Category Archives: Southern Ghost Stories

The ghost of Alice Riley and the legend of spanish moss

Traveling to Myrtle Beach from our home in Greensboro was always a magical journey for me when I was a little boy. And one of the first things I looked for once we started getting close to the coast were the big oak trees that I called “grandfather oaks”. I called them that because of the “beards” that hung from their branches.

Go to any coastal town in the South and you’ll see huge, centuries-old live oaks with limbs covered in Spanish moss. From Myrtle Beach down through Charleston and Savannah, and on into Florida, the huge trees are the last living elements of the Antebellum South. These old sentinels even predate most of the haints that roam through the southern countryside, or rattle chains in the attics of our homes.

This brings us to the story of Alice Riley and her connection to Spanish moss. Alice and her husband Richard worked as servants for a wealthy Savannah businessman named William Wise in the early 1700’s. Mr. Wise was tyrant, abusive to both Alice and her husband until one day Mr. Wise was found strangled to death in his home. The day was January 19, 1735.

Alice and her husband were the prime suspects. They fled Savannah but were caught hiding out on a nearby island and promptly hauled back to the courthouse where they received a speedy trial and an even speedier sentence – both were sentenced to be hanged by the neck until dead.

Richard was the first to go to the gallows in Wright Square in downtown Savannah. Alice, being pregnant at the time, was allowed to give birth before taking her trip to the gallows, the logic being that only she had received the death sentence, not her child. Alice used her last breath to proclaim her innocence but it was to no avail. The hangman carried out the sentence and her body hung in Wright Square for three days before it was taken down and buried.

Wright Square in Savannah, Georgia

The ghost of Alice Riley is said to haunt Wright Square. She sometimes appears on the evening of January 19 and roams the square for three days searching for her lost child. To this day no one knows if she was really innocent or not. But one thing that is known is that trees of Wright Square, unlike all the other trees in Savannah, bear no Spanish moss.

As legend has it, Spanish moss will not grow where innocent blood has been spilled.

The Surrency Ghosts

One of the most famous hauntings in the history of the South occurred in the early 1870’s in the town of Surrency, a small hamlet located about sixty miles southwest of Savannah, Georgia.

The Surrency Family

Allen Surrency, founder of the town, built his family a large, two-story farmhouse near the railroad tracks and set up his household. But not long after moving in it became horrifyingly apparent to the family that they were not alone in the house. Things started to happen, strange things, and before long the family realized their house was nothing more than a den of angry, restless spirits.

It was a violent haunting witnessed by every member of the family. No one was spared the rage of the ghost, or ghosts that inhabited the house. Windows slammed shut, doors opened and closed and the clock on the wall spun wildly. Silverware flew from the drawers, along with pots, pans, and anything else lying around the house. Wailing voices and angry screams pierced the night while the family tried in vain to sleep. Boots worn by invisible feet walked down the darkened hallway outside the bedrooms.

What makes the Surrency haunting so unique is that it was one of the most verified hauntings in American history. Word traveled across the county about the small town and its haunted house, and visitors came from all over to witness the haunting firsthand. Few were disappointed as the Surrency ghosts were anything but shy.

The haunting went on for several years until one night, after his son was chased down the hall by a floating andiron wielded by unseen hands, Allen decided enough was enough and moved his family out of the house. But the ghosts followed the family to their new home.

Strangely enough, the Surrency haunting ended when Allen Surrency died in 1877. Were the ghosts finally satisfied that they had their man, or was it a coincidence? Rumors spread that Allen had dabbling in the dark religion, or had committed some other heinous sin that warranted the haunting. No one knows for sure.

Few people talk of the Surrency ghosts anymore. All the witnesses to the haunting have long since passed and the story has almost been lost to time.  The town is still there, located where highways 341 and 121 cross but Allen’s house is long gone, having burned to the ground in 1925.

The Tar River Ghost

The Tar River flows into the Pamlico Sound after crossing much of the northeast part of North Carolina. The river meanders through the fields and small towns on its way to the Sound and was once a major shipping route for tar-laden barges. And as it goes with just about everything in the South, the Tar River is said to be haunted.

During the Revolutionary War, British soldiers captured and killed an Irish patriot fighting  against British rule. It is said that the soldiers shot the patriot on the banks of the Tar River and then forced him into the water near the now defunct port village of Old Sparta. As the water turned red with his blood, the patriot swore to the soldiers that he would have his revenge on them, and that they would each be visited by a Banshee that would foretell their deaths.

A Banshee from Irish Folklore

True to the patriot’s word all three of the British soldiers were soon visited by a female apparition not long after that fateful night on the banks of the river. It is said that the soldiers were awakened by the sorrowful wailing of the Banshee who then told them that they would all die in battle within a fortnight. Not long after, the soldiers were all shot and killed in a skirmish with North Carolina militiamen near the town of New Bern.

Legend has it that the Banshee did not rest after the deaths of the British soldiers. To this day, anyone unlucky enough to wade into the water where the patriot died over two hundred years ago will be visited by the Banshee, who will wail her sorrowful moan into the night and foretell their deaths.

The Child Ghost of Cold Harbor

Most Civil War battlefields are haunted by the restless souls of fallen soldiers. And of all the battles of the war, Cold Harbor ranks as one of the bloodiest. In less than thirty minutes, Grant lost over 7000 troops at the hands of Lee’s Army of Virginia, a loss that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

A Cold Harbor burial detail.

But of all the restless souls that wander this historic battlefield, both Union and Confederate, one ghost stands out from the rest. She is known as The Child Ghost of Cold Harbor.

Visitors to Cold Harbor, located in Mechanicsburg, Virginia, often remark of hearing phantom cannon fire, screams of wounded men, and calls from commanders still leading their men into a battle that occurred over 150 years ago. Some visitors even say they can smell smoke from the cannons and hear the distant hoof beats of charging cavalry.

And they also talk of seeing the ghost of a little girl in a white dress and bonnet wandering through meadows and graveyards that border the battlefield, or peering at them from the windows of the Garthright House, a historic home that sits on the edge of the Cold Harbor battlefield.

The Garthright House as it appears today.

The Garthright House was once used as a field hospital for wounded troops. It’s rumored that the little girl, thought to be the daughter of a local gravedigger, fell to her death from one of the windows as the battle raged around her in the surrounding fields.

Most visitors understand the presence of the souls of Civil War dead when they visit one of the battlefields. The Civil War was a violent, horrible conflict that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of men. But the Child Ghost of Cold Harbor reminds us that children often perished, sometimes in great numbers, during the four years of the war.

And sometimes the ghosts of these children stay behind, a sorrowful reminder of the terrible price of war.

Our fascination with haunted dolls

Of all the ghosts, ghouls and goblins that grace the pages of horror novels, the haunted doll is probably responsible for more sleepless
nights among readers than any other object. They haunt our dreams, our closets, our attics and even the basement. There probably isn’t a single house in America that doesn’t have at least one old doll stuffed away in a box or sitting on a shelf in a closet, its eyes staring blankly into the darkness.

When I was little I was sure there was a monster living under my bed. It was so real that I even thought I could hear it breathing in the middle of the night. When I finally worked up the courage to look I found out, to my relief, that there was nothing there. But almost every closet in my house had some sort of old doll sitting on the top shelf. It seemed that my mother and grandmother never met a doll they didn’t like and felt the need to give all of them a home. Some of the dolls had hand-made dresses, long hair and glass eyes. And that’s what always did it for me – the eyes.  Nothing is more frightening to an eight year old kid than the eyes of a doll staring back at him from a dark closet.

Photo by Heidi Sue Hittle

Who hasn’t climbed into the attic in search of a box of junk only to find a creepy doll sitting in the corner? My wife still talks about when she was a little girl and her mother sent her to the attic to get the box of Christmas decorations for their tree. Going into the attic was bad enough, but what she saw when she got there scared the living daylights out of her. When she clicked on the attic light the first thing she saw was one of her older sister’s dolls sitting on top of a box just a few feet away. She swears to this day that the doll’s head moved when she turned on the light. At that instant she forgot all about the box of decorations and climbed as fast as she could back down the ladder, never to go in the attic again. When she told her mother about it she only replied, “did you put it back in the box?” What..? Put it back in the box? Exactly how did it get out of the box in the first place?

Photo by Heidi Sue Hittle

Ghosts in the house are one thing. Most of us have at least one dead relative wandering around the house who refuses to move on to the hereafter. Sometimes they make noises in the middle of the night but we just dismiss it. But a doll standing in the doorway of your bedroom late at night, or one sitting on a dresser that turns its head when you walk into the room is the stuff of nightmares. Horror novelists know this, and waste no time exploiting our fear of haunted dolls, often portraying them as nothing more than receptacles of the souls of the dead.

So the next time you’re rummaging around in the attic or in the closet of the back bedroom and you come across a creepy doll, just throw it away. I dare you. Just remember, throwing it away might not do any good. The doll may just return later that night to stand by the foot of your bed, its eyes aglow with the anger of being tossed aside.

The Bedside Ghost of Edenton, NC

Nestled on the banks of the Albemarle Sound in a remote part of eastern North Carolina lies the small town of Edenton. Incorporated in 1722, Edenton was the first capital of colonial North Carolina and as such has a rich history dating back to its early days as a maritime seaport of pre-Revolutionary War America.

old tombstonesGiven the age of some of the historical homes and buildings in Edenton, not to mention that there are graveyards with graves dating to the early 1700’s, its not hard to believe, in fact, it’s almost expected that Edenton is haunted by the restless souls of its past.

The Cupola House in 1920

On a recent visit to the town with my wife we had the opportunity to see firsthand evidence of the presence of one of Edenton’s many colonial ghosts.

Edenton has several very old homes that have been painstakingly restored to their previous glory. One of these is the Cupola House. Built in 1758 and occupied for 141 years by the Dickinson Family, the Cupola House now stands empty, and can be toured by appointment.

The house as it stands today.

When my wife and I toured the house on a guided tour, we found out, along with the rest of our group, that we were not necessarily the only people in the house.

While taking us through the Cupola House, our tour guide rather nonchalantly pointed to the bed in one of the upstairs bedrooms and explained that a ghost routinely sits at the foot of the bed. On the edge of the bed we could see an indentation in the mattress. It looked exactly like what one would expect to see if someone had been sitting at the foot of the bed.

IMG_2806Keep in mind that the beds in the house have period-correct goose feather mattresses covered with handmade quilts. They wrinkle easily and the mattresses, which are basically just big bags of feathers, do not recover easily from being sat down on like today’s mattresses.

IMG_2807Our guide explained that no matter what anyone does to the mattress and quilt during the day that the indentation will always return by the next morning. There are several volunteers that routinely unlock the house and dust the furniture and they all report the same thing – when they clean the house and smooth out the quilt on the bed, the indentation always returns once the house is locked up and left for the night.

It is believed that a dying child once occupied the bedroom, and that the ghost of the child’s mother now returns to sit at the edge of the bed to grieve. It is believed that it is her ghost that causes the indentation in the sheets. None of the other beds in the house are affected by this bedside ghost.

So if you’re in the mood to stroll the sidewalks of a quaint little town full of history, I highly recommend a visit to Edenton. You can take a boat ride along the historic shoreline of the town, as well as a trolley ride through the tree-lined streets. And don’t forget to take the walking tour, which includes a visit to the Cupola House where you will be able to see the evidence of the bedside ghost of Edenton with your own eyes.

A Strange Haunting on Edisto Island

The locals tell a strange ghost story down on Edisto Island, SC. It is one of the most horrifying and heartbreaking tales you will ever hear. It is the story of the ghost of Julia Legare.

The Legare family owned a plantation on Edisto Island in the time before the Civil War. Their family mausoleum is located on the grounds of the Edisto Island Presbyterian Church, built in 1831. The Church is still active, and the mausoleum still attracts visitors to this day, over 150 years since the night that poor little Julia Legare was laid to rest.

Or, so they thought she was laid to rest.

In those days it was common for families to lose children to illnesses that today are easily cured. And the rest of the not-so-modern medicine of the day also left a lot to be desired, such as the ability to tell whether or not a person was dead or just in a deep coma. Turns out it was the latter for little Julia Legare.

A victim of Diphtheria, Julia was pronounced dead by the physician brought in by the family. No heartbeat or breathing could be detected and due to the primitive level of mortuary science practiced during that era, with no embalming or other form of preservation possible, her thought-to-be dead body was rushed to interment in the family mausoleum. The family paid their respects and with heavy hearts sealed and locked the door of the mausoleum.

Years later when Julia’s older brother was killed in the Civil War, the family once again had to open the mausoleum. What they found horrified them.

Lying on the floor of the mausoleum just inside the door were the crumpled remains of little Julia. Only bones and tattered clothing remained. Claw marks could be seen on the inside of the door and on the walls and floor where Julia had tried in vain to escape after coming out of her Diphtheria-induced coma.

The family, now more consumed with grief than ever, placed Julia’s brother in the mausoleum, gathered up Julia’s remains, reinterred them next to her brother and then resealed the mausoleum.

And then the hauntings began.

When the family returned shortly after resealing the mausoleum, they found the door had been reopened. They closed and locked the door only to return several days later to find that it had once again been reopened.

Distraught and confused, the family then had the door removed and replaced with a heavy stone slab. But that too was found pushed to the side several days later. After a few more attempts, the family gave up and left the door to the mausoleum open. And that is how it remains today. Since the discovery of poor little Julia’s fate, no attempt to keep the mausoleum door sealed shut has been successful.

The Edisto Island Presbyterian Church. Photo by Charles N. Bayless

So if you’re ever down on Edisto Island just south of Charleston, stop by the cemetery at the Edisto Island Presbyterian Church. There you will find the Legare family mausoleum. And just inside the open door you will see the claw marks left by the hands of a little girl unwittingly entombed long before her time, whose ghost still stands a lonely vigil to ensure that the door to her family’s mausoleum remains open so that no one will suffer the same fate as she did over 150 years ago.

The Brown Mountain Lights

Near the town of Morganton, NC in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains lies Brown Mountain. As far back as the early 1900’s, people have observed a ghostly phenomenon in the skies around the mountain that has become known as the Brown Mountain Lights.

Ghost hunting is a popular sport among paranormal enthusiasts, especially in the South. Many people pay good money to take tours of haunted houses or spooky graveyards in the hopes of seeing the elusive ghosts that haunt them. Down South, there is a better chance to see a ghost since Southern land is known to be haunted by the restless souls of its tortured past. But even though the ghosts are there, they often do not want to be seen and many paying visitors often walk away disappointed. Not so for the Brown Mountain Lights. Unlike most ghosts they are anything but shy.

The Brown Mountain Lights are so dependable that visitors come from miles around to see them. The best time is reportedly in the fall months from September to December. The ghostly lightshow is so dependable that overlooks have been constructed on the highways around Brown Mountain to give visitors a place to stop and see the lights. Mile post 310 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Brown Mountain Overlook on NC Highway 181, and one of the best vantage points, Wiseman’s View near Linville Falls are some of the best places to see the lights.

To this day, no one has been able to figure out exactly what causes the Brown Mountain Lights. The lights have been blamed on the reflections of locomotive headlamps, campfires, moonshiners, UFO’s and all other manner of physical anomalies. The US Geological Survey has conducted investigations into the lights but has never found a plausible reason for them to exist.

Legend has it that two warring Indian tribes fought on Brown Mountain hundreds of years ago and that the lights are said to be the ghosts of the wives of the warriors that died in the battle. But as with most ghost legends, it depends on who you ask as to how the story goes.

One thing is for certain when it comes to the Brown Mountain Lights – most efforts to see them will be rewarded. So if you’re ever in the area near the mountain, stop by one of the many overlooks on a dark, clear night.

What you will see just might surprise you.

Pennies from Heaven

Guest post by Lisa Young

As a woman born and raised in the South, I’ll be the first to tell you that the spirits of our loved ones are never far away. Whether they visit in the night, the way my husband’s dead relatives tend to do, or whether they leave a symbol of their presence, such as a penny from Heaven, we always know they are with us.

Last year saw the passing of my father. He was my rock and meant everything to me. I was lost without him. The heartache from losing my father, along with my son leaving for boot camp was almost more than I could handle. My days were long, and my nights were even longer.

My son’s graduation was December 19th, our big extended-family Christmas party was December 20th and my 50th birthday, despite my best efforts to ignore it, was fast approaching. I hoped our busy schedule would soften the sharp edges of what was ahead of me – my first Christmas without my father. The sadness was unbearable

It was then that my niece Ashley, who had also lost her father, told me about her pennies from Heaven. She told me that she believes that the random pennies she finds, sometimes in the oddest and most unlikely of places, are her father’s way of letting her know that he is still with her. This brings comfort to her, and also to her children. They love thinking about their Pawpaw every time they find a penny.

My father worked for the Coca Cola Company and for years drove a big 18-wheel Coke truck. Every time I see one of those big trucks on the highway I think about him and wonder if it’s his way of giving me a sign that he is with me.

Then one night during my evening prayers I asked my father if he could send me a penny the way Ashley’s father sends them to her. But as the weeks passed and no penny showed up my hope began to wane. Maybe my father’s way of speaking to me would just have to remain with the big Coke trucks and not with pennies.

My penny from Heaven

Then it happened. I came downstairs on Father’s Day with a heavy feeling in my heart knowing that it was going to be a very long day. There on my kitchen floor was a bright, shiny 2015 penny. I knew then that my dad was showing me that he is still with me. It was exactly what I needed. There on the floor was my penny from Heaven.

So when you find your penny from Heaven remember that heads up or tails up doesn’t matter because it’s not about luck. When you find your penny remember that it’s about love, the love you have for that special person whose memory you hold close in your heart. Let your penny serve as a reminder that the spirits of our loved ones are never far away, and that oftentimes they will make their presence known just when we need them the most.

The Ghostly Wounds of Shiloh

In April of 1862, Union and Confederate armies met in southwestern Tennessee near the town of Shiloh. It would be the bloodiest and most costly battle of the Civil War up to that date, and it would produce a ghostly legend that came to be known as the “Angel’s Glow of Shiloh”.

Battle of Shiloh credit Thure de Thulstrup

Almost 25,000 soldiers, both Union and Confederate, gave their lives during the two day Battle of Shiloh. The Union emerged victorious but suffered a higher death toll than the Confederates they opposed. When the battle was over, General Grant had a foothold in Tennessee, the western flank of the Confederacy.

A battery marker on the Shiloh Battlefield historical site.

As the wounded and dying men lay on the Shiloh battlefield, a strange thing started to happen. When night fell their wounds began to glow in the dark. No one at the time, including the medics, had any idea why a soldier’s wounds would glow in the dark. Medicine at the time was anything but modern and the medics, unable to come up with any sort of explanation, dubbing the condition the “Angel’s Glow”.

And to make matters even more mysterious, many of the wounded soldiers that had the glowing wounds began to heal and improve at a faster rate than those that didn’t have glowing wounds. This baffled the already bewildered battlefield medics. Since the wounds glowed in the dark, which was strange enough at the time, and many of the soldiers with glowing wounds enjoyed a higher survival rate, the medics had no other explanation than to assume that a higher power was involved, hence the nickname “Angel’s Glow”.

The Shiloh battlefield today.

The legend of the Angel’s Glow survived for almost a hundred and fifty years until two high school students participating in a science fair found out what had caused the soldiers’ wounds to glow in the dark. It turns out that the two students discovered that a bioluminescent bacteria known as Photorhabdus Luminescens had most likely taken up residence in the wounds of the Shiloh soldiers. These bacteria glow a soft blue color when alive.

The trouble with the theory however, is that it is well established that Photorhabdus Luminescens cannot survive at the temperature of the human body. So how could it be possible to attribute the glowing wounds to the bacteria if the normal body temperature of the soldiers would have killed it off?

The Battle of Shiloh

It turns out that since the Battle of Shiloh was so intense and resulted in so many casualties in such a short two-day period, that many of the soldiers on both sides ended up lying on the battlefield for days with little or no help from the medics, who were overwhelmed to say the least. Since the Battle of Shiloh occurred in April, it was still very cool weather in that part of Tennessee. As a result, many of the wounded soldiers went into a state of hypothermia, which lowered their body temperatures enough to allow the Photorhabdus Luminescens bacteria to survive in their wounds.

Once the living bacteria took up residence in the wounds, they began to eat the other more harmful bacteria, such as the type that causes gangrene. That’s a good thing since the cure for a gangrene infected limb in those days involved a saw. Once a soldier’s condition started to improve, their body temperature would return to normal and kill off the Photorhabdus Luminescens bacteria.

Shiloh veterans in 1905

While modern science has explained the Angel’s Glow of Shiloh, it pays to remember that in the minds of the soldiers saved by it on the Shiloh battlefield, it was nothing short of the handiwork of the angels above them.