Eavesdrop on Voices from the Past at the Burgwin-Wright House

Remnants of a Colonial-Era jail where prisoners were held in appalling conditions make this centuries-old home ripe for ghostly tales.

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In its early days as a British colony, North Carolina was perceived as a backwoods territory full of crime, indentured servants, pirates, and other rough characters. Many ended up locked behind iron bars in the old Wilmington jail, over which John Burgwin built this home. Today, you can tour the house and see its history firsthand, but don’t be surprised if you hear something unusual.

Wilmington’s original wood, brick, and stone jail, known as a gaol, stood at the corner of Market and Third Streets from 1744 to 1768, when it burned in a fire. Nearby was Wilmington’s historic public courtyard, where debtors and lawbreakers were hanged or pilloried. Sensing an opportunity, a British merchant named John Burgwin purchased the property, along with its stone foundations. He built a handsome Georgian-Style home where he could conduct business while in town.

Ingenious construction methods allowed the home to remain cool over the hot summer months, but the Burgwin family spent most of their time on their plantation outside of town. Joshua Grainger Wright and his wife Susan purchased the house from Burgwin in 1799. The Wright family lived there until 1869. Its rooms are well-furnished with eighteenth and nineteenth century antiques, reflecting how these families lived.

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Chicago Haunted Handbook Features a Few Surprises

You would be wrong if you thought nothing more could be written about Chicago ghostlore. Chicago Haunted Handbook: 99 Ghostly Places You Can Visit in and Around the Windy City (2013) by Jeff Morris and Vince Sheilds discovered new gems among well-worn territory. Though a little dated at this point, it still offers enough tales to delight readers.

Published by Clerisy Press, Chicago Haunted Handbook is part of the “America’s Haunted Road Trip” series. At 226 pages and with a retail price of $15.95, this book invites you to, “Join in Chicago’s Grandest Ghost Hunt.” It features 99 haunted places, along with four “places that didn’t quite make the book.” The locations are divided into five sections: Cemeteries; Bars and Restaurants; Roads and Bridges; Parks; and Museums, Theaters, Hotels, and other Buildings.

The authors are an unlikely pair. Jeff Morris, from Cincinnati, Ohio, is an experienced author with several titles under his belt. Vince Sheilds was born in Elgin in 1984 and moved to Chicago in 2006, where he formed the Chicago Paranormal Investigators.

I’ve read just about every book on Illinois ghostlore, so I look at them with a discerning eye. Chicago Haunted Handbook has several good qualities that make it worth owning. First, it features several locations seldom covered by other books. The old Huntley Grease Factory is my favorite, but the Polish Museum of America, Joliet Potter’s Field, Tyrell Road Cemetery, and The Drinkingbird, are all relatively new.

Second, the book contains an appendix of day tripping “mini tours.” Each features a couple of different stops (or days), with a different location for each stop. There is even a haunted pub crawl and a gangster tour. I enjoy extras like this, especially since it allows you to explore these places at your own pace (as opposed to going on a bus tour).

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Exorcist Steps

When you think of an iconic horror movie, The Exorcist (1973) immediately comes to mind. Written by William Peter Blatty and directed by William Friedkin, The Exorcist follows a tormented young girl and the skeptical priest who tries to help her. Several scenes were filmed in Georgetown, Washington, DC, where it’s set.

At the end of the film, Father Damien Karras allows the demon to possess him and he throws himself out the window down a flight of stairs. Those stairs are located in Georgetown leading from the intersection of 36th Street NW and Prospect Street NW down to Canal Road.

The Exorcist (1973)

Looking from top down, it’s easy to see how long, narrow, claustrophobic, and steep they are. I wouldn’t want to even walk up or down them, let alone jog like a group of cross fitters were doing when I visited.

Hoke’s Run/Falling Waters Battlefield in Berkeley County, West Virginia

Scattered markers and signs amidst modern buildings and highways are all that remain to mark the scene of this early Civil War battle.

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The Battle of Hoke’s Run (Falling Waters/Hainesville) was fought on July 2, 1861 between Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Robert Patterson and Confederate forces commanded by Col. Thomas J. Jackson in Berkeley County, West Virginia during the American Civil War. The battle was a tactical Union victory, though it allowed Confederate forces to concentrate and achieve victory at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21. Hoke’s Run resulted in 114 total casualties.

After the Commonwealth of Virginia formally seceded on May 23, 1861, Union troops moved to secure territory bordering Maryland and Washington, DC. Confederate Col. Thomas J. Jackson’s 4,000-man brigade was ordered to delay the Federal advance toward Martinsburg, then a town in Virginia (today, West Virginia). On July 2, 1861, Union Maj. Gen. Robert Patterson crossed the Potomac River with two brigades totaling approximately 8,000 men.

Jackson, who would go on to earn the nickname “Stonewall” and become one of the Confederacy’s most famous generals, deployed his men and four artillery pieces in Patterson’s path just south of Falling Waters. A brief fight erupted, Col. J. J. Abercrombie’s brigade turned Jackson’s right flank, and Jackson fell back. After two miles, Patterson broke off pursuit and ordered his men to make camp.

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White Lady's Castle at Durand Eastman Park

According to legend, a sorrowful phantom patrols the shore of Lake Ontario, searching for her daughter’s killer.

Ruins of a majestic mansion and sightings of an ethereal woman dressed in a flowing white gown are ingredients for a classic ghost story, so curious residents of Rochester, New York make furtive nighttime journeys to this park overlooking Lake Ontario, hoping to catch a glimpse of a phantom. Abusive men, however, have reason to fear.

As legend goes, this medieval-looking stone wall was once part of a stately mansion on the hill, occupied by a reclusive woman and her beautiful daughter. The woman forbid her daughter from meeting with male suitors, so when her daughter went for a walk and failed to return home, she feared the worst. She leashed her two hounds and wandered the lake shore, searching for her missing daughter. Eventually, the woman died alone and her house fell into ruin.

The area became a lovers lane, where teenagers would park their cars and fool around. If a young man pushed things too far, or was disrespectful to his date, they said, he risked inciting her wrath. These frightening encounters served as a warning to men to be on their best behavior.

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Paranormal Obsession: America’s Fascination with Ghosts & Hauntings

Paranormal Obsession: America’s Fascination with Ghosts & Hauntings, Spooks & Spirits by Deonna Kelli Sayed is a book I really wanted to enjoy. Despite its redeeming qualities, however, it feels too much like a first draft. The book promises to be a fresh look at the paranormal in American pop culture, with an insider’s view of paranormal reality TV shows like Ghost Hunters.

The interesting tidbits it delivers, however, are too often undermined by the author’s undeveloped writing style. Even as an introductory work, it fails to summarize the history of interest in the paranormal as succinctly or as accurately as other books on the subject.

Paranormal Obsession was published in 2011 by Llewellyn Publications. The author, Deonna Kelli Sayed, has lived in and traveled throughout Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa (she describes herself as a “Global Citizen”). She was a paranormal investigator with Haunted North Carolina from 2008 to 2011. She has an academic background in social theory and postmodern thought, and this was her first book.

I found the chapter on SyFy Channel’s Ghost Hunters to be its most interesting section. As a skeptic of paranormal reality TV, I was eager to glimpse behind the curtain at The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) and its founders, Grant Wilson and Jason Hawes. Like many viewers, I assumed the show was fake, and like many others, I have frequently blamed Ghost Hunters for spawning hundreds of wannabe paranormal investigators whose knowledge of the subject goes no deeper than what they see on TV. Sayed acknowledges these criticisms while letting Jason Hawes tell his side of the story.

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Curse of the Blair Witch

Written and directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, The Blair Witch Project (1999) was filmed entirely in Maryland and was the first “found footage” horror film. It made over $248 million worldwide on a $60,000 budget.

The Blair Witch Project was presented as a real documentary project that went wrong when its three filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland. Much of the movie’s first 13 minutes were filmed in and around Burkittsville, a real town in Frederick County.

Burkittsville’s sudden notoriety annoyed its inhabitants, and souvenir hunters repeatedly stole the town’s iconic sign. The wooden welcome sign shown in the film has been replaced by a more fashionable blue one.

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From Sorrow to Serenity

Monument to Mead Belden (1833-1876) and his first and second wives, Sarah Elizabeth Hubbell (1834-1855) and Amelia Gertrude Woolson (1844-1864) and their family in Oakwood Cemetery, 940 Comstock Avenue in Syracuse, Onondaga County, New York. Mead was a Freemason, a clothing merchant, and senior partner of Belden & Van Buskirk. Later, he was involved in construction and helped build canals and reservoirs.

Mead Belden (1833-1876) I

According to legend, either a ghostly bride or bride and groom have been seen descending the stairs to the bottom of the hill. The following eyewitness account appears on a sign for the Oakwood Ghost Trail: “Me & my friends spent the night in Oakwood one night. Over by the stairs graves in the west of the cemetery, I looked to my right and saw the bride and groom. They were beautiful, but they were bloody and they vanished before our eyes.” It’s unclear how this story is related (if at all) to the Belden family.