Monday, June 30, 2014

The Haunted St. James Hotel of Alabama

From Panoramio
In 1837 the Brantley Hotel opened in Selma, Alabama.  It was named after the head financier, Brigadier General John Brantley and catered to the rich cotton traders and other wealthy agriculturists and plantation owners of the mid-19th century.

Throughout the years and throughout many different owners, the Brantley Hotel went through some interesting transitions.  Owner, Dr. James Gee renamed the Brantley renamed the hotel the Troupe House, and put his slave, Benjamin Sterling Turner in charge of management.  Turner would go on to become the first African-American mayor of Selma, and the first African-American elected to U.S. Congress.

During the Civil War, the hotel was saved from the destruction of the town.  In 1865, when Union troops took over Selma, they burned much of the business district and factories.  The hotel was saved due to the fact that the troops used it as their headquarters.

It wouldn't be until 1871 that Captain Tom Smith, the newest owner, changed the name to the St. James Hotel.  It was during Smith's tenure that the infamous Frank and Jesse James allegedly stayed at the hotel.  Unfortunately, hard times during the 1890s led to the closure of the St. James.  Afterward, the former hotel became used as storage and office space, a feed store, and a tire recapping factory.  The first floor was completely gutted, and several wings were demolished during this time period.

A group of concerned citizens and investors came together in the 1990s, and at a cost of $6 million, restored the hotel to its former glory.  Luckily, much of the upper floors were still in tact, but improvements were made to update the hotel with modern amenities.  The new St. James Hotel opened in 1997 and it wouldn't be long before the ghost stories started pouring in.

By Alex Bush, c. 1937
According to different sources, there are three main ghosts that call the St. James home.  The first is the most interesting to me.  Apparently guests have often complained about hearing a dog incessantly barking in the courtyard, keeping them up all night.  When staff goes to investigate, there are no dogs to be found.  The sound of a dog running in the halls has also been noted.

The second ghost is said to be none other than Jesse James himself.  A man in 1800s clothing, complete with spurs has been seen in several locations throughout the hotel, most notably exiting rooms 214, 314, and 315, as well as sitting at a table in the bar.

"Lucinda" is the third ghost of the St. James.  A portrait of Lucinda hangs in the Water Avenue side sitting room.  Lucinda most often makes her presence known through the strong scent of lavender, but she's been seen on occasion as well, walking the halls of the upper floors.  But who is Lucinda?  Legend has it that Lucinda was a long-term resident of the hotel...and the mistress of Jesse James.

If you stay at the hotel and are interested in the ghostly side of its history, make sure you ask the front desk staff to see the ghost photo.  The photo, allegedly showing one of the ghosts of the St. James isn't on display, but staff will be glad to show it to you.  It'll be up to you to decide whether its just lens flare...or something more!

Article by Beverly Crider
St. James Hotel Website
St. James Virtual Tour
Southern Spirit Guide

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Cleveland, TX Ghost Photo

I just wanted to preface today's blog by saying I definitely learned something...I had no idea there was a Cleveland, Texas.  Anyway, I have another post dedicated to a fraudulent ghost photo.  Unfortunately, the boom in popularity for Facebook groups and pages ran and frequented by people with very little experience in the paranormal research field has led to a boom in fraudulent and fictional stories and photos to flood the web. Just recently this one popped its head back up.

Zoomed In
The photo in question was taken in by Marcella Davis on April 15, 2013.  Marcella took the photo around 4pm at Cleveland High School in Cleveland, TX.  According to her, she attempting to photograph her nephew.  She took one photo, but since her nephew turned, and didn't want his picture taken, she gave up.

Marcella was using a smartphone to take the photo, but admitted that she knew very little about how it worked.  Her teenage daughter was showing her how to zoom in on the photo and noticed the ghostly image of a man in a white suit with bell-bottoms.

Does this guy look familiar?  Yep, its a ghost app! I'm guessing that Marcella's daughter, before showing her mom how to zoom in on a photo, doctored it up a lil' to play a prank.

From the Facebook page, Ghost App Ghosts

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Lexington's Haunted Gratz Park Inn

I'm still trying to build up the Haunted Kentucky page of Theresa's Haunted History, so today's blog is another Lexington haunt, the historic Gratz Park Inn!

Construction on the building began in 1916, but it wasn't until 1920 that the facility opened up as an early medical clinic for the city of Lexington and surrounding areas, under such founders as Dr. Waller Bullock and others.  And, like a good clinic of its time, the basement served as the city's first official morgue.  The clinic would only remain at its West Second Street location until it moved out in 1958.  It was replaced shortly thereafter by an engineering firm that housed its offices in the old clinic.

Photo from TripAdvisor
The engineering firm moved out around 1976, and the building sat empty for awhile before being snapped up and renovated into the luxury hotel that it is today.  Offering high class dining and other amenities within walking distance of Kentucky's most historic district, the Gratz Park Inn offers another perk; its considered to be one of the best haunted hotels in the country!

This distinction comes from both the show, This Old House, which did a special on historic haunted homes, featuring the Gratz in one of the top spots, but also USA Today.  In a 2003 article, USA Today listed the hotel as one of the top 10 Great Places to Get in Bed with a Ghost, for its "strange men in guestrooms, intoxicated apparitions partying in the halls, or a diaphanous lady in a white dress and hat."

There is definitely a plethora of paranormal activity at the hotel, and the list of manifestations include lights turning themselves on and off, phantom knocking on guests' doors, sightings of a forlorn looking man on the lower level, and an elderly man who plays tricks on the maids by messing with the television sets.

Among all this activity, two ghosts in particular stand out to the Gratz Park Inn staff.  The first is a young girl who staff have named "Lizzie."  Lizzie likes to open and close doors, tug at guests' sleeves, and play jacks on the third floor.  Whenever a guest complains of being kept awake at night by children playing and running down the halls, staff knows it has to be Lizzie!

The other prominent specter is that of a man known as John.  A member of the staff has seen an African-American gentleman in a plaid shirt, with his hands over his face.  It wasn't until later that a journal was found in the basement, describing the early years of the inn as the city's clinic.  According to the Mystery Monday segment linked below, John was the first patient of the new clinic, who came in asking for help with a possible gunshot wound.

Oddly enough the majority of paranormal activity and ghost sightings occur during the DAY, but staff is quick to point out that the strange noises, etc. can still be experienced at night as well!

Bit of the Bluegrass
Mystery Monday video on Youtube
Southern Spirit Guide
Gratz Park Inn Website

Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday Night Funny--For the Ladies!

Ladies, this Friday Night Funny is for you!

It's funny because its true!  Several years ago, I happened to have an EMF meter in my purse when going through security at the Cabell County Courthouse (doing research for a case, ironically).  I had to explain to a perplexed guard what the hell it was and why I had it with me, which I honestly didn't have an answer for.  It just happened to get stuck in there after an investigation.

In fact, at any give time, I have several pieces of paranormal investigation equipment stuffed in my purse.  Oh, and batteries.  Lots and lots of batteries.  So, what about the rest of you paranormal chicks?  Is your purse or bag weighed down with investigation equipment on a regular basis?  Have you ever had to explain to someone why your recorder, temperature gauge, EMF meter, etc. is just as, if not more, important than carrying your wallet or favorite lipstick?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Hartford-Shire Mowing Devil

Click HERE for transcription
When retired artists Doug Bower and Dave Chorely came forward in 1991 and claimed responsibility for hundreds of "crop circles" around England, the book was closed for many as crop circles being anything but a fraudulent hoax. Still, Bower and Chorely said they got the idea for creating the first simple, but increasingly elaborate crop art from a 1960s incident in Australia known as the "saucer nest case."  The saucer nest case involved a farmer finding a circular area of flattened crop in conjunction with a UFO landing sighting...but is there any earlier cases of a similar nature?


A woodcut pamphlet was produced in 1678 telling of the strange tale of the Hartford-shire mowing devil.  According to the pamphlet, a laborer quoted to a farmer a certain price for mowing his oat field.  The farmer refused to honor that price, stating that he'd rather have the Devil himself come mow the field than to pay the poor laborer.

And, like in many cautionary tales, the farmer soon learned that you must be careful what you wish for.  That night, the oat field appeared to be on fire.  Suspecting his entire crop burned, the farmer returned the next morning, amazed to find the area perfectly mowed...TOO perfectly mowed for any man to have committed the act.

Credit for bringing this tale to light is given to historian Betty Puttick who submitted knowledge of this woodcut she ran across to Jenny Randles in response to Randles' 1989 book on crop circles.

Obviously, there is no mention of little green men from outer space, but many cereologists (the people who study crop circles) believe that this might possibly be the earliest recorded case of the modern phenomena.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Upinis of Lithuania

Confluence of Merkys and Neman Rivers, Lithuania
Over on the Ghost Village message board, the topic of the month for June has to do with Lake Spirits.  Interestingly, not long before, I had read the main story posted--the tale of New York's Ronkonkoma Lake and its murderous Indian Princess who drowns one male victim a year in retaliation of forbidden love.

Researching this case led to an interest in researching similar stories concerning cursed and haunted bodies of water, and the creatures that may inhabit them.  One tale I came across is that of Lithuania's Upinis.

The Upinis is the guardian spirit of flowing waters.  You'll find the Upinis in such bodies of water as streams, rivers, and creeks.  A different being, the Ezerinis, is reserved for non-flowing bodies, such as lakes.

The Upinis began its history in Lithuania as a deity.  Before the country converted to Christianity in 1387, Pagan beliefs designated certain natural features, most notably waterways, as sacred sites called Altas.  In order to appease the guardian deity of the river or stream and ensure crystal clear water, a sacrifice of white pigs was given.  Pigs were seen as harbingers of the afterlife and a particular servant to the water gods.

These beliefs survived well into the 19th century, but managed to morph away from religious connotations into the myths and legends of the country.  Today, very few believe that these waterways are actually guarded by a personified deity, but are open to the modern idea of a genius loci!

In short, a genius loci is the guardian spirit of a place, with roots in ancient Roman religions.  However, more modern usage of the word refers to the more symbolic "spirit" or feel of a place, rather than an actual spirit. Those in the tri-state might have heard that the large number of suicides and associated hauntings of West Virginia's Hawks Nest State Park can be traced to a guardian spirit, or genius loci.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Japanese Kleenex Commercial Curse

This is the creepiest commercial you've seen in a long time, right?  Hitting the airways around 1986, millions of Japanese viewers agreed...and it was quickly pulled from Kleenex's advertising campaign, which featured this ad, and two similar.  But, why is this commercial so darn creepy?  And just what the heck is going on with that kid?!

According to internet sources, this popular Japanese urban legend got its start when viewers noted that the jingle for this song, which is actually an English-lyric version of "It's a Fine Day" by Jane and Barton, sounded an awful lot like a German curse-- "Die, die, everyone is cursed and will be killed."

After it was pulled, the rumors began to pour in.  First it was said that the ad wasn't just pulled due to complaints of it being creepy, but that it was banned because people who watched it either died of mysterious circumstances or felt the overwhelming urge to commit suicide.  Secondly, it was widely believed that the cursed commercial had led to the deaths of the entire cast and crew, and that not one person who worked on the commercial was alive at the time it aired.

One cameraman was rumored to have been burned to death in a freak mechanical failure with his sauna.  The little boy had a whole list of things allegedly happen to him.  Some milder accounts place him as the victim of horrific nightmares lasting for days after filming.  In other versions of the legend, he isn't so lucky, either dying of organ failure from the toxicity of the paint used on his body, or decapitation resulting from being hit by a car.

The actress in the commercial may have had it worst of all.  Legend states that she went insane after the filming, and either hung herself or is still rotting away in a catatonic state in a mental institution.  Or, in my preferred telling, she became pregnant with the devil's child, and went insane.  It's actually the actress who gives us the biggest piece of evidence that this story is nothing more than an urban legend.  Her name is Keiko Matsuzaka, and if she DID go insane after giving birth to a devil baby, she recovered well, still working on film and television projects as late as 2007.

So, as rational people, we can be reasonably sure that the entire curse is simply an urban legend...but that leaves the question of what is going on in this commercial?  Well, as many sites that discuss this legend state, the child IS an ogre.  More specifically, he is a type of being called an oni, which is a demon, devil, ogre, troll mash-up, basically.  More specifically than THAT, he is an example of an Akaoni, or Red Demon.

The Akaoni is a pretty popular creature from Japanese folklore, and tends to show up in children's literature as a red critter, with green, moppish hair, a horn or two, and wearing tiger striped pants.  The Akaoni makes a prominent appearance in the 1933 children's book by Kousuku Hamada, called Naita Akaoni, or, the Red Demon who cried.

It was also the basis for a character named Ten in the popular anime of the time period, Ursei Yatsura!  In fact, it is widely speculated that the characters of Ten and Sakura, as seen below, were the inspiration for this commercial, as Kleenex tried to capitalize off a widely known television show airing in 1985-6.  So, yeah, its a little creepy as far as commercials go, but its definitely not the creepiest thing I've seen come out of Japan!
Ten, from Urusei Yatsura

It's a Fine Day Lyrics
The Horror Tree

Sakura, from Urusei Yatsura

Monday, June 23, 2014

Book Review for Haunted: Asylums, Prisons and Sanatoriums

Title:  Haunted: Asylums, Prisons and Sanatoriums
By: Jamie Davis, with Samuel Queen
Published 2013 by Llewellyn Publishing

First off, let me say that I really thought the premise of this book was a great idea.  Two friends with an interest in the paranormal travel the United States, investigating some of the country's most well known (and most haunted!) pay-to-play locations.  And, as the title suggests, many of these types of institutions that allow for public ghost hunting are places such as asylums, prisons, and sanatoriums.  Examples include Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, Waverly Hills, Mansfield Reformatory, and St. Albans Sanatorium.

Each chapter covers a different location, with the main author giving a brief history of the location and the results of their investigative experience.  Included is the information that is desperately needed for those planning an investigation of the location.  This information ranges from the mundane, such as the nearest airports and where to eat nearby, but it also offers information that you rarely see in these types of travel guides.  The authors graciously provide handy tips such as if the location has restrooms on site, safe room amenities, price, and whether or not the facility operates as a haunted house attraction during the Halloween season.

I personally have never been a huge fan of the pay-to-play locations, but I fully understand that there are many people who just want to have fun with ghost hunting, or try a low-pressure venue to get their feet wet before investing their time, money, and sanity into going "full-time" in the field.  This book is a great resource for that purpose, and its a fairly fun read on top of that.

Unfortunately, I did have a few problems with the book that prevented me from giving it a higher rating than I normally would have.  For starters, the book just wasn't super well-written.  I know that seems a little nit-picky, but it felt choppy and amateurish in spots.  Secondly, there were two locations thrown in that although the duo did investigate, completely deviate from what the book was allegedly about.  One location was the Farrar School, which while does have a reputation, was a plain ol' didn't house children who were physically or mentally ill or criminals--just normal kids.  The other place was Yorktown Hospital in Texas.  While it seemed to fit the theme a bit better, this location is actually not a classic pay-to-play location.  The closing remarks clearly state that this location is not open to the public and the owners must be contacted directly for permission to investigate.

But, the aspect of the book that just had me gritting my teeth in frustration was the investigation style of the pair, especially the main author.  As the book progresses, the constant theme of, "I'm not saying I'm an empath, but I'm an empath" was absolutely grating.  For one who claims to approach the subject with skepticism, this chick sure got the crud scared out of her a lot...and put a lot of stock into perceived events.

And, once again, I do realize that the authors don't dedicate their lives to the field of paranormal research, and aside from having the means to jet set all over the country for public ghost hunts don't have much experience...but the dedication to the "flashlight trick" as gospel was beyond irritating.  This method, which for those who aren't familiar with it, I'll post a link below, has been debunked numerous times, yet made up the largest part of these investigations.  Each chapter made sure to include a lengthy transcribed interaction between the authors and the suspected entities, with the author jumping to conclusions, making assumptions, and adding her own lil' commentary. The appendix even contains a list of questions to ask during this process!

Anyway, I know I was pretty hard on this one, but its not an awful book.  It's not necessarily one I would recommend to seasoned investigators, but again, its a great resource for those looking for play-to-play action.  I especially enjoyed the section of the appendix with additional tips on what you should and shouldn't do on public ghost hunts.  There was some great information there that even though it may seem like common sense, isn't really something you necessarily think about, especially when you're excited and ready to get down to the hunt.

Here's the video from Colorado Para-Tech investigating the flashlight method:

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Spirit Photography of Edouard Buguet

 This photo, titled Effet Fuidique, or, The Fluidic Effect (1875) is by the famous French spirit photographer, Edouard Buguet.
It's one of those photos that are hitting the social media scene hard.  I've seen it on both Facebook and Pinterest in the last week or so.  And, as most people have already assessed, this image is a hoax; it does not show an actual levitating chair.

Nevertheless, intrigued by such images and the history of spirit photography, I decided to dig a little further into Edouard Buguet's work.  What I found was that Buguet was well known for faking more than this early example of telekinesis (well, in this case, just a levitating chair, since the term 'telekinesis' wasn't coined until 1890 by Frederick Meyers)!

Born presumably in France in 1840, Buguet really hit the spirit photography circuit in 1874.  Influenced by the French Spiritualist movement that emphasized Mesmerism, before conducting a spirit photography session, Buguet would have both his camera and himself mesmerized.  The resulting photos were routinely featured in Revue Spirite, a French Spiritualist magazine published by M. Leymarie. One such photo that at the time was deemed one of the greatest spirit photographs of the time was the 1874 Woodbury carte de visite,  Mons. Leymarie and Mons. C. with Spirit of Edouard Poiret.

And, as early as 1874, Buguet came under the suspicion of fraud. However, it wouldn't be until a year later that he would actually be arrested for fraud, a crime that he originally confessed to.  The arrest came following a raid on Buguet's photo studio produced two shrouded dummies and 299 photographs of heads mounted onto cardboard.  At the September 1875 Spiritualist Congress held in Brussels, however, Buguet recanted this story, and said that the props were only used by his assistants when he was out sick...and that 2/3 of his spirit photographs were completely legit.

Even the testimony of several prominent clients combined with those statements couldn't keep Buguet out of jail for fraud, though.  He AND M. Leymarie were both sentenced to a year, and despite Buguet's claims that he was innocent and only made his confession in exchange for leniency, he never again took up the business of spirit photography.  He passed away in 1901.

Beyond the Grave: A Brief History of Spirit Photography
The Spirit Archive
The American Museum of Photography

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Demon Clouds of PinkPop

Last week, the annual Dutch music festival, PinkPop, came to a close in Limburg.  It ended a little later than planned, thanks to a heavy storm that popped up right as closing act, Metallica, was about to take the stage.  The 70,000 strong crowd got soaked, but everyone followed organizers' instructions and no one was injured during the downpour.

It wouldn't take long, however, before a photo taken of the storm clouds rolling in hit social media and are STILL being posted.  What appears to be a skeletal and/or demonic face can clearly been seen on the left and was thought by many to be an ominous sign.  Several years earlier at another music festival in Belgium, five people were killed and over a hundred more injured during a storm.  Was the face a warning to concert organizers that they should have cancelled the show...or was it a sign of something more sinister.  Immediately certain members of the religious commentary community warned of the Satanic implications of metal music, impending end times, and anything else you can think of.

Apparently these people have never seen Harry Potter!!

As some have suggested, this photo is not the best example of pareidolia ever...its a flat-out hoax.  The image in the clouds is none other than that of Lord Voldemort as he can be seen in the 2009 movie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  Check out the opening seconds of the video below for proof. 

Dutch News

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Book Review: Nick Groff's Chasing Spirits

Title: Chasing Spirits: The Building of the Ghost Adventures Crew
Author: Nick Groff, with Jeff Belanger
Published: 2012 by New American Library

I am NOT a fan girl.  In fact, I rarely watch Ghost Adventures anymore, finding Zak's personality and style of investigating simply insufferable.  But...I AM a paranormal investigator with an interest in reading everything I can on the paranormal, including the stories of other investigators in this field. 

Since Zak's lil' autobiography has skyrocketed in price, I picked up a very cheap copy of the Ghost Adventures' origin tale from Nick's point of view, and am very confident that I chose wisely!  Out of the three, Nick is probably my favorite crew member, but there's an air of mystery about him...

Anyway, this book is very well written, and it really does give an excellent background on how Ghost Adventures came to be, and also of Nick's own journey that led him there.  If you're familiar with the Ghost Adventures documentary that transformed to become Travel Channel's most popular paranormal program, you'll notice that Nick always comes across as the quiet one, the one that sorta fades into the background, overpowered by the boisterous personality that is Zak Bagans.  This autobiography gives Nick his voice...and the reader gets the chance to see him not only grow as a paranormal investigator, but as a person.  He is open about everything from his early childhood to his college years to his current status as a husband and father.

What I found most redeeming is the openness to acknowledge the fact that the road to where he is now was not without its problems.  Long, grueling hours, financial difficulties, and having to deal with Zak's strong personality are a very real aspect...and even though he is living the dream career of many investigators out there, the reality is that it isn't as easy as it looks.

I was also pretty shocked to learn that despite what may be inferred by the actual show, Nick was the one who came up for the idea of the documentary-turned-TV show and did almost ALL of the editing work, not only on the documentary, but on the first season of the show.  That's pretty impressive!

Overall, I'd definitely recommend this book obviously to anyone who is interested in Ghost Adventures or paranormal investigation.  There isn't a TON of additional history of haunted locations or investigation theory discussed in the book, but those topics are addressed to an extent and there's plenty of behind the scenes on some of the crew's (notably Nick's) top cases.  Plus, the narrative is sprinkled throughout with "Questions Fans Ask," which is sort of a FAQ to address important topics not otherwise brought up in the text. 

*Need more Ghost Adventures?  Check out The Ghost Adventures Drinking Game!*

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Lexington's Haunted Talon Winery

Talon Winery, from Wine Trail Traveler
The Talon Winery in Lexington, Kentucky is housed in a beautifully restored farmhouse, built in the 1790s.  It was built on land owned by Isaac Shelby, who would become Kentucky's very first governor, and was the home of his daughter and her family.

Specializing in several varieties of wine, the winery hosts tours, tastings, a gift shop, live music and is a premier wedding venue.  And, according to owner Harriet Allen in an interview with Lex18's Mystery Monday segment, it may be haunted!

Obviously being over 200 years old, the home has seen a lot of life...and most likely, a lot of death.  That kind of history meshes well with at least one of the alleged reports of paranormal activity.  When locking up and leaving for the evening, staff have looked behind them and seen the apparitions of children looking out the windows.  It's never the same window, and the children have been seen on both the lower and upper floors.

But its the next ghost that leaves me scratching my head...

The apparition of a dark haired bride wearing a white gown has been spotted ascending the stairs in the old farmhouse.  That might not sound too weird at first since surely a house this age has hosted plenty of weddings as a private residence even before the winery was used by modern bridal parties.  What makes this one of the more unique hauntings I've ever written about is who the staff believe the ghost to be.

Sweet Evening Breeze, via Art Beat Lexington

James Herndon was born on July 2, 1892 in Scott County, Kentucky.  At a young age, he suffered an eye injury and was dropped off at the Good Samaritan Hospital. His family never did come to pick him back up.  The superintendent, though, fell for the boy's charm, and gave him a room and let him do odd jobs around the hospital, such as deliver the mail.  He also dazzled residents with his ukulele playing.  As he got older, he'd eventually become the top orderly of the hospital, a profession which allowed him to move out on his own and collect an income which was quite high for an African American of that time period.  Sounds normal enough, but in the offbeat history of Lexington, James Herndon is better known as Sweet Evening Breeze, or simply, Miss Sweets.

Miss Sweets was Kentucky's first really openly gay man and transgender individual during a very turbulent time in the south.  During the Great Depression, WW2, and the Civil Rights Movement, Miss Sweets was dazzling the citizens of Lexington with a wonderful personality, love and charity towards those less fortunate, and delicious cooking.  His style could also not be beat.  Sometimes he'd simply accessorize a men's suit with fancy jewelry and well-applied makeup, but other times he'd perform in the streets in full drag, including, a wedding dress!

Some of the links below share some of Miss Sweets history...and the many, many legends and recollections of his life, but unfortunately NONE of them mention any connection that he may have had to the Talon Winery!  In any event, staff have reported that the hauntings of the winery have a very warm feeling.  In addition to being seen, Miss Sweets is believed to be the cause of people feeling their shoulder caressed, and causing the sounds of furniture moving around.

Neighborhood Kentucky
Mystery Monday
ArtBeat Lexington
Wine Trail Traveler

Monday, June 2, 2014

New Orleans' Haunted Middle School: Sophie B. Wright

Sophie B. Wright 1930s
Nearly a decade later, the horrors of Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath are still difficult for many to talk about.  Yet, as the years go by, we in the paranormal community are hearing more and more about how the already super-haunted city of New Orleans had its ghostly population affected by those events.  One of those stories emerged as early as September of 2005!

Sophie B. Wright was born in 1866 and even at a young age, was dedicated to philanthropy and education.  She opened a school for girls in her own home, quickly followed by a free night school for men and boys who had to work during the day.  By 1912, she became the first woman and the first living New Orleans resident to have a school named after her...the Sophie B. Wright High School, which was the first public high school for girls in the city. Eventually, the school would become a middle school.

During Hurricane Katrina, the Sophie B. Wright Middle School was evacuated of students and educational staff, but it served as a staging area and living quarters for National Guard personnel who were called in to assist in the clean up and rescue.  The men and women of the Guard soon realized that the horrors weren't just limited to what they would find outside the school walls.

Sgt. Robin Hairston is reported as having seen the apparition of a little girl standing in a doorway.  Spc. Rosales Leanor saw a shadow in the size and shape of a young girl while in the ladies' restroom.  Another un-named member of the guard opened a closet containing cleaning supplies and was shocked to both see the little girl AND hear her giggling.

The amount of activity in the middle school prompted a chaplain to perform a mini-exorcism of sorts.  "In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you Satan to leave the dark areas of this building," were the words that rang throughout the halls.

Today, the middle school, which was once one of the worst performing in the district, is now a charter school serving middle and high school grades.  And while its academic standing has drastically improved, there is no word as to whether or not the little ghost girl is still making an appearance in the halls of Sophie B. Wright.  Did the impromptu exorcism actually work...or was the whole thing a figment of the imaginations of overworked military personnel dealing with horrors of their work?

School Website
History of the Sophie B. Wright School by Old New Orleans
Article by Janet Yee (CBS5) via Southern Ghosts

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Veiled Lady of Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery

Americans: Unveiled in 1902 I made a mistake; it wasn't Memorial Day weekend I was supposed to go to Columbus.  It was THIS weekend!  Aaron went to the Columbus Ohio Retro Gaming Society's convention on Saturday, and I tagged along so that afterwards, I could check out some of Columbus' most awesome used book stores, historic sites, and haunted places!

One of those locations I had hoped to check out was the Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery. Unfortunately, we couldn't make the time to cram this stop into our already full itinerary, but I still wanted to share a little bit about what I learned about its history and haunts with you guys.

Camp Chase began its Civil War history in May of 1861 when it opened as a training ground and mustering-in location for Union recruits under the name of Camp Jackson.  However, as the War Between the States got underway, the need for a facility to house Confederate prisoners of war was eminent, and by July of 1861, in addition to its other duties, Camp Jackson (now being called Camp Chase after Salmon P. Chase, Lincoln's Secretary of War) was accepting captured Confederate officers.

Within two years, however, overcrowding became a HUGE issue at the camp, which in addition to housing around 8000 prisoners of war, was still being used as a recruitment camp and processing center for Union soldiers being mustered in and out.  1863 was overall a tough year for Camp Chase.  Despite taking up six acres and containing no less than 160 buildings, many of the prisoners, now of ALL ranks, were housed in tents.  Shortages of food and supplies exacerbated a smallpox outbreak and the camp lost 499 prisoners to disease in February alone.

That same year, a new facility was built on Johnson's Island to house the imprisoned Confederate officers, which helped alleviate some of the overcrowding, but it became apparent that enough soldiers were dying at a rate that justified establishing a cemetery on the property.  Prior to this, deceased soldiers were buried in the local cemetery.  Their bodies were moved back to the Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery when it was established.

As the war came to a close, the majority of buildings on the Camp Chase property were torn down.  A few remained for several years, being used as housing for squatters, but by 1895 all that was left as a reminder along Sullivant Avenue was the remnants of the decrepit cemetery.  That year, a retired Union Colonel, William Knauss, took it upon himself to restore the cemetery and honor those who served their country, no matter what side they fought on.

Today, you can visit the estimated 2260 graves of Camp Chase, but if you do, keep an eye out for the Veiled Lady of Camp Chase.

It is said that an apparition of a woman wearing all gray (or sometimes black) with a veil covering her face has been seen walking among the gravestones.  Re-enactors at certain historical events have even heard the ethereal cries of a woman in deep mourning, and experienced unexplained cold breezes blowing through the cemetery.  Most tangible of the manifestations has been the fresh flowers found on graves, apparently with no earthly hands to put them there.

The grave that seems to attract the most attention and receives the most flowers is that of Private Benjamin F. Allen of the 50th Tennessee Infantry, Company D.  His grave is numbered 233 among the over 2000 marked burials.  Because of this attention paid to Pvt. Allen, many have speculated that the Veiled Woman of Camp Chase must have been his young bride or bride-to-be.

History points to a more likely candidate, however...

Louisiana Ransburgh Briggs

Louisiana Ransburgh Briggs was born in Missouri in 1849.  Her father was originally from the Columbus area of Ohio, but had moved down south and married a southern girl from Louisiana.  When the war broke out, and the family plantation raided, John Ransburgh sent his young daughter north to stay with relatives.  Louisiana stayed true to her southern heritage and remained a Confederate sympathizer, despite her surroundings.  But, love overruled even the strongest distaste for the North, when Louisiana met and fell in love with Joseph Briggs, a young, yet rich, Union veteran.  The two set up home on the Briggs property near Columbus.

Being the wife of a prominent Union veteran after the war had ended, Louisiana had to find a covert way of honoring her southern brothers' memory.  Therefore, she took to dressing in all black with a heavy veil concealing her identity, and walking the rows at the then neglected Camp Chase Cemetery late in the evenings.  Tossing fresh flowers upon the badly neglected and weed-ridden graves earned her the nickname, The Veiled Lady of Camp Chase.

Louisiana died in 1950, at the age of 100 and is buried in Green Lawn Cemetery.  She lived long enough to see Knauss' public campaign to restore the cemetery, and a general public acceptance of honoring the memory of ALL American soldiers.  Yet, does her spirit still roam Camp Chase, destined to bring attention to the cemetery in death as it was in life?

For more information:

Louisiana Briggs article by Leslie Blankenship, Columbus Historical Society
Find-a-Grave entry for Louisiana Briggs
Camp Chase Official Website
Forgotten Ohio's Camp Chase Page