Tag Archives: ghosts

Spotlight on: Charlemont Inn Charlemont, Massachusetts

Ghosthunting Southern New England

It seems that a number of people who have either lodged at or worked in this inn during its long history are still there in spirit. Andrew Lake, author of Ghosthunting Southern New England, tells us all about it.

Charlemont, Massachusetts, is a very popular year-round destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Situated on the historic Mohawk Trail in the Berkshires, the area offers many great locations for hiking, camping, white-water rafting, and skiing. A favorite spot in town to stay and to eat is the Charlemont Inn, which has been offering food and accommodations since 1787. Some of the notable figures who have stayed there include Mark Twain and President Calvin Coolidge.

Charlotte Dewey and Linda Shimandle are the co-owners of the inn. When Charlotte came into the business some 20 years ago, Linda, who had already been with the inn for some time, told her about the building’s haunted reputation. Linda informed Charlotte that one of their ghosts is a mischievous teenager, whom she and the staff have affectionately nicknamed “Elizabeth.”

Charlotte didn’t put too much stock into the idea of ghosts until one morning when she walked into the kitchen and saw a bag of potato chips floating in midair. Stunned by this scene, Charlotte stopped dead in her tracks and said, “Elizabeth, put those down!” The bag of chips dropped to the floor on her command as Charlotte retreated with haste from the kitchen.

A prank the teenage ghost likes to play is the mysterious removal of personal items belonging to both guests and the staff. Two objects that disappear with frequency are eyeglasses and hairdryers. What use these articles have for a ghost on the other side of the spiritual veil is yet to be understood.

The Charlemont Inn has been visited by many mediums and psychics over the years, and some of them have hit upon the paranormal activity in the building with amazing accuracy. Charlotte told me that she likes to keep most of the ghost stories quiet, so as not to influence people. About five years ago, a woman with psychic ability visited the inn and informed the owners that there was a ghost of a 14-year-old girl who died of tuberculosis haunting the building. She didn’t get the name Elizabeth. The name she got was Fidelia with the middle name Elvira.

Charlemont Inn

The psychic also received the girl’s last name. When a local woman volunteered to do research to see if there was any record of this girl, she found an exact match with the same age and cause of death. The woman was even able to locate the teenager’s grave. Charlotte explained to me that she had to withhold the girl’s last name from me out of respect for her descendants who still lived in the town of Charlemont. Further research showed that the Charlemont Inn was used during Fidelia’s time as a place for local patients to meet with the regional physician. It is possible that Fidelia died at the inn while waiting for medical care.

More than a couple of psychics who have visited the inn have sensed the spirits of a little boy and girl, with a cat, hanging around near the bottom of the main staircase by the front desk. No one has ever seen these little wraiths, but members of the staff have commented on feeling a presence on the stairs, and some have even heard a cat in the same vicinity.

An apparition of a Colonial soldier has been seen on the second floor, but not of late. The room this ghost haunts is now used for storage and is seldom opened. A ghosthunting group took photographs inside the storeroom and captured strange distortions that they believed to be evidence of a vortex or doorway into the spirit world.

One of the guestrooms on the second floor is also notorious for providing photographic anomalies. A guest once took a picture of this room and noticed there was an image of a tic-tac-toe game within the mirror. When the mirror was examined, no explanation could be found for it. Nothing was discovered on or behind the glass to account for the phantom marks.

A guest who stays regularly at the inn during hunting season had an experience in that same room that caused him to leave for the woods much earlier then usual. It was around four o’clock in the morning when Charlotte saw this man come down the stairs and head for the front door. She could see that he was badly shaken and immediately asked him why he was up and leaving so early. The man was ashen and couldn’t form a coherent sentence but said he would explain later. When the guest was finally able to talk to Charlotte about his rapid departure, he told her that he had been woken up by being pelted with little bars of guest soap. When he jumped up out of his bed, he could see no one responsible for the toiletry attack. The man then noticed there was a full-body impression on the mattress of the unused bed in the room. This was too much, especially since he had checked into the room alone. The hunter decided it would be a lot safer in the woods, so he headed for the hills as fast as his legs could take him.

A Visit to the Exchange Hotel Civil War Hospital Museum in Gordonsville

Michael J. Varhola, author of Ghosthunting Virginia, thinks there is something strange going on at the Exchange Hotel Civil War Hospital Museum in Gordonsville. Here is his report!

My interaction with museum staff when I visited the site in May 2008 with my father, mother, and wife left me inclined to believe that there was a reasonable chance the site was, indeed, haunted. But when I heard the irregular, garbled sounds that obscured my one-hour taped interview with curator Robert Kocovsky, I joined the ranks of definite believers.

This did not make me in any way unique, of course. The Exchange Hotel has for some time run ghost tours of the property for those with a casual interest in the subject, and it has made provisions for ghosthunters and others with a stronger interest to conduct investigations overnight in the building. From what I understand, they are rarely disappointed.

Exchange Hotel Civil War Hospital Museum

A new era began for Gordonsville on January 1, 1840, when it became a stop on the Louisa Railroad—renamed the Virginia Central 10 years later—allowing passengers to travel to and from the town and goods to be shipped from the farms and plantations of the surrounding area. Its first depot was opened in 1854, at the south end of Main Street, when the Orange and Alexandria Railroad extended its tracks from Orange to Gordonsville to connect with the existing line (a second depot was built in 1870 and its last one in 1904).

People coming into or departing from the depot frequented the nearby tavern run by Richard F. Omohundro, who did a brisk business in food and drink. When this establishment was razed by fire in 1859, Omohundro immediately built a beautiful new hotel, complete with high-ceilinged parlors and a grand veranda, on its ashes.

The elegant, three-story Exchange Hotel combined elements of Georgian architecture in the main section of the brick building and Italianate architecture in its exterior features, both styles popular in the pre-war years. Other features included a restaurant on its lower level, spacious public rooms, a central hall with a wide staircase and handsome balustrade, and central halls running through each of the upper floors. It quickly became a popular and inviting spot for travelers.

When the Civil War began in 1861, towns like Gordonsville and the railroads that ran through them became critical strategic assets to the Confederate government. Railroads had never been used in warfare before but were to play a large role in the conflict that would eventually become referred to as “the first railroad war.”

In March 1862, the Confederate military authorities took over the Exchange Hotel and established it as the headquarters of the Gordonsville Receiving Hospital, which provided medical care to tens of thousands of Northern and Southern troops over the following four years. Wounded soldiers from battle- fields that included Brandy Station, Cedar Mountain, Chancellorsville, Mine Run, Trevilian Station, and the Wilderness were brought into town by rail, unloaded, and moved directly into the sprawling hospital compound that grew up around the former hotel.

In an era when men died of injury and disease in droves—about twice as many as those slain in combat—the Gordonsville Receiving Hospital was the exception to the rule, with a markedly lower death rate compared to most other contemporary medical facilities. Of the approximately 70,000 men treated at the hospital, only somewhat more than 700 died at the site, a much smaller proportion than what was typical for the conflict. The deceased were buried on the hospital grounds initially and then later exhumed and moved to the nearby Maplewood Cemetery. (According to Kocovsky, the spirits of some of the buried soldiers apparently remained behind, and the area where the cemetery was located has been the site of ghostly phenomena.)

The director of the hospital was Dr. B.M. Lebby, who oversaw its operations through October 1865. Although pro-Confederate and a native of South Carolina, Lebby had received his medical training in the North and was both compassionate and proficient. The relatively low death rate at the hospital (a mere 26 Union soldiers) can be attributed to his humanity and skill as a physician and administrator.

After the war, the site served newly freed slaves as a Freedman’s Bureau Hospital for several years before eventually reverting to use once again as a hotel. In 1971, Historic Gordonsville Inc., acquired the property, restored it, and converted it into a Civil War medical museum.

Today, the Civil War Museum at the Exchange Hotel contains exhibits on the history of Gordonsville, the hotel, and its transformation into a receiving hospital, the only one still standing in Virginia. It includes an impressive collection of artifacts relating to medical care during the war, including surgical instruments; pharmaceutical bottles and containers; medical knapsacks and panniers; stretchers and litters; prosthetic devices; and even dental tools.

It is also home, Kocovsky said, to at least 11 ghosts that he and the staff have identified! The museum makes no secret of this presence and touts it both in its published materials and highly popular ghost tours.

“It isn’t necessary for our guides to purposefully frighten you, as our ‘permanent residents’ often make their presence known,” the tour description reads. “There have been numerous reports of apparitions, as well as the many unexplained sounds described by past visitors.”

While not all the ghosts have been identified by name or connected with specific historical figures known to have been associated with the Exchange Hotel, quite a few have, in part through the help of ghosthunters and psychic researchers who have visited the site.

One such ghost is Annie Smith, a black woman and the hotel’s former cook, who has been spotted numerous times in the windows of and around the outbuilding used as a summer kitchen where she worked. Another is Mrs. Leevy, the wife of one of the doctors assigned to the hospital, who went mad during her stay at the site. And yet another is the aptly named George Plant, the facility’s gravedigger, who has been known to waken reenactors camping out on the grounds surrounding the hotel. A number of nameless ghosts, believed to be those of Civil War soldiers who died at the hospital, quite possibly in agonizing surgical procedures or of one of the diseases that claimed so many lives, are also among those that haunt the site.

Kocovsky also told me about a dark, shadowy, and hostile ghost—whose name is yet unknown—who has frightened a number of people over the years, including, on one occasion, some police officers who were checking to make sure the building was properly locked up.

Other ghostly incidents people have reported at the museum include sightings of a spectral woman sitting as if upon a chair, even though one was not there, and photographs that have picked up a number of anomalies, including spirit orbs.

Despite the vast number of incidents that have occurred at the Civil War Museum at the Exchange Hotel, it is, unfortunately, a bit much to expect that one should experience anything similar during any particular visit (especially a first one, it would seem). Indeed, the museum itself echoes this sentiment in its materials: “As it is impossible to predict when these ‘permanent residents’ will make their presence known, we urge you to visit often.”

Good advice indeed. Because if the strange, incomprehensible sounds—voices?—on the tape I walked away with is any indication, then the museum is well worth further investigation.

The Ghosts Are Very Comfortable at the Inn at Duck Creeke

Ghosthunting Southern New England

Andrew Lake, author of Ghosthunting Southern New England, explores the haunted Inn at Duck Creeke, one of Wellfleet’s unspoiled landmarks. Located on Main Street, the inn was originally built in 1810 as a home for a sea captain and his family.

The Inn at Duck Creeke is actually made up of four separate buildings. Along with the Captain’s House, there are three other buildings that occupy the five wooded acres. They are named The Saltworks House, The Tavern, and Carriage House. The tavern building is referred to as “The Hodge Podge” because it is made up of sections of homes from the seventeenth and eigh- teenth centuries. This uniquely styled building houses both the Sweet Seasons and The Duck Creeke Tavern restaurants.

The Duck Creeke Tavern is the oldest existing tavern in Wellfleet. The current owners of the inn are Bob Morrill and Judy Pihl. Bob and Judy first became associated with the inn in the mid-1970s when they were leasing the Sweet Seasons restaurant. In 1980, they bought the inn. Shortly after Bob and Judy had settled into the property, the ghosts made their presence known to them.

It was December 1980—the couple’s first winter on the property. They were living in The Saltworks House, which is located about 100 feet from the back of the Captain’s House. Bob and Judy were getting ready to prepare their first lobster dinner in their “new” home. Judy needed a large pot to cook the lobsters in, so she sent Bob to retrieve one from the kitchen of the Sweet Seasons restaurant. It was a cold, dark night as he walked up the lane, flashlight in hand, and entered the kitchen from the back of the restaurant. Bob recalls, “I was walking through the kitchen and a large, metal, one-gallon measuring can flew off the shelf. It didn’t fall on the floor; it flew all the way across the kitchen in front of me and then rolled another 20 feet. I grabbed the pot and went back home to Judy and said, ‘That’s the last time I’ll go in there after dark, alone!’”

The ghost of Eulalia, wife of Joe Price, may have been responsible for that flying piece of kitchenware. People who remember Eulalia say she was a serious, hardworking woman. She managed the hospitality side of the inn’s business and was responsible for booking all the entertainment. Mrs. Price was from New York and had a background in the theater. Well into the early 1970s, she wore long, old-fashioned dresses that were starched and ironed to perfection. A woman who worked for Mrs. Price told Judy Phil that Eulalia was the kind of manager who would line her staff up for inspection and count the number of peas on the plates. “She was a strong character. This was her place; this still is her place,” says Judy.

Inn at Duck Creeke

Mrs. Price is believed to be the woman in white who has been seen at the restaurant and its kitchen. Judy saw her ghost one afternoon in the lobby area of the restaurant. She says, “I just happened to be walking through the kitchen, looking out towards the lobby and something caught my eye. I took two steps back. I then watched a very diminutive woman float from one side, with the sun behind her, cross the lobby and back again, and then disappear. It was three-dimensional; you could almost see through it, and it was female.” Judy finishes by saying, “It was a very interesting moment.”

At the other end of the “Hodge Podge” is The Duck Creeke Tavern. Even though these two restaurants are attached, there seems to be a different group of ghosts in The Tavern Room. Over the years, Bob has learned of three deaths that occurred on the property. Two of those deaths happened inside the Tavern Room. Years ago, when the tavern was called The Chart Room, a husband-and-wife musical act used to play there regularly. One night while they were performing, the wife died on stage. The late singer’s husband would come to the Tavern Room in his later years and just sit and watch the stage. He would never order anything to eat or drink; he wouldn’t even ask for a glass of water. Judy used to wonder if maybe he could see his wife on the stage. A female ghost has been seen around the Tavern Room, and most feel that it is her spirit.

Musicians have reported hearing a woman singing while they were performing. One night when a piano player was on stage, Bob noticed that he was moving his head around and swatting at the air with his right hand. When he took a short break, Bob asked him why he was jerking his head and wav- ing his hand around. He looked at Bob very seriously and said, “Because she was pulling my hair!”

Oddly enough, the woman’s death isn’t the only one to have played out on the tavern’s stage. A piano player also passed away suddenly while performing. If this pianist is haunting the stage, he might be responsible for the microphones and amplifiers being turned off while musicians are playing.

The third death known to have taken place on the property was first reported to Bob and Judy by one of their former waiters, a young Irishman named Eugene, who was a “sensitive” who could feel and see things that others could not. One vision in particular that he told his employers about was seeing a man hanging himself from a large locust tree in back of the tavern. Bob had cut the locust tree down 10 years before this young man had started working for them. In June of 2010, an old man stopped by the Tavern Room and while reminiscing about the summers he had spent in Wellfleet as a boy, he mentioned that his college roommate’s father had hanged himself from a tree on the property. Bob and Judy said they had never doubted Eugene, especially when he told them that their inn was haunted by many ghosts.

The Saltworks House is the oldest building on the property. It was built in the early 1700s and was originally located by the harbor. The house is named for the grinding stones that were taken from an old salt mill and used to make its front walk and steps. The couple no longer lives in the house; it now contains five small guest rooms. During the years they did live there, Judy said she would sometimes hear the sound of someone walking around, softly, upstairs. On more than a few occasions she heard what sounded like beads from a broken necklace bouncing across the floor, but she could never find the source.

One season, some guests who were staying on the ground floor of the Saltworks House complained about the patter of little feet in the room above theirs. Another time, a couple had commented on hearing a baby crying in one of the upstairs rooms. A check of the inn’s register and a quick word with the staff confirmed that there were no infants or children staying in the Saltworks House when these sounds were heard.

The Captain’s House has at least three ghosts, and they seem to be the friendliest of all the phantoms. Bob and Judy are pretty sure they are the wife and two daughters of the sea captain who lived in the house. As far as anyone knows, the two daughters were seen only once, but are often heard moving about on the second floor. The Captain’s wife is reported to appear as a beau- tiful woman in white and also appears to be a kind soul. In the early 1980s, a female guest awoke with a scream when she found a strange woman in her room. This woman glided across the bedroom, through the furniture and up to the guest. She then placed her hand on the frightened woman’s shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, everything will be all right.” The guest was able to go back to sleep, but she checked out in the morning.

About a year after that incident, the inn got a phone call from a couple who recently had stayed in The Captain’s House with their 4-year-old daughter. They wanted to know the identity of the woman whom their child kept talking about. The young girl told her parents that a nice lady, dressed in white, had talked to her in their room. This woman wanted to make sure the little girl was taking her medicine. The couple couldn’t understand this because their daughter was not on any medication. The bemused innkeepers told the couple about the other guest’s encounter and left it at that. As Judy says, “Our ghosts seem very comfortable here, and we are comfortable
with them.”

For more haunted stories from Southern New England, check out Andrew Lake’s book Ghosthunting Southern New England.

Gadsby’s Tavern and Museum—A Quintessential Alexandria Watering Hole

Michael J. Varhola, author of Ghosthunting Virginia, visits Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria. Established around 1785, Gadsby’s Tavern has been a quintessential Alexandria watering hole throughout most of U.S. history. And, as with most places of a certain age, it has a number of ghost stories and is a stop on local ghost tours.

In the early years of the republic, however, especially prior to the founding of the capitol city, Alexandria was a vibrant port city, and Gadsby’s Tavern played host to many of the most important people in the country. George Washington celebrated his birthday at the tavern in 1797 and 1798; Thomas Jefferson held his inaugural banquet there in 1801; and the tavern served as a hub of political, business, and social interaction for many years.

Gadsby's Tavern

Gadsby’s Tavern consists of two separate buildings and two separate establishments. One is a museum, located in an older, two-story building, and the other is a restaurant, located on the ground floor of a three-story expansion to the original structure built in 1792 (then dubbed the City Tavern and Hotel).

A number of stories about incorporeal spirits, rather than the liquid ones it has traditionally served, have developed about Gadsby’s Tavern, and I had heard a number of them over the years. The most famous involves a beautiful young woman who died at the establishment nearly 200 years ago and whose specter is sometimes purportedly still seen there.

As a common version of the story goes, the young woman and her husband arrived at the port of Alexandria in October 1816 from points unknown. She was very ill and was taken to Gadsby’s Tavern, where she received treatment from a doctor and a number of nurses. Despite their best efforts, however, she died on October 14. For reasons still unknown, her husband made everyone they had dealt with swear that they would never reveal her identity; he had her buried in nearby St. Paul’s Cemetery beneath a nameless tombstone, and, soon after, he disappeared without paying any of his bills, including $1,500 for the stone.

Since then, visitors have reported seeing the ghost of the “female stranger” standing near her headstone, wandering the halls of Gadsby’s Tavern, or peering out its windows while holding a candle (and, possibly, awaiting the return of her apparently deadbeat husband). Explanations for who she is have included the ward of an aging English aristocrat who was accidentally slain by her lover, with whom she fled to America; the daughter of Aaron Burr, who gunned down Alexander Hamilton in a duel; and an orphan, separated from her three siblings at a young age, who inadvertently married her brother. Die nameless and leave bills behind and, specifics aside, the stories about you are pretty sure to be sordid.

Other ghost stories associated with the tavern are fairly typical of those associated with haunted sites in general and include candles or lanterns that appear to be burning, but, upon examination, have not been recently lit.

Glancing at the upper-story windows of the buildings as I approached them, I did not see anything out of the ordinary. The first thing I learned upon being greeted inside the entrance to the restaurant by a distinguished-looking older gentleman is that it’s no longer a tradition to drop in for just a cold one at the tavern—the norm being to partake of a meal as well—and that I would be better served for those purposes at a nearby Irish pub (of course!). Upon seeing my disappointment, however, he graciously relented, showed me to a two-person table in the dining room, and asked his waiter to bring me a beer.

“Are you the manager?” I asked him.

“Sometimes,” he replied somewhat cagily (demonstrating a dry sense of humor that was revealed when I eventually obtained his business card and read upon it the title “General Manager”), and he introduced himself as Paul Carbé. I introduced myself and briefly explained my interest in his establishment.

“Oh, you want the museum next door,” he said, crushing any hopes I might have of encountering spectral spoor at his establishment. I decided to enjoy my Gadsby’s ale and the ambience of the place, which included waitstaff dressed in garb reminiscent of the Colonial era, pewter place settings on the tables, and dark wood paneling that, in some cases, dates to 1792.

“That’s original,” Carbé said, indicating the wooden fireplace mantel in the first of several tidbits of information that he congenially bestowed upon me on his way back and forth from the back of the restaurant to the front, where he dutifully greeted everyone who came through the door. Eventually, however, he decided to bestow something more substantial upon me.

“Come with me,” he said, and led me to the back of the restaurant and into its kitchen. There, he proceeded to tell me about three strange episodes that some would take for evidence of a ghostly presence—all of which had occurred in the previous month!

In the first, he said, one of his waitresses walked into the kitchen and asked if anyone knew where beverage napkins were. As if in response, a package of beverage napkins pitched off a nearby shelf and landed on the counter next to the stunned young woman.

The second incident took place in a dining room that had been set up for a dinner party. With no apparent cause or prompting from anyone, a spoon from one of the place settings slid off the table and clattered onto the floor.

And, in the third incident, three or four of the waitstaff were working in the tavern after it had closed when they all distinctly heard a candle in the main dining room—where none of them were—being blown out.

As is the case with most ostensibly haunted sites, none of these incidents necessarily mean anything in and of themselves. Even when they are considered as elements in an ongoing pattern of similar incidents, they prove nothing. But they do reinforce to those willing to acknowledge them that there is more in this world than can easily be explained by most philosophies, to paraphrase a famous playwright.

That was what I thought to myself, in any event, as I finished up my pint of ale and snapped a few more pictures of the tavern. Collecting my things, I thanked Mr. Carbé for his helpfulness and stepped outside into a late afternoon that had turned from gloom to drizzle.

Turning back toward Gadsby’s Tavern as I walked away, I looked up at some of the upper-story windows, hoping I might catch a glimpse of the ghost of the “female stranger.” But I did not prolong my gaze. After all, if you stare at something long enough, you can end up seeing just about anything, whether it is really there or not.

Full Moon Highlights the Ghosts of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Paranormal researchers have to be ready for any- thing and everything when ghosthunting. They often deal with weather issues, equipment failures, and physical challenges as they’re tromping through dense woods and other rough terrain.

Walking through the battleship USS North Carolina is a bit of a maze, and it’s hard work climbing up and down the iron ladders that are euphemistically called “stairs.” As I was moving through the ship, it was readily apparent that trying to bring a film crew on board to run cables throughout the ship would be quite a task. Shows like Ghost Hunters have an established crew that sets up the monitors, cameras, and equipment, hoping to catch paranormal activity on film. They’ve visited the USS North Carolina, and I can imagine how hard the TV crew had to work in order to prepare for that investigation.

After the USS North Carolina tour, I headed out to see the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. If you’ve ever been to North Carolina, you’ll recognize it as the state symbol, painted in a signature swirl of black and white. It’s quite spectacular to see firsthand. Some people describe it as the biggest barber pole they have ever seen.

I like the swirl-style painting of the lighthouse. It’s one of those things that I call a happy accident. The lighthouse was supposed to have been painted in a diamond pattern, but the engineer was confused by the plans and he designed the spiral instead, making the lighthouse very distinctive. The lighthouse was built to warn sailors of the Diamond Shoals, which are sandbars that shift often and can extend more than 14 feet outward from the shore at Cape Hatteras. In addition, it is in this area of the Atlantic that the Gulf Stream collides with the colder Labrador current. Often, the end result of the collision between the warm Gulf current and the cold Labrador current is the creation of powerful ocean storms and high sea swells. These sandbars and tricky currents have sunk many ships and given North Carolina the nickname “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”

When you arrive at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the first thought that hits you is how tall it is and how small you feel standing next to it. The second thought is that you want to climb it! It’s there, it must be climbed, and the view from the top is a must-see.

The lighthouse has 248 iron stairs arranged in a spiral. Climbing to the top of the lighthouse is equivalent to climbing a 12-story building. It’s noisy, as many people are climbing to the top with you. Their shoes clang on the iron steps, there’s no air-conditioning, and it gets pretty hot and sticky fast. There are a couple of windows in the lighthouse, but for the most part, the lighting is dim. As you continue the climb, you encounter people coming back down, and there’s a bit of a tussle, as there is only a handrail on one side to hold onto. You become very friendly with strangers as you negotiate to allow them to pass by you. Luckily, there is a landing every 31 steps to stop and wait when large groups are coming down.

I visited during the day to see the lighthouse, and I have plans to return again this summer when a full-moon climbing tour is offered. This is a must-do, as the view from the top is spectacular. I look forward to seeing it on a moonlit night.
In 1999, the lighthouse was moved from its original location. Wow! Can you imagine the engineering feat it took to move a lighthouse? Erosion from the waves and shifting sands threatened to destroy the lighthouse in its former location, and the decision had to be made to either attempt to move the lighthouse to safety or to watch it disappear as the sand shifted and the ocean claimed it as its own. The lighthouse, along with the keeper’s house, was moved to a new location 2,900 feet away. This process took a painstakingly slow 23 days to complete.

Given that the lighthouse has been the guardian to the Graveyard of the Atlantic, it’s no surprise to find that it’s also extremely haunted.

One haunting tale is the story of the Carroll A. Deering, a sailing ship that was returning from Barbados on its way to Hampton Roads, Virginia. On January 31, 1921, the Carroll A. Deering was found run aground on the Diamond Shoals off the coast of Cape Hatteras. The ship was a five-masted schooner built in 1919 in Bath, Maine. The Coast Guard was called, and guardsmen sailed out to inspect the ship, which was found empty with the exception of several very hungry cats. The investigation found that a dinner had recently been prepared and the dishes were still on the table. The ship was in good order, but the lifeboats were missing.

What would cause the captain and crew to abandon the ship in such a hurry when the ship was in good working order? Why would they leave their cats behind? The research indicates that the crew left in a panic, as if they were afraid of something on the boat. Along with their dinner, they left a perfectly good boat in running order. They didn’t even stop to lower the sails on the boat. There had to have been something extreme to cause a captain and his crew to leave a ship in that condition, especially when they were facing freezing cold weather and high sea swells in January on the Atlantic Ocean.

Upon further investigation, the Coast Guard found that all of the anchors were missing from the ship, along with some papers and personal belongings of the captain and crew. The vessel remained stuck on the shoals until it was towed away in March. What remained of the ship was blown up with dynamite. I found that fact surprising: Why would evidence of an unsolved mystery be deliberately destroyed? In addition, why wouldn’t any part of the ship be salvaged for future use elsewhere?

Reports state that in April of the same year, a North Carolina resident found a bottle washed up on shore with a note inside stating that the captain and crew had been captured by pirates. The letter was later determined to be a hoax.

The following month, the wife of the ship’s captain visited Washington and asked then–Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover to investigate what had happened to her husband and his crew. He agreed to look into the matter after his research showed that nine other ships had also disappeared in the same area. The FBI was sent to investigate the matter in July 1921. The investigators returned with reports stating theories of foul play, including attacks by pirates, attacks by rumrunners, and the possibility of mutiny.

The theory of mutiny was tossed aside. The seas are so rough in that part of the Atlantic in January that it would be a suicide mission by the crew and the worst timing on their part. The ship was only a day or two away from reaching Virginia, where it was scheduled to dock. Regardless of the circumstances, it’s highly unlikely that a crew would have picked this vantage point where so many ships are known to wreck. In addition, a mutinous crew would have tossed the captain overboard and most likely would have continued on with the ship, sailing to a port in another country.

Foul play with pirates or rumrunners also seemed unlikely, as there were no dead bodies left on the ship, as well as no signs of struggle or blood. The ship’s log, the lifeboats, and the navigation equipment were missing and never found. Although there was a detailed investigation, all of the leads turned up empty. To this day, the mystery continues.

After the ship ran aground, witnesses in the area began reporting hearing people screaming for help near the shore. The reports state that when witnesses hear the screaming, they go to investigate, but no one is ever seen. Some of these reports say that several people have heard a man scream over and over that a monster is coming for him.

Some locals think that a ghost appeared on the ship, perhaps one of the pirates from the many sunken ships that lay below the ocean near Cape Hatteras. Perhaps these pirate ghosts boarded the ship as the crew prepared their dinner and scared them out of their minds, to the point that they jumped into the lifeboats and abandoned ship, leaving everything behind. In their fear and perhaps demise, it appears that they now have joined the ghosts and walk the beaches beside them.

The most famous ghost on Cape Hatteras is the Gray Man ghost. He appears to people to warn them when a hurricane or severe storm is heading toward the island. Some say that he is a sailor who drowned during a storm and now warns others of impending storms. Others say that he was in love with a local girl and in his haste to get back to her took a shortcut with his traveling companions through a swampy area and drowned in quicksand.

The legend states that the local woman was devastated upon hearing the news of his death. Each night for weeks she walked the beach in sorrow and grief. One night as she walked along the beach, he appeared to her as the Gray Man ghost and told her that she needed to leave immediately because a hurricane was coming. She ran home and told her family, who believed her, and they left immediately and went inland.

The next morning a hurricane hit the island and destroyed many of the homes there, but her home was spared. The legend states that if the Gray Man appears to you and you heed his advice to leave, then your house will be spared by the storm. Reports continue to be shared by locals who say they have seen the man appear before them out of thin air. He warns them of an approaching storm and then quickly disappears.

Other reports include seeing a strange-colored brown pelican in a ghostly form that appears to warn locals about incoming storms. Some say that the phantom bird may be a companion of the Gray Man.

There are also reports of a dark lady of Spanish descent, dressed all in black, who walks along the shore by the lighthouse. Her clothes are wet and hang on her body. By most accounts, it appears that she drowned in a shipwreck. Most reports state that she is angry and is looking for something that she never finds. At times it appears that she screams and wails like a banshee. Perhaps she’s searching for a lost treasure or her jewels that were lost at sea. She is often seen on full-moon nights, and I imagine that the view from the top of the lighthouse might provide a vantage point to search the surrounding shore for ghosts walking along the beach.

Shadow people are also reported appearing in the vicinity of the lighthouse and inside on the stairs of the lighthouse. Some paranormal researchers think shadow people may be a specific type of ghost, while others surmise that they are malicious entities traveling from the various supernatural realms into the earth plane.

Shadow people are not considered to be friendly, and when they are seen, they often do not have faces. They appear in a human shape but are not completely formed. The two most popular theories about the shadow people fall into two camps: One is that the shadow people are thought-forms, which are created when deep trauma has occurred in the area and the emotional intensity is so strong that it gives life to a thought form, a tulpa, which then haunts the area.

The other theory is that they are not from this world but are attracted to areas where negative experiences have caused a great amount of trauma and pain. They enter the earth plane to feed on the energy of this trauma and the energy from grieving victims. For this reason, shadow people are often seen in cemeteries.

Given the hundreds of shipwrecks around Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and the Diamond Shoals and the ghosts who walk the beach, many of whom still lay in their physical form under the sea in sunken ships, the entire area is a restless place and ripe for paranormal activity.

In addition, there are many reports of unmarked graves in the area around the lighthouse, leading to the potential for other undocumented ghosts, as well. While walking around the lighthouse and the shore, you can feel the sadness in the air. You don’t earn the nickname Graveyard of the Atlantic without having more than a few ghosts around with unfinished business, some looking for their treasure, some trying to escape what horrified them, and others, like the Gray Man, trying to protect the local residents from further harm.

For more haunted stories, check out Kala Ambrose’s book Ghosthunting North Carolina.

Mission San Antonio de Valero, AKA The Alamo

Michael O. Varhola, author of Ghosthunting San Antonio, Austin, and Texas Hill Country,  takes us on a visit to Mission San Antonio de Valero, know to most of us as The Alamo.

In 1718, after Mission San Francisco de Solano in the Rio Grande Valley became unviable because so many of its resident Coahuiltecan Indians had left it, Father Antonio de San Buenaventura y Olivares relocated it to a spot near the headwaters of the San Antonio River. He had passed through the area a decade earlier and been impressed with its suitability for a religious community. He named the new mission in honor of Saint Anthony of Padua and San Antonio de Valero, the Spanish viceroy who had approved his plan.The Alamo

Location of the mission changed several times for the first few years until 1724, when the present site was chosen, and the foundation of its stone church was laid 20 years later, in 1744. It eventually included a walled compound containing the church, a convento where the clergymen lived, and a number of adobe buildings.

While the Alamo is almost synonymous with the battle that bears its name, it was by no means the first time the mission or its residents were exposed to violence or dangers. On June 30, 1745, for example, Apaches attacked the nearby civil town of San Fernando. One hundred mission converts from the Alamo sallied out and, reinforced by European arms and tactics, helped drive them off.

Mission San Antonio de Valero was the first of the local missions to be secularized and was taken over by Spanish authorities in 1793. They established the first hospital in Texas in it. Its central location and infrastructure also made it ideal for use as a barracks and, by 1803, a company of 100 heavily armed cavalrymen, along with their families, had moved into it. They remained there for 32 years, battling Indians, the military adventurers known as filibusters, and revolutionaries. When Mexico became independent of Spain in 1821, they shifted their allegiance to the new nation. And when they skirmished with Anglo-American revolutionaries near the town of Gonzales on October 2, 1835, the Texas Revolution began.

Texian forces counterattacked toward the end of that month and laid siege to San Antonio. Then, on December 5th, they attacked the town directly and, after fighting the Mexican troops toe-to-toe in brutal street fighting for five days, forced the military authorities to surrender. Thus it was that the Texians took control of the city. When General Antonio López de Santa Anna arrived at the head of a Mexican army on February 23, 1836, the Texians withdrew to the east bank of the San Antonio River and occupied the Alamo. Santa Anna raised the red flag of no quarter over San Fernando church, and a siege of the mission began.

On March 6th, Santa Anna launched his final attack on the Alamo and, after a fierce 90-minute battle, captured it and slew all 189 of its defenders, at a cost of about 600 killed and wounded among his own men. Commanders William Barret Travis, James Bowie, and David Crockett were among those who fell in battle. Santa Anna ordered all the bodies burned on at least two common pyres and left to smolder for days (although that of one defender, Tejano Gregorio Esparza, whose brother was one of the Mexican officers, received a proper burial).

AlamoSix weeks later, on April 21st, Texian forces led by Sam Houston defeated Santa Anna and the Mexican army in the Battle of San Jacinto, about 200 miles to the east. The following month, the Mexican garrison in San Antonio was ordered to destroy the Alamo and then withdraw. They did manage to tear down some of the outer walls, and their commander, Juan José Andrade, sent a detachment of men to blow up the church where the defenders had made their final stand. These men were reportedly prevented from doing so, however, by a party of what they identified as diablos. They were described by paranormal researcher Docia Schultz Williams in her book Spirits of San Antonio and South Texas as “six ghostly forms standing in a semicircle holding swords, not of steel but of fire, blocking their entry to the building.”

“They were terrified and fearful of the consequences if they should destroy the building, they reported back to their commander,” Williams continues. “It is said General Andrade went himself to the place and was also confronted by the same figures. And so it was that the building was left intact as the Mexican army marched out of San Antonio.”

Apparitions were reported again at the site in 1871—which at that point was being used as a police station—when the city tore down part of the surviving mission complex, a pair of rooms that had been located to either side of the main gate in the south wall. Guests at the Menger Hotel across the street were among those who claimed to see spectral soldiers marching along the perimeter of the old mission compound as if trying to defend it from further desecration.

Many people, too, have striven to protect the legacy of the Alamo. In the 1930s, as the centennial of the Battle of the Alamo approached, the entire complex was renovated, expanded, and converted into a parklike memorial, and a Centennial Museum was built behind the church (and currently serves as the gift shop for the site). Then, in 1968, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas opened a new museum in the convento, or “long barrack,” finally putting the oldest building on the mission grounds back into use.

The Alamo by night 
Copyright: By Danphotoman777 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Ghostly Stories from the Brooklyn Inn

L’Aura Hladik, author of Ghosthunting New York brings us a ghostly story from the Brooklyn Inn. Do you think it is haunted?

L’Aura Hladik

The Brooklyn Inn  is a tasteful and cozy bar nestled on the corner of Hoyt and Bergen Streets in Brooklyn. The building dates back to the late nineteenth century. In 1957, its owners received a Certificate of Occupancy for a bar and restaurant on the first floor along with one apartment on each of the two upper floors. When the bar changed ownership again in May 2007, rumors spread on various blogs that the Brooklyn Inn would soon close down or, worse, become a bistro. Jason Furlani, manager of the Brooklyn Inn, set the record straight in a blog response, and thankfully this bar, a place of refuge for many loyal patrons, is still in operation. In 2008, the building was seen on the CW Network show Gossip Girl in an episode  which appeared to mirror the events surrounding the change of ownership in 2007.

This is a bar, plain and simple. The former kitchen, as small as it was, has been removed to make space for a couple of tables and chairs for those who like to sit and enjoy their drinks when there is no room at the bar. I visited the Brooklyn Inn in 2009 and met with Kevin Bohl, one of the bartenders, whom I have known since my high school days. Kevin works at the Brooklyn Inn three nights a week.

Bartender Brooklyn Inn
Bartender at the Brooklyn Inn

One spring night in 2008, when Kevin had been pouring drinks at the Brooklyn Inn for three years, Kevin encountered a spirit of the paranormal kind. At first, nothing seemed out of the ordinary as Kevin worked his shift. “It was around 11 p.m. and the bar was packed,” he said.  I should note that, at this time, the space just beyond the bar was still a kitchen. Kevin always kept a keen eye on that area while tending bar, as patrons sometimes got a little too comfortable, eased their way around the corner of the bar, and ended up blocking the kitchen door. On this night in 2008, Kevin noticed a silhouetted figure standing in the kitchen just beyond the doorway. He did a double-take, trying to focus on who or what he was seeing. It appeared to be a man approximately five feet ten inches tall, wearing a long coat and a fedora hat. Kevin rushed about seven feet to the end of the bar to ask the gentleman to move to the front of the bar, but by the time he reached the spot, the man was gone. “I was dumbfounded. I was so cognizant of that space and the need to keep it clear. Yet I couldn’t find the guy I just saw. Like I said, the bar was packed; I thought someone had to have seen him,” Kevin explained. Of course, upon surveying the patrons in that immediate area, Kevin found that none of them had seen the “Fedora Man.”

About a year later, one of the other bartenders, Tom Vaught, witnessed this same silhouetted figure in the same doorway. Tom  said the figure appeared to be leaning against the doorframe and staring out towards the bar. Just as with Kevin, once Tom reached the doorway to ask the gentleman to step away, he was gone. At first, Kevin told no one what he had seen. He was both shocked and somewhat relieved when Tom confided in him about having seen Fedora Man. They compared notes and arrived at the conclusion that they both had seen the same thing.

The Brooklyn Inn

During my visit to the Brooklyn Inn, I took several pictures of the doorway area from both sides. Although I did not capture any apparition on my digital camera, I did notice the unsettling coolness of the air at the doorway as compared to other areas of the former kitchen and the bar. I looked behind the bar near this doorway to see if there was a refrigerator or ice machine that would account for the cooler temperature, but I saw neither.

A couple of my photos do have some orbs in them, and as much as I would love to definitively call them paranormal  manifestations, I simply cannot. The ban on smoking in New York City bars has reduced the number of false positives inherent in ghost photography. However, at this site there is a dust factor to consider: because the main entrance door is opened and closed so frequently, airborne particulates are bound to appear in digital pictures.

I met with Lauren Macaulay, a bartender employed at the Brooklyn Inn for over nine years. She pointed out the gorgeous hand-carved woodwork which was imported from Germany and dates back to 1870. Lauren showed me how the panels on the lower half of the wall can be removed, revealing old wallpaper behind the wooden façade. I asked Lauren if she has ever seen Fedora Man, and she said, “No.” She added that on several occasions she has felt uncomfortable, as if she were being observed by some ghostly presence. This feeling had come over her on occasions when the bar was busy and also when it was quiet.

Kevin confirmed that he had experienced a similar feeling, but only after hours. He described how he would close the bar at 4 a.m., then curl up in the corner with a book and a beer, hoping to unwind a bit before heading home. Instead, he would be overcome with an unnerving feeling. Rather than relaxing and winding down from his shift, he became anxious. The feeling would become unbearable, and he would lock up and leave for the night.

I inspected the basement of the Brooklyn Inn and did not capture any EVP or temperature differences indicative of paranormal activity. Usually I do not like basements, but this one did not bother me. I felt more “energy” in the bar area and in the former kitchen area. I carefully reviewed all my audio recordings of my interviews to determine if any other voices chimed in with answers or thoughts. Since there was so much background noise (the bar had been open for business while I was there), I used software to visually review the recordings to document  the voice paths for Kevin, Lauren, and me, as well as the overall background noise.

Lauren mentioned one other strange thing that had happened while she was tending bar. On a slow night with very few customers, she noticed at the far end of the bar a full glass of Guinness sitting on the bar and a woman’s sweater on the bar stool. At first she thought nothing of it, figuring the other bartender on duty had served a customer who might now be in the ladies’ room. A while later, the glass was still full and the sweater was still on the bar stool, so Lauren asked the other bartender what happened to that patron. The other bartender thought Lauren was the one who had served up the stout. By closing time, the drink and the sweater were still there. No one ever came to claim the sweater, and the bartender poured the beer down the drain. “It still bugs me to this day,” Lauren said. “How did that beer get to the bar? Why was the sweater there? The place wasn’t crowded at all. I can account for each person there, but not that one.” At this point in our conversation, Lauren showed me her arms. Merely retelling the experience had brought out goosebumps.

Could Fedora Man be the inspector who certified the building for occupancy back in 1957? That would explain his hat and coat and his need to inspect the place. It is also interesting that he has appeared both before and after the renovation of the kitchen area. I suggest you visit the Brooklyn Inn, belly up to the bar—toward the end by the former kitchen—and have yourself a drink. Better yet, order two drinks in case the owner of the sweater returns and wants her Guinness.

Haunted Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery

Donna Stewart, author of Ghosthunting Oregon, tells the story of Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery.

Ghosthunting Oregon
Ghosthunting Oregon

Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery sits between Stark Street to the north and Morrison Street to the south. It is the oldest cemetery in the Portland area and the largest one managed by regional government. It covers more than 30 acres and is home to more than 25,000 gravesites. As a result of negligent maintenance and record keeping over the years, those buried within 10,000 of the sites are unknown. Oftentimes no one documented the paupers when they were interred.

If there was ever a cemetery that was ripe for hauntings, it would be Lone Fir. It has unmarked graves of insane asylum patients, a notorious murderess, graves lost in the shuffle of combining other cemeteries with Lone Fir, and possibly even graves that have not yet been discovered.

The first official burial at Lone Fir was in 1846, when Emmon Stephens was buried on a plot of land that once belonged to his neighbor, a gentleman by the name of Seldon Murray. A decade later, Murray sold Stephens’s gravesite and the adjacent 10 acres to Colburn Barrell with the stipulation that his friend’s grave be tended to. Barrell agreed and kept his word. Not long after this transfer of property, the cemetery was born.

Barrell owned a steamboat on the Willamette River called the Gazelle. In 1856 the Gazelle exploded near Oregon City and killed Barrell’s business partner, Crawford Dobbins, as well as a passenger. The 10 acres that were purchased from Seldon Murray would now be known as Mount Crawford Cemetery, after Barrell’s deceased business partner, who was interred there along with the passenger.

By 1866, Barrell added 20 acres to the cemetery and sold burial plots for $10 each. Later that same year, Barrell realized that the upkeep of a cemetery was more work than he could handle, and he offered to sell Mount Crawford to the city of Portland, which quickly declined. So Barrell sold the cemetery to a group of private investors for a tidy sum of money instead. Those investors immediately renamed the cemetery Lone Fir in honor of the single, lone fir tree that stood at the location.

But the investors had no practical idea of how to maintain a cemetery. Lone Fir fell into a sad state of disrepair. By the late 1920s, the gravesites, thousands of them unknown, were hidden beneath prickly mounds of blackberry vines and other invasive species. A few stone markers were still there, but the majority of the wooden markers had succumbed to rot or one of the many fires that swept through the area.

In 1928, Multnomah County took over control and maintenance of Lone Fir and, in 1947, paved over a large part of the cemetery and built an office on the site. Sadly, the portion paved over was the burial site for many Chinese immigrants; these remains were removed the following year and are said to have been sent back to China. In 2004 more graves were discovered beneath the office site. It was not until 2007 that the office building was removed and more Chinese immigrant remains were found. That same year Lone Fir was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Today the cemetery is in the capable and caring hands of Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery, which has brought new interest and vitality to it and removed the stigma often associated with such places. This organization has made Lone Fir a fun learning experience for visitors of all ages with tours, concerts to raise funds for headstones that have been vandalized, plays, scavenger hunts, and even Scrabble tournaments. It also runs a family-friendly Halloween event called Graveyard Goodies that it describes as a “trick-or-treating party featuring some of Lone Fir Cemetery’s most prominent ghosts.” The ghosts are actors, and visitors of all ages converse with the prominent residents, doctors, and laborers whose names have been lost or were never known. There is no need to go door-to-door for candy because the “ghosts” hand it out—and they even give autographs.

Anyone who knows a bit about the city’s sordid history will surely recognize a name or two at the cemetery—and even if they do not, chances are they will want to research a few after visiting Lone Fir. People from every walk of life—the famous, the insane, the freed slaves, the leaders in science—can be found at Lone Fir.

A white obelisk honors Dr. James C. Hawthorne, who was in charge of an insane asylum in the 1800s. Dr. Hawthorne genuinely cared for his patients, even when their families had long forgotten about them. Many times a family would not bother to claim the body of the deceased, so Dr. Hawthorne buried more than 130 of his patients at Lone Fir at his own expense. It is not known exactly where the former patients are buried, but it is speculated that they were interred in what is called Block 14 in the southwest corner of the cemetery. Block 14 is also the site of unmarked graves of numerous Chinese railroad workers.

Another notable resident of Lone Fir is Charity Lamb, who murdered her husband in 1854. Nathaniel Lamb sat at the dinner table as he usually did, entertaining his children with animated stories, when Charity quietly stepped up behind him and brought an ax down against the back of his head. Twice. Even more amazing is that Nathaniel lived for two weeks before he gave up the ghost and succumbed to the ax wounds. Charity Lamb was the first woman to be convicted of murder in the Oregon Territory. She did not receive the death penalty but was instead sentenced to a lifetime of hard labor at the Oregon State Penitentiary in 1854. A decade later, she was transferred to Dr. Hawthorne’s insane asylum, where she died in 1879. And so she ended up near Dr. Hawthorne in life and in death.

Not much is known about Michael Mitchell, a dancer in Portland who froze to death on the steps of his boardinghouse. Some say he was intoxicated and not allowed inside while under the influence. But what a shock it must have been for other boarders to emerge from the house the next morning to find him frozen and stiff on the front stoop!

Not long ago, a gentleman and his friend decided to check out Lone Fir after dark. Walking along the roadside, the pair explored the cemetery, looking at names on the headstones, when one man looked up and saw a figure standing about 50 yards away from them. He called out to the figure but received no response. His first thought was that someone had seen them and was trying to frighten them. So they walked toward the figure, playing along with the spooky prank.

As they approached, the figure seemed to jerk its head upward to the sky, just staring, and they realized that they might not be dealing with a joke after all. The figure was obscured by the trees, but as they cautiously moved closer, they could make out the face of an elderly man with a long beard, wearing a white shirt and black pants. They shouted hello, and in response, the man violently jerked his head toward them, opened his mouth, and screamed. The men say the figure’s eyes were blank as it continued to stare at them before letting go with another loud scream. After seeing the man’s weird eyes and hearing the second scream, the two of them left the cemetery in a hurry and have never been back.

No one else I spoke with reported anything nearly so frightening, and most described seeing misty figures walking across the cemetery during the daytime as well as after dark. Visitors repeatedly see a younger woman in a red dress who seems to be happily strolling through the grounds, oblivious to anyone around her.

Lone Fir Pioneer CemeteryMy visit to Lone Fir was during the daytime and, due to rain, not as long as I would have liked. Unfortunately, I did not spot the woman in the red dress or the zombie-like specter that the men saw. Occasionally I felt as though I was being watched, but not to the point that it caused me any concern or fear. After all, I was a guest in the home of those who are buried there, and I expected to be watched.

Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery is beautiful, even in the rain. The stately obelisks and headstones with photographs are almost breathtaking. You can feel a connection with some who are interred there because many headstones contain more information than any I have ever seen.

One in particular that I was fascinated with was the headstone for James B. and Elizabeth Stephens, who were early pioneers in the area. James B. Stephens’s father was Emmon Stephens, the first man buried on the property.

Theirs is not your normal headstone. The images of Mr. and Mrs. Stephens are carved into the headstone in a realistic style. On the back of the marker is a stone that, to me, was touching.

“Here we lie by consent after 57 years, two months, two days sojourning on earth awaiting nature’s immutable laws to return us to the elements of which we were formed,” the inscription reads.

You can’t pass up the Soldier’s Monument, which memorializes the Indian Wars, Mexican-American War, American Civil War, and Spanish-American War. It was constructed in 1903 with $3,500 in community donations and is a beautiful, stately memorial that stands strong and proud to this day.

When people ask me if Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery is haunted, I have to answer, “How could it not be?” With its tragedies and thousands of forgotten graves, lost ghosts likely wander the cemetery. And whether visitors want to participate in an event or hope to catch a glimpse of a ghost, they will leave with a new knowledge of the people who were essential in making Portland the city it is today, so it is definitely worth a trip. When you find yourself in Portland, you can stop by and judge for yourself.

Jacob’s Well—A Mysterious Place in Texas

Ghost Hunting San AntonioMichael O. Varhola, author of Ghosthunting San Antonio, Austin, and Texas Hill Country, takes us to the mysterious Jacob’s Well in Hays County.

Peering into the mysterious and ominously beautiful depths of Jacob’s Well, it is almost hard to believe that it is not haunted. Native Indians certainly held this natural artesian spring, which rises up through a limestone tube from the unmeasured depths of the underworld, to be sacred and inhabited by elemental spirits of the land. Beyond its appearance and hallowed nature, however, it is also the site of numerous drownings, and there are those who believe the ghosts of those who have perished at this spot continue to haunt it.

Jacob’s Well, the mouth of the spring that forms the headwaters of aptly named Cypress Creek northwest of the village of Wimberley, has traditionally served as a swimming hole for locals living on the adjacent properties. Today it is a natural area that is open to the public and still a popular swimming spot—albeit one that is closed for several months a year so that it can recover from the environmental damage inflicted by people who use it.

While the spring coming up through Jacob’s Well remains a significant source of water for people living in the area, its flow is by no means as profound as it once was. In 1924, for example, so much water surged up through the spring that it shot 6 feet into the air and its discharge was measured at 170 gallons per second. Today, however, as the result of development in the region and the heavy burden placed on the local aquifers, the flow of water from its depths manifests itself only as a faint ripple on the surface of the pool. It has even stopped flowing twice in the past couple of decades, the first times it has done so in recorded history, first in 2000 and then again in 2008. In an attempt to help protect the viability of the spring, Hays County purchased 50 acres of land around Jacob’s Well, and the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association subsequently transferred an additional 31 acres from the natural area to the county.

Jacob's WellAt its mouth, Jacob’s Well is 12 feet in diameter and descends vertically for about 30 feet, at which point it disappears into the darkness of the limestone caverns from which it issues. Thereafter it descends at an angle through a series of four silted chambers separated by narrow passageways to a depth of about 120 feet. The first two chambers are relatively safe and manageable for trained divers, but the next two are increasingly dangerous, with hazards that include loose debris in both and a dead end in one that can be confused with the exit tunnel and led one diver to become trapped and killed in 1983. After the fourth chamber, the cavern becomes a tunnel that continues for about 4,300 feet (e.g., more than 0.8 mile). At least one large secondary trunk splits off from this main passageway and extends for about another 1,000 feet.

Many divers have been drawn to explore and map these water-filled subterranean tunnels, but, because many of them do not have the necessary experience or equipment and the area is inherently hazardous, at least nine of them have died here since the 1970s.

“This is the horror story side of it,” Don Dibble, a dive shop owner with more than four decades of diving experience, said in a 2001 interview with writer Louie Bond. “Jacob’s Well definitely has a national reputation of being one of the most dangerous places to dive.”

“Dibble has pulled most of the victims’ remains out of Jacob’s Well himself, and he nearly lost his own life in a 1979 recovery dive,” Bond wrote. “Dibble was attempting to retrieve the remains of two young divers . . . when he became trapped, buried past his waist in the sliding gravel lining the bottom of the well’s third chamber. Just as he ran out of air, Dibble was rescued by other divers but suffered a ruptured stomach during his rapid, unconscious ascent.”

Dibble tried to block access to the entrance of the third chamber by constructing a grate made from rebar and quickset concrete in early 1980. Six months later, however, he discovered not just that the barrier had been removed but that the well-equipped people who did so had taken the time to taunt him.

“You can’t keep us out,” they wrote on a plastic board that they left behind for him. Perhaps not. But, in the case of some of them, inexperience, bad luck, the guardian spirits of the spring, or some combination of those things have ensured that they did not leave.

“We were not looking for human remains,” Dan Misiaszek of the San Marcos Area Recovery Team wrote in his account of a 2000 foray into the perilous fourth chamber. “I first noticed one femur bone, then a second, and as I descended into the keyhole-shaped tunnel, I could see a heavily corroded scuba tank and wetsuit. It was obvious we had stumbled upon some human remains . . . The tank was still attached to a [wet suit] with weight belt.” Nearby he found a human skull and, farther on, evidence pointing to the identity of the person who had suffered a terrifying death there, alone and in the impenetrable darkness that would have been imposed by the disturbed silt.

Ironically, it is the reduced force of the spring that has in recent times allowed people to dive into it; prior to the 1970s, the flow of water would have largely prevented them from doing so. People using makeshift gear attempted to descend into the spring in the 1930s, for example, but the deepest they were able to go was about 25 feet. None of them is reported to have been killed. It is almost as if a reduction of the striking site’s inherent power has led to a proportionate increase in its lethality.

“It’s a very mysterious place, a place of constant sensation,” said author Stephen Harrigan, who wrote an acclaimed 1984 novel titled Jacob’s Well that explores the death of a diver at the site.

I can only agree with Harrigan. Staring into Jacob’s Well when I visited the site in early September 2014 was like looking into an eye that was the window to the soul of the Texas Hill Country itself. After a point, it was hard not to blink or look away, and I half expected to see the shadows of the dead or elemental spirits of the land swimming up toward me from the primordial depths. That they reside there is something I do not doubt.

Spooky Devil’s Backbone Tavern

In today’s post, Michael O. Varhola, author of Ghosthunting San Antonio, Austin, and Texas Hill Country, shares with us his experiences when visiting the spooky Devil’s Backbone Tavern.

One spot that travelers might want to visit along the Devil’s Backbone—a haunted highway in the Texas Hill Country north of San Antonio—is the Devil’s Backbone Tavern, a watering hole located on the site of an old Indian campground and what was once a stagecoach stop. It is patronized by ranchers, bikers, and locals (including the late paranormal author Bert Wall). It’s even the subject of a song. The “Ballad of the Devil’s Backbone Tavern” was written by musician Todd Snider after he spent a summer in the 1980s performing there on Friday nights.

Devil's Backbon Tavern

Devil’s Backbone Tavern is not generally open at times when I am conducting paranormal investigation along the haunted highway, but I have stopped there for a beer and chatted about the history of the establishment and paranormal phenomena people have experienced there. Tavern staff, in fact, readily acknowledge that it is haunted and are generally happy to talk about its resident spirits, as I was pleased to discover when my wife and I stopped there with some friends in September 2014.

We ordered beers and then explored the small taproom, large dancehall, and primitive restroom facilities while chatting with the bartender, Lincoln, about some of the things she and others have experienced at the tavern. She pointed out a number of interesting details to us, including a protrusion shaped like a devil’s face in the rock of the wall above the fireplace, signs acknowledging the presence of ghosts, and some pictures of deceased patrons—one framed photo once flew off the wall and struck the wife of the person shown in it when she was complaining about him! She also said that the jukebox sometimes turns on by itself and, what’s more, starts playing songs people were just talking about.

Other staff and regulars are similarly open about things they have experienced at the tavern, which include hearing disembodied footsteps and female bar staff feeling invisible hands touching
their hair.

“It felt a little spooky last night,” bartender Melaine Walker posted to the “Devil’s Backbone Tavern (Ir)Regulars” Facebook page in November 2014. “I opened the doors because it was so muggy and the next thing I saw was this weird fog swirling around in the bar. Creepy when you’re all alone! It was swirling above the shuffleboard, came up behind me and over my head as I was cleaning it.” She went on to say she thought it might have been the spirit of her deceased father, who had frequented the tavern.

“I actually have a picture of that kind of fog,” Lila McCall responded about something she experienced at the tavern around 2008. “It’s a distinct human shape.”

There is no guarantee that you will experience any of these things if you visit the Devil’s Backbone Tavern, but there is a chance that you will—and, at the least, you can enjoy a cold one and chat about the ghosts whom many believe to be present there.