Sunday, February 28, 2010

Orbs: Ghosts or Dust?

Today I had my son's birthday party at Pump it Up. Naturally, I went camera crazy. I snapped picture after picture of my boy's big day hoping to make that scrapbook I've been promising myself I'd make for going on 7 years now. As I went through the pictures this evening, I noticed they were cluttered with orbs. Orbs are balls of light that are believed (by many) to be the energy from the souls of the deceased. Orbs are thought by many ghost hunters to be the human soul or life force of those that once inhabited a physical body here on earth. In other words, many think orbs are ghosts.


I have gone on quite a few ghost hunting trips over the last few months and have caught very little on film. So why is the Pump it Up is dotted with orbs? Many people believe orbs are no indication of ghosts. Of course skeptics don't believe they are ghosts, but when I got my hand book fromt he American Ghost Hunting Society the chapter on orbs argued that they were anomolies caused by weather conditions and dust on the lens. They argued that orbs were no indication of any paranormal activity and should be completely disregarded. I have read many articles that present similar arguments that orbs are created by bad film or processing.

I tend to agree with the skeptics on the topic of orbs and lean towards believing orbs are just dust. However, Pump It Up, where these photos were taken, prides itself on the fact that it bleaches all the play equipment in the room between parties. The room is clean and as dust free as any room can be. Of course, weather conditions can't be considered important at an indoor party. It could be dust on the lense of the camera, but then why would the previous and following pictures in the series be orb free if I hadn't cleaned the lens? The long and short of it is that I'm not sure what to make of the orbs at Pump it Up. If they are ghosts, what are they doing at a children's play place? The place is new and has no tragic history or ancient past and this would tend to argure that the orbs are just dust, but dust from where?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Oscar the Therapy Cat

I have blogged before about animals' uncanny ability to sense the supernatural in ways that people can not.  One of my favorite examples of this is Oscar.   Oscar is a therapy cat that  lives at Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island.  Oscar has been doing rounds at this nursing home since 2007.  He walks from patient to patient and sniffs them and when he finds a patient that is near death,  Oscar stops and curls up next to that patient.   Oscar has been reliable in his predictions of death since 2007.    He has never been wrong.

So reliable and fascinating are Oscar's predictions that he has been featured in the very prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.  Doctor's compete for years to get a piece of a publication placed in this journal, but Oscar topped them all.  One of the first cases involved a patient who had a blood clot in her leg that was ice cold at the time. Oscar wrapped his body around her leg and stayed until the woman died. In another instance, the doctor had made a determination of impending death based on the patient's condition, while Oscar simply walked away, causing the doctor to believe that Oscar's streak (12 at the time) had ended. However, it would be later discovered that the doctor's prognosis was simply 10 hours too early – Oscar later visited the patient, who died two hours later.

Oscar's stories are so prolific that an entire book has been written about him, he has been featured on CNN, he was featured in an episode of House,  and he has been on CBS.  Doctor's and scientists have struggled to explain Oscar, but to me the answer is easy.   Cat's see things we don't.  They see ghosts and they know when death is coming.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Snake Goddess of Belle Isle

My family is from Detroit and I spent much of my time there as a child.  My family remembers back to the days when Detroit was a flourishing city.   My grandmother tells the same stories over and over again and  her favorite stories involve taking the street car to the theater.  There was nothing more wonderful in her mind than travelling through the streets of Detroit in search of adventure.  Time has faded my grandmother's mind and her lust for adventure and it has certainly been equally as cruel to Detroit, which is now a ghost town.  Even my childhood memories of this city seem brilliant in comparison to what it's become.

It is appropriate that Detroit has now become filled with ghost stories and legends.  My favorite Detroit ghost story is from Belle Isle.  Ottawa Indian lore tells of the beautiful daughter of chief Sleeping Bear. Her beauty was so stunning that the Chief kept her hidden from the eyes of young suitors by hiding her in a covered boat on the Detroit River. One day when bringing her some food, the winds, awed by her beauty, blew the covers off of the boat and it floated down the river. as it floated past the lodge of the keeper of the water gates, he also was stunned by her beauty and retrieved to boat and brought the young beauty into his tent, this enraged the winds who fell upon him, and buffeted him wildly about until he finally died from the beating. The winds, sorry for uncovering her beauty, returned her back to her father, Chief Sleeping Bear and begged the chief not to hide her from them again, but to let them enjoy her beauty. To protect her the chief, fearful that other men would follow, placed the princess on an island in the Detroit River and sought the aid of the Great Spirits to protect his beloved daughter by surrounding the island with snakes to protect her from intruders.


There she could run free with the winds around her, The spirits immortalized her by transforming her into a white doe and letting her live out eternity on the island. When the first white men appeared in the area they originally named the island Hog Island. but once they became familiar with the island, they renamed it Rattlesnake Island. It was not much later that it became known as Belle Isle. To this day, the maiden's spirit can be seen from time to time dancing in the wind on the island and most unsuspecting picnickers don't realize that the lovely girl in Native costume is not a modern miss dressed for a pageant, but is in reality the Goddess of Belle Isle. also know as the Snake Goddess of Belle Isle.

People who have seen this ghost say that she if you park on the island by the woods and wait in your car the Snake Goddess will come and call too you. She will signal to you to follow her into her kingdom

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Church Street Cemetery

The Church Street Cemetery is tucked neatly away in the shadows of the lazy oaks of Mobile, Alabama.  The moss drips off the trees and brushes the ancient tomb stones. The graves here are old.  Some of them go back two hundred years or more.  During Mardi Gras,  the cemetery is almost festive and several of the tomb stones are covered in strange bright decorations.  Mardi Gras beads hang off some and  tiny plastic monkeys covered a grave that payed homage to someone who loved to throw a party.  The bright colors are a stark contrast to what should be a somber scene.   Everything seems a little out of place and visitors aren't sure whether to surrender to the sense that there are ghosts everywhere or crack open and beer and start to party.  Either option would be appropriate in this setting.

In fact,  this little cemetery is the starting point for the largest parades of Mardi Gras.  Buried in this cemetery is Joe Cain.   Joe Cain was a civil war veteran who fought for the South and is credited for the rebirth of Mardi Gras traditions that had been abandoned since the French left the Gulf.   Partly to awaken a depressed and defeated city and partly to spit in the faces of triumphant union soldiers,  on the first mardi gras following the civil war Joe dressed up as a Chicksaw Indian and paraded up and down Government Street.  He was joined by other revelers and a tradition was born in Mobile that would take hold of the city every year that followed.   In 1974,  Joe Cain's Merry Widows were formed as one of the most interesting Mardi Gras Societies.  Every Sunday, Joe Cain Day, before Fat Tuesday these widows dress in black and go to the Church Street Cemetery.   The parade starts from the cemetery and follows the women, dressed all in black, around the parade route drinking and hurling beads.   Even from the grave,  Joe Cain is the life of the party.

So you have to wonder if Joe Cain's ghost is anything to fear.  His ghost certainly wanders this cemetery waiting for the party to come to him again.   His presence and the presence of other ghosts can be felt as soon as you stepthrough gates of  the cemetery.   A cold chill travels up your spine and I wasn't sure whether to shutter or laugh.  My children ran through this cemetery with the EMF, which lit up like a Christmas tree.    I didn't catch anything on film here nor did anything come up on the voice recorder, but the ghosts were a real presence in this cemetery.  Haunted America even ranked this graveyard as one of the most haunted cemeteries in Alabama.   Yet despite the ghosts,  I still felt this was more of a happy place.  I felt that maybe the ghosts waiting here were waiting for the next party and that their only unfinished business might be the next Mardi Gras.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Tragic Ghost of Garbrielle Bonnet

Mobile, Alabama is on of my favorite places.   It has a long history that mixes cultures and blends stories ina  a way that is entirely new.   We travel to Mardi Gras in Mobile every year and I was sure to pick up a few ghost stories along the way.  This was one of my favorites.  It plays to my romantic side and brings to mind Waterhouse portraits of Ophelia.  

Mobile was celebrating the third Mobile Mardi Gras in 1703. The lovely Gabrielle Bonnet came to Mobile aboard the ship called Pelican in 1702. Breathtakingly beautiful, Gabrielle had been one of about two dozen young girls recruited by the French government to marry and mother the future of colonial France. These girls came to be known as the pelican girls.

Gabrielle was very lovely and was very popular among the colonial French Canadians who were stationed there. However, one man, who's name has been lost, won her heart and soon married her. Gabrielle fell deeply in love during the required month long courtship. Sadly, the day after her honeymoon night, her new husband rode off from the fort and deserted his young, beautiful wife. For a few months, Gabrielle wandered around Old Mobile with her black hair unbound, still wearing her white wedding dress.

The sympathetic Mobilians tried to look after the grieving girl, but she would not be consoled and her behavior became more and more erratic. She often cried out his name and wandered around the woods screaming in heartbroken anguish. Having no money, and no family back in Paris, Gabrielle was hopelessly destitute. During the Mardi Gras celebration of 1703, Gabrielle ran into the woods surrounding the fort in her white gown with long wavy black hair flowing behind her. She was never heard of again, while she was alive. The following Mardi Gras some of the superstitious Indians of the fort reported hearing Gabrielle crying out in the woods around them. Since these first reports, many people have reported seeing the sad Gabrielle wandering around during Mardi Gras looking for her lost lover. Stay out of the woods during Mardi Gras. You may see the ghost of Gabrielle Bonnet!

Monday, February 22, 2010

The White Queen of Chenanceau

During my castle tour of the Loire Valley, I listened to many audio tours and studied the history of each castle. There was no mention of anything supernatural. They contained only the facts. Interestingly, my son's audio tour of the castle of Chenanceau was quite different from mine. It was designed for young children and told a detailed account of the ghost that haunts the castle.


Chenanceau is one of more stunning of the castles in the Loire Valley. It is a beautiful Renaissance castle that stretches across the Loire-Indes River. It was constructed in phases and is a uniquely feminine castle. All of it's owners and occupants have been women and the castle itself seems to whisper this character. The castle was taken by King Henry II in 1517 for his mistress Diane de Portier. After the king's death, his wife Catherine de Medici, took the castle back from Diane and began the elaborate construction of the gallery that stretches across the river. It was completed in 1577.

It is this gallery that is haunted by the ghost of the White Queen. The White Queen was the wife of King Henry III. Following his murder, she retired to Chenonceau and clothed herself only in white. She spent the rest of her life mourning his loss. Even her bedchamber reflects her sorrow. It is black, painted with white flowers.

According to my son's audio tour, her ghost still wanders the halls of the chateau forever mourning her lost love. She is seen by many visitors as a white clad specter weeping in the hall. Many have also reported seeing images of her in pictures taken of the hall. I have included the pictures we took of the gallery. It may be my imagination, but I always think I see a soft white form by the

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Devilish Madame LaLaurie and Her Haunted Mansion

This is a famous ghost story and any google search will produce a plethora of conflicting information on this site. I first learned about this location on a haunted New Orleans tour and although parts or the story may be fiction, if even a portion of the story is true it is horrible. As on most such tours, I never saw anything to indicate a real haunting, but the story is horrifying enough.

According to haunted New Orleans tours and Haunted America, the LaLaurie Mansion is the most haunted site in New Orleans. Sources say that the house is filled with tormented screams and terrifying wails. They describe chains rattling at night and the apparitions in chains wandering the halls. The house has been many things since the famous Delphine de LaLaurie abandoned it, but it hasn't been anything for as it has been quickly abandoned by every resident afterwards. Some stories indicate that the ghosts here are aggressive and that they have attacked residents with whips and some even claim that multiple deaths have resulted from the hellish, supernatural residents of 1140 Royal Street.

The history of this mansion can only be confirmed to a point. It is known that Delphine LaLaurie was a wealthy, socialite who resided until 1833. Many accounts from contemporaries show that Madam LaLaurie was uncommonly cruel and beastly to her slaves, even for a time when cruelty to slaves was somewhat common. Following a kitchen fire in the house in 1833, the remains of over 100 dead slaves were found. After this, the evidence becomes weaker. Many sources indicate that firefighters entering the house found a room in the house in which slaves had been tortured in the most gruesome ways. It is said that some slaves had been subjected to many unnecessary surgeries and had had their sex organs removed, mutilated, or sewn onto other slaves. Other slaves had their mouths sewn shut with feces in them and their intestines removed and nailed to the floor. The list of atrocities goes on and on and are so vile that I shutter to even write about them.

Whether the more gruesome elements of this story are true or not, it is true that LaLaurie was a beast and a serial killer and that reports continue that this house is tormented by constant ghosts and spirits. Anyone curious about this house will be easily appeased, as it is a regular part of all haunted New Orleans tours and the guides stories about the house are beyond chilling.  However,  the house's inability to maintain an owner still remains a problem.  Nicolas Cage bought the house in 2007 and it was foreclosed on in 2008.  The house is still vacant and owned by the bank.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Axe Murder of the Franklin Family

I don't live in a very big city so it  seems odd to me that our little town is rocked by mass murders and bizarre killings more than it should for its population.  Last week,  UAH, where I went to college, was devastated by the shooting of 6 professors by a neurobiologist who didn't get tenure.   The week before that a child shot another child at the middle school down the street.

It wasn't so long ago that another murder shocked our little city.  This murder was too close to home.  A young man who went to our church, who my parents taught in catechism, whose family my family knew well, decided to kill his family with the blunt end of an axe.  Everyone knew Jeffrey Franklin was troubled.  He'd been going to counseling and had ADD. He'd been on ritalin.  A friend of mine's younger brother was best friends with Jeffrey and he said that Jeffrey was an angsty young fellow, but what teenager isn't?  Jeffrey wasn't that different than 50% of the teenagers I new.  He wore all black and spoke out against authority, but he didn't horde guns or speak of murder.  He didn't use drugs or torture puppies.  He was just another teen that was uncomfortable in his skin.

The night Jeffrey Franklin took the blunt end of an axe and hacked his parents to death, he also did serious damage to his two younger siblings.  They  had severe trauma and brain damage.  One of his sisters was at dance and escaped the attacks, but no one else in the family was shown any mercy.  Jeffrey had spoken out many times against his parents but he had always loved his siblings.  So when he attacked his three baby siblings and bashed their skulls in with all the strength in his body it seemed like something monsterous must have taken control of him.  The attacks were so brutal that the first responders at the seen of the crime had to leave the house to vomit.   Many had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for years to come just from seeing the attrocities that had been committed by one young man. That night I watched Jeffrey on the news.  He taunted the news cameras and stuck his tongue out at those who were watching him.  He had taken the police on a high speed pursuit that had ended in kicking and profanity.   Jeffrey laughed, dripping with blood, as he cursed and fought and spit at those who watched.

Three nights later Jeffrey was on the news again.  This time he was quiet, penetant.  He was remorseful, almost teary.  He wasn't the same boy who had mocked his parents as they lay drowning in their own blood or who had brutally attempted to hack his five year old sister and bay brother to death.

I have always had a theory about Jeffrey Franklin and his complete transformation.  The lawyers say it was the ritalin, but I've seen too many people on ritalin to believe that is possible.  The one thing Jeffrey had been getting into prior to his parents death was the dark arts.  According to friends, he had been attempting to summon demons and use magic to improve his life.  I believe he became too successful and whatever it was that he summoned took hold of him and wouldn't let him go.  Jeffrey claimed he couldn't remember what happened that horrible night.  I'm one of the few people that actually believed him.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Old Gods, Ghosts, and 2012 Prophecies

Chichen Itza in Mexico is one of the most monumental of a series of Mayan ruins in the Yucatan area.  Mayan culture has been polularized lately due to some poorly historically structured films and because of the Mayan 2012 apocalypse predictions.   However,  very little that has been popularized about this amazingly advanced and complicated culture has been accurate.   My fascination with the Mayan culture began with my trip to Chichen Itza.  We were lead through the sprawling ruins of the fallen city by an amazingly knowledgable Mayan guide that explained to us that Mayan history came in phases and that the ruins were in layers depending on their period of origin.   There were the Olmec, Toltec, and Classical Mayan phases, none of which were surviving when the first Europeans set foot on the shores of the New World.

One of the most fascinating things our guide explained to us about the Mayans had to do with the popular 2012 prophecy.  At the time we travelled, the 2012 prophecy was far less well known.  Our guide told us that the Mayan calender was cyclical and that the Mayan's believed that the world was born and died many times.   He talked about the last apocalypse.  He said that it was an apocalypse of water and that the earth was covered in a great flood.  He said that when that age, the age of water, was brought to and end by the flood a new age was born, an age of fire.  We are now in the age of fire.  In 2012 our age of fire will end in fire and an age of ether will be born.  The end of the world will also be the beginning of a new world.

The history of Chichen Itza itself is bathed in blood.  The Mayan's were deeply religious and believed that it was a great honor to die for the gods.  In the Popul Vuh, the Mayan Bible, the Mayan's lay out their faith in sometimes tedious details.   Their faith was deep and long and they were willing to die for it.  In fact, some of the best athletes that competed in the famous ball courts were sacraficed.   The Mayan's didn't fear death and see sacrafice with dread and horror.  They saw death as a passage to the next world.   Chichen Itza was the site of mass sacrafices.

Chichen Itza may have also died in violence.  Some archeaological evidencs shows that in 1221 a great civil war may have contributed to the disappearance of Mayan Culture in the great cities at the time.  By the time the Europeans saw Chichen Itza, it was already a ghost city.

What is most interesting about the ghosts that are said to wander these old ruins is that it is not the great pyramids that are haunted.   The places where the sacrafices went on and where the stone was stained with blood remain quiet.  It is the old observatory that is said to be haunted by the spectors of old priests and Mayan men.   Many tourists and guides have described seeing spectors wandering this site.   The Mayans were brilliant astronomers and were able to compute the circumference of the earth long before Europeans.    They mapped the stars and predicted astrological events so perfectly that we can still count on their astrological predictions to come true.   The observatory was in many ways the most important place to them as their religion was deeply connected to the movement of the stars.  It therefore seems appropriate that it is this place that the ghosts cling too.  The ghosts of the sacraficed have gone to the embrace of the gods, but those that searched for knowledge in the light of the stars are still lingering, searching for answers in the night sky.

When Spirits Walk

I met a wonderful woman this morning. I met with Ms. Jacquelyn Procter Gray. She is the proprietor of the Huntsville Ghost Walk in Huntsville, Alabama. She is the keeper of North Alabama’s best ghost stories and a brilliant historian and writer. She’s written several books for History Press including Wicked North Alabama and has also written a wonderful collection of ghost stories for Author House called When Spirits Walk. This is my go to book for North Alabama hauntings and has been my field guide for ghost hunting locally, so it was an honor to meet her and have her tell me her stories and her inspirations. What I love most about her book, When Spirit Walk is the attention she pays to historical detail. Every chapter is a little history lesson that gives you a portrait of times gone by. At times, the stories can be creepy and chilling , but they are always fascinating. I have always found Alabama history to be completely bland, but in Ms. Gray’s capable hands history becomes an adventure and a journey.


My favorite Chapters in the book are The Haunted Train Depot, which takes you back to the Civil War and tells the story of the fall of Huntsville to the Federal Army. Wrapped in bloody detail and with a lovely picture of a ghost staring down from a second story window, this chapter is sure to pique the interest of any lover of ghost stories. I also love her chapter on the Dallas Mill, which I have discussed here on several occasions. Her retelling of this story is wonderful and worth the read. In short, if you are looking for a book on regional ghost stories and are interested in Southern history Ms. Jacquelyn Gray’s book is a fabulous read worth the time. And if you are living here in the South and interested in ghost stories, if her ghost tours have any of the detail she gave me this morning, you are in for a real treat!

You can learn more at http://www.huntsvilleghostwalk.com/.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What Kind of Haunting Do You Have?

The more I write about ghosts, the more I realize how important it is to define what kind of ghosts or spiritual disturbance might be lingering in each haunted place.    I began researching this topic thinking there would be an easy breakdown to types of hauntings.  This was not the case.  Every different website I have visited and book I've picked up has broken down ghosts and hauntings differently.    There are some that classify ghosts according to geography and break them down into hospital hauntings, battlefield hauntings, house hauntings etc.    There are others who classify ghosts by form.   They break ghosts up into orbs, ectoplasm, dark ghosts, conical ghosts, etc.   The Weiser Field Guide to Ghosts breaks ghosts up into 26 categories that include possessive ghosts, religious ghosts, materializations, and spirits.   The spiritual research foundation is very scientific in their break down of ghosts and uses the chart below to categorize ghosts.




I have broken types of hauntings down more simply based on what I've found in other sources, what I've seen, and what others have told me.   I've also made my breakdown a little more simple.  

1.  Classic Haunting:   A classic haunting is the most commonly described haunting.  This is the lingering ghost that seems to cling to a location.  This type of ghost can also be attached to an object.  It is the attachment of the deceased that lingers and keeps them bound to this realm of existance. It is the ghost in the haunted house that is usually harmless, but sometimes a little creepy.

2.  Angry Ghost Haunting:  Many believe that when someone dies in a situation that results in intense anger, fear, or hurt that emotion binds the ghost to the realm of the living.   This angry ghost often permeates an entire location with a negative feeling.  People often describe places with this type of ghost as having a bad feeling or feeling wrong.

3.  Denial Ghost Haunting:  This is a haunting that is caused by a ghost that doesn't want to admit they are dead.  They go through the motions of life and refuse to let go.

4.  Poltergeist:  This haunting is associated with moving objects and things vanishing.  Although this type of haunting seems like a ghost at first,  it is usually caused by a person who is going through incredible angst.  This person may have psychic powers that they are unaware of and can cause mayhem without knowing they are doing it.

5.  Demons:  These are malevolent spirits that attack the living.  They are not ghosts and were never human and seem to be out to hurt people.  The classic Haunting on Larabee Street may have fallen into this class as the house was new and couldn't have been the residence of the deceased.
This is my very reductionistic classification system and I know that there may be other systems, but for a quick way to get a sense of what your are dealing with I think it is very efficient.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Quigley House

The Quigley House is a perfect examply of a Southern Mansion. Walking by this old house, you might feel like you’ve been swept back in time to the old days of the South when Southern Belles sat lazily on their long front porches drinking tea and fanning themselves. The house has been perfectly restored and is a pleasure to visit and see.


The Quigley House wasn’t always this nice. Forty  years ago the house sat vacant. It had been abandoned and forgotten and had turned into a shell of its former beauty. The Quigley house was originally built by the Gilmore family that lived and died in the house, but it had sat vacant so long many people thought that it was meant to be destroyed. It wasn’t until the Junior Miss program purchased and restored the house that it began to resemble the house it had been.

Unfortunately, all the renovations in the world couldn’t entirely undo the all the damage in the house. Some damage lingers. This kind of damage can’t be seen. It waits in the walls, whispering of secrets of forgotten times and old faces. It comes in the form of ghosts that wander the darkened lonely portions of old houses preventing them from ever feeling entirely new.

Those that now work in the Quigley House are very familiar with the ghosts that linger in its hallways. During the day, when the offices are full, they laugh about it and call the ghost that haunts the house Mrs. Quigley. Sometimes they talk to her and joke with her. They tell Mrs. Quigley to stop all that noise or to turn the lights back off. But when Mrs. Barrow, the director of the Junior Miss program is alone in the house this boldness fades. Mrs. Barrow says the haunting isn’t subtle. When she is downstairs alone, she can hear people walking and stomping upstairs. She hears furniture moving and loud thuds. For a while she isn’t scared, but then she remembers she’s the only one in the house and a chill runs up her spine.

Mobile is famous for its rain storms and often beats Seattle for the title of rainiest city in the country. It doesn’t rain like it does in Seattle, however. The rain explodes out of nowhere and it pours sheets of gray water out of the sky. The storms are violent and fast painting the sky with lightning and fury. During one of these storms, Mrs. Barrow found herself alone in the Quigley House. The streets flooded and traffic stopped. There was no way for Mrs. Barrow to leave. Unable to leave, she had to sit out the storm. She was trapped in the house with all its banging and clanging and for a minute she panicked and almost cried out and fled into the storm. Mrs. Barrow says she will never let that happen again. She’ll never be left alone with the ghosts of Quigley House again.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Bay House

One of my favorite things about traveling is finding the unexpectedly fascinating location.  I travel a good deal and have stayed in many rental houses and hotels, on a rare occasion one of them is really interesting.  On my recent trip down to the Gulf for Mardi Gras, we got lucky and our rental house was interesting.

I am not scared by much. I can wander cemeteries alone and sleep in haunted places with my two boys by myself.  I've walked the streets of Detroit alone at night.  I am more fascinated by the history than scared by actual things, but our rental house on this trip scared me at times.  It was a strange, cold place with a wall of open windows and view out onto a dark and lonely beach.  The rental was typical of Mobile.  Mobile, Alabama is a city where extreme poverty is a problem.  Like it's sister city, New Orleans, the poor are everywhere and there are poor neighborhoods spread out throughout the city.  Mobile also has wealth in pockets and the juxtaposition of this wealth with this poverty is extreme.

The house we stayed in was a perfect example of this.   We had to drive past houses that were on cinder blocks and houses with eviction notices nailed to the door to get to the Bay where our lonely beauty stood coldly leaning into the soft earth.  The house didn't fit in.  It didn't belong where it was.  There was nothing around it for a block and all around that block there was poverty.  The house itself was beautiful, but cold.  It seemed impossible to heat the house sufficiently.   Nothing worked.  There was no phone lines.  It was too perfect and utterly isolated.

We slept fine the first night and the first day we went out.  When we came back all the TV's were on.  I called the realtor to see if anyone else had the key.  She knew of no one and asked if I wanted her to call the police.  I said no and as I was feeling ill, I went to bed while everyone else went out.  When I awoke, things had been moved.  My medicine was gone.  There was a plunger on top of the toilet.  I had been the only one in the house.    Worse than all this, I felt ill at ease in the cold and elegant rental.  I was uncomfortable being alone.  I felt like I was being watched.

The next night our group size increased and by sheer numbers the ill ease left.  The children decided to play with my ghost hunting kit and the EMF lit up like a Christmas tree.  Closets with no electricity, the china cabinet, and odd corners all seemed to contain ghosts.   The children laughed and played and the adults drank and the ghosts didn't ruin anyone's fun, but this strange house on the lonely shore of the bay in Mobile was certainly the first haunted place where I actually felt a little off put. 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Hanged Man's Tree

I have always thought that Mobile, Alabama has a better Mardi Gras than New Orleans.  The floats are more beautiful, the throws are better, and there is less nudity and vomit.    So every year we travel down to the deep South where the lazy oaks are heavy laden with moss to become part of what is a cultural phenomenom.  

Like New Orleans, Mobile is filled with strange stories and has a very interesting history.   In many ways, their histories are very similar.    They both share many things and one of the things they share is an amazing abundance of ghost stories.   I was lucky in that the people we were staying with seemed to know all of these stories and loved sharing them with me.  My favorite story they told me was about an old tree by the Church Street Graveyard.

  According to legend,  there was a man who was having an affair with someone else's wife.  This man was caught in the act by the husband by the Church Street Graveyard.  Somehow, the husband ended up shot and although all the evidence pointed to the wife's lover, he swore on everything holy that he didn't do it.  He proclaimed his innocence all the way to the gallows, but no one listened.  As he stepped up to the gallows,  he said that on the very spot where he had been caught, a tree would grow.  He said this tree would bare witness to his  innocense.   The trees roots would grow deep and strong and nothing would ever be able to tear it down.

His promise came true and a mighty oak grew up from that very spot.   It's survived hurricanes and storms and downtown development and serves as a reminder of his innocence. 

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sleeping with Jesse James' Ghost


For the last few nights my family and I have been traveling off the beaten path looking at strange haunted places that we might normally miss.  We've thrown ourselves into the middle of things and slept with ghosts and found ourselves in places without internet and places that my GPS can't find.   Our first stop on our travels was the historic St. James Hotel in Selma, Alabama.
The St. James Hotel in Selma Alabama seems haunted before you even pull up to it. Just driving through downtown Selma to the steps of the hotel makes you feel as if you are driving through a ghost town. The once splendid down town speaks of better times, but has been mostly abandoned so that as you pull up to the St. James, you feel like the only person on earth.


We were the only people staying at the St. James the night we arrived. It was cold outside and the legendary courtyard fountain outside was frozen. The painting of Jesse James’ mistress seemed to follow us with her eyes as we entered. The young man who stood alone behind the desk, Josh, happily pulled out the pictures of ghosts that had been taken throughout the hotel. He also took us on a tour through the elegant dinning room and historically perfect saloon. You could almost imagine yourself stepping backwards in time and seeing Jesse James himself seated in the back corner with his gang.

The St. James was once owned by a slave who became the first black congressman. Many of the white locals avoided the hotel because they were racists, but this didn’t stop Jesse James who made the hotel his headquarters in the 1880’s.Since that time, the hotel has been sitting empty.  The hotel was abandoned for over a hundred years and has only recently been rennovated and returned to it's original state.  Many visitors have seen Jesse and his mistress wandering the corridors of the St. James. Others have heard Jesse’s dog barking. A group of psychics reported seeing an entire group of ghosts in the courtyard.

Our stay at the St. James was unnervingly quiet. The hotel groans at night and the doors open and close on their own, but we saw nothing else of the multitude of ghosts that haunt this hotel. Since the hotel was empty, we were able to roam about the place freely and explore every nook and cranny of it. Except for Josh up front, it was just us and the ghosts.

As we wandered the old hotel, we took dozens of pictures, did EMF readings, and asked questions using the EVP recorder. There was no evidence of ghosts in any of this. However, my son’s photos were again filled with orbs and odd shapes.

We slept in Jesse James’ room. Josh explained to us that it was the only room in the hotel with a window in the closet because the famous outlaw needed to have a view from all angles. Josh also told us how Jesse checked out of the hotel. He slid out the window in our room and jumped in the river just behind the hotel fleeing from the law. We slept well in his old bed, but we were all awakened on a few occasions by what sounded like a dog. We checked out early after we ate our continental breakfast at Jesse James’ old table and I must say that this old hotel was definitely one the creepiest places I’ve ever slept.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Simple Southern Recipe for Exorcising Haunted Houses

I learned an easy Southern recipe for performing an exorcism on a haunted house today.  A few of the nurses I know gave me this wonderful glimpse into Southern culture and a way that they say always works to clear a house of dark spirits.

One of the nurses I know  learned this after her grandfather passed away.  Apparently, her grandfather  was a cranky old man who yelled a lot and called people names.  He was not the type of spirit you would want lingering in your house.  When he was alive, he used to demand people get him things.  When he was sick, he always yelled for his water.  After he passed on, his spirit kept barking orders and he was especially noisy about the water.

Her grandmother knew just what to do about the problem.  She used an old Southern remedy.  She called several of her lady friends over and they did a prayer service in the house and when they were done they used red nail polish to mark every door frame in the house with a small cross.  This ritual was originally done in the owner's blood, but her grandmother didn't want blood all over her house and she figured nail polish would do just as well.  It did work just as well and no one heard from grandpa's ghost again.

My friend was lucky she learned this old remedy, because she needed it again later on.  She bought a house that she later learned had been built on the site of another house.  The first house had been burnt down and taken a few souls to their untimely death with it.  The developers had built a new house on top of the ashes of the old house.  My friend's house was a problem because of this.  One door in particular opened on it's own and no matter how many times it was locked or latched it always popped back open.  My friend used the same ritual her grandmother had used when she was a child and the door never opened again.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Room Where Time Moves Backwards

While I was out investigating various ghost stories,  a man pull me aside and told me a story he thinks may have something to do with ghosts.  He wasn't exactly sure what happened, but he knew it was very odd and more than a little creepy.

He told me about a hotel in some rural town in Alabama that he used to visit with his wife.  The hotel, The Tallahassee, was very old and has since been demolished.  For a long time this old hotel was one of his favorite places to go.   They went there one time and stayed in a room he had never been in before.  His wife and he settled in and then they noticed  that there was no clock.  They needed to get up early in the morning, so he called the lobby and asked for a clock to be sent up.

Someone brought a clock up immediately and they plugged it into the wall.   The clock was working perfectly, but it was going backwards.  Another hotel employee came up and together they went to another room and tried the clock.  It worked right in the next room.   Together, the men decided to switch clocks and took a working clock from the next room and brought it into their room.  They plugged the clock into a different outlet and this new clock also went backwards.

After several attempts, the man gave up on the clock.  He called down to the lobby again and asked for a wake up call.  There seemed to be no way to get time to flow in the right direction in that particular room.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Birmingham Public Library Archives

The old Birmingham Public Library is one of the most striking buildings in downtown Birmingham.  It's darkened windows seem to hint at movement even when the library is closed.  Sitting across from the old Library two nights ago,  I thought I saw a face staring out at me.  I watched it and it watched me and for the longest time nothing happened.  I took a picture and went to set the camera down and when I returned it was gone as quickly as it had come. 

The building was built in 1927 and was the Birmingham Public Library until 1984.   At this time the primary library was moved across the street into a modern building of glass and harsh angles.  The two buildings are attached by a catwalk and the architectural differerences between these two buildings that are connected like siamese twins are so vast that they should be in different countries.  But the two buildings are bound together by their common purpose.  

In 1984 when the old building was partially abandoned it took on a new purpose and became the archives where the old books were stored and the history was kept.  There are no stories of bizarre deaths here.  There are no horror tales of Indian burial grounds or murdered children, but the ghosts that have been described in this building are so terrifying that some of the librarians have refused to go back into the stacks alone and without every light on.  Many staff members know about the haunting in a general sort of way.  They know that doors open and close on their own and phantom noises fill the building when it is empty, but a few report an even more active haunting.

The auditorium is the most haunted portion of this old library and it is in the auditorium that a young librarian described seeing a man appear out of nowhere.   The librarian was mortified and she was even more mortified when he vanished as quickly as he came.    An electrician also saw this man.   He was working on the electrical problems that permeate the building when a man materialized in front of him and vanish again.  
Other staff members, have described the elevator moving on it's own and the doors opening with no one in them.  Some people hypothesize that the building is haunted by it's builder, but no one can be sure.  The man that wanders the halls of the library never leaves enough of a trace for anyone to know his identity.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ghost Hunting in Birmingham

I began my investigations in Birmingham with the historic Tutwiler hotel, which I immediately assumed was not haunted.  I was completely bowled over by the human activity within the hotel and the unhelpful staff.   After the night had quieted and the party ended,  I awoke with the dawn and started again.  My son was more eager than me and was up before the sun taking EMF readings and taking pictures of the room.   I was much less enthusiastic, but he showed me a picture he took of the balcony outside our room with a very odd white form in it and my enthusiasm was restored.

We all got up and went down to torture the morning staff with our ghostly questions. The early morning staff did not have to contend with drunk men hobbling around the lobby or bridal parties giggling at them, so they were much more helpful and they told me in hushed tones about the ghost on the 6th floor.  Apparently, the Tutwiler I was in was not the orignal Tutwiler.  That Tutwiler had been demolished and the building that was now the Tutwiler was in fact an apartment complex called The Ridgely.   On the 6th floor,  a small child had lived and died in her apartment.  None of the staff were sure of her name, but one young man told me that her ghost is known to be particularly active on the 6th floor.  Luckily, our room had been on the sixth floor.   He also said that rooms 604 and 614 had frequently reported seeing her ghost.  Our room shared a balcony with 614, making my son's picture all the more intriguing.  His picture is above. 

Another side note,   I thought I saw a ghost in the window across from mine last night.  The picture of  what I saw is to the right.  I looked into the history of this building and it is the Birmingham Public library which is thought to be haunted.  Tomorrow's story will give more information on this building and my investigations of it.

 The last picture at the bottom tonight is just for fun.   I always find it very strange that Birmingham's five points is centered around a somewhat demonic looking goat man that is strategically placed in front of a church.  Birmingham is a ghost hunter's  dream.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Tutwiler

I took a little road trip today and traveled to the famous Tutwiler Hotel in Birmingham, Alabama.  This hotel is famous for it's friendly ghost,  Colonel Tutwiler.  He supposedly likes to turn lights on and off in the kitchen and make a rather large mess from time to time. I have asked as many staff as I have been able to find about this playful spirit and two staff members looked at me like I was insane and another told me the story like he was reading it from a historic brochure.  

I travelled here late at night and found the streets of Birmingham to be virtually deserted.  This city seems to lack the kind of night life, restraunts, or bars that would bring people to wander through it's labrynthian streets.   The tall buildings overshadow empty roads and many buildings seem to be unused.   At night, the city itself seems to be a ghost town.   I am told that with morning, the streets will come to life, but now it seems to be entirely forgotten and it is a Saturday night.

From this quiet, I entered into the Tutwiler and found myself knocked over by noise and comotion.  The hotel is filled with throngs of guests for parties and weddings.  In this frolicing atmosphere, it is hard to imagine that this hotel is the one that is haunted.  The hotel itself is stunning.  It's fascade is intricate and covered in the kind of elaborate molding modern builders seem to have forgotten how to make.   The details within the hotel also adds to the atmosphere.   Despite all this beauty and history,  I have found it impossible to feel any haunting when the hotel is bursting with such life and vigor.

However,  as I have sat staring blankly at the odd building outside my window, I can't help but feel chills creep up and down my spine.  One window even seems to have something in it that looks like a face staring out at me.   The building appears to be an old library and has the quote "Books are the legacy that a great genius leaves to mankind,"  engraved on the stone in very large letters.  I will have to look into the building in the morning.   The pictures above are the pictures of the Tutwiler.  The pictures below are of the library across the street.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Phantom Soldier

I have been out and about talking with people about ghosts and trying to find the origin of certain local ghost stories.   In my journey,  I've discovered something wonderful.  Once you start asking about ghosts, people pull you aside and tell you the most amazing ghost stories.  Here is one of the wonderful stories I heard today.

This story came from a man of science who had always considered himself a skeptic.  He went on a trip to a secluded cabin in the woods with his wife.   It was a small, rustic cabin with a field behind it and a hot tub on the back deck.  He and his wife were having a good time in the hot tub and he took a picture of his wife with her back to the field.  Later, when he studied the picture, he saw a phantom man standing behind his wife in the field.  The man was dressed in old clothes and looked like a soldier.   As a skeptic, this man did everything he could to explain the diaphonous figure standing behind his wife, clutching a hat.   But there was simply no rational explaination for the figure.   The man then went to the cabin's owner and asked about the cabin.  The owner explained that the field behind the cabin had been the site of  a minor skirmish or two during the civil war and that the cabin had always been the site of strange occurences.  I asked the man if I could get the information from him so I could rent this haunted cabin.  He was reluctant to pass the information on and as we were speaking, the owner of the cabin, whom he hadn't spoken to in over a year, called him. 

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Reliability of Internet Ghost Stories

I love finding ghost stories on the internet.  There are several websites I go to on a regular basis to find interesting stories.  The internet is cluttered with sites that list the haunted locations through out the world and usually do some kind of write up or short description of the haunted site.  Often times, the write up seems to be word for word the same on multiple sites so they are obviously getting their little stories from one location that they share or they borrow from each other.

Over the last few weeks,  I've gone out and explored many of the stories I've found on these sites.  I travelled to their source and interviewed people and read the history books.   What I've found is that in most cases there may be a grain a truth in the stories, but much of the story itself is false.  It seems that these false stories spread so they are papered over the internet until the lie almost seems like the truth just by the sheer number of times the lie has been told.  It reminds me of that game I used to play as a child where one child would whisper in another child's ear and that child would whisper in another child's ear all saying the same thing until it reached the end and the end sentence would bear no resemblance to the beginning one.

An example of this can be found in the Space Camp haunting I found online.  According to online sources, there was some kind of explosion during some kind of construction there and this explosion lead to fatalities.  The ghosts of the unfortunate victims of this explosion still wander the halls of space camp.  After I completed my research, I found that there was never any kind of explosion at space camp.   In 1999, a construction worker did fall from some scaffolding, but that is nothing like the explosion described by these sites.

So this creates a big question for me.   How much obligation do we, as online ghost story collectors, have to make sure we are telling the truth.  It is true that ghost stories aren't held to the high standards of researched truth as other areas, but  should we have to make sure a ghost story is at least somewhat based in truth before we retell it?  If we don't have some standards is there any difference between our stories and fiction? 

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Ghosts of Mackinac

Mackinac Island is a small island pushed up against the North of Michigan in Lake Huron.  For me, this tiny island was a place of magic.  My earliest childhood memories started with trips on the Ferry across the lake to a place that seemed to be trapped in history.  I felt like a time traveller.   I'm not the first person to see this island as magic.  This island was used by the Ojibwa Indians long before the white man ever set foot in the North.   The natives thought that the island was the home of  Gitche Manitou  or the "Great Spirit".  This island was the first land to appear on earth after the great flood and was a magic place where all the tribes gathered in peace.
 
The French were the first whites to come to this island and they were followed by a long processiong of white men who took this once sacred island and used it for their various purposes.  I will explore these histories more deeply in later blogs about the many historic, haunted places on this mystic island.  Tonight, I will start with a simple Mackinac haunt. 

The people of Mackinac take their history very seriously and have worked to preserve it in a way that is unprecedented.  They've worked so hard to preserve it that as you step off the Ferry onto dry land the first thing you will notice is the complete absence of motor vehicles.   The usual noise of traffic has been replaced by the clop clop of horses hooves on the pavement and the occasional ring of a bicycle bell.  The streets are crowded with tourists during the summer.  They come seeking a glimpse into a lost world and a forgotten time.

Bob Hughey decided to open his little restaurant on Mackinac to capitalize on this tourist trade.  He moved there after World War II and his little restaurant thrived in the historic atmosphere of the island.  It did so well he decided to purchase the little pine cottage near his restaurant and expand.   He got much more than he expected, however.    Unknown to him,  in 1942, a woman had been brutally murdered in the pretty little cottage.  Her murder had never been solved and her ghost lingered in the cottage.

Mr. Hughey felt the ghostly presence very quickly and noticed doors opening and shutting and the sound of footsteps in empty halls as soon as he moved in to the quaint cottage.  This was only the beginning for poor Mr. Hughey who went on to be haunted by not only the murdered woman's ghost but multiple other ghosts that seemed trapped in the cottage.   He even walked into his room one night to see a diaphonous woman standing over his bed.   The haunted increased in intensity and malevolence the longer he lingered in his business/home.    He awoke at night to see strange men standing over his bed and the halls were filled with weeping at night.

Mr. Hughey fled Makinac in 1995.  He could no longer take the spirits that had tormented him so long and he moved his restaurant to St. Ignace.   The ghosts remain behind him and the stories of this haunted cottage still bring tourists to gaze on it's darkened windows.  The cottage is now a bed and breakfast and brave tourists can stay in this haunted location and witness the ghosts themselves.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Haunted University

According to many, The University of North Alabama is one of the most haunted universities in the country.  The ghosts here seem as common as the trees and many of the buildings have haunted histories.  UNA is Alabama's oldest four University and was founded in 1830.  It's history stretches into the dark parts of the civil war and back to desegregation.  It has seen all of Alabama's history and stood the test of time, but not without it's ghosts.

Among the many haunted locations on this campus, is Guillot University Center.  Long ago this old  building was a girl's dormitory.  Apparently,  a young woman who lived there wasn't very happy because she hung herself from an elevator shaft.  Since that time, the building has changed function but students report seeing her ghost wandering the halls.  Norton Auditorium is also said to be haunted by a ghost named George.  George was working on Norton auditorium as a construction worker.  He fell from the scaffolding and died, but his ghost lives on haunting students and visitors alike and adding his ghostly presence to the numerous phantoms that haunt the halls of UNA.

The Wesleyan Building is also said to be haunted by a civil war general's son who drown himself in a river not far away.   His ghost must have formed some attachment to the old building, because his footsteps can still be seen and heard walking the halls at night.   Additionally, the off campus bookstore is haunted by the ghost of a little girl who died of rabies.

So if you like to be surrounded by ghosts, UNA is the place to go to school.