Founded in 1565, St. Augustine, Florida is the oldest continuously- occupied city in America.
The city is full of ancient, historic sites and more than its share of old haunted houses and graveyards. One of the most notable of the haunted graveyards is the Huguenot Cemetery.
Established in the early 1820’s and closed in 1884 after an outbreak of Yellow Fever filled the cemetery to capacity, the Huguenot Cemetery served as a burial ground for non-Catholics that lived in the city. The bodies of Catholics were laid to rest in the nearby Tolomato Cemetery and their ghosts are restless enough, but the Huguenot Cemetery holds the honor of being the most haunted cemetery in the city.
Ghost sightings, orbs, strange lights and noises abound on any given night in the Huguenot Cemetery. Of all the wandering haints that call the cemetery home, one stands out above the rest. It’s the ghost of Judge John Stickney.
The death of Judge Stickney in 1882 of Yellow Fever left his children without parents since his wife had passed away years before. Shortly after Judge Stickney’s death, family members from Washington D.C. came and took the children north leaving no one to tend to his grave.
Years later, after the children grew into adults, they decided to have their father’s remains moved closer to home so they could see to it that flowers were kept on his grave.
The trouble started when the gravediggers left Judge Stickney’s remains unattended for a short time after the exhumation, allowing thieves to steal his gold teeth. Judge Stickney’s ghost was none too amused and to this day it still haunts the Huguenot Cemetery. Even though his physical remains were removed from the cemetery, his ghostly remains have stayed in place. Visitors to the cemetery report seeing his shadowy apparition roaming aimlessly among the headstones, apparently searching in vain for his lost, treasured gold dental work.
Deep in the swamps of eastern North Carolina lies the small town of Solomon. Once a thriving factory town with a finishing mill that employed most of the townsfolk, Solomon is now nothing more than a sleepy little hamlet forgotten by most of the world. Over the years many of the residents have left, but some have chosen to remain. One of those residents is a woman who goes by the name of Isabelle Pearl. Known to the locals as Wicked Izzy, she has lived in a small farmhouse on the outskirts of town for as long as anyone can remember.
Legend has it that Isabelle moved to Solomon in 1916 and took up residence with her husband in the very farmhouse she lives in to this day. When the fighting of World War I claimed the life of her husband, Isabelle was so consumed with grief that she left her farmhouse late one evening and wandered into the nearby woods. Lost in the darkness and unable to find her way back to her home, Isabelle lit a campfire and decided to wait out the night with the hopes that she would be able to find her way home once dawn arrived.
Alone and scared, Isabelle sat by her campfire trying to make it through the cold night. Sadness engulfed her and as the darkness closed in around her she began to call out his name.
Desperate for just one more glimpse of the man she loved, Isabelle screamed into the darkness. She knew she would do anything to have her husband returned to her. According to legend, it was then that a man walked out of the darkness and sat down by the fire. Isabelle had never seen him before and when she saw the fire dancing in the man’s eyes her first instinct was to rise and flee into the woods. But the darkness clawing at the edge of the circle of light thrown out by the fire told Isabelle that she had best stay close and listen to what the man had to say.
Once the man finished explaining the terms of the deal to Isabelle he produced a scroll of parchment from his weathered leather jacket. He unrolled the ancient paper and handed it to her. Then he opened his pocketknife, instructing her to prick her finger with the tip of the blade. She hesitated at first but then did as she was told. When she pressed the bloody pad of her finger to the old parchment, she sealed her fate for eternity.
The man smiled, knowing the Isabelle’s soul now belong to him. He flicked the spent butt of his cigarette into the fire and rose to his feet. He rolled up the parchment and tucked it away inside his jacket, tipped his hat and disappeared into the darkness.
In the morning Isabelle and her husband walked out of the woods together and back to their farmhouse. Most of the townsfolk thought he had returned unharmed from the fighting overseas. No one in town knew the truth – that Isabelle’s husband had died in the war.
Isabelle and her husband kept their secret safe. They lived together for several more years in their farmhouse until he died a second time, crushed beneath his farm tractor when it overturned during the cotton harvest.
To this day, Isabelle Pearl still lives in her farmhouse on the outskirts of Solomon. She remains as beautiful as she was in her youth and continues to do the bidding of the man she met that night by the fire almost a hundred years ago. And the terms of the deal she offers to those brave enough to pay her a visit remains the same.
There is no shortage of spooky graveyards in America, especially in the South, and when it comes to burying the dead no city does it better, and with more extravagance, than New Orleans.
Burying the dead in a city that is below sea level and prone to flooding is no easy task. The dead prefer to stay dry and if not kept that way will make their displeasure known to the living, usually in the middle of the night.
Laid out just like miniature cities, with narrow streets and street signs, a New Orleans graveyard can be an unnerving thing to walk through. It is easy to get lost in the maze of crypts.
Walk through any graveyard in New Orleans and you will feel the presence of the dead. Many corpses are entombed at eye-level so when you feel the urge to peek through a crack in an older crypt, be prepared for what might be looking back at you. In some crypts, coffins are optional.
Graveyards in the Big Easy, the popular nickname for New Orleans, harbor their fair share of restless ghosts. The oldest cemetery, Saint Louis No. 1, holds the tomb of Marie Laveau, the famous Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. Due to vandalism, only visitors escorted by licensed tour guides may visit the cemetery. Legend has it that if a visitor marks Marie’s grave with three X’s and turns around three times while shouting their wish, Marie will grant the wish. As you can imagine, this has led to her crypt being covered with X’s.
Cities of the Dead also harbor other things as well. Like the old saying goes, it’s not the dead you have to worry about, it’s the living that will kill you. The high walls that surround most of these graveyards harbor a spooky feeling of isolation, which also leads to unsafe conditions for visitors. On a recent visit to New Orleans, my wife and I were having dinner in the French Quarter when the waiter cautioned us not wander too far inside one of the nearby walled “cities of the dead”. He told us that if we did go inside to only do so in the daylight. Once inside, he warned that we stay close to each other and not stray too far from the entrance. He told us with a serious look on his face that if the ghosts didn’t get us, something else would.
The above ground crypts used in the cities of the dead in New Orleans serve as slow-baking crematoriums. The bodies rapidly decompose in the sweltering heat, quickly breaking down into nothing but bones. Lime poured on the body will speed up the process and sweet smelling plants placed around the tombs can help mask the odor of decomposition. One year later after the flesh is gone, the family can open the tomb and have the bones pushed to the rear where they fall into a deep crevice in the back of the tomb. This allows reuse of tomb for other family members over multiple generations. This explains why many of the tombs are so old. Some of these old tombs hold piles of bones that date back to the founding of the city.
If you ever find yourself in the Big Easy, visit one of the cities of the dead. There is nothing quite like a walk among the corpses of Voodoo queens, witches, and just plain old normal folk to remind you of just how short life is, and how extravagant the hereafter can be.
In 1587 an expedition directed by Sir Walter Raleigh and led by John White attempted to establish the first permanent English settlement in the New World. Originally bound for the Chesapeake Bay, the settlers landed on Roanoke Island, NC where they set about the hard and laborious task of finding a way to survive. Life was hard.
John White was appointed governor of the colony but left soon after to return to England to gather additional supplies. Among the 115 colonists he left behind was his infant granddaughter Virginia Dare, the first child born to English parents in the New World.
Due to England’s war with Spain, White was not able to return to Roanoke Island until 1590. When he arrived he found that all of the colonists had disappeared. The only trace of evidence that he found was the word “Croatoan” carved in the trunk of a tree.
Legend has it that the colonists assimilated into the local Croatan tribe of Native Americans that inhabited the island. Virginia Dare grew into a beautiful young woman who attracted the attention of Okisko and Chico, two prominent warriors of the tribe.
But Virginia only had eyes for Okisko, and when she rejected the advances of Chico it is said that he grew angry and vowed that if he could not have Virginia then no one could have her. Borrowing from the old adage “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”, which apparently could be extended to male warriors of the day, Chico set about with his plan to deny Okisko the love of his beautiful maiden.
Enlisting the help of one of the sorcerers of the tribe, Chico cast a spell on Virginia that turned her into a white doe. When Okisko saw this his heart was broken and he immediately began searching for a way to reverse the spell that had been cast on Virginia. Orisko had a sorcerer friend as well who advised him to make an arrowhead out of Mother of Pearl and to then shoot the doe through the heart with it. The sorcerer convinced Orisko that the special arrowhead would instantly reverse the curse and return Virginia to human form.
Enter Wanchese, another chieftain in the tribe. Unaware of the true identity of the white doe, Wanchese devised a plan kill the doe in an effort to showcase his hunting skills. Wanchese knew that an animal with such an unusual appearance would require a special arrowhead, so he fashioned one out of pure silver for the task.
On the day of the hunt, Okisko and Wanchese spotted the white doe and let loose their arrows at precisely the same instant. Both arrows found their mark and pierced the heart of the doe. Just as Okisko’s sorcerer had promised, the Mother of Pearl arrowhead transformed the animal back to his beloved Virginia Dare. But the silver arrow from Wanchese took her life as soon as she changed back to human form.
While no traces of the Lost Colony have ever been found, legend has it that the ghost of one of the colonists can still be seen on Roanoke island. The ghost of Virginia Dare is said to wander the woods of the island in the form of a white doe, searching in vain for her lost love Orisko.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Most people that grow up in North Carolina have visited Blowing Rock at one time or another in their lives. Along with Tweetsie Railroad and the “mile high swinging bridge” at nearby Grandfather Mountain, Blowing Rock is a popular destination for anyone that visits the Blue Ridge Mountains.
But few people know the story behind Blowing Rock.
As a child I once stood on the observation deck at Blowing Rock and wondered if the stories I had heard were true – that if you tossed your hat off the rock that the wind would return it to your hands. I decided to take a chance and removed my brand new engineer’s cap that my mom had bought me at a gift shop at Tweetsie Railroad and gave it a toss, reluctantly, into the valley below. To my surprise, the hat was returned to me by the wind. Well, almost. It didn’t exactly return to my hands, but was instead blown into the face of an innocent bystander fifty or so feet down the walkway. Red-faced with embarrassment, I quickly apologized and my beloved engineer’s cap was returned to me where it stayed tucked in my back pocket until we got back to the car.
It is said that the wind blows up from the valley below with such a steady intensity that in the wintertime the snow blows up past Blowing Rock instead of falling down from above. As with any folktale in North Carolina, especially one borne in the mountains, there is a story behind the wind.
The story goes that two young Native American lovers, knowing their love was forbidden since their tribes were about to go to war with each other, met at the rock and swore to each other that their love would transcend the coming fight between their people and conquer all, as true love often does. But when the red sky signaled the start of the war, the young man made a horrible decision. Facing the shame of not returning to fight with his tribe, or the heartbreak of leaving his true love, he chose instead to jump to his death into the valley below.
But all was not lost. As the young girl watched her lover jump from the rock, she quickly prayed to the spirits of the mountain for his life to be spared. Legend has it that the wind, blowing steady and strong up from the valley below just as it continues to do this day, returned her lover to her arms.
So if you ever find yourself in the Blue Ridge Mountains, pay a visit to Blowing Rock. You can even bring a hat and test the wind’s ability to return it to you. But if I were you, I wouldn’t trust the wind any farther than that, as a young maiden once did hundreds of years ago.
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.
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.
Today I’m pleased to offer a guest post by Rachel Ratliff, a reader from Tennessee who has an interesting story to tell about her great-great grandmother, a woman known affectionately as “Ma Grooms”.
Victoria Scott was born at the turn of the century – the summer of 1900 – in Cocke County, Tennessee. Grassy Fork could hardly even be called a community at the time. It wasn’t until the 2000 Census the population broke eight hundred souls. At the age of fourteen, she was married to Ruldolph Grooms, fourteen years her senior, and they moved by horse and wagon over the Great Smoky Mountains into Cataloochee, North Carolina. Five generations later, Victoria was known to most simply as Ma Grooms or Mom Mom. She was my Great-Great-Grandmother.
Ma Grooms lived her entire life tucked back in the mountains. I’ve been told a year or more would pass at a time that Ma Grooms didn’t come down off The Mountain. Rudolph saw to it that they had what he thought they needed, and saw no need for her to leave. I never knew where the Old House was, just that it was on The Mountain – and a far piece from any neighbors or the store. Ma Grooms differentiated the timeline of her life by that Mountain – when we lived on The Mountain, and after we moved off The Mountain.
Ma Grooms enjoyed a simple life. She cooked and heated with an old wood stove, and refused to have indoor plumbing until she was almost ninety. She used electricity only for the necessities. When Rudolph brought home an old television, Ma Grooms refused to watch it. While he watched television, she would sit in her rocking chair with her back to the television and read her Bible. Ma Grooms kept a close walk with the Lord all her life. She read her Bible every day, went to church when she could get there. Her faith was so strong God allowed her to cure sick babies.
My grandmother says that people from miles around would bring their sick babies to Ma Grooms. They carried them through the woods, rain or shine, even hiking through the snow in freezing weather because they knew she had a gift. Whatever the ailment, Ma Grooms would bring the child close to her, and taking their tiny hands in her calloused and wrinkled ones, she would cup their hands over their mouth, recite a scripture, and breath through their cupped hands into the child’s mouth. Whatever the scripture, whatever the prayer, it was between Ma Grooms, the Lord, and the child in front of her. She never told anyone what she said. It wasn’t about the words – the words alone were powerless. It was about her faith and God’s power.
In 1952, Ma Grooms and Rudolph moved down off The Mountain on doctor’s orders for Rudolph’s health. By that time, Rudolph was having heart problems, and their house on The Mountain had no phone, and was too far away from any hospital to make it in time if there were an emergency. The last house she lived in was little more than a wood shack that sat with its back against the side of a mountain and the Little East Fork River in the front yard. Crossing a rickety wooden footbridge over the river was the only way to access the house. If the river was up, there was no getting out.
Six years after moving off the mountain, Rudolph passed away. Til the day she died, Ma Grooms said the Lord told her it was going to happen. One day, when Rudolph was out digging a new outhouse, Ma Grooms went out to call him in for lunch. Standing down in the hole he was digging, Rudolph reached his hand up and asked Ma to help him out. In the instant she clasped his hand, Ma Grooms said the Lord spoke to her very clearly and said, “You can pull him out of the ground today, but this time tomorrow you won’t be able to.” Still pondering the Lord’s words in her mind and heart, the two went inside and sat down to lunch. Rudolph died sitting at the table that very meal.
Even with Rudolph gone, Ma Grooms stayed in the little house by the river. She never came to trust electricity or indoor plumbing. She valued her independence so highly she refused any help from her children and grandchildren to improve the house or move somewhere better. She owned her little house free and clear, meager as it was. Eventually the local community held a fundraiser to get running water and plumbing for her, but Ma Grooms still went down to the river every day and filled old milk jugs with the cold clear water. There were never less than two dozen jugs of water stored on her porch ready to use.
The house still had no telephone, and never would. The day she was bitten by a copperhead snake while working outside, Ma Grooms did the only thing she could – she crawled across the yard, over the old footbridge, and over to the main road where she waited until help came in the form of a passing car. Still, she valued her independence far above any comforts a new home could offer.
As far back as anyone can remember, Ma Grooms refused to say “goodbye” to anyone. If anyone told her ‘bye, she would say, “No, it’s not goodbye, it’s just so long. It’s never goodbye with the Lord, just see you later.” For almost a century, through five generations of children and grandchildren… and great grandchildren… and great-great grandchildren, and finally a great-great-great-grandchild, Ma Grooms was steadfast in her faith, and in her simple life, until at the age of ninety-seven, the Lord took her to the only better home she would have ever moved for – the one He prepared for her.
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.
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 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.