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. 

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