Friday, August 24, 2018

Alabama Bandits - "Mountain" Tom Clark

Florence, Alabama

Florence, Alabama is in Lauderdale County, north of Colbert County. It boarders the Tennessee state line. Prior to and during the Civil War it was home to many outlaw gangs. These murderous drifters, roving thieves, vagrants, bushwhackers, guerillas, and malicious misfits consisted of some of history’s most wicked men. Outlaws like Rueben “Rube” Burrows and his brother, Jim, were notorious thieves that fashioned their crime sprees after the James Gang. Rueben Burrows allegedly robbed a neighbor at gun point when he was just fifteen years old. He was later responsible for dozens of robberies and murders. On October 9, 1890 he was gunned down after he attempted to escape authorities. His body was put on display for the public to see and was transported by train all over the state. Bart Thrasher who was responsible for dozens of robberies and murders in the Bibb County region of Alabama terrorized with such ferocity that locals were afraid to aid the sheriff in his capture and arrest. Thus, giving the region the nickname, “bloody Bibb”. Even Jessie and Frank James, who were famous for their robberies, murders and buried treasure all spent time near the state boarders dodging justice and trying to out run the law.

The body of the outlaw Rueben Burrows on display. 

Another notorious outlaw known as “Mountain” Tom Clark was equally as bad. He settled in the Lauderdale County region in 1862 where he married and had one child. He’d been dodging his obligation to serve in the Confederate army for years, but officers finally caught up with him. He was apprehended and taken to the nearest conscription camp. He promptly escaped and was branded a deserter. He felt he could avoid prosecution by traveling North to Clifton, Tennessee where he enrolled in the Union army. After a short period of time, he wanted out and paid off a guard with a gold watch to turn the other cheek while he abandoned his regiment. The conspiracy was quickly discovered, and Clark was court martial for desertion. He managed to escape again but would spend the rest of his life running from the law.   

Tom Clark was responsible for numerous raids, countless robberies and as many as nineteen murders. That was as many as he admitted to anyway. No one was immune to his violence, not even women and children. In the fall of 1872, his dirty deeds had finally caught to him. He was spotted in Florence after a string of robberies in a mull driven buggy full of stolen goods. Reports indicate it was roughly two o’clock in the morning when he was identified and the Sheriff, William E. Blair left shortly after with his men to track the bandits. The authorities caught up with the outlaws in Gravelly Springs where they apprehended Clark and his accomplices. They searched the buggy and found the stolen items and burglary tools. The men surrendered without incident.  

Once they arrived at the jail in Florence, Sheriff Calvin Hudson ordered more than half a dozen deputies to guard the prisoners. By nightfall, word had spread throughout the community that Tom Clark and two of his Bugger accomplices were being held at the jail. Around midnight, a mob of angry and disgruntle townspeople stormed the jail, overpowered the jailers and kidnapped Clark and his pals. They dragged the men in to an adjacent lot and beat them repeatedly. While the people were dishing out Clark's punishment, he attempted to fight back stating, “Ain’t nobody gonna run over Tom Clark.” As they continued to beat the prisoners the crowd grew more and more violent and they eventually strung the trio up in a large tree near the Masonic Lodge.

The following morning the hanging bodies of Clark and his men were found. Mayor, Neander H. Rice ordered the bodies be cut down and buried immediately. Clark’s accomplices were buried in the town cemetery, but Clark was buried beneath Tennessee Street, where in fact, people run over him every day. Today a historic marker is all that’s left of Tom Clarks criminal career and his burial site.

Mountain Tom Clark,
"Ain't nobody gonna run over Tom Clark". 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Old Ward Funeral Home

Opelika, Alabama

The old Ward's funeral home
Avenue A
 Opelika, Alabama 2018

The old Ward Funeral home in Opelika, Alabama was built in 1870 (according to unofficial record). It’s funerary and cremation services served the community for more than half a century before it closed its doors and relocated to a neighboring city. Many prominent Opelika families used the services at Wards during the post civil war era and well in to the 1950’s. Wards was considered to offer the best and most distinguished funeral services of the time. 

Historical records indicate that the sur name “Ward” may come from one of Lee county’s earliest settlers; a mixed race Creek Indian known as Joe Marshal. He had a sprawling plantation known as, “The Ward Place”. Joe Marshal was a slave holder, many of which would have been given the last name, “Ward”. It is suspected that this is the origin of the name associated with the Ward family and the old Ward funeral home.
The casket room, which was located on this side of the funeral home, has now been torn down. 

The house alone is indicative of a rotting corpse, a seemingly timeless wreck of what was once a glorious and grand reconstruction era home. It’s skeletal, Victorian charm is still stunning and the architecture of the time is still visible to the trained eye. They definitely don’t make them like this anymore. 
Remnants of Victorian-style wallpaper and the shadows of ornate mantels are all that's let of this once magnificent funeral home.

An interesting feature of the old Ward place are the flakes of turquoise that scarcely drift down from the porch ceiling. Older photos show there was once a pale blue paint that covered the underside of the front porch. In ancient African and Native American cultures, particularly those that were once very prominent in the American south, a common practice was to paint ceilings and porches in light blue. It was said that the color resembled water and evil spirits could not pass over it. Today, even paint companies list certain shades of blues and turquoise as, “haint blue”. 

It may be a coincidence that the funeral home was owned by African American families with the last name Ward; whose descendants may have come from a plantation of a mixed race Creek Indian, and that the porch is painted in a traditional African/Native way to deflect negative forces, but it does lead one to wonder if this is possibly where the term, “ward off evil” comes from? Probably not, but it’s an odd coincidence indeed.

The building is now condemned and unsafe to enter but urban legends involving the old house are as thick as the kudzu that is slowing devouring it. Many explorers have come here to see and photograph the old building, most are smart enough not to enter but a few braver souls have and been scared out of their wits either on a dare or by sheer morbid curiosity. 
The funeral home has been condemned by the city of Opelika. 

To date, sightings of ghostly figures in the windows, strange floating apparitions in the hallways, and the haunting but playful voices of children are just some of the reports from the old Ward Funeral home. No official investigation can be conducted here due to the condition and on going deterioration of the building. As paranormal phenomenon around the the Ward place continues to grow, it’s likely the spell of the haint blue paint has been broken. But thinking back, why’d they paint the porch blue in the first place? 

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Haunted Flag of the CSS Tennessee - A Maritime Ghost Story.

Inside the National Civil War Naval Museum, located in Columbus, Georgia, is a glorious collection of assorted ship's flags from the Civil War. Many of these historic items have seen great battles and were flown on some of the Union and Confederate’s greatest ironclads, gunship’s, and blockade runners. 

The Confederate battle flag of the CSS Tennessee on display at the National Civil War Naval Museum
 in Columbus, Georgia.
(Courtesy of Shannon Fontaine) 

All of these flags tell a story, but perhaps the most noted, are the flags from the CSS Tennessee and the USS Hartford. The CSS Tennessee was built in Selma, Alabama and launched in February 1863. She was commissioned a year later as Confederate Admiral Franklin Buchanan's flagship. In 1864, she was sent to Mobile, Alabama for what would later be recognized as one of the Civil Wars most historical maritime battles. 

On August 5, 1864, the CSS Tennessee occupied the Confederate Navy's position at Fort Morgan in Mobile Bay. The Confederate objective during the Battle of Mobile Bay was to bottle neck the Union fleet into the bay. Ships that ventured into the shallows would be hit by torpedoes. 

Torpedoes from the Civil War where not projectile discharges but rather
an anchored barrel of floating black powder.
Torpedoes in that time were essentially more like floating mines, with an anchor or weight tied to a wooden or metal barrel rigged with black powder. The Confederate stronghold in Mobile was Fort Morgan. The fort’s position in the bay gave the Confederates the ability to force passing ships that ventured too close to land into the floating mine field. 

That afternoon, Union Admiral David Farragut’s fleet of Federal ships roared into Mobile bay. As Farragut entered the shallows aboard his flagship, the USS Hartford, a submerged torpedo struck a smaller gunship just ahead of him and sank in under two minutes. Farragut was signaled of the ships demise and that torpedoes were in the shallows of the bay. Farragut promptly replied “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” coining one of the greatest military slogans of all times.

The Battle of Mobile Bay - August 5, 1864. 

During the intense battle, the Confederate fleet withstood hours of heavy gun fire and cannon’s suppressed to the absolute demise of the Confederate Navy. While the CSS Tennessee Ironclad held her ground and waged the battle she along with her sailors finally succumbed to the Union Navy but not before a horrible fate would take one engineer’s life by surprise. 

While the battle raged on outside the ship, the men inside the Tennessee clamored to keep her together. At one point, a gun port on the Tennessee was lodged in the open position. An engineer was called down to unhinge the bolt and close the gun-port before it caused any fatal damage to the men inside. The engineer hurried down from the upper deck and used a large wrench on the rusty bolt that was causing the port to remain open. As he leaned against the interior of the ship to gain an advantage over the stubborn iron bolt, he began to tug as hard as he could when suddenly a four hundred pound cannon ball slammed into the side of the Ironclad. The impact from the cannon ball basically liquefied the sailor from the waste up. A report on the incident stated that his remains had to be mopped up with a bucket and thrown overboard. 

The Tennessee was defeated and taken by the Union Navy where she later became the USS Tennessee. The Tennessee was decommissioned in 1865 and sold for scrap two years later. Today, the flags of these ships remain secluded and silent, encased in glass and protected from the elements inside Port Columbus. However, the spirits of these long dead maritime sailors still linger about the museum, possibly attached to these historical artifacts. 

Visitors to the museum often report feeling strange sensations in the flag gallery, particularly near the display of the Tennessee's Confederate Battle flag. Staff and volunteers at the museum have even reportedly seen the apparition of half a man, wearing what appears to be the uniform of a Civil War sailor in the location as well. This maritime phantom has also been spotted on the museum's surveillance cameras, always near the mock replicas of the USS Hartford, also located in the main gallery. 
Watch May Ghost Story - Soul's Adrift on the Bio Channel featuring the National Civil War Naval Museum
and the Alabama Ghost Hunters. 

The ghosts of at the National Civil War Naval Museum aren't limited to any particular location. In fact, they move freely among the living daily. Visit and book a ghost tour; you'll get a great history lesson and possibly, a little paranormal experience to.

See this story and more like it in
Haunted Columbus Georgia by Faith Serafin

The National Civil War Naval Museum on, "My Ghost Story - Caught on Camera"
Watch episode, Souls Adrift click here!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Bryce Asylum - Tuscaloosa and Northport Alabama

State Asylum - Bryce Hospital - Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Prior to the Civil War, the Jemison family settled near Tuscaloosa, Alabama and became one of Alabama’s most successful and wealthiest families. Robert Jemison Jr. was a business man, owning six plantations with hundreds of slaves. He also owned foundries, mills, toll roads, and coal mines. During the Civil War, Mims Jemison (Robert’s brother), was killed and his family farm and land was then given to the state of Alabama in order to build an asylum for the mentally ill.

In 1861 the Alabama State Hospital for the Insane was opened. The first superintendent was Peter Bryce, a 27-year student of psychology.  The asylum was equip to house 268 patients. An additional one hundred beds for the inpatient care of elderly men and woman were located at the Mary Starke Harper Geriatric Hospital, which is now located on the campus at the University of Alabama. The purpose of the hospital was originally to house mentally ill and physically handicapped boys. Bryce’s concept of humane treatment for patients required the staff to treat all patients with dignity and respect. Tortuous and inhumane methods of treatment were common in mental hospitals all over the United States during the early parts of the 19th and 20th centuries. The use of shackles, restraints and straitjackets were common and invasive therapies like Hydro and Shock therapy made life in early asylums a living hell. Those methods were prohibited at the Bryce asylum. In 1882, the Bryce hospital used programs to implement useful skills such as farming, sewing, and machinery maintenance. Crafts like pottery, painting, and drawing were also encouraged. There was a bakery, a laundry, and dairy located on the hospital grounds as well, making the facility almost 100% self-sustaining.

Coffin making was part of the curriculum at Bryce that helped patients through hands-on therapies. 
The humane and decent treatment of patients was always the intention to maintain at Bryce. However, it didn't stay that way. In 1967, Lurleen Wallace (the wife of Alabama governor George Wallace) visited the state hospital and found that people hospitalized at Bryce were living in appalling and indescribably horrid conditions. Budget cuts to the state had caused a severe shortage in hospital staff and many state workers were laid off as a result. Patients slept on the floor, urine soaked and stained the few mattresses and blankets patients had and death seemed to emanate from every pore in the building. Treatment of patients had rapidly declined and horrible abuses and neglect came as a result of trying to make patients more “manageable”. The deplorable state of the hospital, and its patients, were more like a Nazi Concentration Camp, according to an article written in the Montgomery Advertiser.

In 1976, the S.D. Allen Intermediate Care Facility was built in Northport, Alabama to accommodate the overflow of geriatric patients from Bryce. The same property was already occupied by a facility that was an expansion of the Bryce Asylum for black patients during the segregation era. This is known today as “Old Bryce”. The S.D. Allen nursing home housed 138 patients when it was opened, but when it closed in 2003, it only had 36. The neighboring building, Old Bryce, was already abandoned and dilapidated at that time. Little is known about Old Bryce other than it was a facility much like the state hospital (Bryce) located on campus. After the emancipation proclamation, many black men and women could not find work and living conditions were harsh. Many blacks, living at the Old Bryce facility, after the Civil War, were not insane at all. They found the conditions at the hospital accommodating and many stayed on as skilled workers and farmers as a result.

Even before the S.D. Allen facility closed, reports of paranormal phenomenon at both hospitals and the nursing home have been circulating. Decades of ghost stories have made both locations some of Alabama’s most popular haunt spots. Perhaps the most disturbing report from the Bryce hospital in Tuscaloosa came from a south Alabama Baptist preacher in 2014. According to his story, his son worked for a funeral home in Tuscaloosa that picked up the deceased at Bryce for burial. During a routine pick-up, he was informed by the staff at the facility to stay away from one particular room which was located down a hall he needed to walk down in order to reach the corpse.

He curiously asked why he needed to avoid the room since he had picked up the dead often at Bryce and was never given a warning like this before. He was informed that a woman who was being housed on that floor was allegedly “possessed” and to avoid her at all cost. The orderly warned, “I don’t care what you hear, or what you see, stay away from her room!” The young funeral director wasn’t swayed by the orderly’s warning. In fact, it only drove the man’s curiosity, but he agreed he’d stay away from the patient’s room and proceeded down the hall with his associate to pick up the body.

Inside the Bryce Asylum at Tuscaloosa.

As he made his way down the hall he could hear the faint sounds of groans and what he described as animalistic sounds. The hollow halls seemed to resonate the sounds and they began to grow louder. His heart began to beat faster, and he quickly made his way down the hallway. Just as he neared the end of the hall, he turned his eyes toward a small room at the corner. He couldn't see through the small glass window in the door but he could hear the animal-like sounds coming from inside. He thought about what the patient orderly had just told him but before his better judgment could deter him from approaching the window to satisfy his curiosity, he saw the woman inside. As he stared at her in a moment of disbelief, his mouth dropped open and his lungs began to tighten as he watched her. He observed the young woman running around the room. Only she wasn’t running on the floor, she was running along the walls; two feet off the ground and horizontal with the floor. He was petrified and couldn't believe what he was seeing. Just as he began to close his eyes and walk away, she suddenly made eye contact with him and immediately thrust herself to the tiny window in an awkward jerking motion.

Her dark, stringy hair partially covered her pale, gaunt, face. She was covered in strange markings and scars. Her dark eyes felt as if they had pierced a hole through the young man’s soul; anchoring his feet, he was frozen with fear. As she looked at the young man through the window, she spoke, “I know you.” She said. “I know your father as well.” She went on. She began to name his family and relatives and she spit and cursed, letting out a cackling hiss as she spoke. The seconds he stood there listening to her seemed like an eternity. Just then, his associate came around the corner and motioned for his friend. He looked at him and then back at the window at the face of the strange woman. She began to contort and convulse as if something enormous was about to burst out of her. Somehow the funeral director was jarred from the evil grip that had previously immobilized him and he screamed for help. As the orderly’s came rushing down the hallway, the man’s associate grabbed his shoulders to move him away from the door. The orderlies rushed in an immediately began to physically restrain the woman who was literally manhandling the 4 grown men like rag dolls.

After the ordeal was over, the two men picked up the corpse and went straight to the funeral home. The young preacher’s son was visibly shaken and haunted for decades by what he had seen. Many years after the event, the son told his father about his experience at Bryce. His father, being a man of God and great faith, told him that there are some forces in this world that are not meant to be here and no man should ever constitute the evils of the universe. Leaving the identity of the possessed woman at the Bryce hospital a mystery.

Reports of paranormal phenomenon are not limited to the campus facilities. They are also widely known as part of the Old Bryce location and the former S.D. Allen nursing home in Northport, Alabama. These neighboring buildings, just a few miles off the main highway are now gated and closed off. For many years’ high school and college students would venture to the location in search of a thrill or fright, essentially leading to the arrest of many for trespassing.

The S.D. Allen nursing home is riddled with debris from the failing structure and it is unstable and dangerous. However, people who come to this location for paranormal adventures have reported numerous experiences over the years. The rusty metallic smell of blood and antiseptic is common in the surgical room. People have been scratched by unseen forces and even though no power connects to the building what-so-ever, the sounds of intercom calls to doctors have been recorded by ghost hunters and shifting energy fields are regularly detected by investigators using EMF detectors.

"Old Bryce" - Northport, Alabama
Next to the S.D. Allen facility is the foreboding and impressive “old Bryce”. Approaching the location, ancient Oaks line the drive way leading to the hospital. In the cooler months, the bare branches resemble twisted skeletons, and on moonless nights, the light pollution from Northport outlines the old hospital as if it were meant to be in the dark and unseen. The sheer scale of the building is intimating but what lurks inside is even more ominous. Many stories have been told about the Old Bryce building over the years. Some seem to follow the lines of a common ghost story but a few are a bit more detailed and are as terrifying as the campus stories. One story about a small boy’s ghost has been told over and over again. His name may be forgotten but his manner of death is still part of this urban legend.

According to this story, the boy was a patient at Bryce in the early years and was given hydro-therapy in order to calm his hyperactivity. During a routine treatment, which required the boy to be submerged in freezing water for several minutes, he started to become combative and fight the nurses who were administering the treatment. As the boy struggled, one of them held his head under the water until he drown, killing him. Sightings of his spirit seem to be common on the upper floors. He’s described as being about 7-8 years old with sandy blonde hair, wearing pants with suspenders, and a short coat. Often, small toys are left for him on those floors. A macabre sort of shrine to what is most likely more legend than truth.   

The building resembling Bryce in Northport is known today as "old Bryce" and is widely known
for the paranormal activity that occurs here. 

Still, the paranormal activity at old Bryce continues and has become a part of the supernatural fabric that weaves the shroud of urban legend in Northport, Alabama. College students, thrill seekers and paranormal enthusiast venture out to the location today but most often find an arrest for trespassing instead of a ghostly sighting. The years of wild and unusual ghost stories from Bryce still circulate among many Alabamians who have been brave enough to go looking for the spirits. It’s debatable; the amount of truth that exist in legend, but, what isn't, is the amount of truth that is legend. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Sloss Furnaces – Birmingham, Alabama.

Sloss Furnaces - Birmingham, Alabama
Founded 1881

The survival of Alabama has always been rooted in the earth. Literally, built from the ground up, Alabama’s Iron Industry carried the American industrial revolution to the forefront in the late 1800’s. Pig Iron has been forged in Birmingham since 1881 and the Sloss furnaces were among the many foundries that made up the heart and soul of Alabama’s steel production capital. Sloss was established by James Withers Sloss. He was born in Limestone County, Alabama on April 7, 1820 and became one of the state’s wealthiest plantation owners. Starting out as a butchers apprentice at fifteen, he later became a merchant, and in 1860 he was involved in the expansion and construction of the L&N (Louisville and Nashville) Railroad and served as its first president.

During the 1880’s, the production of iron in Alabama flourished. Starting out as a post war industry, with cheap black laborers, 68,995 tons grew into 706,629 tons of iron being produced at the Birmingham foundries. Birmingham’s close proximity to rich iron mineral resources helped make the city a leading manufacturer of iron in the United States. Less than twenty steel and iron furnaces existed in Alabama at the time and the great demand to rebuild the South (as well as northern industry) also required great demand from the Alabama foundries.

In 1886, John W. Johnston purchased the Sloss foundry for $2 million and built the “Sloss Quarters”. This allowed the workman and their families to live together. The rent for these mill village homes was: $2 for a single dwelling, $4 for a double dwelling and $6 for a three dwelling. Forty eight of those family units were segregated for black laborers. Many African American’s found the transition from farmer to the industrial job line difficult but the pay was much better. Workers were paid in “clacker”, a form of money that could only be used at the commissary and stores located in the Sloss Quarters. Sloss also provided its workers with a doctor, and labor and delivery services for expected mothers.

Many families living in the Sloss villages found it relatively sound. Schools and education for black children were almost unheard of in other parts of the South. However, the value of the clacker declined and many families often owed more to the companies they worked for than they could afford to pay back. This trapped families into having to work for generations in order to pay off depths.

The iron industry was growing and eventually became so massive that workers came from as far away as parts of Europe to work in the Alabama steel mills. In 1900, Sloss produced 25% of the nation’s iron and steel, far surpassing the steel industries in Pennsylvania. After World War I, the great depression hit the South hard. Sloss would need to upgrade to keep up with demands and a $625,000 renovation project was organized in order to secure the future of the mill. These substantial renovations enabled the foundry to produce 450 tons of Iron instead of 250 tons, adding the need for more workman. The foundry was not unionized until July 17, 1933. At that time, the company was forced to pay laborers better wages and offer benefits.

During World War II, war time contracts had the foundry working harder than ever. Cast Iron marine machinery, air plane machinery, bombs and mortar shells were all made at Sloss. 60% of the grenades used during WWII were cast at the Sloss foundries along with compressors, brakes drums and camshafts for military vehicles. Other military issued implements such as cooking and field equipment for United States troops were also manufactured at Sloss Furnaces.

Conditions at Sloss were rigorous and required a hearty workforce. Laborers who worked at Sloss were prone to accidental deaths, loss of limbs and other misfortunes due to the hostile work environment. Those who worked in the foundry also said the heat was nearly unbearable. Temperatures inside the mill could reach well over 100 degrees inside the casting shed and blower rooms. Every inch of the foundry felt like the hottest corner of hell. Winter was hot, summer was hotter and the men who worked in these conditions were considered disposable at best.

Because accidents and death were so common in Alabama’s steel mills, ghost stories of limbless workmen and spectral figures have long been a facet in these now silent steel beasts. The spirits at Sloss roam the furnace catwalks and engine room corridors, but there were other foundries in the iron districts of Birmingham were accidents and death were also common. These ghostly stories of the industrial dead are all now associated with Sloss Furnaces but they didn’t all begin there.

A Birmingham newspaper article, dated September 10, 1887 read:
A Horrible Death – A Workman Falls Into Alice Furnace Number One
The Alice Furnace was located adjacent to the Sloss City Furnace in 1887. It was the first within the Birmingham city limits owned by Henry DeBardeleben and T.T. Hillman. Theophilus Jowers started working there when he, and his wife, Sarah, moved to Birmingham with their small children in search of work. On that September morning, Theo Jowers went to work like always. He was preparing a new bell in the furnace and was holding the rope attached to it when he suddenly slipped, plunging head first into the furnace. The heavy metal bell managed to break his fall but the immense heat from the furnace reduced his body to mush and ash almost immediately. Some of his body parts managed to be fished out; his head, hip bones, and bowels.

In 1905 The Alice furnaces were torn down. Years later, Theo’s son, John, took his son, Leonard Jowers to Birmingham on business. As their 1927 Model T sputtered across the viaduct overlooking the Sloss furnaces, John pulled over to the side of the bridge and John and his son stepped out to watch the production. A hail of sparks burst from the glowing furnace when John grabbed his son’s arm and pointed toward the stacks. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. The glowing apparition of a man was moving across the molten steel, engulfed in flame and smoke. As John gasp at the sight of the apparition, it smoldered out and dissipated into a dense puff of black smoke. For twenty years workmen at the Alice foundry told stories about the ghostly sightings of this smoldering ghost, believing it was the spirit of Theo Jowers.  

The Jowers ghost isn't the only spirit from the iron age of Birmingham. Another, more sinister story of a malicious specter only known as, “Slag” is far worse than the watchful spirit of Theo Jowers. The term, “Slag” (by steel industry standards) is the material that is melted off or discarded during the smelting process. It’s essentially the garbage and impurities left over from the pure ore that makes iron and steel. 

The tunnels beneath the furnaces at Sloss were used to
transport water to the multiple furnaces. The activity and
phenomenon most associated with this location
consists of hearing voices and even being touched. 
The legend of Slag began at Sloss many years ago. According to the story, he was an ill-mannered foreman with a temper hotter than any furnace in Birmingham. He was rumored to have abused his workers by denying them water, breaks from the heat, and even physically abusing some of them. This type of behavior most likely earned him the name, “Slag” and it certainly seems fitting for such an ominous character.

When Slag was in charge of the night shifts at Sloss, he was often found walking on the catwalks, overseeing everything the men did. He forced them to take dangerous risks and many lost their lives under his supervision. As only karma can provide in a story like this, Slag was pacing the catwalks on top of a very high furnace one evening and, like Theo Jowers, lost his footing and fell into the furnace, burning him until nothing was left. According to slag’s stories, not one shred of him could be found. It’s likely the story was concocted out of pure myth and perhaps elements of the Jowers legend but it doesn’t stop the sightings of spirits at Sloss.

Ghost hunters, historians, enthusiast and urban adventurist, come to visit the National Historic Landmark every year. Most come to visit and see the history behind Birmingham’s industrial age. Others leave with more than they bargained for. Apparitions of the smoldering ghosts aren't as common since the casting foundry was closed in the 1970’s. However, the misty figure of a man walking on the furnace catwalks has been seen over and over again by visitors during the day and at night. People driving over the viaduct have also seen a white, floating apparition near the top of the furnaces. 

Spectral lights and glowing orbs are photographed in this location by hundreds of ghost hunters every year and the haunting sounds of an industrial workforce still echoes in the skeletal remains of the old steel mill. Sloss may house these earth bound energies by harnessing their natural power, much like the foundries of the previous age did in making and casting iron. There’s a certain quality to Sloss that makes it unique to most haunted locations. Its rusty steel exterior seems to shelter the decaying bowels of a fiery beast that refuses to die. Sloss may not be a working foundry anymore, but you can't tell that to the men who worked and died there. They’re still making sure the fires at Sloss stay hot, pouring molten steel and calling out orders, even from the afterlife. 

Photos captured by the Alabama Ghost Hunters (Alabama Paranormal Research Team) from Sloss
during a paranormal investigation.
A shadow anomaly that formed in the same location as the picture above
(seconds after the first photo was taken). The image
has been labeled as inconclusive evidence
of the supernatural phenomenon associated with Sloss Furnace. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

South Alabama's "Pig Man"

Perhaps more myth than reality, the legend of the Alabama Pig Man is a popular one in South Alabama.
Historically, ghost stories and legends are either truths or partial truths based on real people and events. Tall tales can be the most ridiculous, but often, the most mysterious stories too good to be true. Or are they? Listening to ghostly stories and legends around the camp fire, most have heard the tales of woodland devils, vengeful and romantic spirits who seek out the living, Indian folklore of unusual earth bound entities, ax wielding mad men, neurotic ghosts and blood thirsty creatures that are part of the strange backwoods stories told in the rural South. But there is another, one that was generally thought to just be a story until recent sightings of the creature began to make people in southeast Alabama rethink the possibility that the legend of “Pig Man” was more than a story.

The name, “Pig Man”, in regards to tall tales, is often associated with killers and flesh eating cannibals in horror movies. Just the mention of such a creature in a normal conversation seems to strike up terrible images of slaughtered animals, hybrid beings who are part human and part swine, and chainsaw wielding maniacs who wear the flesh of dead things. However, the legend associated with Alabama’s Pig Man is a little different but perhaps, a whole lot scarier.

Pigs were brought to America by Spanish explorers long before the days of the first settlers. After the American Revolution, English colonist began to branch out in search of their own lands and since the frontier days of Alabama, the South has always had a high population of farmers. These generations of southern farmers, traditionally raise crops. Plants such as peanuts, cotton, soy beans, corn and sweet potatoes are major staples in the agricultural history of Alabama. However, cattle, sheep, chickens and pigs are also part of the animal trade and mass meat industries that still exist in the southern states of America. Early settlers in Alabama butchered hogs that were raised on farms for their meat. Entire communities gathered for “Hog Killing Days” (typically in the fall). Depending on the population of the town or settlement, 5-10 hogs would be slaughtered and the meat prepared for community barbecues.

Sometime in the 1960’s a rural pig farmer in south east Alabama, (the actual location is perhaps lost to history), was taking a truckload of hogs to a local butcher for processing. There was an accident on the road and the truck overturned, killing the driver and several of the hogs. A few pigs survived and scattered into the nearby forest.

Several years later, a similar accident happened but with a minor twist. A couple was driving home from their beach vacation in Florida and took the scenic route through the back roads of South Alabama. It was getting late and the driver turned on the headlights of the car as they approached a dark country road that led through miles and miles of Alabama farm land. As they traveled further into the country side, the foul odor of pigs overwhelmed them and they quickly rolled up the windows. When the driver reached down to maneuver the manual window lever on the door, he propped his knee under the steering wheel to use both hands when the window got stuck. This wasn't a very safe method of unhinging a tricky window while driving and it distracted him from the road for a few seconds.

As he struggled with the window lever and juggling his coordination to drive with his knee, he glanced down toward the door just as the passenger screamed, “look out!” When he regained control of the car, he looked up and saw a man standing in the middle of the road with what looked like a pig’s head. As he slammed on his breaks, screeching tires and leaving a trail of burning rubber down the asphalt, the strange animal head man walked in an awkward but calm manner to the other side of the road. It didn't seem to faze the stranger one bit that the couple almost hit him. In fact, when he reached the other side of the road, he turned to look at the car and watched the couple while they sped off, terrified by what they had just witnessed.

The story evolved over the years that a hybrid pig-man was roaming the area. The creature was rumored to be responsible for a rash of sightings that people were reporting to local authorities. Game wardens and law enforcement agencies eventually began to take the reports seriously. The reports grew and lingered for a time but eventually died out. It wasn't until new sightings began happening several years later in other parts of South Alabama that more people came forward with Pig Man sightings.

The stories of Pig Man have taken an even stranger twist today. With new technology, like game cameras and surveillance used by wild life officers, sighting of all kinds of illusive beasts are becoming more and more popular. For a few years, hunters were reporting feral hogs that were making dens big enough for ten farm pigs to live in. It was unclear at the time what type of animal would dig out such a large den until they finally started showing up on game cameras. Pictures of enormous hogs began circulating the internet. For a while, the images were dismissed as fake photos and hoaxes until game wardens all over the state started getting bombarded with information and reports of massive hogs and property damage due to the beasts.
Feral hogs in Alabama are overpopulated and reproduce quickly.
They can weigh as much as 500 pounds and are very territorial.
They can be extremely dangerous when approached in the wild. 
In 2007, near Anniston, Alabama, an 11 year old boy killed a wild hog that weighed an astonishing 1,051 pounds. The monster pig measured 9 feet, 4 inches from its snout to its tail, shattering the previous state record for largest hog killed. After it was killed, the head was mounted and the meat processed, which totaled about 700 pounds. According to debunkers of the Pigzilla sensation, the bones of the animal were unearthed and experts suggested it only weighed about 800 to 900 pounds but this didn't stop locals from talking about it or for the media that sent it surging all over the world.
Jamison Stone was 11 when he killed this massive 1000 pound hog
near Anniston, Alabama. 

Today, the animal is still debated as to how big it actually was. It’s no mystery that in some parts of Alabama, there is a serious feral pig problem. Wild hogs can grow to astonishing sizes, some weighing as much as 500 pounds. Photos of Pigzilla can still be found all over the internet. As for the Pig Man, it’s hard to say if he truly exist. Then again, how does a 1000 pound hog go unnoticed for so long? Maybe it’s the fact that neither were believed to exist until someone killed Pigzilla and showed the world. A more intelligent animal, like a human hybrid creature, would definitely be more elusive.  Pig organs and flesh are nearly identical to humans. 

The close genetic relationship between humans and pigs may be an unusual concept to understand, but doctors have figured out ways to use pig lungs and even pig hearts as temporary transplants in humans. Today, geneticist are working to cure diseases in humans by studying pigs and finding out more about their genetic codes. 

So with all the similarities between humans and pigs, what are the odds that a pig-human hybrid could actually exist? It definitely sounds crazy. More like a mad-scientist story to be perfectly honest, but that’s only until someone actually finds a Pig Man and brings him home for all the world to see. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Murder in Montgomery - October 31, 1912

The State Capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama is haunted by the ghost of Will Oakley.

The morning of November 1, 1912 the headlines of the Montgomery Advertiser reported,
“Will Oakley Kills Step-Father, P.A. Woods, at Capitol”; "Dead Man Is Shot Four Times with 41 Caliber Revolver—Slayer Offers Him Pistol For A Duel" 

In 1912, a property suit was filed regarding the division of family land owned by P.A. Woods of Odenville, Alabama. His stepson, Will Oakley, was an eighteen year old farmer from St. Clair County at the time. The feud over the property had been going on for some time, and the Thursday prior to the murder, Mr. Woods, Will and his half uncle J.G. Oakley (who was president of the convict board) met at the State Capitol Building in Montgomery, Alabama in Oakley's office to give disposition on the case. 

Will had been wearing a pistol in a shoulder harness all day. It was visible and, for the most part, in plain sight. This was disturbing to his step father and Uncle since Will was known for his quick temper. He had made the statement at one point during the disposition that he had been in the army and wasn't afraid of anyone.

The State Capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama were Will Oakley shot and killed his step father, P.A. Woods.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
After the conclusion of the disposition, just before three o’clock that afternoon, Will became enraged when the outcome of the case didn't turn out in his favor, and he began threatening his stepfather. He warned him that he’d better not leave the building without a bodyguard. Mr. Oakley was uneasy at the behavior of his nephew and feared that he may just be crazy enough to kill someone. It wasn't long before his fears turned into reality. 

Will and his stepfather were opposite each other over the desk in Oakley's office. The two argued for several minutes and suddenly Will produced two pistols from his coat and offered his stepfather one for a duel. Mr. Woods pleaded with Will not to kill him. He feared for his life and his brother-in-law quickly left the room to find help. Seconds later, four shots rang out from the office, and Will Oakley fled the room and down the stairs of the capitol building.

He made a steady and hasty retreat from the building, down Washington Street, and headed to the county jail to turn himself in. He was followed by a black man who heard the shots and saw him running from the building. He was apprehended by the sheriff just before making his way inside in jail. Will was immediately arrested and searched. Two, 41-caliber pistols and a knife were taken from him. He refused an attorney and said, “I shot a man, and I was justified in doing so.” He refused any further statements and was charged with murder the following day. 

The coroner’s report stated that the fatal shot that killed P.A. Woods most likely came from the first shot to his neck, which pierced his jugular. The three remaining shots were all in the abdomen, which implied they came after the victim was already on the ground. This was confirmed by the powder burns found on the face and neck of P.A. Woods.

On Halloween 1912, Will Oakley murdered his stepfather, P.A. Woods in the
State Capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama. Will's ghost returns to wash
the blood from his hands.
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Will Oakley was inevitably sent to prison, and over the years, the excitement from the shooting died out. Most people have never heard the story of Will Oakley, but a strange and unusual phenomenon associated with the murder is still happening in the capitol building that keeps people talking about his ghost. Since the murder, employees and state officials who work in the offices of the State Convict Board have seen the water mysteriously running in the bathroom sinks. Oddly enough, when the phenomenon occurs, the facets turn without any visible source and the water keeps running until someone turns it off. Even after years of renovations, repairs and makeovers to the building, the water continues to run from the faucets.

Legend says it’s the ghost of Will Oakley; who is returning to the scene of the crime to wash the blood from his hands. Will’s anger and anxious spirit may have condemned him in the afterlife, or he may have some unfinished business to take care of. Is it possible that his soul cannot rest until he has made amends for the dreadful sin he committed? That’s a question only he can answer. Still, it’s doubtful anyone living or dead would want to approach him to ask. If he’s still washing one hundred years of blood from his hands, he may have more to make amends for.