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. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Edgar Cayce - The Sleeping Prophet

Edgar Cayce was known for his ability to tell the future by placing himself in a trance-like state. He is most recognized for his work in metaphysical healing. 
Edgar Cayce was born on a small farm in Hopkinsville, Kentucky on March 18, 1877. At a very young age, Edgar’s mother noticed that he could see and hear things that no one else could. Edgar’s earliest encounters with ghosts and spirits were of his late grandfather who was killed in a horse accident when he was only four. Edgar could also see auras (bands of colored light believed to be bio-chemical energy fields given off by living beings). He claimed to hear and see angels and ghosts and had the unusual ability to sleep on his school books and retain the information inside them. From the time he realized his ability to see, hear and communicate with the dead was paranormal, he struggled with the aspect of how religion quantified and portrayed his gifts and the circumstances he had while dealing with the supernatural.

In 1893, Edgar quit school to work on his grandmother’s farm. He struggled for several years to keep steady employment, working in several book and general stores. By 1900, Cayce was working as a salesman for the Woodmen of the World Insurance Company. During that time he caught a severe case of laryngitis which debilitated his speech almost completely. Cayce was forced to gain employment in another trade due to his inability to speak. He was offered a apprenticeship with a local photographer in Hopkinsville named, W.R. Bowles. He accepted the job and excelled quickly in learning how to use photographic equipment.

In 1901, Cayce met a traveling hypnotist named, “Hart”. He heard about Cayce’s condition while preforming at the local opera house and offered to treat his laryngitis with hypnosis. Edgar accepted the offer and went to see him. Hart conducted a series procedures to induce a trance-like state over Cayce and while under hypnosis, Cayce’s voice returned to normal. However, when he woke up, his voice was again effected by the laryngitis. Hart left Hopkinsville before he could finish his work with Edgar Cayce but Cayce was intrigued by the hypnotist’s ability to cure his laryngitis and sought out a local Osteopath named, Al Layne. Cayce described his ailment to Layne who suggested that continuing the hypnosis treatment may help cure the mysterious condition.

Edgar Cayce laid down on the couch in Layne’s office and folded his arms across his chest. Layne began hypnosis and Edgar fell into a deep, trance-like state. While under hypnosis, Edgar would often refer to himself as another person. This third person communication seemed as if some other person or “entity”, as Edgar referred to it, was speaking through him, much like a medium who can channel spiritual energy through themselves. The entity would speak to Layne and tell him how to treat Cayce's condition. Once he was awake, Mr. Layne followed the instructions given to him and Edgar’s laryngitis did eventually disappear, completely curing him of the condition.

After a series of hypnotic sessions with Edgar Cayce, Mr. Layne asked about other illnesses and conditions that may be cured through the knowledge that was somehow psychically locked in Edgar’s mind. The following year, Edgar began working with people and giving them regular, “readings”. 

Local newspapers and other media flocked to meet him and speak with him about his abilities. One of his most noted patients at the time was a 6 year old girl named Aime Dietrich. She was stricken with a mysterious brain issue that caused her to have convulsions and seizures. The condition had been treated by several doctors and nothing was helping. The young girl’s family had taken her to Al Layne with the hopes that Edgar Cayce would be able to provide them with the information they needed in order to find a cure.

Edgar worked with Mr. Layne who took down the instructions given by Cayce’s entity while in a trance. The entity said that Aime’s condition was caused by congestion at the base of the brain and treatment was started immediately to correct it. For several weeks, Edgar and Mr. Layne meet for follow up information regarding Aime’s condition and she was subsequently cured of the condition all together.

Over the years, Edgar Cayce continued to give psychic readings. He worked for several photography studios in Kentucky and Alabama and moved to Alabama permanently in 1909. Several articles were written about Edgar Cayce’s psychic readings and many doctors studied his unnatural ability to diagnose and treat illnesses and other conditions. Edgar’s wife, Gertrude, contracted tuberculosis in 1911 and was able to fully recover from the otherwise deadly disease because of Edgar’s readings.
Edgar and Gertrude Cayce.
The Cayce family moved to Selma, Alabama in 1913, where Edgar continued to work as a photographer and give readings. When his controversial methods of holistic healing came under attack by doctors, he opened a hospital and institute for study in Virginia Beach, Virginia called Atlantic University. Unfortunately the school was closed February 28, 1931 due to lack of funding, but Cayce continued his psychic readings and metaphysical work for more than a decade after. 

Cayce died on January 3, 1945 and upon his death, he gave his last reading for himself. In his lifetime, over 14,000 recorded and unrecorded readings were documented. Numerous studies of his ability to communicate with spiritual beings, interrupt energy signatures as auras, channel energy through mediumship, predict future events, and of course, diagnose illnesses through hypnosis, were conducted by scientist and doctors from all over the world.

Edgar Cayce left a legacy that exists today because of his unusual sensitivity to the supernatural world around him. Numerous biographies about his life, his work and his holistic healing techniques have been written, making Edgar Cayce one of the most documented and studied psychics of the 20th century.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Haunted Tornado City - Albertville, Alabama

Albertville, Alabama 1908

It was April 24, 1908 in the north Alabama city of Albertville. The people in town had noticed the rainy and humid weather that day but in that time, severe weather was simply a part of everyday life living in tornado alley. The area had always been prone to tornado weather but no emergency warning system or any amount of human intuition could prepare the city for the devastation that was coming.

In the late afternoon, severe wind and rain began to fall on northern portions of Alabama, dumping hail and sleet for miles. As the warm air of the hot Alabama spring hit the cooler air masses, a change in the weather went from bad to worse. By 4 o’clock, a tornado had touched down near Albertville and was spiraling quickly toward the small town. Hiding was futile as the monstrous cyclone ripped through the city. It left a trail of destruction and devastation for almost ten miles; straight through the heart of town.

Albertville was almost completely destroyed. The rows of stores along Main Street had been ripped clean off the facade. Entire buildings collapsed under the crushing winds and the small wooden homes in the region were spun about the country side. One of the homes was the McCord residence. It wasn't destroyed but the heavy winds from the tornado picked it up off it's foundation and dropped it back down as it passed by. Unfortunately, young Eric McCord had taken refuge under the house and when the house came down on top of him, it crushed him to death.

The ghost of Eric McCord is believed to be one of the many spirits that haunts the Main Street businesses located in Albertville, Alabama. He was crushed to death during the tornado of  1908. 
There were people both dead and missing in the wreckage. The result was 35 people killed from Gadsden to Albertville and 15 of those people were residents of Albertville. 

Since the great cyclone of 1908, other storms have devastated the region as well, earning that particular part of the United States the nickname, “Tornado Alley”. It’s a dangerous place to live but tougher still to live among the scores of ghosts who still consider Albertville their home. The City library was one of the most haunted locations in Albertville until it was destroyed by another tornado in 2010.

Ironically, the storm happened 102 years to the day of the great cyclone disaster. The library was built on the grounds of a former home and the spirits who haunted the library were apparently the long dead people who used to live there. Slamming and stomping inside the library were a every day occurrence when the librarians arrived to open for business. The facet in the bathrooms often turned on and off by itself, scaring the daylights out of many of the patrons.

Other parts of Albertville are also exclusively haunted by the spirits of young children. Main Street has been a source of paranormal sightings since the 1908 tornado. One apparition of a little boy, wearing khaki colored suspender nickers and a white shirt has been seen running barefoot through the street late at night. He’s reportedly stopped a few cars by darting out in front of them, giggling hysterically as he runs by. 

One resident of Albertville had an experience she would never forget when she lived in the small apartment building complex located on Main Street. As she looked out of her apartment window one late summer night, she peered down at the street and saw several young children, dressed in 19th century clothing, playing and walking along the streets and sidewalks. She knew it was much too late for young children to be out and in the middle of the street. What self-respecting parent would allow such a thing? She watched the children for a long time and said as the dawn broke over the horizon, the little children simply faded away.

Main Street in in Albertville, Alabama has been a location closely associated with the sightings of many "ghost children". They are believed to be the spirits of those who died in the great cyclone of 1908. 

If that isn't odd enough, other business locations in town also claim to have seen the ghost children of Main Street inside their shops and restaurants. A flower shop recently contacted the Alabama Ghost Hunters for an investigation regarding their supernatural experiences that was featured on The Weather Channel's, Twisted Believers. The ladies who worked in and owned the flower shop said they often heard banging beneath the store floor and sometimes the front door would open and close, as if someone was leaving the store. One of the most unnerving experiences came one afternoon as the ladies were working inside and heard the front door chime as if someone came inside. As they turned to greet their customer, no one was there. But, they could hear the sound of footsteps approaching the back counter as if someone had come in and walked toward the register. Several minutes later, as the ladies looked through the store, baffled by the experience, the front door open again and the footsteps stopped.

Other strange experiences from the city cemetery, located just a few blocks from Main Street, have locals wondering about the spirits that haunt Albertville. The small cemetery is located in a residential area but many of the graves here are now covered or no longer marked. Encroachment has made the cemetery much smaller than it was originally, but residents who live in the surrounding homes and neighborhood, say they close their windows and lock their doors at night, but it doesn't keep the ghosts from coming in.

The City Cemetery - Albertville, Alabama

Albertville has suffered weather related tragedies for over a century. The Cherokee people who inhabited the region before 1830 called the area, “gi-ga-ha-i e-qu u-no-le” which translates too, “land of great winds”. They obviously knew the dangers that came with living in the area and the devastating consequences. It's doubtful that anyone in 1908 would have known that the terrible storms that impacted the region would have produced such a haunted town. However, much like the cyclone of 1908, the weather related tragedies of the city are still a very real threat to the people who live in Tornado Alley. But for the ghosts of those who were killed in the storms, they will forever take refuge among the living. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Supernatural Saint James Hotel - Selma, Alabama

The Saint James Hotel, located in Selma, Alabama is one of Alabama's most haunted hotels. The paranormal phenomenon here is most often associated with the the ghost of the outlaw, Jesse James and his lover, Lucinda and a murdered slave named, Plez. 

One of America’s most famous outlaws was a man named Jesse James. He was born and raised in Clay County, Missouri. However, James and his brother Frank, have a legacy they have left behind in the state of Alabama. The James boys and their sister, Susan, were the children of a preacher and hemp farmer named, Robert James. Robert died during a migration to California where he was working as a minister. His widow, Zerelda, remarried twice after his death and the James clan grew into a family of nine.

As the Civil War approached, bordering states like Missouri were divided into groups that supported and opposed both the Confederate and Union causes. These militia groups of guerrilla fighters were known as “Bushwhackers” and “Jayhawkers”. The Bushwhackers supported the secession and upheld the Confederate cause. The Jayhawkers were Unionist who supported the anti-slavery laws. The entire state of Missouri was engulfed in its own civil war between the groups and the James boys took up arms against the Unionist in an effort to support the Confederates in Missouri. The Bushwhackers were known throughout the territory for their brutal murders. They executed civilians, scalped their dead and took prisoners until Federal troops imposed Martial Law over the region in August 1861.

Frank James was a member of a local militia group of Bushwhackers known as the “Drew Lobbs Army”. They fought with Confederate troops on the bloody hill at the battle of Wilson’s Creek. Frank James got sick sometime during his time in service and was sent home. According to the legend of Jesse James, in 1863, Frank was recognized as a potential member of the outlaw group of guerrillas and Union troops went to the James Plantation where they brutally tortured Reuben Samuel (Jesse’s step-father). The Federal troops strung Reuben up in a tree, nearly strangling him in an effort to find out where Frank James was located. They also took young Jesse out back and lashed him repeatedly but none of the family would talk.

When Jesse was sixteen, he and Frank joined a group of fighters led by the South’s most notorious Confederate guerrilla, Bloody Bill Anderson. Anderson was an extremely wicked and intimidating man who only found justice in murder and killing. While Jesse was involved with Bloody Bill’s outfit, he was nearly killed after being shot during a raid on Union troops. Shortly after, Anderson’s group was ambushed when Federal troops caught up to them. Bloody Bill was killed in the attack and when Jesse tried to surrender, he was shot. He recovered from his injuries while staying at his Uncles home in Harlem, Missouri. Because of the brothers involvement with the renegade militias, their family was forced out of the state of Missouri by Union troops and they later moved to Nebraska. 

The Outlaw, Jesse James.
While Jesse and Frank were on the run, Bill Anderson’s group disbanded, and the James brothers parted ways. After the Civil War was over, the brothers reunited and they started their own gang of renegade outlaws. The James gang had quickly become a group of bandits and murders who ravaged the American South from as far West as Kansas, Texas; throughout the Tennessee Valley, and down into the coastal regions of Georgia and Alabama. 

Historically, Jesse is most recognized for his daring robberies. Banks, stage coaches and trains were among his favorite targets but he also held up people and small time establishments. 

The outlaws of the American frontier may have been made famous by flamboyant characters in books, novels and television shows, but life as an outlaw was never really a glamorous or appealing way of life. By 1874, Jesse James gave up some of his criminal activities and married his first cousin, Zee. He was rumored to have many girlfriends as well. In 1881, while the James gang was in West-Central Alabama, during their infamous raids on the South, Jesse found a lover in Selma, Alabama. The couple often stayed together at the Saint James Hotel, located on the banks of the Alabama River. Because Jesse and his gang never stayed in one place very long, the relationship between Jesse and his Selma lover was short lived.

Frank James went on trial in Alabama on April 25, 1884, for his involvement in a robbery of a government payroll near Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Dozens of witnesses identified Frank as the robber, but the case was heated and the cross examinations were brutal. In the end, Franks James’s attorney, Leroy Walker, was successful in his portrayal of Frank as a war hero, and he was acquitted on all charges, walking out of the Huntsville Federal Court House (Calhoun House) in Madison County, Alabama, a free man. Frank later moved and lived throughout the southern states, working different jobs until his death on February 18, 1915.

Jesse James died on April 3, 1882 after he was betrayed by a member of his gang named, Bob Fords. Fords was a new member of the James gang and shortly after the governor of Missouri offered a $5,000 reward for Jesse James, Ford met with the governor and organized the assassination. Jesse’s death hit national headlines all over America. One of the greatest American outlaws had finally met his end. Or did he? 

According to staff and visitors at the Saint James Hotel in Selma, Jesse is still very much a part of the preserved, 18th century hotel. The ghost of Jesse James will perhaps never rest. His spirit has been seen throughout the hotel, especially in the downstairs bar. The bar staff leaves a chair out for the ghost of Jesse James. It’s not unusual to pass by the closed saloon doors and peer through the glass to see the ghostly apparition of an outlaw sitting at the bar having a whiskey or glass of beer. He's been known to make eye contact with people passing by as well, sometimes even lowering his folded arms over the bar to the pistol holstered at his hip. 

In the bar at the Saint James Hotel, bar staff often leave a chair pulled out for the ghost of Jesse James. 
Several of the rooms at the Saint James are also reportedly haunted by Jesse and his lover. They can often be seen walking through the corridors together, and holding hands and caressing each other near the fountain in the outside garden. The smell of lavender perfume is often reported in rooms 314 and 315, which were apparently the favorite overnight rendezvous, for Jesse and Lucinda.

Other rooms at the Saint James are also haunted, but not by the ghosts of Jesse James or his lover. There is another story from the nearby ghost town of Cahaba that ties into the Saint James hotel. According to this local legend, there was a slave named, Plez who once belonged to the Bell family. Plez was accused of stealing from another family in Cahaba, The Troy Family. The Troy's, (who were conveniently bitter rivals of the Bell’s) became disgruntle over the alleged theft and hunted Plez down and murdered him in cold blood. 

The slave quarters at the old Cahaba ghost town. Also allegedly haunted by the ghost of Plez.
Plez’s body was later discovered at the Saint James hotel and his murdered spirit dwells in the room where he lost his life. The ghost of Plez doesn't seem to bother the hotel guests. However, he has caused a fright from time to time when he is seen and felt sitting on the end of bed.

The Saint James has been saved from destruction for more than 177 years. Union forces spared it, as did the city of Selma, establishing it as a historical landmark. It’s been a place known for supernatural experiences. Generations of people have come to stay and spend the night with the spirits who haunt the Saint James. The hotel ghost stories continue to thrive, preserved along with the town of Selma that has become one Alabama’s most significantly haunted cities. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Haunting at Murder Creek- Brewton, Alabama

Murder Creek in Brewton, Alabama got it's name after a tragic event took place that claimed the lives of several men crossing the frontier territories in 1788.

In 1788, a party of English Loyalist from South Carolina were traveling to Pensacola to get passports in order to pass through the Creek territories and settle in the Spanish Colonies located in the Louisiana territory. While on their expedition, the group led by Colonel Joseph Kirkland, went to the home of his friend Alexander McGillivray who lived on the Coosa River in what is today Alabama. 

McGillivray was a biracial Creek Indian whose father was a Scottish fur trader. His mother hailed from a prominent bloodline if Creek royalty and he was educated in both his father and his mother’s cultural beliefs and economics. He would later use his influence to negotiate treaties between the Creek Indians and the American government, including the Treaty of Pensacola with Spain.

Alexander McGillivary

During Kirkland’s stay with McGillivray, he informed the men that traveling through the native territory was extremely dangerous due to the growing hostilities caused by the encroachment of settlers. He offered Colonel Kirkland a guide to help navigate through the territories safely.

Kirkland and his men carried large amounts of silver coins with them. They intended to use the money during the trip to pay for provisions, purchase their passports in Pensacola, and establish their settlements once they reached Louisiana. As the group traveled further south with their slave guide, they meet a group of Creek fur traders who were returning from Pensacola with a pack-mule full of supplies and goods. There were a couple of Hillabee Indians with the traders and two white men.

As the two groups met, they engaged in a friendly conversation and without the threat of duress, both groups decided to make camp for the night. Kirkland’s men set up camp on the opposite side of the trading group on the banks of the Aloochahatche Creek. Unbeknownst to the Colonel’s group, the men across the creek were far from friendly and they conspired to rob and kill the Colonels party after the camp went to sleep. 

One of the outlaw men was called “Istillicha” which translates to “the man slayer”. Another man they called “Cat”. He fled his home state to escape murder charges and was a notoriously violent criminal. There was also a white man in the group who was known as Sullivan and he apparently owned an Indian slave named Bob, who was also present.

Just after midnight, the murderous group crept across the river and slipped quietly into Kirkland's camp. They took all the guns and other items they could carry before opening fire on the Colonels men, killing them all except the servant guide that McGillivray sent. When Colonel McGillivray received word of his friend's death, he ordered a search party to located and kill the men responsible. When the outlaws were captured, Cat was led to the location where the murders took place and strung up in tree. He begged and pleaded for his life but his cries fell on deaf ears as McGillivray’s men wrenched the noose tighter and tighter around his neck, stretching him for several minutes until the finally succumbed to suffocation.

After this event, the location that is now in Brewton, Alabama, was known as “Murder Creek”. Since the events of 1788, this creek that divides Brewton and East Brewton has been a source of many other tragic events and ghostly sightings. More than a few suspected homicide victims have been found floating in Murder Creek. As early as 2012, bodies have been recovered from the location and the small town of Brewton itself is rumored to have more than a few unsolved mysteries pertaining to accidental drowning, suicides and murdered people, the most noted being Annie Jean Barnes who was found beaten,abused and dead outside of a hunting club in 1966.

Whatever the source of a story, legend or rumor, it’s likely the spirits of Brewton, and the spirits who haunt Murder Creek, are those who have died under tragic circumstances or mysterious deaths. Many people who recreate on the scenic waterway have seen the ghastly apparition of Cat, hanging by his neck in the trees. Campers have packed up their tents and belongings in the middle of the night when they encounter the howling cries of what they describe as angry and terrified screaming. This could be the agonizing cries of the murdered men from Kirkland’s party. Or perhaps, the pleas of Cat himself.

A man who allegedly committed suicide by driving his car into Murder Creek, was found dead in the 1960’s. His death is still a heated debate in Brewton but the phantom orbs that resemble the headlights of a car aren’t exactly debated by those who have witnessed the phantom effigy near the location of his death. The floating apparition of a woman has recently surfaced since 2012 and many associate that spirit with a woman whose body was found submerged in the creek that summer.

What is it about Murder Creek that has stained it with an ominous stigma of ongoing mystery and grief? Were the first recorded events a precursor to future tragedies? Or is it somehow cursed by the name itself – Murder Creek.