- Stories From the Haunted South
- University Press of Mississippi, 307 pp.
WHAT BECKN’ING GHOST, ALONG THE MOONLIGHT SHADE
Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady — By Alexander Pope
An old Cornish prayer that has become part of the American lexicon goes, “From goulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us!”
It is, indeed, one of those ditties that stick with you because it reflects an inherent human awareness of something, unknown, that dwells just beyond the limits of physical reality and provides the key to the only safeguard.
It appears that modernity, in all its glorious technological advances, has had little effect at dispelling the notion that the furtive shadow that moves in the darkened corners of our chamber, may possess characteristics science is unable to define; that the noise we heard coming from downstairs, in the dead of night, was not the house “settling;” that the overpowering “feeling” that there’s something malevolent in the basement may have a basis in fact.
The hour grows late as I write, a gray, misty fog gathers above the barren swamp that lays just beyond the basswood and oak trees that border my land to the east. It will rise and inexorably climb the hill where my house lies, a silent shroud that covers the ridge above the valley of the west fork. It is an appropriate time and place to speak of ghosts.
I have, for the longest time, considered ghosts and ghostly activity to be demonic in nature. But, I’m not so sure. I think it was the fey English horror writer, M.R. James, who once said, “God has, in His mercy, not revealed everything to us.” Consequently, I am inclined to their existence, though I have no knowledge of their purpose or nature. Also, I’ve had just a couple of experiences of this sort, the sort that might make the hair on your neck stand up. The first took place on a visit to the battlefield at Gettysburg. I think that ghosts are so prevalent there one might trip over them. The other experience we’ll discuss at another time.
Should the casual reader have some interest in ghostly doings I can think of no better place to begin than Alan Brown’s new book, Stories from the Haunted South. Brown duly informs his readers that his latest offering is a sequel to an earlier book, Haunted Places in the American South and he adds that, “The stories in this volume are intended to be taken not as irrefutable proof of life after death, but as the regional lore of a people who have lived through generations of war, slavery, illiteracy, and poverty.” Though, one suspects that Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, William Faulkner, and a plethora of lesser lights might take issue with his comment about “illiteracy,” Brown has wisely chosen the South for a compendium of ghostly tales.
His book is intended to reveal the “facts” surrounding specific hauntings, so there’s little to frighten the reader, though there are a number of cases that come close. Brown provides some delightful historical anecdotes, including the fact that the Confederate raider, John Hunt Morgan, sired a son, not long before he died, named Thomas Hunt Morgan, who became a doctor and was (and is) the only Kentuckian to win the Nobel Prize (for his work in genetics).
The author’s journey encompasses what was once the Confederate States of America, and includes a border state, Kentucky, as a bonus. He also informs the reader, “Most of the stories in this book are based on historical fact and, therefore, qualify as legends. Whenever possible, I have prefaced each ghost story with a brief biographical sketch of the major places.”
Some of the more interesting sites (and cases) are: Radio Station WZPQ in Jasper, Alabama-I take back what I said earlier, this one is scary: the sad business at the Booneville Tuberculosis Sanitarium, Booneville, Arkansas: the ugly events at Anderson’s Corner, Homestead, Florida; Anna Powers’s haunting of the 17Hundred90 Inn and Restaurant in Savannah, Georgia: the immortal bank robber and Confederate hero, Jesse James’s haunting of the Old Talbott Tavern in Bardstown, Kentucky: and, the Shiloh Battlefield-I’m of the opinion all of the battlefields of the War of Secession are haunted.
These were just a few of my favorite accounts. The author’s investigations, including his interviews with people who encountered these apparitions, are well documented and he has the courtesy to add a bibliography, index, and the address of the haunted locations. Mr. Brown adds, “If the history and legends contained in this volume have prompted you to wonder about the mysteries of death and the hereafter, then I have succeeded in my purpose.”
If you’re vacationing in the South this summer you might want to take along Alan Brown’s book. And, if you have the courage, you might want to spend a memorable night in one of the many inns and hotels mentioned.