The Ultimate Haunted Road Trip of the South
PART THREE-Thick Southern Drawl
Welcome back to our Ultimate Haunted Road Trip of the South! We left Part Two in Savannah and our next overnight stop will be in Atlanta, GA.
HAUNTED MACON, GA
The quaint little town of Macon, GA cannot be overlooked on the Ultimate Haunted Road Trip of the South. Its about two and a half hours of driving, so we may as well stop in at Michael’s on Mulberry for a great lunch special, and you’ll find yourself sandwiched between two haunted hot spots. (haha!)
Across the street is the Macon Grand Opera House. Over a century ago, thousands came to the playhouse to see huge acts like the world famous escape artist Harry Houdini, Will Rogers, and Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. Most of the country’s grand palaces met their fate in the 70’s and 60’s when they were torn down for prime real estate, but Macon supporters refused to let this paradise be paved for a parking lot. It was restored and reopened in 1970 and became the first building in Macon to appear on the National Register of Historic Places.
It is haunted by at least three spirits. One is the lady in white. Fire marshals who were conducting an inspection in the empty building kept hearing a woman singing soprano. The minute they spotted her, she would disappear.
There is a tucked-away staircase that leads to the original peanut gallery. Now closed to the public, those used to be the segregated seats reserved for African American patrons to watch performances. Lots of strange activity happens there. Lightbulbs become unscrewed, heavy footsteps are heard even when it is empty, and actors have sometimes spotted someone leering down at them on stage.
If you keep going up the staircase, you will find the room where, in 1971, the managing director, Randy Widener, was found dead from an apparent suicide. A cast member took a picture of what seems to be a misty figure on a staircase feet away from where Randall died. Shoe prints will appear and disappear at will. Randy’s restless spirit seems trapped up there, eternally waiting for his final curtain call.
On the other side of the street is another famous Macon haunt. It is now home to Lawrence Mayer Florists, but the Hardeman-Meyer Building was built in 1840 for Payne’s Apothecary. Payne filled prescriptions for most Macon residents and one day he got a script from a prominent physician, Dr. Ambrose Baber. Payne believed there was an error in the dosage and refused to fill the compound. Dr. Baber was furious and rushed to the pharmacy and started yelling about Payne. He then went behind the counter and filled the prescription himself.
To go a step further, Dr. Barber drank the compound himself to prove that there was no error. Satisfied he had show the dumb pharmacist who was boss, he straightened his tie and then fell down dead. Today, this genius Doctor is still hanging around at the flower shop, throwing merchandise off the shelves, slamming doors, and messing up flower arrangements.
HAUNTED ATLANTA, GA
There is only an hour left to get to Atlanta. The “city in a forest,” was founded in 1837 when the Western and Atlantic Railroad decided that this would be a good spot to end their rail line. They drove a marker into the clay and, somewhat unimaginatively, dubbed it Terminus. Walking Dead fans will recognize that name from the season spent searching for the supposed safe haven called Terminus. Nightly Spirits did tour in Atlanta, but the spirits never seemed to settle in with us. We may cross paths with them again in the future.
Go ahead and check-in at the famous fire-proof hotel! The Winecoff Hotel was built in 1913 and was the tallest building in Atlanta. It was also the site of the deadliest hotel fire in U.S. history.
On December 7, 1946, a fire started and over a third of the 304 occupants died. Even though two fire stations were located only minutes away and the hotel has billed itself as “fireproof”. Well, yeah, the building may be fireproof, but are the furnishings, the decor, or the people inside? Not to mention that there were no fire escapes or sprinklers, and the only stairwell was in the center of the building with wooden doors. This deathtrap was sadly considered 100% up to code.
What was especially horrifying was that not everyone’s fate was sealed by burning or smoke inhalation. Fire department ladders were only equipped to reach halfway up the enormous building and 32 people died from jumping or falling from the higher floors of the hotel. Firemen had nets on the ground, but they were no match for the falling bodies. Only a few late jumpers survived though, horrifyingly, the reason they didn’t die was because their fall was cushioned by the pile of bodies that had filled up the alley.
The hotel closed and the building passed through several hands (remember, the actual building was fireproof, so it survived). In 2007 renovations began for the elite Ellis Hotel. During the first two weeks of construction, the fire alarm went off every night right before 3AM, around the exact same time the original fire was thought to have started. Workmen claimed to hear footsteps and voices in empty rooms and these strange occurrences didn’t stop after the grand opening.
The front desk would get frequent calls from empty rooms with no one on the other end. Guests and staff members, even today, have reported loud sounds of people frantically running down the halls, only to open the doors and find no one around. The ghosts seemed to be warning the new guests and staff, perhaps ensuring that no one else had to die as horribly as they had. Some guests also have claimed to have been awakened at night to the phantom smells of smoke, only to find that nothing is burning.
Besides its nightmare of a past, the Ellis is a really cool hotel. There is an entire pet-friendly floor, an allergen-free floor- specially treated by Healthy Indoor Living Experts, and a floor devoted to women traveling alone.
After checking in, take a walk through downtown Atlanta to find the hidden gems among the tall buildings, like Centennial Olympic Park. This 21-acre public park was completed just in time for the 1996 Summer Olympics. The pipe bomb attack in the park on July 27th is part of the reason that bags are now checked, and metal detectors are at the entrances to large events. Two people were killed, and 111 others were injured but it could have been much worse had it not been for a security guard who spotted the suspicious bag under a bench.
Security guard, Richard Jewel alerted the police and got many people to safety. The tables were turned on him and he was brutalized in the media as a suspect until there were more bombings and authorities tracked down and convicted Eric Robert Rudolph. A movie was recently released about the bombing. It will make you cry.
The park is now a beautiful destination for locals and tourists alike and a reminder of Georgia’s legacy of the Centennial Olympic Games.
Just past the SkyView Ferris wheel is the Tabernacle. This beautiful building has been around for over a century. It opened in 1910 as The Baptist Tabernacle Church and its bells echoed until 1994 when the congregation had dwindled out and the building was sold. The space reopened as The House of Blues just in time for the 1996 Olympics. When that lease expired two years later, the building was rechristened as The Tabernacle. It is now a popular music venue that has hosted such famous acts as Bob Dylan, Adele, and Elton John.
The Tabernacle made the news in 2008 when it suffered extensive damage from a tornado that tore through downtown Atlanta and again in 2014 when the floor collapsed during a sold-out Panic at the Disco concert. The strange part is that during both sets of repairs, workers reported seeing a woman in a nurse’s uniform hurrying about, looking over everyone. Peculiarly, The Tabernacle originally took up the whole block because it included an infirmary and nursing school dormitory adjacent to the church. Hmm…
There is something about Irish pubs that just seem to belong with ghost stories. Maybe it’s the laid back atmosphere and the hearty food that keeps the spirits around. This place has the best Devilled Eggs (other than mamma’s, of course)! And for your main course, you can’t go wrong with the traditional Shepherds Pie or Fish & Chips, but I would say that the Bison, Beef, and Sausage Meatloaf is where it’s at!
Although Meehan’s has only been here since 2010, the building itself is one of the lucky survivors of Atlanta’s “progress.” In other words, they haven’t torn it down yet! Built in 1927, it used to be a large department store called Davison-Paxon, a division of Macy’s. Before its opening, all shopping was done closer to the central city railroad tracks. Davison-Paxon even had a small vaudeville theater inside!
Next door is the site of the Governor’s Mansion which was built in 1868 when Atlanta became the state capitol. Seventeen Governors in all resided in the large Victorian home until it was demolished in 1923. At the turn of the century, A.D. Candler was Governor and his niece, Miss Price, died in the mansion. On her deathbed, she talked of her love for the beautiful home and vowed to revisit after she passed. Well, she stayed true to that promise and even today there are reports of a ghostly young woman, dressed all in grey, who seemingly floats through the halls of what is now the Westin Hotel. Fun Fact: When the Westin opened on the site, it was not only the tallest building in Atlanta but also the tallest hotel in the world!
Ok, not haunted, that I know of, but you have got to have a nightcap here. Be sure to ask the concierge at the hotel for the secret number for entry. Can’t find it? Just look for the random red phone booth on Andrew Young International Blvd. Go into the booth and pick up the phone. Dial the secret number and enter this true hidden speakeasy/humidor with fine cigars and artisan craft cocktails. The smoked old fashioned is AMAZING! It is pretty smokey in there so I only lasted for one drink, but it is a really neat experience. There is also one that just opened in Nashville.
Before moving on, let’s make a visit to one of the most famous cemeteries in the country. Grant Park, the oldest and largest historic district in Atlanta. The district also contains a 46 acre “park” that is home to 70,000 dearly departed souls. Oakland Cemetery, founded in 1850, is chock full of amazing ghosts and history. Any Gone with the Wind fans? The author, Margaret Mitchell, is probably one of the most famous residents of Oakland Cemetery. Much like the controversial Scarlet O’Hara, Mitchell was a feisty, stubborn woman who fought for what she believed in and was way ahead of her time. She died at the age of 48 after being struck by a cab in downtown Atlanta.
Around the time of her death, she had been fighting with a close friend over the historic mansion he called home. After her death, he turned into an extreme recluse and barricaded himself in the property surrounded by large guard dogs. It certainly came as a shock then when he looked up one day and saw Margaret walk through the closed, and locked, front door and lay down a bouquet of jonquils. The next day, he went to visit her grave and saw that the area around the tombstone was covered in jonquils. Possibly to make up for their fight, she had brought him a bouquet of flowers from her own grave. Margaret showed up every year for the next decade, proving that even in death she continues to do as she pleases!
The first internment of the cemetery was Doctor James Nissen, who died of pneumonia. He had a crippling fear of being buried alive which was a common fear at the time. So-called “safety coffins” were equipped with anything from escape hatches to elaborate bell systems that you could ring if you woke up trapped inside the coffin. They even employed guys to hang around at night and listen for the bells. Gives a whole different meaning to the term graveyard shift! Nissen, being a medical professional, chose a more straightforward approach and requested that his jugular vein be slit before burial. Sounds more like something out of the tv show The Walking Dead. This wasn’t done out of fear of zombies though, and anyway, a real fan knows that you need to get the brain to kill the walker!
The bell at the Cemetery Guard House will constantly ring by itself and a white, ghost-like figure likes to chase city employees on the grounds. Taps can be heard playing in the evenings in the military section, and passers-by have seen a young man lying on top of a grave in a pool of blood. A closer look is not advised, as those unfortunate enough to see the man’s face realize he no longer has eyes and he suddenly disappears. Echoes of a voice shouting roll call for the deceased Confederate soldiers buried within the grounds has also been heard by passerby late at night.
Wow. Tragic stuff. Why don’t we have lunch with a more pleasant spirit? Not all of Atlanta’s wandering spirits are human and over by the cemetery, Augustine’s celebrates its most famous employee, Thurmond, the ghost cat. In life, he was known as Thurmond T. Cat and was a master spokesperson for the bar with an active social media life. Unfortunately, Thurmond reached the end of his nine lives and his ashes now reside in a small urn overlooking the bar. But you can still catch a glimpse of Thurmond T. Cat wandering around the bar and occasionally even feel his tail swish by your leg. Of course, just like live cats, Thurmond only comes around when he feels like it. Most of the time, he is probably off to the cemetery chasing Tweet, the ghost mockingbird!
Tweet was a beloved family pet and received special permission to be buried in the family plot. They even hired a man to carve a likeness of Tweet in stone to adorn his tiny marker. Unfortunately, the guy didn’t have the skills to fit the bill and he just carved a lamb instead. Maybe he hoped they wouldn’t notice? Now let’s make like Tweet and fly off to our next stop on the Ultimate Haunted Road Trip of the South. By fly, I mean drive, of course.
HAUNTED MONTGOMERY, AL
We are headed for Mobile, but we’ll make a stop in Montgomery-which I cannot say out loud without using a thick southern accent. Incorporated on December 3, 1819, Montgomery is a city rich in history. Once the capital of the Confederacy, Montgomery grew to become the center of the Civil Rights Movement. You could spend a lot of time in Montgomery, and the history lessons that the city holds are truly invaluable. I could go on and on about the chills I get when I think about the bravery of Rosa Parks, and 15-year old Claudette Colvin before her. That is a whole other blog post, but with all this history, it’s no wonder that the spirits are so active in the capital city of Alabama.
Zelda Fitzgerald and her novelist husband lived in this home-turned-museum back in the day. Zelda was born in Montgomery and met her husband when he was a soldier. If you don’t know anything about this couple, other than his novel, “The Great Gatsby,” you are missing out. Imagine a 1920’s version of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler. She was a vibrant flirt, full of life, and unwilling to assume her societal role as a submissive woman. He was passionate and popular, with an innovative and brilliant mind. Their love was truly extraordinary and tragically impossible. He was a raging alcoholic, she descended into madness. This fascinating rabbit hole is easy to get stuck in.
This house was saved from demolition in 1986 and opened as a museum. The upper floor contains private apartments, and residents report hearing faint jazz music and disembodied footsteps. Zelda’s spirit is just as restless as she was in life. There is a large painting of her childhood home in the office. Zelda has been known to fling it to the ground when she is angry. But her playful side is just as direct. Visitors and staff feel what can only be described as an “electrical charge” momentarily surge through them. It would seem that Zelda’s spirit is out to prove that she is still a force to be reckoned with.
While the hot dogs are legendary around these parts, the good food is not the only reason to stop at Chris’ Hot Dogs, it’s the spirits. Founded in 1917 as the Post Office Café, this was a popular late-night hotspot for hot dogs and booze! It was a favorite of a country singer named Hank Williams. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Visitors swear they can hear old Hank singing out front while he’s waiting on his chili dog. Martin Luther King Jr. was a regular, Elvis enjoyed Chris’s Hot Dogs when he performed at the Garrett Coliseum, and every time President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s train came through Montgomery, he would order boxes of hot dogs to take with him!
There is also a ghostly Lady in While who has been seen roaming the street. Her identity is unknown, but boy is she scary! The Lady in White is dressed entirely in white (surprise!), with long dark hair and sharp ferocious teeth. She has been reported countless times just walking up the street, and people say they feel her horrible energy before they see her.
HAUNTED MOBILE, AL
And now it’s off to Mobile, another city that must be spoken aloud with the thickest of drawls. Mobile is a surprisingly hip city with a vibrant 300-year history that has been called the “Paris of the South!”
The 34th floor of the Trustmark Building is home to sophisticated restaurants with dramatic views of the Port City. Dauphine’s is the best place to get a good look at all of Mobile’s historic haunts. Sip on a craft cocktail and enjoy Mobile Bay staples like West Indies salad or crab claws. Look down to maybe catch a glimpse of the grizzly old sea captain who has been restlessly pacing the streets of downtown and will continue to do for all eternity.
The Captain used to live in a house on State Street and was often seen standing in his yard, wearing his captain’s cap and blowing clouds of smoke from his pipe, but he was very standoffish, rebuffing all approaches from the neighbors. It was rumored that he left his ship after a fight with another officer. He was a lonely old fellow and every day he would walk to the docks and watch the freighters, saluting the ships as they left the harbor. On his way home, he would stop at Bienville Square, just below Dauphin’s, to finish his pipe. One day, he skipped his stop at the square, returned straight home, and shot himself.
To this day, the spirit of The Captain can be seen walking his route to the docks, to Bienville Square, and then home. Those who have lived in the home since the captain have reported a strange man standing in the yard early in the mornings. Those that cross his path in the streets are overwhelmed with the strong aroma of tobacco smoke with no determinable source. Ships coming in at the docks will ask where the old-fashioned-looking sea captain who waved them in was. So if you do see him, give him a smile and a wave, and let’s hope he is not as lonely in the afterlife.
One of the most popular historic destinations in the city is located on top of the I-10 tunnel. The Fort Conde replica is home to the city’s welcome center and the Mobile History Museum. The original Fort Condé was built in 1723 by French explorers. It served a vital role in the Revolutionary war and aided in the Gulf defenses.
The Fort Conde Inn is also on the grounds. The main building was built in 1836. There have been disembodied voices reported and guests are sometimes overcome with a feeling of dread. It is also fairly common to hear a clawing sound on the floor!
The inn also has cottages. In the Antunez cottage, a housekeeper set a bucket of water outside on the steps and it began to roll down the stairs on its own very slowly. It stopped once then continued down the stairs again. An electrician was doing some work in the Antunez when he looked up to find a confederate soldier in uniform staring out the window. The soldier turned slowly and glared at him. He hightailed it out of there and said he wouldn’t be coming back. Ever. Guests of the cottage have reported heavy footsteps walking up the stairs to the front door, but no one was there.
So we all think of New Orleans when it comes to Mardi Gras, right? As someone who currently lives right off Bourbon Street, I can tell you that Nola Mardi Gras is an experience like no other, even when it is followed by the plague. But there is quite a debate over where the first Mardi Gras celebration was held.
With my vast New Orleans knowledge (which, thanks to my dramatic, anxiety-ridden brain, I way over-studied for my tour guide exam), I can tell you that in 1699, when French-Canadian explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville claimed the Louisiana Territory for France, he named the spot just south of present-day New Orleans, Point du Mardi Gras. It was Fat Tuesday so he held a small gala with his men. Mobile was founded in 1702 and was the first capital of the Louisiana Territory. They held Mardi Gras festivities in 1703 which was 15 years before New Orleans was officially founded.
This historic 1872 Bernstein-Bush House is home to the Mobile Carnival Museum. You can find artifacts from the history of Mobile’s Mardi Gras celebrations. There is an unseen entity that staff have named “Ralph,” who likes to make adjustments to the displays. He will knock over mannequins, change the lights, and steal pieces from one exhibit, only to replace them in another exhibit. Another strange occurrence is the mysterious shoe that will sometimes appear on the stairs. There is no explanation for where it came from, but it shows up from time to time.
If you ask the staff about ghosts, they will tell you they have plenty of them! But they are all friendly and seem to just want to party. The most danger you may involve having a Moon Pie thrown at you. The Moon Pie may have been invented in Chattanooga, TN but it is truly an icon here in Mobile. Folks used to throw boxes of Crackerjacks from Carnival floats, but the boxes’ sharp corners were a bit of a safety hazard so they were replaced with Moon Pies. Moon Pies have become so idolized that here in Mobile, a 12-foot version of the cookie drops from one of the city’s tallest buildings on New Year’s Eve!
The Church Street Cemetery dates back to 1820. Many of the early burials were victims of yellow fever. It probably goes without saying that all graveyards are haunted, but the haunts in this one come from a mighty live oak growing amid the gravestones. In 1834, the body of Nathaniel Frost was found in this cemetery, and not in the way that bodies are supposed to be in a cemetery.
Frost had been severely beaten and robbed. Charles Boyington was close friends with Frost was the last person seen with him. He was arrested for the murder and found guilty. He was hung before a huge crowd in Washington Square. His final words proclaimed “a great oak tree would grow from his innocent heart, buried deep in the grave, pushing and breaking out, reaching to the heavens. With every inch the tree grows, those who convicted him would be forced to remember their anger that killed an innocent young man. Their guilt will also grow until they are consumed by the arms of the oak.”
Sure enough, an oak tree sprouted not long after Boyington was laid in his grave. Passersby have claimed that whispers are still heard as the wind blows through the branches and even on a muggy summer afternoon, a cold chill can be felt near the base of the Boyington Oak. Some even say that if you look up at the 60ft tree and its widespread branches, it takes on an almost lifelike form of a man reaching up from the grave.
Now we shall reach up from the grave and travel to the most haunted city in the United States. We are headed to The Big Easy!
Stay tuned for