Categories
Mysterious America

Haunted Mansions of Dixie

A decaying manor frozen in time, the trappings of opulence stubbornly refusing to fade. It’s the stuff made for Southern Gothic.

The American South has a long and tragic history, where wealth was obtained on the backs of slaves and the scars of war lasted for generations. Relics of the antebellum South are natural incubators for ghost stories, and nearly every mansion and plantation home is believed to have a ghost or two. The following are a few of the Southern mansions I’ve visited over the years. Who can say what lurks there after dark?

Beauvoir in Biloxi, Mississippi

Otherwise known as Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library has an interesting history. It was built in 1852 by a wealthy plantation owner named James Brown. Ex-Confederate President Jefferson Davis did not reside in the house until 1877, twelve years before he died. His daughter Winnie continued to live there until her death in 1898.

The Jefferson Davis Soldiers Home opened on the grounds in 1903 and operated until the 1950s. It was home to around 1,800 Civil War veterans and widows of Confederate soldiers. Roughly 780 of them are buried in the cemetery located on the property. Several visitors have reported encountering someone who they assume is an actor playing Jefferson Davis in the gardens.

Categories
Mysterious America

Springer Opera House’s Restless Spirits

The Springer Opera House, at 103 E 10th Street in downtown Columbus, a few blocks from the Chattahoochee River, is Georgia’s oldest and most famous theater. It’s unassuming exterior conceals the elegance within. Patrons love attending its world-class plays and musicals, but some see more than they bargained for, as Springer is also believed to be home to several ghosts.

Francis Joseph Springer, a German immigrant and prosperous grocer from the Alsace region of France, opened the Springer Opera House on February 21, 1871. During construction, a worker named John Prince died when a scaffold fell and struck his head. A second balcony, hotel rooms, restaurants, and office space were added in 1900. It was a jewel of the Georgia stage for decades, until the growing popularity of motion pictures compelled it to transition to a movie theater.

Hard times hit downtown Columbus in the 1950s, and Springer closed in 1958. It stood vacant for five years until a determined group of citizens saved it from the wrecking ball. The Springer Opera House once again opened its doors for live performances in 1965 and has continued to operate ever since. Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter named it State Theatre of Georgia in 1971.

Categories
Historic America

National Infantry Museum in Columbus, Georgia

A modern, high-tech museum dedicated to the backbone of the United States Army features detailed dioramas and informative displays from all eras of U.S. military history.

Fort Benning, outside Columbus, Georgia, is named after Confederate Brigadier General Henry L. Benning. It is home to the United States Army Infantry School and Basic Combat Training for most infantry recruits, so it is generally recognized as the traditional home for U.S. infantry. It comes as no surprise that the National Infantry Museum is located there.

The museum used to be in a former Army hospital on base, but in 2008 the National Infantry Foundation, in conjunction with the U.S. Army, built a brand new museum on a 155-acre campus just off post. The 190,000 square foot state-of-the-art museum, featuring combat simulators, dioramas, a theater, a restaurant, and over 100,000 historical artifacts, opened in 2009.

It’s hard not to be in awe walking through displays spanning the history of U.S. conflicts from the Revolutionary War to the present day. The dioramas feature real military equipment, lights, and sound. There’s even a section where you can walk through a simulated Vietnam jungle while listening to a narrator describe what it was like to be there.

Categories
Mysterious America

Sorrel-Weed House in Savannah, Georgia

Madison Square in Savannah, Georgia is bounded by Harris Street to the north, Bull Streets to the east and west, and Charlton Street to the south. A statue commemorating Revolutionary War soldier Sgt. William Jasper stands proudly in the center. This monument marks the southern limit of British defenses during the Siege of Savannah in 1779. If the view looks familiar, it is because an aerial perspective of the park can be seen in the opening scene of Forrest Gump (1994).

The Sorrel-Weed House stands on Madison Square’s north side. Irish architect Charles B. Cluskey designed and built this majestic Greek-Revival home for Frances Sorrel, a merchant from the West Indies, in 1841. His son, Moxley Sorrel, rose to fame as Confederate Lt. General James Longstreet’s staff officer during the American Civil War.  General Robert E. Lee visited his home in late 1861 and early 1862. During the Siege of Petersburg in 1864, he was promoted to brigadier general and given command of a brigade. At 26, he was the youngest general officer in the Confederate army.

At some point in the past, a market was built along Bull Street on the mansion’s west side. The Society for the Preservation of Savannah Landmarks opened it for tours in January 1940. It was designated a state historic landmark in 1953. When it underwent renovations, the city tried to prevent the new owner from painting its exterior a gaudy orange, but he was able to prove, by pealing back 20 layers of paint, that was its original color.

Categories
Mysterious America

Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia

Live oak trees adorned with Spanish moss line the roadways of an old and neglected necropolis. Ferns engulf beautiful statues, while leaves and branches lay where they fell across stone-lined family plots. Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia is a setting made for dark romance and Gothic ghost tales. Its history, and its legends, have lured visitors for more than 170 years.

John Mullryne’s plantation, with its tree-lined avenues, once occupied this 160-acre site (though the plantation was a total of 600 acres). Mullryne was an English colonel who was granted the land in the 1760s. He named it “Bonaventure,” which is Italian for “good fortune.” Unfortunately for him, he was a Loyalist during the Revolutionary War, and his plantation was subsequently seized by the Georgia government.

Peter Wiltberger purchased Bonaventure in 1846, and his son William, turned it into Evergreen Cemetery 22 years later. In 1867, a man named John Muir, a Scottish-American naturalist and preservationist, camped on the former plantation and wrote, “Only a small plot of ground is occupied with graves and the old mansion is in ruins.” He admired the Long Moss, “hanging in long silvery-gray skeins.”

Categories
Roadside America

Museum of Wonders, Columbus, Georgia

The full Museum of Wonder, created by Alabama artist and collector Butch Anthony, is located in rural Seale, Alabama, but he erected this little curio display on Broadway in downtown Columbus, Georgia near the intersection of 11th Street and Broadway. Pretty cool!

Categories
Historic America Video

National Infantry Museum in Columbus, Georgia – Video

The National Infantry Museum in Columbus, Georgia is an incredible experience dedicated to the American soldier, with state of the art dioramas, displays, and hundreds of artifacts. While in Georgia away from my computer, I decided to experiment with making travel videos entirely with my iPhone. This video was shot with my phone, edited in iMovie, and I even recorded the voiceover here. I think it turned out pretty well, do you?