slaves who toiled in the broiling summer heat.
The house itself was a two-story brick affair with a plastered stucco facade. Identical porticoes built in Greek Revival style were attached to the front and rear, with four fluted Doric columns for added distinction. A cupola with arched windows sat atop the slate roof. Inside the front door, the vestibule was dominated by a handsome, sweeping staircase that widened as it reached the bottom floor. A polished mahogany banister ran the length of the staircase. The furnishings were as elegant as the house. As late as the 1920s, original furniture remaining in the house included two of Mr. Saunders's eighteen green velvet love seats, a marble-top table, a large dining room table, and several of the original oil paintings in exquisite gold-leaf frames. Nevertheless, it was the tower, with its cold, Gothic appearance, that gave the property its distinction.
Persistent rumors also circulated that the Castle was involved in illicit slave trading during the Civil War. A tunnel was said to lead from the nearby Tennessee River to the mansion's basement. Slaves were brought from ships and barges on the river and through the tunnel to the Saunderses' property, where they were then put to work in the fields.
Saunders was born in 1807 in Virginia and in 1828 moved to Courtland, where he established a law practice. He eventually acquired title to hundreds of acres of prime farmland.
The Courtland area stayed firmly in Confederate hands during most of the Civil War and Saunders became a colonel in the Confederate army. The Castle figured prominently in meetings of Southern military leaders. Among those entertained at the house was J. L. M. Curry, of Talladega, later the Confederate minister to Spain. Gen. Pierre Beauregard also spent time at the Castle.
Colonel Saunders survived the war, but his fortune was lost. He lived on at the plantation, however, trying several business enterprises, including vineyards. None was successful in restoring his prewar wealth.
His descendants continued to live in the Castle until 1926 when the property was sold to two Courtland businessmen. The house was lived in periodically until the late 1940s, when years of neglect caught up with James Saunders's glorious mansion. Vandals stripped the last of its interior furnishings, treasure hunters dug dozens of holes looking for buried valuables, and graffiti littered the once elegant walls. In a small cabin a short way from the old house, an aged black man kept watch over the old hulk. He reported that on several occasions he heard the ghostly sounds of a piano. He attributed them to mice running up and down the keyboard on that last piece of furniture in Saunders's crumbling mansion.
At about the same time, another phantom resident was heard from. She was the "lady in gray," a woman who reputedly lived in the mansion in the 1920s and had drowned with her two children when a bridge they were crossing collapsed into a rain-swollen creek.
The visages of the poor woman and her children were seen numerous times on the road leading from the creek to Rocky Hill Castle, even after the last remnants of the mansion had vanished from the earth.
A faint footpath through tangled underbrush, a few scattered weed-choked bricks, and the ghosts of a southern lady, a mother and her children are all that remain today of a once glorious estate.
The Musical Housekeeper
It is difficult to single out one Alabama mansion as the most beautiful in the state, but Gaineswood, a few miles north of Demopolis, has been termed a magnificent example of Greek Revival architecture in the state. It also is known for a musical ghost story.
Gen. Nathan Bryan Whitfield built the house between 1843 and 1860 for his wife and children. When his wife died before it was finished, General Whitfield hired a young woman from the East to care for the home and the children. She was an accomplished pianist, spending most evenings entertaining the family with her musical skills. In 1856, however, the woman fell ill and died. Her last wish was to be buried in her hometown.
Harsh winter weather delayed the shipment of her coffin to the East, and for some days or weeks (the records are not clear), the young woman's remains were kept under the cellar staircase.
She was finally buried according to her wishes, but not before visitors heard faint footfalls ascending the basement stairs and going into the drawing room. Delightful piano tunes favored by the deceased housekeeper would then be heard throughout the house.
Historians argue over the woman's name and even over whether or not a piano was ever in the original home. In 1976 a grand rosewood piano was given to the historic home by Mrs. Arthur Compton, a descendent of General Whitfield. There is some evidence that the piano may have been among Gaineswood's earliest furnishings.
The housekeeper apparently has not returned to play her beloved piano, but she may one day. Visitors should stay alert for unplanned recitals.
The Unfamiliar Guests
The historic Burleson/McEntire house in Decatur, on the south bank of the churning Tennessee River, shows the many scars of nearly 175 years of existence, including occupancy by both Union and Confederate forces during the Civil War. The stately white columns are pockmarked by bullet holes. But by far the most intriguing stories are those of the two ghosts who have been seen over the decades, scaring the home's residents and adding supernatural intrigue to the lore of the old plantation manor.
Built in 1824 by slave labor, probably by Tennessean Jesse Whorton, the house changed hands several times until the Civil War when it was owned by Mr. and Mrs. A. A. Burleson. They received it from her parents, the Alexander Pattersons. The war brought the house's most colorful period, when it was used as a hospital and command center by both the Blue and the Gray. It was around the home's dining room table that Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston planned the Battle of Shiloh on April 4, 1862. After the fall of Vicksburg, Union generals Grant, Sherman, and Blair held meetings there, and Gen. Grenville M. Dodge had his headquarters in the house in 1864.
A gruesome event during the war may be the cause of at least one of the hauntings.
Federal troops crossing the Tennessee River were frequently fired upon by Rebel soldiers hiding on the upper floors of the old First National Bank Building. One Union soldier was mortally wounded in an exchange of gunfire and taken by his comrades to the Burleson house, where he soon died. Confederate forces rapidly filling the city made it impossible for the Union soldiers to bury the man. Instead, they ripped up the floorboards in the front parlor and dug a hasty grave in the dirt below. Within a few days Union troops had recaptured the city, as well as the Burleson house, and were able to remove the soldier's corpse for a proper burial.
Shortly after the turn of the century, LeRoy McEntire Sr. told of his experience with a mysterious stranger. "I was walking home from grammar school," he told a newspaper reporter, "and when I got to the earth bridge, it's paved now, I looked up at the top of the house and saw Papa. At least I thought it was him."
He ran inside to ask his mother why his father was on the roof of the house. She said he wasn't home at all, but working several miles away. Young LeRoy bravely went up to the attic where he found all the doors and windows leading out onto the flat roof locked and bolted from the inside. The boy never did figure out who he had seen on the roof.
There are at least two other candidates for the male ghost in the house.
The Burleson house was one of only five buildings left standing in the wake of the fire and destruction that nearly destroyed Decatur during the war. Because of its central location and good condition, it became the headquarters for the hated carpetbaggers and the scene of most major political meetings and speeches.
The story of Judge Carlton, a Morgan County probate judge who occupied the Burleson house for a time, illustrates the extreme emotion rampant at the time--and could be another cause of the haunting. The judge was a carpetbagger and fervently anti-Klan. That was enough to engender nearly universal hatred for him in Decatur. There had been many threats against his life. Whether the danger grew too oppressive for him isn't known, but he made plans for a hasty trip to Mexico. He almost made it. He had gone to a Nashville bank to collect enough money for the excursion and was returning to Decatur to pack his belongings. Townspeople found his body midway between the railroad depot and the Burleson house, a distance of only a few blocks. The bank gold was gone. No one was ever convicted of his murder, although the Ku Klux Klan was assumed to have had a hand in it.
A third legend holds that an army paymaster, killed near the house's front gate, is the cause of the haunting. He was on his way to pay troops quartered in the house when he was slain and his bullion stolen.
There is also a second ghost, a woman in a flowing white gown whom no one has been able to positively identify.
In 1869, the Burlesons sold the house to Jerome J. Hinds. They had several children, including Grace, later Lady Curzon of London and Kedleston, the wife of the last Viceroy of India.
But it was another daughter, Jessie M., who was the first to disclose the presence of a female specter. According to her, an upstairs front bedroom that her parents occupied was haunted for many years. One night, her mother awakened with a start to find a dark-haired woman in what appeared to be a dressing gown staring at the couple from the foot of the bed. She held a lighted candle in one hand. A number of years later, Mrs. Frank Brown reported that when her family had rented the house when she was a child, the same specter returned. As children, Mrs. Brown and her sister shared that same upstairs bedroom. Both girls saw the ghost in a white robe carrying a candle. She looked sad, Mrs. Brown recalled. The ghost's flowing black hair cascaded down her back, the candle casting a soft glow on her delicate features. So terrified were the children that they turned the room over to their brothers, without telling them of the ghost. The boys didn't stay long for they saw the same apparition.
Later, a visitor sitting in the bedroom early one evening fled the room claiming she saw a lighted candle sway back and forth above the door to the hallway. She said it slowly moved toward her and then exploded a few feet from her face.
Although the upstairs bedroom is directly above the parlor under which the soldier was buried, there doesn't appear to be a connection between the two apparitions.
The stately Burleson/McEntire home bears its wounds and sorrows like badges of courage. Lovingly restored earlier in this century, the house is a reminder of an era long vanished from the American landscape. From its original iron fence to the hand-laid brick walk, eighteen-inch-thick inside walls, and wooden doors held together with wooden pegs, the house is sturdy enough to last for another century. And along with it, two infrequent spectral guests.
The "Tinker Place" was built in 1835 for a Miss Susian Trumon Tinker, a strikingly beautiful belle and a leading cultural light in old Greensboro. Little is known of her life, or of the happy activities she must have engaged in at her home, but it seems that she was so attached to the house that she never left.
A Mrs. Turpin was the first to encounter the ghost of the home's first mistress. She startled her family one night many years ago with the news that a small woman in a gray dress had stood smiling at her from a doorway. She disappeared before she could be questioned.
In about 1934, Mrs. Charles E. Waller, Mrs. Turpin's daughter and the then-doyenne of the home, was entertaining several grandchildren when they asked about the curious woman standing a few feet from the dining room table at which they were seated. Since no one else could see anything, the children described the unseen visitor's actions. She was moving through the doorway now, the children said, and across the living room floor. The ghost, for that is what it surely must have been, faded away as it glided up the staircase.
A sick friend recuperating in the Wallers' home reported another strange incident. Unable to leave her bed, the woman called for Mrs. Waller to come up and turn on the light in the room. The words were barely spoken when the overhead chandelier light snapped on.
The lady at Tinker's place seems to prefer gray clothing. At times she is glimpsed warming her hands by the fire, or perhaps admiring the crystal and china displayed in a china cabinet. She always appears quite happy, but disappears as soon as anyone looks directly at her or tries to strike up an acquaintance.
However, she is not completely antisocial. Mrs. Waller recounted an incident that led her to believe the ghost was more of a guardian than a malevolent wraith.
It was the custom in Mrs. Waller's family for the first person up in the morning to make a pot of hot coffee. Early one day, just before the first rays of sun penetrated the old house, Mrs. Waller walked out of her bedroom toward the kitchen but was stopped in her tracks by the sight of the little lady in gray standing in a doorway through which she had to pass. A slight smile appeared on the ghost's sallow face and she turned and moved across the adjoining room. Mrs. Waller watched her disappear on the stairs.
"She was the image of Miss Susian," Mrs. Waller told a visitor sometime later.
The Blue Lamp
The Perry County mansion known as Carlisle Hall is an unusual structure, even by Alabama standards. It is an amalgam of Romanesque arches, Japanese temple-type hanging copper roof, and a balcony rail of Moorish derivation. All of this is wrapped in a generally Gothic design.
Built by Edwin Kenworthy Carlisle, a prosperous cotton merchant, in 1827 for the sum of $90,000, the house has had a variety of owners. For many decades it sat abandoned and decrepit. Shortly after Carlisle died, stories were first circulated about a blue lantern light that could be seen through the windows of his old bedroom. A young woman was said to sail down the staircase to greet her returning Yankee colonel sweetheart ... long after the war and the lives of the lovers had ended. The lady may have been Carlisle's daughter.
During the 1930s, Carlisle Hall was restored and modernized by A. S. Hill, a retired naval officer and teacher at Marion Institute. World War II put a halt to his plans and his occupancy of the house.
W. E. Belcher owned the place after Hill, but he rarely occupied the home. Vandals ransacked Carlisle Hall, destroying all fifty-six windows, including several leaded Venetian glass masterpieces above the staircase. They ripped the banister apart, chopped to pieces a half dozen marble fireplace mantels, and shattered the exquisite imported plaster medallions in the ceilings of each room. As a final insult, the plunderers dug up trees and plantings in the yard.
A family was hired to act as live-in caretakers when Carlisle Hall was put up for sale. Not much was left of the grandeur that had once marked the mansion. And the caretakers left their own ghostly legacy. It was told that the family's baby fell to its death down the spiral staircase and left a bloody stain on the floor where it landed. Some people claimed the stain "cried out at night."
A Birmingham teacher, Kay Klassen, rescued the house from certain destruction. She "always felt sorry for old things," and Carlisle Hall seemed to be in need of gentle restoration. The young woman spent nearly seven years restoring the house. She and her parents searched all over the South for period furnishings, mantels, and chandeliers to replace those destroyed, to complement the extensive repairs they had to perform on the edifice itself.
Kay Klassen never reported seeing Edwin Kenworthy Carlisle or his daughter gliding about their old house, but one of the first things she noted when she moved into the house was that a section of flooring just below the staircase had been carefully removed. Just at the place where a dying baby's cries had been heard decades before.
HISTORIC HAUNTED AMERICA Copyright © 1995 by Michael Norman and the Estate of Elizabeth Scott.
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